Many philanthropic individuals and religious organisations in the late Victorian era saw sport as a way to develop ‘moral character’ in the ‘lower’ classes in the expanding towns and cities. It was the so-called doctrine of ‘muscular Christianity’. Football clubs formed by church organisations included Aston Villa (promoted by the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel), Everton (as part of the St Domingo’s Church Sunday School), Fulham (by St Andrew’s Sunday School) and Southampton (by the young men of St Mary’s Church). Many clubs have distinctive stories but few have been so closely associated with their formative roots as Glasgow Celtic.
Andrew Kerins made a journey as a 15-year-old to escape from famine and political unrest in Ireland but, sadly, only to squalor and poverty in Glasgow. He was looked after by a religious group of Marist Brothers who brought care and education to the poverty-stricken of Glasgow’s east end. Aged 24, Kerins decided that his own vocation would be with them and he became Brother Walfrid.
He sought to create a football team in Glasgow not only as a fund-raising venture for charity but as a social focus for the community. The Celtic Football and Athletic Club was formed in November 1887 in St Mary’s parish hall. The name ‘Celtic’, proposed by Brother Walfrid himself, conveyed the link with the Irish. The Scottish League had not yet been formed. A circular was issued declaring that “the main object of the club was to supply .... funds for the maintenance of the dinner tables for the needy children in the missions of St Mary’s, Sacred Heart and St Michael’s”.
In 2005, a fine sculpture of Brother Walfrid was unveiled outside Celtic Park to commemorate the major part he played in the founding of the club. The chair of the Memorial Committee, Eddie Toner, observed ruefully that modern football has been taken over by many of the values and philosophies that Walfrid would undoubtedly have opposed. The memorial would act “as a humble reminder of the club’s origins”.