The Day Dundee FC Snatched our Flag – ‘So they started Celtic Football Club and they raised the flag up high’

The Referee Committee of the SFA v Celtic, who ‘Raised the Flag Up High’…

First of all please watch this…

This is a great story that looks at the historic context of the events that happened on St Patrick’s Day 2019 up at Dens Park where Celtic won the match with a late Odsonne Edouard goal to open up a ten point lead at the top of the Premiership.

Watch the highlights below if you are in need of a wee Celtic fix…

Now read this…

‘The Celtic Story’ was published in 1960 and written by James B Handley. In his book Handley makes some engrossing points after a crowd disturbance at a Celtic v Rangers match somehow drew the Irish flag into the aftermath of a debate held by Scottish Football rulers. And he tells the story of how Celtic chairman Robert Kelly defiantly stood his ground against the game’s bosses and won.

Here’s how the author saw it in a chapter entitled: ‘The Great Flag Flutter’:

The traditional New Year’s Day League game between Rangers and Celtic, when alcohol, consumed beforehand or in the park itself, furnishes a low flashpoint for feelings, is not seldom an occasion for violence. One such display of turbulence occurred on 1 January 1952. Bottles were thrown, eleven spectators were arrested, two men were sent to prison and others were fined for their part in a number of incidents that took place in and around Celtic Park. The outcome was that the Glasgow magistrates, after consultation among themselves, invited representatives of the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish League to consider the following proposals:

1: That the Rangers and Celtic clubs should not again be paired on New Year’s Day, when it was suggested passions were likely to be inflamed by drink and when more bottles were likely to be carried than on any other day.

2: That on every occasion when those clubs meet admission should be by ticket only and the attendance limited to a number consistent with public safety, the number to be decided by the chief constable.

3: That in the interests of safety of the public Celtic F.C. should be asked to construct numbered passage-ways in the terracing at each end of Celtic Park.

4: That the two clubs should avoid displaying flags which might incite feeling among the spectators.

The Referee Committee of the SFA further instructed the club (Celtic) to refrain from displaying in its park on match days any flag or emblem which had no association with Scotland or the game. In addition, both clubs were ordered to take all possible steps to prevent the flaunting by spectators of provocative flags or emblems and to discourage by all means in their power any display of sectarian-sentiments which, the committee felt, were at the root of the disturbances.

On account of its associations through founders and supporters with Ireland the Celtic club from the beginning had flown over the stand at Parkhead the old Irish flag of a golden harp on a green background.

In 1921, when Ireland became the Free State, the new flag of the infant republic was substituted. It might have been the flag of Siam for all the attention that any spectator, supporting home or visiting team, gave to it, and if it had been the flag of Siam the SFA would have paid no attention to it, either.

What ruffled the feelings of that body was the fact that it was the flag of Ireland. It would seem that an official of long standing in the SFA was the prime agitator for its removal.

A picture of the flag flying over the stand appeared the next day on the front pages of the newspapers and at the following Saturday’s game, only three days after the findings of the Referee Committee and before the parent body had ratified them, another picture of it was displayed with the caption: ‘Celtic still haven’t taken down the Eire flag.’

While expressing dissatisfaction that their recommendation to transfer the New Year game had not been adopted, the Glasgow magistrates endorsed the recommendation of the Referee Committee, as did also the SFA council by twenty-six votes to seven, after first ordering the chairmen of the Celtic and the Rangers football clubs to leave the chamber.

The chairman of the Celtic club, seconded by the Rangers chairman, had moved, on the ground that the SFA had no power to make such an order, the rejection of that part of the minutes of the Referee Committee which dealt with the banning of the flag.

The Referee Committee had based their high-handed action on Article of Association 114, which runs:

“Each club in its membership shall be responsible for the conduct of its spectators on any ground and misbehaviour by supporters during or at close of matches shall render a member liable to fine or closure of ground, or suspension, or all of the penalties.”

Mr Robert Kelly, the Celtic chairman, opposed the decision on the basis that nothing in the rules of football gave the SFA the authority to impose such a penalty.

In supporting Mr Kelly in his assertion that the Eire flag was not the cause for the disturbance (in the 1 January 1952 game) Mr JF Wilson, chairman of Rangers, told the council that the emblem had never been of any annoyance to Rangers. ‘Don’t delude ourselves,’ he added. ‘This flag has nothing to do with the trouble.’

Celtic, strengthened in their view by council’s opinion, continued to fly the flag. The reaction of the SFA at their meeting on 10 March to what they considered defiance – ‘democratic government against anarchy’ was the phrase used – was first, on the motion of the acting president, Mr HS Swan (Hibernian) to give the club three days to comply or suffer suspension.

The motion had a seconder, but it was realised in discussion that if such a motion were carried, and Celtic decided to ignore the instruction, the Scottish League competition for the current season would be interrupted and several clubs would suffer. An amendment therefore that the period of grace be extended until 30 April, when the season officially ended, was carried by sixteen votes to fifteen.

Three weeks before the date fixed for the expiry of the ultimatum, the SFA somersaulted on the matter. At their meeting on 7 April they unanimously decided to cancel their order for the time being. The acting chairman of the Referee Committee, who had instructed Celtic to take down the flag, proposed that his decree be suspended until the outcome of a meeting between the Scottish League and the SFA for the purpose of reconsidering the matter. The remarkable feature of the SFA decision was that neither ‘Celtic’ nor ‘flag’ was mentioned by name. ‘Suspension of a club’ was the phrase that was used.’

A few days before the opening of season 1952-3 a council meeting of the SFA, specially convened by the president, defeated by eighteen votes to twelve a newly-worded motion of the Referee Committee to the effect that the flag should come down. And thus was cancelled what was probably the most ridiculous order ever given in football legislation.

So remember to never be afraid and when you look back on your days following the Celtic you can proudly claim to have ‘Raised the Flag Up High’…and this is not all about ‘ancient history’, this time last year The Celtic Star was writing about this very subject after stewards and Dens Park snatched an Irish tricolour from some supporters – who it has to be said, did a brilliant job in fighting their corner and getting it back.

Social media and sites like The Celtic Star played a huge part in putting immediate pressure on the Dens Park side. Our fathers, grandfathers and great grand-fathers had to fight for the right to raise the flag.

Here’s how we covered that story…

Celtic’s Supporter Liaison Officer John Paul Taylor posted this welcome update following the Irish flag outrage that occurred at Dens Park last Sunday (17 March 2019) which was St Patricks’s Day.

Celtic supporters had their Irish flag snatched from stewards and the club initially claimed that this was done because the flag was covering an advertising board.

The Celtic Star pointed out to Dundee FC that this had NOT happened in December 2018 when the Rangers were visitors to Dens Park and their fans displayed a flag over the same exit.

The Celtic supporters retrieved their flag after a major argument and now they have been in contact with both clubs and Dundee FC are now carrying out a full investigation.

Here’s the flag being removed / stolen in the most sneaky manner possible.

Here are the Bhoys getting their flag back…

John Nelms, who is the Managing Director at Dundee, told the STV News Sports Reporter Raman Bhardwaj that the flag was removed because it was covering an advertising hoarding.

Speaking outside Hampden ahead of an SPFL board meeting on Monday, Helms told Bhardwaj: “The flag itself was taken down because it was covering up a board that was paid for by patrons that support the club.

“That’s the only reason it was taken down.”

Now it looks like Mr Nelms has had a closer look at this incident, which many in the Celtic support regard as an instance of anti-Irish racism, and has ordered an investigation.

A few of the comments on JPT’s timeline…

“A full apology should be the least they get and the stewards reprimanded.”

“Mibbie the steward was looking tae get demoted tae a joab at ibroke..”

“Excellent! Behaviour from that clown steward was disgraceful.”

“Sack the clowns involved, shocking behaviour from stewards.”

“An absolute disgrace” and “on St Patrick’s day of all days.”

“Would this be the same advertising board that’s been publicly shown as having a Union Jack over it for most of a game JP, selective removal of flags in other words, made worse an Irish flag was pulled down on St. Patrick’s Day in the first place, good luck JP”

And on this day in 2019 the pressure worked and Dundee FC offered their apologies. This was the headline on The Celtic Star…

‘Sincere apologies’ – Dundee FC release statement on Irish Flag Snatch Incident

Dundee FC have released the following statement on their website relating to their investigation into the Irish Flag Snatch Incident that took place on Sunday at Dens Park.

“The club would advise that the enquiries into the “flag” incident which took place at Sunday’s match vs. Celtic are now concluded.

These enquiries have revealed a clear breakdown in communication and decision making and moving forward, this needs to be and will be addressed by the club in conjunction with all members of the event management team. Clearly, the method employed to remove the item from the advertising board was not acceptable and out with the agreed procedures for dealing with matters of this nature.

The clubs and the two supporters involved have met and discussed the issue at great length and Dundee Football Club would wish to convey our sincere thanks for the cooperation of all concerned.

In the spirit of the discussions which took place at this meeting, Dundee Football Club would wish to place on record our sincere apologies to the two supporters involved in this incident. We will always endeavour in future to strive to achieve a safe and secure environment for everyone here at the Kilmac Stadium at Dens Park.”

The Celtic supporters, having had their flag snatched by the Dens Park Stewards, risked arrest but were determined to recover their property and defend the flag.

Well done to them.

We reported on how Celtic’s Supporter Liaison Officer John Paul Taylor posted this welcome update following the Irish flag outrage that occurred at Dens Park on Sunday, which was St Patricks’s Day.

Celtic supporters had their Irish flag snatched from stewards and the club initially claimed that this was done because the flag was covering an advertising board.

Here’s the flag being removed / stolen in the most sneaky manner possible.

Here are the Bhoys getting their flag back…

Take The Celtic Star’s Photo Tour of Celtic Park and enjoy our stunning photos from inside Paradise RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email

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