Belfast Celtic 1891 - 1949

Jimmy Connor

Downpatrick-man Jimmy Connor began his top-class footballing career with Celtic in the late 1890s (the club wouldn’t officially take the “Belfast” prefix until 1901), and was the corner-stone at centre-half of the club’s first Irish League title success in 1900. He left immediately after that triumph, seeking fame and fortune with the more “professional” Glentoran.

Connor’s performances at the Oval were rapidly recognised with his first major representative honour, as a member of the Irish League team defeated 4-2 by their English counterparts at Solitude in November 1900. His first Ireland cap the following February proved an inauspicious start to a decade long international career, Scotland cruising to an 11-0 victory in Glasgow.

The Irish FA’s selectors were obviously none-too-perturbed by the result, and Connor retained his place for the following month’s clash with England – this time a slightly more respectable 0-3 reverse was suffered. On the domestic front, Glentoran finished as runners-up in the Irish League and claimed the Co. Antrim Shield with a 2-1 victory over Cliftonville.

With the “reforming” of Belfast Celtic in 1901 as a Limited Company, the club managed to entice a number of ex-players to the newly built Celtic Park. Connor was one of those convinced that a move back across the city was right for him. It proved an all too brief return, and Connor was back at Glentoran for the 1902/03 campaign. Back at the Oval, he picked up his second Irish League Championship in 1904/05, and played in two Charities Cup final defeats.

In 1904/05 Connor regained his place in the Ireland team after a four year absence. His first game back in the Irish eleven brought the undoubted highlight of his international career, England held 1-1 at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough. After re-joining Belfast Celtic Connor played in his only Irish Cup Final in 1906, Celtic losing 2-0 to Shelbourne at Dalymount Park. Further winner’s medals did come his way in the form of the Co. Antrim Shield, Charity Cup and Gold Cup.

A character both on and off the field, Connor was famed for walking 22 miles from his Downpatrick home to Belfast for matches. The reasons for this were two-fold, it added to his fitness, and allowed him to spend his travel allowance in the pub! In June 1912 Celtic embarked on a European tour to Bohemia. Connor did his bit for cross-Europe relations, by educating some local students in how English should be spoke – the Downpatrick way.

Jimmy Connor retired in 1913. Five years later in his hometown of Downpatrick he caught influenza and died aged just 41.
The Irish News obituary for James called him; "in his time probably the best known as well as the most proficient exponents of Association football in Ireland...James Connor occupied a place unique in the annals of the game in Ireland, and though principally identified with Irish club football, he was recognized throughout England and Scotland as among the half-dozen best all-round players to be met with. It was as a centre half that he made his name, graduating out of Rathkeltair Club Downpatrick, into Belfast Celtic, with which organisation he was associated during the greater part of an unusually long career on the field. He played for Ireland in a number of international games, always with distinction, he was a gentlemanly, clean footballer, who knew the art of the game thoroughly, and practised it in a manner that will long serve as a model to be followed,"( Irish News, 29th November 1918))

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