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Unsung Heroes - Celts For Change
A group of unsung heroes (and fans) who helped to save Celtic in the 1990s, and went beyond what could ever be asked of them...

A group of unsung heroes (and fans) who helped to save Celtic in the 1990s, and went beyond what could ever be asked of them...

Amongst the doom and gloom of the barren years (1989-1995), the mood of the Celtic support had sunk so low that apathy had become deeply embedded, such that attempting to generate any energy or enthusiasm was likely to fail.

With the club's reputation at a barrel-scrapping low both on-field and off-field, the prime aim became the removal of the incumbents on the board and a push to ditch the "Biscuit Tin" mentality amongst its management.

The club had been allowed to flounder for too long by the self-styled club grandees, and any dissent seemed to be limited to chanting at the matches, pub arguments and fanzine articles. Individual boycotts of the matches saw attendance figures hit lows but there was no organised movement or direction.

In 1993, a group of concerned Celtic supporters banded together to form the 'Celts for Change' pressure group in order to challenge the frustration and near-impotence that many fans were feeling over the events surrounding our club. The aim and focus was to channel all the supporters' energies in one direction to push for change in the club.

The original and main committee members were:

David Cunningham (co-founder of 'Celts for Change'),
Brendan Sweeney (co-founder of 'Celts for Change', later of the Jungle Bhoys group and Celtic Graves Society)
Matt McGlone (editor of the belligerent 'Once a Tim' fanzine and later the 'Alternative View' magazine)
Colin Duncan,
John Thompson.

Notably this wasn't the first organised group, and the demise of the original 'Save Our Celts' group back in around 1990 was always something to bear in mind. The situation at Celtic had worsened since then and this time there was no way back for the group without potentially losing the club as well.

Word spread quickly (aided by the 'Once a Tim' fanzine) and the group quickly put together various courses of action in order to be able to push for change whilst finely balancing their actions without hurting the team on the pitch. The latter was an impossible mission, and there’s no doubt the off-field tensions were hampering the on-field results but there was nothing that could be done about this.

The group organised various modes of direct action to highlight the club's plight. Regular town hall meetings grew in size and later influence, starting from an initial meeting of just 50 people to full halls of hundreds of people in a short space of time. Demonstrations outside the 'Bank of Scotland' head offices (Celtic's then bankers) drew increased media attention with newspapers and television taking note, and escalated the campaign for the board’s removal. 'Celts for Change' was empowering the support in the struggle and quickly after years of disillusionment the support in increasing numbers was backing the group as their best option to vent their views. It was a sad indictment of the old board that it had to come to this.

One of the most notable actions by the 'Celts for Change' was to declare an official boycott of the re-arranged game on 2nd March v Kilmarnock. Unknown to the board, 'Celts for Change' had employed an agency to calculate and count the actual numbers who did turn up at the game, having a person stand at each turnstile to count the numbers going in. Their attendance estimate was around 8225, the official club figure was around 10,055. This difference at first may seem insignificant to some, but the 10k figure actually was a significant benchmark as it was an estimated break-even attendance requirement for the club to remain operationally profitable. The level was breached and it can be taken that the organised boycott was a success albeit a sad one as well (no one wants to hurt their club but it was the only way to force change).

There were some errors made and the group was not immune to criticism. At one of the larger meetings, Matt McGlone on stage phoned up Michael Kelly (a then member of the Celtic board) at his home to get him to answer to the audience. It was an attention grabbing stunt but even some 'Celts For Change' supporters claimed it was intrusive and unnecessary. Regardless of the group’s aims, Michael Kelly should not have been accosted as he was when he is at home (likely with family). It was underhand and reflected poorly on the group. If a media person had done this to one of our players we'd have been incensed about the intrusion.

The organised boycotts were also criticised. For some, watching Celtic is one of the few real pleasures and escapes they have in life, and the organised boycott created friction between certain sections of fans, some seeing it as contradicting the maxim to "Sack the Board, Back the Team". However, in fairness to 'Celts for Change', a boycott was probably their strongest and only real weapon, and the only way to accelerate the whole process. It produced results despite any short-term damage it may have made to the club.

One thing has to be made quite clear about the group. Daft rumours amongst a paranoid minority were spreading that the members were in the pockets of the 'Rebel' shareholders (e.g. Brian Dempsey, Fergus McCann & David Low etc). At one point, allegations were made that the 'Celts for Change' organisers were working on behalf of the 'Rebel' shareholders. All this was nonsense as some had never even met any of the senior players amongst the 'Rebel' shareholders. It was a difficult and stressful time, and showed how petty & nasty it was getting. On the other hand, it is a fair question to ask but the most these guys actually got through the whole travails was a free pint or two from the meeting attendees.

Disappointingly, the more established Celtic Supporters' Affiliation & Association groups were not very supportive at first with some initially unhelpful public comments from some leading members. There is a myth that the whole support was fully united against the old board. The reality was that there really were differing viewpoints with a small minority even still behind the old board (including one very vociferous proponent called Gerry McSherry). The 'Celts for Change' had to go through a lot to prove themselves for the majority to actually get behind them, and finally galvanise the support into a concerted effort to help bring about change.

The end game in 1994 was one played out mostly by the major shareholders and financiers, but the 'Celts for Change' men were the ones who through their efforts had laid the foundations and created the environment to provide confidence to the Rebel investors (such as McCann and Keane) that Celtic had substance and was worth fighting for. Without them, other outside investors could have come in and would have acted as vultures after waiting till the club entered administration (which was thankfully avoided).

'Celts for Change' were there throughout, organising members and sympathisers in picketing outside the club's offices as talks went on inside. The celebrations as the announcements were made that the board was ousted led to the loudest cheers heard at Parkhead for many a year, and relief and satisfaction for the 'Celts for Change' organisers of a job well done. They'd played an important part in the whole set of events. As the Finance Advisor to the Rebel Group, David Low, put it:

"There is no doubt the emergence of Celts for Change was a catalyst that brought the takeover to a successful and rapid conclusion. The movement exploded onto the scene and when ordinary fans in numbers started making their feelings known, picketing the bank and exerting pressure, the Board had no chance. They were instrumental in bringing about the necessary change."

The victory was sweet but there were personal costs to the group organisers which outsiders never knew. Taking in the amount of time and energy that the whole campaign and organisation took up, some members had to deal with personal costs and issues in terms of lost time with family but also damaged relationships with family and friends stemming from their work for the group.

So why did they do it all and carry on with all that it entailed? The members were doing it simply for their love of the club and their fellow fans on the terracing. The club has an ethos and broad community that no other club has, and that is what fuelled them to push for change.

At the end of it all, whilst many of the 'Rebel' shareholders were themselves wealthy men and found themselves to have won control of the club, the 'Celts for Change' organisers simply went back onto the terracing with the gratitude and respect of the support. Matt McGlone in time an exception by being offered a small role at Celtic.

The revolution instituted by Fergus McCann has made many almost unaware of the club's previous state, and even blasé about it. This is dangerous, and everyone must at one point remind themselves of what the club had gone through to get to where it is now. Celtic were literally minutes away from administration. Everyone should remember the part that the 'Celts for Change' organisers played in the history of the club and the struggle for its survival; they are not just a mere footnote. Too often their part has been sidelined, and this must be addressed by all commentators reflecting on that era.

The people behind 'Celts for Change' are what the soul of Celtic is all about, and for their part in the removal of the old Biscuit Tin board from the club, the Celtic support will forever respect them. A set of truly deserving people who had been for too long a bunch of unsung heroes. The Celtic fans will always hold them in high esteem for all that they did beyond what could ever be asked of anyone.

Posted by voc1967 on Tuesday 20 August 2019 - 18:35:34 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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