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|Celtic Board - Past | Celtic Takeover | Celtic Board|
- The man who saved Celtic!
- Nicknamed "The Bunnet" as he liked to wear an old style cloth cap ("Bunnet").
- Rebuilt Celtic Park to be the grand stadium it is today.
- Revolutionised the structure of the club and the financial basis of the club.
- So loved by Jorge Cadete who claimed that Fergus McCann made him too stressed to return to Celtic that he named his new budgie "McCann"!
Fergus McCann - Celtic Executive (March 1994 - April 1999)
|"Fergus McCann is the father of the modern day Celtic!"|
Andrew H Smith (ex-Celtic View editor)
In March 1994, expatriate businessman and Celtic supporter Fergus McCann took control of a financially-strained club, in the process ousting a board of directors which included members with long family connections with Celtic. Shortly afterwards, Lou Macari was replaced as team manager by another ex-Celt Tommy Burns. Later that same year, in accordance with Fergus McCann's Five-Year Plan, the club was reconstituted as a plc, a development quickly followed by the most successful share-issue in the history of British football with 10,000 taking up the offer of investing a minimum of £620, thus contributing £14 million towards the re-financing of the club. In April 1999, Fergus McCann departed at the completion of his five-year stint. Allan MacDonald, a former British Aerospace managing director, succeeded him as chief executive.
Only Celtic could ever have a saviour like Fergus McCann. A unique character if ever there was one, and a stand-out with his "bunnet" (cloth cap) in an increasingly Hugo Boss and Armani clad business world. He was both a moderniser yet a throwback to an earlier era of almost Scottish Presbyterian thrift (despite being devoutly Roman Catholic). Obsessive about generating money but not about necessarily spending it. Not someone that will be easy to convey in what he was really like and this article likely only scratches the surface. In many ways that's how he would prefer it.
In our history, our great men have included pillars of the community such as Brother Walfrid, but in many way Fergus was and wasn't the antithesis of Brother Walfrid. Both had ideas and visions of how they wanted Celtic to be, both were strong single minded men and both had a strong religious sense. However, Brother Walfrid was guided by his sense of duty for the church and religion, Fergus by financial and business rationale. What couldn't be argued was their commitment to the club.
In his youth, Fergus McCann was a regular Celtic supporter going to matches on the local supporters' bus before emigrating to Canada. There he settled down and made his riches in the lucrative golfing holiday market. This made him very comfortable, although not as wealthy as Ranger's chairman David Murray, but proved that he was an astute businessman nevertheless. Celtic was an opportunity for Fergus, so his old home of Scotland was where his next venture lay.
As a character he could be quite strange. Brian Dempsey (ex-board member) recalls meeting him and seeing him doing stretching exercises on the floor in his office! A bit funny. Many people just found him too obtuse and difficult to communicate with. Others liked his no nonsense attitude but he was here to do a job in five years (his plan) and nothing was to stop him.
The TakeoverHis first approach to Celtic on a business basis was in the early 1990s. The government endorsed "Taylor Report" enforced a requirement for all top division stadia to be all seated from 1994 onwards. For Celtic this was a major jolt, as Parkhead had probably one of the biggest terracing around, and so redevelopment and investment was required fast. Fergus approached Celtic with an investment proposition of funding to rebuild the stadium in return for a 3-year right to marketing season-tickets, but he was quickly rebuffed. This was a separate proposal from the "Rebel" group of investors at the time (i.e. Brian Dempsey et al).
This didn't put Fergus off, and with renewed vigour he later took up the mantle again with the "Rebel" shareholders for control of Celtic, succeeding after a torrid time saw him ultimately take control of the club with a consortium in 1994 in what was a very bitter battle. At one point during the takeover battle, Fergus was not even allowed into Parkhead and had to do a radio interview in a trailer outside the ground. On the day of the eventual takeover, he stated that the old board would not get "one thin dime" but for commercial reasons the former share holders had to be paid off. Ex-director Michael Kelly departed as bitter as can be and the "Sack the Board" days were now over. As a measure of Fergus' commitment, he put in £9.4m of his money to help rebuild the club and that was the beginning of the new phase for Celtic.
The BusinessThings were never going to be easy and change themselves overnight. Many were too rose-tinted after the takeover, but not Fergus who was always a realist and kept his feet on the ground. That in itself was the basic foundation that underpinned his managerial style.
His promise was simple: to rebuild the stadium, get the club back on its feet and win the league, and then to be judged in five years.
So what did he do? Well, it would take a huge book in itself to be able to go through all of his achievements and below is a listing of some of the major achievements:
- The share issue, and the successful switch from a private limited company to a PLC
- The rebuilding of the stadium
- The Season Tickets sales success
- Raising attendance to the highest in Scotland (and one of the highest in the UK & Europe)
- Expansion of the commercial base of the Club
- The "Bhoys Against Bigotry" campaign
- Raising revenue generation to be highest in Scotland (and again one of the highest in the UK & Europe)
- Planning for the youth academy (donating £1.5m)
- Taking on the SFA and UEFA publicly in the Courts to get fair treatment.
Even if Fergus had only achieved only one of the above successes he'd have been lauded for it, but under his management the list of achievements above is a milestone. For fans brought up post-1994, it is hard for them to fully fathom the poor state that the club was in. The transformation under Fergus has left a legacy that has set a path for the club that should not be diverted from.
In the early days, Fergus had sat himself in the hot seat realising that the whole place needed more than just a dust down. Following a clear-out of the deadwood (i.e. the remaining board members from the old regime and later the manager (Lou Macari)), the priority was to get the financial base of the club up fixed and then to get a new manager (Tommy Burns) which he did in relatively heated circumstances from Kilmarnock.
Next, the subsequent plans for redevelopment of the club hinged on the success of the share club, for which he was much maligned and led to a split from shareholder Brian Dempsey who was it's most vociferous public opponent. It didn't matter. While others pontificated, Fergus just got on with the job, and to his delight the share issue was a huge success, possibly the most successful ever for a football club with the fans pouring in money for investing to re-build the club.
With the finances in place, the next step was the rebuilding of the stadium. Having moved to Hampden temporarily, planning for the stadium itself was contentious. Ideas about moving away from Parkhead were a non-starter due to time constraints imposed by the "Taylor Report" amongst other aspects. Another point was that with crowds at around 30-40k at average, plans to create a 60k seater stadium were ridiculed by many. Fergus was repeatedly advised against such a grand plan, critics fearing large swathes of empty seats if it were built. Fergus simply replied to the critics "They'll come!". Next came the criticisms over season tickets, with former chairman Jack McGinn mocking the idea stating that season tickets were more trouble than they're worth.
Regardless, Fergus persevered, and the successful completion of the stadium and the full-house season ticket sales are testament to his vision and business acumen. His critics were curiously silent after this. Jack McGinn in particular looked as out of touch as he ever was. The stadium has been regularly rated as one of the best in the world for atmosphere, and we have Fergus to thank in large part for this.
An expansion and modernisation of the commercial structure of the club's merchandise also paid dividends. Beforehand, Celtic's merchandising was really a couple of diddy club shops with next to nothing in them (e.g. key chains and rain macs etc). The administration under Fergus McCann really did make a difference and seemed to startle many with the commercial revolution the club was undergoing.
Tackling the SFAProbably McCann's crowning glory was taking on and defeating the incompetent incumbents of the SFA. Delays led to late registration of new signing Jorge Cadete, and so McCann took the SFA to court over this. Derided for this action by various sections of the media, they were left with egg on their face as McCann won the case leading to the resignation of the then Chief Executive Jimy Farry in disgrace. McCann basically was dragging the SFA into the modern age and giving them a public kicking along the way, and showing that Celtic were not going to accept amateurish second class treatment. It was for the time a magnificent victory and achievement, a landmark case.
- Full Story: Link
ManagersEveryone has their weaknesses, and Fergus' Achilles heel was his interpersonal skills, and nowhere better or worse was this shown than in his dealings with the team managers and players. In fairness, managers and players are usually just big kids, but he still had to still deal with them. Going through four managers in his short spell at Celtic shows that there was some problem.
A fuller discussion of the in's and out's can be found on the respective manager's pages:
- Lou Macari: Lou Macari was a certain goner from early on (Macari made few friends within Parkhead at any level during his time as manager), and his quick dismissal followed through to an acrimonious court case where no one came out in a good light, the judge describing Fergus as arrogant and selfish. In his biography, Macari spent a whole chapter or two basically scathing about Fergus and the whole court case, citing complete shock on his treatment and the judge's result.
- Tommy Burns: A difficult relationship but the longest reign. Tommy was an emotional guy and got the backing financially with Fergus. In another sense, as it was Fergus' first real experience working with a football manager, there was probably a lot of naivety on Fergus' part on a manager's mentality and ability. Tommy lasted a long time, so in fairness Fergus did give him more than enough support and chances to do the job, and they worked relatively closely together at many times, although Tommy did say that he probably aged 15-20 years in that short period of time. We all love Tommy but a low point for Tommy was his quite frankly sanctimonious double spread article in the papers over his time at Celtic soon after he left, criticising Fergus amongst others, which really was avoidable and not what we expected from a man of his stature.
- Wim Jansen: A very difficult relationship, probably doomed from the start. To ease up the financial/football team relationship, Jock Brown was brought in as a middle man to work on the financial management side leaving the manager to coach, however the situation actually worsened with Wim leaving at the end of his only season at the club. Fergus was frustrated at the manager's inability to work along business management lines with lists of potential buys & sells and so on for the board to plan from for financial and business reasons. Even though we'd won the league, Fergus was adamant that the club should be run as more than as just as a first XI team. On Wim's departure, Fergus stated that if Wim hadn't left he'd have been sacked anyway. Fergus was correct at the end of it all but not all saw it this way and it led to one of the lowest points in Celtic's history when at the unfurling of the league flag the next season, Fergus was booed by sections of the support. An unnecessary action from the sections of fans in question who were being too myopic. Wim Jansen deserved credit for winning the league as manager but he was not going to be a good long-term appointment taking in many of his decisions during his time at the club. Fergus deserved more respect and understanding, as well as more perspective from the support.
- Jozef Venglos: The last manager in charge with Fergus, and there were fewer problems (Fergus rated Venglos as the best of the managers he dealt with). Venglos seemed to have a better relationship with the board management, but his time at Celtic was short-lived and sadly another managerial appointment failed. Rangers were too far ahead to quickly catch up, and with the press readily attacking Venglos for just about anything, it was not an easy time.
Fergus' only significant management failure in his time was his inability to find the correct club manager/coach and set-up. For a football club this is obviously significant, and he did try to entice big name managers, such as Bobby Robson, but Celtic's slide over the 90s was so bad that it was difficult to attract anyone of major stature to take on the role. Other potential managers were just way out of our ability to pay for them, and Fergus was prudent not to pay over the odds. Everyone has their value.
The PlayersTricky one this, as many players are never going to go open on discussions between themselves and the chairman UNLESS the player has an agent trying to cause trouble. Footballers aren't always the most sensible people, and the 90s was a transition time for players moving from normal wages to mega high-earnings (£10k a week for many and so on), and this was something new for Fergus and the board to deal with. It was a difficult transition, and many players were themselves deluded about the realities of the real world in financial terms.
Contractual spats were a regular feature in the press, with Viduka, Cadete, Van Hooijdonk and Di Canio the stand-outs. The contractual situation with Di Canio almost went to court when Di Canio claimed in his autobiography that Fergus went back on his word over financial re-numeration after the first season. The matter was settled out of court. As for Cadette, well it was always in the papers, and the contractual issues with Viduka were no better. The van Hooijdonk situation was a farce. The Dutchman whinged to the press and declared that "£10k a year is fine for a homeless person but not for a world class footballer!" What a pathetic excuse for a person, and how is any person supposed to deal with someone who comes out with a remark like that? He had to go, and any one who attempts to criticise McCann over this situation should realise that this was to be repeated by the Dutchman again at his later clubs.
So how exactly was Fergus to work in these circumstances? Possibly, he didn't handle them all well and should have realised that. His interpersonal skills have not been his forté, and maybe if he was a bit more pragmatic then the deals could have worked out for the better in private without any media intrusion, but that is easy to say in retrospect.
One example of poor player management was the treatment of Paul McStay. On renewing his contract, after many long years of great loyal service he was offered a relatively poor roll-over contract. At a time when contract pay levels weren't excessive as they are now, for a player of his quality, it was a bad move by Fergus. When the story hit the public headlines, it didn't make for great reading. In fairness, it was McStay who brought the situation to the press.
On the other hand, maybe it was time the club stood up to some of the whining prima-donna players all clubs including ourselves have had (e.g. Di Canio & van Hooijdonk). The club had no public spats with any of the other players (the majority) so why do the few deserve added attention (McStay excluded)? With the exception of Di Canio & Van Hooijdonk (to a limited extent) none of the rest really went on to reach greater heights at club level after leaving Celtic. We can't be held hostage by players and agents, however we have to work with them as they are the most valuable capital the club has and is the reason why we come to Celtic Park. Not an easy one to work out, and no obvious blueprint.
Public criticism of the manThe many times that he was attacked personally (in the press and elsewhere) was astonishing, especially by people without the knowledge or experience to be able to qualify what they were saying. Criticisms from journalists (much of the Scottish press), ex-players (Cadette), ex-board members (Michael Kelly and Brian Dempsey) and even dinosaur rock stars (Jim Kerr) were non-stop in their attacks. The press lapped up in any way a chance to have a dig at Fergus, something that he complained about as well.
Any incident was deemed to show him as a miser and obtuse. One comical report attacked him for not funding the players when out in Germany for socialising (around 1994). This was daft! Why should well off players have to take money off the chief executive for this. The teams are funded to do well on the pitch, anything beyond that is up to themselves to fund themselves.
Churlishly, he was lampooned for his austere dress sense (e.g. the Bunnet), and he was myopically criticised for having spent money on re-buidling the stadium instead of on the team. When the "Bhoys Against Bigotry" campaign was begun, it was ridiculed and criticised more than supported by sections, with many not admitting now to doing so (esp among the media). David Murray at Rangers was lauded even though he did next-to-nothing on the bigotry debate and just leached onto the good work that Fergus had the guts to begun. Didn't stop David Murray jumping on the bandwagon later on claiming he was some kind of pioneer on this front (total nonsense).
The worst incident was when a press report (Daily Record) likened Fergus McCann to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi despot & tyrant. Stemmed from a court case (Celtic v Lou Macari) where the judge (Lady Cosgrove) described Fergus McCann as "ever dictatorial" in his dealing with Lou Macari. However, she did not say he was a dictator and in any case, being dictatorial hardly singles out McCann amongst management, something that is trait of practically all major leaders in industry. It's one hell of a leap to jump to then say he is like "Saddam Hussein". It was offensive, crude, pathetic and downright nonsense. Tabloid sewer writing at its lowest.
Why anyone in Fergus' position would have wanted to continue is beyond most of our comprehension, yet he still did and many of us will always respect him for his tenacity.
No one is above criticism and Fergus was easily irritated but with hindsight many of his critics are now eating humble pie. Then again, Fergus didn't exactly make friends easily in the media world and many were always too eager to stick the boot in when they got the opportunity.
LegacyUnlike players or managers on the pitch, a great Chief Executive's role can never be fully assessed by 90 minute results. The stadium, the financial planning, the business plan and the club's standing are all investments that can only be properly assessed years later in retrospect. Other board members and investors have been made to look foolish for their criticisms of the man for what he did (esp Brian Dempsey and Jack McGinn). Many of them had only a bark but no bite, and Fergus at least put his money where his mouth is. The club was now taken seriously, and was no more an easy target for the press, agents or uptight players. Celtic are now a very seriously professional club and business, run properly rather than for aggrandisement for select families.
For Scottish football, the legacy is a strong forthright egalitarian club that represents all that is best in Scotland, something that Scottish football had lacked since the early 80s. Fergus was also prescient in his willingness to openly criticise the irresponsible profligacy of much of Scottish football, something that in the next decade after his departure has clearly been shown by Rangers financial demise in particular. Eschewing modern financial gambling in favour of prudence and planning, his old fashioned outlook on cash management is something that much of football has to revisit and put into practise for their own sake as much as anything else.
It was disappointing that Fergus did not come to Seville for the UEFA Cup final in 2003, but after some of the personal abuse that he had to suffer from various sections in Scotland (both within and outwith Celtic FC circles) you can't blame him much. He made his money but he's a sharp man and he is likely to have been able to make the money somewhere else with less headache. He came, he saw and, in his own way, he conquered all barriers in front of him. An unlikely but wonderful saviour.
At time of writing he is managing a business oriented coach and bus service in the US. Only the best and highest standards for our Fergus.
Fergus McCann is a legendary figure for the club and we can never thank him enough for what he helped to build.
- Miscellaneous Articles
- Bhoys Against Bigotry
- Details of the Fergus McCann share issue
- Celtic Takeover
- Fergus McCann Letter to Supporters (1994)
- Citizen McCann; Ten years ago the Fergus McCann revolution got under way Sunday Herald Feb 2004
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