Enduring lesson from Peter Lawwell era


If Peter Lawwell left the building last year, the final chapter would have been about nine-in-a-row and four consecutive trebles.  His legacy (which we will cover at the end of the season) would have been a more straightforward matter to document.  Instead, he gets to own a bad season, a cautionary tale to incoming chief executive, Dominic McKay.  This job never goes to plan.

He arrived at the club in late 2003 at a time when the lemmings of Scottish football were heading for the cliffs.  Celtic had just posted a £11.6m loss despite reaching the Uefa Cup Final, a sum that was dwarfed by Rangers’ £29.6m loss.  We lost money every season since Fergus McCann left four years earlier.  His first challenge was straightforward, remain competitive and don’t follow Rangers over the edge.

Martin O’Neill was replaced by Gordon Strachan who in his first season had to work with a reduced budget.  Revenues grew as the club’s commercial operation matured, so Gordon’s budget soon passed that of Martin’s.  Celtic enjoyed a period of financial stability, domestic success and for the first time reached the knock out stages of the Champions League, until then, a fabled nirvana.

If you think this season is the darkest period of Peter’s tenure you have forgotten about 2011.  Gordon lost the league for the first time in 2009, Tony Mowbray lost his only title in 2010 and Neil Lennon lost at the first time of asking in 2011.  In the autumn of 2011, we dropped 10 points behind Rangers, who were on track for four-in-a-row.

For me, who started writing a blog about the need for financial stability, those years were a real challenge.  We were paying our bills but there is no obligation on football fans to take an interest in the club’s accounts, all most want to see is a winning team, and Rangers were winning what mattered.  This debate played out for years on CQN.  Some of us knew Rangers were going to crash and burn, although it was not until 2011 that I realised how spectacularly that was going to happen.  Others on here talked of “Jam tomorrow”.

It was likely but never inevitable that Rangers would become insolvent.  Peter chose a path that guaranteed our survival over matching Rangers’ losses.  It made him unpopular, but he felt it was the right path to follow.  I agreed.

The world changed in season 2011-12.  David Murray sold Rangers to Craig Whyte, an experienced insolvency expert.  Craig had a plan to liquidate Rangers, phoenix with a Newco and become incarnate as the body and soul of Oldco.

CQN was always active on Rangers finances, they were as pertinent to the success of Celtic as our own, but I went out on a limb in October that year, with what was a prescient blog, The prepack route for Rangers Newco FC.  I predicted Rangers liquidation, the consequential space in the SPL, the consequences for the TV deal, sponsorship deals and for other clubs.  I explained how Newco would try to join the top flight and finished with a call to arms to stop it, all months before any of it happened.

Celtic said very little during this period but the role Peter Lawwell played in stopping Newco Rangers slipping straight into the top flight was absolute.  The prescience and call to arms in that blog and the many that followed in the months to come, were well informed.

The rise of Neil Lennon as manager culminated in that night against Barcelona in November 2012 but the sands were already shifting below our feet.  Barcelona was a peak, not a new plateau.  Ronny Deila was manager before he was ready.  He won leagues but fatefully blew Champions League qualification.

The appointment of Brendan Rodgers was nothing to do with Dermot Desmond watching Newco directors celebrate a semi-final win at Hampden, Dermot was on an aeroplane by then, it was more about chance.  Brendan was out of work, a Celtic fan and in need of a place to restore his managerial reputation.  Despite the titles, Celtic were flagging.  He filled the stands, boosted every revenue stream and won five trophies, before leaving us at the altar of back-to-back trebles.

Few of us were inspired when Neil Lennon was appointed permanent manager after securing that second treble against Hearts.  Brendan was sacked by Liverpool, Neil ‘mutual-ed’ by Hibs, by any measure, a downgrade.  That night in Rome 14 months ago, when Celtic recorded their first win on Italian soil, the decision look inspired, but not for the first time, the sands were already shifting below our feet.

The collapse this season had been nothing to do with fans not being at games, players isolating or any other nefarious reason.  We got our football operations wrong, it is as simple as that.  You and I will regret this for a long time, as will Peter Lawwell.

We will lose the league to a Newco Rangers who (pre-crisis) have annual losses approaching Oldco’s when Peter took over.  Losing the league hurts, but financial fundamentals ultimately determine the future.  This lesson from the Peter Lawwell era will endure.  Good luck to Dominic McKay, he has a big sharp suit to fill.

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  1. Paul, an excellent summation.



    This time I have no argument with it whatsoever. As always plenty to read between the lines as well.



    One thing I will argue with – strongly.



    The idea that we “lucked” into Rodgers. We showed ambition for once. The whole way of thinking at Celtic needs to change in the next 12 months; we can’t be thinking of ourselves as a club who occasionally gets lucky with the decision making. We have to show balls and ambition.



    Other than that, a great piece on what might prove to be a very good day.



    If we sort the managerial issue out pronto – which means before the close of business – it will be.

  2. Apologies for the contradictory statement “I won’t complain but here’s my complaint!”



    Trying to multi-task like mad, so the brain has five different jobs to do.



    Let me repeat; an excellent analysis.

  3. Garngad to Croy on

    Apart from the 5 way agreement, resolution 12 and the Disco lights, Peter has not done many things wrong in my humble opinion. (He should have been sacked for the not so secret 5 way agreement)


    The strange thing is I am guessing it was Peter who tipped off Paul67 about the plan to allow the new Rangers to play in the Premier League which then set off the SPL fans protest, ending up with the responsibility being put on the lower league clubs.

  4. @ CELTIC40ME on 29TH JANUARY 2021 11:36 AM



    Not sure you are understanding.



    Larsson was sought after for years with us by United, Valencia and finally Barca. He would have benefitted financially by any of those deals.



    Pedro may have been sought after in 08 but the ship had sailed long ago. No one is or has been chasing Pedro for a long time. Plus, unlike Henrik there is no temptation to go as the money won’t be as good/(if better) the expectations will be much higher and he will need to work for it.



    The comparison to Sinclair was to evidence that situations change (player of the year to out the team in a short period of time), being great once (and I’m not saying Pedro was) does not stick with you for your career.



    I’ve been told many times in my profession that you are only as good as your last mistake…



    So yes, I hold little regard for Pedro’s status more than a decade ago.

  5. The Blogger Formerly Known As GM on

    Very balanced, Paul.



    He did some good stuff and not so good stuff. Alas, the loons will focus only on the latter.

  6. “The collapse this season had been nothing to do with fans not being at games, players isolating or any other nefarious reason. We got our football operations wrong, it is as simple as that. You and I will regret this for a long time, as will Peter Lawwell.”



    His steadfast refusal to sack NL and give a new manager a chance to start rebuilding the team and squad suggests his ego comes a long way ahead of any regret.

  7. This is a good day.


    And everything you have written here is correct.


    We go again…………..

  8. Great article Paul. 👍🏼



    Thanks for the hard work Peter, yes it could have gone better at points (what in life couldn’t) but I’ve had lots of happy times over the 17 years.



    Enjoy your retirement

  9. Lawwell also cost us the league in the Willo Flood window, selling the backbone of the team that season, McManus, Caldwell, McDonald, Robson.

  10. JAMES FORREST on 29TH JANUARY 2021 12:06 PM




    He’s gone matey! I am moderating every post to make sure he and his ilk are gone for good.


    I only ask people to bear with me until I can get the moderating to work seamlessly.




    Well played sir.


    He was the ultimate troll.


    I really enjoy your blog.


    It’s sad to say that you got the Lennon appointment spot on.

  11. Pingback: Enduring lesson from Peter Lawwell era | Celtic FC News Now

  12. DENIABHOY on 29TH JANUARY 2021 12:17 PM



    Does the timing of his resignation not suggesting something to you about his motives for not sacking Lenny before now?

  13. Peter Lawwell deserves criticism but not some of the vitriol being thrown at him. He gave the club financial stability and faithfully carried out the wishes of the club’s owner, whose ambition was to get Celtic into a British league as part of the “Old Firm”.


    An owner with ambition would have sacked NL after Cluj. He didn’t even do it after Ferencvaros and after the Sparta Prague humiliation. No worries, European success didn’t matter to DD; the Old Firm did. And why appoint a Director of Football if that is your only ambition?

  14. Thank you Peter for a brilliant, though not flawless (not a criticism, as that’s impossible), steering of Celtic’s fortunes. Have a happy and long retirement. It’s well deserved.



    Welcome Dominic. If you can get somewhere close the job PL has done over the years (which will take a few years to get right) our operations will be in good hands and you’ll have a lot of fun.

  15. Paul, following the financial crash of 2008-9 and the collapse of the Bank of Scotland, Rangers FC were doomed.


    David Murray still got his knighthood mind you.

  16. lets all do the huddle on

    does DM get to bring his own trough to fill or does he just use PLs?



    CEOs do as they do

  17. Good to see Peter Lawwell retiring from his post – the right way to go. He has done an incredible job as CEO but it is definitely time for change. There needs to be regular refresh of executive talent in any organization and CFC is no different. I wish him all the best and given the chance would thank him personally for his commitment to our club. I’m looking forward to seeing what else will change in the short term.

  18. lets all do the huddle on

    i hope DM tries to influence the games law makers to allow the same rule at throw ins as they have in rugby whereby you can lift up one of your team mates to try get the ball



    we might be able to win the ball from throw in if thats allowed

  19. 67 European Cup Winners on

    Peter Lawwell – thank you



    Not a surprise for me – there had to be something big happening for us to carry on with this shambles without reacting


    As PL is here until June I assume NL is too




  20. Excellent and honest article Paul .



    Big Pedro certainly made a few wrong calls, some more catastrophic than others.



    He also made a good few proper calls that were hugely beneficial to Celtic.



    I wish him well in the future. HH

  21. Good-bye Peter.


    Dominic,you know the score,keep Celtic safe and bring back smiles,laughter and contentment to the fans,the best bunch of guys you will ever meet,me included.



  22. Lawwell’s legacy will largely be positive imo. His experience and business skills have served us well. I hope Dominic McKay has Peter’s mobile number to hand in times of challenge.



    McKay’s experience in commercial dealings and PR would suggest a DoF and a new manager will be appointed before the summer to oversee our football operations.



    The appointments we make in DoF, manager and recruitment will decide if Sevco’s first title is a speck of blue in an otherwise all green league winners roll of honour this decade.



    The decision to stand by a clearly failing Neil Lennon throughout the months of October, November and December will always baffle me.



    We may not have won the league anyway but sticking by Lennon guaranteed our failure. The longer Neil remains in post the more damage will done to our football operations.



    I suggest we get that DoF and new manager in ASAP.



    The failure this season should not overshadow two decades of success.



    Well done and thank you, Peter.



    Have a long and healthy retirement.

  23. Fair assessment Paul67.



    Peters biggest mistake was making Lennon manager in May 19.



    Enjoy your retirement Peter

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