Sign in or
|Celtic Board - Past | Celtic Board | Celtic's Foundation | About Celtic|
Sir Robert Kelly - Director & ChairmanDirector (1932-1971)
Chairman (Mar 1947 - Apr 1971)
aka: Bob Kelly
SummaryBob Kelly was (and still is) a generally respected yet controversial figure at times with Celtic. You can put two Celtic fans in a room to argue about his time at the helm of the club and you'll end up with three different opinions on him!!! His crowning glory was his strength and position during the Irish flag affair but others saw him as a meddling old fool in team matters who held the club back.
A likeable and decent chap and to give a more rounded idea of his time with Celtic you can pick for yourself between the two opposing views below.
Opinion 1Bob Kelly's name will forever be tarnished by his family associations with the period that almost saw the club going into receivership (1990's board), but an historic perspective can be rather more generous to him than to his younger relatives Michael and Kevin Kelly.
By modern standards, he was an autocrat, no question of that, but his role was hardly extraordinary for his era. What he didn't do, though, was recognise the changing trends around him in the game (e.g. the track suited managers, the development of European football) until it was almost too late. He appointed Jock Stein, initially with reluctance, just in time for the club, but at least he did that and established a good working relationship with the Big Man up until his death. Stein appears to have respected Kelly considerably.
Ultimately the debit side may outweigh to the credit side when analysing Kelly, but even so, he had noble qualities that deserve to be remembered. His Corinthian approach was genuine and players were often dropped for on-field misdemeanours when the club was not compelled to do so by the disciplinary rules of the day. Even Stein was known to drop a player out of deference to Kelly.
On balance, we have to see Kelly as a hopeless idealist, not really equipped to lead Celtic in a modern (or possibly any) age. However, we cannot deny that his philosophy was not that far from that of sections of the supporters either and in that respect, we cannot deny him his label as a true Celt. However, the old board eulogised him in a way that was right out of proportion to his achievements and nothing illustrated their nepotism and cronyism more than this. For that, perhaps the supporters now would condemn Kelly rather vehemently than they ought to.
Bob Kelly used to swat away criticism easily and forced his critics during the barren years in the early 1960's voicing that they should wait until the upcoming juniors were to come into the senior side. These "Kelly's Kids" were to be the hallmark of Celtic's success under Jock Stein. Additionally, Bob Kelly alone can't be held responsible for all the failings of the players at the time in the barren years of the late 1950s/early 1960s. Legendary coach Jimmy Hogan was brought into the club to assist, yet at Celtic the players treated him poorly and various players (like the fans favourite Charlie Tully) treated training with disdain. Passing the buck onto the Chairman alone can be viewed as misleading or simply too convenient for some.
And yes, his stand during the Irish flag affair in 1952 was probably his finest moment, where he stood up proudly to the bigots and simpletons who were trying to equate the hoisting of the Irish flag to being a sectarian icon! Complete nonsense of a situation in reflection, however it was a serious issue in the environment at the time and it took a strong and brave stance from Bob Kelly to take on the establishment.
On a bigger scale, Bob Kelly must be applauded for his stance in the European Cup 1968/69 where due to the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia he made a stand against playing against Eastern European sides after Celtic had been paired with the Hungarian club Ferencvaros at the height of the Cold War. Bob Kelly led the protests that to led to others following his brave stance and threatening a boycott.
Chairman Bob Kelly insisted Celtic could not possibly travel to the Eastern Europe in such sensitive political times. As a result the European Cup had to be re-drawn keeping clubs from Eastern and Western Europe apart. Celtic got St-Etienne instead. In return, FC Levski (Sofia), Ferencvarosi, Dinamo Kiev and Ruch Chorzow withdrew; clubs from Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia remained in the competition.
Notably, it is said Bob Kelly's own hopes of getting a knighthood were boosted by the fact he threatened to withdraw Celtic from the European Cup because they were drawn against Ferencvaros of Hungary. He was deserving of the title for this stance and it's something we should respect.
Opinion 2Kelly's interference with team selection was so erratic and inexplicable that it possibly cost us three Cup Final defeats - 1955 (Clyde), 1956 (Hearts) and 1961 (Dunfermline). We could have won at least 2 of these (Hearts were probably superior to us in '56) but for his meddling in the team selections, and this was reflected in many other results as well.
One of the stranger selections was that of picking William Goldie. Willie had not originally been selected for the side but was spotted by his team mates walking to the ground as a spectator with his Celtic scarf wrapped around his neck. He was picked up by the team coach and so impressed was Chairman Robert Kelly with Willie’s keen following of the team that he decided to play him. Willie was said to be at fault for the goals (he was the goalie) and never played for Celtic again!
Also, despite having players of the calibre of Willie Miller, Evans, Peacock, Collins, Fernie, Mochan, the 2 McPhails, Tully, Dunky McKay, Crerand etc. Celtic won only 1 Championship between 1946 - 1965. He was quite content to preside over such mediocrity. Truth is that he and the board were seeing Celtic as a birthright, and the standing of Celtic was more important than anything else. That is admirable but the standing of Celtic as a club and icon for the Scottish and Irish communities has only any credibility in achievement and not by wallowing in mediocrity by living off of past glories.
Interference and incompetence was a major reason why Paddy Crerand left for Man Utd. Notably, we could have had Matt Busby as our manager at one point but Bob Kelly's board squandered that. Things could have been so much easier for all.
When Bobby Evans left he scathed about the board stating: "He [i.e. the Celtic Captain] has no decisions to take about team changes or tactical changes. The answers to these problems come from the directors' box [i.e. chairman Bob Kelly] to the track - and are passed to the field by the trainer."
One other example of meddling by the board/coaches was as per the following example (as re-told by journalist Archie MacPherson):
“John McPhail told me that he was playing badly and expected to be dropped. Jimmy McGrory and the directors had a meeting outside the dressing room after which McGrory read out the team, including John McPhail, but [then chairman] Bob Kelly was not with the other directors when the team was announced.
“After the game, Bob Kelly asked John McPhail why he was playing. McPhail said, “I was picked”, to which Bob Kelly replied, “You were not supposed to be”.
“It turned out the Bob Kelly had diarrhoea and was unable to get instructions through on who he wanted to play."
When Jock Stein was appointed, one of his first tasks was to ensure that Bob Kelly was made clear that only one man was in charge of the first team and that was Jock himself. Otherwise, he'd likely have left. Not an easy task. Even after being made clear of who was in charge, he still liked to go to the changing rooms before kick-off to give a pious little speech. After one such talk, Jock Stein closed the door on him turned to the team and said "Right, you can forget all that for a start!". It was for Jock more a case of ensuring they knew whose word was most important.
He may have brought the club Jock Stein, but sadly the "revolution" didn't continue into the boardroom. The management squandered the opportunities from the team's success financially with little to show from it at the end of it all, and player unrest grew. His successors were little better and showed that Bob Kelly was still an old school man at heart with no restructuring done to the board management into an increasingly commercial sporting world.
Respectable and decent - no denying - but in truth overall a poor chairman, with the success of Jock Stein overshadowing the reality of Bob Kelly's meddling in the first team's affairs & mismanagement at the board level.
- British KO competition better than European Cup(Irish News and Belfast Morning News - Fri 5th July 1968)
"This Celtic football club is much more than a football club to a lot of people its a way of life-"
"I always feel the Celtic chairman, Sir Robert Kelly, was never really given the credit he deserved for the success of the club. Sure, he was a hard man, but needed to be in order to run an organisation like that. He made tough decisions and stuck to them. People sometimes say he picked the team and not the manager, Jimmy McGrory. What rubbish! Bob idolised Jimmy, who had been his hero when he was a kid. Everything with Bob was: 'Jimmy this, Jimmy that.' But the fact of the matter is that, if you have a winning team, then Ghandi or the Pope could pick it!"
ex-Celtic player Bertie Peacock
"He [i.e. the Celtic Captain] has no decisions to take about team changes or tactical changes. The answers to these problems come from the directors' box [i.e. chairman Bob Kelly] to the track - and are passed to the field by the trainer."
Bobby Evans scathing about the Celtic Directors, 1960
“You could tell the day before the match whether or not you were in the team. If you happened to pass Bob Kelly in a corridor at the ground and he said ‘hello’, that meant you were picked. If he walked past you without looking your way, you were dropped. And there was no chance of ever finding out why. He was a law unto himself, and who played and who was left out depended entirely on what kind of mood he was in.”
Paddy Crerand on Bob Kelly
Anecdotes(by Big Nana of KStreet forum)
My brother was disabled having lost a leg and a lung to cancer as a young man. He was a Celtic Pools collector and as such would always get a ticket for big games,
When Celtic drew with AC Milan in Milan in 1968/69 the return leg at Celtic Park was a sell-out and tickets were in such demand that the normal courtesy of giving agents a ticket was abandoned (at least in the case of my brother). He wrote to Celtic to complain of this and got a letter back, not just from some functionary, but from Sir Robert Kelly. The letter was hand written (in green ink) and apologised for the club's actions in refusing to issue a ticket and by way of apology enclosed not one but two complimentary tickets.
I sat in the best seats in the centre stand with my brother on this occasion, filled with optimism we hoped for victory and enjoyed non-stop Celtic pressure until a Celtic throw-in just in front of us saw the ball bounce off of Billy McNeill?/John Clark only for the AC Milan player to nick in and head for the Celtic goal. The rest as they say is history.
Can you imagine a chairman or director of any football club today going to the trouble of lifting his hand and writing a personal letter to a fan?
Different class and no matter the deficiencies of the Kelly clan that followed Sir Robert was a gentleman.
As regards him being supine to the anti-Catholic policies of Rangers this is nonsense. These were different times when anti-Irish racism and anti-RC bigotry were rampant and went unreported. He did what he could and stood up to the SFA on the flag issue which took some courage.
Anecdote - William GoldieOne great story involves his appointing William Goldie to his one and only game to play for Celtic!
Goalkeeper Willie Goldie’s solitary first team appearance for the Bhoys was a result of probably the most bizarre reason for selection in Celtic, if not football, history.
Signed in August 1960 on a short term deal as cover for John Fallon, while Frank Connor and Frank Haffey returned from injury, Newmains-born Goldie made his only Celtic appearance on October 1st in a 2-0 away league defeat at his former club Airdrie.
Willie had not originally been selected for the side but was spotted by his team mates walking to the ground as a spectator, with his Celtic scarf wrapped around his neck. He was picked up by the team coach and so impressed was chairman Robert Kelly with Willie’s keen following of the team that he decided to play him.
Willie was said to be at fault for the goals and never played for the Bhoys again. He joined Albion Rovers in January 1961.
Can never happen like this now now surely?
Robert Kelly RevisitedCeltic Underground
|Written by The Dutchbhoy|
|Sunday, 26 December 2010 13:19|
| Sir Robert Kelly is a key figure in Celtic’s history and yet in many ways, he remains a somewhat mysterious figure. The conventional view of Kelly is that he was an ambiguous character who was for some autocratic, meddling and ignorant and yet for others, a visionary, a man of principle and above all the man who was central to Celtic’s great period of success. |
Let’s start with the basic facts concerning Robert Kelly. He was appointed as a director of the club in 1931, and became chairman in 1947. He stepped down as chairman in 1971. One can immediately see that in terms of service to the club, his contribution was immense. He gave forty years of unstinted effort which saw the club experience the good, the bad and the sublime.
For me the key date was 1947 as it marks his ascension to power, with power being the operative word. One has to try and get a sense of how football clubs were run in those days to understand Bob Kelly.
Celtic like most British clubs of that epoch, was essentially run by local businessmen and quite often by small family dynasties. Clubs were passed down from father to son, very much like a family heirloom. Parochialism was the name of the game. Football was Scottish and then British, foreigners simply didn’t count. There was very much an emphasis on being ‘safe’, and not taking big risks and keeping costs as low as possible. Given the depressed economical situation of that era, it made perfect sense. Then it was very apt to describe football as being the working man’s game.
Two seminal figures enter the Celtic world in the early fifties under Kelly’s watch. One was a certain Jock Stein who as a journeyman defender signed from Llanelli Town in 1951. The other intriguing figure was that of Jimmy Hogan, who deserves a book on his own. Hogan was born in Lancashire in 1882, six years before Celtic came into being.Born into an Irish family with eleven siblings, the diminutive figure became a giant on the European continent. Hogan dismissed what he saw as the ‘kick and rush’ style of English football which placed great emphasis on power and strength, rather than technique. He emphasized skill and technique over brute strength. He like Brian Clough many years later was a voice in the wilderness. Being ignored in England he took himself off to continental Europe and there made his name. He coached the legendary Hungarian team which dismantled the England team at Wembley in 1953 by six goals to three. It wasn’t just the score line that stood out, but the manner of England’s defeat. They were comprehensively outclassed on the field, and the whole notion of tactical awareness was a novel concept to the land that gave the world football. Jimmy Hogan was central to this, and Ferenc Puskas the magic Magyar, testified to this when playing for Real Madrid. Helmut Schoen who managed the world cup winners of West Germany in 1974, also cited Jimmy Hogan as being a major influence.
When Kelly invited Hogan to coach at Celtic in the fifties he was already a very old man, but possessed by an almost missionary zeal he set about converting Celtic’s players to his cause. The likes of Charlie Tully who refused to be coached by anybody and dismissed the old man as a crank. Tully great player as he was, did not respond to being told what to do. However others did listen and learned, in particular the young Jock Stein who understood intuitively the message Hogan was trying to impart. Great emphasis was placed on ball control, retaining possession, tactical deployment and above all physical fitness.
These ideas seem quite normal by today’s standards, but way back in the early fifties they were revolutionary. Hogan’s ideas and methods were inculcated to Stein whose natural intelligence allowed him immediately to recognize their worth.
Kelly’s greatest decision was to appoint Jock Stein as Celtic manager which in itself was a bold move. The revered but ineffectual Jimmy McGrory was replaced by a man who had proved himself first at Dunfermilne and then Hibernian.
What sort of players did Stein inherit? It has to be said that the basis of the Lisbon Lions team was already there, but they were disorganized, demotivated and in a general state of disarray. Pat Crerand had been allowed to leave for Manchester United, but the vastly superior Bobby Murdoch replaced him after Stein made the inspirational decision to switch him from inside right to right half. In short, the players were already there under Kelly’s watch. He had the contemporary idea of finding, developing and retaining local talent. Willie Wallace and the veteran Ronnie Simpson would be added, but the nucleus was in place due to Kelly’s philosophy. The rest was up to the genius that was Jock Stein, Kelly despite the stereotype did not interfere in team selections. Kelly and Stein had a very amicable relationship based on mutual respect.
Kelly was very much a proud Catholic and equally proud of his Irish forbears. We can still see the black and white photos of him with numerous members of the Catholic clergy. He was determined that Celtic should never bow to the forces of ignorance and sectarianism that governed (and continue to govern) Scottish football. The current spat with Peat and co, were as nothing to what Kelly faced in the fifties and sixties. Glasgow and Scotland was much more polarized than it is today. Having an Irish sounding name or coming from a Catholic school meant automatic exclusion from the workplace. Rangers operated an open sectarian policy of recruitment, aided and abetted by those who ran the game. Many Catholics felt totally excluded from mainstream Scottish society. Outwith their faith and their families, Celtic football club remained the sole institution that championed the cause of the underdog Catholic population. The great flag dispute when Celtic were ordered to take down the Irish tricolour from the main stand due to its ‘provocative’ nature, was one of Kelly’s finest moments. He refused to be bullied by the bigots and the tricolour continues to flutter above Paradise.
Kelly remains a perplexing figure, on the one hand despotic and intransigent and yet on the other hand perceptive and receptive to new ideas. It was Kelly who sent the young Jock Stein to ‘observe’ the World Cup finals in Switzerland in 1954. There he saw Hogan’s protégés the mighty Magyars narrowly lose to West Germany in the final. When one reads of the input of Stein and to a lesser extent of Hogan, we see the genesis of the “Celtic way’ of playing football. The Stein/Kelly era was the definitive period when the Celtic way emerged. It didn’t happen by chance, it was created by Jock Stein and nurtured by Bob Kelly.
It was also Kelly who mooted the idea about Celtic joining the English league as far back as the late sixties. He also foresaw the coming importance of television revenue for football and its consequences. Kelly’s visionary outlook is perhaps an example for those running the show at Celtic Park in 2010.
Latest page update: made by joebloggscity
, Mar 27 2013, 8:26 AM EDT
(about this update
About This Update
Edited by joebloggscity
89 words added
- complete history)
Keyword tags: board chairman board director celtic celtic board celtic fc celtic football celtic football club kerrydale kerrydale street past celtic board robert kelly
More Info: links to this page