Celtic FC was founded 1887 and played their first match in May 1888. Many football clubs (QPFC, the Rangers FC, Third Lanark, Partick Thistle, etc) organised sports meetings at the time and Celtic, with such as Willie Maley and his brother Tom on the books were almost bound to follow suit. Two years after that first football match, they were organising their first meeting.
The Scottish Referee of 4th August, 1890, referred to what it called a preliminary meeting to its first sports the following week: “On Saturday the Celtic Football Club made a beginning at sports holding and a promising one it was. Next Saturday the by event comes off and Celtic Park will be big-crowded indeed. The various events have been filled well, and sport will be good, in addition to which it is well to remember that the meeting will be under good management. Entries can yet be made with Mr William Maley.”
But before the big meeting the following week, there was the report on the preliminary sports on the first Saturday in August: a date that was synonymous with the Rangers Sports at Ibrox. “Some disappointment was caused at the Celtic Sports on Saturday when it was became known that a great number of the clubs who had entered in the five-a-side competition was not likelty to put in an appearance. This robbed the sports of a great deal of interest. A little time had to be “frittered” away and once or twice the crowd became nervous. What a big crowd too! If there’s a club in Scotland that can make a “draw”, that club is the Celtic. The track looked a “hummer” but it falsified its appearance later on. After the 300 and 200 yards had been run, the holes left on the surface showed that it was still heavy. It will require all the rolling it can get between now and next Saturday.
The club possesses a few capital sprinters and the confined handicaps were really enjoyed by the big crowd. Tom Maley was handicapper to less than a step, and it was nonsense to be asked to give away the distance to some of the competitors. Kelly with practice we fancy, would make a mark in distances under a quarter and over 100 yards. P Gallacher collared the 300 yards prize; he had to run for it.
W Maley collected a couple of “firsts” – the 100 yards and 200 yards.”
It was only four years since Willie Maley had won the SAAU 100 yards championship and it is good to see that the former Clydesdale Harrier was still competing. The comments on Tom Maley and handicaps above are reproduced as in the paper but what happened was described further through the ‘Referee’. There were four Heats of the 100 yards. “The first brought out only two runners Kelly 4 yards, Collins 10 yards. Kelly ran a magnificent race and when only half the distance was traversed had overtaken his man and eventually won anyhow. In the second Heat, Willie Maley had some work ere he beat his two opponents but he ran strongly to the finish. In the fourth Heat the full complement put in an appearance. Tom Maley was scratch but after the start had scarcely got into his stride when he drew up, being unable to give six yards to P Gallagher who came romping home. Murphy had 9 yards and McVey 11 yards off Maley.” Willie Maley won a hard fought final to win by half a yard from Gallagher. Both Maleys were in the 220 with Tom again off scratch, as he was in the 300 yards where he finished third. All events were confined events.
Celtic played Cambuslang in the 5-a-side but since Cambuslang had turned up with only four players, they ‘picked up the odd Celt’ and fought their way to the final where they would meet the Celtic number one team the following Saturday.
Was the meeting on 9th August a success? This from the’ Scottish Referee’ of 11th August: “The experiment made by the Celtic FC on Saturday of holding a sports meeting was fully justified by the magnificent success which attended the venture. We have witnessed all the leading athletic events this season but in point of enthusiasm we must give the palm to this immense gathering.” There was more but the undoubted success of this event is testified to by the above extract and the fact that 5000 people attended. The paper even gave three reasons for the triumph:
- The fact that it was the Celts’ debut on the path;
- The excellence of the sporting bill of fare;
- The value of the prizes “which the executive without regard to cost have secured.
There was even a bit of controversy. One of the top sprinters was Mr DD Bulger, a former Irish champion, who had “a peculiar cat-like method of starting came in for much comment and experienced authorities were inclined to doubt its legality. The rule has it that no part of the athlete’s body shall protrude beyond its mark, and interpreted strictly we certainly think that Mr Bulger’s style of springing off, or steadying himself with his hands on the track an infringement. We do not know for what reason he has adopted this position, or of what value it is to him as an athlete, but it is certainly a novel departure from the starting methods which have hitherto been witnessed in Scotland.”
Novel it may have been in Scotland but Daniel Delany Bulger was a multi title winner from Dublin who had won the Gaelic Athletic Association 100 yards in `886, 1887, 1888, 1889 an 1890, and the Irish AAA’s 100 yards in 1888, 1889 and 1890 and the 220 yards, GAA, in 1885, 1886 and 1887, and IAAA in 1885. He did run at Parkhead despite the doubts but was unplaced in both handicap finals.
In the sprints, Tom Maley was more fortunate in the open 100 yards, off 3 yards, than he had been in the confined version tha previous week: he won his heat, semi final and final, where the winning time was 10.2 seconds; J Kelly of Celtic won the 220 yards from a mark of 15 yards; the half mile had 17 starters and was won by Mitchell of Harriers in 2:04; the Mile with 15 runners was won by A Russell of St Mirren FC; and the two miles flat handicap was won by Henderson (300 yards) from McCann (100 yards) and Russell of St Mirren (150) third. Top event however had to be an event held for the first time in Scotland – a 100 yards invitation scratch race. There wre four starters – Bulger, Tom Maley, Tom Blair and McPherson. Bulger won from Blair in 10.4. Interestingly Willie Maley ran in the 100 yards from 5 1/2 yards and won his heat but failed to get through his semi final but – h seconds was running as ‘Celtic FC’ and Tom was running for ‘Clydesdale Harriers’. There were also bicycle races on the programme as well as a dribbling race (confined to reserves), a sack race which had heats and a final, and the final of the five-a-side in which Celtic won by one goal and one point to one point.
There were some caveats after the meeting however: note this from the ‘Glasgow Herald’:
“The ground of the Celtic is well suited for the football but for an athletic meeting such as was held on Saturday afternoon it is perhaps the most poorly adapted enclosure in Scotland. This blight, we are in a position to state, will be removed by next summer. A cinder path worthy of the reputation and position of the club will be laid, and other alterations effected which will place Parkhead on a level with Hampden, Ibrox and other athletic enclosures. Had the facilities for running been good, the Celtic sports would have been the finest, from an athletic point of view, ever seen in Scotland. … “ It went on to mention in particular the corners were too “sudden” for the runners and good times. But the comments of the two reports confirm that the standard at this first venture was remarkably high.
The pattern of a preliminary meeting on the first Saturday in August followed by the major event the following weekend was followed through in 1901 with the dates being the 1st and 8th of August. Once they had both been completed, the ‘Scottish Referee’ of 10th August commented: The Celtic Executive have scored a remarkable success with their athletic meetings of the last two Saturdays, and one which cannot but justify their policy in treating their patrons to a sight of some of the best talents in the three kingdoms. The spectators turned out in their thousands. and one would have thought that from the excitement caused by the various events,and especially by the wheel races, that a stiff football match was in progress. The visitors took away a good share of the pots , and Vogt again proved his popularity and ability.”
4.500 spectators attended the preliminaries meeting on the first Saturday in August and was enjoyed by all but the programme for the main meeting was not available a week beforehand other than that the main events would be 100, 220, 440, 880 yards and one mile flat races, dribbling race and the final of the 5-a-side tournament between Celtic No. 1 and Kilmarnock Athletic plus bicycle races at half mile, one mile and two miles (both for solid tyres and pneumatic tyres) and a hurdles race. RA Vogt, champion and record holder at distance from half a mile to over twenty miles was to appear in the cycle races as were Torrance, Cockburn, Campbell and Howie but Collins would not be there as he preferred the East Stirling FC Sports. Vogt had taken a tumble at the last year’s sports but that’s part of the excitement of the event for the spectators.
RA Vogt, Clydesdale Harriers, who was a great favourite at Parkhead.
Celtic certainly did have athletes from all three home nations competing in 1891 and the ‘Glasgow Herald’ tells us that C Bradley of Huddersfield was the best English sprinter that has visited Glasgow. He won the scratch 100 yards race, was second in the open handicap race to Dickenson of Dublin University. In the cycle races Vogt had two firsts and a third.
In 1892 the open meeting on the second Saturday in August was less successful and the coverage was more sober. The ‘Scottish Referee’ started its comments with this: Amid circumstances deplorably depressing opened their new grounds at Parkhead last Saturday. It was most unfortunate that an event so important in the short yet brilliant career of the club should have been marred by such miserable weather. As Mr Farquhar Matheson, the referee, remarked at the social which followed the sports, the weather is one of these factors entirely beyond the control of the officials. Saturday’s wretched experience was doubly unfortunate in that it robbed the public of really seeing at their best the very cream of British athletic talent. Despite all however, the attendance of the public was most exemplary, How they lasted out a programme which took almost exactly six hours to get through is a testimony to their patriotism. Happy is the club that has such patrons. ….”
There was however no financial loss and rain is to be expected in Scotland. Bradley was again in action, the highly regarded WJ Holmes was in the half-mile and several of the best cyclists took part. DD Bulger, described as English and Irish hurdles champion and record holder, ran well enough but was beaten by Dickie who had 11 3/4 yards start. Hugh Barr, Scottish international long jumper and sprinter also took part in the sprint, WJ Holmes won the half mile in 2 minutes dead and Bradley was described as the finest sprinter ever seen in Scotland. There were stars everywhere. Bradley won the 100 yards invitation from Bulger (running from his hands), with McCulloch and Barr racing for third place. Bulger ran in the hurdles but failed to break the record – little wonder given the weather. The club had a supplementary meeting on the Monday, 15th August, 1892, with a 100 yards (Bradley scratch. W Maley 6 1/2 yards, and several others), 600 yards handicap, three quarters mile flat handicap, plus bicycle races. The meeting was very successful with events at a variety of distances being run and cycle racing also on the programme. The 100 yards handicap had six heats and Bradley won from McCulloch and Blair of QPFC; a 600 yards flat race was won by Woodburn of West of Scotland; a three quarter mile handicap was won by Campbell of Clydesdale; the ten miles cycle race was won by McLaren from Vogt and Mecredy won the half mile cycle race.
The second Saturday in August 1893 saw Parkhead occupied by a match between Celtic and Queen’s Park so the Sports were shunted back a week. Given the standard of athlete promised, they were none the worse of it: the report in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ the following Monday began “The annual sports of the Celtic FC held at Parkhead on Saturday afternoon attracted the largest crowd ever witnessed at an athletic meeting in Scotland, it being estimated that 20,000 spectators were present. Nearly all the English and Irish cracks were present, and this, combined with the fine weather, no doubt partially accounted for the large attendance. The arrangements were excellently carried out by Mr William Maley and an able committee.”
The 120 yards had twelve heats, three semi finals and a final, won by Bradley from Huddersfield; 100 yards flat race invitation handicap won by JR Gow (Rangers) from TE Messenger Salford; the 120 yards hurdles had three heats and a final, won by Shaw of London; 300 yards flat race handicap with eight heats and a final, won by AH Thom (Third Lanark) off 3 1/2 yards; half mile handicap open won by SW Ashworth from Manchester; one mile flat race handicap won by SW Ashworth. The back marker in the open mile was Fred Bacon (Salford, second) who set a new record of 4:25.
There were also half mile bicycle race, 5 heats and a final*, one mile handicap race open to riders receiving handicaps up to 100 yards from RA Vogt (3 heats); three miles bicycle race handicap (3 heats and a final); and 10 Mile bicycle race won by O’Neill (Vagabond AC) from Vogt. * In the half mile race, third heat, Vogt punctured and had to get a new machine; McCaig waited on him and Vogt allowed him to win.
The success of the meeting can also be seen in that the amount drawn at the gate was £350:10:6 and with other sums due the total was over £500. The follow up meeting on the Monday night had many good performances to commend it but the ‘boisterous weather’ did nothing for the crowd size. Bacon set another record – for the thousand yards this time – of 2:19.4; O’Neil equalled Vogt’s quarter mile flying start record of 32.4; the final of the 120 yards flat handicap had a marvellous race between Bradley of Huddersfield, Gow of the Rangers, Lumley of Newcastle and Young of Beith with inches covering all four at the finish – Bradley won; Godfrey Shaw won the hurdles race and Crossland of Salford won the two miles. Another good evening’s sport.
The preview of the 1894 sports in the ‘Scottish Referee’ waxed lyrical: “Celtic are busy completing their arrangements for their Saturday and Monday Carnival. To the club that has competed such athletic triumphs in the past, nothing is impossible, and, great though their previous records be, we expect from the labour and enterprise they have devoted to this meeting that it will result in all previous records being bust.
The grounds and tracks have been magnificently worked up by Master-of-Works McKay and all who are privileged to look upon them on Saturday will pronounce them the finest in Scotland if not in Britain. Mr W Maley is responsible for the list of attractions which are sufficient to please the daintiest athletic palate. It is indeed a meeting of the champions of champions, the creme de la creme of the Scottish, English and Irish athletic paths.”
After that the meeting hand plenty to live up to. The crowds had seen Willie and Tom Maley in action at the club sports and on 11th August 1894 they saw youngest brother Alex competing in the sprints. “The annual sports of the Celtic FC were held on Saturday afternoon at Celtic Park, Parkhead. The weather was dull and threatening but fortunately the rain held off and the events were carried off under favourable auspices. Nearly all the champions of Britain competed, and although there were no records broken some accomplished wonderful time considering that there was a strong wind. The arrangements of the secretary, Mr William Maley, were excellent and the sports were an unqualified success. Representatives from the Queen’s Park, the Rangers and nearly all the leading clubs gave assistance in carrying out the programme. It was estimated that 17000 persons were present, and with the supplementary meeting tonight (Monday 13th) the club will doubtless reap a handsome surplus.” To give a notion of how the spectators saw the meeting, the results below are in the order in which they took place.
3 Miles Bicycle Race Handicap: CP Glazebrook (Manchester)
120 yds hurdles (four heats + final later in programme): A Graham (West of Scotland)
120 yds invitation handicap: 1. CA Bradley (Huddersfield); 2. A Downer (Pelicans); 3. TE Messenger (Salford)
880 yds flat handicap: D Caw (MH)
Half mile bicycle handicap (7 heats + final): D McEwan (Ayr)
100 yards handicap (12 heats, semi finals + final): Jeffrey (IFC)
Mile handicap: FE Bacon (Salford)
one mile bicycle race (3 heats + final): JH Simpson (Cathkin)
220 yds handicap (8 heats + final): JF Burnett (EH)
10 miles bicycle race: 1. O’Neill (Dublin), 2. Naylor (Dublin); 3. Leitch (London)
Alex Maley was mentioned – he ran in the 100 handicap and won his heat off 13 yards in 10 seconds dead but did not progress through the semi final.
Celtic had now held five successive and successful sports meetings – the enthusiasm and drive of W Maley had no little part in it but it is good to note the amount of help they received from other football and sports club personnel. Names like Gow and Vallance appear as officials as well as competitors, Farquhar Matheson and many other members of Clydesdale Harriers officiated every year (the Maley brothers and many others were members of the club before the Celtic FC appeared on the scene), men from Queen’s Park and other clubs were also in evidence. All that remained to conclude the five years was to hold the supplementary Monday night meeting. We conclude with this from the ‘Glasgow Herald’ of Tuesday:
“The sports of the Celtic FC were continued last night when Bacon, the English champion, accomplished a performance in the our miles flat handicap – that too on a very heavy track and in miserable weather, rain falling heavily all the time – that cannot be too highly spoken of. Starting from scratch with George Crossland, the Salford Harrier, he beat the Scottish record by 10 seconds, his time being 19:44.4, with Crossland, who also beat the record, close up. The winner was Duffus (Arbroath Harriers), 230 yards, who came in 25 yards in front of Bacon, and whose time was 19:04.2. Bacon’s last 25 yards was done in 3.2 seconds, being equal to quarter-mile time. Andrew Hannah started from the same mark as Duffus but gave in early in the race. The 600 yards flat race scratch invitation was won by JF Magee (Dublin), time-1:16.2; SW Ashworth (Manchester) was second and TE Messenger (Salford) third.”
There were also a 100 yards and a 120 yards hurdle race as well as two cycle races with the riders eventually riding in the dark.
Farquhar Matheson (right) and his four brothers: He was track referee at all five meetings above