Nowadays, when the Celtic support think of versatility in the current squad, two or three names spring to mind, namely those of Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew, and perhaps even Victor Wanyama. One well known online dictionary describes “versatility” as “having varied uses or serving many functions”. Now, while none of you reading this were around to see the player who’s name tops this article, the word “versatility”, and it’s meaning, were around in the 1890’s, and so was Peter Dowds.
Believed to have been born in 1871, Peter Dowds grew up in the Renfrewshire town of Johnstone, and joined Celtic Football Club in its earliest days, in February 1889. Peter made his debut in both of Celtic’s first ever league matches. I say “both” because although he played in a 4-1 home defeat to Renton on the 16th August 1890, this match was later declared void as Renton were later expelled from the league by the Scottish Football Association, for alleged “illicit professionalism” (Scottish Football was, of course, still officially an amateur affair at that time). St Bernard’s were also banned from football for a time for this offence, but as they were not part of the league they were not expelled as Renton were.
Peter made his “official” league debut a week later, as Celtic defeated Heart of Midlothian 5-0 at Tynecastle. Peter, to his credit, even managed to get his name on the score sheet, as he grabbed the fourth of five goals that day. However, the two points the club picked up that afternoon would later be taken away from them, as Celtic were deducted four points for fielding an “ineligible player” in the form of goalkeeper, James Bell.
In all, three teams were deducted points in the inaugural season of the Scottish Football League, as Celtic, Cowlairs and Third Lanark were punished for fielding unregistered players. Celtic finished third that year, with Dumbarton and Rangers being declared “joint champions” after finishing the season on level points, and drawing the subsequent play off tietwo each. For the record, Celtic’s point deduction made no difference to where they would have finished in the league. They would simply have finished closer to second than they did, but would have remained in third place regardless.
As time passed, and Celtic continued to progress as a Football Club both on and off the field, Dowds also grew as a footballer, and began to show off his “versatility” by performing competently in any position in which he was asked to play. During his time at Celtic Park, this included virtually every position excluding that of the goalkeeper.
During the 1891-92 season, Peter Dowds became the first Celtic player to play in every single match of one season. While the Bhoys finished second in the league to Dumbarton (champions alone this time), Celtic won their first Scottish Cup, as they defeated Queen’s Park 5-1 in the second of two finals, on the 9th April 1892.
The first final, held at Ibrox Park, was declared “a friendly” by the S.F.A. after both teams registered complaints due to “crowd encroachment”. In fact, even in over an inch of snow, over 40,000 spectators travelled to Ibrox that day, and due to the unexpected large numbers, it was almost impossible to keep the crowd off of the playing surface during the match. Celtic won “the friendly”, refereed by the then head of the S.F.A., Mr Sneddon, 1-0.
Peter Dowds played in both matches, in different positions, alongside Willie Maley, the man whom this website is named after. Dowds also had the honour of kicking off the second match, as Queens Park won the coin toss, and elected they would like to play with the wind behind them in the first half, leaving Celtic to start the match with the ball. The wind played a big part that day, as Queens Park when in 1-0 up at half time, only to concede five in the second half when shooting the other way.
“The Scottish Referee”, a publication from the 11th April 1892, describes the celebrations around the country as follows, firstly referring to those in Coatbridge, and then those in the East End of Glasgow:
“In the second half, when it was intimated that the Celts had scored three goals in ten minutes, you might have heard the cheers at Ibrox.”
“Truly the East End was a perfect turmoil until the very early hours of Sunday, and many of the crowd won’t be able to get over the rejoicing racket for days to come.”
At the end of the 1891-92 season however, Dowds moved south to the professional leagues in England, and played for a time with both Aston Villa and Stoke City. In May 1894, Peter returned to Celtic Park and re-signed for Celtic, who had just become Scottish League Champions for the second consecutive season.
Sadly though, Dowds was not the player he was previously, as his health began to deteriorate rapidly. Despite featuring in his first match since his return to the club against St Mirren at Love Street, he faded almost entirely out of the side thereafter, until Celtic announced he had “chest trouble” in November. He played his final match for Celtic in a friendly against Manchester City, before retiring from the game soon after with consumption (also known as tuberculosis). Ironically, “experts” later claimed that the thick fog which surrounded the match against Manchester City had somehow added to the severity of his illness.
Peter Dowds died less than a year later, in September 1895, in only his mid-twenties, having played forty nine times in total for Celtic Football Club, and having scored twenty one goals during his spells there. He also picked up one international cap for Scotland during his short career.
In 1931, Willie Maley lamented “To the present generation, Peter Dowds is not even a name, but to old timers he was the greatest ever, at home in any and every position, the equal of a Doyle or a Kelly in defence, of Madden on the right, of Campbell on the left, Cassidy at centre…” He is buried in an unmarked grave in Abbey Cemetery, Elderslie.