We're grateful for McCann's legacy to Celtic but it's still not right to call him a saint

IF Fergus McCann had a pound for every word written about him over the past few days, it would almost match the millions he paid to save Celtic.

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Fergus McCann will return to Celtic Park to unfurl the league championship flag in August
Fergus McCann will return to Celtic Park to unfurl the league championship flag in August

The 20th anniversary of his arrival as the club's saviour minutes before the bank was set to move in has been well marked - certainly far more so than it was 10 years ago.

We can all draw our own conclusion as to why that should be.

What everyone will agree on is that Fergus deserves to be recognised for what he did in March 1994, and in the five years which followed, before - as he promised he would do - he sold up and moved back across the Atlantic.

His legacy was a business which had been put on a sound footing, a stadium completely redeveloped, the recruitment of men of real integrity and ability in key positions, and a team which had prevented Rangers making it 10-in-a-row.

For all of that, every Celtic fan should be eternally grateful. I am.

However, I am a little uncomfortable over the extent to which Fergus's achievements have been portrayed, almost to the point it feels like it has become beatification time for him.

There have even been claims he should be compared with Jock Stein, in terms of the club's history.

Do me a favour. As the wee man himself was prone to say, some people require a reality check.

He played a vital part in the club at a specific and difficult time. He was very much business orientated, and that was needed at that point.

Fergus was at the forefront, but Dermot Desmond underwriting the share issue - which was such a vital part of the plan to turn the club around - and the fans supporting this made it happen.

It was Fergus's leadership, guidance and business acumen that got Celtic where they needed to be.

And if you look at the calibre of people who were brought on board to help and then to carry on the work Fergus started - such as Brian Quinn, Eric Riley, Peter Lawwell (the best chief executive the club has ever had) and Desmond, who put his money in when it was needed, and has kept it there for two decades - that is another very important part of the McCann legacy.

However, there were other aspects of his tenure which did not merit the same level of praise.

Of course, given the circumstances, he had to initiate a sustainable business plan. But, he was so focused on the business I feel he did not always get the balance right between the books and the team,

Others tried to tell him he had to think about the most important people, those who turned up every week to watch the team play.

But, while you could have your say, it was not easy to get him to listen.

I noted Fergus did admit he made some mistakes, in terms of personnel. I would certainly concur with that.

Before I go any further, I want to assure everyone my opinions are not born out of bitterness towards Fergus.

I just want things to be kept in proper perspective. I want him to get the credit he is due, but not to have his involvement with Celtic airbrushed.

That is not necessary, nor is it right.

I worked under Fergus for a couple of years, having been brought back to the club by Tommy Burns when he was manager, and I got on quite well with him.

I found Fergus had a dry sense of humour, at times.

Initially, I did not have a job title, I was there to lend Tommy my experience. Then I became chief scout and interim general manager before becoming assistant to Jock Brown when he was appointed general manager.

The relationship between myself and Jock wasn't right. There were faults on both sides.

I had also asked the club for a wage increase, and my position was made untenable.

I took the club to an industrial tribunal for unfair dismissal and breach of contract - and lost.

Fergus and Celtic had won even before I entered the room on the first day of the hearing, because he was a dogged individual who knew his way around such cases.

But it was a point of principle because of the way I had been treated.

Now, I reckon I should have bitten my tongue and walked.

From my various positions within the structure of the club, I did get a close-up view of how Fergus ran the operation.

Much of it was to be admired, perhaps even more so in hindsight, given how the principles he put in place sustain to this day - the main one being integrity at the core of the business.

You really can't attach a value to that, unless you happen to cast your eyes elsewhere.

Fergus did like to know everything that was happening, and where every penny was being spent. But he did not interfere with how the team was run. He knew his area of expertise, and focused on that.

Fergus did sanction the signing of Paolo di Canio, Jorge Cadete and Pierre van Hooijdonk.

So, although you can say he could be difficult to work with - he was used to operating a one-man business prior to coming to Celtic - he did the deals without questioning if the players were good enough.

I do recall, though, that when I went over to Holland to speak to Pierre, Fergus came with me.

Rob Jansen was Pierre's agent, and, when the pair of them turned up at Schiphol Airport the following day and Fergus discovered they were on the same flight as us, he insisted they got another one, to Edinburgh.

He was worried someone would spot us together and realise a deal was being done.

Rob's fee wasn't too high for that transfer. But Rob remembered that the next time, when he was representing Henrik Larsson.

This was very much Wim Jansen's signing. Rob was wanting a considerable agent's fee, but, given the transfer was costing so little, he was entitled to it.

I phoned Jock Brown to tell him to pay the fee, and Fergus agreed to sign the cheque.

So, there were a lot of pluses about Fergus when it came to getting deals done.

Not everyone was a fan, mind you. When Lou Macari took the club to court after being sacked, the judge, Lady Cosgrove, described Fergus as "devious, dictatorial and arrogant."

I didn't find him devious. He could be a bit dictatorial, which sometimes people in that position are.

I'd say he was more abrasive than arrogant, but the biggest thing about him was his total integrity.

His contribution will be officially recognised when Fergus comes to Parkhead to unfurl the league championship flag in August.

He will get a warm reception, in contrast to the last time he performed this ceremony, in 1998.

He was booed then because, while Celtic has to be run well financially, the fans want to see as good a team as the club can afford playing attractive and successful football.

I bumped into him when the statue of Big Jock was being unveiled outside the ground in 2011, and we had a laugh together.

He was a much more relaxed person, and I asked if he fancied flying back for dinner some time.

Quick as a flash he replied: "Business class, David?"

That's Fergus for you.

Football

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