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Michael Kelly: The bank were scared into acting in a cowardly and immoral fashion

Celtic, in March 1994, were not the financial basket case that has been made out.

Michael Kelly, the former Celtic director, outside Parkhead in 1994. Picture: Herald Archive
Michael Kelly, the former Celtic director, outside Parkhead in 1994. Picture: Herald Archive

The bottom line is that canny, dime-conscious Fergus McCann paid me £300 per share for my holding in the club. He did so, because, despite all the hot air surrounding Celtic's plight, it was obvious the club had significant assets that could be exploited to make considerable amounts of money. And McCann did just that, walking away, a few years later, with £35m generated by the supporters.

However, he failed to fulfil one of his major promises to those supporters: that the club would never again be run by a cabal. In fact, the club today is under the control of a single large shareholder over whom the fans who were persuaded to buy shares can exercise no effective constraint. McCann could have avoided that if, on departure, he had gifted his shareholding to the other shareholder supporters.

For all the fuss about a bungling board, it was not the old regime's inability to run Celtic as a business that irked the fans. It was the lack of performance on the field that caused the unrest. Celtic in the late 1980s had to contend with a Rangers team which, though cowboy-built on borrowed sand, proved too strong an outfit for Celtic on the field. The very fans who now laugh at the demise of our rivals were the same people who wanted Celtic to follow the same road.

The discontent was exploited by a group who saw the chance to profit from the situation. Their plan was to drive down the value of the club by a campaign, which included a boycott, to create even more antipathy towards the directors. This scared the Bank of Scotland into stepping in, forcing the shareholders to sell despite the fact the club's own plans for recapitalisation were only six weeks from fruition.

It is no surprise, looking back, that the bank Celtic had used for 106 years behaved in such an immoral and cowardly fashion. A few years later, they raped the whole of the British economy in the same way.

So the fans got their wish. Celtic would be run as a business. However, they confused that with success on the field. McCann delivered one but not the other. He presided over a series of results that represented all-time lows in Celtic history. There were many embarrassing defeats. But one result stands out: Celtic losing to Raith Rovers in the League Cup final. It was the first time Celtic had lost in the cup to a club from a lower division. Sadly, that result has been repeated against a series of minor teams until the present day. So poor was McCann's record that he left Celtic Park not only with a bulging bank balance, but with the boos of the fans ringing in his ears. The club had been re-financed, the stadium transformed, yet the fans' major aspiration had been left unfulfilled.

Since McCann left, thanks to a more balanced approach, trophies have been won, and prestigious results have been recorded in Europe. Indeed, for the level of its revenues, Celtic could be said to have outperformed every other club in Britain.

However, what has kept the fans in raptures is the slow, lingering death of Rangers. The outcomes of the battles between the two have always been the yardstick. Now Celtic have won the war. In my view, it is a mistake to continue celebrating because it was that competition that kept Scottish football alive. The lack of it has already led Celtic to sell marketable players. It is satisfying that the league will still be won but if Rangers were still in contention would Celtic fans be tolerating the level of performance seen this year?

The dilemma facing the owner of Celtic - though a millionaire, he is still not wealthy enough to kiss goodbye to the kind of money ploughed into Chelsea or Manchester City - is whether success in Scotland alone will in the long run be enough to retain the fan base. As football is now structured, the significant funds needed to make Celtic competitive in Europe could never be recovered through trading. Such an investment requires an act of heroic charity.

Celtic's only hope of being in a position to repeat the glories of 1967 is to gain entry to England's Premier League. Revenues would be dramatically enhanced. More importantly, though, money could be risked on additional annual investment in players. There are billionaires interested in the prestige - not available in Scotland - that comes from owning a top English club. The fact that Celtic in England could always be sold on would embolden the current owner.

Yet a move to England is almost inconceivable as things stand. Too many English clubs have a vested interest in keeping Celtic out. And if Scotland were to vote Yes in September, even the dream would vanish; England would not admit a foreign club to its league. The logic is unavoidable: the existing conservative financial policy dictating that any footballing aspirations are limited is correct.

That is the long-term outcome of McCann's intervention. Had the club not been attacked so viciously all those years ago and instead been allowed to pursue its own plans, would things today be materially different? I doubt it.

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