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A lasting legacy

THE largest shareholders in Celtic aren't exactly the most demonstrative bunch.

If anything, Chris Trainer, whose Forrest Group owns approximately 10.5% of the club, speaks out in public even less frequently than Irish financier and largest single shareholder Dermot Desmond. But when it comes to the 20th anniversary of Fergus McCann's takeover, he is prepared to make an exception.

Low profile or not, Trainer was an accessory to the momentous events which unfolded 20 years ago this week from the very beginning, meeting the Canada-based lifelong Celtic fan with the idiosyncratic choice of headgear and the burgeoning golf tourism business some 12 months or more before the brinkmanship and bravado which transformed the club from the outdated preserve of the White and Kelly families to the smoothly functioning modern business it is today, complete with state-of-the-art 60,000-seater stadium. But it wasn't until December 1994, and the hugely successful share issue, launched amid a backdrop of defeat to Raith Rovers in the Coca- Cola Cup final, that he was able to put his money where his mouth is.

The intervening years have only enhanced the McCann legend and Trainer is more than happy to add his voice to the fulsome tributes which were paid at yesterday's SPFL Premiership meeting with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Mind you, he admits to feeling rather sheepish in August 1998 when certain of the club's supporters greeted his unfurling of the flag on the occasion of their thwarting Rangers to ten-in-a-row.

"I remember clearly that day and it certainly wasn't the majority of Celtic fans who booed," Trainer told the Sunday Herald. "But there was an element who felt they were being short-changed in some way when it came to the investment in the team. I can't honestly recall the actual conversation I had with Fergus about it, but I do remember sitting there with my toes curling. Feeling anguish that 'my goodness, look where we are, look at the stadium'. We were flying a league championship flag and he had preserved Celtic's record in the history books with the nine-in-a-row thing.

"I very seldom give a quote specifically relating to Celtic, but I think the 20th anniversary of Fergus arriving merits saying something," he added. "We were amongst the original investors who supported the share issue and when you look back at the uncertainty at the time over the fate of the club, and the ambitions that Fergus had, it was unbelievable that he pulled it off in such a successful and spectacular way.

"I had meetings with Fergus and David Low - who was instrumental in it all as well - that pre-date the takeover etc, they go back in fact probably 12 months or more before that. So I was fully engaged and aware of the manoeuvrings and other things that were going on, but it took Fergus to step in and pull all the relevant parties together and secure the control of the club. He never compromised in terms of funding the foundations of Celtic. It was very much get that in place and what will come after, in one of his sayings, was 'jam tomorrow'.

"I didn't have any experience of Fergus being prickly, but I think I knew from the day I met him what we were dealing with. It was very much 'my baw'. My way or the highway. But that got things done. That wasn't to say that he wouldn't listen to people, but he didn't run things by committee it was fair to say. But to be fair he did surround himself with some excellent people and that has led ultimately to the success of the club for the 15 years after he left."

While the backdrop to that jeering back in August 1998 was the departure of manager Wim Jansen, not to mention the perception of parsimony in the club's dealings with top players, once again the same fault lines exist in the East End of Glasgow. While Neil Lennon has performed admirably to keep the club afloat in the Champions League, once again there are cries for further spending on the team. Trainer is happy that the principles of McCann which have served the club so well over the last couple of decades live on through chief executive Peter Lawwell and the current board.

"Peter has been at the club for over 10 years now and he knows it all," he added. "You can trace a legacy back to Fergus in terms of necessary prudence. It has been proven that football is not any different from any other business in that you have to live within your means. It has happened across the city, and happened in the Premiership in England as well: you can't gamble recklessly. We don't speculate with the future generations of Celtic fans."

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