The Lawwell Years

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Free from the crap?

The problem I have with season 2003/04 was what happened in November of that season.  The problem I have with that season is the appointment of a one Peter Lawwell as Chief Executive.

 

 

In hindsight, I now look at season 2003/04 as a swansong.  Lawwell came in midway through it and didn’t have time to put his pieces in place – that would come later.  On the park, Henrik Larsson was in his final season, while many of the players who had played in Seville and then narrowly missed out on the league title just a few days later were hurting from finishing such a glorious season trophyless.  Every Celtic fan I knew in the summer of 2003 was telling their Rangers supporting colleagues and friends to enjoy it while they could because next season we’d show them just how tainted their treble was.  The “Celtic family” were united, to coin a phrase.

 

And boy did we show them.  Not only did we not lose a domestic game until the league was mathematically ours again (barring the one blip at Easter Road in the League Cup quarter final), but we put them to the sword too.  Big John waiting until just after the half time “You’ll Never Walk Alone” had finished in the Broomloan Road end to score the only goal of the game.  Ripping them a new one in the Ne’erday game, including Thommo’s hands-on-hips-I’ll-just-stick-this-in-the-postage-stamp-thank-you-very-much cockiness.  The 90 minutes of “get it right up ye” at Ibrox for the second time within the space of a year with chants of “Bring on Capucho” amid the laughter at the angry groundsmen taking out his permarage on the hundreds of beachballs lying on his turf.  Henrik getting his final goal against them to knock them out the Scottish Cup and remove their last chance of silverware that season.  And then the ultimate humiliation – just as they thought they’d escaped Celtic Park with a draw and not been whitewashed, just as they were singing how much they loved their team… out the road De Boer, lobbed again Stefan, get it round ye celebrations all round as Sutton gets the 92nd minute winner.  Ahh… memories.

 

Sorry, I got sidetracked there…  Where was I?

 

While the footballing side of Celtic were putting on one final show of just how good we were in the early years of the decade, the changes behind the scenes were all the much darker.  O’Neill had seen it coming after Seville, with warnings that Celtic fans were going to have to lower their expectations.  Although his prophetical statement wasn’t immediately obvious due to the wonderful squad he had already assembled, it was to become more apparent in the summer of 2004.

 

Henrik was off to Barcelona, and we all wished him well.  He’d given us a glorious seven years and every one of us who saw him play was privileged to do so.  Who would we get in to replace him though?  He was our highest earner at the club, surely there was wages there to replace him?  Well, given we then persisted with Sutton and Hartson up front you would think not.  Of course, we did get Juninho in from England, so no doubt he ate up a decent wage.

 

Was that a mistake from O’Neill?  Or was it the first indication of interference from higher up?  After all, Juninho was very much suited to a free role, possibly at the front of a midfield triangle.  But O’Neill had stopped played 3-5-2 and was now favouring 4-4-2.  He didn’t fit the new system at all, and that was apparent in the short time he spent at Celtic.  So why was he brought in?  To sell jerseys?  One wonders now if this among other things might have played a part in O’Neill eventually leaving Celtic.

 

Larsson’s “replacement” finally arrived in January – as a six month loan deal for Craig Bellamy.  This was a man who DID cost quite a bit to fund.  He was brought in to excite the fans and try and get us that fourth title in five years.  Unfortunately for us, he picked up a muscle injury in the final game against Rangers and wasn’t there to help us get over the line until the final day.  An expensive gamble that almost but didn’t quite pay off.  Bellamy was no doubt a decent striker, but he was no Henrik.  To be fair, no one is.  The question though for those upstairs is simple – was he value for money?  Maybe.  It’s hard to tell without detailed figures, which you can’t get from annual reports.  But more on them later.

 

The other problem Celtic had was O’Neill.  He had taken his eye of the ball with his wife’s medical condition taking up primary position in his thoughts.  No one would ever argue that was wrong, but it was of course unfortunate for Celtic.  Especially when the media smelled blood and on the final day of the season published a story that he would be leaving Celtic at the end of the season.  There’s nothing like sitting on a huge story until the season is finished to ensure it doesn’t affect the outcome – and this was nothing like it.  No, we’d need to wait until 2010 before the media started doing things like that…

 

The Scottish Cup was of scant consolation to a team and support who were still broken by the late late show at Fir Park the previous week.  But it did allow O’Neill the chance to take the plaudits from the adoring fans one final time.  It seemed a bit of a sad way for the O’Neill era to end though, given how much joy he’d brought over the course of five years.

 

With O’Neill gone, Gordon Strachan was brought in as a replacement.  Another fine example of how Celtic were downsizing – and I don’t mean height.  When O’Neill had joined Celtic, he came as a manager who had won two league cups with Leicester City.  A rising star in England.  Now Celtic were getting a manager who had lost the FA Cup final with Southampton and been relegated with Coventry City.  Still a decent manager by certain measures, but by no means a like for like replacement.

 

Strachan’s first season was a very strange one.  The epic failure in Bratislava was one from which Strachan may never have recovered from had he not almost managed to orchestrate a turnaround of equally epic proportions in the second leg.  It’s possible the the fact they gave it their best shot coupled with his complete inexperience of Europe gave many Celtic fans the chance to say “okay, we’ll give you a chance” rather than “what on earth have we let ourselves in for here?”  Besides, the goal was to bring the title back, Europe was always a bonus in that first season.

 

To be fair to Strachan, he did bring the title back, finishing ahead of Hearts. Yes, Hearts.  Not Rangers.  They finished third.  In the two horse race that is Scottish Football, Rangers came third.  How rubbish must Rangers have been?  Especially when you consider that Hearts actually finished the season pretty poorly given how well they’d started it.  The sad truth is, Celtic had it easy in Strachan’s first season as all around them fell away.  Although, to be fair to Strachan’s team, we did finish miles in front and before the split again.  You can only beat the rubbish in front of you, and he did just that.

 

The two real gems of that first season under Strachan though were the Japanese maestro – Shunsuke Nakamura – and the soon to be christened “Holy Goalie”, Artur Boruc.  Was Strachan involved in these signings?  I have to wonder.  The stories of Boruc being lined up even as O’Neill was still at the club were intriguing at the time, as was the long drawn out battle of Nakamura’s image rights and how much of the slice Celtic would get from them.  Once more we see the business side of Celtic – especially with the benefits of the sudden increase in interest from support in the far east.  An untapped sector if ever there was one.

 

We also saw the business side of Celtic come through in the January transfers.  Roy Keane, who had finally had enough at  Manchester United, was signed up for eighteen months – with a clause that he could chuck it after six if he wanted of course.  Did Celtic really need Keane?  It’s debatable whether the football side did.  The league was effectively won at the Ne’erday game at  Tynecastle, yet Keane wasn’t eligible for that game.  His debut came in the Clyde humiliation in the Scottish Cup, while his brief contributions to the League Cup were a fleeting appearance at the end of the semi and for an hour in a rather one sided final.  To be fair, the star of that final was Jimmy Johnstone, a legend we had lost in the days preceding the game.

 

Keane may not have been “required” for his football abilities, but the fans loved it and bought up replica shirts by the thousands.  I’m also fairly sure we all enjoyed his masterclass of midfield control that he gave at Ibrox – possibly the only time I’ve ever felt 1-0 was a comfortable scoreline.  Of course, when the close season came poor old Keano retired from the game altogether, denying us the chance to see him play for us in the Champions League, but not until after a money-spinning testimonial against his previous club of course.

 

Meanwhile, back with the longer term players, we started to see the decline of the great Seville team.  Chris Sutton left fairly quickly after Strachan started.  Didier Agathe was never seen again after O’Neill left.  Joos Valgaeren was quietly freed.  Alan Thompson spent most of the season in the reserves.  Possibly most depressing of all was the sight of Stilian Petrov with his face tripping him as the rest of the stadium celebrated the SPL trophy returning to Celtic Park.  It was no surprise when he left to join Martin O’Neill at his new club, Aston Villa – Celtic making a tidy profit on him in the process.

 

Of all the Seville players that left, Stilian Petrov was possibly the most disappointing.  Many of the others were nearing the end of their careers.  Most of them left Celtic for free for one reason or another, at great long term expense to the club.  But Petrov was still young, and seen by many Celtic fans as a future captain of the club.  Sadly, for whatever reason, Petrov felt he has to leave Celtic.

 

Was Petrov replaced though?  Some would say that Scott Brown was the replacement – but that didn’t come for another twelve months.  So Celtic went into the 2006/07 season without the driving force of the midfield for the past few seasons.  They also went into it without their top scorer.  Another bizarre decision was to let John Hartson leave the club.  This one came as a bit of a surprise to even Big John himself.

 

But should it have come as a surprise?  By this point, only Bobo Balde remained from the supposed high earners that O’Neill had gifted bumper contracts.  Sadly for Bobo, he would be next to be marginalised at Celtic as Gary Caldwell was brought in to partner Stephen McManus.  Was this a decision made by Strachan, or was it orders from higher up?  Another attempt at cost cutting from on high to get the highest wage earners off the bill?  Not that Bobo bought it.  He dug in and stayed to the bitter end.

 

Despite all of this change, 2006/07 actually appeared to be a decent season on the park.  Making the last 16 of the Champions League was undoubtedly the finest achievement that Celtic had under Gordon Strachan.  Of course, we all know he managed it with the same three home wins, three away defeats that Martin O’Neill had managed in his first crack at the Champions League.  But while O’Neill’s Celtic had finished third with nine points, Strachan’s Celtic had finished second. Luck?  Undoubtedly – the difference in question here was that Rosenborg had failed to take points from Porto in 2001 while Copenhagen had managed to take points from Benfica in 2006.  Nothing to do with anything the two managers at Celtic had done.  Nevertheless, nine points in any Champions League group is an impressive haul that more often than not qualifies you for the latter stages.  As such the luck was more lacking for O’Neill than it was present for Strachan.

 

The last 16 tie against the eventual winners Milan was heartbreaking.  An extra time defeat to the brilliance of Kaka was a sore one to take.  So sore in fact, that Celtic seemed to take it really badly.  A massive lead that had been created over the doomed Paul Le Guen Rangers started to get clawed back.  Rangers fans will tell you it was the Walter Nosurname factor that did it, but all he did was stop Rangers dropping silly points.  He didn’t cause Celtic to start dropping them.

 

The media actually got excited towards the end of the 2006/07 season.  Celtic were stumbling over the finish line and Rangers finally had some cohesion.  Maybe the title race wasn’t dead after all!  Of course, they had to eat their words when once again Celtic clinched the title before the split – albeit thanks once again to the Shunsuke Nakamura free kick roadshow.  Strachan also completed his set of managerial winners medals in Scotland as Celtic won a dire Scottish Cup final courtesy of a Joel-Doumbe goal.  Not bad for a man who had NEVER scored in his career before.

 

By this point though, some fans were none too happy.  I remember at the Scottish Cup final that year a couple of lads booed Celtic off the park at half time.  They were disgusted that once more Celtic were putting in a dire performance and they felt they were being cheated.  I had sympathy with them – I had similar feelings a few weeks previous to the final after I’d witnessed Celtic turn up at Ibrox and not try.  Yes, the league was over, but what Celtic team EVER turns up at Ibrox and doesn’t try?  No Celtic team I ever want to see, that’s for sure.  Amusingly, these two lads at the Scottish Cup final were moaned at by those around them for daring to boo the team.  “That’s not the Celtic way” they proclaimed.  Maybe they were right.  Of course, any moral high ground those around the lads might have had was completely removed from them when they started booing themselves – in this case booing the decision to substitute off Neil Lennon in what had already been announced as his final game for the club he loved.  The two lads who had taken such abuse at half time were quick enough to spot the hypocrisy.

 

The cracks in the Celtic support were starting to appear.  There were those who were happy we were winning.  To be fair to them, that’s what we all want.  It was hard to argue.  Here was Celtic sitting with another league and cup double, having played a Champions League last sixteen tie and gone out narrowly to the eventual winners.  On the bare facts it all looked good.  But of course there’s more to football than just the bare facts.  The slump in form since the defeat to Milan was evident and was showing little or no sign of turning round.  The downsizing in the club was continuing – despite the overpricing of players from Hibernian seemingly showing that we were willing to splash the cash, we were still shopping at a club that had finished sixth in the same league as ourselves in 2007, as well as the lower leagues of England.  Only a few seasons ago we had been sniffing around the likes of Chelsea for their out of sorts strikers.

 

The possible interference from higher up was once again evident at the start of the 2007/08 season.  Kenny Miller, who had started the season with some decent form, was sold off to England at the very end of the transfer window and with no time to source a replacement.  Gordon Strachan certainly hadn’t wanted to lose Miller, and had told the press as much just days previous.  So if the manager hadn’t wanted to let him go, and we had once again qualified for the Champions League – why were we letting an on-form striker, who had scored in that same Champions League the previous season, head off to pastures new?

 

For those who witnessed the 2007/08 season, it was bizarre.  On the one hand, Celtic once more were able to qualify for the last sixteen of the Champions League, and once again it was the three home wins, three away defeats format which did it.  That included a win against the reigning champions of AC Milan, another win against Benfica, and another foe from previous group stages – Shakhtar Donetsk.  But there just wasn’t the same flow about it as there had been before.  Where 12 months previous we had blown Benfica off the park in quite possibly Gordon Strachan’s finest 90 minutes as Celtic manager, this time we had narrowly beaten them 1-0 with a bit of a deflection.  The win against AC Milan was far more impressive, yet it was only a late Scott McDonald winner that clinched it.  A similarly late winner came against Donetsk from Massimo Donati – a player who seemed to indicate Celtic were at least trying to branch out by picking up the cast offs of big European clubs like AC Milan, although he never quite seemed to fit in under Strachan.

 

Sadly for Celtic, the last sixteen would once again produce a huge challenge – this time in Barcelona.  The home game was a fantastic spectacle, as Celtic were simply blown off the park by a better team.  The fact they only lost 3-2 at home was of great credit to Celtic’s will.  Indeed, Barcelona themselves praised Celtic for given them the hardest game they’d had all season.  Although when Celtic turned up at the Camp Nou for the second leg, the Barcelona press were equally mystified as to what had happened to the great team of the first leg.  They just kind of gave up after conceding an early goal.

 

Just as in the previous season, Celtic weren’t quite firing on all cylinders domestically either.  Unusually going out of both cups at home, they found themselves almost out of the SPL race going into the final month.  It was at this point that certain Celtic fans had seen enough and started calling for the manager to go.  It’s quite possible that this was a bit short sighted of those fans, or perhaps more accurately misplaced.  The tragic circumstances that were to unfold regarding Tommy Burns aside, was Strachan really to blame for a team full of substandard players compared to what the Celtic fans had become accustomed to in previous years?  Or was he just following strict guidelines from above, and doing a fairly decent job of it too?

 

As it was, Strachan would get the last laugh.  As Rangers struggled with a congested fixture list, Celtic put together a run of seven straight victories – victories that ultimately saw them crowned champions on the final day.  An emotional day given the funeral of Tommy Burns had taken place just days previously.  The return of Neil Lennon to the coaching staff helped at least partially fill that massive void left by Burns, and I have no doubt that every single member of that team wanted to do the job for Tommy.  They didn’t let him down.

 

You would have thought that the warning signs of the previous season and a half would have shaken Celtic and woken them up from the post-Milan slumber.  Maybe the squad needed an injection of real talent?  Signing Marc Crosas – a man who couldn’t get a game for Barcelona because the Ballon d’Or candidates like Xavi and Iniesta played instead – would seem to indicate that once more we were looking in the right direction.  Glenn Loovens coming in would seem to have indicated that defence was something that needed sorting out too.  Unsuprisingly really, since during the previous season Bobo Balde had been drafted in from the cold to not only play but get our first away clean sheet in a year.  Of course, Bobo was soon back on the outskirts of the team and never to be seen again.  Another bizarre managerial decision, or more command from on high?

 

The quest for four in a row proved to be a futile one sadly.  The poor performance of the team was seen in Europe, where Celtic were out altogether with a game to spare.  Domestically everything seemed a bit rosier, going seven points clear of Rangers just after Christmas.  Rangers were also having a spot of financial trouble – the turkeys of 20 years of mismanagement by Sir Minty Moonbeams, David Murray, finally coming home to roost.

 

Of course, this was just what those upstairs at Celtic Park wanted to hear.  With Rangers now skint and threatening to sell players, they didn’t have to do a thing.  This squad had already won three titles in a row, it could win a fourth against a weak Rangers!  Still, Willo Flood was signed from Dundee United – mere moments after hitting the bar in the penalty shoot out against them at Hampden in the League Cup semi final – and a couple of future “projects” were brought in under the guise of Niall McGinn and Milan Misun.

 

Honestly, by this point you can probably see the pattern.  Celtic make a few signings that appear to have nothing to do with the manager, he wonders what he’s supposed to do with them and tries his best to make it work.  Take Willo Flood for instance.  How many times did Gordon Strachan play him?  He made just six appearances for Celtic, and at least a couple of them weren’t under Strachan.  It’s a source of amazement to me that he has since signed for Middlesbrough and played twice that many when it seemed so clear that Strachan didn’t rate him as highly as some at Celtic did.

 

As we all know – especially if you saw the fantastic Green Brigade banner back in January regarding the SPL trophy and a toilet – the plan of not spending and hoping for the best back fired spectacularly as the Celtic team once more stuttered and slipped up and finally conceded the title to Rangers with a couple of limp 0-0 draws against the Edinburgh pair.  The rumours afterwards were that Strachan had made up his mind to leave around the time of the Rangers game at Christmas.  That would seem to fit with the fact the performances were nowhere near good enough following that game – including a rather poor, if at least effective, League Cup final against Rangers.

 

With Strachan gone, it was time to find another manager.  Once more, those in charge at Celtic saw fit to downsize.  Having gone from an FA Cup loser and one time relegated manager, we went to an FA Cup semi-finalist who had just that season been relegated in Tony Mowbray.  Ach at least he was a former Celtic player.  Another feeble attempt at pandering to Celtic fans?  Only if they actually believed the media perpetrated myth that the Celtic fans didn’t like Strachan because he wasn’t “Celtic minded”.  Has anyone ever met a Celtic fan who actually thought that?

 

Was Mowbray given the chance to build a squad?  Not in the summer he wasn’t.  He was allowed one or two signings, and just as the transfer window was closing his star midfielder was sold from under his nose.  Maybe the rejuvenated Massimo Donati did want to go home.  But I found it rather strange that Tony Mowbray appeared to be building the midfield around him one minute and then we were selling him the next.

 

Mowbray attempted to fill that giant hole in midfield with several different combinations.  None of them seemed to work properly though.  Brown was out injured, Robson seemed to have the fire but lacked the proper control of it, N’Guemo seemed to be hit and miss, Crosas seemed to have the ability but not the fire… you could have made a midfielder out of the lot of them no doubt but trying to find the right combination was like trying to guess the lottery numbers.

 

Another major loss was that of Shunsuke Nakamura.  With another of Lawwell’s “blue chip” players away, who was left to give the Celtic fans something to sing about?  Aiden McGeady?  Artur Boruc?  Both of them had done so in the past, but both of them seemed to struggle badly with the new burden of being the match winner – especially since once of them could only keep the ball out the net so often following mistakes from Loovens, Caldwell and/or McManus.

 

Rather more bizarre was the tale of Danny Fox.  A left back who seemed to be an improvement on Lee Naylor finally.  He was brought in while Celtic were still playing in the Wembley Cup, but was soon returning to England in the January transfer window to go and get relegated with Burnley.  Was he home sick?  Bit odd for a man who just the previous week had been in the Celtic View telling everyone how proud he was to be playing for Scotland!  Why he left was never really disclosed, but some felt he had fallen out with the manager.  It’s possible, as it soon became clear that the manager wasn’t exactly a favourite among the other players of the dressing room.  Scott McDonald and Gary Caldwell, now safely away from Celtic, both disappointingly had digs at him.

 

Of course, with the league slipping away with every passing week, the Celtic board had to be seen to do something.  Having already signed another far east player in Zheng Zhi – and then failed to register him in time for Europe – they had already signed one player you suspect was there for the audience more than for the good of the team.  They quickly followed that up with another in the young Ki-Sung Yeung, a big prospect from Korean football.  But still, they couldn’t let January pass by like they had the previous season.  So did they splash the cash?  Well… not really.  The selling of a number of players to England certainly helped free the wage bill and generate some funds, but what came in was hardly awe-inspiring… or expensive.  Sure, they strengthened in all the right places – Hooiveld for defence, Rasmussen and Kamara for attack, Braafheid to cover left back – but none of them were household names, or expensive.

 

Of course, then we all got excited when the frequent rumour finally came true – Robbie Keane came to Celtic!

 

Why did we sign Rasmussen then?  Was Rasmussen the choice of Mowbray and Keane the blue chip player that would keep the fans on board that was forced on the manager?  Or was it just fortunate that he became available when he did?  Sadly, looking back on these Lawwell years you find that both stories are quite believable.  The former certainly fits the pattern.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a bit of both though.  The fact Rasmussen spent quite as much time on the bench as he did would seem to indicate something wasn’t quite right there.

 

Sadly for Robbie the dream became something of a nightmare as the league continued to slip away and the Scottish Cup disappeared in another humiliating defeat to a first division team.  Sadly for Mowbray he was only here to see the first of those.

 

What’s to come this summer?  Keane’s away back to Spurs.  There’s talk Boruc and McGeady will leave us too.  No more stars.  No more blue chip players.  We still don’t have a manager officially yet, and if we do get one will his pedigree be that of O’Neill, Strachan or Mowbray?  Or will be get one with no pedigree at all?  After the season we’ve just had I’m not sure that would be any more of a risk.

 

Seven years since Seville.  Seven years of what looks like Peter Lawwell calling the shots.  We’ve seen Celtic go from Douglas; Valgaren, Mjallby, Balde; Agathe, Lennon, Petrov, Lambert, Thompson; Sutton, Larsson to Zaluska; Hinkel, O’Dea, Thompson, Naylor; McGeady, Brown, N’Guemo, Zhi; Samaras, Fortune.  That’s downsizing in every single area of the field.

 

So… we’ve cut back on wages then, right?  Well, it’s only May, so we can’t tell where this latest team fits on a balance sheet just yet.  But what we can do is look back over the rest of this current regime’s favourite aspect of Celtic.

 

Now, I’m no financial expert; far from it.  I’m fairly certain that finances when it comes to big football clubs like Celtic are a lot more complicated than I’m about to go into.  But what I do know is that you can still take things as simply as this – what did we take in (Turnover), and what did it cost us to do it (Operating Expenses) – and get something worthwhile from it.  Thanks to the wonderful Celtic Wiki you can go look at all the annual reports yourselves.  But for now I’ve clipped out the important figures.

 

June 2003 – the Seville season and the last report before Peter Lawwell came on board.

 

·        Turnover £60.569m

·        Operating Expenses £53.839m

 

So that’s the benchmark.  For Peter Lawell to have been doing his job properly, we should have been turnover go up and/or more importantly if we’re downsizing, operating expenses go down.  Lets see how we did in that first season.  June 2004.

 

·        Turnover £69.020m

·        Operating Expenses £64.15m

 

Fair enough.  Turnover went up, but so did the operating expenses.  In fact, the operating expenses went up more.  I suppose we had a lot of bonuses to pay out in this season compared to the previous one.  How about O’Neill’s final season then?  June 2005.

 

·        Turnover £62.168m

·        Operating Expenses £58.068m

 

Less Europe, less money in.  But less money out too.  Oddly, still more than the Seville season.  Still, it’s pretty much on a par so far with what you’d expect.  So how about Strachan’s first season?  June 2006.

 

·        Turnover £57.411m

·        Operating Expenses £53.674m

 

The lack of Champions League hurt, but we kept the expenses down to match, so I suppose we shouldn’t grumble.  You can kind of see the downsizing happening already though.  Lets keep going.  June 2007.

 

·        Turnover £75.237m

·        Operating Expenses £59.283m

 

Amazing the difference the Champions League makes, isn’t it?  Nearly £18 million up on the turnover of the previous season.  Operating expenses up too, but not by as much.  I’m sure Peter gave himself a pat on the head here.  How about June 2008?

 

·        Turnover £72.95m

·        Operating Expenses £64.1m

 

 

Another last 16, another bumper turnover.  Well done Peter.  More big fat bonus for you!  Maybe that explains why the Operating costs have gone up another £5 million when turnover is slightly down on the previous season.  What about last season then?  June 2009.

 

·        Turnover £72.59m

·        Operating Expenses £61.36m

 

Not bad considering there was no Champions League last 16 this time round.  He’s even got the Operating Expenses down a bit too.  Another big fat bonus for Peter then.

 

Hang on a minute though.  Look back to 2003.  Operating Expenses – £53.839m.  Now they’re £61.36m?  I don’t know about you, but I’d have thought the playing staff at a football club were the single biggest expense you would incur?  Why then are we shelling out £7.5 million more than we did in the Seville season when we FAMOUSLY didn’t buy anyone in the 2008/09 season?

 

Is it possible I’ve missed something here?  Aren’t we accepting that Celtic have downsized here?  Haven’t we made cuts all over the PLC, from ticket office to catering to the playing staff themselves, to ensure operating costs are kept to a minimum?  Haven’t we drastically reduced the wage bill since Seville in an effort to reduce the debt?  That’s what they keep telling us.  Sure, we’re making £12 million more than we did in the Seville season.  Good job, all those shirt sales in Japan and China must be doing some good after all.  That will no doubt impact the debt – and it has if you look at that figure.  But given we’ve been served up relative garbage for the last few seasons, do you really think that’s going to continue?  Can you really see that turnover figure being anything like that in the June 2010 annual report?

 

Of course not.  Just look at Sky Sports News.  The figures indicate that for the first time since Celtic Park was completed in 1998, the average attendance there was LOWER than at Ibrox despite its capacity being 10,000 less than Celtic Park.  No one has been turning up to buy the pies, match day programmes, or any of the other match enhancing experiences you might get.  No one wanted to buy spare tickets for the Rangers game.  And no one is going to be forking out to renew their season tickets as early as they did last season so you could fiddle with the figures and make the numbers look pretty.  But then you screwed that one up yourselves.

 

The Peter Lawwell years have been all about downsizing for Celtic.  Downsizing of the playing squad, downsizing of the football management, downsizing of the ambition of the club.  Sadly though, it appears that despite all the song and dance, the one thing they haven’t managed to downsize is the cost.  Indeed, from what I can see that is on the up.  And not just the financial cost, but the most important cost all: the fan base itself.

 

As a great man once said, Celtic without the fans are nothing.  The old board learned this the hard way.  What will Peter Lawwell do?  From the recent “look at this great fan that has renewed their season  ticket already” features on the Celtic web site, I fear he’s going to continue with the emotional blackmail of the “Celtic family” rather than anything that’s actually beneficial to the football club.

 

But you never know.  Maybe he’ll turn over a new leaf.  After all, he’s decided to come down from his mighty tower and talk to the fans for a change.  I await the outcome of the “Meet the Fans” with great anticipation.  I only hope they’re not another method of emotionally blackmailing the support.  Or worse still, a platform to emit green and white moonbeams.

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