Belfast Celtic 1891 - 1949

Down Memory Lane


Elisha Scott was keeper of the Celtic traditions

by Malcolm Brodie


Belfast Telegraph  July 22nd 2009


Dixie Dean, England and Everton’s acclaimed centre-forward, scorer of a phenomenal 63 goals in the 1926-27 season, had no hesitation when asked to name his top goalkeeper — “Elisha Scott” he replied instantly.

His tussles with Scott in Merseyside derbies and three Ireland-England internationals are part of football folklore. “Yes, he was the greatest — none better,” Dean emphasised. It was a sentiment also echoed by Liverpool manager and Scottish international Bill Shankly.

My memories of Scott, known to some as Lish and others Lee, came flooding back last weekend after a moving and dignified ceremony at Scott’s grave in Belfast City Cemetery. Members of the Belfast Celtic Society, led by chairman and broadcaster Padraig Coyle, unveiled a headstone with the crests of Celtic and Liverpool, and later a wall mural at St James Road depicting the club’s stars of yesteryear.

An immense amount of work and funding had gone into the project.

Guests included Scott’s son Billy, an alert 90-year-old, grandson Billy, followers of the club from many parts of Ireland, ex-players Jimmy Jones, whose right leg was broken when attacked after the infamous Boxing Day 1948 match with Linfield, Alex Lexie Moore, one of the goalscorers in the 2-0 win over Scotland during the 1949 US tour, and goalkeeper Ossie Bailie, now recovered from cardiac surgery.

There, too, were relatives of Charlie Tully, Paddy Bonnar, and other playing giants of the past, John Scotty Walker’s Edinburgh-based son, Enda Fanning, a supporter from Dublin who travelled to the USA with Celtic and whose father was one of the founders of Derry City FC, and former Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Hartley.

“There is a rich vein of heritage about Belfast Celtic in west Belfast,” said Coyle, whose Society has innovative plans to enshrine Celtic’s name in a number of ways, possibly the erection of plaques similar to that at the Park Centre the site of Celtic Park.

Green and white balloons decorated the streets near the mural and as Jones, a hero to all Celts, sat on a chair he was repeatedly photographed with fans and friends, signing dozens of autographs.

Celtic songs were played over a public address system in the background including “It’s A Grand Old Team To Play For” which is traditionally associated with the club.

Belfast Celtic’s departure from the Irish League football in 1949 left a void never adequately filled but its history will live forever to be carried down from generation to generation with stories of its glory days, its problems but, above all, the decisive impact it made on Irish football.

When researching these Memory Lane columns I found the same applies to Linfield, Glentoran, Derry City, Coleraine and Glenavon to name but a few.

Indeed all sports in Ireland, north and south, have produced heroes whose feats always generate pride and nostalgia. I am baffled why local television stations with their treasure chest of archival material don’t attempt to capture this sporting market.

As a rookie Belfast Telegraph reporter in the mid-forties I had close links with Elisha Scott calling almost daily at his office to pick up the Celtic news, the gossip, maybe for a reprimand over some of my colleagues’ match reports in Ireland’s Saturday Night, and to listen to his pronouncements on many subjects. Occasionally there would be the glance at his famous black book containing a one word player analysis on every game – good, bad, fair. That book, now in the possession of my good friend Michael McGuigan, son of the late Paddy, one of Celtic’s trainers, is a must when the planned Ulster Sports Museum gets established.

Scott was a martinet to some, phoneys and cheats did not flourish in his company while there was nobody thriftier as, with the secretary Bob Barr, he drove hard bargains for the club.

Scott, whose brother Billy was the Everton goalkeeper, began his career in Boys Brigade football, and played for Brantwood after being released by Linfield; he joined Liverpool in 1913, made 467 appearances, returned to Belfast midway through the First World War, and joined Celtic, winning Irish Cup medals in 1917 and 1918.

When hostilities ended he resumed at Liverpool earning a fantastic reputation as a goalkeeper, collecting 31 Ireland caps in the Twenties and Thirties. He left Anfield to become player-manager and then manager of Belfast Celtic from 1934 to 1949 steering them to 31 trophies.

Scott instilled iron discipline, and set a high standard of physical fitness aimed especially at coping with the final 20 minutes of matches. And he had his “spies” ensuring none of his jack-the-lads strayed into Falls Road pubs on a Friday night! Yet he liked a tipple himself.

He possessed an inspirational touch and, allied to the technical and tactical expertise of Bertie Fulton, a superstar of Irish football, a true Olympian, and Harry Walker, the finest player never to have been capped by Ireland, Celtic was moulded into an accomplished team of all the talents envied by managers throughout the country. Their football scintillated. They achieved success.

Scott, who died aged 67 in May 1959 after a series of strokes, was an avid reader of newspapers and books yet, despite being relentlessly in the sporting spotlight, he cherished his privacy — not even having a telephone in the house. He liked airing his views on all subjects when the football fraternity met in Kelly’s Cellars on Saturday night — a ritual for years. The world’s problems were solved there!

When Celtic went out of football Scott was offered the vacant Glenavon managership, agreed terms, but then informed the Mourneview Park management Celtic would not release him. I could never have envisaged him sitting behind a desk at any ground other than Paradise.

He WAS Belfast Celtic. A man apart — a one-off. My regret? I didn’t see him play for either club or country. I accept, however the judgment of Dean and Shankly. Their verdicts will do me — the ultimate of his time.

You can read more about other Celtic legends here

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