We’re on the road, for the very first time – The story of Celtic’s away venues

The story of Celtic’s first away venue took place in an unusual setting; the full story could be said to be truly educational. Despite playing their first ever game in May 1888, it was September of that year before Celtic took part in a match outside of the original Celtic Park.

That event was a significant moment in club history. Not only was it the Bhoys’ first away game, it was also their first competitive fixture, and led to their first final. The location was the grounds of Glasgow University; the competition was the Glasgow Exhibition Cup.

Ordnance survey map showing Glasgow University recreation grounds (marked as ‘Football ground’)

Glasgow University recreation grounds were host to numerous sporting events, including football matches. This pitch – beside the university’s famous tower building – has long since been built on and now houses the university’s school of Chemistry.

Photo of the recreation grounds (presumably taken from the university tower building)
Official International Exhibition map, showing recreation grounds

In 1888, an International Exhibition was held in Glasgow. This aimed to celebrate art, science and industry in the city and drew visitors from around the world. One attraction during this months-long event was a football tournament, with all games held at Glasgow University.

The newly formed Celtic were one of 16 teams who participated in the Glasgow Exhibition Cup. The opening match in the tournament – played on 1 August 1888 – pitted the Bhoys against Paisley side Abercorn.

Given the nature of the event – and football’s still growing popularity – minimal details exist of the game. Some reports suggest that Celtic’s team was: Dunning, McLaren, James Coleman, McKeown, Kelly, Gallagher, Gorevin, Johnny Coleman, Groves, McCallum, Madden.

4000 fans were in attendance and they saw Celtic take the lead but the Paisley men equalised before half-time. The second half was goalless and the Celts’ first competitive game ended 1-1.

1901 photo of a game being played at the venue.

Little thought had been given to what should happen in the event of a tie, although a replay was planned. No records exist of this match but some accounts suggest that Abercorn could have declined to play a replay, giving Celtic a ‘win’.

Certainly it was the Bhoys who played in the next round, where they beat Dumbarton Athletic 3-1 on 21 August 1888. Eight days later, a 1-0 semi-final victory against Partick Thistle meant Celtic were bound for their first ever final.

Tournament medal

Sadly, this was as positive as things got for the Celts. On 6 September 1888, Celtic lost their first cup final, falling 2-0 to north Glasgow side Cowlairs. The Bhoys would havbe their revenge before the season ended, beating Cowlairs 6-1 to win the Glasgow North Eastern Cup, Celtic’s first ever trophy.

The overall Exhibition had at least one long lasting effect on Glasgow. The millions of visitors it attracted helped the event make a £43,000 profit, which was used to fund and build the famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

If you ever visit this museum, take a look up towards the university’s imposing tower building. Just to the west of this, though it may not be obvious, is a little piece of Celtic history; the site of the club’s first ever away game.

And next time, we can call this feature ‘We’re on the Road Again’…

Matthew Marr

Follow Matthew on Twitter – @hailHailhistory

About Author

Matthew Marr first started going to see Celtic in the 1980s and has had a season ticket since 1992. His main Celtic interest is the club's history, especially the early years. In 2023, Matthew published his first Celtic book, telling the story of the Bhoys' first league title. He also runs Celtic history walking tours.

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