The Neilly McCallum life-story seems on the face of it enigmatic - with tremendous footballing high-points before he reached the age of maturity and the nadir of death alone in the poorhouse, aged just fifty-two. In part it was his own fault, a talent wasted, but behind it was what can only be said to be a less than easy hand. He was born in 1868 in Bonhill, the youngest of five boys, his father, Patrick, a Road Labourer born in Ireland and 18 years older than his mother. She was Rose or Rose-Anne or Robina, nee Green, also Irish-born, married at twenty and widowed at forty-five, when Neilly was aged just six, at which point the family clearly fell on hard-times, breaking up, at least in part.
At twelve Neilly was already working in the print-fields and he and his elder brother, Dennis, whose son and grandson would also be professional footballers, were lodging with another Irish family at 17, Burn St., Bonhill. However, their mother was not far way. She too was lodging, also alone, recorded as an agricultural worker, and with a third Irish family just down the road at number 5. And the same may have been the case a decade later, with Neilly already away. His mother, still an agricultural labourer was living in another Irish lodging-house. But it was in Renton, which may be the explanation of why in 1885, aged seventeen and perhaps also having moved there, he first turned out for that village's club and not the one nearest to Bonhill, Vale of Leven.
Neilly McCallum would play for Renton for three seasons, rapidly building a reputation on the right-wing and earning the epithet, "The Shadow". In 1888 he was a member of the team that would win the Scottish Cup against Cambuslang, his first and only Scottish cap and the "Word Championship" versus West Bromwich Albion. But just a week later he was in the first ever Celtic team, defeating Rangers Swifts with Willie Maley and James Kelly behind and Tom Maley and Johnny Madden beside him. And in that game he would score Celtic's first ever goal.
Neilly would stay at Celtic for two seasons. In that time he was also to score its first Scottish Cup goal before once more hitting the net for the losing eleven in the replayed 1889 Scottish Cup Final and then in February 1890 heading South. He went to briefly to Blackburn, moving on to Nottingham and Forest for the following season. In early 1891 he was in the city, recorded as a professional footballer, boarding with another, John Duncan, also Scots. But he was to return to Scotland in 1891, playing in Celtic's Cup-winning team in 1892.
But he clearly had other things on his mind. Officially for three seasons he was back at Forest but this time with less success. He spent only the first of them at the City Ground. After that he was on loan down the leagues at Loughborough and Newark, which may have had something to do with in 1893 he having married a local girl, Hannah Nuttall, a married that was not a success. Only in 1895 did he settle with a season back in the top flight at Notts County before again dropping once more to Heanor for 1896-7.
By then he was almost thirty and clearly not performing to the same standard. It meant a move to Middleton, Lancashire and for four seasons Folkstone on the Kent League, where he captained, whilst also labouring However, after a conviction for being drunk and disorderly he stepped or was stepped down down, returning to Glasgow, but alone. In 1911 he is recorded as a Motor Work Machineman, neither married or divorced but single and boarding in Camlachie. And that would as it still was on his death n 1920 in the nearby poorhouse, aged fifty-two, with his body taken back by his family to Bonhill and buried in the town's churchyard.
1901 - Folkstone, Kent
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