The Ukrainian crisis has re-opened a major debate on the subject of leadership, and it’s a debate which people at Celtic should be following closely, taking note of and trying to learn from. I wrote earlier of how the Australian friendly debacle has taught us a major lesson … if we don’t pay attention to it then we’re asking for trouble later.
Our club’s leadership has been stale and static for too long. The “internal appointment” of Michael Nicholson as the CEO keeps it stale and static. One of the reasons Dominic McKay’s hiring was greeted with almost universal happiness amongst the fans, and why his dismissal was greeted with such dismay, is that he brought fresh thinking to the boardroom.
When I heard that he and Desmond weren’t on the same page I was pleased with that; it must be a long time since someone challenged Desmond properly and told him he was wrong. I think the decision to get rid of McKay betrayed not strength but weakness; there are people on our board who have been, for too long, in their own wee bubble.
Curiously, the one guy at Celtic Park who gives me hope that this might change is the manager. He may be the one person capable of breaking through the groupthink and proposing new and innovative ideas. Certainly, whatever plan was in place or being put in place before his arrival was roundly rejected by him the moment he was in the door.
That does bode well for us. That does suggest that perhaps people inside Celtic appreciate that there is a need for fresh thinking. If only I believed the board might make the necessary changes to itself to guarantee that renewal was the watchword of the club.
Today there’s an excellent piece in The Guardian which echoes stuff I’ve been reading elsewhere since Putin ordered his disastrous, self-defeating invasion. It’s about how hierarchies which are ruled by fear eliminate critical thinking and lead to disaster.
To put it plainly, dictatorships of any sort discourage truth-telling. In the end, those at the top hear only what those below them think they want to hear, and this leads to catastrophic decisions. I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Boeing, and was not surprised that the calamitous choices which led to two air crashes came about because people in the upper echelons had stopped tolerating, and thus listening to, those under them when those people were bringing bad news.
In the end, you either stop hearing bad news or you punish those who bring it to you … and they both amount to the same thing. You inhabit a weird world where you start to think that your own judgement is infallible. History teaches us how badly that ends.
You don’t have to be a genius to recognise that part of Lawwell’s problem, as time went on, is that he had become over-mighty at Celtic, convinced of his own greatness and that he had stopped listening to the ideas of other people and started to believe that his own judgement was sacrosanct. That’s how we lost out on the John McGinn deal and why Rodgers couldn’t take working under him. It’s how we ended up with Lennon.
For years, the SFA has operated on the same basis. Forward momentum meant that you rose in the shadows and by the connivance of those already ahead of you in the line … the idea that the SFA has ever been a meritocracy is preposterous; it was an old boys network and to a large extent it still is, and nobody has the balls to drag it into the modern world.
And this all feeds into the central question of this piece; how can the club at Ibrox consistently make such colossal errors in judgement as the one it has made this week?
The Australia decision is mind-boggling because it has impacts which are both immediate and long term. They will take a short-term hit in the present, but the damage it does to them in the future is going to be far greater. I already wrote about part of the reason why; it has destroyed, utterly, any opportunity they had to resurrect the “Old Firm” brand.
How did their club get itself into this state?
The answer is not as complicated as some people might think; part of the problem is that the whole operation there exists in a bubble where reality only plays the slightest role in grounding their behaviour.
They don’t live in conventional reality. We have to remember that above and beyond everything else. They have used numerous weapons traditionally only found in dictatorships to limit debate and scrutiny. They have banned journalists and this season effectively demanded fealty – in the form of cold hard cash –from them just to attend press events.
This also extends to their fans. Club 1872 has a number of issues it wants to raise, but their board is excellent at playing divide and rule amongst their supporters and that might be where their decision today makes most sense; it has temporarily blunted the attacks from the shareholder body, at a time when they present a genuine danger to the board.
But a combination of factors – from the way they stifle dissent, the way the media gives them an easy ride and the overweening arrogance which forms such a part of their cultural outlook – have allowed them to exist in a world they’ve created rather than the one the rest of us live in. How much good advice do you think they get in that echo chamber?
They overwhelmingly listen to their own small band of lunatics, and these – as you’ll have seen from a piece earlier in the day – include their “official media partners”, the gallery of goons who have the loudest voices amongst their fan-base.
When the supporter’s spokespeople look like theirs, indulging in bigotry, waging war on the media and making light of subjects like child abuse in order to score cheap points, is it a wonder that when the club listens to the fans it makes major mistakes?
And the decision to withdraw from the Australian tour is a whopper.
How does their credibility recover from that?
Look at what happened to them when they arbitrarily terminated the Hummel deal when they were still fighting with Puma.
They had to advertise their availability to potential manufacturers and they put together their deal with Castore in one big hurry. That they had to go so far outside the ranks of the major firms shows how low their credibility is on that front.
Is it not the only arena in which they’ve taken major hits.
They are facing action from the SPFL over their casual disregard for the cinch contract. Ashley has them back in court soon because they have repeatedly torn up cast-iron agreements with him.
They lose every one of these battles, but their egos are such that they fully expect to get away with not only withdrawing from this deal but smearing the organisers into the bargain.
If you were Ashley’s legal team you would be talking to the Memorial Garden architects they signed a deal with before they refused to honour it, and you’d be talking to the Australian tour organisers and drafting them into your evidence.
Ibrox’s utter disregard for the legal protections of a signed agreement is ghastly and highly dangerous to them.
If you were doing business with them, what kind of additional protections would you want to put in a deal document? That’s a question everyone will be asking far into the future.
Bisgrove has already talked about how Ibrox’s club usually never has this kind of opportunity to make quick cash because they don’t often get invited to these sort of events.
They will certainly not be invited to any in future.
Their contempt for the organisers, which is evidenced in their withdrawal, was amplified by the statement they made attempting to foist the blame onto them, in part to warn that they won’t just pay sanctions but will need to be hauled through the courts. Even if people buy the argument that this was a unique set of circumstances, who wants to do business with a club this flaky?
If you’ve heard Mark Warburton’s interview on BBC Radio Scotland, you’ll know that he read about his “resignation” on Sky Sports. His phone number was leaked online and he was subjected to a slew of vile calls and texts. He never sued the club over the way they treated him because he didn’t think it was worth the paltry settlement he’d have got.
But it’s another example of the way they do business … and people don’t forget that stuff.
Yet these aren’t even the most serious areas where the consequences will come, and if it were just the board then there would be some hope for their future negotiations if the current directors were no longer in place. But there’s a much bigger issue here.
If you look at the numerous examples where they have failed to honour deals, the problems have nearly always started with their supporters.
The same applies to the ticketing situation with Celtic; it, too, had its origins in the stands and on their forums.
They cancelled the Memorial Garden idea, although the contracts were signed, because their fans voiced strong opposition to it. The cinch deal is under threat because their fans actively loathe the rest of the league and their board decided to “settle some scores” and boasted about that openly to the media. The Ashley deal was terminated because their fans were fed outright lies about how much money they could earn elsewhere and clamoured for boycotts and effectively hounded his people out of the club. The Puma deal was signed in response to Ashley and broke the terms of his contract. Now the Australia friendly has collapsed because of the anger in the stands.
The Ibrox board is scared to death of its own customer base, and they pander to them at every turn. This would be dangerous even if the fans themselves were not incredibly intolerant, egotistical and batshit crazy, and of course they are all of these things.
And the outside world knows it. Even if you were inclined to trust their board, you’d have to go into any negotiations with them knowing that the most hateful football supporters in Western Europe might decide, at any moment, to start clamouring for a termination … and if they did it loudly and often enough that the club would give in to them.
That’s where the real damage has been done. The permanent rage of the fan-base, and the unreal world which they inhabit, renders any contract worthless.
If you released an advert for your brand where the actors wore too much green, or if your managing director went to the wrong school, or if your company supported Black Lives Matter or one of any other hundred things and it somehow sparked the anger of the Peepul, then a signed agreement might not matter a damn.
There is precisely zero appetite out there in the world for taking that kind of risk.
Whatever Ibrox tells itself, the sponsorship and merchandising business is a buyer’s marketplace, and a club based in Scotland, with moon howler fans, and a tiny global marketing footprint will not have the big firms banging down their door.
Their whole operation is toxified by “the Peepul’s veto”, and that is what the world will remember about how this all unfolded.
And what’s more, the media has heralded this as a “victory” for the fans and of course that’s what it is and what we all know is that the Peepul have a cultural tendency to feed their egos further with the fruits of perceived success.
This will empower these folks to think that they can push the board hither, thither and yon on anything they see fit … and they will.
In their place, anyone would.
The board has shown itself to be weak and spineless. They have shown themselves to be easily intimidated. They have committed a self-harming act to quieten the lunatics and the lunatics will not shut up … they will get louder. They will demand more. The craziness of their demands will grow in proportion to their sense of self belief.
So what you end up with, of course, is the proverbial vicious circle.
Their club cannot grow its fan-base.
The chance to take their show to a wider audience has been shredded. The “Old Firm” brand is as over as Elvis Pressley, and nothing will be able to resurrect it. That, on its own, is devastating for them because their global footprint is predicated on the so-called rivalry and between them and the Celtic board the whole concept has finally been dealt a death blow.
Without that marketing tool, without that selling point, there is no way for them to become more accessible and palatable to any outside audience.
So what happens when you can’t grow your customer base?
Well, if you can’t find new customers you are forced to cater, exclusively, to the ones that you already have, and that means becoming more insular, more reactionary, angrier and less interested in the business of making friends.
As a result of that, you become more and more dependent on your most loyal backers, the same bunch of nutcases who caused this crisis in the first place.
And bear in mind that the customer base in question has no appetite for following a club which limits its spending and lives within its means.
Forget outside money from all but a very narrow range, and that narrow range, of course, include the predatory “investors” and the sharks and if you’re desperate enough you’ll never known until it’s too late whether they have their claws in you.
With no external revenue coming in, even from a share issue, you have two options; limit your spending or keep on drawing constantly from the well of directors loans … and now their fans expect that, of course, and know that they can cow their board into providing them.
That’s another long term problem the people who “run” that club will have.
The Ibrox fan bubble is awash in self-congratulations tonight, and all but a handful think this is a great moment.
Only that handful realise what a disaster it is, and even they aren’t viewing it in its full context.
But to any outside observer, you can see the bigger picture and realise that what they’ve done here is push the club a little closer to the brink.
It is the responsibility of their directors to steer it away from the abyss.
In doing this they have listened to only the voices in the bubble. Even those inside their walls who do understand that this is a disaster won’t dare shout it out loud … theirs is a club full of “yes” men.
The board no longer fully runs the club anyway; the fans do, and with the maniacs at the wheel this can only end when the whole operation runs slap bang into the wall.