PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
agm report 2004
Celtic AGMs follow a routine format which varies little from year to year. Other reports published on websites over the past week or so have even commented on the weather which also appears to be the same each year - frozen, but with enough sun to blind you for most of the morning.
Leaving all that aside, the AGM this year seemed a bit flat. There was definitely a lack of 'buzz about the place'. The attendance also appeared to be down a bit on previous years - and I am not referring to Mr. Desmond here.
We had the usual set of video interviews during which the Chairman, Dermot Desmond and Martin O'Neill gave us their well-prepared answers to a set of well-prepared questions. In this section, Dermot Desmond, repeated, yet again his preference for Celtic to move to the English Premiership; Brian Quinn, repeated the mantra that no more money would be spent unless and until we got a bit further in the Champions League (precisely the wrong way round to look at it as far as most of us are concerned); and Martin O'Neill said an awful lot but, unfortunately, not all of it was coherent.
The resolutions put forward by the Board went through on the nod, although, intriguingly, the very tiny opposition vote got slightly higher as they went down the list. It was almost as though a small number of voters became increasingly resistant as they went through the resolutions.
The two Celtic Trust resolutions provided most of the interest this year as usual, although the Chair changed the format in a way that perhaps should have been challenged at the time. He did not allow for any discussion prior to the vote being taken. He also tried the same last year but was challenged then by Eddie Toner of the Celtic Supporters' Association and forced to allow some discussion.
start the resolution without me
Eddie's absence this year and the failure of anyone else to challenge it quickly enough meant that the process was limited to the resolutions being moved by the Trust, followed by a response from the Chairman and the vote being taken. The Trust also asked for a poll to be taken (it is the right of any shareholder to request this) and the vote was taken, initially, on a show of hands followed by a formal vote at the end of the meeting, the result of which was released the following week.
The first of the resolutions called (for the third year running) for Celtic to investigate a scheme whereby a representative of the support could be elected to the Board of the PLC. The motivating speech (which can be found on the Celtic Trust website along with the supporting statement which was circulated with the AGM papers) concentrated on all the mistakes which might not have been made during the year since the last AGM, had there been a democratically-elected and accountable supporter representative on the Board.
The situation at Manchester United and the vulnerability of Celtic to be taken over by 'a wealthy businessman' with no knowledge or love for the Club was highlighted. Yet again, the Board called for a no vote to this resolution and yet again, the majority of those in attendance voted in favour. What was different this year was that the outcome of the poll showed that the vote in favour of the resolution had gone up to almost 10% of those cast. This is almost double the vote for the same resolution last year. If you take into consideration the fact that around 90% of the votes actually cast are controlled directly by the Board or are cast by people close to the Board, it is a considerable achievement.
The second resolution - which called on the Board to set up a scheme whereby shareholders could choose to reinvest their dividend in return for additional shares (as opposed to taking it out of the club in cash) - was also opposed by the Board. The reasons behind that position were much less clear. Brian Quinn suggested that there was only 'a sliver' between the Board's position and that of the Celtic Trust and that they were calling on shareholders to vote against on a 'technicality'. As predicted by the Trust, the resolution was defeated but the PLC Board has signalled a clear intention to seriously consider such a scheme and, in all probability, will introduce it. Strangely, although it won on the show of hands on the day, the eventual vote for this resolution turned out to be less than for the one on supporter representation.
The next part of the proceedings was the question and answer session. This is the only opportunity that people have to question the Board directly as to their stewardship of our Club. In light of this, some people regarded Peter Lawwell's comments that he was 'irritated' at being asked how the Club's money was being spent, as a bit of a cheek. Being told to go back and read the Financial Report is simply not a good enough response.
greetin' at the meetin'
The usual (but legitimate) complaints were raised regarding the failure to spend on players, the failure to answer letters etc. were aired. One person raised a question over the cost-cutting exercise introduced by Lawwell which resulted in a number of redundancies of, mainly, lower paid employees whilst those at the top of the tree, including Mr. Lawwell himself, were paid hefty bonuses which, in themselves, far outstrip the average earnings of the average fan. We were assured that these payments were all absolutely legitimate and the discussion moved on.
Almost at the last throw of the dice, or, in this case, the last chance at the microphone, one guy stood up and forced a response from Brian Quinn which dominated all the press coverage of the AGM. In language which, it has to be said, was a little bit intemperate, if colourful, this shareholder demanded to know where Dermot Desmond was, whether Martin O'Neill was going to stay and when the Board was going to start spending on the first team. He went on to inform them that if Martin O'Neill left Celtic as a result of the parsimony of the Board, then they could 'go with him'.
The most striking thing about this intervention was the response of Brian Quinn. The normally cool - even a little distant - PLC Chairman became genuinely angry. In a heated outburst, he informed the AGM that the Board 'were not going to take this kind of abuse'. He then went on to say some things which clearly indicated that, in his mind, Celtic PLC and Dermot Desmond are one and the same thing. He told us that he was not going to 'sit there and have Dermot insulted without response'; that 'we were lucky to have Dermot Desmond' and that 'we had a cheek to ask him for more money'.
I have no recollection that anyone did ask him for money - all the interventions were framed in terms of the Board.
who wants to see a millionaire?
He also said, after the AGM, that Dermot had lost millions by investing in Celtic. This statement, which should be challenged, was an extraordinary comment. As a matter of public record he has certainly not lost anything on his 2001 shares. Given the nature of that issue, it is almost impossible for him to do so. In addition, he will be in the same position as the rest of us in terms of the shares he currently holds; that is, he has not actually lost any money on them unless he sells them at a lower price than he bought them for. We all know that our shares are worth less than we paid for them, but unless we sell them now, which most of us won't, it is not a financial loss. The fact that the normally reticent Desmond himself stated in a recent television interview that he was not involved in Celtic to make money makes Quinn's comments even more odd.
So, what started out as a pretty staid and quiet affair, ended up with a bit of excitement at the end. It certainly left us with even more questions to raise about the nature of the involvement of our 'generous benefactor', Mr Desmond, and the precise role he plays within the PLC Board.