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Brian Quinn: we should have a memorial to Fergus McCann

BRIAN Quinn CBE last night threw his considerable clout behind the campaign to have some permanent reminder of Fergus McCann's time at Celtic built into the bricks and mortar at Parkhead.

Brian Quinn dons a Fergus McCann bunnet at Celtic Park
Brian Quinn dons a Fergus McCann bunnet at Celtic Park

There has been talk of naming a stand after the man who took over the club 20 years ago this week, or alternatively commissioning a statue to sit in the environs of the ground he rebuilt to its current state, and former chairman Quinn is happy to endorse such a plan. "Some formal recognition for Fergus?" he said. "I would support that if it was the recommendation of the board."

Quinn was still occupied with his directorship at the Bank of England two decades ago when McCann's 11th-hour machinations wrested the club from the ancestral hold of the Kelly and White families, but upon his retirement from that role he was soon approached to form part of a new plc board at Celtic, along with the likes of Dermot Desmond and Sir Patrick Sheehy. Upon McCann's departure, Quinn would spend seven years as chairman, during which time the club won five SPL titles, four Scottish Cups and three League Cups.

There is clearly huge respect between the two men, but it was not always sweetness and light. So concerned, for instance, were the board about reading about transfer targets through the media that a clear-the-air meeting was convened in Preston ahead of a Uefa Cup match against Blackburn.

"By the time I got there Fergus was rebuilding the club," Quinn said. "He effectively recruited a new board, but we were people who had quite a bit of experience of business and professional life. I won't pretend there weren't disagreements.

"It was a bit embarrassing if somebody asked you the question 'are you in the market for so and so?' and you simply weren't able to give an answer. In the end Fergus provided a pretty satisfactory answer which was that the transfer business changes more or less hour by hour, and you can't be picking up the phone and informing every one of your directors at every twist and turn."

Another faultline was McCann's willingness to engage in a legal battle. One of those led to the resignation of SFA chief executive Jim Farry when irregularities were shown up in the ruling body's processing of the Jorge Cadete transfer. It was somehow fitting that McCann married the club lawyer.

Besides that, the backdrop to McCann's time at Celtic, of course, was the attempt to stop a dominant Rangers from winning 10 league championships in a row. Subsequent events have validated McCann's more conservative approach, but Quinn reckons he had such tunnel vision as a businessman that goings-on at any other club were irrelevant.

"When you have a job as big as that to be done, what other people are doing is of maybe tertiary interest," said Quinn. "What was happening on the other side of town was of very limited interest to Fergus or the other members of the Celtic board."

Quinn feels the standards set by McCann live on at the club, even if new challenges present themselves. Part of Uefa's Financial Fair Play task force, which is currently investigating 76 European clubs, Quinn admits operating in the Scottish market can be stifling for the club's ambitions.

"The problem we have is the market in which Celtic operate is very much smaller," he said. "The Celtic board and I spent an enormous amount of time trying to explore ways in which we might not just move out of Scotland but bring the Scottish and English teams together, but I don't see any immediate prospect of that."

After yesterday's marking of the 20-year anniversary, a further rapturous reception is sure to follow in August when McCann is due to unfurl the SPFL Premiership flag. If this is a form of revisionism, considering the lifelong Celtic fan with the penchant for bunnets and the golf tourism business in Canada didn't win many popularity contests when he was here, Quinn welcomes the sea change.

He said: "Fergus transformed Celtic, I don't think the depth of his contribution can be overvalued. While he was there, there were occasions, in fact for quite a long time in some of the years when he was there, when he wasn't appreciated. It is excellent that attitudes have changed."

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