Book Review: ‘Uniquely Celtic’ by Frank Rafters

Celtic Re-view:   ‘Uniquely Celtic – The Soul and Spirit’ – Frank Rafters

 Uniquely Celtic cover

Some books have grand titles and other make grand claims for what lies within the covers but it is rare to get a book that lives up to its billing the way that ‘Uniquely Celtic’ does.  Capturing the essence of what Celtic means and what it feels like being a Celtic supporter is a tough ask yet, with his second book, Frank Rafters has managed this with some aplomb.  In doing so he has created a wonderful album of profiles, trivia and unique perspectives in a single volume, covering the full spectrum of the club’s history.

It will come as no surprise that this is a worthwhile read after the positive reception given to Frank’s debut book, ‘Standing On The Shoulders of Giants’.*   He has gone even further this time in digging into historical archives to give a real flavour of the times when key players and games took place.  There is also a great structure provided by a series of different pieces which intersperse the book.  The extensive newspaper-published memoirs of Willie Maley, which went much further than his book ‘The Story of Celtic’ and were published closer in time to the club’s foundation and earliest years, are faithfully reproduced and give a fascinating and detailed insight into the workings of the original Celtic team and directors.  They also illustrate the fact, regularly overlooked, that our first Manager was an accomplished writer in his own right and his scribblings deserve the kind of platform that they’re given here, taking you right into the heart of the great successes and controversies of the club’s first quarter-century.  The author has also uncovered the published reminiscences of John H. McLaughlin, a key founding father, who led the charge of professionalism and the introduction of the League format into Scottish football – and his recollections are well worth a read.


Willie Maley older

Willie Maley – Celtic Manager and Chronicler


James Kelly is another figure, often neglected yet absolutely vital to the success of the early Celtic, whose contribution is fully explored here – in stages – as a player, captain and director.  The three different John Divers who have donned the Hoops in the club’s history are also profiled, bringing to life different Celtic eras thanks to match reports sourced from a variety of different newspapers throughout Scotland which adds a different perspective again from the largely Glasgow-based sports media of the time.

The author has burrowed deep to find new Celtic tales and accounts with one of the most interesting being a lecture by Tom Maley to a Celtic audience in a Motherwell theatre in April 1928 headed ‘The Story of the Celts’.  As one of the first players recruited to the Celtic cause Tom had a unique bird’s eye view on the early struggles to get the new club off the ground and recounted them faithfully forty years on.  His closing comments were something of a rallying cry:  ‘The Celtic, without doubt, were what they were by sticking loyally to each other, by playing with the proper team spirit, and, whether winning or losing, playing with the Celtic spirit that never lost heart.  The old spirit never failed, and after forty years had come and gone, it was the same old Celtic. (Loud applause).’

Celtic supporters again are given their proper place by the author who has selected a number of individuals with wonderful stories to tell about their times following the Bhoys at home and abroad.  In terms of unique perspectives there are few out there who could match that which Gerry Cleary had of the 1985 Scottish Cup Final v Dundee United.  From the United States to Africa and Amsterdam or a Celtic brake club trying to return through the south side of Glasgow after an Ibrox game, a true flavour of the dedication and sheer delight that comes from following the Hoops is captured here – and the importance of the club beyond the football pitch.


Kelly, James  elder

James Kelly: ‘No Kelly, No Keltic’

Pride of place in this album of Celtic player profiles and memorabilia has to go to the exposition of the life and football career of the unique Willie Fernie, architect of the 7-1 Massacre and much more besides.  With the help of Willie’s family the author has put together the most detailed portrait published of this hugely talented Celt whose influence as player and latterly reserve coach in the late 1960s and ‘70s alongside his former team-mate Jock Stein has long been overlooked.  The family has helped make this a unique record by providing the author with access to previously unseen photos which bring his story – and that of the family itself – to life for the reader:  Willie’s wife Audrey was secretary to manager Jimmy McGrory and her brother Norman was a ball boy at Celtic Park along with a certain young Jimmy Johnstone in the 1950s.  Willie’s involvement in Scotland’s first ever venture into the World Cup Finals has to be read to be believed.  It is easy to imagine this account being developed into a book on Celtic’s famous Fifer in its own right.


Willie Fernie and son Alex and Grandson Andrew

Willie Fernie – back at Paradise which he lit up so often, with son Alex and grandson Andrew

A truly wonderful array of Celtic titbits and trivia light up the book throughout.  A 94 year old supporter recalling his attendance at the first ever Celtic game at the original Celtic Park back in May 1897; the time a Celtic team playing against Rangers was reduced to “seven men and a cripple” according to one newspaper after one of the most infamous refereeing performances in Scottish football history; the Lisbon Lions who spent that famous game sitting among the fans, assuring them that Celtic would come good – and the celebrations which followed when they did indeed come good; the shock of Willie Maley ‘stepping down’ from the Celtic manager’s post in January 1940 after five decades of dedication; a picture of the ‘Wizard of Dribble’  Willie Fernie with his son and grandson in their seats in the all-new Celtic Park of the 21st century; and a song in honour of one of Celtic’s greatest and most wayward sons, the inimitable Tommy McInally:

Tommy McInally,  he’s the toast of ground and stand,

Tommy McInally, he’s the greatest in the land!

Even though I get the sack, how I love my Tommy Mac,

Oh, I love my Tommy McInally!


Tommy McInally, he’s the man that makes us sing,

Tommy McInally, as he charges up the wing!

And when he gets the ball, you can her the Celtic call

Tommy, Tommy, Tommy McInally!


‘Uniquely Celtic’ is a unique Celtic view on a club, support and history unmatched in world football – the Celtic soul distilled into one grand volume of almost 600 pages which altogether represents another wonderful addition to the Celtic library.  At only £15 the book is a ‘steal’ to rival Celtic’s purchase of Didier Agathe for a mere £35,000!  Get it.


*See The Shamrock review of that book here:


Paperback, 547 pages

Grosvenor House Publishing


The Shamrock rating: 8/10




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 The book can be purchased direct from the author here – signed copies available:

Also available at the Celtic Superstore and at online rip-off outlets such as Amazon.

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Read our other film and DVD reviews on all things Celtic here:


Issues 1 and 2 of The Shamrock – Celtic Retro magazine on sale at Celtic Park on home matchdays and through Paypal.  Digital version also available:

Sham Issue 1 front cover  Sham 2 cover

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