When, on 6 November 1887, a Marist monk held a meeting in St Mary's church hall in the east end of Glasgow, it was with the sole purpose of alleviating deprivation among the city's impoverished Irish immigrants. Yet while Brother Walfrid's goal was simply to swell the coffers of his charity, known as 'The Poor Children's Dinner Table', this fateful meeting saw him inadvertently become father to one of the world's most famous football clubs.
Birth of an institution
Celtic FC would almost certainly never have come into existence had it not been for the devastating Irish Potato Famine, which during the mid-1800s caused the deaths of a million people and forced another million to flee the Emerald Isle. Thousands of these Catholic immigrants made Glasgow their destination, and they arrived to find harsh living conditions and open hostility from the Protestant natives in a city ill-prepared for such a massive influx.
Walfrid, however, had followed with interest and admiration the example of Hibernian FC, which had quickly become a source of pride and no small joy for Edinburgh's Irish community after its formation in 1875. The bulk of Celtic's team for its first-ever match were 'borrowed' from its capital counterpart, in fact, and as the Bhoys grew in strength and stature, so Hibernian's best players were tempted one by one to make the journey from east to west.
During these formative years, Celtic played in a white shirt with a green collar, only making the switch to their iconic green-and-white hoops in 1903. One of the players to grace this original kit was Willie Maley, and in 1897, aged just 29, he became Celtic's first-ever manager, winning the club's fourth league championship in his first season in charge.
It was the beginning of a remarkable reign that was to span 43 years, 30 major trophies and the careers of legendary players such as John Thomson, Patsy Gallacher and Jimmy McGrory. Sadly, Maley's tenure was also to encompass tragedy, with Thomson, the club's brilliant young keeper, dying after an Old Firm derby during which he fractured his skull in the act of bravely diving at the feet of a Rangers striker.
McGrory, however, was Maley's brightest star. Though a mere 5ft 6in, the striker's spring and heading ability made him peerless in the air and, as well as earning him the nickname 'The Mermaid', this aerial prowess helped him rack up 550 career goals; a tally unmatched in British football and untouched by any of his Celtic successors. McGrory later went on to become Celtic's third manager, but he proved less successful in the dugout than he did in the penalty box, this despite the best efforts of his increasingly influential captain, Jock Stein.
Making of a legend
McGrory did oversee a famous, record-breaking 7-1 win over Rangers in the 1957 League Cup final, but it was no surprise when, in 1965, he stepped aside for Stein, who had already led both Dunfermline and Hibernian to major success. Unlike their great rivals, Celtic had never employed a sectarian signing policy, but Stein, as the club's first Protestant manager, was nevertheless an historic appointment. It was also to prove an inspired one.
Within two years, a team that had been drifting aimlessly in the mid-reaches of Scotland's top flight had ascended to the summit of European football, becoming the first club outside of Italy, Spain and Portugal to win the European Cup - all with a team comprised entirely of players born within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park. Stein had vowed to win the trophy playing the kind of football "that made neutrals glad we won it", and the triumph of his swashbuckling underdogs in Lisbon left even the beaten Inter Milan coach, Helenio Herrera, to praise the "courage and daring" of his team's conquerors.
"Winning was important, aye, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction," Stein beamed. "We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football." This commitment to attack, championed by the team christened 'The Lisbon Lions', was to become a hallmark of successive Celtic sides, and it provided the basis for a run of nine successive championships under Stein that no club in Scotland has ever surpassed.
Indeed, while Celtic have never have scaled the same lofty heights since the late, great Stein was persuaded to stand down in 1978, the principles he treasured remain dear even to generations of supporters too young to have seen the likes of Jimmy Johnstone play.
Situated beside Janefield Cemetery, less than 500 metres from the club's current stadium, the original Celtic Park was built by a large band of volunteers assembled by the club's founder, Brother Walfrid. Its first game - fittingly, against Rangers - was staged on 28 May 1888, but within three years Celtic were on the move after Walfrid refused to accede to an exorbitant increase in the annual rent from £50 to £450.
So it was that another army of helpers came together to build a replacement stadium on a disused brickyard across the street in a switch that one local journalist at the time likened to "moving from the graveyard to paradise". The nickname 'Paradise' has stuck ever since, and Celtic Park - which underwent massive redevelopment during the mid-1990s - has become legendary for its atmosphere, comfortably topping a BBC poll to find Britain's favourite sporting venue. The stands behind both goals carry the names of Jock Stein and the club's greatest-ever team, the Lisbon Lions.