SFC FPA

Southport FC Former Players Association (Port Online)

Handsome Tom Maley – The Master Builder

I profess as i write this article to have a bit of a fascination with Southport’s first manager due to his connections with Celtic, a club at which I have a family connection. His story is both fascinating and remarkable in equal measure. For the fans of Celtic, Manchester City and Bradford he left an incredible legacy, and to a Southport fan like myself, I can only dream of what might have been.

By the time he became one of Celtic’s first signings in 1888 he had already enjoyed considerable sporting success elsewhere. Away from the football field Portsmouth-born Tom was a successful athlete winning many prizes. For the natural sportsman however the athletics success was merely a distraction, and his attentions were turning increasingly towards the booming game of football. Having first began playing near his home in Cathcart he caught the eye when he joined Partick Thistle in November 1884. Maley (regularly spelt Mailley) had been in top form for Thistle netting five times in seven games by mid-January 1885 when he was called up to represent Glasgow against Birmingham. Unfortunately for Thistle, Maley left the club just two weeks later to take up a teaching post. He made brief appearances for Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers (later to be renamed the Third Lanark Athletic Club), Clydesdale Harriers Football Section and a single appearance for the Edinburgh Hibernian on their route to the Scottish Cup Final win of 1887, but it was at Celtic where he really made his name. 

Famously Tom would not be at home on that December evening in 1887 when two of Celtic’s Founding Fathers came calling. He was engaged in a courting of another kind, enjoying an evening out in the company of his wife to be, Elizabeth Mellon.

Thomas Edward Maley was recommended by family friend Pat Welsh to the founding fathers of the fledgling Celtic Football Club. A renowned footballer and a trained teacher, Tom was seen as an ideal candidate to help kick-start this noble new venture and so it was that John Glass and Brother Walfrid had set out to the Maley home in Cathcart with the aim of making Thomas one of their first signings for the newly born club. 

Although his own role at Celtic would be less celebrated than that of his brother, there can be no doubt that Tom too would play a pivotal part in the incredible growth and rapid success of Celtic Football Club. 

Having joined his brother at Parkhead, the pair lined up for the club’s inaugural game against Rangers on May 28th 1888 at the original Celtic Park. Although accounts of that game are not conclusive it is believed Tom scored three goals in that 5-2 victory thus becoming the first Celt ever to score three goals in a match for the club and the first to do so against Rangers. He would later play in the club’s first ever Scottish Cup tie when the Bhoys defeated Cowlairs 8-0 and hit six goals on route to the final for the Bhoys. 

A quick-footed outside-left Tom’s attributes as a footballer were varied. As he stated himself: “Speed, stamina, dash – all three were mine“. 

In January 1889 Tom inspired Celtic to a 6-2 win over England’s famous Corinthians when, on a muddy swamp of a Parkhead pitch, his speed and stamina wowed one of the largest crowds that had yet witnessed a game in Scotland.  

His contacts throughout the world of football were extensive and from the day of his recruitment Tom’s influence in attracting other players to Celtic Park was considerable. His whole hearted efforts on the pitch were matched by work as a committee member. 

Tom retired as a professional player in 1891, he however would later briefly play for Preston as an amateur. Given his knowledge of the game it was no surprise that he became a Celtic director in 1897. This position as a director was in spite of Tom’s resistance to limited liability in the acrimonious debate that had preceded. Indeed, he was a keen supporter of prioritising charity, but did reluctantly accept the club’s change in status. Unlike some of his peers on the board, Tom was a football man and had played for the first team, so in that respect it put him head & shoulders above them.

Away from football Tom was Headmaster of Slatefield Industrial School in the East End of Glasgow. He was also a journalist for Glasgow’s leading Catholic newspaper – The Glasgow Observer. 

Tom was lured to Manchester City as manager at the start of the 1902-03 season following the club’s relegation from the English top tier. Despite incredible success it was here that Tom would endure his darkest days in football. Almost immediately his team suffered a tragic setback when experienced Wales international full-back Di Jones cut his knee after falling on some glass during a pre-season practice game. The wound turned septic and within days the player had died. Another significant player Jimmy Ross also died that summer.

Maley was by now an accomplished football administrator and tactician, and he saw an opportunity to implement the famed Celtic passing style at Hyde Road as a way to lift spirits and bring success.  

He attracted great players and built a fearsome attacking force around the considerable skills of the Welsh Wizard Billy Merrideth. The club’s popularity increased as a result and City’s average attendance exceeded 20,000 for the first time during his reign.   

City raced to the Second Division championship in Maley’s first season and the success didn’t stop there. Once back in the top flight, Maley was able to demonstrate his astute tactical awareness and skill by lifting the FA Cup with a 1-0 final victory over Bolton. City became the first Manchester side to win a major trophy.

The 1904-05 season had been a hard fought and incredibly close campaign with City, Everton and Newcastle all fighting for the title. City only narrowly missed out on the double, finishing second as fixture congestion forced them to play five League games and the cup final in the final fortnight. 

Manchester City in full kit outside the Grand hotel, circa April 1904. Maley is pictured second left (suited). Photograph: Popperfoto via Getty Images 

City took their league title challenge to the final game where they needed to defeat Aston Villa to claim the championship.  Their 3-1 loss was marred by a punch-up and accusations followed that Merrideth had offered Villa’s captain Alec Leake £10 to throw the game. An FA investigation subsequently found Merrideth guilty of the charge and he was banned for a year. 

Meredith should have had nothing to do with City the following season. Instead he turned up for most home games, was often in the dressing room, and frequently in the club’s offices, asking for money. This was noticed by Tom Hindle, an accountant employed by the FA to scrutinise City’s books, who clearly thought it suspicious. Eventually, City reported Meredith to the FA and made mention of of the board’s “refusal to lend itself to any illicit or illegal practices” and “rigid observation of the rules”. The FA responded by opening an investigation. This time, Meredith started to talk, and eventually all of City’s secrets came out.  

Tom Maley was questioned at length and admitted that he had followed what seemed like standard English practice. Football journalists accused the FA of a gross hypocrisy, stating that Maley and City were being unjustly punished for a practice which virtually every club in the Football League was indulging in. Maley himself claimed that if all First Division clubs were investigated, not four would come out ‘scatheless’.  

Despite the protestation the FA suspended 17 players and 2 directors, but the harshest sentence fell on the Chairman and on Maley. They were both suspended for life.  

The northern based Football League and the footballing press supported City but the FA, for so long accused of southern bias, got their way and Maley’s brief but successful reign was over.  

Maley suffered more than most by the unfortunate events of 1905/6, and his role in football history has been tainted forever by the F.A.’s harsh treatment. He took this set-back with typical decorum returning to the teaching profession became a headmaster in Glasgow. He remained in education until his ban was belatedly lifted by the FA in the summer of 1910. 

The following February he returned to Football as manager of Second Division Bradford Park Avenue.

Bradford, like Southport, had started out as a Rugby club and only switched to Association football in 1907. A year later they had been admitted to the Second Division but they were struggling ever since. When Maley arrived in 1911 he transformed their fortunes and also their kit, changing it to the green and white hoops of his beloved Celtic. The appointment of Maley may have been a move by Bradford to exploit the local catchment area which had many residents of Irish origin. A review of the club’s progress called him “The Master Builder”, a testament to his astute signings. With a large contingent of Scottish players he took the Yorkshire side to promotion to the First Division. 

Successful and respected in his profession, proud father to four sons and one daughter, and with his brothers William and Alex, the celebrated managers of Celtic and Clydebank respectively, Tom Maley might well have looked back at the summer of 1914 as a Golden Age. 

Britain’s declaration of War on August 4 1914 changed everything. Football was being attacked from all angles by, in the words of one football writer, “political cartoonists, kill-joys, conscriptionists, anti-sports, and many others whom the deadliness of the fighting had somewhat unbalanced.”  

Having been born into a family with a military background, it should be of little surprise that from the outset Maley argued for the value of sport in wartime. His father, Thomas, was an Irishman who had served in the Royal Highland Fusiliers for 22 years and a veteran of the Crimea. Maley himself claimed that [football] match playing “indicates no lack of loyalty or absence of patriotism. It fulfils a function and purpose useful.” 

Maley also encouraged the war effort in other ways. Having already seen their eldest son, Thomas off to serve as an artificer with the Royal Navy at the end of October, the extended Maley clan had gathered in their Wilton Street home to spend a few hours with son Joseph (Josie) before he too deployed on active service. Tom had travelled home overnight to Glasgow after the Avenue’s 3-1 win over Notts County. His eldest brother Fr. Charles O’Malley travelled up from his parish at Ayr, Willie Maley, his mother Mary Ann and his two boys Willie and Charlie had far less distance to travel from their home at Hyndland Avenue.

Despite this, the sight of professional football continuing offended some, with Maley and the directors receiving hate mail. One anonymous letter from London called them “enemies of the country, worse than naturalised aliens, worse than Germans!” Even with criticism abundant, he would guide the Yorkshire club to its highest ever position of 9th in Division One. At the end of the season however the FA announced the cessation of professional football.

Maley still believed in the importance of football to the war effort. This was soon to be tested to the utmost. 

As the 1914-15 season came to an end, the British Army set out on its first major offensives, resulting in horrific losses. Nearly 66,000 men were killed in May, the deadliest month of the war until July 1916. Among them was Joseph Maley, killed by shrapnel while on a trench raid. As the son of a leading football personality, his death was covered in some detail by Athletic News on May 31. Amid the praise for his personal character, it noted that his death had “come as a great blow to his father, to whom ‘Josie’ was a son and a companion… All the weary winter through, when trench life was sapping the life of our army, ‘Josie’ was cheery and optimistic. ‘I’m all right Daddy, I’m in the “pink”, doing as you say and as fit as a fiddle.’ Again he would turn to football and say encouraging things when defeat was our portion at Bradford.” 

What was the impact of Joseph’s death on Tom? In the short-term he attempted to enlist despite being over the age limit, intimating to readers of his Yorkshire Post column that only the fact that he was recognised stopped him from being accepted. He spoke at recruiting meetings, preferring to persuade rather than harangue his audience. But most of all, he threw himself into his work. 

It was this spirit that was visible when Maley rose to speak in favour of wartime football at a meeting of the Football League on July 19. . 

“They were working all hours. They wanted recreation because they needed to return to their work with new life and vitality. They in Bradford had given men to the colours – men who had been slain and men who had been wounded. He, the speaker, had given his son. Another son was also serving, and they could take the father too.” 

Athletic News recorded how Maley rose to speak on behalf of the working men of Bradford

This and other speeches turned the tide in favour of organised football. Between September 1915 and May 1919, football was organised on a regional basis in Lancashire, the Midlands and London. Playing before reduced crowds, these games have often been overlooked by historians. Yet to many, including Maley, they were seen as vitally important, not in terms of results, but as their contribution to the war effort. 

James Catton recounted that on one occasion that “a foolish man at a match asked Tom Maley why he was not at the front… But Mr Maley pointed, on removing his hat, to the silver threads among the brown. Whereupon the thoughtless man remarked, ‘Send your son!’ This was more than a taunt; it was a sore provocation. The father’s heart was roused and the brazen became acquainted with the fire of the Celtic temperament. 

There would be one final fatality in 1918 that would affect Maley directly and deeply. On October 19 he informed his readers that “this week my writing is of a sadder topic… I have received word of the death of our former bright and cheerful little centre-forward Jimmy Smith.” Maley’s pain was compounded by the tone of Smith’s last letter to him. “But a few weeks ago I received a letter from him; it was written just a day or so before he met his death… He told me of his intention to get married.” 

Bradford, and Maley never really recovered from the effects if the war and relegations in successive seasons saw the club down in Division Three (North) by 1921. He departed Bradford in March 1924.  

After a year out of the game, in May 1925 he took up post as the first official manager of Southport FC. The Lancashire Daily Post Football Guide reported that “the Directors appointed Mr Tom Maley, formerly of Bradford, as players’ Manager”. Maley was given full control of players, a position he had also held at Bradford. Whilst unusual at the time, it was in recognition of his stature and reputation and was soon to become the norm. 

The appointment of a Manager of Maley’s experience was a massive move by the Directors. Let us not forget that hitherto Edwin Clayton had been Honorary Secretary with the Directors selecting the side. So here we have a Manager given full control and I expect he wouldn’t have come to Haig Avenue if he hadn’t been well paid. 

The club appeared to be laying plans for a charge for the Second Division and I can only stop and wonder what might have been considering his impact at Celtic, Manchester City and Bradford. One of his first signings was William Tyler from Manchester United and the World Pictorial reported, on May 20th 1925, that “Tom is out to raise his club to the Second Division”. He made some useful signings on paper but Salty Halsall lost form and was dropped and Frank Jefferis, the brains of the attack, was allowed to join PNE’s coaching staff. Not only did the side struggle on the pitch but financially this was a disastrous season with a loss of over £2,000 sustained which was only exceeded in 1932-33 during the inter-war period. 

It has been speculated that perhaps Tom asked the Directors for money to further strengthen the team and that when it was refused he parted on a point of principle, but in truth we will never know. Tom was a man of principle and nothing was said other than it was by mutual consent and there was no friction on either part. The Directors had pushed the boat out by finding £250 which was a then record fee to sign George Sapsford a fortnight before Maley and the Club part company. 

For all his years and success in England, Tom’s heart remained forever with Celtic. In 1931 he temporarily took over as acting manager for the side from his brother Willie Maley during a trip to the USA. 

Maley pictured third right on Celtics USA tour in 1931.

An eloquent and persuasive speaker, often at Irish nationalist rallies and meetings, Tom was a man of deep faith, charity and politics. He had been a great defender of maintaining the link between Celtic and the Poor Children’s Dinner Table charity work whilst on the board. Towards the end of his life he embarked on several speaking tours about all of the current affairs of the Scottish game and of society. Indeed, In 1933 Tom Maley visited Edinburgh as part of a lecture series where he spoke about the striking and marching of (unemployed) workers. 

Tom recalled  how, ‘In these days of Industrial strife the game could be a safety valve’ before commenting that the game, ‘…was not poverty stricken, for there were many good players in the game…’.Before he finished off with, ‘interesting anecdotes about the game’ he also made comments on transfer fees and the ability to hold on to players.

He passed away, aged 70 on 24th August 1935 of Typhoid contracted whilst on pilgramage at Lourdes.

Tom (holding banner) on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1935. The Scotsman – Monday, 26th August 1935, page 4

An all-time Celtic great and a very important man in the foundation of the club. Tom Maley was too, without doubt, the first truly great Manchester manager, not simply City’s first great manager. 

Amongst the Mourners at the funeral were his two brothers Willie (still the Celtic manager) and Alex and his son Charles, who was by this time the secretary of Bradford City.  

The entire Celtic board of directors, headed by chairman Tom White, and the Celtic players attended, the coffin being carried to the graveside by the captain, James McGrory, and other members. 

The original unmarked grave at St Kentigerns, Glasgow.

As to why the grave was initially left unmarked it is a bit of a mystery as the regard he is held in by Celtic, Manchester City and Bradford is immense. Thankfully the Celtic Graves Society rectified matters with a commemoration for him in 2011. 

Buried in St Kentigerns, Glasgow.

Had his time at City not been ended prematurely, it’s possible he would be remembered today as one of Britain’s most successful managers. 

“It was when Tom Maley came to Hyde Road that Manchester City may be said to have entered fully into their kingdom. Under his management, he built a team for the club that was comparable with the mightiest sides in the country. 

“I never happened a greater enthusiast than Maley, nor yet a better informed man. If Maley had had average luck he would have gone down in history as one of the most successful managers the game has known. It is enough to say that so long as Maley was at the helm, the family at Hyde Road was a particularly happy one.” 

According to a journalist in the “Athletic News

With thanks to Michael Braham,Celtic Wiki, Celtic Grave Society, Blue Moon, The Blizzard