Govan has long been a Celtic stronghold and home to a number of Celtic supporters clubs down the years. The Govan Emerald CSC, based at the Tall Cranes pub, has been the main Celtic bus in the area in recent times and is well-known throughout the support. Whether it’s celebrating a Celtic title win outside the front door of Ibrokes, helping themselves to banners belonging to Rangers Ultras (the ones who like to ‘party all the time’!) or getting their flag out at the Kremlin to the dismay of Russian security services, it’s fair to say that the Govan Bhoys (and their partners in crime the Temple Tims) are not known as shy, retiring types.
The well-earned reputation of the Govan Bhoys in the forefront of the Celtic support goes back over a century, as revealed in this newspaper excerpt from 1914 about Celtic’s trip to Motherwell on 7th March for an important Scottish Cup quarter final. Celtic were fighting it out for both the Cup and League Title at the time and a then-record crowd of 18,000 turned up at Fir Park to witness this crucial tie.
Some Celtic fans didn’t have to wait to get the ground before the action started. As the Daily Record and Mail reported a week later “several chara-a-bancs filled with Celtic supporters were attacked at “County Corner”, in the Orange quarter of the town while proceeding to the match.” This happened near the railway station in Motherwell close to Milton Street where an Orange hall still stands today, home of the musically-and-sartorially-challenged County Flute Band.
An early Celtic brake club, 1899
News of the ambush didn’t go down well with Celtic supporters at the game. After watching their team secure a convincing 3-1 victory, the Celtic brake clubs assembled en masse and headed back to where some of their number had been attacked earlier in the day. In the words of the news reporter “a perfect battle-royal took place”: The vehicles were on their way back to Glasgow and it is stated that the occupants alighted at the railway station, about 300 yards from the scene of the incident which took place before the match started. It was alleged that they had their pockets filled with stone and bottles. Waving green flags they marched on “County Corner” in a body’ . . . Stones, sticks and bottles were thrown in all directions and many hand to hand conflicts took place.
As the riot unfolded, a police constable later reported that he saw a Celtic supporter leave a brake with a flag in his hand shouting “Dirty Motherwell; come away Celtic!” The flag, which was used as a weapon and fought over by both sides in the melee, was last seen as a production in the criminal proceedings that followed: One of the productions at the court was a Govan Celtic Brake Club flag which was used in a fight in Muir Street. A man, who was apprehended with the flag in his possession, was charged with having behaved in a disorderly manner . . . The accused had the flag in his hand laying around him in an indiscriminate manner. Constable Dunlop said there were hundreds in the crowd, and the accused was laying about him for all he was worth, and the crowd was so dense that he could not miss hitting.
Tally Ho Brake Club, Hamiton – circa 1920
The newspaper report reveals that one local man and a Govan man were both sentenced to a penalty of 20 shillings or the option of ten days imprisonment for their part in the disturbance. They got off lighter than the Celtic fan who ended up taking on the police as well as the Orangies that day: When taken into custody for having used obscene language he tripped up the constables and kicked them, and three civilians had to come to the aid of the officers. A fine of £2 with an alternative of twenty days imprisonment was imposed.
(It is not known if this Glasgow man was a forefather of former Celt Paul McGowan, now plying his trade at Dundee when he’s not plying into police officers in Airdrie and Coatbridge.)
Motherwell was well-known for the Orange sympathies of some of its inhabitants at the time who didn’t stop at attacking Celtic supporters. Six years after the riot at County Corner the radical Scottish communist John MacLean who spoke out regularly in favour of an independent and united Ireland had a public meeting in the town disrupted by Orangeman. Unperturbed, MacLean returned a few months later with the same message. More controversy followed but there was a different result, as recorded by the Fife miner John McArthur in the book ‘Militant Miners’:
MacLean got up at the meeting and attacked Carson, and the whole line of the British in Ireland – the scandalous use of the Black and Tans, the whole concept of Britain’s interference and savagery, the use of Scottish troops. He made special reference to Northern Ireland, Carson, and the Orangemen. The audience was getting more and more out of hand. The shout got up, “Up Derry!” The crowd rushed in. The platform went over. We had visions of an awful lot worse happening. But while there had been a concentration of supporters of Carson to have a go at Maclean, his open advocacy of support for the struggle in Southern Ireland for the Sinn Fein led to a counter shout of “Up Dublin! Up Dublin!” It was the first time I had heard it. Irishmen and Irish connections from all over Lanarkshire had come in to protect Maclean in this Orange stronghold. There was a rally by the “Up Dublin!” boys that pushed the “Up Derry!” boys back and they put a solid phalanx around the platform and said to Maclean, “Go on John, we’ll see that you get leave to speak.” It finished up an extraordinarily successful meeting.
That was the second occasion in contemporary times when Orange bully boys didn’t get things all their own way in Motherwell. The Govan Bhoys and their comrades had the last laugh as Celtic went on to win the Cup, beating Hibs 4-1 in a replay then two days later beating Hibs again (3-1) at Celtic Park to claim the League flag and an auspicious Double.
The Govan Bhoys would have undoubtedly celebrated Celtic’s Double in style just over a century ago. Whether they did so at the front door of Ibrox is not recorded in the newspapers of the day.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
On Sale now: lssue 2 of The Shamrock – Celtic Retro fanzine.
With articles on the legendary Alec McNair (known throughout his two decades in the first team as ‘The Icicle’), The Madness of Sir Bob Kelly, Ajax ’82 and the magic of Champagne Charlie, the Celtic Chronicles, the Rise and Fall of the Brake Clubs and The Berserking – a musical masterpiece born from the ashes of Celtic’s most despairing European performance.
And those are just for starters . . .
Buy online here: https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/subscriptions/