The Man from Ballymote and the Celtic Cycle

7 Nov

Good Morning,

The meeting on 6th November 1887 in St Mary’s Church Hall in the Calton did not come about by accident of course. There had been many discussions before then about forming a club called Celtic and at least two earlier attempts  to form a club with that name in or around Glasgow had come to nothing.

The backshop of a barber’s shop in Springfield Road had been the scene of several such discussions. Men who came in for a haircut would stop and chat and the idea of this football team was among the foremost points of discussion,– and it was such discussions in and among the community that would lead to the meeting on 6th November.

The man from Ballymote had already started holding football matches for charity by this time, inviting a number of well known teams to play whilst at the same time holding games involving lower tiered teams– such as a team from St Peter’s in Partick. However, Walfrid saw the benefit of proper organisation for this footballing venture, and was instrumental in the idea of a new properly organised club based on a charitable foundation.

His ideas were and would be for nothing though without the help of others– including John Conway, John Glass, The Maley’s and various others. Glass was probably the tough nut, in that he wanted a football team– a right good football team– and if it had to be on paid professional lines, with wages ( which were not strictly allowed at the time ) then so be it. He believed that with a great team, the crowds would come and then you could give to charity– a view that would cause some to eventually fall away as they wanted a team based on purely philanthropic lines. Mr Glass, while accepting that this was a nice idea, was otherwise minded and would not be deterred. Celtic would work, would be professional and would not be content to be just a team formed for a good purpose– it was to be a great team formed for a good purpose and that ambition would not be compromised– for anything or anyone!

So, it came to pass that John Conway became the very first member of that club following the meeting in St Mary’s Church Hall that November night in 1887.

Think on this: Grover Cleveland was then President of the United States. Gottlieb Daimler had just unveiled his world changing invention– The Automobile! A German born American called Emile Berliner was granted a patent for a new fangled thing called a gramophone– how many teenagers would know what a gramophone is today?

Work had started on the Eiffel Tower, Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in a Study in Scarlet, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show opened in London’s West End and Giusseppe Verdi premiered his opera called Othello at La Scala in Milan…. all in 1887.

In Glasgow, the Battlefield Monument was unveiled, Jordanhill Train Station was opened, and the good “Women of Partick” renamed the City Park under their control in honour of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee stating that Victoria Park would be the prettiest park in Glasgow!

In the same year, the world would be introduced to Glenfiddich Malt Whiskey and  a boy was born in England who would go on to terrorise the masses, with wide googly eyed stares, menacing expressions and and frightening portrayals of a madman!— no not Craig Whyte—– Boris Karloff!!!

It is easy to look back through the nostalgic glasses of time and see Celtic as a romantic club which of course it is. Yet those who were at the meeting in St Mary’s– and who had participated in all the discussions before– were not concerned with history or the past. No– they had an eye on the future– tomorrow, the week after, a year later and the year after that.

They either wanted to create a great football team, put bread on the tables of the poor or a mixture of both.

In 1887. Hibs had beaten Preston North End to claim the World Championship of football– both teams having won their respective cups. I wonder how many believed that over a century later both of these clubs would be overshadowed by the team they created in a church hall? In saying that I mean no disrespect to the histories or the importance of Preston North End nor Hibernian FC as both played a pivotal roll in the development of football.

However Walfrid and his cohorts could never have imagined the Celtic that we see today– with its worldwide branding, its reputation in Europe and beyond, and its undoubted big business element.

Today we have a Malt Whisky Man as Chairman, are sponsored by German Automobiles, are championed by stars of stage and screen, have monuments of our own to those founding fathers, have followers in the Wild West and other parts of America who yesterday had their say as to who would succeed Grover Cleveland as President. There is even talk of Celtic having its own train station at some point in the future.

Walfrid moved to London a few years after the club started, and while he started life as plain Andrew Kerrins from Ballymote, by the time he was laid to rest in the Cemetery of St Joseph’s School in Dumfries he had become “Walfrid of Celtic”.

But that was yesterday!

Today we have a new breed of hero for the club that came from nothing.

After the Barcelona game tonight a group of intrepid souls will jump on a minibus and head for the Irish Boat and make their way back to Walfrid’s roots– Ballymote. Once there, they will cycle back to Celtic Park in time for the game against St Johnstone in an effort to raise money for charity.

Many of you will know Mark Cameron. He is involved heavily in the John Thomson walk, cycle , and just about everything else Celtic. Mark has worked tirelessly to get this particular event off the ground and along with the likes of Neville Carolan in Ireland has put a huge amount of effort into setting up this “initial” event in the clubs 125th year. Mark embodies everything that is good about Celtic– his work is tireless, relentless and always with the good name of the club in mind. He is as determined as John Glass was and is adamant that Celtic will never be “just another club”. It has to have a purpose. He is also just a hell of a nice guy!

Mark was in Ireland last week and brought back a newly designed and sculpted Celtic Cross fashioned on the stone that came from Brother Walfrid’s familial home in Ballymote. Have a look for it on the Celtic FC webpage.

I say initial, because it is only the first of a number of things designed to raise the Celtic profile and bring charity right back to the forefront of things Celtic.

The phrase doing 125 for 125– or 1254125– is not just a catchy phrase or a clever wee play on words or numbers. It is a reminder to all of us of….. why!

It is a call to arms to those of us who grew up in, or have come to adopt, this football club with its charity tradition and ethos. In 2012 poverty and disadvantage is back on our doorstep. It is right next door and there are people in Scotland and Ireland who are facing tough times, disadvantage, lack of opportunity and a closing of doors that– if opened– may give them a better future.— Just like 1887.

It shouldn’t be like that– and perhaps the state, Government,and the powers that be should not allow that to happen. I can see that argument, understand it and support it. It was the same in 1887!

However we, those of us who rejoice in the name CELTIC can either sit back and wait for the politicians to get their act together or we can do something about it. The Celtic Charity Foundation has decided to do something about it rather than do the waiting.

Working with the board of the club, there is a real drive to make a difference to the lives of the people on our very doorstep– irrespective of social station, creed, ethnic origin, physical well being, politics and even what football team they support if any. There is a special emphasis on children and the first thousand days of life as studies show that this time in a child’s development and learning is crucial.

I know of moves to make 1254125 really kick off and the Celtic Cycle– from Ballymote to Celtic Park is the start of that process– it is a cycle in more ways than one— it is an actual cycle, a symbolic cycle, a charitable cycle and a re-enactment of the cycle of Celtic’s life– from Ballymote to Celtic Park.

Yet it has to go beyond there.

So far, there are those who have anonymously donated a six figure sum for the introduction of musical instruments and music teaching for the schools in the east end of Glasgow.

There are those who are organising events all over the world– from very close to where some of you are now to the most extreme areas of the planet– all in the name of Celtic.

There are those who have shown repeatedly what can be done in the name of the club for the Thai Tims, The Kano Foundation, Vanessa Riddle, Oscar Knox, Peddle for Petrov, The Celtic Graves Society, The John Thomson Memorial Fund and oh so many more.

Last night Dermot Desmond announced that he personally would pay for the new mosaic for the front of St Mary’s church– which is being built in Jerusalem— at the cost of £35,000.

The man from Ballymote did not invent a car or Gramophone record, he did not build an iconic tower, write an Opera or hold the position of President of the Richest Country on earth– however he did gives us a cause, an idea, a football team which is more than just a football team. He gave us a vision of the future– and 125 years later we now have the parcel that he passed to us and it is for those of us who follow Celtic to take a walk– or a cycle– or a run– in his shoes and with his vision.

Walfrid saw a future where the poor and the underprivileged could prosper, gain an education, make something of themselves from very humble and poverty stricken roots– provided that they get a little help from the rest of us—- all while still following a football team which makes special things happen with this ethos and belief.

Our Visitors tonight proclaim that they are more than just a club—- as they represent the Catalan and of late a style of football. Barcelona FC is a great institution.

Celtic represent an idea that knows no geographical boundaries, and whilst based in Scotland has followers and fans throughout the planet who would follow the club irrespective of the performance on the field of play– who simply buy into Walfrid’s idea of community, of the helping hand and doing a bit for others who you will just never know and never meet.

So please do what you can to support Mark, Ally Schultz, Paul Muldoon, Robert Campbell, Jim Kelly and Ray McFarland in their cycle– not to mention Andrew Muldoon— Paul’s Dad who is acting as their support throughout the trip. They are the Celtic Six and they will be parading around the park at half time against St Johnstone on 11th November.

If you are on twitter look out for their progress report– Mark Cameron goes by the rather Runyonesque name of @leftybhoy and also look out for @alischulz1888 @67mouldy67 @j_b_kelly among others.

However more importantly, throughout the course of the year raise some money yourself. Do it with a mate, do it in a group, do it with the family or do it on your own.

It doesn’t matter if you raise £1.25, £12.50, £125, £1250, or £125,000– just raise the money in the name of that thing called Celtic.

Create your own just giving page or have the money donated by using the main page which is here:

Most of all– have fun doing this. It is not meant to be a burden or an imposition in any way– it is meant to be fun– and remember that Celtic was formed that November night without there being a football in sight, with no players, no stadium, no goalposts— nothing.

People coming together with an idea with the aim of having some fun, raising some money for charity in the name of CELTIC– are CELTIC! You don’t have to be a player,  a board member, a shareholder or have any official title.

Celtic and the idea of Celtic passed down through Walfrid to generation after generation belongs to all of us with no exception or rule for membership, and 1254125 is meant to be simply that– the 2012 embodiment of what Walfrid wanted to do– raise some money for folk on your doorstep.

So– baking  a cake, sponsored silences, bag packing at the supermarket, bag a munro or two, run for charity, knitting sweaters, shave your head, hold a raffle, have a soup or coffee morning, run a marathon, walk a mile, have a fancy dress party, do one of those calendar thingies…. do whatever would be a laugh and might raise some money.

Get the wife or the hubby involved, grab the weans, the mother in law, the neighbour and your pals. Fans of different clubs– yes every club— can get involve in this without fear or favour.

There will be a calendar of events announced on the official website soon– but this is about those of us who are not official anythings– just fans, just those who a hundred and twenty five years ago may have had a coffee or a tea in the back room of a barber’s shop and talked up an idea.

Oh– and anyone who has a really good story to tell about how you did or will do 1254125– well send me an e-mail with the details to and I will see if we can get enough stories together to persuade some halfwit to publish a book in time for next Christmas which tells the story of the Celtic fan in this the 125th year of an idea which came to be in a church hall in the east end of Glasgow one November night.

The man from Ballymote was not too concerned about Yesterday– he wanted to create a future in the name of Celtic— it wasn’t a bad idea– was it?

Celtic Football Club– making you hope, dream and think since 6th November 1887.


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