Celtic are very much a worldwide club. According to The Celtic Wiki, over 51 different nationalities have played for Celtic. From Aussies to Venezuelans and Swedes to Bulgarians. That’s always been underpinned by the home nations; Scottish, Irish and English players have made up the bulk of Celtic teams throughout the years.
But there is another nation, close to home, that has surprisingly only produced 5 Celtic players in nearly 130 years.
This country is of course my own country, Wales. I know from first hand experience that there are many Celtic fans in Wales and we would love nothing more than a Welshman donning the hoops once more. But for now we’ll have to make do with a trip down memory lane, to revisit the Welshmen that have played for the famous green and white.
Born in Holt, Roose was regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the game during the Edwardian period.
He was once described by the Dictionary of Welsh Biography as a ‘clever man [who] had what is sometimes described as the eccentricity of genius. His daring was seen in the goal, where he was often taking risks and emerging triumphant.’
A strong big man, Roose was able to meet the challenge of the more robust and physical forwards of the day, but also had sharp reflexes, bravery and competitiveness. His closest comparison in modern day football would be legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
Roose maintained an amateur status throughout his career, which allowed him to charge clubs handsomely for his services, and he move around freely. His one appearance for Celtic was in a 1910 defeat to Clyde in the Scottish Cup. He also played for the likes of Stoke, Everton, Sunderland and Arsenal, and represented Wales with 24 caps. Roose joined the British Army during the outbreak of World War I and he lost his life in the same year during the Battle of the Somme at the age of 38.
Wales would have to wait 91 years for its next Welsh Tim.
Capped 52 times by his country, and scoring 15, Swansea born John Hartson started his career at Luton Town before being lured to Arsenal at 19 for a then record fee for a teenager of £2.5 million. However, the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp, and later Nicolas Anelka, pushed Hartson further down the Arsenal pecking order.
Spells at West Ham (where he famously kicked former Celt Eyal Berkovic in the head), Wimbledon and Coventry City followed, before Martin O’Neill paid £6 million for him to bring him up to Glasgow.
Rangers were interested in Hartson a couple of years before, but rejected the chance to sign him, something that would prove to be a mistake.
At Celtic, John Hartson formed a deadly partnership with Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton, becoming an integral part of the Celtic team which made it to the final of the UEFA Cup in 2003, scoring against Liverpool and Celta Vigo. Cruelly, he was then ruled out of the final through injury.
Big Bad John was an old fashioned centre forward. He lacked pace but bullied his way into scoring positions, gave 100% in every game and we loved him for it.
His finest season was in 2004/05 when was named the SPFA’s and Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year.
Hartson made 171 appearances for Celtic, scoring 109 goals. He won the SPL three times, the Scottish Cup twice and the League Cup once. After being diagnosed with cancer, and beating it in the determined way he played the game, Hartson got a Celtic tattoo, as a tribute to the fans who had supported him during his personal battle.
I’m still pleasantly surprised when I hear Celtic fans talking about Craig Bellamy in such high regard. Not only was Bellamy a tremendous footballer with great pace and ball control, but he also played with passion, especially in a Welsh shirt.
That passion sometimes overstepped the mark. He has had run ins with Alan Shearer, David Moyes, Joey Barton and John Arne Riise down the years. The latter felt the wrath of Bellamy with a golf club across his backside, although the forward later called his actions ‘pathetic’ and ‘stupidity of the highest level’.
Born in Cardiff, he started as a trainee at Bristol Rovers before moving to Norwich, Coventry and Newcastle. A bust-up with Newcastle manager Graeme Souness and then Alan Shearer meant Craig Bellamy was available for transfer with no future at the club.
Celtic signed Bellamy on loan for the rest of the 2004/2005 season, turning down Premier League club Birmingham City.
In a blistering 5 months Bellamy scored 9 goals, including a hat-trick against Dundee United and a great goal against Rangers, but was unable to fire Celtic to the title. He did however win the Scottish Cup, so he didn’t leave Glasgow empty handed.
At the end of the season, Bellamy and the club were keen on making his stay permanent, but he ultimately joined former Wales manager Mark Hughes at Blackburn. After Blackburn he had spells at Liverpool, West Ham, Man City, and his hometown club Cardiff.
He scored 19 goals in 78 games for Wales, and retired a couple of years before Wales qualified for their first tournament since 1958 at Euro 2016.
Ain’t nobody, like Joe Ledley.
Signed by his hometown club Cardiff as a 9 year old, he progressed quickly and became a first team regular at 17. His performances caught the eye of Premier League clubs like Everton, Stoke and West Ham who all bid for his services but were turned down. Celtic came in for Ledley near the end of his contract, and signed him on a free transfer, the precedent for cross border compensation deals like Moussa Dembele’s.
Ledley excelled on the left of midfield and started his Celtic career at left back, but his best position is in the middle of the park. He is a combative midfielder, who likes to break up the play and distribute the ball to more attacking players, although he does have a varied range of passing, and can contribute goals.
His most famous goal for Celtic was a header against Rangers in the 2011/12 season, a goal that sent the Hoops on their way to a first league title since 2008.
Ledley is still remembered fondly by Celtic fans and many were sad to see him join Crystal Palace in the 2014 January transfer window. Although Ledley stated that he wanted to stay and was willing to sign a new contract, the deal was done to take him south of the border. Upon leaving he called Celtic fans ‘the best ever’, having clearly enjoyed his time at the club.
During his time at Celtic Ledley won 3 SPL titles and one Scottish Cup. He made 157 appearances and scored 30 goals.
He’s gone on to great things as a Welsh international, not only helping Wales qualify for their first tournament for nearly 60 years, but also reaching the semi-final of the European Championships.
Matthews was born in Swansea and joined Cardiff’s youth academy after rivals Swansea City had told him their academy was full. He because a first team regular by the age of 18. Matthews played two seasons of first team football before joining Celtic in 2011 on a pre-contract agreement, joining former teammate Joe Ledley at Celtic Park.
Matthews is an attacking full back with an eye for a spectacular goal, scoring a few whilst playing for Celtic. The arrival of Mikael Lustig pushed Matthews down the pecking order and subsequently he lost his place in the Wales squad.
Eventually he felt he had to leave Celtic to gain first team football and win his international place back. He joined Sunderland where he had a torrid time with injuries and has now been on loan at Bristol City for the best part of two seasons.
Unfortunately this affected his international career, and he didn’t make the squad for Wales’ historic Euro 2016 campaign.
During his 148 appearances at Celtic Matthews won 4 SPL titles, 1 League Cup and 1 Scottish Cup. Despite not quite making as large an impact at the club as others, he did leave as the most decorated Welsh Celt in history.
Matthews was the last Welsh player to play for Celtic. I hope there isn’t as big a gap as between Roose and Hartson before the next one lands in Glasgow.
Are there any current Welsh players that can make an impact? In the summer I was hoping that Celtic would make a move for midfielder Joe Allen or right back Chris Gunter as both are good, reliable players and both have worked with Brendan Rodgers. Unfortunately, these moves never materialised.
The Welsh players who played for Celtic loved doing so, so hopefully there is another Welsh hero around the corner waiting for his chance to play at Paradise. We are a passionate country, which I think is a perfect breeding ground for players to play in front of the world’s most passionate fans.
As a Welsh Tim, there is nothing I’d love to see more than a Welshman living out my dream. I guess we’ll have to keep waiting…
This guest article for A Grand Auld Team was written by Ben, who runs the Twitter account @FocusOnCeltic. Give him a follow!