Saturday, January 02, 2016

Celtic Park: A legend built by immigrants

Emdad Rahman: A club that started off by Aindreas Ó Céirín, better known as Brother Walfrid to provide food and warmth to the starving street children has now become one of the most famous names in world football. 

In 1888, Brother Walfrid came up with the idea that football could be used as an instrument for the greater good and the formation of this special club led to a much needed lifeline and helping hand being offered to the indigent and needy who struggled daily in the east end of Glasgow. 

By 1893 Brother Walfrid had moved on to the east end of London  to support barefoot children through his charity The Poor Children's Dinner Table but his amazing legacy remains not only intact but has become a global institution. It is for this very reason that Celtic Football Club can proudly proclaim to be a club like no other. 

As a youngster growing up we didn’t have Sky, BT and internet streaming. the BBC never showed Scottish football apart from internationals and the World Cup adventures and you’d get a short flash of the Hampden Park scores on cup final day. 

My most vivid memory was catching a glimpse of Frank McAvennie cancelling out Kevin Gallagher’s opener for Dundee United as Billy McNeill’s Celtic clinched the double in the centenary year of 1988. 

With YouTube around now I now watch the highlights of that match again and again. It was the era of Paul McStay, my favourite Celtic player. The maestro could have played and shined for any club in the world. At Euro 1992 he proved himself as one of the world’s great midfielders. 

South of the border every successful team had a Scotsman at its heart; Liddell, Busby, Shankly, Ferguson, James, Mackay, Bremner, Dalglish, Strachan, McQueen, Souness, Goram. Scottish football was swashbuckling; Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen under Fergie, the great Hibernian team, John Robertson at Hearts, Iain Ferguson’s cup final winner for St Mirren in 1987, Hateley and McCoist, Dundee United and the famous UEFA Cup run to the final. I could go on.

I always wanted to visit Celtic but ended up with three visits to glorious Ibrox before my very first visit to Parkhead. Rangers were quicker off the mark. It is without doubt one of the biggest football stadiums in Europe. The original stadium which is commonly known as Parkhead or Paradise was opened in 1888. The stadium was built on the toil and dedication of volunteers. The first match was played on 28th May 1888 as Rangers were hammered 5-2. 

Football commercialism had taken control and by 1892 the ground rent had increased from a mere £50 to £450. It forced the club to move and a disused brickyard at Janefield Street, a few hundred yards away from the old stadium became the location for the new arena. The nickname for the ground; “Paradise” came about after a journalist wrote that the move to the new stadium was like "leaving the graveyard to enter paradise.” Renton were the very first opponents at the new stadium on 20 August 1892. By 1894 the Scotland v England game in the 1894 British Home Championships attracted a crowd of 45,107.

One of the earliest events held at the famous arena was the World Track Cycling Championships in 1897, the year in which the football club bought the site. The record attendance at Celtic Park was set on new years day 1938 for the Old Firm game against Glasgow rivals Rangers. These days the capacity is a more modest 60,000.

It wasn't until Fergus McCann took over during the 90's that Celtic Park was modernised to bring things up to speed. The old terraces were taken out and a phased rebuild to change to an all seater stadium took place and developed by 1998. 

Glasgow Celtic, the heritage and culture has made the club famous and renowned the world over.  Guided tours are available of the stadium as well as taking a trip through the history of the club through various informative and impressive exhibitions. 

The tour includes the directors boardroom, changing rooms, tunnel, stands, press room, executive boxes and pitch side. 

Our tour guide was Marie. She was out of this world - A true Celtic scholar with razor sharp wit and fun approach. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if she is a current or retired school teacher. History rests heavy on the shoulders of the visitor and the experience will leave visitors with an all over tingling sensation.

Contact Address: Celtic Museum, Celtic Football Club, Celtic Park, 
, G40 3RE.

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