A Bond villain once remarked to 007 that he re-appeared “with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season”. I suspect that more than a few Celtic supporters felt the same at the news of Peter Lawwell’s return to the Celtic boardroom,
When he announced that he was leaving, many of us wondered if it was really true. Could the CEO of 17 years, with an ego comparable to an NBA Superstar and who had micro-managed everything during his tenure, really be going? At first it seemed likely that he was. I’m told that negotiations with Eddie Howe began with Howe’s team saying that Lawwell had to be outside the building completely. Now famously those negotiations fell apart but I don’t believe for one second they were down to any interference from the man from Thorntonhall.
No, serious talk of a return started to appear following the demise of Dominic MacKay after less than three months. Negative comments about MacKay from certain writers after his departure made a few of us wonder about what was going on behind the scenes. Then came the appointment of Mark Lawwell as head of Recruitment. Not long after that, the whispers began about Ian Bankier standing down and being replaced by PL. These rumours got such a head of steam that when it was officially announced in the summer that Bankier was going, we were all waiting for the inexorable announcement that the former Chief Executive was coming back.
Questions were asked at the AGM last month as to who the successor would be and how the search for Bankier’s replacement would be conducted. Bankier responded that no decision had been taken and they were hiring the usual firm to do the necessary recruitment checks. Nobody that I know who was in that room believed him for a second. We all knew what was coming and last week it duly arrived Peter Lawwell will be Celtic chairman with effect from the 1st January 2023.
We now await to see what salary he will draw. In Brian Quinn (the last effective Celtic chairman) the salary was £30K. Under Reid and Bankier it has risen to £100K. We do know that in 17 years as CEO he took in £20M. I have written articles bemoaning the transfer strategy, the infrastructure, the inability to learn lessons from clubs outside Scotland, and the complete failure to grow the business. I will therefore try and not repeat myself.
So, to those with a more charitable view than mine of the man once dubbed “Sharp-Suited Man” – In his time as CEO, what was Peter Lawwell’s vision for the club ? What was his ambition ? From what I can see, it was to finish a point ahead of Rangers. And to finish in front of that team, we made him one of the best paid football directors in the UK. He even managed to make it to the top spot a few seasons back. Yet I would argue given the resources we had that domestic success was a really simple task. For most of that time under Lawwell’s leadership, (certainly post 2008) we were up against a rival who had finally been fatally hobbled after decades of hubris. Our league and cup triumphs had very little to do with the board and a lot more to do with the weakness of our rivals.
Our record in Europe post 2004 is all the evidence you need. He inherited a team that had just been to a European final and would beat Barcelona in the UEFA Cup. However most seasons since then – especially since 2009 – have seen horrific failures in qualifying. Whilst we haven’t won a tie in Europe beyond Xmas for almost two decades, I have listed previously the kind of clubs who have made it European quarter finals. And there is a huge financial spin off for doing so. You only have to look at Rangers getting to the Europa Cup Final and then selling a player most of us hadn’t heard of seven months earlier for £20M.
Taking Europe seriously and still being in the competition by the end of March will mean more revenues, more money when it comes to selling players and a far higher profile. But seeing how other teams outside the “Big 5” leagues had achieved it was beyond Peter Lawwell and the board despite the EPL salary he was paid.
He got all that money to basically manage decline. And the very fact that he is being brought back into the fold strongly suggests that this thinking has not gone away. As has been mentioned before, management consultants who got paid to look at Celtic’s business said that we were “an analogue club in a digital age”. On a damp Tuesday afternoon just over one year ago, 50,000 Celtic fans turned up to watch us beat Ferencvaros. Yet from the following afternoon to right now, there remains few avenues for supporters to go to the ground and spend money unless its match day. Our online services look cheap when compared to others. Plans for museums, cafes, hotel, much need training ground improvements, never mind a seriously out-of-date main stand remain just that – plans.
I see that some folk seem to think that having him as Chairman means that he will have little to do with the day to day running and we shouldn’t be bothered about it. For me thats a bit like re-appointing Liz Truss as Culture Secretary and saying she’ll do less damage there. Firstly Peter Lawwell oversaw and interfered with everything whilst he was CEO. Its a hell of an assumption to believe that he won’t stick his oar in where its not wanted now he is back in the boardroom. Secondly the directors box badly needs fresh thinking, new ideas and somebody with ambition to address the issue outlined in the previous paragraph. The re-appointment of Lawwell to the board is proof that the status quo as to how we are run, isn’t about to change.
Its incredible how those running the club never have to look for somebody outside the tent. After a highly paid manager departs for the EPL, we appointment a former manager known to the board with a very patchy record since he left. When we need a new CEO ? Oh look we already had the right person at Celtic, he was just sitting there all the time. When we advertise for a new head of recruitment, wow, the former CEO son’s just happened to be the best candidate. If a review of the football dept is required, who better than another former manager and what luck, his son happened to be just the guy for an assistant coaching role. And speaking of coaches, we are usually so well placed that we nearly always promote from within. So when the Chairmanship of the club comes up for grabs ? Well, no surprises, eh ?
Lets not kid ourselves on, we are back to family dynasties. For Kellys and White read Lawwell and Desmond. Peter and Mark Lawwell have jobs for life at Celtic if they want them – that cannot be in any shape or form, good corporate governance. Ross Desmond is a director in all but name. If you get on with them (like Strachan and Lennon) then you have a great chance of being rewarded with a gig. And with dynasties comes the sense of entitlement. Look at how long board members remain in post. See how salaries have rocketed for directors whilst revenue has remained largely stagnant. It also comes with a hatred of being answerable to anybody – hence they persevered with Neil Lennon as boss as a GIRUY to its own paying customers. We know how it ended for the previous board and I fear that – eventually – the same will happen to the current incumbents. As long as Rangers remain below us, our board will probably get away with it. But if they are ever taken over by somebody with a modicum of sense or ambition we’ll be in deep trouble and at some point in the long term future that will probably happen
One other thing. The Child Abuse scandal that engulfed Celtic Boys Club in the 70s,80s and 90s will soon get to court. I know this is one issue that Celtic fans hate to talk about. Primarily because it is used by supporters of other clubs to taunt us in a vile way with no respect for the victims. I do however fell that its a subject that must be raised. I think how we have handled the scandal since it emerged is nothing short of disgraceful. The way that we have in effect said that the Boys Club was a totally separate entity and none of our responsibility, leaves a sour, bitter taste. I am not a lawyer and therefore legally, the official line from Celtic may be correct. But morally? Give over. !! The idea that this was nothing to do with the club is a nonsense. If that was the case, how was Jock Stein – correctly – able to throw Jim Torbett out ? Why then was Torbett “allowed” back in ? If we didn’t want him and others there, we could have had them removed. We have to be honest about this.
We should have met with the victims, agreed compensation and conducted a full inquiry into who knew what and when and published it. Even if it made uncomfortable reading. Martin Henry’s report for the SFA said that there was a need for football clubs to accept greater responsibility for affiliated youth clubs. Yet as I write this, victims will be going to court shortly in an attempt to get compensation from Celtic.
As I have said, I’m not a lawyer and in court Celtic may win. If we lose however, then this whole affair will have cost us far more financially (a probable seven figure sum more) than had we settled at the start. If that happens then I have no sympathy whatsoever with regards to those running club – my sympathy is reserved for those who suffered the abuse. As I said, we should have reached out to the victims from the beginning and put their interests first. But if having gone down the cold hard headed financial line on this matter and to have subsequently lost then this will reflect abysmally on the board. And if we win, it will be a Pyrrhic victory and I’m at a loss to see how on earth it makes us look good. Either way, to have gone to court will be a PR disaster.
Yet as of the 1st of January next year, the architect of that strategy, when it comes to dealing with the scandal, will be welcomed back into the club like a son or daughter coming back from a gap year. The abuse scandal showed that the most evil in society had infected the game at its roots. Certain Celtic directors from the 80s and early 90s should be ashamed at turning a blind eye to what was going on and be banned from the club. As for the current directors (including PL), none of them can be held responsible for the actual abuse that happened in those appalling episodes within the youth and Boys club setup. But their handling of the issue and an abject lack of compassion to the victims has been miserable to watch. And a defeat in court will surely raise questions about the club and why those running Celtic have decided to invite Peter Lawwell back into the boardroom with a significant role as a director.