Fergus McCann’s welcome appearance at Celtic’s match against Kilmarnock yesterday came 25 years after he seized control of an ailing club.
A seemingly closed shop of ruling families that had taken Celtic to the brink had been ousted by McCann and his consortium.
For all the successes on the pitch this great club has enjoyed in the years I’ve been watching it, this day in 1994, when “the rebels won”, remains one of the greatest of all.
Different to the euphoria of winning an Invincible Treble, but equally as dramatic with a last-minute winner in both cases. As much of a relief as stopping the old Rangers winning 10 in a row but with more far-reaching consequences.
This was a day when everything changed for Celtic. The two achievements above and the dominance we now enjoy would simply not have happened without the foundations that were laid back then.
Had Celtic gone into administration or, worse, liquidation, the media would not have tortured the English language upon the rack the way they do today to avoid using those words.
“Yer club’s deid, mate” would have been a front page headline, way before Leigh Griffiths would have reason to use it against a troll. If not those exact words, then the sentiment would be there.
Celtic fans backed McCann (pictured above in 2014) by digging deep for the share issue, while people like John Keane, whose £1m cheque with no guarantees of his money back ensured that the “slur” of administration would not fall upon the club.
It’s in stark contrast to how things panned out at Ibrox. There, hubris, reckless gambling and breaking of all the rules on and off the pitch led Rangers to the brink. In their case, they would take the extra step and plummet to their doom.
Despite a common rewriting of history in many quarters, their fans weren’t there to “save the club”. They may have pledged to “gie ye a kidney Bomber” when John Brown addressed the masses, but the only evidence of this was that the club “kidney” or, rather,”widnae” be saved and went into administration and liquidation.
If any fans of today’s incarnation at Ibrox at reading this, they would no doubt be screaming “Pacific Shelf, Pacific Shelf!”, but they would be comparing apples with, well, oranges. It’s a howl at the moon from the desperate. There may be more of this to come.
In 2011, “real Rangers men” were unwilling to step up and pay at the penny arcade, when the could have bought the club for a single, shiny pound coin.
The man that the fans thought would be their champion, who they threatened Lloyds bank boycotts for and who they cheered down Edmiston Drive when they got their way, would instead become a hero to Celtic fans and to purveyors of jelly and ice cream.
What followed in the next few years was better than anything the best TV drama has to offer, and the cast of “villains” was long and plenty, amid lawsuits, power grabs, backstabbing, chicanery, rat mask protests and club/company shapeshifting (the only words from Charles Green still treated as gospel by supporters and the media who try not to offend their sensibilities).
The reality is that Rangers was feasted upon and its bones used for soup.
Ibrox fans’ contribution, in between their internecine wars, seemed to be a continual backing of the wrong man. Lloyds Bank may have been the first of their threatened boycotts, but it most certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct fell “victim” to such a campaign and it’s here that the latest twist in the tale may lie. Today’s Ibrox outfit face paying millions over a breach of contract, occurring when Dave King won a Pyrrhic victory over Ashley for the short-term gain of the fans’ approval.
The amount to be paid as a result has yet to be determined with a ruling possibly in the offing this week. But with Rangers, to quote Dave King, “consciously and deliberately running at a loss”, (over £14m last in their last accounts in October 2018), an award in the high millions could be catastrophic.
Will Scottish football soon have to consider the birth of a Third Rangers and how to accommodate them in the game?
Fergus McCann’s intervention at Celtic was as pivotal as any moment on the pitch in our storied history. Fans, desperate for quick success, may have been frustrated at the careful rebuilding of the club. This savvy included a 60,000 all-seater stand way beyond what many thought was necessary, but one that gives us an immediate financial advantage over everyone (even a properly functioning “Rangers”, if such a thing will ever exist again).
That success may have come earlier but for the SFA and the delayed registration of Jorge Cadete. McCann was furious and went after Jim Farry, finally getting his head on a platter some three years later.
McCann wasn’t without his critics among the support, but having gone from the supporters’ bus as a boy to the boardroom, he always fought Celtic’s corner tooth and nail as the episode above proves.
That he was a man of substance where the club’s interests lay may have been the reason he was pilloried by the media, because no longer would we be a walkover on or off the pitch.
It would have been interesting, to say the least, to see how Celtic would have reacted to the EBT scandal that cheated the club of silverware, titles and the associated financial rewards that would have come our way.
It’s hard to imagine that our passivity on the issue would have been replicated with the Bunnet at the helm.
Yesterday, he said he looked forward to Celtic winning “another nine in a row”. Whether he meant a second for the club after Jock Stein’s glory run, or if he’s looking across the river and making one of his famous rational judgements based on sound business sense, he’ll have done more than most to lay the foundations for either welcome scenario.