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The Flag Flutter
As Celtic entered the 1950s the club found itself in turmoil on and off the pitch.
The new decade saw the Bhoys struggle to compete for honours on the field while on the terraces clashes between Celtic and Rangers supporters were becoming increasingly common and violent. This misbehaviour reached a brutal climax at the New Year’s Day derby of 1952 and the authorities decided enough was enough.
As an investigation into the trouble began the Celtic board was only too happy to support Glasgow’s magistrates in introducing measures addressing the problem of hooliganism.
But little did they know that one of these measures would see an emotive and integral part of the club’s heritage come under attack.
Following their inquiry magistrates made several recommendations to the SFA and the Scottish League. The most controversial was the fourth: “...that the two clubs should avoid displaying flags which might incite feeling amongst the spectators"
This was construed as a reference to Celtic’s flying of the flag of Eire and for some within the SFA the recommendation was a green light to deliver another blow to the fallen Glasgow giant. The Referee Committee of the SFA demanded Celtic “....refrain from displaying in its park any flag or emblem that had no association with the country or the sport.”
However, with the proud roots of the club under attack Celtic – and in particular chairman Robert Kelly – were at long last able to find some of that once famous fighting spirit
When the full SFA council convened to consider the matter Kelly stood to defend Celtic’s traditions and he moved the rejection of that part dealing with the banning of the flag. His motion was seconded by John Wilson of Rangers but the council ignored Celtic’s plea and warned if the club continued to fly the flag and trouble occurred they would face “...a fine, or closure of the ground, or suspension or all of those penalties.”
As Celtic ignored the SFA’s ruling the association’s secretary George Graham – with the support of Harry Swann of Hibs - continued to demand the flag’s removal. Celtic, having taken legal advice, were not for budging and Kelly was fiercely stubborn in his resistance. With support for the flag ban within the SFA fragmenting Graham was forced to give up the battle and quietly the matter was dropped.
It was a rare victory for the Celts and arguably Bob Kelly’s finest moment. He had been eloquent and passionate in his defence of Celtic’s cultural heritage and defiantly refused to sell out the club’s traditions on the say so of bullies.
The Irish flag, which salutes the simple fact Celtic was founded by Irishmen, still flies on high at Parkhead. Like any representation of Ireland, it still rankles with some in Scotland. But like Bob Kelly in 1952 the Celtic support won’t bow to bigots and bullies and it will keep on flying.
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