Prior to this year’s AGM, prematch media hype centred on the controversy on the Green Brigade. Would folk challenge the board over the ban ? If you actually knew what the AGM is like, you would be aware that there would be a solid majority in favour of the board’s handling of the matter. And so it proved
The second question from the floor, demanded that the ban stay although the questioner didn’t help herself by blaming the GB for interrupting the minute’s silence on Remembrance weekend when the Ultras weren’t in the stadium. Near the end a man criticised the board over their Green Brigade stance and despite repeated warnings not to, he went off on a political rant that culminated in him demanding that they board release a statement criticising Israel. The board quite rightly didn’t even respond but merely asked for the next shareholder to come forward with their question.
The more interesting part of the AGM was that despite overwhelming victories with regards to the resolutions, there were shareholders willing to take the board to task over a number of matters. Questions about whether a former CEO should be appointed chairman, director remuneration, our record in Europe, our transfer strategy, plans for the stadium and why we have so much money in the bank were put to the top table.
Now we had the usual, “we have decided in our best interests”, “our pay is comparable to other teams” etc etc….
But there was one thing that the Chairman said I genuinely thought was astonishing. It wasn’t the example being given of Everton and their issues with the EPL as a reason for frugal outlays on players. The idea is as ludicrous as previous year’s analogies to Rangers being liquidated and I don’t think for one minute the board actually believe it. There is more chance of Michael Matheson becoming an IT consultant than there is of Celtic being deducted points for over spending.
No, the the point that made me actually question if I had just heard it correctly, was Peter Lawwell describing us as “one of the best run clubs in Europe.” The tone and way it was delivered was that he really meant it. And its a boast that would embarrass an Apprentice contestant
Now if you want to compare the amount of money in the bank, then yes I suspect when it comes to reserves of cash, we have one of the best current accounts held by a football club anywhere. But since when is that a barometer for judging how solid the foundations are of a side?
In the past decade, three players have come through our youth ranks and made it to be first choice – McGregor, Tierney and Forrest. You could argue that Ralston has proved himself worthy of the squad. That is four players in 10 years. Loads of sides across Europe have far better youth systems than that. See various clubs in Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Croatia, Serbia etc…..We are not one of Europe’s best in this regard, nor close to it.
A questioner at the AGM pointed out the the much vaunted player trading system really is small beer to plenty of other clubs across the continent and England. It was shown that other teams have far higher co-efficients than ours with far better results when it comes to buying and selling players and that what we spend on individuals isn’t enough. Again our transfer strategy shows that we are not amongst Europe’s elite. Your Red Bull Salzburg’s and Benfica’s amongst many many others are miles ahead of us.
Lets turn to our record in Europe. As I write this we have now gone 14 games without winning a CL group tie. We have not won a home CL group tie for over a decade. I could list all the smaller clubs that have knocked us out of European competition since 2014. I could list all the smaller clubs who have remained in European competition by April over the same period but what’s the point?
Here is the most damning statistic. Next year is the 50th anniversary of our European Cup Semi final against Atletico Madrid. In the 50 seasons since then, we have won knockout ties in Europe after Xmas in only two of those years. That means that in 96% of the past half century we have not been in European competition by the time the clocks go forward. That most certainly isn’t indicating that we are one of the best run clubs in Europe. In fact, can you think of a club with an average attendance of 45,000+ which has a worse one ? I’m all ears.
There was another thing the board said at the AGM which I thought spoke volumes. A shareholder asked if there were any plans to address the main stand. Now given the work about to be carried out at Barrowfield and Lennoxtown, it is justifiable for the directors to say that there are no short term plans. However there is currently no hot water in this part of the ground, two women’s toilets for a structure that holds 7,000. No museum, no facilities for press conferences and media facilities that are pre-historic. The roof is difficult to maintain. So surely it HAS to be a long term aim ?
Nope. The cost benefit isn’t there according to Chris McKay whilst admitting it was badly out of date. Michael Nicholson said there were some plans to address “some issues”. My guess is that they may extend it backwards so the European Games no longer have pressers in a tent. But those answers represents a stunning lack of ambition.
Firstly, there is a season ticket waiting list. Why not have the belief that you can build a stadium and a team so that those people currently sitting at home wanting to pay and to watch Celtic but are unable to do so, actually get a chance to part with their hard earned cash? Have the gumption to think ahead and be confident that you can provide a team on the park that folk want to see. An increase in capacity in the main stand could also see things such as the Video screens moved elsewhere in the ground with lower upkeep costs.
Secondly there is the issue about getting folk to come to the ground on non-match days. 50,000 folk turned up to Celtic Park on wet Tuesday afternoon to watch us play Ferencvaros. But most afternoons the ground just lies there empty with the exception of low key stadium tours and a few folk visiting the club shop. The questioner at the AGM did point to Porto and how they use their stadium with an interactive museum and restaurant facilities as a tourist destination. Football tourism is growing. Visitors numbers to the Bernabeu in Madrid now rival the Prado museum. If you want to see museums at Bayern Munich and Ajax you have to book in advance. The museums take you on a history of the club with interactive parts so you can look at important figures from the past. The museums usually finish at the huge club shop with a café and restaurant if you fancy a coffee or a beer or something to eat. They try and give the customer/fan/tourist an experience.
We had plans for a hotel that seem to have fallen by the way side. A well run hotel next to Celtic Park would have little competition locally, would be used for events at the Emirates and ease of access to the M74 and decent transport links to the city centre means that guests do not just have to be connected to events in the East End.
Increasing the capacity to around 65,000 and providing the facilities mentioned in the previous two paragraph aren’t a miracle panacea to the lack of TV money. But they would increase our income if the club is run properly. Now I accept a new main Stand and hotel isn’t inexpensive. Nor should it be done on the cheap – we would have to avoid the repeat of the three quarters size indoor pitch at Lennoxtown debacle. It could possibly cost between £100M and £115m. Can I be so bold as to suggest a combination of three things to fund it ?
(i) A share issue. Its been almost 20 years since the last one. Fans who have not had a chance or who couldn’t afford shares would now have the opportunity to buy them alongside institutional investors who can at least be tempted by how we don’t run up unsustainable debt. (But would Dermot be interested in this given the control he has of the club ?)
(ii) Use some of the money we have in the bank
(iii) Borrowing. Yes other companies do it when it comes to major infrastructure projects
It’s been 25 years since the board invested serious cash on Celtic Park. One of the biggest follies of the previous family dynasties was a failure to do that resulting the infamous quote about Celtic supporters preferring to stand and pipedreams of Cambuslang after the Taylor report. The answer given in the 2023 AGM to the stadium question reeks of a similar complacency. If they had said that in 10 years we would hope that this current part of the ground would look vastly different and be seriously upgraded – addressing the issues which they themselves accept exist – then I could say fair enough. But to just dismiss it as not being cost effective suggests a “we’ll just make do with what we’ve got, thank you very much” attitude. Facility wise our ground is NOT amongst Europe’s best, it doesn’t come close to maximising revenue potential, yet somehow it doesn’t count when the board seeks to measure itself against other European clubs.
At the end of the AGM, the guy sitting next to me said that if the current board had been in charge in 1994 instead of Fergus, we’d have been having the AGM in a stadium with a 40,000 capacity – such is their conservatism and the poverty of aspiration. Given the hubris of the chairman and the lack of forward thinking emanating from the board, it is difficult to disagree