Belfast Celtic 1891 - 1949

Vinny Morrison

Derryman Whose Star Shone at Belfast Celtic

Across the storied history of Belfast Celtic, the record book pages are littered with players whose names ring out around the world of football. Tully, Vernon, McAlinden, Hamill, Kernoghan, Martin and Jones are well known Belfast Celts, but standing in rank behind them are a legion of other players for whom opportunity knocked, but ultimately, didn’t answer during their time at the Stripes.

One of these is Vinny Morrison, a talented Derryman, who would undoubtedly have gone on to have a glittering career in Belfast, only for his time on the Donegall Road to coincide with Belfast Celtic leaving football.
After showing much promise in the amateur ranks at Coleraine FC, Morrison was signed by Middlesborough in 1948, where he shared a dressing room with England’s international stars George Hardwick and Wilf Mannion. However, the Irish disease of homesickness soon set in and he returned to the Little Diamond area of Derry to pick up his career.

As Charlie Tully was sailing up River Clyde to begin his time at Celtic in Scotland, a tug of war was breaking out in Ireland, as Belfast Celtic and Glentoran battled it out for Morrison’s signature. The Glens struck first, offering Vinny a gilt-edged footballing opportunity, to star as a guest player against Tom Finney’s Preston North End in a friendly encounter. Vinny’s son, Kevin, takes up the story:

“Before any contract could be signed, Vinny received another approach from the legendary manager of Belfast Celtic, Elisha Scott, who signed the 19 year old and took him to Celtic Park to another team packed full of household names and internationals. Names such as Robin Lawlor Jimmy Jones, Kevin McGarry were often quoted in our house as top players.”

The Celtic lure was too great and Morrison headed for Paradise, signing in August 1948 and billeting in nearby Beechmount Parade, within a free kick’s distance of the Celtic Park.

Despite his obvious potential, the strictures of Scott’s Celtic had to be observed and a spell in reserves awaited the Derry teenager.

Undaunted, he knuckled down to the task and began hitting the back of the net, with the Ireland’s Saturday Night newspaper from the time detailing a flurry of goals and assists.

Morrison was making his mark amidst the turmoil of the fall out of the St Stephen’s Day riot at Windsor Park and his senior debut was made in January 1949 in the wake of that fateful game. February 1949 brought his first senior goal – in a 1-0 win at seasiders Bangor FC.

Then in March, Morrison’s home town club Derry City fell by 8 goals to nil against Celtic at Paradise, with the Derry Journal’s Frank Curran crediting Morrison with a brace.

Vinny Morrison at Celtic Park

The Journal notes that for the first goal; "Denvir beat Ross and crossed the ball. Silcock failed to get to it but outside left Morrison hit it first time as it dropped, giving Muir no chance." His second goal and the last of the eight scored that day, was scored when; “The ground was half empty!” Supporters, of both clubs, had obviously seen enough.

Morrison’s last competitive goal would come in a 3-2 win over Ballymena United at Celtic Park in March 1949, but as his star was rising, Belfast Celtic’s was falling, as they prepared to leave the Irish League forever – the dark shadow of Windsor that winter falling solemnly over the club.

Kevin Morrison relates how that fateful day for Irish soccer proved fortuitous for his father, who may have found himself among those players injured at the game. He remembers; "An interesting side note to this story was I always remember my dad stating that he was actually named as 12th man for the Linfield match." In a time when the use of substitutes hadn’t yet been introduced, the twelfth man was named in case a member of the first eleven was somehow unable to play.

"My father told me that, after being named as 12th man, he opted to make an early getaway to get back to Derry by train, oblivious to the dramatic and controversial conclusion of the match. He only found out what had transpired when a football fan boarded the train at Castlerock, recognised him and asked him how he had managed to get away unscathed from the mayhem in Belfast!"

Vinny Morrison, clearly, had had a lucky escape.

As Belfast Celtic left football, Vinny Morrison was coming to the realisation that he would soon be clubless. 

He was even part of the Celtic XI which took on Cliftonville in a 3-4 victory at Solitude in their final competitive match and despite having secured a passport, he was omitted from the travelling party to the USA at the last minute, while another Derryman, Alex Moore, who would later score in the game against Scotland, went instead.
  Vinny on
Despite this sad end to the season, Vinny was still very much in demand and Irish League newcomers Crusaders FC, who had replaced Belfast Celtic, signed him in the summer of 1949. Morrison went on to write his own piece of history, scoring The Crues first senior goal, in a 1-0 away win against Portadown in Shamrock Park.

Later, he would play for Ballymena United, Derry City, Portadown and Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland, making an indelible mark on the local football scene. More importantly, the name of Vinny Morrison is another important piece of the jigsaw of the history of Belfast’s Grand Old Team!