If you have a sofa - hide behind it now, because here comes
season 93-94. The year of bucket seats in the Jungle, Lou Macari
and, of course, Wayne 'Bertie' Biggins. And if those three haven't
got you reaching for the pills then read on...
the Friday February 25th the board called a press conference.
This was to be a dramatic announcement. Cambuslang was a reality.
David Smith, Patrick Nally and Kevin Kelly faced the media to
deliver one of the most astonishing addresses ever given to the
Scottish football press. In a pronouncement to match the 'Unsinkable'
tag applied to Titanic, Smith told an incredulous press pack that
the funding for Cambuslang was in place thanks to a London-based
company called Gefinor. There was to be a share issue which would
finally allow fans to buy shares. The board, we were being led
to believe, had come through against all the odds and these plans
for our Brave New Celtic World would be ratified at an EGM.
posture during all this was something to behold - sitting with
his arms folded as tight as they could get, his delivery was determined
to the point of contemptuous. Patrick Nally was his usual bombastic
self while Kevin Kelly, meanwhile, sat with the best 'I'm a very
powerful business man' look that he could muster.
Everyone knew it was a complete fairy story. Worse yet, it took
about an hour to prove it. Gefinor were contacted. They denied
all knowledge of finding money to give to the Celtic board. Superstadia,
the company who were to design the new stadium, knew nothing about
it, although they were adamant that they would be building it.
Their high powered, moving and shaking offices looked like some
kind of dodgy taxi rank. The whole plan was ridiculed on the evening
news programmes. It was to be the last misjudgement of the Kelly/White/Grant
The following Tuesday Gefinor officially stated that they had
nothing to do with the Celtic plans. They had held talks with
Stadivarious, but nothing was agreed, or signed. An executive
for the bank said that they were, 'Shocked by the announcement
of a deal'. It was all going seriously wrong for the board now.
Wednesday March 2nd was one of the strangest days Celtic Park
has ever seen. The Celts for Change pressure group had declared
an official boycott of the game. They were pretty confident that
fewer than 10,000 people would attend. The board disagreed. Celts
for Change stationed someone at every turnstile; they would compile
their own attendance figure. When released the figures would differ
by 2,000. But by then attendance figures were the last thing on
the mind of the board members. The Bank of Scotland had received
a request for payment from Middlesborough. They wanted the money
they were owed for Willie Falconer. The bank refused.
contacted the board demanding an immediate meeting regarding the
level of debt at the club. In attendance for the board were Kevin
Kelly, Tom Grant, James Farrell and Jack McGinn. The Bank put
the club's financial position to the assembled directors. They
sat in stunned silence. What the bank was telling them bore little
resemblance to what they had been told by David Smith. Basically
the bank was ready to call in the receivers. Michael Kelly later
said he thought this was a bluff by the bank!
Immediately after the meeting the bank released a statement saying
that the club was in, 'Immediate and dire peril of being put into
receivership.' An indication of how badly the club had been managed
was the value of Celtic's net assets - one sixtieth of Rangers'
value; even Thistle were valued at four times Celtic's worth!
Kevin Kelly called for the resignations of David Smith, and Chris
White on the basis that they had misled the board regarding the
financial situation. He announced that the club had entered negotiations
with Brain Dempsey and Fergus McCann over the future of the club.
TV crew found David Smith at Glasgow airport; he was on his way
to Celtic Park, and still trying to talk his way out of it. Things
had been fine, he maintained, until the first 10 minutes of the
New Year Old Firm game and the cup defeat by Motherwell.
and Chris White departed, selling their shares to McCann for a
tidy sum, and Michael Kelly seethed off into the distance. Having
sold his shares as well he was under the impression his cousin
Kevin would sell too, and was deeply unhappy at Kevin's decision
to stay. Mind you, we were all a bit gutted that Kev was still
Kelly would later describe the removal of the old board as, 'The
dirty campaign, conceived in vengeance, born in deceit.' That
may well have been the case, but the fact was that the family
dynasty that had controlled the club for nearly a century had
constituted nothing more than a gravy train for those lucky enough
to be part of it. The members of those families considered the
money that people like you and I paid to see Celtic to be their
money. Anyone who dared try and ask for more was cast out, branded
as greedy, unworthy of the Celtic jersey. And the worst part of
it was that for too many years than we'd like to mention we all
believed it. They fed us a mountain of garbage about the honour
of wearing the jersey being worth more than money, and it was
swallowed whole. Players like Dalglish and Nicholas were pilloried
because they knew their worth and weren't prepared to let themselves
be short changed so that the directors could eat in the best places,
and live in best houses on the strength of the talent of others
The situation was summed up in the leader article of NTV 48; 'All
we are left to do is regret the lost opportunities, the lost five
years, the hundreds and thousands of pounds that could have been
invested in the club instead of being wasted if these tiny, frightened
men had, just once, put Celtic first.'
Five years? Try ninety.
the end of Friday the 4th of March Celtic had a new team at the
helm. The car park at Celtic Park was filled with jubilant fans,
one of them yelling at the top of his voice the newspaper headline
for the day - McCann's the Man!
Bunnet had dunnit. Fergus McCann was the CEO, Dominic Keane was
a director, Michael MacDonald (stepson of Gerald Weisfeld) was
also now a director. Curiously, the man who had been at the forefront
of the whole thing, Brian Dempsey, was not. He claimed to have
no interest in returning to the Celtic Board, although he would
be investing a substantial sum in the club. However this money
never appeared, and Dempsey's relationship with McCann quickly
soured. There are many rumours why this happened, most of them
libellous. Suffice to say that McCann decided not to move the
club from Parkhead, and Brian Dempsey's land in the Robroyston
area remained undeveloped.
next day the team took to the field at McDairmid Park. It was
only seventeen weeks since our last visit there, but in that time
we'd gone through four managers and two boards. The ground was
packed out with jubilant Celtic fans with many more watching from
vantage points outside the ground. To signal a real change the
team actually won an away fixture. Paul Byrne scored the first
goal of the new era in the first minute, and that was enough to
win the game.
followed that with a 0:0 at Easter Road, noteworthy only for the
first appearance as a substitute of a youngster called Simon Donnelly.
between those fixtures we saw the departure from Celtic Park of
the man, the myth, the legend that was Wayne Biggins. Having scored
the grand total of zero goals for the team, Macari somehow managed
to convince Joe Jordan to part with a sum of money for this most
worthless of players.
first home game under McCann saw Celtic Park hold its biggest
non-Old Firm crowd for several years. Over 36,000 turned up to
give the Bunnet an indication of what kind of support Celtic could
get. Unfortunately the team gave a performance that underlined
why some of those 36,000 had been staying away in the first place.
A truly terrible performance ended with a 1:0 defeat.
next home game, a 2:1 win against Raith (Donnelly scoring both)
was four days later, was played in front of 20,000 fewer spectators.
Clearly it would take more than a better looking balance sheet
to get people back through the Celtic Park turnstiles.