The Famous Founding Quote That Was Never Actually Said

One of the most widely circulated Celtic quotes is actually a myth and is slightly misleading. “A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for children and the unemployed.” It’s a quote that we’ve all heard a million times, it’s even been repeated by the club itself, yet it was never actually said back in November 1887 when Celtic was formed.

Not a single piece of literature has evidenced this quote being stated. Not an article. Not a minute from a meeting. Nothing.

Celtic did not feed the unemployed. The club was formed to provide financial assistance to Brother Walfrid’s Poor Children’s Dinner and Breakfast Tables charity, within which a Penny Dinner scheme was operated in three Catholic schools – St Mary’s, St Michael’s and Sacred Heart. The Penny Dinner scheme was designed to alleviate poverty and encourage educational attendance among local Catholics in the East End of Glasgow – the descendants of Irish refugees. A penny would be paid for a meal, but free meals would be provided for children whose parents were unemployed and thus possibly unable to contribute the requested penny.

The club’s first circular of January 1888 tells the real raison d’etre, note that there is no reference to the unemployed:

His Grace the Archbishop of Glasgow and the Clergy of St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart and St. Michael’s Missions, and the principle Catholic laymen of the East End.

The above club was formed in November 1887 by a number of the Catholics of the East End of the City.

The main objective of the club is to supply the East End conferences of the St. Vincent De Paul Society with funds for the maintenance of the “Dinner Tables” of our needy children in the Missions of St Mary’s, Sacred Heart, and St. Michael’s. Many cases of sheer poverty are left unaided through lack of means. It is therefore with this principle object that we have set afloat the “Celtic”, and we invite you as one of our ever-ready friends to assist in putting our new Park in proper working order for the coming football season.

We have already several of the leading Catholic football players of the West of Scotland on our membership list. They have most thoughtfully offered to assist in the good work.

We are fully aware that the “elite” of football players belong to this City and suburbs, and we know that from there we can select a team which will be able to do credit to the Catholics of the West of Scotland as the Hibernians have been doing in the East.

Again, there is also the desire to have a large recreation ground where our Catholic young men will be able to enjoy the various sports which will build them up physically, and we feel sure we will have many supporters with us in this laudable object.

The mention of unemployed people being among those that Celtic were formed to help, rather than simply local Catholic children, first seemed to be made in the early 2000s. For the 2004 Celtic Charity Fund Dinner, a programme was put together and there was an article by Alex Gordon contained within it, entitled Brother Walfrid’s Dream. This article, incorrectly, quotes the circular. Indeed, Gordon’s piece remarked:

“On another bitingly cold November in 1887, a hand-written circular was passed around the needy of the area. It stated simply: A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and the unemployed. Eighteen words. Eighteen words that formed the foundation of an institution the world now acclaims as Celtic Football Club.”

Where this mythical quote stems from is unclear, but it was never uttered and is not entirely accurate.

Celtic has a wonderful history with noble foundations, but we did not form to ‘maintain dinner tables for the unemployed’. It would be great to see our first circular accurately quoted and celebrated by the club.



About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.


    • More that the club’s first circular which outlines why it was formed actually says for maintenance of dinner tables for our needy children, no.mention of unemployed. Also because the charity we were instituted to was a charity for children and the penny dinner scheme walfrid operated was for children. Then there’s the club accounts showing where donations went.

      It is an inaccurate quote, in writing what Alex Gordon put, he misquoted the circular. That error has been repeated

    • the real Anton Rogan on

      Perhaps a simply misquote and should have read “A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children OF the unemployed”

  1. Not sure why you have brought this up ?. That statement has been used for over 100 years its part of our identity and background.

    • Because I’m passionate about the history and have spent years studying and writing books about it. I like the accurate history to be told and people may find it interesting to note that the quote is actually slightly inaccurate.

    • Not being founded to aid the unemployed is nothing for them to lap up. We helped alleviate poverty by giving children access to cheap or free meals and encouraging school attendance to educate as well. Alongside that, the club held charity games for a number of causes such as to raise funds for evicted tenants in Ireland. So they can say what they like it doesn’t detract from anything

      • Robert Cairney on

        Talk about crossing your “t’s” and dotting your “i’s”…ffs…
        Could you explain how feeding the children of unemployed fathers doesn’t qualify as helping the unemployed…
        I think you’ve got too much time on your hands and you’ve posted a load of nonsense…

      • About 5 or 6 years ago I was having a discussion with a friend who is the same age as me and has been a Celtic fan for over 60 years. He was annoyed at something the Green Brigade had put on a banner and in the course of the discussion he said that the Green Brigade should realise that Celtic were founded to raise funds for the poor people of the area irrespective of religion. He was initially surprised when I pointed out that the money Celtic were raising then was specifically for the poor children in the 3 local Catholic parishes.
        He got his “information ” from the Celtic Match Programme. That document said that the main reason that Celtic was founded was to raise funds for food for poor people in the East End. Not wrong but misleading. The Programme also said the second purpose of Celtic was to integrate the communities. As anyone can see from the original statement Liam has provided the second intention was to give the Catholic youth of the area a place for physical recreation.
        In my youth I had never heard anyone say that the name Celtic was chosen so to represent Scotland and Ireland. I think in relatively recent years the powers that be at Celtic have done a wee bit of airbrushing about our origins to bring them into line with contemporary feelings. We are lucky that we have some great Celtic authors who have researched and written about Celtic’s origins. Unfortunately a lot of people like my friend seem to be unaware of those books and rely only on Club Statements for their knowledge on Celtic history.
        Incidentally what had sparked our discussion was my friends annoyance at a word the Green Brigade had used. He questioned what Celtic had to do with Irish Politics. I did explain to him what that connection was- but that’s a story for another day!

        • Matt

          All this revisionist nonsense started with Brian Wilson’s execrable history of Celtic. Fergus doubled down on these lies. Brother Walfrid was actually terrified of losing some of his flock to so-called evangelical. In return for a meal these people demanded that the Irish turn their backs on the old faith.

          Hail Hail.

  2. It always amazes me that people are more interested about what them from across the city will think about anything. Whether Celtic was formed to feed Children, Unemployed or Whoever, it was formed with charitable intentions. So fundamentally our origins are unchanged. How does that old song go, “if you know your history” maybe that just applies to the “history” that suits. Good piece that l found enlightening

  3. Scott Reid. Correct. Celtic were indeed founded for charitable reasons. In those pre-welfare state days churches (of all denominations) would have raised funds to assist poor parishioners. The people involved with the parishes of St. Michael, St Mary and Sacred Heart decided that starting a football team would be the best way to raise funds for their needs. If they had thought that starting a Dance Troupe would have raised more money then they would have gone down that path. Unlike most other football clubs Celtic were founded not to play football but to raise money for charitable purposes.

  4. This isn’t the revelation you think it is. The club’s official book “Celtic 1888-1995” is very clear why Celtic was started. There’s no cover-up of the reasons behind it as you’re hinting at.