I wasn’t engaged in Celtic politics 20 years ago, never attended the Celts for Change meetings and I wasn’t there to hear ‘The rebels have won!’ in person, but it was clear the Celtic Movement had achieved a remarkable revolution.
The old board’s biggest failing was its lack of strategy. 20 years on Fergus McCann rightly receives the plaudits for putting his money where his mouth was but until that very week he was merely one cog in the machine. Celts for Change were the advance party, others, such as McCann and John Keane were the generals, playing a critical role in the revolution, while the circa 30,000 fans who came forward to buy season tickets and shares were the foot soldiers who did the heavy lifting.
It cost £620 to participate in the subsequent share issue. People borrowed money in order to do their bit – in order to help Celtic, while others clubbed together to raise the target amount. This was an era when credit was even less pervasive as it has been in recent years. Thousands ‘did without’ to make this happen, and no one knew this more than Fergus.
The Revolution came 20 years after Jock Stein’s world record nine-in-a-row, but the intervening period brought obscurity in Europe, only once did we progress beyond Christmas and that was after overcoming Dundalk and Partizan Tirana. Six league titles were won.
The 20 years since have produced nine titles, with another in the oven, while former directors of former clubs are talking about the prospect of Celtic winning 10-in-a-row. We’ve had Seville, and lots of genuinely great achievements in the Champions League. It has been a fantastic two decades.
The one thing Fergus drove most thoroughly was his vision of the club’s social mission. Bhoys against Bigotry and Celtic Charity were launched and put squarely in the middle of who we are as a club. The renamed Celtic Foundation has grown and now engages thousands of fans each year in outstanding feats of generosity. If we are not ‘just another club’ this is the reason. If you’re not involved, get involved.
Over the years I’ve heard talk about a monument to Fergus, which would be entirely inappropriate, the man is a low-profile pragmatist, but we’re overlooking the biggest monument in sport. When he took over as managing director, Celtic Park was a magnificent football arena but fit only for our memories. We needed a safe, all-seater stadium. He raised £14m at a share issue, built the biggest football stadium in Britain apart from the decrepit Wembley, and left five years later with the club around £2.5m in debt.
It was an economic miracle which still beggars belief. I cannot explain how on earth this was achieved.
So Fergus, take a bow, you were years ahead of your time; ruthlessly uncompromising, just when we needed the same, but to those who only wanted to do their bit, without a wish for credit or glory, treat yourself this Pancake Tuesday, you deserve it. Every goal since is down to you.
Congratulations to Peter Lawwell on his appointment to the executive board of the European Club Association (ECA), alongside Bayern’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Milan’s Umberto Gandini, Ajax’ van der Sar and Ivan Gazidis of Arsenal; a heavy-hitting team. The appointment reflects not only on Peter Lawwell but on the fans and everyone who makes the club what it is.
Celtic are the club who more than any other in Europe have been disenfranchised by the drift of football success away from meritocracy to TV markets. Denied access to the TV markets neighbours enjoy, their status will inevitably decline further compared to those in other territories.
Do the ECA care? They will now. If football is to continue its 150 year tradition as a meritocratic sport, structural change must come. Celtic have been promoting this message consistently for years, so the ECA know who they have invited into the room. Let’s get on with it.
Seville, The Celtic Movement, launches this month.
“The long walk home from the game was memorable for the incredible reaction we got from the locals. They applauded each of us as we walked past their homes in recognition of what took place in their city throughout the day. Things like this don’t happen but that day was different. Seville, like Lisbon, will always remember Celtic.”
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