Brendan Rodgers traveled home to home to visit the folks at the Northern Ireland Hospice as he is an ambassador before enjoying what’s left of Christmas Day before an early flight on Boxing Day morning back to Scotland and back to work. You’ve just got to love the guy.

There was a time in the past, however, when a day off for Christmas Day was not a given. Christmas Day games were not unheard of. The last time Celtic had a fixture on that day was in 1971. Throughout their history Celtic have played on seventeen occasions on Christmas Day, all of these bar one were League fixtures.  There has been a significant amount of Yuletide joy supplied by the Hoops. They have put significant amounts past teams, hitting 9 past Clyde in 1897, 8 past in Kilmarnock in 1937 and 8 again past Morton in 1965.

The only one which wasn’t a league fixture was a friendly against Belfast Celtic in 1911 in pre-partition Ireland. On the day Celtic managed to register a 1-0 victory. Unfortunately further information was extremely hard to come by but with Celtic having played Morton at home just two days earlier perhaps this wasn’t a full strength Celtic side.  The link between the teams was very clear, with both club’s calling their ground Celtic Park, and Belfast’s  Chairman James Keenan at their inception had suggested that their club be called Belfast Celtic after their Glasgow friends. Glasgow Celtic even provided them with a cheque for the early maintenance of their Belfast counterparts. Indeed throughout the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century they had many of the same players represent them at different times, probably the most famous of whom being Charlie Tully.

Belfast Celtic and Celtic played friendly matches on sixteen occasions with one sadly coming after the former had stopped playing competitively in Ireland in 1952. These were friendlies in the absolute purest sense, two clubs with a similar ethos and a great camaraderie who represented a very similar demographic of people in their respective cities. Glasgow Celtic triumphed in most bar two, their 1904 encounter in which Belfast managed a one nil win and a four a piece draw in 1947. During the mid to late 1920’s they became a yearly occurrence for a time.

Belfast Celtic were one of the most illustrious teams on the whole island of Ireland in their heyday winning fourteen League titles and eight Irish Cups during their existence.  The proud history of the Belfast side was to come to an abrupt halt after a particularly venomous game against Belfast rivals Linfield, who similarly to Rangers (1872-2012) at the time had a clear anti-Catholic hiring policy. Supporters of Linfield, and I use the word “supporters” extremely loosely, attacked a number of players on the Belfast Celtic side at the end of the game, but especially Jimmy Jones, himself a Protestant. Jones’ legs were disfigured so badly by the bile-filled hoard that after surgery one leg ended up being an inch and a half shorter than the other.  The reason why he seems to have been picked out…. the very fact that he was a Protestant and therefore a traitor.

After the board of Belfast Celtic saw the utter joke of a sanction that was out to Linfield, playing two games at a different ground, the men in charge decided that the protection being offered to their clubs fans and players by the police and officials had left them in an untenable position and decided that the club was to leave Irish football for good.

Where Belfast Celtic’s Celtic Park used to stand is now unfortunately a shopping centre in the centre of Belfast, but if you visit the Park Centre on Donegall Road you can find the Belfast Celtic Museum.Oh and at the time of writing the Scottish media had been condemning Scott Sinclair’s use of the word “hatred” in relation to the atmosphere at the upcoming Glasgow derby at Ibrokes on Hogmanay. Hatred in games like the Old Firm/Glasgow Derby or the old Belfast Celtic v Linfield game was and indeed still is an ugly fact. Perhaps they should admit that instead of condemning a player who only speaks the truth.

Hail Hail and a Merry Christmas to all!

Kevin John Thomson


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