Hugh Murphy – A Monumental Celt

Hugh Murphy Memorial Dalbeth tall


When a crowd of 15,000 assembled at Celtic Park for a league fixture against Third Lanark at on 29th August 1903 they were surprised when the players ran out to find that their favourites were not wearing the familiar green and white striped jersey.  Instead, for the first time, Celtic were wearing a jersey of alternate green and white hoops.  There had been no announcement of this pre-match and, unlike in the modern game where the unveiling of a new shirt rivals the release of a Hollywood blockbuster in PR terms, no incessant speculation among the fans as to what format a new shirt design might take.

It was reported in the Scottish Referee sports paper the following Monday that ‘for some time, the change rather tickled one.’  Over a century on and the Hoops are now such an established part of the club’s identity – and renowned throughout world football – that it is hard to believe that a Celtic team ever played regularly in anything else.

The newspaper reported that the Celtic players were wearing something else that day – black armbands.  The previous Sunday, after attending mass at St Mary’s in the Calton, Hugh Murphy was waiting for a horse-drawn brake to take him to Airdrie where he was due to address a meeting of Irish nationalists.  He collapsed while waiting and, a few days later, he died at his home at 579 Gallowgate.  He was 47 years old.


Hugh Murphy mention in Scottish Referee Third Lanark v Celtic first Hoops 29.8.03

Scottish Referee, 31st August 1903 


His sudden death plunged the Celtic club and the Irish community in Glasgow into mourning.  Hugh Murphy was one of the most prominent and celebrated political figures that the Glasgow Irish claimed as one of their own.  Having arrived in the city with his family as a 10-year-old boy from Newtonbutler, County Fermanagh in the 1860s, Murphy became active in an array of Irish organisations as a young man.  He quickly came to the attention of John Ferguson, the book publisher who was the unchallenged leader of the Glasgow Irish for the greater part of the latter 19th century.  According to Ferguson’s biographer Elaine McFarland: ‘On first acquaintance, Murphy, aged seventeen, was still pledged to physical force nationalism, but he was soon won over by constitutionalist arguments.’

As one of Ferguson’s key radical lieutenants – alongside activists such as future union leaders Richard McGhee and Edward McHugh – Murphy helped build up Glasgow’s Home Government Branch of the Irish National League (INL) into that organisation’s ‘boss branch’ in Britain.   It was through their efforts that Glasgow and Scotland became a bedrock of support for Michael Davitt throughout his years of dispute with Parnell and others.  They developed a radical edge, encouraged by Davitt, that was unusual among Irish activists in Britain and abroad who tended to focus solely on the national question.   Using the Home Government Branch as a base they built up an effective political organisation that could largely guarantee the electoral support the Glasgow Irish, no mean feat at the time.

Hugh Murphy was a firebrand but also a keen political operator.  He was in his element in large public gatherings where he could command the attention and respect of the rowdiest of audiences.  His confrontational nature brought him into public conflict even with the mighty Davitt but he always managed to secure an amicable conclusion.  Murphy was influential in guiding the Irish vote in Glasgow away from the Liberal party which consistently failed to deliver Home Rule for Ireland towards the emerging Independent Labour Party, despite incurring the wrath of Glasgow Catholic press in the process.  He narrowly lost in a Glasgow Corporation election for the Whitevale ward (close to Celtic Park) in 1896 on a Labour/Irish nationalist ticket.   At the turn of the century many assumed that it would be Hugh Murphy who would go on to assume the elderly Ferguson’s mantle as the leader of the Glasgow Irish, but his untimely death prevented that.  Ferguson and Davitt would both be dead within three years of Murphy.

It is likely that Hugh Murphy’s prominence as a high-profile politician in the Irish community in the city would have resulted in some form of tribute from Celtic FC on that August afternoon.  Yet Hugh’s links with Celtic were long-established.  In Willie Maley’s words he was one of the ‘heads’ of the new club and part of Celtic’s first General Committee ‘and good-hearted, earnest committee men they all were.’  Hugh had been present when Hibernian had won the Scottish Cup in 1887 and at the subsequent celebrations in St Mary’s Hall that night and later at the Wellington Hall in the Gorbals when the Home Government Branch presented each Hibs player with a solid gold medal in the shape of a harp.  Hugh looked on as Celtic Park was opened and Celtic won their first ever match there in 1888 and he accompanied Michael Davitt when the sod of shamrock turf was laid at the new ground in 1892.


Hugh Murphy cropped

Hugh Murphy, 1856 – 1903


The Glasgow Observer columnist and devout Celtic fan ‘Man In The Know’, who had close links with the Celtic board in the early 20th century, clarified in 1920 what role Hugh Murphy had performed in the foundation of Celtic.  He said that Brother Walfrid and John Glass had launched the ship; that Dr Conway, Joseph Shaughnessy, John H McLaughlin and Stephen Henry were on-board at the launch; but that the ‘keel-layers’ of the ship – those responsible for its initial construction – were Brother Walfrid and Hugh Murphy.

It was Hugh Murphy who recommended to the Marist that his great friend and neighbour John Glass take the key role in assisting him in establishing the football club he envisaged to fund the children’s dinner tables in the schools of the three East End parishes of St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart and St. Michael’s.  When Brother Walfrid left for London in 1892 it was John Glass who primarily directed Celtic’s affairs until his death in 1906 and he oversaw the club’s crucial early successes.  Hugh Murphy, while a keen Celtic supporter from the outset, focused his energies on the political issues affecting the Glasgow Irish instead.  His brother Arthur was an active Celtic committeeman until the club went private in 1897 and he was still alive when Celtic celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1938.

In his tribute, which was published in various Irish newspapers throughout Ireland, Scotland and England, John Ferguson wrote that ‘with modest bearing, good-temper, self confidence and undaunted courage, Mr Murphy was in every movement that Ireland made.  By degrees his individuality made himself felt not only in Glasgow, but in Ireland and upon the Leaders of the Nation . . . We only have to display a little of our departed comrade’s moderation in language, wisdom in council and courage in action to still keep in line with the advancing forces which are rapidly nearing the goal of Irish self-government.’

Hugh was buried at St Peter’s Cemetery at Dalbeth on the London Road and, a year after his death, a large crowd assembled to watch John Ferguson unveil a large memorial in the form a red granite Celtic cross, decorated with shamrocks and harps, which was paid for through donations from the Irish in Glasgow, political supporters and admirers.  Celtic Football Club contributed £20 to the fund.


Hugh Murphy Memorial Dalbeth 1

The red sandstone memorial at Dalbeth 


At the unveiling John Ferguson told the assembled crowd: ‘Protestant and Catholic around his grave we honour him as a type of an unconquered race and a changeless faith.  The man who serves his country in a foreign land, reckless of danger, loss of shame, is a higher order of patriot than he who strives for his country at home.  That patriot at home has National opinion to sustain him and the hope of rising with the fortunes of his country; but men like Hugh Murphy have nothing to gain by Ireland’s success but the gratification of the Celtic sentiment of duty to the fatherland, which is indeed a reward that will give a happiness that material wealth cannot.’

The impressive memorial to Hugh Murphy is one of Dalbeth’s most striking structures and still looks resplendent today having withstood the Glasgow weather for over a century.  St Peter’s is an ideal place to visit on foot or bicycle if you’re in the East End during the current lockdown and looking for a refreshing change of scenery and some interesting Celtic-related history.  Hugh Murphy’s monument lies close to the resting place of his great friend John Glass as well as other key early Celtic figures including Dr John Conway, David Meikleham, John O’Hara and the McKillop brothers.

The inscription on the stone to this great Glasgow Irishman ends with a line from the anthem ‘God Save Ireland’ which was the most popular song sung at Celtic events in the club’s earliest years: ‘He was true to Home and Faith and Freedom.’ 


Hugh Murphy Memorial Dalbeth text




Read about the fascinating story of Bridgeton’s Catholic section and the role this community played in the foundation of Celtic FC here:

Glengarry: Glasgow’s Sacred Heart

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Issue 6 of The Shamrock – OUT NOW!

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Issue 6 of the Celtic retro fanzine The Shamrock is  now on sale.  This is a Charlie Tully special with features on the Irishman’s glittering career, his ‘olimpico’ goals and the phenomenon of Tullymania.  We have a new series on the toughest Celts called ‘Hoops of Steel’, a review of Celtic’s first-ever awayday at Ibrox, the latest Celtic Cameo and Celtic Chronicles and information on the Walfrid Walking Tour.

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Book Review: Take Me to Your Paradise

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This book is sub-titled ‘A History of Celtic-related Incidents and Events’ and even that doesn’t seem to capture the huge range of stories which are contained in over 370 pages, dating from the club’s earliest days through to the present era.  It’s a munchie box of Celtic goodies with something for every Celtic fan from the first charity football matches organised by Brother Walfrid in Bridgeton through to Celtic’s first attempts at floodlights in 1893 to the Celtic player who won the Victoria Cross for bravery, speedway and cycling at Celtic Park and the comical red card that Johnny Doyle received away at Ayr in the 1970s as well as the passport woes of Efe Ambrose.

This is author Liam Kelly’s second book and comes two years after his commendable debut, ‘Our Stories and Our Songs.’  Once again Liam has demonstrated some impressive research skills and an eye for a good story.  There are moments of sadness along the way but tales of the Johnstone Vigilante Committee, the infamous Kenny Dalglish conference in Baird’s Bar, Peperabi and the demise of Tiger Tim as Celtic’s stadium announcer are the tasty highlights of this impressive selection.  There are few other places where you will read incendiary tales of Celtic Park going up in smoke, CS gas cannisters at Easter Road and Celtic’s first-ever major cup final abandoned due to a heavy snowfall in the one sitting.  The book has everything.

Most of the 70+ stories are bite-sized but there are few chunky pieces to sink your teeth into also.  All sorts of Celtic names, famous and little-known, past and present, come flying off the pages: Willie Maley, James Kelly, Pat ‘Tailor’ Welsh, Mohammed Salim, Willie Angus, Johnny Campbell, Glen Daly, Peter Scarff, Charlie Tully, Jorge Cadete, Neil Lennon and (boo! Hiss!) even Judas Johnston.

It’s a refreshing and welcome look at Celtic history which will appeal to fans of all ages.  Liam’s new book won’t just satisfy your appetite for all things Celtic – it will leave you hungry for more.  A fine achievement.


The Shamrock rating: 7/10 


Book front and back covers standing


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LAZIO, AGAIN by Tom Campbell

During World War Two (and for some years afterwards) a popular song by Vera Lynn contained these words: “We’ll meet again, Don’t know where, Don’t know when … but I know we’ll meet again, Some sunny day …”

Well, before their recent visit to Celtic Park, the last time we played Lazio was on September 41950 … sixty-nine years ago.  And it was a miserable wet day in Glasgow, rain falling steadily all day long … but it did not stop a crowd estimated at 47,000 turning up at Celtic Park to see Lazio, the first Italian club to play a match in Scotland.  I remember the rain because I was there, soaked to the skin but all agog to see a top European side in action.


Celtic v Lazio 1950 ticket
Ten shillings and sixpence to see the first Italian team to play in Scotland


Celtic’s team lined up:  Bonnar; Haughney and Milne; Evans, McGrory and Baillie; Collins and Fernie; McPhail; Peacock and Tully.  From the start Lazio looked a stylish side, wearing sky-blue jerseys (similar to Manchester City) and playing attractive one-touch football … but eventually they were swept aside by Celtic in the rain.  John McPhail, only recently given an extended run at centre-forward, was a man with something to prove and turned in a remarkable performance.  Celtic latterly swept aside their Italian opponents to win by 4-0 … and all four goals were scored by ‘Big John.’  There was a pleasing symmetry about the goals that buried Lazio: two goals in each half, a matching header and penalty kick (awarded correctly by Scottish referee George Mitchell).

What had Celtic’s captain John McPhail to prove?  After several seasons as Celtic’s most versatile player (with appearances at right and left-half even long before the Coronation Cup of 1953) and innings at all three inside-forward positions … at last he was given the time to establish himself as Celtic’s centre-forward – arguably a problem position for Celtic to fill since the heady days of Johnny Crum back in 1938.  And John seized that opportunity, eventually leading Celtic to the Scottish Cup of 1951.

But that was not his only motivation in September 1950.

Back in May, Bob Kelly had decided to award his players with a trip to Rome.  It was a Holy Year and Celtic could see the historic sights of ‘the Eternal City’, would be given an audience with the Pope … and play ‘a friendly’ with Lazio, a team based in Rome and celebrating their 50th anniversary.


Celtic players and Jimmy Hogan at the Vatican Rome trip 1951
The Celtic party at the Vatican including famous Celts Tully, Fallon, McPhail and Bonnar – and Jimmy Hogan (bottom left), the pioneering football coach who spent two years at Celtic Park


Unfortunately, it turned out to be not much of ‘a friendly’.  Bobby Collins, who in a long career in Scotland and England proved a ferocious competitor, described the match as ‘the most vicious of them all.’  The Italian referee (a man who apparently performed well later as a World Cup official) had to award more than forty free-kicks – and ordered off John McPhail and his immediate opponent.


Captains and penants Lazio v Celtic 1950
The calm before the storm . . . captain John McPhail exchanges pennants with his SS Lazio counterpart in Rome


An urban myth has grown about John McPhail’s dismissal.  According to John, the referee dismissed his marker for a series of fouls (and a scuffle with him) but then turned to Celtic’s captain and told him to leave the field “to calm down the crowd.”

It doesn’t quite ring true, that account.  Almost certainly (judging by the number of fouls, and the rarity of matches between Scottish and Italian sides), there would have been a predictable clash of differing football styles and culture on the pitch … and both sides would have contributed equally.

In 1950 Celtic managed a 0-0 draw in Rome.   Following our victory a fortnight ago, I would happily settle for a repeat in 2019.


Tom Campbell 


Here is John McPhail’s account of his Roman Holiday – recounted over 20 years later in the 1970s:

John McPhail v Lazio



Celtic historian Tom Campbell has recently released his 14th Celtic book entitled ‘A Very Different Paradise.’

For more details and to read reviews (as well as an interview with the author) please CLICK HERE


Tom Duff – Celtic’s Unholy Goalie


It was deadly silent in the Celtic changing room on New Year’s Day 1892.  The players did not know where to look.  Five goals down to Dumbarton at half-time without reply, things had only got worse in the second half with three more goals conceded – and still none scored.  Amazingly, three Dumbarton ‘goals’ had even been chalked off by the referee. 

This was real infamy: the worst defeat in the club’s short history.  It remains to this day Celtic’s highest defeat in any match at Celtic Park.    

Willie Maley was in the Celtic dressing room that day having played in the game.  Years later he recalled that 8-0 defeat had came as a ‘terrific shock’ to the team.  Even though it was a friendly, Celtic were vying with Dumbarton for the League title that season and had already beaten The Sons at Celtic Park a few months earlier.  The calamity on New Year’s Day was a humiliation for Celtic.  A scapegoat had to be found.  Inside and outside the dressing room fingers pointed in one direction:  at Celtic’s goalkeeper, Tom Duff. 

The Scottish media of the day were in no doubt that the ‘keeper was the man responsible for Celtic’s embarrassment.  ‘Duff’s goalkeeping was very indifferent’ reported The Scotsman while the Scottish Referee blamed him exclusively for Celtic’s humbling defeat: ‘had goalkeepers been reversed a different result would have been seen.’  Glasgow’s Catholic newspaper, the Observer, was still unforgiving of Duff’s performance three years later when it stated:  ‘Everyone remembers the fatal new Year’s Day when, in the presence of some 20,000 people, the Celts had to submit to the ignominy of a 8-0 defeat, owing to the extraordinary and erratic behaviour of Duff in goal.’ 

Some papers openly speculated whether Tom and his team-mates were still hungover from the Hogmanay celebrations of the night before: “Because they eight (ate) nothing! – which we have reason to believe is a falsehood – at all events it is not denied that, at least, some of them drank.”  It would prove to be Tom Duff’s last game for Celtic, the Committee sharing the media’s view that the blame for the heavy loss fell squarely on his shoulders. 

The future had looked very different for Tom Duff just a few months earlier.  He had been signed that summer from Cowlairs and was highly regarded.  Willie Maley later wrote that in the club’s earliest years in the goalkeeping position “we never really had complete satisfaction” but with the signing of Duff it had become “one free of anxiety.”  Tom was a safe pair of hands, the long-established custodian at Cowlairs, one of Scotland’s earliest clubs, which grew out of the railway yards in Springburn, north Glasgow. 

Celtic’s decision to recruit Tom Duff as the last line of defence was not controversial at the time which, in hindsight, is more than a little surprising:  Celtic’s new goalkeeper was an Orangeman! 

Tom Duff’s membership of the Orange Order was known throughout the game at the time of his joining Celtic.  The Ayrshireman had played in the first ever match at Celtic Park when Hibernian and Cowlairs met to formally open the new ground in May 1888.  Just a few weeks later the teams met again, this time at Easter Road, in a much less harmonious affair.  Tempers flared when Hibs striker ‘Darlin’ Willie Groves (a future Celt) received a punch on the jaw so hard he didn’t make it out for the second half.

Tom Duff and the Cowlairs team of 1886-7

Cowlairs were unhappy that the goal that put Hibs in the lead was allowed to stand and refused to play on, playing the ball back to Duff to stop the game re-starting.  As the anger of the Hibs fans grew, the future Celt could be seen gesticulating at them.  This was not a smart move because within a short while the Hibs fans had invaded the pitch after the Cowlairs started to walk off.  The Hibs’ historian Alan Lugton described the scenes which then unfolded in volume 1 of The Making of Hibernian:  ‘The Hibernian navvies were already fuming at the treatment Willie Groves had got and now they lost control, poured onto the park and set about the Cowlairs men, paying special attention to Duff who was well known for his Orange sympathies.’  As a full-scale riot developed on the pitch, the referee abandoned the tie and the Cowlairs players sought safety from the rampaging Hibernian fans in their dressing room.  Alan Lugton went on to comment: ‘Incidentally, Duff the Orangeman would later play in goal for Celtic who, unlike Hibernian, never had a Catholics only policy.’ 

Further confirmation of the Orange allegiance of the Celtic goalie came some years later when the prominent Scottish football writer Bedouin (aka Robert M Connell) wrote a series of memoirs about the game in Scotland and its players for the Scottish Weekly Record in 1908.  Connell was a friend of Celtic directors of the time such as ex-players James Kelly and Tom Dunbar.  Celtic historian Pat Woods, writing in Celtic: Pride and Passion (2013) stated that Connell had a high regard for Tom Duff’s abilities which was an impressive reference from someone ‘whose knowledge of the early days of organised football in Glasgow was encyclopaedic and who referred to the keeper as ‘The Cowlairs Orangeman.’   This reference, in the 18th July 1908 paper, came about when Connell was discussing a series of famous encounters between Cowlairs and Rangers, and stated that ‘Duff, the Cowlairs Orangeman who subsequently kept goal for the Celts, guarded the uprights.’  Over a decade on, the memory of Duff playing in Celtic’s colours was still causing comment. 

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Tom Duff signing was that the Celtic committee, players and supporters were all aware of his Orange background – and yet there is no record of any objections being made from any section.  It is inconceivable that Celtic signing an Orangeman today would be met with the muted compliance of the Celtic support!  Yet Duff was welcomed with open arms. 

This may in part be due to the fact that Duff’s association with Celtic preceded the summer of 1892.  Celtic had long-standing difficulties identifying a suitable goalkeeper.  Mick Dolan, Willie Dunning and Jamie Bell had all been tried in the club’s first two seasons and even defender James McLaughlin had been used on occasion.  In the summer of 1890, after Celtic’s second season, the club had fixed up a number of prestigious friendlies against English clubs, including Wolves, Notts county and Preston North End, and it was Tom Duff who was invited to keep goal.  He responded with a string of good performances as Celtic went undefeated on their mini-tour of England.  Yet, when the new season started, it was Bell who was again between the Celtic posts – but not for long. 

In season 1890-91 Celtic failed to make the long-hoped for breakthrough, coming 3rd in the inaugural Scottish League and knocked out of the Scottish Cup at the semi-final stage.  Celtic meant business for the new season and spent considerable sums securing Dan Doyle and Alec Brady from Everton as well as the prodigal Neilly McCallum returning from Notts Forest.  The final piece of the jigsaw was the goalkeeping position and they went for the man many considered the best in Scotland at the time: Tom Duff. 

There was no doubting Duff’s goalkeeping pedigree.  He had played against Celtic many times and always impressed, even though Cowlairs were regularly on the losing side.  It was Duff who had kept a clean sheet and stopped Celtic in their first ever cup final, the Glasgow Exhibition Cup in September 1888, which Cowlairs won 2-0.  In a heavy Scottish Cup defeat to Celtic in 1888 one newspaper said of Duff that he ‘through all proved a most capable man.’  In January 1890 it was his ‘magnificent goalkeeping’ which forced Celtic into a replay which itself was marked by ‘miraculous saves’ from Duff (presumably of the non-Lourdes variety).    

Season 1891-2 saw Duff and Celtic get off to a great start.  He kept a clean sheet against Rangers in a 3-0 victory in August and the team defended ‘remarkably well’ in a 5-2 win over Abercorn a few weeks later.  When reigning champions Dumbarton visited Celtic Park on 26th September in a top-of-the-table encounter, the Bhoys recorded an impressive 2-0 win.  It was the most important game of the season up that point and one journalist highlighted that Dumbarton ‘were only kept from going through by the excellent goalkeeping of Duff.’    

Tom’s star was very much in the ascendancy but that game may have sown the seeds for the disaster that was to unfold.  Torrential rain hit Celtic Park during the match and the referee finally ordered both sets of players off the pitch until the downpour receded.  The damage to Tom was to prove severe – he missed almost two months of first team action because of rheumatism connected with the fierce soaking he suffered in that Dumbarton tie. 

Celtic kept faith in Tom and when they reached the Glasgow Cup Final on 12th December the call went out for him to return between the sticks.  He had a quiet game as Celts ran out 7-1 winners against Clyde – which meant he won his first major medal in football, one of the main reasons why he’d moved to Celtic Park.   Tom played in Celtic’s next two competitive fixtures, knocking Kilmarnock Athletic out of the Scottish Cup and beating St Mirren in a League tie on Boxing Day.  With a new year dawning life was looking good for both Tom and Celtic: a trophy already in the bag, top of the League and going well in the Scottish Cup. 

The Celtic team that won the Glasgow Cup in 1891 with an ecstatic-looking Tom Duff

In the absence of competitive fixtures for most of January, Celtic fixed up some friendly ties instead.  Dumbarton were invited to return to Celtic Park for a New Year’s Day fixture with a genuine competitive edge and, as expected, the tie proved a great draw with over 15,000 spectators attending.  That would only rub salt into the Celtic wounds. 

Over a century on, it is difficult to explain what went so badly wrong that day for Celtic to lose an incredible eight goals without reply.  It was a full-strength team which included early Celtic luminaries such as Dan Doyle, Sandy McMahon, Jerry Reynolds, Johnny Madden, Peter Dowds and Neilly McCallum.  These were no novices. 

Captain James Kelly was missing due to injury and replaced for the day by the Clyde centre-half John Cherrie (who played ‘a miserable game’ according to one paper and Celtic did not follow up their interest in him).  The keeper was certainly at fault for some of the goals.  The second was described as ‘a soft shot which Duff might easily have saved’ and in the second a strike from Dumbarton striker Bell ‘made Duff shake in his shoes.’    Some of his errors appeared more schoolboy than Apprentice Boy. 

If, as suspected by many, Tom Duff had over-indulged in his Hogmanay libations – or made the mistake of taking alcohol while still being treated with laudanum for his rheumatism – the likelihood is he wasn’t the only Celtic player who had done so.  Yet he was the scapegoat and the only player to be removed from Celtic Park.  This is perhaps no surprise in light of the scathing criticism in the papers, such as these comments from the Scottish Referee match report: ‘Duff for the day spelt his name D-U-F-F-E-R.  It will take a lot of his best saving to recover the reputation lost.’

For Willie Maley the 8-0 defeat proved a ‘a rude awakening that ultimately did us good.’  The Benburb goalie Joe Cullen was brought in and would prove the most successful of Celtic’s early custodians in his five years with the club before leaving for Tottenham Hotspur. 

Although the league was eventually lost by just two points to Dumbarton that season, Celtic won the Charity Cup to go with the Glasgow Cup that Tom Duff had helped secure back in December.  But most importantly of all Celtic finally won the greatest prize in Scottish football at the time at the fifth attempt: the Scottish Cup.  This treble of trophies was referred by Willie Maley as Celtic’s ‘three-leaved shamrock success.’    

Meantime, Duff had returned to Cowlairs and was able to recover something of his reputation.  Two years after his departure from Celtic he put in a strong performance in a Glasgow Cup semi-final against his former club which in the eyes of one reporter ‘proved that he is still possessed of all the ability that earned him fame as a custodian.’ He had gone some way to restore the damage done to his reputation that infamous New Year’s Day. 

Duff’s former team-mate and famed Celtic striker Sandy McMahon said years later that he could have been ‘a great goalie had he only put his mind to it.’  Indeed, if the Dumbarton debacle had been avoided, Celtic’s goalkeeping Orangeman could have been a part of the success the club would go on to enjoy in the 1890s:  winning the Scottish Cup that season for the first time and winning their first League Championship the next season.   

For Tom Duff, it just wasn’t to be – yet he remains a fascinating footnote in the club’s history and the most potent symbol of Celtic’s ‘open door’ signing policy from its earliest days. 

For Celtic, the future was bright – but it wasn’t Orange. 


Tom in happier times


Tom Duff and his Celtic team-mates weren’t the only people who enjoyed a good swally on Hogmanay 1891 . . .

In a publicity stunt, the match between Celtic and Dumbarton was kicked off by the unusual figure of Major Burke, the manager of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show which was touring Scotland at the time and attracting audiences of up to 7,000 people a night in the East End Exhibition Building near Duke Street in Glasgow, a short distance from Celtic Park. 

The show was extraordinary by the standards of the day, featuring a cast of over 300 cowboys and Native Americans (or Red Indians as they were known then) and up to 200 horses, mules and buffaloes who recreated scenes of wagon ambushes, marksmanship and full-scale battles.  As well as Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, the main attractions were the exotic and fierce-looking Red Indians with names such as Lone Bull, Kicking Bear, Iron Tail, No Neck (admittedly, not an uncommon sight in Dennistoun) and the Sioux brave Charging Thunder. 

After his appearance at Celtic Park on the 1st January 1892, Major Burke had to attend to some urgent business at the Calton Police Station in Tobago Street, just off the London Road.  Charging Thunder had spent Hogmanay touring the public houses of the Gallowgate and getting familiar with the locals.  On his return to the campsite while under the influence he assaulted one of the show’s interpreters with a war club which resulted in the police being called – and Charging Thunder being taken into custody. 

Major Burke’s attempts to secure his early release failed and the Red Indian remained resident in the Calton’s jail cells (which can still be seen when driving along London Road) until January 12th when he had to appear in the Sheriff Court.  While he pled guilty to the assault, Charging Thunder’s claim that his lemonade had been spiked did not result in any clemency being shown as he could not identify the Gallowgate pub in which this offence had occurred.  He was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment in Barlinnie.  This was not proving a good start to the New Year for either Tom Duff or the Sioux Brave. 

Charging Thunder returned to the fold of the Wild West Show and came back to Britain again when it toured in 1903.  There was another fall-out and this time Charging Thunder decided that he would set up home in Salford with one of the show’s horse trainers, Josephine Williams.  He remained in Greater Manchester for the rest of his days, changed his name to George Williams and raised a family while working at the Belle Vue Circus – where he looked after the elephants – until his death through pneumonia in 1929.  He is buried in Gorton Cemetery near Burnage, where Noel and Liam Gallagher grew up. 

Charging Thunder and Josephine

According to his surviving grandchildren, Charging Thunder did not shake off the fondness for drink that landed him in the Tobago Street police cells.  But when he had imbibed too much he would avoid trouble by heading for the zoo where he would sleep off his hangover with his favourite elephant, Nelly, guarding over him. 

The Buffalo Bill statue in Dennistoun commemorating the visit of Charging Bull and friends to Glasgow’s East End


An earlier version of the Tom Duff article first appeared in Issue 3 of The Shamrock magazine

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