IF you know your history, Belfast Celtic is one of the most famous names in football.

The team has not played a competitive fixture for nearly 70 years, but former players like Jimmy Jones and Charlie Tully are immortalised in the murals along the Falls Road.

Belfast Celtic withdrew from the Irish league in 1949 having won 14 championships and eight Irish Cups. They have never been replaced and the repercussions are felt to this day.

Now, another West Belfast club is hoping to resurrect the Grand Old Team.

The chairman of Sport and Leisure Swifts, Jim Gillen, says he has a business plan and the financial backing to create a side that will eventually compete at the top level.

“We have people behind us who are putting their money in," he said. "They are going to arrange for us to get players in. It is just such a positive thing for the area, we just felt it was too good to pass up.

“It’s not opportunism, it’s not money making, it’s for the young lads who stand on street corners and do nothing. We want to give them the opportunity to come on board and become footballers.”

Sport and Leisure play in the shadow of the Black Mountain on the edge of West Belfast. Their single stand has a capacity of a few hundred and an electricity pylon passes over the pitch.

It seems a long way from the old Celtic Park in the heart of the Falls, where crowds of 30,000 regularly gathered on Saturday afternoons.

Football writer Barry Flynn says that Belfast Celtic weren’t just a name, they were part of the social fabric of West Belfast.

“On the streets of where they came from, in West Belfast, they were an institution and the people flocked to Celtic Park in their thousands," he said.

“There was a famous saying: when we had nothing we had Belfast Celtic and when we had Belfast Celtic we had everything. The club meant so much to the people on the streets and their heroes came from within those streets.”

The men in green and white were good enough to beat the Scottish international team 2-0 during a tour of America, in 1949, when Scotland were British champions.

Colour archive of the game shows the players parading around the Triboro stadium in New York. It was the last time that Scotland ever played a match against a club side – and one of the last games that Belfast Celtic ever played.

The club’s directors decided they could no longer carry on after the players were attacked in a sectarian riot at the end of the Boxing Day derby against rivals Linfield, at Windsor Park.

Striker Jimmy Jones was knocked unconscious and his leg was broken as he tried to leave the pitch. He was lucky to escape with his life, but the police didn’t make a single arrest or even draw their batons to protect him.

The withdrawal of Belfast Celtic was as significant for the Irish league as the permanent absence of Rangers would have been for the game in Scotland.

Flynn comments that the team was at the height of its powers and its departure left a gaping hole in Irish football that has never been filled. The consequences reverberated far beyond the terraces.

Fans say it told Catholics in Northern Ireland that the state wouldn’t protect them or allow them to compete on equal terms — in sport, the workplace or politics.

But the proposal to revive the Belfast Celtic name has opened up wounds both old and new.

The memory of the Grand Old Team is kept alive by the Belfast Celtic Society, which created Ireland’s first football museum at a shopping centre on the site of the old stadium. Its empty units are haunted by the ghosts of former glories.

As a boy, Charlie Tully Jnr was allowed on to the pitch for kickabouts with his dad, who starred for Belfast Celtic before going on to become a legend at Parkhead, playing in the famous side that beat Rangers 7-1 in 1957.

He is not convinced that Sport and Leisure can live up to the name of his heroes.

“A lot of the players were local, like my dad," he said. "So you could go out and do your shopping and bump into Cheeky Charlie and stop and have a chat, something that probably wouldn’t happen nowadays and there was an incredible love and feeling from the community for the club at that level.

“I think that unfortunately this is not the right way to bring Belfast Celtic back. I think this is possibly an opportunity that has been seen to simply take the name and do something with it.

“Don’t get me wrong when I say Belfast Celtic cannot come back. It would be incredible if they could but it would take millions of pounds and some sort of really futuristic planning to make it come back.”

West Belfast remains the only part of Northern Ireland’s biggest city without a leading football club.

It is just one example of deprivation in a community that saw some of the worst violence of the Troubles and is still an unemployment blackspot – 11 of the 19 wards in the constituency are ranked in the 10 per cent most deprived wards in Northern Ireland.

Flynn says that during the 1970s and 80s the community was marginalised and even demonised. The Rainbow flags flying from Republican bars are a sign of how things have changed.

The annual parade for this year’s Feile cultural festival saw Gerry Adams walking his dog down the Falls Road alongside Basque folk dancers, circus performers, Chinese dragons and local kids singing their hearts out. If it was successful, Belfast Celtic coming back would be another boost to the area, bringing pride to the streets of West Belfast.

It would also revive a rivalry with Linfield that historically shared the same tribal characteristics as Glasgow’s football divide. Some supporters of the Blues fear that the fixture would attract flag wavers and sectarianists who were not there for the football.

Looking out across the pitch at Glen Road Heights, Gillen rejects those concerns and insists that his club have always been cross-community.

“There are lads who are out there training this morning, some of them aren’t Catholics. We have just been the type of a club that embraces everybody. Belfast Celtic were the same. They were always a club that signed you on your football ability, not on your religion. And I don’t see anything harmful in a team from West Belfast competing on the same level as teams from South, East and North.”

Sport and Leisure are disappointed that the Irish Football Association has not approved the change in time for their new season, which kicks-off this afternoon with a match against Armagh City.

Whatever the team is called, to win hearts and minds on the streets of West Belfast they will need to deliver on the park.

(Andrew McFadyen is a journalist with Sky News, where you can see more on this story. Andrew has donated his fee for this piece to the Belfast Celtic Society)