I know one thing about the way our club is run; this is not how Fergus McCann wanted it. The godfather of modern Celtic prised this club out of the grubby hands of a tiny group of people who believed that it was theirs and not something that belonged to the fans. When he instigated his shareholder revolution he wanted to be sure no single individual or small group controlled our club in that way again. His vision has been betrayed.
Maybe the blame here ultimately lies with us. Maybe it lies with the fans who allowed this drift into our own version of autocracy to happen. We knew for years that Desmond was over-mighty, and that it was manifestly unhealthy for a small group of people to sit on the board of any company for as long as the directors at Celtic have.
And aside from some words in some blogs, and the occasional statement from The Celtic Trust, we’ve not done a damned thing about it.
The biggest group in the stands would rather fight with UEFA and Police Scotland than deal with issues inside our own walls, and some of the Celtic social media sites look at the piled up trophies and conclude that nothing’s wrong anyway.
In the meantime, Celtic grows more insular. The people in charge accumulate more power as they promote only those who share their outlook. This does not lead to new thinking and aggressive strategy. It leads to the recycling of old ideas and concepts, it leads to arrogance and complacency. It leads to stagnation and, eventually, regression.
The last time Peter Lawwell served in an executive capacity at Celtic he left behind him a disaster area. Our club had to sack a manager who there was no earthly justification for hiring in the first place. The team was demoralised and in need of a complete rebuild. An Ibrox club which had financially doped itself to the tune of over £80 million above and beyond earnings had taken a title and stopped our march to ten in a row.
Lennon was every bit as big a calamity as almost all of us feared. Ibrox’s triumph had been telegraphed so far in advance – this site and others warned about the consequences of letting them fund themselves from a bottomless pit of directors loans whilst the SFA refused to implement FFP for years, literally years – that only complete morons should have been surprised when they took advantage of our collapse to secure the silverware.
People talk about “Lawwell’s record” as if he was in the manager’s chair the whole time, and that’s part of the problem here because that kind of sycophantic babble, with no basis in fact or truth or reality, allowed his ego to grow to the point where he was able to play Football Manager, for real, with Celtic, deciding over the head of managers who to buy and who to sell and letting his own interests become somehow conjoined with those of this institution.
I believe Rodgers would have left us for England eventually, but I know for a fact – because I saw it for myself – that Lawwell was a big part of why it happened when and how it did. I know that those two clashed and that Lawwell would not take the step back for the good of the club. I know too that he made no effort to find a replacement other than to get Neil Lennon on speed-dial. Everyone knows this. Some choose not to acknowledge it.
To understand, fully, the problem here and to gain an appreciation for why some of us are so appalled by what’s happening in our boardroom you need to consider several things.
First is this; it is not good practice, in any industry, to have the same people running an organisation for as long as these people have been in charge at Celtic. I’ve said why already in this piece. It’s Bad Corporate Governance 101.
Celtic is praised to the nines for our “player trading strategy” and in some ways this has been wildly successful. We have all praised it and we continue to because it works. But nobody asks why we’re so overly reliant on selling players in the first place, and why the wage ceiling means that we have no choice anyway. And the answer is simple enough.
Our growth, in economic terms, has been stuck in the mud for nearly 20 years. Look at the figures; they don’t lie. Adjusted for inflation, and minus player sales, we probably earn less on a really good year than we were earning when Martin O’Neill was at the club.
Even based in Scotland, a club with our global footprint should be expansive, driven to explore new commercial ventures, and looking beyond the tired markets in which we operate. I’ve written on this site about our over-reliance on betting and booze sponsorship; this is just one area in which there is no original thinking and no long term strategy.
And because we can’t grow our revenues in any significant way, because we lack the strategic outlook to diversify, we cannot break through the ceiling of £100 million in earnings in all but a Champions League season in which we also flog a key asset.
If we were able to reach those earnings consistently, without needing to sell players, regardless of Champions League qualification, we would be able to pay people more and attract a better quality of footballer overall. We would also have the money to properly invest it in those things I talked about a few weeks ago; new facilities, a fan-zone, a museum, a hotel, all things that would, on their own, bring in even more money year in year out.
Expanding the stadium would be equally within reach. It is astonishing to me – astonishing – that we have never seriously pursued that. If we were able to do it and sell those seats we would add an additional £20 million, minimum, in annual revenues to the club.
Could a Scottish club sustain an 80,000 stadium, and hope to fill it? Nobody thought we could fill the current Celtic Park to capacity. Nobody but Fergus.
He was the last person at our club who had the vision and the balls to adopt a strategy of stimulating growth by providing for demand. It created its own excitement, and its own dynamic.
These people have never put forward anything on the scale of what the man from Canada did. Because he was a revolutionary who thought outside the box and was willing to go with his gut. He had a transformative agenda, and laid foundations on which the pygmies who came after him have never even property attempted to build anything new.
That’s my first problem not only with the Lawwell appointment but with a corporate culture that values “institutional memory” too much. Which values an old pals act ahead of the meritocracy. Which thinks looking through a tattered contacts book is a better answer to our dilemma about growing in Scottish football than reaching out beyond the bubble.
It is holding us back. Even now when the football department is running like a Swiss Watch we’re still relying on the player trading model to grown.
We’re good at. We’ve gotten very good at it, but it is not a substitute for an honest to God growth plan. It is keeping us from being our best self. Look at our complete lack of progress as a club in Europe for an outward manifestation of it which is actually visible on the pitch.
But I can go further than that and I will.
If you look at the years before the collapse of Rangers, you’ll see that under Lawwell’s allegedly brilliant management the first Ibrox club had won three titles in a row and traded us title for title for much of the preceding decade.
We won the Quadruple Treble with an Ibrox club in the league and that was glorious, but we cannot ignore that the manager who won the first half of that and laid the foundations for the rest of it was virtually shoved out the door by Lawwell, who signed players he did not want, who failed to close the deals for the ones he did and then briefed against him to the BBC when Rodgers complained about it.
There are some who still refuse to accept that Lawwell did any of this. But two moments come readily to mind, from the Rodgers era alone; the signing of Daniel Arzani on loan, which Rodgers dismissed as nothing to do with him and the signing of Shved which he very publicly and angrily disowned. Rodgers was gone a month later.
People may want to ignore that and its implications, but that would be a huge mistake because right now we have a system that is working, with deals being done according to the manager’s personal tastes and in a timeframe which Lawwell and his defenders have long said could not be done and was not the optimal way to work … all of that has been proved either blatantly wrong or utterly false. If things change then you know who to blame.
Lawwell would have been an adequate CEO had he stuck to his brief; note that I am no longer willing to say that he would have been a good CEO because a good CEO would have grown the business beyond its current glass ceiling.
But he interfered in areas which were none of his concern and made decisions about football matters that he was grossly unqualified to make.
No manager worth his salt would accept that, and this is why he twice chose Lennon, someone else who in my view was unqualified to make those decisions and whose CV did not remotely justify his hiring on either occasion.
Under the Lawwell-Desmond axis our failures of strategic thinking are second only to our grotesque failure of leadership and what is either an inability or unwillingness to take on the Survival Lie and SFA reform.
Anyone could see that the second Ibrox club was intent on financially doping its way to another title; this site and others had been screaming that fact since Sevco crawled out of Rangers’ grave. The need for domestic FFP both to protect the sport and to protect ourselves, was obvious to anyone who looked at the issue with even one eye open, and our board failed to make the case for it.
It comes down to one of two things; either they couldn’t sell the idea (and it should have been easy to do) or they didn’t bother trying to, complacent and arrogant in their belief that Ibrox would either run out of Other People’s Money or that we’d reach ten before they achieved the breakthrough. In either scenario, the consequences are the same.
God alone knows what this cost us in potential revenues. Millions, for sure.
Lawwell is getting a lot of credit for bringing Ange to the club, but if he was involved in that then you cannot easily absolve him of blame for the Howe debacle and the way the club allowed itself to be messed about and have its time wasted.
There was a grim inevitability about Lawwell re-appearing to take the credit for the sterling work that the manager has done, and I pay no heed whatsoever to Ange’s endorsement of this colossally bad idea. You show me a manager who has ever once gone in front of the media and said that he’s troubled by the presence of his new boss and I’ll show you one who isn’t going to be in the job for very much longer. That doesn’t mean his joy will last.
I wonder how Michael Nicholson feels at this moment in time. It is a bad idea to have the ex CEO overseeing the new CEO. Even someone not known for interference would still be an unwelcome distraction. We shouldn’t have put him in that position.
What all this boils down to is a need for this board to be held to account and made to justify the way it takes decisions as well as the decisions it makes. We will never have a club solely run by the fans; a professional board of directors will always be necessary for a club our size and as much as I take issue with the guys at the top of our house their risk averse strategy is by no means the worst one that they could have adopted for us.
Still, the manner in which this club is run still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
It is high time that some of Fergus’ vision was restored. For years I resisted the idea of fans on the board, but the more I think about it the more I think we do need supporter oversight. There’s are actually a couple of models pretty close to hand; the US and its three branches of government and the UK and its upper and lower Houses of Parliament.
I’m talking here about a Fans Board, one that cannot over-rule the main one but which has oversight and the powers of advise and consent. Football fans, in the main, are not stupid; we’re merely treated that way and it does not need to be like this.
If the board is choosing a chairman it should have to appear in front of the Fans Assembly and explain how that process is being carried out, what criteria the club is using and even, if circumstances permit, who the candidates are.
I would have no problem if those who served on that august body had to sign non-disclosures or whatever else; just so long as they were able to come and report back to the rest of us that a proper process was underway and that were satisfied that it was going to arrive at the best and most qualified candidate.
With a major sponsorship deal, the Fans Assembly could get final approval on a shortlist. That way they could scrutinise deals both for their value in cash terms and their suitability as part of Celtic’s grander social mission. The fans would not have the final say – that would still go to the board of directors and the key personnel – but it would be a pretty reckless group who ignored the official representatives of the men and women in the stands.
And we should have chance to set term limits for directors so that there are always fresh ideas going onto the board and plans being updated and areas renewed. And every four years the Fans Assembly should get to put one its own people in the director’s box as an official representative at the top table. This takes us some way towards Fergus’ grand design.
Fergus trusted the fans; amazingly, he trusted us a lot more than a lot of the fans trusted him, but he didn’t intend things to be run this way and when you see the board’s decision making being so focussed on the opinions and ideas of a small group of people you see that it leads to complacency, arrogance and wrong-headedness, always, because it has led to those things in every organisation which ever allowed a tiny group to control its direction over a long period of time.
I’m not suggesting for one second that the fans become some elective dictatorship from which the boards needs to be in constant fear; this is Celtic, something we all love. It needs to be a partnership, not the preserve of a tiny clique, and I don’t think there’s anything for our board to fear from that. Indeed, this club has everything to gain from that kind of outlook and the democratisation of its decision making process.
If they have the guts for it, that would be a legacy worth boasting about.