PETER Lawwell yesterday insisted that Celtic had no need to enter another joint shirt sponsorship deal with Rangers after announcing a stand-alone partnership with Magners.
The cider brand name will be on Celtic's shirts for three years starting next season and Lawwell said the deal was worth more than the current sponsorship with Tennent's, which reportedly earns £1.5m per year. That deal is worth the same to Rangers but, unlike CR Smith, Carling and Tennent's, the Magners name will be on only Celtic's strips rather than those of both Old Firm clubs. Magners is owned by C&C Group which also owns Tennent's.
Some Celtic fans had attempted to have a resolution passed at the annual general meeting in November which would commit the club to no longer entering sponsorship deals with Rangers. The Celtic board refused to support that at the time, but yesterday Lawwell revealed that the partnership with Magners had already been agreed before that agm took place.
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"We knew we were doing it and couldn't say so," he said. "They are different clubs with different values, histories, standards, traditions, different offerings I think in some ways. But in the past genuinely it was Martin Bain [the former Rangers chief executive] and myself who always set out on our own but circumstances always brought you back together because it was a local sponsor who needed both and so you ended up back there."
Companies have been wary of sponsoring one Old Firm club, and not the other, for fear of alienating one huge set of supporters. Tom McCusker, Magners managing director, stressed that his company was still involved with Rangers. "We're involved with Rangers, because we are their sponsors through the Tennent's brand. That will remain this season. Negotiations we have with them or anybody else are completely confidential and we can't talk about that.
"We started negotiations with Celtic quite a while ago. And it was always our aspiration to have a three-year agreement with Celtic to take them through their 125 year anniversary, which coincided with the Tennent's 125-year anniversary."
The company previously bought naming rights for the Magners League in rugby union as well as sponsoring individual rugby league clubs and, in football, Dundee and Preston North End.
Meanwhile Lawwell said he was unconcerned by criticism of league reconstruction by Jim Traynor, Rangers director of communications, or by his suggestion that Celtic had been influential in forming opinion against them during last summer's votes on what should happen to the Ibrox club. "We're in a good place. We're not complacent but we're in a decent place and are going to look after our own business. These little things don't matter, really."
Some Celtic fans wish to discontinue use of the phrase "Old Firm" because it binds the two clubs – some Rangers fans feel the same way – but Lawwell was uninterested. "Again, we should leave it behind – not the Old Firm tag, but the whole subject – because there is positivity. Let's not go back into negativity and talking about other people's business and let everyone get on with their own.
Lawwell claimed that, on balance, he did not miss Old Firm games. "Not really. There are pluses and there are minuses clearly. You miss the pros and not the cons, so it balances itself out. But you wouldn't swap it for the Champions League."
Celtic have had only one expression of interest in a player since the transfer window opened and manager Neil Lennon is under no pressure to sell, said Lawwell. The priority is to look for additions to join loan signing Rami Gershon and also to work towards a successful conclusion to talks on contract extension offers to Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama.
"I've had one call for one player, but it wasn't an offer, just a 'what's the story' call. Ideally I'd like a conclusion to the Hooper talks. Neil wants him to stay, we want him to stay. He has been a revelation here. Gary has the last 16 [of the Champions League] to keep him here. He has Celtic, he has everything that goes around Celtic.
"We would hope to hold on to him in January. We would hope to hold on to all our players in January and get to the last 16 of the Champions League [with the squad intact] because the manager wants it and that's what we will try and do. Neil wants to keep the squad together and, if we can, that's what we will do. If we can add to it we will add to it. We have set down a strategy in terms of the type of player we want to bring in."
Celtic's friendly against Steaua Bucharest, which will be played during their winter training camp in Spain, will be shown live by ESPN on Tuesday January 15, with a 6.30pm kick-off (UK time).