CELTIC SAVIOUR: Fergus McCann...now and then

IT was 20 years ago today...Celtic were on the brink of financial ruin.

Loading Comments
Share
Print
Fergus McCann with a model of Celtic Park's new stand in 1995
Fergus McCann with a model of Celtic Park's new stand in 1995

The clock was running down on attempts to save the Parkhead club from oblivion.

With eight minutes to go before a Bank of Scotland deadline ran out, Fergus McCann, a Scot who had made his millions in Canada, came up with a £1m injection that gave the club room to breathe.

He subsequently put a substantial portion of his wealth into Celtic and then launched a successful share issue at the club.

Two decades on, the man affectionately known as 'The Bunnet' looks back on the trials, tribulations, lessons and successes of his five years at Celtic with Hugh MacDonald...

DESCRIBE the chain of events which preceded March 4, 1994, when Celtic were eight minutes from the precipice?

Briefly, it had become clear to the Bank that they had no chance of being paid by Celtic unless the club obtained new capital.

With the co-operation of David Smith, they had pressured the board by demanding personal guarantees.

Smith, friendly with the Bank, and wanting to get "cash for the families" (which I would not promise) tried to set up a deal that would have them accept an offer from Gerald Weisfeld (a large customer of the bank) that would do this and take the bank off the hook, but provide no new investment in Celtic.

This backfired when a majority of the board dismissed the company officers and rejected the deal. The bank then increased the pressure by setting the deadline for foreclosure to seize the assets. All of this occurred in the few days before March 4.

Had the Bank co-operated with me (I had earlier deposited £11m in that bank to show I had the capital) instead of David Smith - and instead pressured the Board with my plan which was by far the best for the Club, but not the "Custodians" - the crisis could have been avoided.

TWENTY years on, how do you view the SFA in light of the Jorge Cadete affair or the hire of Hampden for a season?

I am not aware of how the SFA operates currently - it has been a long time. I would hope that the culture has changed from what I experienced.

Namely acting in ways that would weaken the Old Firm on the mistaken belief that their smaller member clubs would benefit.

Such as the waste in funding Hampden Park, Glasgow's unnecessary "No.3 Stadium", while blocking Football Trust funding for Celtic Park, or £300,000 in fines and costs on Celtic for engaging a manager who had made clear his wish to apply and had been making only £40,000-per-year in the last year of his contract.

IS there anything you would, on reflection, have done differently at Celtic Park?

It's always easy to be clever, with hindsight. I made mistakes, some of them people mistakes. But no point on dwelling on them now.

AND what do you view as the best, most enduring thing you did at Parkhead?

You mean at Celtic Park? Aside from getting all the essential new capital in place, the best thing overall was getting the best people.

I mean the quality and value of the board I had - and the club now has, the executive management and operating people.

Of course, getting the best players we could afford was critical - and that has been maintained, but the club also has 500 dedicated employees as well. Last but not least, raising an army of 50,000-plus season ticket holders, and now having 28,000 shareholders - these are the key people that make Celtic what it is.

CAN you re-live the booing incident at the unfurling of the league flag and tell us how you felt and do you know how differently you are viewed today by the mass of the support today?

Frankly, I think this was over-publicised. It was disappointing but did not bother me greatly. People pay their money and have the right to applaud or boo as they wish. Every supporter has an opinion - which makes the whole game what it is.

The facts were that we had reclaimed the league title, we had completed the best possible stadium, we had 53,000 season ticket holders and made a record profit.

DID the financial trauma at Rangers in 2012 vindicate the way you ran Celtic and was it an inevitable consequence of the way Rangers were run?

Everybody wants to win all the time, but not everybody can. Football clubs should be ambitious but have to manage risk. Many have not done this well.

And there is great temptation to do expensive, short-term deals.

I worry about the effect of current owners who 'do not care what it costs' such as at Chelsea and Man City on the overall game.

BEFORE the takeover, you offered Celtic's former board £6m on favourable terms to build two new stands. They turned you down? Was that their biggest mistake and was a hostile takeover the only way to enact change?

Looking back, I am glad they did not agree.

Being an investor with no shares or authority, given what I was to learn about the mentality of that board, would have made for an unworkable relationship.

And the task was soon shown to be a lot greater than just a construction and marketing job.

YOU plunged two thirds of your personal wealth into Celtic. Did anyone try to warn you against taking such a risk?

Not that I recall. At the beginning the hard part was to get partners to buy in and stay the course.

I was very fortunate to secure the backing of John Keane, Albert Friedberg and Michael McDonald, which made a big difference, knowing I was not alone.

WHEN you were planning to turn Celtic around as a club and a business, was being invited to play in England ever an ambition? Could it ever happen, and what would it do to Celtic as a club and a business?

The EPL now dwarfs Scottish football financially and makes Celtic's progress a daunting challenge.

Nowadays, supporters want the best, and that is impossible in Scotland generally with too many small clubs.

This is obvious. It is a real achievement for Celtic to play in the Champions League Group stage.

In the last two years they represented the smallest country.

I would like to see the EPL expand and include Celtic. I think it could and should happen.

It would triple the size of the club in financial terms, overnight.

YOU arrived a single man and left Glasgow with a wife and children? Was that more rewarding than anything you did for Celtic?

Absolutely, even though it wasn't part of the Celtic plan!

Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on Evening Times on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

154416

Have you got a story?

Contact the news desk on 0141 302 6520 or email news@eveningtimes.co.uk
Janice Bell

Janice Bell

You Couldn't Make This Up

It takes two to tango, but Strictly it is not

Times Out

Entertainment

Lifestyle

TV Advert
Cat’s Eyes on Glasgow

Cat’s Eyes on Glasgow

Cat Cubie’s job is to find and share with you the fabulous things the city has to offer, from gigs to gastro.

Michelle McManus

Michelle McManus

Sussed in the City

Whatever the result, the fans are Still Game

Gail’s Gab

Gail’s Gab

Gail Sheridan is a mother-of-one and wife to Tommy and she likes to get political with the hot topic of the week in her column Gail’s Gab.