By Dean Robertson
Published In The Alternative View – November 2014 Issue #157
A man plants a seed in the earth with the hopes and dreams that over time that seed will grow and become the biggest and most beautiful tree in the garden. One man planted a seed in Glasgow’s east end with the same hopes and dreams, but this seed wouldn’t grow into a tree it, instead it would grow into one of the biggest and most loved football clubs in the world. This seed was Celtic Football Club, the man that planted the seed was Brother Walfrid and that seed was planted 127 years ago.
On the 18th of May 1840 John Kerins and Elizabeth Flynn had a son and named him Andrew Kerins. Andrew Kerins would later adopt the religious name of Brother Walfrid, the name that he would be remembered by.
He was born and educated in the Irish village of Ballymote, he would go on to study teaching before joining The Marist Brothers Teaching Congregation in 1864. Brother Walfrid would leave his native homeland of Ireland to move to Scotland in order to escape the Great Famine. He arrived in Scotland via a coal ship and soon began teaching in schools such as St. Mary’s as well as Sacred Heart where in 1874 he become the headmaster.
Brother Walfrid was working and living in Glasgow’s east end, an area with high levels of poverty within the Catholic and Irish immigrant community’s that lived there. As a religious man and a man with a charitable heart he wanted to help his community so he began working to help the poverty stricken people of the east end. Although he began to make a difference within his community with his charitable work he soon realised that to make a real difference he need more funds.
So in the late 1880’s Brother Walfrid decided he would establish a football club that would raise money to help the poor and deprived community of Glasgow’s east end. Brother Walfrid was heavily inspired to form a football club as a mean to raise funds by the original Hibernian Football Club. Hibernian were a club established in 1875 by and to support the Irish immigrant population of Edinburgh.
Brother Walfrid along with others begin the process of founding a football club in 1887 and the first decision that had to be made was what the club would be called. One of the earliest ideas was to call the club Glasgow Hibernian after Brother Walfrid inspiration from across the country in Edinburgh, however, the man himself didn’t like it, and he suggested the name of Celtic. Brother Walfrid argued that the name of Celtic wouldn’t just represent the clubs, Irish heritage, but it would also represent the clubs, Scottish origins as the word has historical ties with Scotland. So it was decided that the club would be named Celtic and at a meeting in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on the 6th of November 1887 in Glasgow’s Calton district, Celtic Football Club was officially formed.
Although the club was formed there was still many issues that had to be ironed out and it wouldn’t be till 1888 on May 28th that the club would play its first game. That first game was against their soon to be fierce rivals, fellow Glasgow club Rangers. The game took place at the old Celtic Park with an attendance of around 2,000 people. The game was against Rangers, but not against Ranger’s full first team, the Rangers side the first ever Celtic XI faced on the 28th May 1888 was a Rangers selected side made up mostly of Rangers reserve side know at that time as ‘The Swifts’. Celtic won the game 5-2 with Neil McCallum, James Kelly and Tom Maley scoring for Celtic, Tom Maley was the first ever player to score a hat trick for Celtic.
The game was seen as a friendly and gained positive reviews, but as history went on the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers would become more about a religious divide than about football with Celtic representing the Catholic community of Glasgow and Rangers representing the Protestant community of Glasgow.
As Celtic played more and more games the stature of the club grows and that meant more money was raised for the poor and deprived within the club’s community, but the board would soon alter the club’s direction from what was originally set out in order to maintain the club’s growth and survival, the club’s direction may had changed to a more business-like one but Brother Walfrid’s charitable ethos was still maintained. During the clubs change of direction Brother Walfrid was on religious tours and conducting other religious work so he wasn’t always in Glasgow during this time, but like many other of the old brigade that were involved in the early days he was uneasy with the changes but later accepted it and noted it they were needed.
Brother Walfrid may have later accepted the changes that had been made at the club but during the time some of the old brigaded did not and as a protests, they set up a new club under the name of Glasgow Hibernian to follow the original direction of Celtic but the club closed after only 16 months. Glasgow Hibernian closer and the continuing growth of Celtic proved that the old direction didn’t work and the new direction mixed with a charitable ethos was the way forward.
Brother Walfrid acknowledgment of this was noted by Celtic’s first ever hat trick hero Tom Maley, who remembered Brother Walfrid proudly talking about the situation when he said “Well, well. Time has brought changes. Outside ourselves there are few left of the old brigade. It’s good to see you all so well and I feel younger with the meeting. Goodbye, God bless you.”
In 1893 Brother Walfrid moved to London’s east end at the demand of the religious hierarchy. He continued his charitable ways and help countless people in Bethnal Green and Bow. He also set up The Poor Children’s Dinner Table during his time in England, a charitable organisation with the aim of helping and feeding the poor.
Brother Walfrid would pass away in April 1915 but Celtic would live on and so would his charitable ways. He was laid to rest in St. Michael Cemetery in Dumfries.
Brother Walfrid had gone, but the club he left behind continued to flourish and flourish Celtic did, Celtic would go on to not just become the first British side to win the European Cup, but also to win 45 Scottish league titles, 36 Scottish cups and 14 league cups amongst countless others.
Celtic’s growth on the pitch was only matched by their growth to help the poor as even to this day the appetite of Celtic and their fans to help people continue to grow. The Celtic Foundation don’t just help people in Glasgow’s east end, but all over the world and Celtic’s fans continue to do their bit whether it’s raising money for charity or collecting food for the less fortunate. Both Celtic and their fans proudly continue on Brother Walfrid’s charitably way and spirit.
Brother Walfrid will always remain a part of Celtic, he is always in the hearts of everyone involved with the club and forever at Celtic Park in the form of the legendary statue outside the stadium. The man that planted the seed has long left, but the tree is still as strong as ever and in the words of Brother Walfrid himself “Long may it flourish”.