The St Roch’s podcast revived memories that Junior Football once was a major player in Scotland and I remember attending their cup final at Hampden between Petershill and Irvine Meadow in 1951. A crowd of more than 75,000 was there that day … but my junior team was always the humble St Anthony’s…
I first went to Moore Park to see St Anthony’s play when I was about eight or nine years old and always with my father and I suppose it was his way of grooming me before I took my place as a full-time Celtic supporter. Of course, that had already been decided; my grandfather supported Celtic, my father supported Celtic, and I would support Celtic.
St Anthony’s was a logical junior and local team to support: they played in green-and-white hoops, and had started off as an off-shoot of the League of the Cross back in 1904. The League of the Cross had been a Catholic temperance society and these organisations formed the first Celtic ‘brakes’, forerunners of the modern supporters’ buses.
It was claimed that St Anthony’s was ‘owned’ by Celtic, that Celtic donated their hand-me-down strips to ‘the Ants’, that they supplied the match balls and, in return, any promising player was earmarked for Celtic Park. According to St Anthony’s web-site, they have sent an estimated 275 players up to the seniors and 59 of those had gone to Celtic. Players such as Hugh Hilley and the controversial Tommy McInally … the prolific Jimmy ‘Sniper’ McColl, who later went to Hibernian, Malcolm MacDonald, often considered Celtic’s most gifted player, and his life-long friend Matt Lynch, a graduate in Science from Glasgow University; and in later years such as John Colrain, who died tragically young, and Willie O’Neill, the back-up to both Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig (and arguably a better defender than either of them). However, if the only player who ever graduated from St Anthony’s to the senior ranks had been Bobby Evans of Celtic and Scotland, the existence of the Govan club (for more than a hundred years now) would have been worth it.Listen to ST ROCH’S with A Celtic State of Mind here:
In the same way that Celtic’ s rivalry was with Rangers, St Anthony’s was with their Govan rivals Benburb. The matches between ‘the Ants’ and ‘the Bens’ were the highlights of the season for many of the locals. While the atmosphere during those derbies was heated, violence (I think) was rare: the supporters segregated themselves happily enough, a couple of policemen – the only time I ever saw a policeman at Moore Park – were despatched from Govan police station down Helen Street, and that was that. Apart from matches against Benburb, crowds were small and usually about two hundred at most, all standing within a few feet of the pitch.
While Govan may be the site of Ibrox Park, Rangers’ ground and also the location of several ship-building yards (from which Irish Catholic workers were excluded), there was a strong Irish and Catholic presence in the burgh. However, although many of their supporters were Catholic, the club seems to have lost much of their religious association; for instance, nobody ever referred to them as ‘the Saints’ and it was always ‘the Ants’.
Memory can be deceptive; Time tends to distort things, to round things off, to blur the edges and to come up with an accepted version of ‘the truth’ – and I am well aware of the danger of embellishing the events of the past. However, I know I used to go pretty regularly to Moore Park at the time Bobby Evans played for St Anthony’s and I must have seen him several times. Ibrox Park was situated only a quarter-mile away from St Anthony’s more humble premises I can vouch personally, though, for the proximity of Rangers’ stadium at first-hand; occasionally, later when I was a teenager, I attended St Anthony’s matches while Rangers were playing at home. If Rangers were losing, their fans would leave Ibrox early and some would pass Moore Park. The news would spread and several Ants’ supporters would race up the road to witness a rare home defeat for Rangers. I remember the delight I felt when Rangers lost to both Queen of the South and Queen’s Park within a couple of weeks – and I had got into Ibrox Park free for the last five minutes.
It was only when I started to write ‘Bobby Evans – Celtic’s Forgotten Hero’ that I tried to recall those days … I do have a definite recollection of young Bobby Evans, rumoured at the time to be only 16 and usually fielded as an inside-forward and immediately recogniseable with his flaming red hair and stocky frame. He always stood out from the crowd because of that red hair and he seemed to be a figure in Technicolour, compared to the other players. He gave the impression that he would have paid money to be allowed to play and seemed incapable of admitting defeat. Some of my father’s friends, himself included, had doubts about his future, though; much head-shaking and gloomy warnings that “Young Evans will burn himself out before he’s twenty” or “He’ll strain his heart with all that running!”
Moore Park was a depressing place. A level pitch, admittedly, but a field almost totally devoid of grass, summer or winter. The only area where any grass remained was near the corner flags – “Like hairy armpits on an Irish navvy”, as my father once described it. Behind one of the goals was ‘a Press Box’ that held three people on ramshackle chairs and looked and felt more like a garden shed. There would always be a ripple of excitement whenever a certain man made his appearance at the ground and took his place in the Press Box. He was Steve Callaghan, a long-time Celtic scout with a reputation for uncovering talent (including John Thomson). Mr Callaghan lived in the neighbourhood and, as a frequent visitor to the ground, he was always noticed – and the rumours would spread.
It always seemed to be raining and, even when I was very young, I could sense the air of depression that hung around the premises. I was told at an early age that the former pavilion had been destroyed by a German bomb during an air-raid, my father pointing out that the Luftwaffe should have presented a bill for ‘improvements’.
But it was a football ground, and matches were played there. It was a Glasgow football ground, a junior club’s home in a working-class district, surrounded by industrial sites on Helen Street, Govan and its denizens, sarcastic as they might have been, held it in a gruff affection.