The Word Hero Is Over-Used. But For Celtic, John Keane Was The Real Deal.

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We live in a cynical age, in a cynical world. It is filled with charlatans and liars and frauds, and in this world, plaudits and platitudes go every day to those who don’t deserve either. Honours are not earned, they are bestowed, and they are usually bestowed by members of a clique to other members of the clique. It is incestuous and grubby.

There are some, part of what calls itself “the establishment”, who want to blame the public for the state of public discourse. In their telling, it was the cynicism that caused the mess, and the collapse of standards. No, it was the mess that caused the cynicism.

In a world like this, where no-one seems motivated by anything other than self-interest, it is useful to remind ourselves that there are people who are not like that at all, people of selflessness, honesty, great integrity and possessed of iron convictions.

Celtic has had such men at its helm.

One of the great criticisms levelled at those at the top of Celtic right now is that they take out of the club without visibly giving anything back. They own shares, yes, but the perception is that they keep them as investments or as proof of their own importance.

It has been a long time since any Celtic director put his own hand in his own pocket to the benefit of the club itself … and that is not me being wholly critical; the last thing we ever want to have is some sugar daddy owner who spends more than we would otherwise be able to.

But the sense that these are people who would make sacrifices for Celtic isn’t there.

It was not always so.

When Celtic was in the greatest peril there were men who stepped forward to do something about it. They would not allow this club to fail. They would not permit the shame of administration, far less allow us to slide towards the grave.

John Keane was a giant whose name will ring out as long as Celtic is in the world. There are not many men who can claim to have saved something they love. John Keane could claim something much bigger than that; he saved something we all love.

When, at the height of our troubles in 1994, he received a telephone call from the embattled Kevin Kelly begging for his help in preventing a bank foreclosure he didn’t stop to think about the politics or the optics of giving those men breathing space.

He didn’t try to curry favour or appeal to one faction or another. He didn’t think about it as leverage or consider the possibility of advancement, although in this deeply divided world we live in now it is virtually impossible to conceive of the kind of man who, in that moment, would not have.

Yet he was real. He existed. He was here, walking amongst us, until he was taken from us this weekend just past.

He didn’t know how the battle for control was going to end and although he would very clearly have understood that Fergus’ plan was the only one which offered us the kind of future we deserved, those considerations were the furthest thing from his thoughts.

Celtic was in danger, imminent, real danger, and he was able to prevent the worst from coming to pass, and he didn’t hesitate.

His £1 million cheque is what kept the wolf from our door, staving off the bank foreclosure, even when there must have been voices on the periphery of the boardroom struggle who thought that such a dire outcome was the quickest way to taking control. A foreclosure might have eventually delivered the club to Fergus for a fraction of its worth.

But no-one was willing to countenance that scenario. “Administration was unthinkable,” Keane said later. “It would have been a slur upon the name of the club.”

For years, Keane’s incredible act wasn’t even that well known. He never broadcast it. He never self-aggrandised. He never pretended to be anything other than what he was; a man who cared about Celtic and did something extraordinary for Celtic when there was nothing in it for him except to know that the club was safe.

No wonder all those who were involved in the bitter battle for control considered him worthy of the highest praise.

He was made honorary chairman of the non-PLC board in 2012, a significant year as I’m sure is obvious. He unfurled the league flag a year later, the first of nine in a row, and took the bow that day with the same great humility with which he did everything.

“I love the club. I have supported it and nothing will change me … this is a great honour. I hope I don’t trip and that they don’t boo me too much!” he said.

There was no chance of that; by then everyone knew the role he had played and the mighty thing he had done, and his legend was already established, although he had never sought it.

When he retired from his role in 2019 there was another series of stories about his actions, and once again all he cared about was expressing his love for Celtic and lavishing praise on those at the club who he had served with down through the years.

Everyone from Fergus McCann to Peter Lawwell paid him the kind of flowery tributes that few in the modern age deserve, but which he did.

John Keane will this week be honoured, but the truth is that he honoured us, he honoured this club, he honoured its history, he honoured that love he spoke about and which we all share. He was able to demonstrate it in the most amazing way, and in doing so he brought to a torrid time the kind of integrity and passion for Celtic which ensured that we survived.

It was Celtic’s great fortune that in our moment of peril we found such a giant, a man of such character, our own Cincinnatus, a humble, generous individual who assumed a giant responsibility in order to protect something important, and then when it was done he returned to his life, until the club called him again, and he did us further immense service, and then, without fuss and the minimum of fanfare, retired once more as if he had not done something remarkable.

And that is what made him a truly remarkable man.

John, our thanks are forever. You are a genuine Celtic hero, an overused word but in this case more than earned.

Rest in peace.

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  • Johnny Green says:

    Yes indeed, a great man, a great Celt and a true legend in the true meaning of the word. He will be forever remembered for his love of Celtic and his dedication to the Celtic cause, he has our gratitude for keeping alive the most important part of our ongoing humble lives.

    RIP John Keane.

  • Dombhoy says:

    Lovely tribute James.

    May he rest in peace.

  • Roonsa says:

    Beautifully written, James. Thank you.

  • Edward McCandless says:

    Good Article. Great Man.. Celtic legend.

  • Michael McCartney says:

    No Knighthood, CBE or any other bauble for this Celtic hero and very successful businessman, just the gratitude and respect from Celtic supporters around the World for saving our club from the ignominy of Administration. This gratitude and respect I suspect would have meant more to Mr Keane than any bauble.
    RIP John Keane and thank you for helping to save the history and tradition of our great football club.

  • Bigrailroadblues says:

    Excellent article.

  • Woodyiom says:

    Well said James – a genuine tribute to an incredibly genuine man.

    RIP Mr Keane.

  • Jimmy says:

    A wondefull Celtic man that never looked for praise or recognition. The only thing that mattered to him was the welfare of his beloved Celtic. A true hero. How wonderfull it would be If his family could be involved in raising the flag at the start of next season.

  • Mark says:

    Wonderful tribute. Nice words.

  • Mark B says:

    A real Celtic hero. In a comment earlier this week I mentioned names of some who rebuilt this club and led it to domination this century. Keane was another who made that a possibility. Thank you for saving something so important to so many. This club is at the heart of my family and I pay respect to you and my thoughts are with your family.

  • Magua says:

    A fine tribute to a real Celt.

    Hail Hail.

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Fabulous eulogy to John Keane James and Thank You for it…

    Now I’m not one to praise Celtic for their frequent lack of any decent PR, however the club statement and tribute to John Keane deserves the utmost praise…

    They certainly don’t lie nor sugar coat the £1 million needed to ‘save Celtic’ from the ‘IGNOMINY OF ADMINISTRATION’
    (That is a brilliant truthful dig towards Sevco while acknowledging John’s contribution)…

    “A man of honour and dignity, John played a hugely significant role in preserving history, success and above all CONTINUITY”
    (Again absolutely brilliantly portrayed)…

    “The pivotal role that he played in saving Celtic and his contribution can never be estimated”
    (That is acknowledging that we were close to death and saved by John – Something The Sevco Huns can never do or say)…

    As with the Celtic FC statement and tribute, sincere condolences and prayers to his wife Kathleen, son Mark, daughter-in-law Karisma, And his grandchildren John-Henry, Niamh and Fiádh…

    RIP – John Keane – And Thank You for saving my beloved Celtic Football Club !

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Fergus is still haunting The Sevco Huns big time….

    That he said “John was a STAUNCH and key partner in the takeover” – will no doubt perma rage the former rANGERs with the utmost well… ANGER –

    Thank God for gentlemen like John Keane that graced Celtic and therefore us Celtic supporters in this life !

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