In Martin Scorcese’s fantastic movie Casino the unravelling of the Mob’s well-run Vegas operation starts with a television interview. Sam “Ace” Rothstein tells a reporter that he, in fact, is the man who runs the Tangiers hotel where he is on the books merely as the Entertainment Director, a scam intended to get around the requirement that he hold a gaming license.
The footage is seen by a state official who Rothstein has crossed and so begins the Gaming Commission hearings which would start the process of bringing down the heat, until it got too much to bear and arrests followed and, eventually, the murders to make sure everyone who didn’t fall into line was silenced. All because Rothstein’s ego got the better of him.
Today, a new narrative is being pushed on the Celtic support, infuriated over the January transfer window and the imperilling of our title quest, and it’s this; Peter Lawwell doesn’t actually do anything at Celtic. He is a mere figurehead, carrying no real authority. So why, then, would we seek to remove him from office? After all, he doesn’t actually have any real responsibilities and has no input in decision making! It’s just wasted energy!
Well, if you believe that I’ve got a casino to sell you.
I wrote earlier about gaslighting. This is a clear example of what we’re talking about. We are branded irrational and our concerns scorned as illegitimate although it is manifestly obvious, they aren’t and we’re not. The idea that the chairman of this club doesn’t actually have any sway would be absurd even if you didn’t know his name or what his history was, even if his son wasn’t head of recruitment, or his former number two man the chief executive.
Dermot Desmond sits on the board as a non-executive director. He holds just over 30% of the shares. He’s not the chairman. He’s not the owner.
But there is nobody who does not accept that he wields massive power at Celtic Park, so this idea that only those who hold senior day-to-day roles are the guys who are actually running things is laughable on that basis alone.
Lawwell was at the centre of this club for more than ten years, far and away the most influential person at Celtic on this side of the water and, whether or not you like the guy or how he’s run things, he is one of the most consequential individuals in the history of our club. That’s just a fact. The idea that he is some powerless observer of events is manifestly ridiculous.
It is not that long ago that we were being told that it was Lawwell, as a non-executive director, who was responsible for the club hiring Ange Postecoglou. So much for not having any authority. So much for being on the fringes and taking no role in the club.
The narrative over Lawwell changes to suit those defending him. When there’s an advantage to be gained from promoting him as the centre of all power, they will do it. When they want to keep the heat off him, they will portray his role as nothing more than that of the elder statesman, there to provide what’s known as “institutional memory”, which would be an entirely legitimate use of his talents (and he does have talents, as I’ve always been at pains to point out).
I have been guilty myself of accepting this obvious fiction. During Ange’s first campaign it seemed as if Lawwell really had disappeared into the background and whenever people brought up this idea I told them to just look at the changes we’d made. You could not detect his influence anywhere at the club. Then we hired his son and the veil fell away. He might not have been involved in the day-to-day business, but his influence was as strong as ever.
I was still pretty shocked when they actually put him in the chairman’s office, because that was a clear red flag and I couldn’t believe they would provoke the fans to that extent or make it so obvious that he’d been there behind the scenes all along. I want to kick myself sometimes for the way I’ve been too trusting of the people in charge of this club … I genuinely thought that when he stepped down as CEO that his retaining the board seat was only about his ability to sit on UEFA committees and the governing bodies here at home.
And I was wrong about that. He did continue to serve in that fashion, but we know that he was doing a lot more than that, like a chess player moving his pieces into position. Now his position is as strong as it ever was, and the strategy is back to what it was.
Judge it on the evidence, you don’t have to listen to me or those saying Lawwell plays no real role. Just think about it logically, and you’ll know. And if you want to be able to put it in context, look at previous Celtic chairmen as a useful guide.
Brian Quinn ran things from the background, but he undisputedly set policy from the top. He was the guy who devised, and started to implement, the zero-debt strategy.
He was followed by John Reid, the very definition of an “activist chairman” who got himself front and centre and put Celtic on the attack. Others might have hated him. I always thought he was exactly the kind of man we required in that role, and that our aggressive pursuit of our interests was absolutely the right thing to do.
By the time of his departure Lawwell’s role and influence had expanded massively; he was deep into his “director of football” phase … it’s not for nothing that we always considered Ian Bankier to be no more than a nodding donkey. The Man Who Wasn’t There.
It all depends what sort of chairman you want to be. The CEO’s role is the same. Michael Nicholson is as different from Lawwell himself as it is possible to be; he is low-key, unflashy, content to be in the background, feeling no need to be in front of the cameras or giving interviews or acting as a public face. He leaves that to the guy in the dugout.
Contrast that with how Lawwell behaved in the same job. Lawwell was notorious for his tight control over things, and he loved the limelight and being centre stage. He ran everything from the centre. He is temperamentally unable to behave in any other way.
That’s why it’s impossible to believe he’s not active in his current post. Common sense should tell you that as long as he has a place on the board, he has influence. This is what the recently published official club report says about the directors;
“To this end, key decisions, including financial policies, budgets, strategy and long term planning, major capital expenditure, material contracts, risk management and controls, health and safety and the appointment of the Group’s principal external advisers, Directors, football manager and senior executives, are all subject to Board approval.”
And by virtue of his job as chairman he sits at the head of the board. Even if you think I talk regular nonsense, just look at that, it’s there in black and white. And if it wasn’t so, there would be no need to defend the guy would there?
If he’s got no power and no influence, there’s no need for all this covering fire. Lawwell himself could just step down from the role and neither he nor we would even notice the difference, right? I mean who needs all this hassle who isn’t doing anything anyway?
Those who want to mount a defence for this board are welcome to do it, and they will. They are good at it. They’ve had years of practice at it.
But stuff like this just insults our intelligence. That’s why it needs to be refuted. We cannot continue allowing these people to treat us like idiots.