James Kelly

James Graham Kelly was and remains one of the pivotal figures in Scottish and also World football. In his case it was quite literally, although he, through his footballing feet and brain, was probably the implementer not the instigator. 

There are perhaps ten pivotal figures in all, six of them Scots. First came Johnny Ferguson, then Andrew Watson. Kelly was perhaps third, contemporaneously with William McGregor, before, again more or less in the same era, the quiet man, Peter McWilliam, and Jimmy Hogan. They were followed by the almost unknown Robert Campbell, the man who probably saved the international game, by Pele, and lastly by Johan Cruyff and perhaps Pep Guardiola. Time will tell.   

Kelly was born in 1865 in Renton. He was another son, the eldest son of twelve siblings, of irish immigrants, both born in Co. Antrim, his father a Shipyard Labourer/Hammerman. In 1881 the family was living on Thimble St. in the village, at the time probably the most footbal wynd in the World. James was working as a joiner. A decade later he was living in Camlachie in Glasgow, at the house of his father-in-law, having married Donegal-born Maggie McErlean, daughter of another Celtic-founder, early that same year. Now he is listed as a Spirit Merchant, actually a pub-owner and the profession he would pursue until his death. But, of course, by then he had already played for Renton from 1883, aged eighteen, initially as an inside-forward, had been in the Scottish Cup winning-team in 1885, still at inside right, won a cap in 1886, repeated the Cup win in 1888, won a second cap and been in the Renton team which that same year had taken the "World Championship" in beating West Bromwich Albion. 

It was these performances that saw him still in 1888 recruited to be captain by the newly-formed Celtic and the move to the East End of Glasgow. But he had won the last two trophies and cap in the novel position of centre-half, but the attacking, Scottish centre-half that he had already made his own and would continue to play until 1897 and the end of his footballing career. It would bring him a further seven caps, a further Scottish Cup win and three League titles. 

James and Maggie Kelly would have eleven children, by 1901 moving to Blantyre and remaining there until their deaths, he in 1932, just past his seventy-sixth birthday, and she in 1945. Both are buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery in New Stevenston. And meantime, although remaining throughout in the drinks industry James was also on the Board of Directors of Celtic from playing-retirement, alongside both Mick Dunbar and Willie Maley, until his passing and Chairman from 1909 to 1914. Moreover, the Kelly family would remain a major force with the club. The fourth son, Robert, would join the club;s board on his father's death and be Chairman from 1947 until 1971. In the meantime he was twice SFA President. And he was followed by his nephew, Kevin Kelly, who sat on the board until 1994, where from 1990 he was joined by Michael Kelly.     

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