Although crests were not worn on Celtic’s famous hooped jerseys, a large
shamrock did appear on their change shirts from time to time. The first
occasion was during the 1925-26 season, in some games in 1931 and then
from 1948 to 1965, this motif became a regular feature of the white shirts
with green sleeves worn on the rare occasions that Celtic changed.
The intense rivalry between Celtic and Rangers
reflects the sectarian division that has long been a feature of West
of Scotland society and which continues to disfigure the game to this
day. Nothing polarises loyalties so strongly as an “Old Firm”
match, which have commonly featured outbreaks
of violence fuelled by alcohol and open bigotry (both clubs are now acting to stamp out the singing of sectarian songs). Although Celtic are closely identified
with the Catholic population, mostly of Irish origin, the club employed
players and staff from both Catholic and Protestant traditions but
refused, however, to allow non-Catholics to sit on the board of directors.
Rangers, on the other hand were held to exclude Catholics until Graham Souness publicly repudiated their policy in 1989. In fact twenty Catholic players had played for the ‘Gers but none were prepared to acknowledge their faith publicly.
Due to the idiosyncratic views of their chairman,
Bob Kelly, Celtic did not wear team numbers until 1960, when they were
applied to the front and back of players’ shorts. This odd tradition
survived until 1995 although numbered shirts were worn in European competition
During the 1950s and 1960s, Celtic were overshadowed by Rangers and managed
only one title in 1954 plus Scottish Cup wins in 1951 and 1954. In 1957
they won the Scottish League Cup for the first time, hammering Rangers
by a record 7-1.
In 1965, Jock Stein, a former player took over as the club’s first protestant manager and steered the club to their greatest
period of success. They won nine consecutive championships between 1964
and 1974 but this side is best remembered for becoming the first British
indeed, northern European – side to win the European Cup. The
“Lisbon Lions,” all of whom were born within 30 miles (45km)
of Glasgow, conceded an early penalty to Internazionale, the Italian masters
of catenaccio defence, to win 2-1 with seven minutes
left to play in the final of 1967. Remarkably Celtic won every competition
they entered that season.
In 1970 Celtic played two epic matches against Leeds United in the European Cup semi-finals. For first leg at Elland Road, the referee ordered Celtic to change their stockings. It seems that the team had travelled with only their usual white socks and borrowed a set of orange socks for the match. Celtic won the game against all expectations by 1-0 and then beat Leeds again at Hampden in front of 136,000 fans by 2-1. Celtic went on to lose in the final against Feijenoord but had become the first Scottish or British club to reach two European Cup finals.
When Stein stepped down in 1978 he was offered the job of managing the
Celtic Pools rather than a seat on the board and as a result, he resigned.
The decision not to offer him a more significant post appears to be because
Stein was a protestant. At this stage, although Celtic continued to employ
players of all faiths, senior management positions were exclusively held
In 1977 the club finally bowed to fashion and adopted the club crest, featuring a four-leafed shamrock, on their shirts.
Billy McNeil, the captain of the Lisbon Lions, took over as manager and
led the side to three title wins (1978, 1981, 1982), the Scottish Cup
(1980) and League Cup (1982) before he departed in 1983. He was replaced
by another former player, Davie Hay who won the Scottish Cup (1985) and
the following season, another league title on a dramatic final day on
which Hearts needed to win against Dundee while Celtic needed to beat
St Mirren by at least three goals. Hearts lost and Celtic won by 5-0 to
clinch the title.
In 1987 McNeill (nicknamed “Caesar”) returned as manager, winning the
domestic double in the clubs centenary season but the next ten years were
a lean period. Rangers, boosted by revenue from their lucrative football
pool business had invested heavily in redeveloping their ground and attracting
the best English players to the club (English teams were banned from European
competition after the Heysel tragedy of 1985). Celtic fell behind, managing
to win only the Scottish Cup in 1988 and 1989. McNeill was replaced by
Liam Brady in 1991 but he failed to halt the decline.
For their centenary season in 1988-89 a commemorative crest was worn, featuring the Celtic cross that appeared on their first shirts. The 1977 version was reinstated the following season.
In 1994 The Bank of Scotland announced that it would call in the receivers
when Celtic exceeded their £5m overdraft. With minutes to go, expatriate
businessman Fergus McCann wrested control from the families that had run
the club since its formation. He initiated a radical programme of modernisation,
floating Celtic PLC on the Stock Exchange (raising £14m) and rebuilding
the crumbling Parkhead (also known as “Paradise”) into a 60,000 all-seated
stadium that rivalled the best in Europe. The club crest was revised to
reflect the club’s new legal status, with abbreviated text. Nevertheless,
there was little cash to spare for big transfers (although Swedish international
Henrik Larsson was signed for £650,000 and would become a Celtic legend).
In 1998 Celtic won the Premier title and League
Cup but this proved a flash in the pan and fans became increasingly
disillusioned with the new regime. When Celtic were knocked out of the
Scottish Cup by Inverness Caledonian Thistle, The Sun coined the memorable
headline “Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious.”
In 1999 former legend Kenny Dalglish returned as manager and while he
restored the faith of the fans and won the League Cup, results continued
The arrival of Martin O’Neill, a former
Northern Ireland international, in 2000 marked the turning point. Under
his leadership, Celtic reasserted themselves, winning the Premier League
title in 2001, 2002, 2004 and the Scottish Cup in 2004 and 2005. Moreover,
the club once again became a force to be reckoned with in Europe, reaching
the UEFA Cup Final in 2003.
In 2005 the club severed their connection with Umbro, suppliers of their
kits since the 1960s and entered into a contract with Nike. Gordon Strachan
took over the manager’s seat, guiding the club to further Premier League
titles in 2006 and 2007.
To mark the 40th anniversary of their European Cup win, a special crest
was introduced for the 2007-08 season. The star that represents this triumph
was retained when the usual crest was reinstated the following season.
The dominance of the Old Firm is regarded by
many as counter to the wider interests of the game in Scotland. The
Premier League members earn the lions’ share of TV revenues
leaving the rest of the Scottish League to survive on scraps while the
Old Firm are now so powerful that it is hard to see how their virtual
monopoly can be broken (Hearts, with their wealthy Lithuanian backers
will disagree). The lack of competitiveness in the Scottish structure
is reflected in the poor record of Celtic and their rivals in European
competition since 1967 while the influx of foreign players since the
1980s has stifled local talent. On a positive note, however, both Old Firm clubs have firmly dissasociated themselves from sectarianism and bigotry of any kind.