The first Celtic fanzine

The Shamrock

shamrock fanzine

Not The View is proud to say that we are among the venerable old fanzines on the Scottish football scene. However, some twenty-odd years and over two hundred issues old as we may be, we ourselves were predated by some 26 years when it comes to Celtic fan publications.

“The Shamrock” was a supporters’ publication aimed directly at the real grassroots Celtic fans, and although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when it first appeared, its heyday seems to have been between 1961 and 1963. A5 size and consisting of 8-12 pages of typed text which looks as if it might have reproduced by means of Gestetner skins, it was a hard-hitting piece of samizdat that proved to be remarkably ahead of its time. The period from the mid-sixties until the departure of Jock Stein might have silenced many of the club’s critics, but when the Big man departed the scene many of the issues highlighted by this early fanzine reappeared to haunt a board no longer able to paper over the perennial cracks.

It was published by the Shamrock Celtic Supporters Club in Edinburgh totally unofficially and was sold outside the stadium on the approaches to Celtic Park. The lack of official sanction will come as little surprise to anyone who manages to get hold of a few copies; the magazine took a virulently anti-board stance and was almost rabid in its condemnation of perceived injustices suffered by Celtic at the hands of the SFA and Scottish referees. Needless to say, it was equally uncompromising when it came to matters relating to Rangers.

The magazine reflected the frustration felt by the fans at a time when Celtic had failed to lift a trophy since thrashing Rangers in the 7:1 League Cup final of 1957. One particular source of irritation at the time was the famous ‘Youth Policy’ – get a player for nothing, bring him into the first team then sell him for as much as you could get – felt at the time to be doomed to failure.

Though they did give credit where it was due, much of the criticism they directed at the players and the board was highly personal in nature (big Yogi and Bob Kelly were two favourite targets). however, it seems that the views they were expressing on these issues were indeed widely held among the fans at the time, particularly among the habitués of the Jungle. Quite possibly ‘The Shamrock’ may have been one of the understated reasons why the board were so keen to launch Pravda in 1965 as their official organ.

There were more than a few passing resemblances between this scurrilous rag of the early Sixties and NTV, its equally scurrilous counterpart of the late eighties. While NTV bemoaned the lack of investment in a playing squad which had won the double during Celtic’s centenary season, The Shamrock had been preoccupied with precisely the same issue in 1963. Following a cup tie against Eyemouth, which had been won by 3:0, its contributors were far from happy about the way things were going on the pitch: “This form will not take the team to the final. Murdoch and Divers were missed, but it’s a bad job if they don’t have reserves to take their places.”

As in the 80s, this kind of criticism was given short shrift by the Celtic directors: “It is plain to see how this great club has come down. You get statements like, ‘If you are not happy stay away’” (September 1963).

Like NTV, space for readers’ letters was prominent in each issue. In the days before the internet, phone-ins and hotlines this gave fans perhaps their only channel to air what they considered to be their legitimate grievances, often with the wit of the terracing so noticeably lacking in po-faced and worthy official publications. One supporter, a Mr. J. Langan of Glasgow, wrote: “I agree with Jim Lappin regarding the present Celtic team. It must be galling for a man who can go back to the great Celtic teams of the past … to compare them with the men who are wearing the colours today. There’s only one thing in his favour; he’ll not be kept long in purgatory after all he has suffered at Parkhead.”

The dilapidated state of Celtic Park and its environs was another subject which vexed both The Shamrock in 1963 and Not The View a quarter of a century later. Parkhead in 1988 might have been a working Victorian museum and a monument to a bygone way of boardroom authoritarianism, but at least we had the luxury of a concrete terracing to stand on. Contributors to The Shamrock were still standing on banking made up of compacted shale faced off with disused railway sleepers. Inclement weather must have produced conditions reminiscent of the front lines at the Battle of Ypres: “Is it not time that Celtic did something about their terracing and get it concreted the same as a lot of clubs, some of them with a lot less money than us? The terracing in the Jungle is especially bad, so hurry up and get cracking … The outside and inside of Celtic Park should be improved as in parts you are up to your ankles in mud on a wet day… If this is Paradise then we could do with a touch of the other place to warm it up a bit.” (1963)

Needless to say, Scottish referees were as popular with The Shamrock’s editorial staff as they were in the 80s. Laughing in the face of libel laws, the magazine dropped subtle hints within its pages that perhaps the Men in Black were sometimes apt to show a certain bias towards Rangers (“The Rangers gave their players a large bonus this week. Did I hear someone say what about the referees?” – 1963) while the statistically-minded were busy compiling evidence for a compelling argument that referees seemed more inclined to award spot kicks when the player tumbling to the ground was wearing a blue jersey: “Rangers have been awarded ten penalty kicks this season and have had none awarded against them. There is no need to comment on this as it speaks for itself.”

The Shamrock advocated something more than passive acceptance of what they regarded as a continuing reluctance on the part of the football authorities to give the Celts a fair crack of the whip: “It is about time Celtic brought matters to a head with the SFA regarding the bad decisions given against them and never mind trying to be gentlemen. Willie Maley would never have stood for it, but then he was a real manager.”

This was typical of the type of scathing criticism this forerunner of the fanzines reserved for the board, then under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Kelly. Articles and letters condemning the youth policy and the club’s unwillingness to spend money on players appeared regularly while the magazine also championed the cause of a certain Baillie James Reilly, a noted critic of the directors in his day, who wanted to usurp power within Parkhead and actively encouraged fans to join the fledgling Celtic Supporters Association, which at that time was perceived as a potential pressure group for upholding the interests of ordinary supporters.

Ideas mooted in the magazine for taking away some of the influence of the board ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous (one writer actually suggested that Celtic should have elected members from supporters clubs present at team selection meetings) but some idea of the general tone can be gleaned from this editorial from October 1963 which was entitled “So Have The Mighty Fallen”:

“The decline of Celtic has reached such a stage that it cannot be tolerated any longer. The supporters must organise and the lead must be given by influential business and professional men, although every supporter has his part to play and if they could get the backing of old Celtic players in support of Jimmy Delaney’s outspoken criticism then they would certainly be making headway. They have been given a lead by Mr. Reilly.

“They could call a mass meeting on Glasgow Green on a Sunday and deliver an ultimatum to the Celtic board to get a real team on the park or get out.

“Otherwise they could boycott the games and that would certainly make an impression. After all, the supporters are the only part of the club that cannot be done without. They can replace players, trainers and even Mr. Kelly, but the support cannot be replaced, so I say to them;
Why should YOU complain
Who lead the club
Who finance the club
At what the club may do?
Why should YOU complain
Who are the club

The extraordinary thing was that The Shamrock’s agenda was to prove almost Nostradamus-like in its foresight. I only hope the fans who produced it were around to welcome the Bunnet to their beloved Parkhead.


For more on the Shamrock visit the Celtic Collectors Club website


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