Published on Wednesday 30th March, 2011 by Celtic Trust

Our Charitable Roots - from Walfrid on

Celtic Football Club is one of the proudest names in world football. The first team from the UK to win the European Cup in 1967, the club has always had a reputation for playing flamboyant, exciting, attacking football in the finest traditions of the `beautiful game’. However, the club has always had a wider significance for its supporters than simply as a purveyor of, sometimes, top class football. Critically it acts as a pivotal source of cultural identity. This has made it, in the words of the motto of that other famous European football institution FC Barcelona, `More than a Club’ to its many supporters. In an Annual Report of the PLC dated 1999, the then Chairman Frank O’Callaghan acknowledged that `As Celtic develops as a football club and a business, it is important to remember its impact as a social institution and the responsibilities that carries.’(Annual Report (1998/1999, page 2)) In this regard Celtic plc has one of the most developed community involvement programmes of any UK football club via its Celtic Charity Fund . In order to understand the special community dimension of Celtic it is necessary to know a little about its history (Morrow, 2000a & 2000b). Celtic Football Club was established by Brother Walfrid, a member of the Catholic Marist order, in 1888. He had two aims. Firstly, he wished to raise funds to provide food for the poor of the East End of Glasgow, many of whom were Irish Catholic immigrants. Secondly, he wished to give the Irish community a sense of identity and pride.(There is evidence of a continuing Marist connection in the background image to this website showing Jimmy McGrory, John Thomson, Willie Maley and Brother Dunstan, headmaster St Joseph's Marist College Dumfries from around 1928). A driving force in the emergence of Celtic was the notion of mutual self-help. Glasgow’s Irish community wished to establish a welfare system through which they could demonstrate that they could look after themselves and that they would not act a drain on the wider community’s resources. One interpretation of the willingness of Celtic supporters in the 1990s to subscribe for shares in such large numbers is that it is but the latest manifestation of this instinct for self-help in the tradition of mutual organisation and the co-operative ideal. In 1892 Celtic moved to their current home at Parkhead in the East End of Glasgow. The centre-square of turf in the ground was made up of shamrocks from County Donegal in the North-West of Ireland, a county with a particularly strong history of emigration to Scotland, and Glasgow in particular. The famous Irish social radical and labour activist Michael Davitt laid the Centre Square. Brought up in Lancashire of County Mayo parents – he never lost his broad Lancashire accent - Davitt lost an arm in an industrial accident in a spinning mill at the age of nine. Nevertheless, he went on to form the Irish Land League with the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster, Protestant landowner and social reformer Charles Stewart Parnell. The Land League ultimately won the right for Irish tenant farmers to own their own land through the Wyndham Land Acts of the early 20th century. In his non-sectarianism, social radicalism and pride in his Irish culture and tradition Davitt exactly embodied the proud traditions that have come to embody Celtic as a social institution. In football terms, the period 1965-1974 were glory years for Celtic. Under the management of the incomparable Jock Stein the club won nine Scottish League Championships in a row (and a total of 24 major domestic trophies – an average of two trophies every season), won the European Cup in 1967 and reached the final again in 1970 only to be defeated by Feyenoord of Holland. The club remained successful on a more limited scale in the domestic arena into the 1980s. However, in the early 1990s it fell into financial and playing crisis. When Celtic was incorporated as a public limited company the majority of share-buyers were businessmen in Glasgow’s East End. They were the initiators of lines of succession which survived all the way through to 1994. The lack of dynamism in shareholdings may have contributed to a lack of dynamism in the way the club was run: the Kelly, White and Grant family groupings jealously guarded their control of Celtic, the club squandered the opportunity to build on its extraordinary footballing success. As the football world developed around it, particularly at archrivals Rangers, Celtic seemed paralysed. It became apparent that the club management had failed to move with the times. By 1994, riven with internal disputes and allegations of financial and managerial incompetence, and with shareholder and supporter unrest at fever pitch, the club moved to the verge of financial collapse as attendances haemorrhaged. With the club on the verge of receivership it was saved by the intervention of Scottish-born but Canada-based businessman Fergus McCann who bought a controlling interest in the club. He introduced a number of other major new investors, stabilised its borrowings, and floated a holding company of which the football club was a subsidiary on the London stock exchange. The holding company was a public limited company (plc) called Celtic plc Critically, as part of this process, in early 1995, Fergus McCann initiated a share issue which was open to ordinary supporters; 10,500 accepted the challenge and a total of £9.4 million was raised, leaving supporters with approximately 40% of the shares in Celtic plc. Ironically given the club’s roots, this was the first time most ordinary supporters had had the opportunity to take a stake in the club they loved. One consequence of this was that there were extremely low levels of secondary market trading of shares in Celtic (for example, a daily average of 0.05% of the number of shares in issue between 21st September 1998 – 8th April 1999) by comparison with a conventional plc (Morrow, 2000a & 2000b). This is despite the fact that in early 1997 the shares were at one point worth nearly six and a half times the 1995 offer price. Even in August 2000 shares purchased in 1995 were still worth approximately three and half times their original offer price. Clearly supporters had not invested primarily for capital gain. Certainly their behaviour could not be described as that of conventional profit-maximising investors! A much more profound and deeply emotional relationship was at work here than a simple desire to realise a speculative capital gain.


Brother Walfrid Commemoration

For the past two years the Trust has been actively represented, along with other organisations and individuals, on the ad-hoc Committee set up to erect a monument to our founding father. This initiative came to fruition in November 2005 and a magnificent statue was erected to serve as a permanent reminder, not just of our roots but of our role as a social and charitable institution, and a reminder for the generations to come of what it is to be a Celt once the final whistle has blown.


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