Celtic’s first trip to Philadelphia was during The Great Depression when Willie Maley brought a full team with him on Celtic’s first tour of North America. His team featured Celtic Legends James McGrory, and Johnny Thompson, but also included James McStay, John Morrision, Charles Geatons, William Cook, Willie Hughes, Joe McGhee, Denis Currie, Alex Thompson, Robert Whitelaw, Peter Scariff, Charles Napier, Hugh Smith, and Peter McGonigle.
Celtic would face an amateur select team called East Penn & District on the 23rd of May 1931. Celtic ran out to over 12,000 supporters at the Frankford Yellow Jacket’s Field. This was the home of the legendary Yellow Jackets who would later be transformed in the Philadelphia Eagles football team. The majority of the fans that attended the match came from the large Irish and Scottish Immigrant communities that made up that area of the city. The Celtic faithful who turned up would not be disappointed as Celtic beat EP&D 6-1. This must have been extra special for these poor immigrant communities to have the famous Glasgow Celtic playing in their own backyards during the dark days of the Great Depression.
Celtic would return to Philadelphia again on the 3rd of June 1951. This time they would face a Philadelphia All-Star team at Cahill Field. The Philadelphia Irish and Scottish community once again arrived in impressive numbers. The Celtic team would include the likes of Bobby Evans, Bertie Peacock, John McPhail, and Charlie Tully. This time Jimmy McGrory would return as manager and his players put on quite the display beating the Philadelphia All-Stars 6-2.
After the match the majority of the fans marched back to the streets of Kensington. Kensington was once the largest Irish enclave in Philadelphia. The telephone polls were all wrapped in green, white, and gold ribbons in honor of the Celtic. The Kensington Irish were in full voice until the wee hours of the morning. God Save Ireland could be heard in the streets from Holy Innocence all the way to St Hugh’s parishes. This is impressive as these two churches are several miles apart. One of the Irish Pubs on the corner of J Street & Erie Avenue called the “Church” ran out of porter and a local brew called Schmidt’s, which was a lager. The pub was called the “Church” because the lassies had to enter the pub from a separate entrance from the lads, and there was no swearing allowed. It was also strongly rumored that Holy Communion would be given to the lads on Saturday night’s because it was very unlikely that they would make it to Mass on Sunday. Collections were also taken in the “Church” to help the local Irish community.
It would be six years before Glasgow’s Green & White would return to the Philadelphia on the 25th of May 1957. To know that Celtic were in Philadelphia ten years to the day before we would win the European Cup should fill our hearts with pride.
The Bhoys would face a team called the Uhrik Truckers, which were a Philadelphia professional football team in the American Soccer League. That year the majority of the Uhrik team that year was made up of Irish players who made their homes in Philadelphia’s Irish Community in Kensington. This was a big deal as the Uhrik Truckers were originally formed as the Philadelphia German-American Soccer Club. James McGrory’s team included Seán Fallon, Charlie Tully, Bertie Peacock, and Johnny Donnelly. The match was played at Temple University Stadium to another big crowd. Celtic defeated the former American Soccer League Champions 4-0 and the celebrations began once again throughout the Irish neighborhoods of Kensington, Overbrook, Southwest Philly, Juniata Park, and Mayfair.
It would be 47 years before Celtic would return to Philadelphia in 2004 to face Manchester United at Lincoln Financial Field. The Bhoys were back 2010 to face the Philadelphia Union and again in 2012 to face Real Madrid. We hope that the Celtic come back to Philadelphia in the very near future.