The 1888 Glasgow Exhibition was held in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. It was an event designed to promote Glasgow’s industry and commerce and also to raise the profile of the city. As part of the Exhibition, a football tournament was organised, all the matches being played at Glasgow University’s Recreation Ground, just to the west of the main buildings.
Celtic entered the competition, the first one in which the club had ever participated and faced Abercorn, a team from Paisley, in the first round, the match finishing 1-1. Unusually, no record exists of any replay but Celtic did proceed to play, and beat, Dumbarton Athletic 3-1 in the next round and Partick Thistle 3-1 in the semi-final.
Their opponents in the final would be Cowlairs, from the north of Glasgow, who decided to take no chances against these new boys from the east end of the city by inviting three Scottish internationalists from other clubs to turn out for them, a quite legitimate tactic in those early days. On this day in 1888, the Celtic side which ran out on to the pitch was Dunning, Collins, McKeown, Gallagher, Kelly, McLaren, McCallum, Coleman, Groves, M Dunbar and O’Connor.
Unfortunately, in a very tough encounter, Cowlairs proved too strong for the ‘Celts’ and won the match 2-0. There would appear to have been no trophy for a presentation and the Celtic players and committeemen were not happy with the attitude of the crowd. Willie Maley, match secretary at the time, wrote in his book – The Story of Celtic 1888-1938 -that ‘much ill-treatment was generated by their [the players’] treatment both on and off the field by those in control’.
NB Celtic did not have to wait long to take revenge. Only 16 days later, in a second round tie in the Scottish Cup, this time at First Celtic Park, Celtic beat Cowlairs 8-0, their performance described by Willie Maley as ‘a display that has never been equalled for dash and precision in the history of the game’.
NB2 The football played at this time was tough. Some idea of the ‘competitiveness’ of the encounters might be gleaned from a notice from the SFA which all clubs had to post in their dressing –rooms;
“Rough play, as specified in Rule 10, is tripping, ducking, hacking, jumping at a player, pushing and charging’.