Depending on your point of view, John Glass, one of the principal founding fathers of Celtic Football Club, was either a far-sighted visionary, who foresaw the huge potential of a successful Irish community club in Scottish professional football, or a cynical opportunist, who distorted and exploited both Brother Walfrid’s charitable idealism and Hibernian’s benevolent naivety, all in the interests of personal aggrandisement and commercial gain.
Willie Maley was in no doubt. In his seminal book, “The Story of the Celtic”, the legendary manager proclaimed the Scots-born Donegal-er the power behind Walfrid’s throne. As a first-hand witness to those fledgling days, Maley recognised the missionary zeal of the Marist brother as the inspiration for the formation of a Glasgow Irish club; but he could see that, more than any other, John Glass was the powerhouse whose tireless endeavour ensured that the caring cleric’s dream became reality.
A powerful figure in the West of Scotland building industry, Glass was in a position to influence colleagues and potential recruits to the Celtic cause, all in equal measure. At a time in the history of Scottish football when behind-the-scenes bargaining was part and parcel of the business of establishing and running a club, such attributes were key to success.
So it was that John Glass was among the trio despatched to the Maley household on the historic mission, principally to recruit, not Willie but his brother Tom, a top player of the time, who was destined for the Edinburgh Hibernians before Celtic’s intervention.
John Glass died in 1906, by which time Celtic had developed into by far the dominant force in Scottish football, albeit a world away from Walfrid’s original vision of a fund raising parochial charity. By then, the club had grown into an embryo of the commercial organisation we know today.
As a footnote to this John Glass cameo, the others in the Maley recruitment triumvirate were … Walfrid, himself, of course – and a somewhat shadowy figure about whom relatively little is really known, so much has he faded from mainstream Celtic history. His name was Pat Welsh, whose nickname, “Tailor”, gives a clue as to the trade in which he was then prospering as an immigrant Irish businessman.
Welsh’s inclusion in the Maley delegation may well have had something to do with his earlier, somewhat controversial, encounter with Thomas Maley (Snr) some years earlier, in Ireland – but that’s another story.