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Fergus McCann: The man who saved Celtic
Celtic have dominated Scottish football in recent years and are well placed to win a seventh consecutive league title and also a second domestic treble in a row.

Celtic have dominated Scottish football in recent years and are well placed to win a seventh consecutive league title and also a second domestic treble in a row. As dominant as the bhoys have been in recent times it wasn't always like that and in fact 24 years ago this month the club looked to be on the verge of going out of business entirely.

For almost a century Celtic had been owned by two families, the Whyte's and the Kelly's. From the late 1980's and through the early 1990's some Celtic fans began to question the board after their handling of the Mo Johnstone affair, when the former Celtic forward looked to be on the verge of a move back to Celtic before moving to rivals, Rangers at the last minute and also for their failure to invest in players after the club had won the double in their centenary year, 1988. As time went by the protests got louder and more frequent and it became clear that the club was struggling financially. By March 1994 the situation became critical when the club were given 24 hours to find a £1 million guarantee or the Bank of Scotland would begin the process of winding them up.

Fergus McCann was born in Stirling, Scotland in 1941 before emigrating to Canada and making his fortune via a golf tourism business. Despite living in Canada he still had ties with Scotland and he was also a massive Celtic fan. He had attempted to invest in the club several times but was always knocked back by the Whyte and Kelly families who had very little interest in what he was offering. However, in 1994 things had reached the point of no return and on 4th March, with eight minutes to spare, McCann invested £9.4 million to clear the clubs debts and acquire a 51% share of the club. 

With McCann's investment, the future of Celtic was now secure but he still had a lot of work to do as Rangers were dominant on the park and the Taylor Report had said that all British football grounds would have to be made all-seater and Celtic Park had one of the biggest terraces in the UK at the time so something would have to be done about the stadium. McCann decided that Celtic would become a PLC and a share issue would take place to raise funds. 

The share issue was a resounding success and over 10,000 fans invested which raised £14 million and the money was put towards making Celtic Park the biggest club ground in the UK with a capacity of just over 60,000 which was about 20,000 more than the clubs average attendances at the time. McCann had faith in the Celtic support and had famously said "they'll come" when questioned about why he was making the stadium so big. Fortunately for McCann the Celtic support are a faithful breed and the club sold a remarkable 53,000 season tickets for the new stadium with many others forced onto waiting lists. 

As the years passed, Celtic finally returned to the summit of Scottish football in 1998 when Wim Jansen's team pipped Rangers to the title to stop their deadly rivals winning a tenth title in a row which would have seen them beat the record set by Celtic when Jock Stein's side won nine in a row between 1966 and 1974. However, despite that success some fans weren't happy with McCann and they actually booed him when he helped Tom Boyd unfurl the league champions flag ahead of the 1998/99 season. 

Much of the criticism of McCann was over what many regarded as financial prudence. He was obsessed with earning money and during his time in charge he improved the commercial side of the club and revenue also increased but when it came to putting his hand in his pocket he wasn't so keen. There were very public contract disputes with Pierre van Hooijdonk, Jorge Cadete, Mark Viduka and Paolo di Canio which led to the forwards leaving the club and he also had poor relationships with most of the managers who served under him.

The truth is McCann was a very good businessman and done what he had to for the good of the club. By 1999 he decided the time was right to move on and announced that he would be selling his shares with an emphasis on selling to fans which eventually led to 63% of the clubs shares landing in the hands of small shareholders. Naturally, he didn't walk away empty-handed and is believed to have got over £21 million back for his shares, £1.5 million of which he gave back to the club to help set up a youth academy. 

Sometimes hindsight can be a wonderful thing and in the case of Fergus McCann he is now revered by the same Celtic fans who booed him in 1998. On the 20th anniversary of his takeover he was invited back to Celtic Park to unfurl the champion's flag and this time he received a hero's welcome.

The fans now recognise that what he did saved the club and they have gone from strength to strength in the years since his takeover. Celtic have had a lot of influential figures throughout their history and although it didn't always look like it Fergus McCann has earned his place on the list having played as important a role as any of them. 

Posted by voc1967 on Tuesday 08 January 2019 - 11:55:08 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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