The history of the Shamrock jersey; the most sought-after Celtic shirt of the year

‘THE SHAMROCK JERSEY’ 1953-1965

The first Celtic matchday programme to be issued was for the Scottish League encounter against Clyde on 14 December 1946. Inside-right, Tommy Kiernan, appeared on the cover wearing a Celtic away kit. Although it was a black-and-white image, it can safely be assumed that the jersey was green (as nearly all Celtic away jerseys had been before), with white collar, shorts and socks. It was an away strip that Celtic had worn (with various selections of shorts and socks) since as far back as 1934. This was a fairly nondescript design and not one that would be instantly associated with Celtic, other than the colour scheme.

By the time that right-back, Bobby Hogg, was the cover star of the programme two months later, a far more recognisable design of Celtic jersey was in place. The image of Hogg, who was part of the famous Empire Exhibition Cup-winning team of 1938, appeared for the visit of St Mirren on 22 February 1947. It shows him, arms-crossed and stern-faced, wearing a white jersey with green collar and shamrock on the left breast. This was a similar design to that worn by Jimmy McGrory in the 1926 Scottish Cup final, with the green collar replacing the round-neck of the 1920s.

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The third version of this shirt included the addition of green arms, and it is this design that has become known as the cult ‘Shamrock’ or ‘Political’ jersey. It was unveiled on 17 May 1952 in a friendly match against Belfast Celtic, and it is this game that has added some myth to the tale of the shirt’s origin. Charlie Tully led Celtic out in this Belfast encounter wearing the familiar green-and-white hoops. His former club were captained by Jackie Vernon and his Belfast Celtic side wore the ‘Shamrock’ strip. This led to many believing that it was a Belfast Celtic kit and that they thereafter gifted these strips to Celtic.

“Belfast Celtic folded in 1949,” pointed out Celtic author and historian, Ian McCallum. “The friendly played in May 1952 in Belfast was a one-off charity game and was their first match in three years. The team was cobbled together over the week previous to the game. I’ve seen a photo of them training in their green-and-white strips prior to the game. Under the circumstances of both sides playing in hoops, I think it likely that Celtic brought that shamrock strip with them from Glasgow.”

Martin Flynn of the Belfast Celtic Society Committee is of the same view, “As far as I’m aware, this was the only time Belfast Celtic wore this jersey. By 1952 – three years after Belfast Celtic left football – the club had no kits and so Celtic brought a second set of strips over. This was the last time the clubs met, although Celtic would be back again in 1954 and 1956 playing ‘select’ sides.”

The jersey then appeared on the cover of the Celtic programme for the league match against Clyde on 12 September 1953, but it was not an action shot of a player wearing the shamrock shirt, so it is possible that Celtic did not wear it themselves until they faced Kilmarnock on 8 January 1955 in the league. According to the Evening Times (Glasgow) report, which ran with the headline, “TULLY TRICK IN A NEW STRIP, CELTIC JUST MAKE IT,” this was the first time a Celtic team wore the shamrock jersey.

Eminent Celtic historian and author, Pat Woods, pointed out that, “Kilmarnock had not been in the First Division during the period 1947/48 to 1953/54 inclusive and had not played Celtic in any competition during that time. Kilmarnock matches were the only occasions which necessitated a strip change to avoid a clash of colours (Celtic normally wore green-and-white hoops; Kilmarnock normally wore blue-and-white hoops).

It is a distinct possibility that Celtic had the shamrock strips available to them since 1952, but never had the occasion to wear them until 1955. The final time the kit was worn was also against Kilmarnock, this time in a Scottish Cup tie on 6 March 1965. This 3-2 victory was Jimmy McGrory’s final game in charge of Celtic, which means that the shamrock jersey was never worn by a Celtic first team managed by Jock Stein. Would it have been pulled due to it being deemed ‘the political jersey’? Or perhaps, after wearing it for ten years, it was simply time for a change.

The match-worn version featured in my forthcoming book The Celtic Jersey and in the recent Stevie Chalmers auction were both unusual as they had white collars. Ex-Celtic goalkeeper, John Fallon, explained that the club had two sets of shamrock strips – the green collars were worn by the first-team, and the white collars were for the reserve side. Both variations can be seen in this team group from 1963/64:

Paul John Dykes

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