Antigonish is a poem about a ghost.
That hasn’t stopped it being used against various people from politics and other walks of life ever since it was published; the important lines are the ones I’m sure you’ve all heard a million times before.
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!
Our chairman is “the man who isn’t there.”
He does nothing. He contributes nothing. He keeps a lower profile than a man on the run.
Whenever the papers talk about the decision making process at Celtic they mention the largest shareholder and the chief executive; it’s as if the role of Celtic chairman is an emeritus position instead of one that should carry real weight.
For all that, I do wish he’d go away, and most Celtic fans do.
We just don’t get particularly animated about it, because, frankly, he’s just not worth it.
His name, in case you’ve forgotten it, is Ian Bankier.
If you know what he actually does in that role, then you know more than I do.
He chairs meetings. So what?
Do you remember the Only Fools episode when Rodney becomes chair of the housing committee? I’ve been a Labour branch chair; opening and closing meetings and deciding the order of the speakers isn’t a huge deal.
One of the things I’ve found most fascinating about the last few months is that even amidst all the fury directed at the Celtic board, Ian Bankier’s name was never mentioned.
Where was it on those banners which were hung outside Celtic Park?
My favourite was the one with the faces of the three “guilty men” on it; Lawwell, Desmond and Lennon.
It wasn’t as if fans were saying that the chairman of the board wasn’t responsible for any of what went wrong … it was that they know his role at the club is so minor and so insignificant that, really, who cares whether he stays or goes?
He wields no influence, he has no power, he’s basically a figurehead, so who gives a toss whether he’s there or not?
We all should, actually.
I can’t think of a bigger indictment of this guy than to say that he’s so useless that the whole upper echelon of the club could be swept away except for him and that no-one might realise he was still in post for months.
But if you believe, as I do, in the old Chinese adage that “a fish rots from the head down” then you have to look at this guy with a more critical eye.
Bankier didn’t exactly start his tenure as chairman successfully.
Everything about this guy reeks of weakness, and his public relations skills are strictly amatuer hour.
At the AGM at which Bankier was presented as chairman, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain attempted to quiz him on his alleged “Celtic background.”
In spite of a vain attempt by the club’s PR people to keep him out of the press conference, Phil was there that day.
Sitting beside Hugh Keevins, who was there representing Clyde, and just behind Raman Bhardwaj of STV, Phil had come prepared, having done his homework on Bankier.
He knew that Bankier was not only not a Celtic fan, but he had no love for football as a sport either. Indeed, Phil’s deep dive into his background revealed him to be a rugby fan.
Still, Celtic tried to present him at the AGM as a “lifelong Celtic supporter.”
Phil asked him the two questions you and I would ask the fans of every single club;
“What was your first Celtic game?” and “Who was your first Celtic hero?”
Not complicated. Easy stuff. Every fan, of every club, can answer those without much thought. Even if they are hazy on the exact details of the first game, they can tell you, in an instant, about the first one they do remember.
But Bankier had no idea how to answer those modest inquiries.
He stumbled and stammered through an attempted answer, but it was clear that he had no idea what he was talking about and couldn’t muster a coherent response.
As part of his attempted answer, he actually blundered on about which Catholic school he had attended, as well as recounting a ridiculous anecdote about how his maths teacher had been a Celtic fan.
The story he chose to highlight, and the hilarious – for all the wrong reasons – player he claimed had been one of his math’s teacher’s early heroes was Frank Haffey … who as most Celtic fans know was not exactly the club’s Fraser Forster of the era.
It’s the dishonesty that amazes you.
A Celtic chairman does not have to be steeped in the history of our club, so there was no need at all for the charade.
Bankier has only made headlines a handful of times as chairman, and to be frank very few of them have been for reasons that endear him to those of us who actually are Celtic fans.
I wrote on this blog, in 2018, that when a section of our support was outraged at him for attending a Downing Street dinner with Theresa May that it was far better to have a guy like that at the helm than one who’s Wikipedia page included the words “originally indicted on 322 counts including fraud, tax evasion and evasion of exchange control regulations, as well as money-laundering and racketeering.”
I stand by that; I didn’t care who he had his dinner with.
But over time, as Celtic’s corporate proclivities have become plainer and more obvious I can see that his attendance that night was part of a continuum. In the piece I wrote about Brian Wilson, I covered some of the other members of the Celtic board and their involvement in the 2014 independence referendum, on the No side.
What I didn’t know until someone sent me the information is that Bankier himself was involved on the No side.
I wasn’t surprised; it confirms what I wrote about this being a unionist board.
Bankier’s sins are worse than that though; the last three times he’s been in the papers addressing fans directly was to have a go at them.
At the AGM recently, he had a go at the supporters for the criticisms of Neil Lennon.
In 2018 he said Celtic fans had “dragged the club into the gutter” over allegations that there had been some rather uncomplimentary chants directed at Steven Gerrard and Craig Levein.
The most egregious example of his coming after our supporters – who he has never defended, and nor has he ever uttered a single word in defence of our players or staff when they’ve been abused – was when he accused fans of being “anti-Semites” after lots of us suggested that Ian Livingston should no longer be on the board of directors after casting a vote in the Lords in favour of austerity.
They are, far and away, the most scandalous comments I have ever heard uttered by a Celtic official and directed at our own fans.
Livingston was being slammed for acting in a way that was grossly out of step with the charitable ethos of our club; no Celtic fan that I knew was aware of his religion and I can safely say that none would have cared if they did.
To smear our fans in that way was an outrage that led to the blogs nearly unanimously demanding his resignation; a worthless “clarification” followed which appeased exactly nobody.
The anger over it is still fresh, although it was ages ago.
Every time I mention Bankier in a piece I get responses about that affair.
Nobody has either forgotten or forgiven him for it.
There is little doubt that this was going to be Bankier’s legacy when he departed.
This is what he would have been remembered for; in truth, it is virtually all he would have been remembered for.
The more I recognise that legacy doesn’t matter to anyone at Celtic Park – Lawwell, in particular, has surprised me in this regard – the more I realise that holding these people to account via the historical verdict is simply not going to be enough.
Shaming those who have no shame is a doomed strategy.
These people have to be confronted by their failures and what they mean in the here and now, and if that leads to people not renewing season tickets, if it means empty spaces in the stands, if it means closing the upper tiers of the ground again, then that’s what must be done … these people cannot think that it is only the history books which will judge them.
Bankier is not the worst Celtic chairman ever. He is certainly not the best. He might well be the weakest. He is certainly the most useless, the most anonymous, and his behaviour whilst in post the most offensive to ordinary fans.
Most of us might forget from time to time who he is and the characterisation of him as Celtic’s “man who wasn’t there” is right on the nose.
That doesn’t mean we should allow him to stay in his role.
When his CEO packs his desk this guy ought to follow him.
His glad-handing pals at the AGM might have given him support for another year, but fans may yet have the final say on that, and we should be looking to.