EVERY now and again a clarion call of reason can be heard above the din of disharmony.

Before I continue and for full disclosure, I admit to being an acquaintance of Peter Lawwell.

We first met in January 1996 when we were co-opted onto the Benefit Committee for Mike Galloway, the player whose career had come to a premature and agonisingly abrupt end in a car crash in August the previous year during a loan spell at Leicester City.

While Mike had to come to terms with the fact that, at the age of 30, he would never kick a ball again for a living, a group of Celtic-minded individuals, under the chairmanship of the late QC Len Murray, had been organised to help raise funds for the unfortunate sportsman.

It was a cruel winter, as I recall, and good old Fergus made sure a bowl of soup was waiting for each of the committee members when we diligently assembled at the stadium two or three evenings a week to arrange a testimonial game. On March 3, Tommy Burns’ team met a Kenny Dalglish-led All-Stars line-up at Parkhead. Around 30,000 fans turned up to show their support.

Job done, a week or so later after Lawwell had sorted the finances, Mike was presented with a handsome cheque, the committee and the player had a bite to eat, a few beers in the RAC Club and then we went our separate ways.

IT S GOOD TO TALK..chairman Peter Lawwell and chief executive Michael Nicholson chat before a recent game.

Following Lawwell’s appointment as Celtic chief executive to succeed Ian McLeod in 2003, as the former sports editor of the Sunday Mail and then the owner of the 7 Day Press freelance agency, our paths were fated to cross

An allegation on social media was made just last week that stated I enjoy a lunch with Peter Lawwell once a week. Really? News to me. And to my phantom dining companion, as well, I would venture.

However, I have to say the recent spiteful, wilful comments aimed at a genuine Celtic supporter are more than a little distressing. Incomprehensible and preposterous, as a matter of fact.

I have never set out to defend Peter Lawwell. He wouldn’t thank me for that, so it is gratifying that a completely neutral voice elsewhere can be heard through the clamour of a dissenting chorus reacting to the team’s mystifying drop in form.

Journalist Graeme McGarry wrote in The Herald yesterday of bafflement within the corridors of power at the club over direct criticism of Lawwell.

The sports scribe penned: “Privately, Celtic are somewhat bemused by the vitriol being aimed at chairman and former chief executive Peter Lawwell over that [recruitment], given he now has no part to play in the signing of players. Well, apart from his son being the head of recruitment.”

Is there anyone out there who has not parted company with their last marble who genuinely believes Dermot Desmond and the board would allow the chairman to buy and sell players? Simply put, that’s not his job. Plus it’s just a plain ludicrous notion.

SECOND TIME AROUND…Peter Lawwell and Brendan Rodgers meet the media in June last year.

We all agree the players who have arrived in the most recent windows have not illuminated the Scottish soccer scene – and no doubt reasons for that will become known some day – and that has placed Lawwell’s son Mark in the firing line, too, as the scattergun criticism ensues.

Aesop would blush at some of the more absurd accusations, but please remember this is the same talent spotter who spent a decade – okay, nine years and nine months, if you wish to be pedantic – at Manchester City from November 2012 to July 2022 as the club built momentum on their way to becoming the best team in the world.

This is the same Mark Lawwell who pointed the likes of Patrick Roberts, Dedryck Boyata, John Guidetti, Jason Denayer and Daniel Arzani from The Etihad to the east end of Glasgow.

Nor should we overlook Jeremie Frimpong, who was bought for £1million in September 2019 and sold to Bayer Leverkusen for more than ten times that amount in January 2021.

No-one ever loses that eye for a player.

Plus it was Mark who first mentioned Ange Postecoglou to Peter when Eddie Howe was procrastinating on accepting the vacant managerial post following the departure of Neil Lennon in February 2021.

The arrangement to secure the Greek-Australian was Peter Lawwell’s last bit of business before leaving his CEO post in June that year.

PICTURE OF WOE…£4.5million keeper Vasilis Barkas winces as another effort hits his net.

While we are in this area, I must point out a few things about the first trophyless season in 11 years. The campaign yielded nothing but grief and that gave some the opportunity to accuse the old board of “falling asleep at the wheel” with the historic 10 in a row within touching distance.

It was Lawwell who sanctioned the £4.5million purchase of Vasilis Barkas from AEK Athens to make him the most expensive keeper in the club’s lifetime. I reckon that will be a tag that will be stuck to the netminder for some considerable period.

A month later, Albian Ajeti was recruited at the cost of £5million from West Ham. It was hardly the CEO’s fault that the club had just signed a keeper who couldn’t keep the ball out of the net and a striker who couldn’t put it in the opposition’s net.

Shane Duffy arrived from Brighton in an expensive loan arrangement which included a transfer fee of £2million while Celtic picked up every penny of his wages – reportedly circa £45,000-per-week – at the south coast club.

The Republic of Ireland international centre-back arrived in Glasgow in September following a family tragedy after the death of his father Brian, at the age of 53, just four months earlier.

For every kind of reason, Duffy’s one season at his boyhood idols was not a success.

There were also fees to be forked out and considerable salaries to be paid in similar arrangements for Mohamed Elyounoussi (Southampton), Jonjoe Kenny (Everton) and Diego Laxalt (AC Milan).

On top of that, I was reliably informed the club knocked back a sizeable offer for Odsonne Edouard, who, of course, departed the scene a year later.

The history books will show a season of sheer wretchedness. I believe the Celtic fans paid themselves a massive disservice during that term.

JUST CHAMPION…Peter Lawwell embraces skipper Scott Brown at another title-winning ceremony during Celtic’s extraordinary quadruple treble.

Blame was apportioned everywhere with the usual random process. However, I think the supporters might have looked a little closer to home for the team’s failure. In the midst of the Covid pandemic, Celtic had to play to empty grounds and their influence from the stands was sorely missed.

Bertie Auld always insisted that inspirational support was the team’s twelfth man and, alas, they were not available when the club needed them most during a barren crusade, played out to the echoes of deserted stadiums up and down the country.

I doubt if it was a coincide that Liverpool suffered from the lack of an uplift from their followers during the same season. Like Celtic, Jurgen Klopp’s side, the best supported in England, in my opinion, ended the season with nothing to show for their efforts.

I have always insisted everyone is more than entitled to his or her opinion. That is everyone’s right. I wrote an article in CQN earlier this month which provoked some interesting feedback. It was obvious not all of us were singing from the same hymn sheet, but discussion is healthy. However, I switch off when toxicity enters the debate.

Please let’s get something clear; my regard for Peter Lawwell does not interfere with my objectivity. Neither does it cloud my judgement.

Over close to three decades in national newspapers at the Daily Record and then the Sunday Mail, in the days when the journals sold in their millions, I have had to publish tales which concerned individuals I would like to think were friends.

I’m talking about the likes of Billy McNeill, Davie Hay and Liam Brady during their managerial careers at the club and pressure mounted when the results didn’t stack up.

Some of the stories may have been distressing to those on the receiving end, but as long as the facts were accurate, the sentiments were positive and the criticism constructive, I had a duty to the readers to publish the tales.

On those occasions, I would make sure the individuals concerned were aware of what was going to be adorning the back pages of the nation’s two biggest-selling newspapers the following morning. I thought that was the least decent human beings deserved.

IT TAKES TWO…Peter Lawwell and majority shareholder Dermot Desmond are ready for another big occasion at Hampden.

And that takes us to the present. The anger and frustration of the Celtic support is vehemently obvious and the disappointment is understandable even if some of the vitriolic outbursts cannot be filed in the same category.

Football fans have notoriously short memories. Let’s see if I can help jog some recollections:

FACT: In his 20 years, as CEO and chairman, Lawwell has presided over a phenomenal 34 trophies, including 14 titles and five domestic trebles.

FACT: Celtic also qualified for the group stage of the Champions League and Europa League on all but two occasions with Lawwell on board.

To remind everyone, in a modern PLC, a chairman is a non-executive, “unconnected with the day-to-day management of a business and which is instead concerned with effective management of the board”.

Someone occupying that office has absolutely nothing to do with player contracts, signing strategies or managerial appointments. Clearly, at Celtic, that responsibility lies with others.

I’ve never known Peter Lawwell to adopt the Pontius Pilate outlook and wash his hands while abdicating accountability. His intellect and decency would not allow him to contemplate such dishonourable actions.

I can inform anyone interested both Liverpool and Arsenal made approaches during his days as CEO at Parkhead. Both were rebuffed.

Peter Lawwell was – and remains – fiercely loyal to those around him.

It’s a pity those laudable principles are not much in evidence elsewhere.


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