Larne, County Antrim born left back amateur footballer Bertie Fulton began his footballing career with his hometown club in 1923, then played briefly with Belfast Celtic, making enough appearances at the start of 1925-26 season to gain an Irish League medal. In December 1925 he moved to London to train as a teacher. While studying at Strawberry Hill College, he played with London Caledonians – one of England’s leading amateur teams of the time. He assisted the Caledonians to 2nd place in the Isthmian League and to win the London Senior Cup.
Fulton returned to Belfast Celtic in May 1926 and played enough matches to gain a City Cup medal. He then made a single appearance for Dundalk in September 1926 while waiting to return to London to undertake his exams. Once qualified, Fulton returned home to re-sign for Larne. He quickly drew the attentions of the Irish FA’s selection committee, and was capped for the first time in a 4-0 defeat by France in February 1928, featuring in what was a largely experimental line-up. Bertie had made his Amateur International debut as a Belfast Celtic player on the 11th May 1925. In all he appeared 21 times for the Amateurs between 1925 and 1939, becoming the most capped player (6 more than Cliftonville’s Ernie McCleary and Kevin McGarry).
Fulton was back at Celtic Park for the 1928-29 season, and it was to be a long and distinguished spell. By the end of his first season he had a second Irish Cup runner-up medal following a 2-1 Final defeat by Ballymena (adding to that he had picked up in Larne’s defeat by Willowfield in the previous season’s Final), and his first appearance for the Irish League. The following season Fulton was back in the Ireland team, as Wales were crushed 7-0 at Celtic Park thanks to six goals from Joe Bambrick. From then until the outbreak of the Second World War, Fulton was Ireland’s regular left-back, injuries and work-commitments permitting.
Later, when asked to select the best match in which he had played, Fulton selected the 2-1 defeat by England at Goodison Park in February 1935. It was a game in which Ireland played with an uncharacteristic confidence and swagger, and marked by superb football and controversy. Both England ‘keeper Harry Hibbs, and his Irish opposite number, Tommy Breen, had superb matches, keeping the goals total down to just three. Ireland only failed to win thanks to Coulter’s delayed penalty striking the cross-bar, and a late mistake by Fulton himself gifted England the winner.
In August 1936 Fulton was selected for the Great Britain team that headed for the Berlin Olympics. He played in both games, a 2-0 victory over China, and a 5-4 defeat by Poland (some sources crediting him with one of the goals). He could surely have won more representative honours had he not been restricted from featuring in more mid-week matches due to his teaching duties.
Fulton – possessor of a fantastic football brain, a strong tackle, pace and a superb passing range – rejected overtures from the likes of Manchester United to turn professional. He did however go for a trial with Blackpool in October 1933. He never regretted his decision to remain an amateur, and was able to test himself against the likes of Dixie Dean and Stanley Matthews during his 900-odd game career.
On the 19th February 1938 Bertie scored his only goal for Amateur Ireland in the 1-1 draw with England at Leicester – an equaliser in the very last minute!! Incidently this was his first goal in senior football. His only goals for Belfast Celtic were one goal in the 8-2 defeat of Glentoran in the Regional League in April 1941 and ironically an o.g. for Glentoran in a 2-1 defeat in the Gold Cup in September 1941.
The 1942-43 season was to be Fulton’s last as a Belfast Celtic player, and it proved a sad end. In the final League game of the season they faced Linfield in a must win game if the title was to return to Celtic Park. With the scores level in the dying minutes Celtic were awarded a penalty, which Fulton stepped-up to take. Facing him between the posts was old pal Tommy Breen, who, as a former club and international teammate, knew Fulton. Breen correctly guessed where the ball would be placed, and his save took the title to Windsor Park.
A third spell back at Inver Park, Larne, brought Fulton’s playing career to a close, and he later returned to Belfast Celtic to coach the second eleven. Some consider that Fulton was the tactical brain behind Elisha Scott’s great Belfast Celtic side of the 1930’s and ’40’s, putting into action tactics such as four forwards and one winger whilst every other team played a stringent W-M formation.
In all Fulton won an incredible 21 full caps for Ireland between 1928 and 1938, 20 Amateur caps between 1925 and 1939, and 15 Irish League caps between 1929 and 1940, not forgetting his 3 Great Britain Olympic appearances.