DAY TWO: The firing of Billy McNeill as Celtic's manager was hardly

private -- but how did the press know? In an extract from his new book,

Paradise Lost, MICHAEL KELLY gives his view of intriguing times in the

boardroom. Other characters in the drama: Terry Cassidy, chief

executive; Jack McGinn, chairman; James Farrell, director; Tom Grant,

director; Kevin Kelly, director; Chris White, director; Brian Dempsey,

former director; Mike Stanger, PR associate of Michael Kelly.

AT the beginning of January, 1991, as Terry Cassidy settled into his

new office (which Jack McGinn had graciously given up as the chairman's

suite), Billy McNeill's job was on the line. We hadn't won a trophy for

18 months, we'd lost the Skol Cup Final and the Ne'erday Old Firm match

2-0. This was bracketed by a draw at home against Hearts and a draw at

Easter Road against bottom-placed Hibs. This extended to six our run of

games without a win during the most crucial period of any League season.

Now 15 points behind the leaders, Rangers, it wasn't being disloyal to

recognise that we were not going to win the league.

The board had last discussed the management of the team in the

previous (1990-91) close season, just days after the painful Cup Final

defeat by Aberdeen. The manager assessed the position and put forward

his plans for strengthening the team. The board decided to endorse his

proposals and gave him the financial backing to implement them. After

specifying the players whom he wanted and what he thought that he would

have to pay for them, he was given a free hand to go and get them. In

the event, he spent #2 million on Martin Hayes, Charlie Nicholas and

John Collins. But he was also given a clear warning. ''The directors

pointed out to him that the large outlay of money involved in these

purchases would mean that he would need to produce success in the coming


So, given that a few months later it was clear that things had not

improved, it was valid to return to the question. Such a review would

have been normal practice in any business: a departmental head's

performance would be subject to routine scrutiny following a failure to

meet targets -- and Celtic's target was a trophy every season. But in

football, directors cannot get away with taking normal, sensible steps

like that. Any whisper of it would have been blown into a crisis. So,

determined to avoid any leak, the board met secretly at the SFA offices

to consider McNeill's position. So tight did we manage to keep this

early January meeting, that the press criticised us for not meeting to

discuss the crisis!

It was a very sombre board that convened that evening. Billy's

tremendous record as a player and his outstanding success in both his

terms as manager weighed heavily. But there was a unanimous feeling that

the team simply wasn't going anywhere. Billy had been given a lot of

money to spend and it hadn't produced a winning team. The very mention

of Martin Hayes led to embarrassment. Hayes had been signed from Arsenal

in the summer of 1990 for #650,000. He had appeared only seven times in

the first team by the end of January 1991. The only thing that those few

appearances did for him was to prove that he wasn't up to the job. In

the vernacular, he was a dead loss. If any one factor could be said to

have sealed McNeill's fate, it was the signing of Martin Hayes.

The assessment obviously ranged over broader matters. No minutes were

taken of the meeting but from notes the clear-cut conclusion was that

the manager must go. Farrell wanted him to go right away, and McGinn

thought that Billy deep down had lost it and wanted out. I was not so

sure. I asked: ''Can he retrieve the current situation?'' I argued that

we had to be sure that the person who came in was demonstrably better

than he was. I wasn't convinced that there was a natural successor

available. We needed the European place, and the Cup was about to start.

Were we likely to be in a better position to achieve these targets with

or without McNeill?

Motherwell knocked us out of the Cup after a semi-final replay.

Another blank season, although two hard-fought-for points at Perth in

the last game of the season combined with defeat for Dundee United to

squeeze us into Europe. We beat St Johnstone 3-2 with our first League

penalty of the 1990s! Who says we don't have the referees in our pocket?

Cassidy had been critical of the whole way we handled the manager

issue. Postponing a decision to see the result of a particular game or

because a vital match was coming up seemed to him to be merely

procrastination. So he prepared an options paper on how a change of

manager might or should be dealt with when it came. But we had not asked

for one. It just appeared on our desks before a routine board meeting. A

copy also clearly landed on someone else's desk, and copies subsequently

found their way to Billy McNeill and, most damagingly, to the Sun.

The Sun rang me at home on the Friday evening at around six to ''check

out rumours'' of McNeill's impending departure. From what the reporter

asked, I had the growing feeling that he had actually seen a copy of the

report, but I dead-batted his questions non-committally. Then he asked

if it was true that a draft press release had been prepared and I knew

he could only have got that from the Cassidy document -- it was the

final page.

I phoned Cassidy's home immediately and left a message that he was not

to speak to the press without first ringing me. When he called, I told

him of my fears and advised him either to confirm the truth or to say

nothing at all. But he refused to believe that the Sun had actually got

a copy of the options paper. So, against my advice, he challenged the

Sun to print what they claimed to have got. They did, the following

Monday, and got two stories out of it for the price of one.

The publication of these documents by the Sun was another disastrous

indication that Cassidy had yet to appreciate the media appetite for

Celtic stories and its lack of scruples in obtaining them. There was

nothing at all wrong with the idea of spelling out to a board that he

considered was dithering over the issue exactly what he thought the

procedure should be. He was trying to lead the board through it by the

hand. But, given the enemies that he had already had and the intense

press interest in the manager's position, there was little chance that

the memo would be kept confidential. Cassidy was to discover that Celtic

was full of leaks of facts and fiction -- but the extent of the

treachery astonished him at this moment.

In the event, McNeill's dismissal did not take place until May 22,

1991, but the leak had made it even more of an inevitable decision. The

hold-up was temporary, to give McNeill more than a last chance, just

because he was Billy McNeill. The press made a meal of ''the board's

disgraceful treatment of one of Celtic's greatest sons''. But it was a

press leak which created the bad treatment, not the drawing up of an

options paper. Newspaper hypocrisy at its worst, as Cassidy kept


Cassidy was convinced that the information had been leaked directly

from the board and instituted the usual futile search to find evidence

of the culprit. There even emerged the ludicrous suggestion that the

directors be required to take lie detector tests , arranged through

Glasgow University! Instead, every director had to appear before Chris

White and aver that he was not the mole. I don't know who Chris had to

swear before. But I had gone into my office to look for my copy of the

options paper and couldn't find it. In a state of anxious paranoia

(standard kit, remember, for a Celtic director), my gut instinct

immediately after I had spoken to the Sun was that the leak might have

come from my office.

Either our cleaner, Mrs Gordon, must have thrown it out with rubbish,

where some casual snoop had found it, or it was something more sinister.

So I called in security experts to check my systems and effected the

changes recommended. Six months later, I found the document in a

different file.

It has been claimed that the document was copied in my office by a

member of staff. I don't believe that and, given that I employed 13

people at the time, it leaves an unfair suspicion over 12 of them. But

if it is true, it means that the journalist involved -- and possibly the

newspaper -- handled and published a document which was known to be


We dismissed McNeill after a board meeting in May 1991. It was a

meeting well-trailed in the press. The whole board was present to tell

him. We had all agreed we should do this face to face. We had discussed

the matter many times, but before McNeill came in we discussed it again

-- a final, final review. Then, unbelievably Farrel changed his mind.

''I think he should be given a final year,'' he said suddenly. Everybody

else was astonished, but everybody else stuck to the plan.

We had made it clear to him at the beginning of the season that the

money that we had made available just had to produce results. Instead,

he had made bad buys. There was no willingness to give him yet more

money to waste. Despite pleas to Farrell to make the decision unanimous

for the sake of unity, he refused to budge.

After the decision had been taken, I proposed that Billy be given

another position within the club, not a full-time job but one of a

consultancy nature. I just could not forget the innumerable memorable

moments this man had given me. He had to be sacked, that was the correct

decision -- but as the greatest Celt after Jock Stein, he was someone

with whom the club had to maintain a link. The others unanimously

rejected this proposal as impractical and it was thrown out.

McNeill strode stiffly into the boardroom, lacking his usual air of

camaraderie. He knew what was coming. Under strain, he had difficulty

saying anything. He asked to discuss the terms of his leaving. We all

felt terrible. We thanked him for his service to the club. Then he went

to Cassidy to agree a settlement. It was a very satisfactory deal,

witnessed by the lack of complaint from McNeill ever since, despite what

must have been a sore temptation to speak out during the following

painful and controversial years.

Cassidy's infamous options paper had suggested advertising the

manager's position to attract candidates. So we did. Tommy Craig was

asked to take control in the interim.

From the list of applicants, four were selected for interview: Liam

Brady, Frank Stapleton, Ivan Golac, and Tommy Craig. The press,

amazingly, did not know of the first three. They were backing Craig. I

had a phone call from Wallace Mercer to ask if we were thinking of Joe

Jordan! He obviously hadn't got over the stage of being worried by press

rumours. I gladly told him that he could relax. In fact, in the board's

early discussions Jordan had been considered and passed over fairly

quickly -- because of the negative and boring way Hearts were playing!

After the interviews, Cassidy advised the board to think about their

choice before finalising an appointment. It was a strong short leet.

Craig was ruled out because he was part of the failed McNeill regime.

Golac was very impressive -- cool, charming, with tremendous depth of

knowledge and experience, but too much of a risk for Celtic at this

time, we thought. I liked him and I'm delighted to see how successful

he's become with Dundee United. But I still think that it would have

been too big a gamble for us in the circumstances. Frank Stapleton, then

still a player with Blackburn Rovers, came across as a pleasant,

likeable and honest fellow with a superb personality, but too

inexperienced. It seemed too early for him to take on such a job -- and,

indeed, his failure at Bradford confirmed our decision.

Liam Brady was the big name, with glamorous Italian experience, a

player who had won trophies in England and the Continent. He was

obviously very knowledgeable. A bit introspective for my liking, but he

had considerable charm.

Opinion among the board members was evenly divided: McGinn, Chris and

I backed Brady, while Grant, Farrell and Kevin preferred Stapleton.

Kevin changed his mind to make it Brady. I was pleased. We had made an

imaginative and strong appointment, following the arrival of a bold new

chief executive. I was immensely optimistic that the club could now go

forward into a new era, despite the lack of unanimity among the

directors. All we needed now was a change of luck on the field, and the

fans would rally around us.

Liam was told that the aim was to win a trophy next season. He

accepted this and he appeared to know exactly what was expected of him.

But I now wonder whether he did or not. With hindsight, I think he was

shocked at the intensity of feeling in Scotland and of the saturation

coverage that Celtic affairs received. It is difficult to believe that

the pressure was not as great in Italy; but he was a player there, and a

foreigner, which must have helped isolate him just that little bit. I

think that he was making his comparisons with England. And I don't think

he could believe how seriously and pervasively football was scrutinised

up here.

We also talked at the interview about the training of players. I

really couldn't believe the few hours that professional footballers in

Scotland put in compared with, say, athletes, who train for many more

hours every day, or golfers, who come straight from five-hour

competitive rounds on to the practice ground. Liam agreed and promised

to improve the training schedules and to concentrate on improving ball

skills. One successful tactic Liam introduced early on was mounting a

counter-attack from opponents' corner kicks. I raised this at one board

meeting, complimenting Liam on its success. Then I asked what our plans

were if an opposing team decided to use our tactic against us. It hadn't

even been envisaged.

It was a few days before we could parade Brady in front of the press.

It was one of the biggest media circuses seen at Celtic Park, and he was

well received. I was, for the first time since I'd joined the board just

a year earlier, content enough. It was, after all, another new start.

Liam Brady was given a #2 million budget to spend on players

immediately. Tony Cascarino and Gary Gillespie were his choices.

Cascarino was a failure, but at least Liam managed to swap him for Tommy

Boyd who, while not a total disaster, was certainly not worth the #1

million Liam spent on Cascarino. And we wanted a forward, not a back.

Gillespie, as every Scotland supporter knew, was injury-prone. They were

bad buys, an opinion which everyone shared with me even before we had

seen them perform.

Some have asked me why the board sanctioned them, if it was that

obvious. But a football club director is pretty powerless in such

matters -- at least in formal board meetings. If you blocked the

purchases, the manager would rightly point to your action in any

subsequent lack of success. Managers are paid handsomely. They have to

survive on their own hunches. If they fail, they go. It's as simple as

that. Just weeks into a new managership, failure was not yet on the


But there was underlying external hostility. Looking back, it is easy

to imagine a carefully thought-out plan. The reality, I suspect, was

that the opposition opportunistically took advantage of every adverse

situation -- usually one produced, directly or indirectly, by a bad

result on the field. Throughout the season there were rumblings from

box-holders and sponsors. In June 1991, the existence of an alleged

Weisfeld/McCann bid was discovered; and as the press continued to snipe

at Celtic, so Cassidy continued to snipe at the press, culminating in a

three-page attack in the Celtic View in June, just before Liam Brady was


While leaks and stories of the discontent of various groups with the

board continued, Dempsey ostensibly kept aloof. He did address the

inaugural meeting of ''Save Our Celts'' in June, where he made it very

clear that he was ''not in favour of boycotts''. On a fans' phone-in, he

said: ''I do not wish to further destabilise Celtic in any way

whatsoever. My message to Celtic fans is: ''Keep supporting the team.''

Cassidy's strategy appeared to be to take all the heat off the

individual directors, and to stand in the kitchen alone. It was, in

essence, a negative strategy -- perhaps valuable in the short term,

given the lack of unanimity among the directors, but ultimately doomed

to make matters worse.

After investigation of the options, Cassidy confirmed Michael Kelly

Associates as Celtic's PR consultants at a basic fee of #250 per week

plus ''overtime'', later to be capped by David at #375 per week

including expenses, but I never charged my own hours. On March 14, 1991,

on our recommendation, Cassidy agreed to try a new, more user-friendly

approach to the media. From April 5, 1991 we were asked to arrange

weekly press briefing meetings for him. These were widely welcomed by

astonished hacks, but they didn't last more than four weeks. Cassidy had

decided that confrontation with the press was the best approach to see

them off. His outspoken comments always attracted unwanted headlines.

Off- the-record remarks seemed guaranteed to raise further


Towards the end of April, Cassidy announced the results of a market

research survey into the views and desires of Celtic fans. They were

broadly ignored by the media which were more interested in the dispute

between the club and Paul Elliott over the matter of his housing.

Elliott was one of two Celtic players (the other was Charlie Nicholas)

who got into a fankle as a result of involvement with a complex

tax-avoiding, profit-making, house purchase scheme produced for them by

Brian Dempsey before he was a director. Cassidy took a tough public

stance over Elliott's claims. Predictably, the media made an anti-Celtic

meal of it, and Cassidy blew his top.

Players are always looking for ways to squeeze the last penny out of

their contracts. In particular, they have an even greater resentment

than the rest of us to paying tax. Chris refused adamantly to get

involved in any dodgy tricks. Dempsey, advising McGinn at the time, came

up with a plan. As part of a player contract, he would build and sell a

house to the player. The player would then sell the house at the end of

his three-year contract, making a tax-free gain. Fine, if prices kept

rising; and if they didn't, the first agreement that was concluded

(before I came on the board) provided that the club would make the

short-fall between the #100,000 profit expected and the actual amount.

Paul Elliott moved into his house for 11 days, sold it and asked to

see Mr McGinn. He told the chairman that he had only made #7000 profit

and could he have the other #93,000, please. When the agreement was

checked, it was discovered that it had omitted to oblige Elliott to hold

the house for any particular period. That was what led to the court case

and the out-of-court settlement.

Charlie Nicholas's problem was slightly different. He never got round

to selecting the plot of land on which the house could be built within

the specified period -- but he still wanted the profit of #100,000 that

he was told that he would have made. He was offered an ex gratia payment

of #25,000 at the end of his contract, or when he left if that was

earlier. He turned this down, the press found out, and Celtic were stil

arguing about it when I left.

There are possible tax implications in schemes such as these which the

Inland Revenue decided to investigate in 1992. Among many matters

currently under the microscope is Paul Elliott's transfer from Pisa.

This occurred before I was a director but I understand that Pisa

insisted that part of the #675,000 transfer fee be paid in cash. So

McGinn went down to the bank with officials from the Italian club, drew

out #175,000 in cash and handed it over! However, now the Inland Revenue

is questioning exactly who were present at the bank that day in July


The other transfer which I now know is being questioned is the even

earlier one of Andy Walker from Motherwell in 1987. Celtic increased the

transfer fee by #25,000, which Motherwell then paid to the player.

Celtic indemnified Motherwell from any future liability to pay tax on

the money.

When the Inland Revenue investigation was revealed to the board, the

directors who had been on the board at the relevant time insisted that

everything had been conducted properly and that there would be no

liability falling on the club. If the circumstances were as described by

them then there was no reason to make a provision earlier, nor was one

made in the 1993 accounts.

On May 13, 1991, Mike Stanger wrote the following letter to Cassidy,

without my knowledge:

Dear Terry,

I enclose further transcripts from Saturday's programmes on radio,

which make rather depressing reading.

In the case of any other client, I would be recommending an executive

media training course, but it has been difficult for me to assess to

what extent the high profile of the last few months has been part of

your 'grand plan' for transforming the fortunes of Celtic FC, or how

much of this has taken you as well as me by surprise!

Should the latter be the case, and should you be interested in a media

training course (cost: around #700), I would be happy to arrange it.

As a former BBC producer, I am well aware myself of the unpredictable

nature of journalists. Nevertheless, I remain, as ever, available to

advise you whenever needed, and if possible in advance!

Yours sincerely,

(Mike Stanger)

Senior Consultant

There is no reply in the file.

The bad PR continued into the start of the next season, with the

disclosure of a petty row between Cassidy and Brady. Not the start we


We didn't get the start we wanted on the field, either. Airdrie put us

out of the Skol Cup on penalties in September, 1991. Liam's reaction was

the first sign that he really didn't understand the demands made on

Celtic by our fans.

I was lunching in the Cheese Cake Factory in Rodeo Drive, Beverly

Hills, just as the team bus was pulling out of Broomfield. I phoned home

for the result and spoiled my meal. In fact, the news spoiled the next

few days of my holiday.

I was speechless when I came home to review the papers and find that

Liam had exonerated his players. This showed how out of touch he was

then. In England, big teams do lose Cup matches, and this apparently is

acceptable. But in Scotland Celtic simply cannot be beaten in Cup

competitions by minnows. His reaction seriously affected his credibility

with the fans and with me. Well after the result, I told him how I felt,

and I think to a certain extent he got the message. But I don't think

that he was ever entirely convinced about how seriously he had to take


He was taught another lesson in Switzerland. We had drawn Xamax

Neuchatel in the UEFA Cup, a team we should have beaten easily. Liam

must have thought so as well, because he committed the team to a policy

of attack, which was tantamount to committing suicide. The Swiss won

5-1, our worst European defeat. Despite that, if Nicholas had scored

with an early penalty in the second leg, we still might have got

through, so bad were they. But he missed. The boardroom problems were

clearly worrying him even then.

* Paradise Lost by Michael Kelly is published on Thursday by Canongate

Press, price: #7.99.