One of the more shameful days in the last 20 years at Celtic Park was the day Fergus was booed. I know no-one who did it and was almost shaking with anger at those who did. I have subsequently heard some try to defend the reasons, but the arguments don’t stack up. When others sat around on the side lines, Fergus stood up and saved our club. He subsequently gave every one of us the opportunity to own a part of our club and now 29,000 of us have a say in how our club is run.
The events of Fergus’s arrival are well documented and I do not need to detail them here and I accept that Fergus may not have been someone that I would have enjoyed doing business with but he stepped in when others couldn’t or wouldn’t and put his money down to save the club. He had a 5 year business plan in place and delivered on it all.
Rangers were miles ahead of us on and off the park. The unfortunate events of the Ibrox disaster meant that they began planning an all seater stadium in the 1970’s and by the time of the Souness revolution that was virtually all in place. When commercialism in football blossomed, Rangers had the stadium to take advantage of the new “corporate supporter.” We didn’t.
By 1994 Rangers had been outperforming us for 8 years. Fergus arrived and promised to have us on an equal footing with Rangers within 5 years. He promised a business model that would deliver a 60,000 all seater stadium – a task that Rangers had spent nearly 20 years delivering. Whilst he was doing that he would also spend just 5 years recovering the lost ground to Rangers. He not only put the initial money up to save the club, but he’d also spend the next 5 years working to make sure it happened. Moreover as the last few years have demonstrated, whilst Murray did this on the never never, Fergus did it and kept our club financially sound.
Since then I have heard a couple of people explain why they do not believe he was the great hero. Below are their comments and why I believe their arguments don’t hold water.
- He was just one of a number of suitors.
Yes he may well have been, but Brian Dempsey had been on the scene challenging the old board for 4 years and hadn’t delivered. The Rangers supporting business world were in their 2nd & 3rd generation and there were wealthy Rangers supporting families. Most of the wealthy Celts were self-made people. Whilst they had cash few, if any, had the multi-millions required to guarantee the clubs debts. Indeed on the day when the bank demanded £1m in 24 hours to prevent administration, Dempsey had called Fergus as he didn’t have the money.
- It was a sure thing
At the time, Celtic had an average attendance just below 30,000 and this had been the case for some time. No-one could say that you could get these people back and no-one could say you could get tens of thousands to put their hands in their pockets and buy shares. Indeed as the documentary reminds, immediately before the share launch we had just lost the league cup final to Raith Rovers.
- He Didn’t Back The Team Enough
I recently heard Barry Hearn commenting on the challenges of being a chairman. “Take a poll of supporters and ask if they’d rather spend the available cash on a new stand or a new forward. Supporters will always chose the forward, but sometimes the club needs the stand.” Fergus new that we needed strong foundations put in place. That meant building the stadium first. He delivered a 60,000 stadium without us being burdened in debt. That is incredible.
- He tried to ruin our heritage
I always believed that those who feared boys against bigotry were missing the point. Fergus wanted to bring back “the missing 30,000,” he also needed sponsorship and commercial partners. To do those things you can’t have some of the more extreme songs. For me Fergus was making Celtic park a more inviting place to come. He introduced the Fields on the tannoy and virtually eradicated the songs many of us despise from Celtic Park.
- It wasn’t his money, it was ours. The fans bought the shares.
Yes we did and wasn’t that wonderful, but don’t forget, before anyone knew that 14,000 of us would initially put our hands in our pockets for upwards of £600 each, Fergus risked virtually his life savings. He gave us all the faith and made it possible with loan schemes for Celtic to have the most successful share issue in British football. Furthermore in this time of discussions about fan ownership of a football club, as a consequence of Fergus, 29,000 of us own a bit of Celtic. That is incredible and something we should all be rightly proud of.
- He left and took the cash
Yes he did and I don’t begrudge him one penny. He risked all and delivered what he promised. He deserves a return. For those who doubt, let me ask this. How certain are you that Celtic will finish in the top two next year. You’d bet your house right? Right? OK, remortgage the house, take all your life savings and you and me will go to the bookies and put a bet on. No? That’s what Fergus did.
Fergus came and delivered everything he promised, nothing more, nothing less. He put in place the foundations (foundations we nearly ruined within 9 months of him leaving!) and we have seen the fruits of his labours since;
- He put up the cash 8 minutes before we went into administration
- He kept us at Paradise when others said we had to move
- He brought back the missing 30,000
- He caught up with Rangers who had a 20 year start
- He took ownership of the club away from a few families and now 29,000 of us have a share
- Inside 10 years of his arrival we were in a European final
It’s time to honour Fergus. It’s time for the Fergus McCann Stand.