Celtic’s Ownership Structure Needs A Major Change, And There’s A Path Towards One.

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The AGM this week was not brilliant for anyone involved.

I thought a lot of people let themselves and the club down.

The headline moment was when Dermot Desmond’s son promised us all that daddy was going to pass the club onto him and his siblings, as if that was just what we all wanted to hear.

We know nothing about this guy, but you don’t need to have watched Succession to worry about what our club might look like if it’s passed down through the generations of a billionaire family like an old medal from the Boar War.

This is what Fergus explicitly promised us was not going to happen.

Before we go on, let’s note this; there are worse scenarios here.

That’s why so many people were happy about Desmond’s vow. They know what this club might look like. They know where we might end up. They recognise that we could wind up in the hands of some oligarchy or whatever, or part of the Man City extended family, without any of the benefits.

That’s not an unreasonable concern. It’s haunted the likes of David Low for a long time, and he’s talked about it at length. I’ve written about it at length.

But in fact, the reality here is that it’s the very ownership structure the Desmond and Lawwell families appear committed to which makes the nightmare scenario more likely than not.

The only real protection Celtic fans have if they want to guard against that is for our club to be in our hands. Otherwise, we’re hostages to fortune.

You don’t have to use much imagination to foresee circumstances where the Desmond or Lawwell families decide to put us up for sale. To use just one example, imagine we have a bad couple of seasons and spiral into debt.

There is no chance of these people putting their own money in to steady the ship; you would not see them for dust. This club would have a For Sale sign on it before you could say “Henrik Larsson” and in those circumstances who knows who would have their grubby hands on us?

Let’s assume that Desmond & Lawwell FC would be run well, and with benign intent. You all know what my thoughts on that are.

The smaller the group of people at the top is, the longer they stay in control, the less critical thinking takes place. The less we see new ideas.

Do you think that Lawwell or Desmond Junior have radically different plans than their daddies? I very much doubt it. We’ll be locked into the current model indefinitely.

But that dark truth, that keeping the shares in a small number of hands is inherently dangerous, cannot be denied, and one of my recurring fears is that if the City Group or some consortium like it wanted to buy us that Lawwell & Sons might well be all for it, and if they were told they could keep their seats on the board all the more so.

At that point, they would try to sell Desmond on it and they would convince themselves that this was the best thing for Celtic. And then anything can happen.

The only safeguard of Celtic’s future is that the fans have enough shares that they can prevent any such action from ever getting off the ground. The thing is, there’s no mechanism at all for us getting there.

If Desmond and Lawwell don’t want to sell their shares, and their other “institutional investors” feel the same way, what’s the plan?

There is one possible avenue forward; in English football, their regulator is giving the fans stonewall, cast iron, guarantees.

They are giving the fans rights.

Shadow boards, made up of supporters, will have to give approval to any sale and even beyond the sale they must approve any scenario where the directors borrow money on the club’s assets, or attempt to sell them out from under the club itself. These are the kinds of guarantees we need.

That protects the brand. It protects the stadium and the training ground.

It protects the intellectual property.

The ethos of the club is another matter entirely, and it cannot be so easily protected by a law or by a shadow board veto, but at the most basic level we would keep at least some of these people at arm’s length simply by having those rights.

But more than anything else, we need a share-purchase right.

In other words, we need regulations which prohibit shares in our club from passing from one generation to another without us having the opportunity to buy them ourselves, and we need the right to purchase shares first in any event they are put up for sale.

Football clubs are community organisations, they are not family concerns or the property of the directors … they are ours and only when that’s a recognised and accepted fact will we be able to protect the thing we love.

But for any of this to happen, of course, we need fan groups to step up and we need government to do its part just as it has south of the border.

The SFA is moving in the opposite direction; it wants to change the rules so that Scottish clubs can be gobbled up by those giant companies which already own eight or nine teams in different countries … talk about an utter abrogation of responsibility. That’s selling out the fans in the most despicable way.

So, we cannot trust them.

We cannot look there for leadership or for help.

We need the law-makers to step up, we need our own regulator here. Because the owners of the clubs will not give up that power voluntarily, not at Celtic nor anywhere else.

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  • Kevan McKeown says:

    Agree wi that. Don’t see them givin up their shares one bit. They’re lookin after theirs and their families future financial interests. It’s gonnae be the same business model, passed down for the foreseeable future. Even when the likes of DD and Lawwell eventually dae retire, they’ll still be passin on instruction tae their siblings. Basically we’re fkt, well where Europe’s concerned anyway.

  • Bob (original) says:

    You raise a very pertinnent point about ownership, and potential changes.

    The other reason for pushing for ‘some progress in Europe’

    could be self protection.

    I honestly believe that the club could, and should, be doing so much better.

    Not winning a Euro trophy, but getting to knock-out stages certainly.

    I think the club – and the brand – is underperforming BOTH

    on and off the pitch.

    I’m just surprised we haven’t had Americans sniffing about to buy the

    club and develop it for their personal gain: like a ‘Glazer family’ scenario!

    Everybody has their price. DD might not sell, but his family might in the future?

    That’s why we need a Board clearout as a start – to improve the club and its value.

    PL and the Board are just cruising along very nicely, thanks very much.

    We’re going to wake up one day to headlines that the club is a

    target for a foreign buyer(s).

    …and there’s bugger all we can do about it! 🙁

  • Roonsa says:

    You said it at the start. This is exactly what Fergus McCann was trying to prevent from ever happening again.

    It seems to me that people who crave power are exactly the people who should be denied it because they need that power to maintain their inflated egos.

    Fergus was one of a kind in that he was quite happy to walk off into the sunset once Celtic were back on an even keel. OK, with a tidy profit in his hip pocket but he said from the start he was in it to make himself money.

    I can guarantee you that almost / all 100% of commercial operations will have complete “see you next Tuesdays” as Chairman and Chief Exec. The situation that Fergus wanted to avoid was always going to happen after he walked away.

    It’s a consequence of umfettered capitalism and survival of the fittest animal instinct.

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    The SFA are not moving in the right direction for the benefit of one club and one club only…

    And that CLUB (not company or newco) is today 11 years and 120 days old –

    Never let them forget that either…

    That club is Sevco FC !

  • Justso says:


    What is your understanding of the share ownership proportions in Celtic? There is a common narrative rolled out in the press that DD is the majority shareholder. Whilst he is the largest shareholder he is far from a majority at, as I understand it, a tad under 35%. So whilst he holds significant sway in the goings on in the boardroom it is possible that other shareholders could out vote him.

    So as it stands no single person or organisation has the shareholding to allow them to “pass the club on” to another family member.

    As for Lawwell by understanding is he holds significantly less that 1%. What shareholding do you attribute to “Desmond and Lawwell families”?


  • SSMPM says:

    There’s never been any evidence of your doomsday scenarios under Desmond’s ownership and while we may not like that model he’s never shown the slightest inkling. Owning Celtic is a trophy for a wealthy individual, I’m sure he’s well chuffed to be in that position and honestly your chat is fantasy football. While under Desmond’s ownership we’re secure in that sense.
    If his kids inherit and prove not to be gambling fools of Lucan proportions then it’s will continue to be acceptable imo though I’d rather some kind of greater fan ownership model. I certainly wouldn’t go thinking that our fans are some kind of all agreeable homogenous group particularly after recent events and some of the nonsense spoken by some at the AGM.
    Couldn’t make the game today, God it’s horrible listening to the game on radio. Sounds like we need to up the anti. C’mon a Hoops

  • Mottman67 says:

    James, agree with your comments on ownership and would be interested in pursuing this further. I’d like to discuss this with you with a view to see how it can be taken further.
    Can you email me directly?

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