This morning I listened to the outstanding podcast from Talk From The Terrace, run by Celtic Fanzine TV.
The podcast guests were Jeanette Findlay and David Low of The Trust.
You can view it at the bottom of the piece; I should point out that it’s in two parts.
The discussion started with a discussion of the Trust’s proposed “added value” share issue and how the club reacted to it, but quickly devolved into a general discussion of the board and its relationship with their organisation.
To call it eye opening is an understatement.
In fact, the content of that podcast is fairly devastating.
Celtic’s relationship with the Trust is now just about non-existent.
“The trust has gone,” Andy, the anchor, said at one point, and he was not using those words as a neat little joke but simply making a statement of fact which neither Jeanette nor David argued with.
The relationship has been damaged in a big, big way.
It would be fair to say, in fact, that there currently is no relationship between the Trust and the club, and it’s hard to see how Celtic fixes that, at least in the short term.
This isn’t just about the club’s rejection of the share issue idea.
It goes deeper than that, and a lot further back. But the share issue itself provoked some of the harshest language I’ve ever heard the shareholder organisation use about the club.
According to Low, the feeling amongst the Trust members is that the boards stated reasons, which they released publicly, for refusing them presented the Trust’s proposals in “an inaccurate and dishonest manner to serve their own purposes.” He went on to state that “They didn’t like it, and they don’t like any proposals that don’t come from themselves.”
Alarmingly, when Alan characterised the board’s behaviour towards the fans as a “form of aggression” neither Trust member argued with that.
Jeanette, in fact, elaborated on the way in which the club has behaved towards The Trust on several occasions, such as those when they have opposed Trust measures at AGM’s only to implement those measures later.
This is actually hard to comprehend but is nevertheless a fact, and she went on to cite several examples of it.
She believes it’s a means of the board reminding the shareholders that they are in charge, and that even when a policy is a good idea and would have a positive effect that they won’t allow the fans to believe they have imposed it on them.
It’s a ridiculous mentality for those running our club to hold to, but it appears to be exactly how these people think, which really isn’t good for our future relationships.
“In that respect,” she said, “it is an aggression.”
The story she went on to tell – about how The Trust were the ones who proposed a standing section and the way the club dealt with that is astounding.
The resolution to do this was going through the formal process when they were called in to talk with the club, who assured them that the standing section was being set up and they showed the Trust all the paperwork which proved that.
Naturally the Trust was delighted, and aimed to carry through their resolution to demonstrate that the idea had the backing of the shareholders and the fans. A win-win for everybody, by which the club could look progressive and forward thinking and the shareholder’s organisation could present it as something that had the backing of its members.
And Celtic actually told the Trust if they proceeded with the motion at that stage that not only would Celtic oppose it, but that they would shelve the whole scheme.
That’s entirely illogical and even a little bit mad.
It seems so small minded and petty that you struggle to understand why any institution would want to act in such a fashion.
But apparently that’s how the “leaders” of our club behave.
Speaking more specifically, about the current relationship, she said the Trust had to “make a stand, say ‘hang on a minute’, you cannot have any type of fruitful negotiations with that kind of conduct.” It is jarring hearing this woman speak about the relationship the shareholder’s organisation has with the club in such a negative, even angry, way.
But it was David Low who fired the loudest of the warning shots.
If Jeanette’s comments had the precision and the metallic twang of the sniper’s bullet, then David Low’s had like the boom and the destructive force of a howitzer shell.
First he reminded the board that the “proper way” to conduct itself when talking about a measure they disagreed with was to explain in a “professional and logical manner” why they did not.
He then laid out his own credentials, as a businessman and shareholder in other companies which trade on the floors of the LSE and AIM marketplaces.
Secondly, he reminded them that our shareholders are “co-owners in the company” and “in the eyes of the law we are all equal and have equal rights.” The warning in that is explicit, and needs nobody to translate it.
But he went on, talking about the Trust itself.
“We have the shareholder responsibility,” he said. “But what you do when the board is not behaving in a professional manner is you have every right, every entitlement, to speak to your fellow shareholders … we have every entitlement to speak to Lindsell Train and tell them ‘do you know what these guys are up to?’ … and explain it to them. We have every right entitlement to explain our view to the club’s nominated advisor …”
And these are the critical moments of the podcast, which hint at what the Trust’s next moves might be, not only those but the exploration of other legal avenues.
“These are all options that are available to the Celtic Trust,” he said. “That’s something for the trustees. We are considering it and it will be brought up at the General Meeting on 21 June.”
“There are a lot of things wrong with the Celtic board,” he said. “It looks and sounds like a crony board, it doesn’t look as if there’s a lot of people questioning the executive in the manner the non-executive’s should do, and these are all issues that have to be taken into account by shareholders, of which we (the Trust) are one.”
Low went on to talk about the shareholder register, which it’s the board’s responsibility to maintain, and his anger on that is clear, but at least there is a solution there; the Trust itself has taken that task upon itself, although David points out that they shouldn’t need to. They want to “re-connect” fans with their shares, because this is massively important.
He also points out that in the case of Celtic’s “missing shares” – some 20% – that this effectively gives someone with 40% an interest worth 50%, and that’s how we’ve ended up here.
It’s even more dangerous, in terms of shareholder democracy, for there to be a share issue whilst these shares are missing because the people who own them would be unable to participate in a new issue as “existing” shareholders … consolidating more power at the top, with the current board.
Auldheid elaborated on some of this with a brilliant post on Sentinal Celts, which explored further avenues for legal remedies to force the board to pay attention to its minor shareholders.
He has tied these issues to other issues of mistrust between the fans and the board, and in particular over their mishandling of Resolution 12.
The fact is, there is more than one issue here.
The Trust has grievances of its own, and some of them involve the calamitous close-season we’ve had and some of them are about process and the way the club conducts itself overall.
Auldheid and his guys are angry over the way the club has treated them and their own campaign … they are also the only people pushing a comprehensive reform agenda from within the Celtic support, something I’m proud to have been a long-time supporter of.
But the Trust are the organisation that is most trusted. It is also the organisation that is most accountable.
This is why organisations like Celts For Change 2021, and the North Curve and others have pledged their support to them.
The podcast is not a declaration of war. But it says that the peace is over.
The old arrangements and old understandings no longer apply.
The Trust has published a statement saying that they see no point in talking to the club at the moment on any subject.
The idea that legal remedies are being considered is massive.
Their attempt to speak to shareholders large and small, to talk to the club’s nominated advisor, and their characterisation of the club’s posture towards them as “aggression” is astounding, but when you listen to David and Jeanette you cannot be in the least doubt that it’s also accurate.
This is a battle for the club, and that battle is now underway.
That’s how these things always start though.
But lines have been crossed, and there’s no going back.
The feeling that this board is not fit for purpose has grown to the point where it’s now accepted wisdom and in those circumstances people can either accept that or do something about it.
The Celtic Trust has never been shy, but they’ve always believed in constructive engagement.
For them to say that’s now essentially pointless is Caesar crossing the Rubicon.
It is a seismic shift in the lay of the land, and it changes everything.
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