Govan, a name synonymous with many things – shipbuilding, heavy industry, the auld ‘SouGen’ and even Rab C. Nesbitt, Glasgow’s very own philosopher of unemployable proportions.
But something that it ought to be more remembered for and associated with is, of course, its connection to Celtic FC and, historically speaking, its Irish cultural roots.
Over the next few weeks, a further exploration of the Irish and ‘Tim-ness’ of Govan will be published and the proceeding piece which you are about to read, constitutes Chapter 1 of this mini series.
To the Govan-ites and beyond, I hope you enjoy.
Govan: A Very Brief Historical Bio
There have been tremendous official and unofficial histories of Govan which have been conducted over the years and it is not my intention to critique this but instead to change the direction slightly by focussing on the Celtic culture and Irish history of Govan and the surrounding areas for the moment.
Somehow, this has managed to escape any great official historical record as far as my knowledge base is concerned.
Clearly their exists excellent local knowledge of the Irish and Tim-ness of Govan but with no great formal recording. The proof for this is to be seen with the realisation that the average footballing aware Glaswegian considers Govan to be a ‘Rangers area’ – in reality, as the next few weeks worth of writing will prove, this is a misconception of mammoth proportions and, for want of a better phrase, a complete nonsense.
In regards to my research it should be remembered however that, such has been the tremendous input of the Govanite, past and present, via Twitter and email over the last week or so, that in all honesty, I feel a book or much greater researched body of work could easily be produced regarding this topic.
So as you read on, bare in mind that this is an initial attempt – as I have previously mentioned, a mere scratch at the surface of a great body of content.
Lastly, the use of the phrase Tim or Tim-ness will be used widely within my writing but, ideally, I would ask the readers to fully engage with this phrase and offer up debate and critique regarding what the word Tim actually means to them – Celtic, as we all know, are not and never have been a ‘closed shop’ and so to the nature of the definition of Tim-ness is not closed either.
What does being a Tim mean to you?
Answers on a green and white postcard please!
Where are the Govan boundaries?
In the context of this piece, I’ll refer to the Greater Govan area as inclusive of Govan at the cross and immediate areas, Govan Rd towards the Paisley Road, Harmony Row area extending to Crossloan and Craigton Rd and Drumoyne as well as the area of Govan the other end of Elder Park heading beyond Linthouse towards the super hospital.
However, any reader with a ‘Govan state of Mind’ will at this point be alarmed that I haven’t as yet mentioned ‘The Winey’ – the (in)famous wee scheme that used to be nestled between the railway lines and Broomloan Rd before being redesigned with the addition of high risers and removed completely within a few decades of its urban birth. Despite this architectural scarring, reshaping and eventual demolition of the physical area of the Winey, I’m truly amazed and humbled at the still palpable sense of pride, belonging and identity which the indigenous ‘Winey’ folk still subscribes to.
These above named areas are where my focus has lay for this piece, however, I’m aware that debate will ensue regarding the true Govan boundaries.
Neptune St: Govans ‘Irish Channel’
Undeniably, Govan has a history associated with Irish migration. This was evidenced to an extent In Seán Damers sociological study, ‘From Moorepark to Wine Alley’ (1989) which was based on his own experiences and observations as he stayed in the Winey for a time in the early 1970s. In this text he states that Neptune St in Govan, a 5 minute walk from the Cross, was known for decades as ‘The Irish Channel’.
The reason being that from mid to late 19thC onwards a vast number of Irish migrants, generally Catholic, were housed in this street.
Within his book he details some of the one to one interviews that he conducted with some of the men and women, all of humble Irish migrant heritage, in excellent detail.
It is perhaps not surprising to learn then that one of the burghs RC secondary schools, St. Gerards, which was also the high school attended by Celtic legends Joe McBride and Jim Craig as well as the former skipper Andy Lynch, was situated neatly nearby in relation to Neptune Street – some of the original walls of this Victorian build still stand on Southcroft Street.
Although this school has since perished, the current Govan Campus which sits there houses one of the local RC Primary schools to this day, St. Saviours. A school which has been in existence for almost as long as Celtic FC, albeit in different premises through the years.
Both schools throughout their existence would no doubt have been catering for many of the 3rd, 4th or 5th generation Irish Catholic migrants who originally dwelled within the Irish Channel.
The idea that Govan should have a central Street channeling through it pivotal to the areas lifeblood, which was almost entirely Irish migrant in its makeup, tells it’s own story in relation to the relatively unknown Irish heartbeat of Govan.
The Govan Irish
This Irish Channel also housed the well attended premises of the Govan Irish Club in which local councillor John Storrie, himself a Govan man of Irish Catholic identity who was born and bred in Water Row, would regularly hold his committee rooms and meetings in, throughout the 1930s.
No doubt many a good Irish night and a coming together of minds concerning intense political debate was to take place within the Hibernian walls of this Irish Club through the years.
The aforementioned Storrie, also a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society, was a man known for his dedication in public office as well as his humbling commitment to helping the poor of Govan, regardless of religion or creed.
‘…His work for the poor was a tale of self-sacrifice to duty and many notable achievements stand to his credit as a consequence of genuine love for the poor and his untiring work on their behalf.’
This humbling level of commitment tells us that John Storrie, a Govan man of Irish Catholic stock, clearly possessed many a value associated with the Celtic or Tim culture.
A culture typified by a core of humility, charity and determination all wrapped up beautifully in an Irish migrant heritage.
Another Glasgow councillor for the Govan ward who regularly attended Neptune Streets Irish Club and who would eventually go on to become Glasgow’s first Catholic Lord Provost (1948) was Socialist councillor Paddy Dollan.
Although not a Govan man through birth as he came from Baillieston, he held a position as councillor for a period of time within the Govan ward.
He was also a central figure in the anti war movement associated with the First World War which focussed it’s main effort on the exploited industrial working classes of the Clyde shipyards, most notably in Govan.
Dollan, like Storrie, a man of Irish migrant stock, was rightly considered a prominent activist for trade unionism and was a central figure in the famous Govan based Glasgow Rent Strikes of 1915 of which his wife, Agnes Dollan, was also heavily involved in.
Govans Neptune Street, as documented above, is clearly a central pillar of the wider areas Irish Heartbeat.
Add to this that it also housed one of the first Celtic Supporters Clubs known as The Windsor CSC which was operated by the Celtic mad father of Alex Ferguson for a time, and it becomes clear to realise that the Celtic identity of Govan owes a lot to this fine Street.
It should be considered impossible to accurately detail the current Celtic or Tim culture of Govan without focussing on such a proud Irish history.
This ought to be recognised and, personally speaking, I believe a plaque or commemorative signage of some sort ought to be bestowed upon the modern day Neptune St as an ode to such a heritage.
If someone initiates a petition to the City Council to enact a long overdue appreciation, rest assured I’ll be the first to sign it and one of the loudest to publicise it.
The Ants and The Celtic
Moving on from a heritage of Irishness within the streets of Govan in relation to its Tim-ness, more football focussed matters should now be discussed.
There is no better way to do this than to provide a brief detail of Govans historical Tim aligned amateur team, known locally as, The Ants.
A nickname of the official team name, St. Anthony’s which itself is named after the parish church based near Govan Cross, the Ants have been in existence since 1904 (although some argue it’s earlier) and, like the Celtic, wear the Green and white Hoops.
Their connection to Celtic runs far deeper than their strip however. For example, as their own official history states via their website, one of their famous sons, Jimmy Gribben, went on to play a significant and life changing role in the reshaping of Celtic.
A name known to relatively few, even to those within the well researched branch of Celtic historians, but a man who Jock Stein would later claim was ‘the lifeblood of football…’.
After Gribben graduated from the junior ranks with The Ants he went on to have a decent footballing career, but his post playing career is where the era defining magic truly starts.
Gribben became a chief scout as well as prominent figure in the Celtic coaching and scouting staff from 1940 but, even more significantly, he was the man who persuaded then manager Jimmy McGrory to take a punt on the seemingly ‘too small to make it big’, Jimmy Johnstone, after his initial impressive trial. In light of ‘Wee Jinky’ being voted the greatest ever Celt, you could say Gribben knew a thing or two about spotting raw talent.
According to the Celtic Wiki, Gribben of the Ants folklore, not only persuaded Jimmy to keep a hold of Jinky but years earlier he was also the man who persuaded Bob Kelly to bring in Jock Stein as a squad player in 1951 – the term ‘the rest is history’ has never been so apt.
Gribbens lasting legacy to Celtic is almost too much to comprehend in relation to just how significant it all was. Essentially, Gribben, a man who was introduced to Scottish football via his local amateur team, The Ants, would go on to become the enabler of era defining proportions by igniting both the Celtic careers of Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone.
(For a fuller account of Jimmy Gribben and the Celtic please consult The Celtic Wiki here.
The Ants, who have also helped produce 60 Celtic players since their inception, currently play their games at McKenna Park in the nearby Shieldhall area, after being originally based in the Centre of Govan for many a year in Nethan St and currently ply their footballing trade in the West Region Central District Division One.
So, perhaps the next time we Chant ‘Mon the Hoops’ we ought to allow this definition to stretch to The Ants also.
Until next Monday folks, thanks for reading and remember, Govan is clearly Green and White!
In Next Weeks Edition:
- Famous and not so famous Tim Players from Govan
- Govan Tims in Their Own Words: Stories From the Fans
- The Tim Pubs and Buses of Govan: Past and Present