A Pale Horse

32978-celtic-chief-executive-peter-lawwellI used to have mixed feelings about Oliver Cromwell. I once admired him somewhat, whilst realising there was much I found distasteful. Overall, I believed him to be a hero for democracy, a man who stood against the hereditary system this country is still ruled by, and who stood up for a lot of things that were positive and good.

That was before I learned to reject out of hand the sanitised versions of history we get from others, and I started to dig into these things on my own.

When I did that I learned that he’d ordered pogroms against the Catholic populations of these islands, and had effectively run the areas in his charge as a dictator. I reversed my original views and now consider him an early fascist and war criminal.

I was thinking about Cromwell tonight, and it inspired these questions.

Do the bad things a man does eventually overwhelm the good? Is there a scale, a balance, by which we measure them, and how do we judge that?

I had sweated over what to call this article today. I settled on the name above because it was better than the name I was going to give it, which was “Go, And Go Now.”

The given name is a reference to the Book of Revelations, and will be familiar to the fans of Celtic, even those who’ve not picked up a Bible in years, from the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” banner which was flown to mark the Death of Rangers.

The Four Horsemen were the first of God’s judgements against man, and they each rode a horse of a different colour, and had a different divine mandate. The first horse, he White Horse, has mistakenly been referred to as Pestilence. This is not the proper translation though, because in the original form, in the Greek, the White Horse was called Conquest.

We’ve had our years of conquest since Peter Lawwell was made CEO. He’s been here 11 years and we have won seven titles; one under Martin O’Neill, with an expensively assembled squad, three under Gordon Strachan and three under Neil Lennon.

It seems impressive, but something stands out. How quickly, and how far, we fell.

In 2003-04, the season after Seville, the season he took on the role, our total transfer spending was £400,000. That was the sum we paid for Stephen Pearson, and we signed Michael Gray on a free. We had secured automatic qualification for the Champions League, and that was the sum total of what we spent, back in the days before the financial pinch and when attendances at Celtic Park were 50,000 plus.

With Martin still at the helm, we were to win the title. We went out of the Champions League at the group stages, but we’d reached the UEFA Cup Quarter Finals as a consolation prize.

We had done well. Unfortunately, Martin had proved he could work with a lesser budget and the limits of his ability were to be sorely, seriously, tested.

The following year was a disaster. Those who don’t remember it are well off, but I suspect that’s not a great number. It will live with us forever, for all the wrong reasons. Henrik Larrson left our club, after seven glorious years. Given the success of the previous year we had every right to expect a replacement of quality. Instead we got Henri Camara, on loan, and later in the month we brought in Juninho on a free transfer.

As well as losing The King, we’d also lost Johan Mjallby and a young Liam Miller, who had looked destined for stardom and a long period of success in a Celtic shirt.

In the January window that year we brought in Stephane Henchov, on a free, and Craig Bellamy, on another short term loan. After losing the single greatest footballer to grace Scottish pitches since the departure of Kenny Dalglish, we spent … nothing at all.

We paid for it too, as we’ve always paid – and will always pay – for lack of investment.

Boy, oh boy, was the paying expensive. A Champions League campaign characterised by glaring problems saw us win one game out of six, losing three and drawing two. It was humiliating, and yet that was cake compared to what was to come in Scotland, as the league slipped away on the final day. We call it Black Sunday.

Martin O’Neill left at the end of that year.

Peter Lawwell’s start was truly horrendous. But if you’re expecting a straight line between the strategy of that year, and the zero spend, despite losing Henrik, and the appalling ineptness of our start to this season, then think again.

There’s no connecting road between the two, and that should give us pause for thought.

The following year started in disastrous form when Gordon Strachan’s side succumbed to a thrashing at Artmedia. Yet for all that, Gordon Strachan was given money. He was given a lot of money. We spent £8 million on his team, without making a penny back in fees, bringing in the likes of Zurawski, Boruc and Nakamura.

The money was not wasted. We re-captured the league flag, and the League Cup, but more importantly, Strachan had laid foundations.

The following year we added to the squad with guys like Graveson (can you now believe he cost us £2 million?) Evander Sno (who eventually replaced him in the team), Derek Riordan, Jan Venegoor of Hesselink, Lee Naylor and, eventually, Paul Hartley.

At the same time, we’d sold Pearson, Hartson, Varga, Maloney, Ross Wallace and, most alarmingly, Stan Petrov, for whom we got £6,500,000.

Nevertheless, it was a net spend and those two years of investment brought rewards.

They brought big rewards.

We stormed to the title. We won the Scottish Cup. Most importantly, that investment, upwards of £10 million in just two years, had not only rebuilt Martin O’Neill’s squad but elevated us to the big time. We qualified from a Champions League group including Manchester United and Benfica, and reached the Round of 16, a feat Martin himself had not been able to achieve.

Martin O’Neill’s tenure had proved that investment brings rewards.

Gordon Strachan had been given money to spend and he had proved the same. For the second time in a decade, the club appeared to be going in exactly the right direction.

Something special was in the air, and Peter Lawwell was right there, steering the ship, and reaping the plaudits … and he was right to.

We were reaching into foreign markets. The signing of Nakamura had made us credible in the Far East, and his goals, in particular against Manchester United, were winning us friends and admirers across the global game. The signing of Hesselink and Graveson had made us look like an attractive and ambitious football club, one that knew where it was going.

They brought credibility to Celtic. They installed a swagger in our team and our fans. Every player knew he was surrounded by talented names.

We were respected in Europe again, and at home Rangers quivered in fear at the mention of our names. These were glory years, and no mistake.

The following season we added yet more quality, bringing in Scott Brown, Scott McDonald, Barry Robson, Massimo Donati and Andreas Hinkel.

Yet, oddly, Kenny Miller departed for £3 million, causing a brief spark of outrage amongst fans who had heard the manager say what a valued member of the squad he was shortly before he was punted.

Who was really making those kind of decisions? It was the first time – but it would not be the least –when that question was asked aloud.

Nevertheless, you could not shake the feeling that we were still showing ambition and intent. Those signings had built on what was already there, and made us seem stronger than we’d been in decades. We won a third title, qualified for the Round of 16 again and appeared on the cusp of being accepted as a European club of prowess once more.

And we deserved to be because we were acting like one.

Then everything went wrong. We made a colossal mistake in the 2008-09 season that haunts us today, and marked the point when some of us stopped believing.

Let me nail a couple of things before I start. Celtic spent money that year. They spent a good sum of money, as it turns out. We spent roughly £8 million in the summer of that season, and a further £2.1 million between 1 December and 31 January.

On the back of two Group stage successes, we ought to have had it to spend.

We signed Glen Loovins and Shaun Maloney for a combined total of nearly £5 million. We spent £1.5 on Georgios Samaras. We spent £400,000 on Marc Crosas and another £500,000 on Paddy McCourt. That was before December, where we spent £800,000 on the combined talents of a kid called Niall McGinn and a left back called Milan Misun. Remember him?

We brought in around £1.7 million on the sales of Sno and Derek Riordan.

So, in that god-awful year there was, in fact, a significant net spend, and I haven’t even included the player who’s signing, on the last day of the window, characterised the peculiar madness of the time, that of Wilo Flood, who cost us over £1 million.

The fans, the manager, the players on the park, were jaded though. We weren’t playing well, not converting our chances, and we’d been crying out for a proven goal-scorer.

We felt the boat could have been pushed out for one. We might have got Fletcher of Hibs for a little over what we paid for Flood and with another Champions League pot of gold waiting for the title winners, it didn’t seem like a lot to ask.

The striker was never delivered. Flood’s signing padded out an area of the team where we were already well covered. Was that when everything changed? Who knows? Somewhere inside Celtic Park the machine had broken down. We spiralled to a disastrous championship loss, failing to win ten games after the turn of the year.

The following year, it all collapsed for real.

People talk about that period as though Mowbray was backed as Strachan had been. Let’s knock that on the head for a start. It’s simply not true. For every penny Tony Mowbray is alleged to have squandered, there was a sale, or sales, to offset what he’d done. The problem is, without a sustained investment in the team we were scrambling to replace those who left, and the trouble was that we didn’t replace like with like. As big names, like Nakamura and Jan were removed from the wage bill the quality to replace them was simply not there.

We had started to stagnate, at the worst possible time. The appointment of Mowbray was a disaster for which Peter Lawwell later personally apologised.

It was too little, too late. The club was in freefall. We failed to win a trophy for the first time in seven years, and when the manager was sacked we replaced him with an untested coach, Neil Lennon, who steadied the ship but still crashed out of the Scottish Cup.

The following year, with the rookie Lennon in charge, we spent £10,000,000 on players but brought in £16,000,000 in transfer fees, with a staggering 18 members of the first team squad, and 37 players in total, being shown the door. The wage bill dropped like an anvil. £6 million in profits from player trading were posted in addition.

Sixteen players were brought in. Of that number, just five are still with the club. Fraser Forster and Tony Watt left earlier this year, and Gary Hooper left the season before.

We failed to win the league. We secured a paltry Scottish Cup for our efforts, after a season of transition and downsizing which is probably unrivalled in our history.

The trend continued. We were now in a state of permanent flux, and we have been ever since, reducing costs at a rapid rate. The following year we won our title back as Rangers began their slide into the abyss, on a net spend of a little over £500,000. We spent £3.1 million during that season, and we brought in £2.65 million.

Actual investment in the team? Virtually nil.

The following season we brought in £8.5 million in player sales, and we spent less than half of it – £3.9 million, to be exact – in a season where the downszing of the previous year had gone into overdrive.

Yet something clicked. Our rookie coach had proved he had some game.

We won the title and we won the Scottish Cup with a team built on a cash surplus, and we went one better than even that when we, once again, reached the Round of 16 in the Champions League.

It was a modern footballing miracle. Lawwell swaggered around Europe’s footballing cities as if he himself had picked the team. All talk was of the success of “the strategy.”

Yet Lennon had paid a high price for the mistakes of previous regimes, all of which had been signed off on by the CEO.

Despite the cutting, Lennon had come good. He’d made something out of nothing.

We all know how Neil was rewarded. In his three full years in the job, his transfer balance sheet was almost £10,000,000 in the black. Was he given that money to spend? Of course not. He wasn’t even offered improved terms on the contract he’d signed.

I have long said that Peter Lawwell should have gone with Tony Mowbray. That high priced mistake had been a shared one, and an apology hadn’t cut it. With the Mowbray experiment in ruins, our club forced on Neil Lennon the policy of doing more with less. Lawwell was lauded for the success we had under Gordon Strachan, at a time when our club had ambition and balls, and was spending money and looked to be on the path to real European credibility. Those were the good years, those when he rode the White Horse of Conquest.

He has never been as good at taking the blame.

The years 2008-09 and the cataclysmic year 2009-10 saw him riding the Red Horse of War.

The Red Horse symbolises the spilling of blood. Whilst the White Horse signifies victory in war – Conquest – the Red Horse is the symbol of civil strife and civil war. Those were, indeed, years we’d like to forget.

What happened to us during those years? Were they the years when the strategy shifted? I ask this because, as I said at the start, people have called it “the strategy” as if it were one thread running all the way through the Lawwell tenure. As I’ve demonstrated, this is actually far from the truth.

See, the loss of Larsson and the abject failure to replace him happened early in Lawwell’s term, and it’s probably easy to blame him for that, and many people do. Yet what happened in the next couple of years gave lie to the whole idea that we were going backwards. We spent money, big money, real money, on players. Gordon Strachan was allowed the resources to build his side, and in those three early years Peter Lawwell really was the Man With The Midas Touch.

I have never grudged him the plaudits he garnered in those days. His performance in the job, up until season 2007-08, when that first breakdown in communication between the manager and the CEO popped up over Kenny Miller, and which was repeated the following year with the sale of Massimo Donati and the failure by the club to sign a striker in the January window, was exemplary. Back then, I thought the guy walked on water.

When that window closed, the blinkers fell off. We had failed at the moment when Rangers was at its weakest point in a generation. Overloaded with debt, with the world banking crisis hitting full force, with MIH on the brink of total disaster, they were teetering on the edge of the abyss, and had we acted, in that window, with resolution and conviction, and the will to give them one hard push, I firmly believe they’d have been in administration that summer and dead by the end of it, because they were floundering in a sea of red ink and with the financial world in chaos there would have been no saving them from their deserved fate.

The millions we’d have banked from the Champions League would have allowed us to build on what was already a very good side, and with an astute tactician like Strachan at the helm who knows where the club might have ended up.

I have never accepted those who said that the survival of Rangers was a consideration inside Celtic Park, and I still hold no truck with anyone who claims we “threw” the league that season to keep them alive. I think the idea is nonsense, the product of a febrile imagination.

What I think happened was one of two things. We were either gun-shy, and we bottled out of administering the coup-de-grace, or the people in charge of our club simply missed the historical significance of the moment. I find both hard to believe, but when the alternative explanation is to believe that we wanted them to survive and so handed them a title I have to accept one or the other. If I had to guess, I’d say we lost our nerve and decided it would probably happen anyway – we were still top of the table going into that window – and it would sit better if we weren’t quite so blatantly trying to shove them into the grave.

Whatever the explanation, that was the point where I stopped believing. That Rangers won another two titles on the bounce, securing them something in the region of £50 million over the three years, money they’d certainly have been dead without, still haunts us today.

Of course, that is the same period covered by the twin scandals of the Discounted Options Scheme and the SFA’s granting of a European license. If Legia has taught us anything at all it’s taught us that there are parts of the footballing world where breaches of the rules on player registration and on full disclosure are still taken very, very seriously.

Some feel Celtic have never pursued these matters as robustly as they should. I point to the CEO on that, and I ask him why this is the case, and I’d also ask anyone who’s waiting on justice, now how they think it can be delivered whilst he sits on the SFA game board? Sevco Rangers will claim any pursuit of these matters, at this juncture, is tainted … and they’d be right. Our club is never going to be able to pursue them whilst Lawwell’s in that post … and I darkly suspect that this was part of the “trade off” that put him there. Our silence was the price we paid for his elevation.

Our reticence on these matters – matters involving tens of millions of pounds – is staggering, and this, as much as what followed those two Years of War, poses questions to Lawwell he is not placed to answer, and count in the negative column against him.

The Third Horseman of the Apocalypse is the one that stalked Neil Francis Lennon every day of his tenure as manager, and the one I believe brought that tenure to its end.

Having rode the Red Horse of War, Lawwell positioned himself on the Black Horse of Famine.

Let’s go over, once again, the stats as they were at the end of Neil’s full third year in the job. He had secured two titles. He had gotten us through to the Round of 16 in Europe, and he had done this without having spent money. Neil Lennon’s three years at Celtic had resulted in a transfer surplus of £10,000,000 when that season came to an end.

Whatever anyone might argue otherwise, Neil Lennon was never backed by Peter Lawwell and the board, and I do not care what anyone says in mitigation. It is not borne out by the facts. The scandalous way in which he was treated by those inside our own club shames them, and could have cost this man his reputation in the game.

Neil Lennon was willing to give more than any manager in Scotland ever has. He faced death threats and physical assaults. He was the victim of a terrorist attack – I will never accept it as anything else – which also went after other prominent figures. He gave everything to Celtic and a lot more, and he was never given a fraction of the support handed out to O’Neill, Strachan or even Mowbray.

Whatever happened during the Years of War had changed the direction of the club. Whatever strategy we had been following, the one that had seen Lawwell so coveted that Arsenal were said to be ready to offer him a job, it was dumped and a new one put in place.

Lennon paid the price for it, and at the end of that third full season, having accomplished miracles with less than pocket change, he must have felt fully entitled to the respect – and the rewards – that went with that. Instead, what happened?

The team he’d built was ripped apart. The £10,000,000 transfer surplus doubled. He spent £11 million on players, but the club brought in £23 million on outgoing fees in the same season. Neil Lennon had delivered profits – on player sales alone – of £22 million in four years, yet at the end of last season he saw Joe Ledley leave after he was denied a better contract, he saw Samaras treated with contempt and not even offered a deal and there were dark hints that Virgil Van Dijk and Fraser Forster would be the next big names to go. Kris Commons, who the manager wanted to sign up on an improved deal, has not been offered it yet, and it’s rumoured he’ll leave despite winning last year’s Player of the Year awards at a walk.

Lennon walked away. We replaced him with a manager from Norway who had originally been mooted as his assistant. Fraser Forster’s transfer out of the club leaves the five year transfer surplus at a breathtaking £32 million. Despite this, the new coach has spent no money, signing four players, one on a free transfer and the other three on loan.

He maintains that the money for signings is there, but the problem is wages. I’ll get back to that subject presently, but for just a moment let’s marvel at the blatant contradiction in those who tell us that modern football is now so expensive we cannot compete.

Celtic’s transfer record of £6 million was set fourteen years ago, when the market value of players was a fraction of what it is today. A comparable fee today would be around the £9 million mark.

Now, even average players can fetch that price. In the year we signed Sutton, year 2000, Luis Figo set the world transfer record with a £37 million move. Today the record stands at £85 million, the deal that took Gareth Bale to Madrid.

In those 14 years, as football prices have escalated insanely, as the cost of attending games has gone up and up and up. At the same time, TV revenues have increased, prize money has gone up and the Champions League has become a multi-million pound bonanza no-one could have dreamed.

Despite all that, Celtic’s desire to spend the market value has actually evaporated. The closest we have come to spending anywhere near our own record is the £4 million that brought Scott Brown to Celtic Park in 2007.

Today our manager talked about us not being willing to spend £5 million on one footballer, and so it looks as if the £6 million price tag Chelsea put on Sutton is higher than we’ll ever go again, under the present board, and as prices continue to rise the quality of what you can buy for that kind of money goes down accordingly, locking us permanently into a vicious circle of mediocrity.

We have been going backwards, as a club, for six long years now, perversely the very six that Graham Speirs chose to highlight in his recent article as proof of the “success of the strategy.” In that time of appalling downsizing we have crashed out of Europe before the groups in one of those seasons and in four of the other five turned in displays that humiliated us and undid much of the reputation building for which Lawwell was being praised only a few years before.

In that same timeframe we have competed in twelve domestic cup competitions, and won three. We have contested six league titles and lost half of them. We won one after Rangers had thrown away a fifteen point lead and we secured the other two following their liquidation. The football in that time has veered wildly between the ridiculous and the sublime, and Ronny Deila is our fourth manager in the cycle. Continuity has been non-existent.

Forget competing with the European big boys and the cash rich EPL. But for the collapse of Rangers, we would barely be keeping our noses in front here in Scotland, and that, my friends, is the real indictment of Lawwell, the strategy and the board.

The strategy has been a shambles for years, but somehow people don’t want to see it. The spectacular success Lennon achieved in his third year in the job was in spite of the board, not because of them, and as we’ve seen, it was swiftly, shockingly, undone.

What happened here? Where did everything start to go wrong?

Did Lawwell’s ego, and his influence, grow out of control after Strachan’s team had twice secured qualification out of the groups? The overture from Arsenal came around this time, and he turned it down. His remuneration rose accordingly, but did his authority increase too?

The evidence is there, in the treatment of Miller and Donati, players the manager had praised only to sell shortly thereafter. Did Lawwell start believing his own press and his own hype? Who can forget his turning up for the Robbie Keane loan deal press conference, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, at a time when Rangers were already out of sight in the league race and we’d just pocketed £3.5 million for our top scorer, Scott McDonald?

Lawwell’s salary and bonuses have gone up every year since. At a time when Celtic fans mock Sevco supporters mercilessly over the money being leeched out of the club by Ally McCoist, our own CEO is probably the most handsomely compensated person in Scottish football. His salary topped that of the man in the dugout at Ibrox, and was nearly twice that of Neil Lennon.

Today our manager spoke of the wage ceiling at Celtic Park, the one which forced Ledley, Samaras and others out the door and which effectively blocks any significant signing who will markedly improve the team. At a time of vastly increasingly salaries across the game we have capped player wages at a level which will never allow us to grow our squad.

Yet the number is more than a mere quirk of the strategy, because it assures something else. It assures that there is no player at Celtic Park now, or likely to be in the immediate future, who will earn more for putting in a shift than Lawwell himself. He is the best paid person at Parkhead by miles, and there cannot be any CEO in the country who earns such a wage running a comparable organisation in terms of turnover and staff.

Peter Lawwell is, quite simply, vastly over-paid and hugely over-rated when one examines where we were only six or seven years ago as compared to where we are today. The quality of our management team, and that of the team on the park, has plummeted in direct proportion to his own recompense, and the piling up of cash from profitable transfer deals.

When Celtic was regularly punching above its weight in Europe, with a squad of high quality, exciting footballers and big name signings, with our reputation largely restored and our club beginning to explore foreign markets, Peter Lawwell was earning half of his current salary and doing a vastly better job in delivering what the football club required.

Somewhere along the line, everything changed. We are now failing at every level, and the gaps in the stands, which some put down to the absence of a club called Rangers, are, at least partly, to do with a realisation that we’re presently a club going nowhere.

In the space of the last four or five weeks, the rot at the very soul of our club has been exposed for all to see, with a match promoter threatening legal action because we cashed their cheque and sent a bunch of kids to be roundly thrashed by Spurs.

On the back of a calamitous Champions League campaign last year, we weakened the team, replaced the manager with someone with no European experience, and forced him to travel the world in meaningless games, for money, and then we were destroyed over two legs against the Poles, before being reprieved by UEFA.

We then let the shame of our defeat and the manner of our reinstatement be multiplied tenfold in the eyes of people all over the world with our abject failure to take the initiative in an escalating PR war with Legia Warsaw.

It does not matter that we were right to leave it to UEFA. The publicity, on top of everything else, has been horrendous and we did not get on top of it quickly enough.

The reputational damage these events have done to us, outside of Scotland, where it really does matter, in terms of lucrative invites to play matches, to being considered a big team, with knock on effects in terms of our ability to attract good players, is very nearly incomprehensible, and someone ought to carry the can for that.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Peter Lawwell now sits atop the Pale Horse, the Death Horse, as the CEO of a ship on its way towards the rocks. The failure to invest in the team has already resulted in one drubbing in Europe this season, and if another follows it the knock-on consequences could send us into a truly terrifying downward spiral in which fans stop coming to games, the team loses focus, the balance sheet starts to dip downward and the manager and the playing squad pay the consequences for failures way above their heads.

Does the good a man does become overwhelmed by the bad? Does early success offer an alibi for later failure? When does one begin to cover the other? Ego and arrogance have brought down empires. Greed has brought down more.

I said at the beginning that tonight I’ve been thinking about Oliver Cromwell, and what got me started on that was a speech of his, one he gave in the House of Commons, and which was repeated in that House by the MP Leopold Amery, and levelled at Neville Chamberlain, during the Phony War of 1939 – 40. I offer it now, to the Chief Executive of Celtic.

“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

On that note, I’ll say no more on the subject … for now.

(On Fields of Green badly needs your support as we enter our own transitional period. If you can make a donation, we’d appreciate it. You can do so with the Donate button at the top or the bottom of whatever device you’re using. Every support we get is massively helpful.)

James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

55 thoughts on “A Pale Horse

  • 13 August, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Lol, so why not just come out and say you don’t like PL that’s your opinion fine, your articles normally grab my attention, this one got dumped after the first paragraph, keep it simple and factual and something we don’t know would be ok too, your hatred for a fellow Tim, whether he be the CEO or an ordinary supporter is right up there in a Hunnish behaviour out I’m sorry to say.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 8:35 am

    So the sun is shining and I get up out of bed, switch on the Computer and read one of my favourite Bloggers. I like the information you give, the way you take care to put across the information in a very readable manner. All credit to you.

    In saying all of the above, one thing that does come across from one passionate Bhoy to another is your utter dislike for Lawwell, maybe even hate. A terrible word and even more terrible emotion.

    Whilst I understand your logic, I don’t agree with the end product. My view is that we are a Big Fish in a pond that we have outgrown and the moment we try to venture into the BIG sea called Europe, we get found out. However back in our Pond we continue to be BIG – having said that, it will be interesting tonight in Perth. PL’s job is to make sure we don’t get into a position where our debt is unmanageable as it was at the end of the MON era, however Debt doesn’t seem to bother, Real, Barca, PSG, Man City etc. My view is that he has a very public and yes well paid job and one that I believe he does to his remit. Until and unless we either play in a more financially rewarding arena where the guaranteed domestic returns are financially much greater, or alternatively, where the current strategy fails domestically and we fail to be at the Top, our mode of operation will not change.

    So I have 2 questions for you.

    Let’s suppose you get what you want and Peter Lawwell leaves, what would you expect the new Man/Woman to deliver?

    What if the new person had the same ethos, mode of operation and delivery agenda as Peter L? What would you be saying then? or to put it concisely,

    Why don’t you do a blog setting out exactly what you expect the CEO of Celtic PLC/FC (they are both intertwined) to deliver, not just in ideals but also in £’s given our annual turnover – without CL money – of around £55m, in our Scottish market and further afield?
    What value of player do you expect us to buy and on what salary?

    The caveat is we cannot get back to the MON days of a business with mid £20m debt when the guaranteed revenue for winning the league is £3m.

    I look forward to reading the Blog.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 8:59 am

    This is a typical ad hominem attack on PL disguised as an objective view at where the club are. No mention of the thousands of glory hunting fans who no longer attend (gaps in stands indeed), no mention of the toughest recession in a generation (where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer), no mention of how our rivals faired and of course no mention of an alternative strategy. We love telling the sevs to get a reality check on where they are in football but have no idea where the Scottish Champions are. Be very careful – you might just get what you wish for – ABP – anybody but Peter.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I’m not sure how this is relevant to our loss to Legia. If we’d lost to a similar sized club with a similar income stream then maybe it would be.
    How much did the Legia side cost to assemble? How much are they paid?
    I understand that we’ve downsized vastly while we are heavy favourites for the title but surely that is the correct strategy. We have vastly outspent our rivals for the title and our rivals for the CL group stages. Isn’t that enough while we wait on a realistic domestic rival?
    Trying to compete with any of the teams from the France, England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey etc is foolhardy so we shouldn’t even try.
    The ONLY way for Celtic to ever compete in Europe is by bringing through our own kids and coaching them, or buying domestic. A bit like Legia have done.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 10:32 am

    You are really letting your personal feeling about PL cloud your judgement. All your article proves is that
    1. we have been succesful when we spent money.
    2. We have been succesful when we didn’t
    3. We have been succesful with PL as CEO
    4. We have been succesful when he wasn’t CEO
    You really should step back and look at some of your recent articles and ask yourself if you are being objective or whether you are on some sort of crusade to oust PL.
    I believe he is doing a great job under very difficult financial circumstances. He is also now actively involved at the top of our game and I certainly don’t see him allowing another “Cadette” affair going unchallenged from his lofty position. The years of being treated as inferior to the deceased club are gone. We are now a driving force in Scottish and European football and I believe PL has been instrumental in this. Put your personal feelings aside and I’m sure you will see the benefits PL brings to our club.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Well written article as usual James. A lot of assumptions in your article and like a lot of Celtic supporters very negative.
    Put yourself up for the job of CEO when Lawwell takes your advice and goes, I’m sure with your knowledge of the workings of Celtic you’ll make a perfect leader.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 10:55 am

    James, James!

    I wasn’t sure where to start with this litany of negativity.

    One comment caught my eye though.

    ‘We didn’t win a trophy for the first time in seven years’.

    When I first went to see Celtic they hadn’t won ANY trophy for nine years!

    But supporters in those days weren’t so fickle, they continued to support the team.

    Periods of great teams and none so great are the norm.

    We complained about Rangers assumptions that they had a divine right to win, and there are right now some in the Celtic support who show the same tendancies.

    I love watching Celtic and being entertained, but for me that joy is being diluted by the moaners and carpers who find only misery in every situation.

    So we’re going through a bad patch.

    What we should be doing is sticking together and supporting the team through it instead behaving like badly brought up spoiled brats.

    As the song says…’We don’t care if we win, lose or draw’, but lately it seems the mantra has been changed .to ‘We only care if we win, win, win…

  • 13 August, 2014 at 11:04 am

    I can see where you are coming from and downsizing and cost cutting is not what any Celtic supporter wants to see but the sad truth is that we have no choice.
    10 years ago we were heading in the same direction as rangers, ok not as severe but financial meltdown would have came our way too if we hadn’t started cost cutting and at that time Lawwell was the perfect man to do it.
    Now 10 years on has his time come where he should step down or be replaced ? For me the answer is yes and this is because i don’t think it is healthy for one man to be in power for too long.
    The power he now has is too much, where he puts money matters ahead of the football. An example of this was the friendly we had to play against Spurs right in the middle of our CL qualifiers a few weeks back, i mean what the hell was that all about? Obviously we couldn’t send our first team out so instead our second sting team gets pumped but the headlines in the media didn’t mention that it was our second string only that Celtic got pumped 6-1 bad press, embarrassing for us and now the organisers want the money paid to us back, for me that was the first time i really felt anger towards Lawwell and question his role at Celtic.
    He is obsessed with making money and balance sheets and has lost his focus on the football and end of the day football is all that matters as the business is football, that’s the product, that’s what the customers pay for and want to see improve. If the quality on the park drops too low then the company starts losing money because the customer won’t buy it anymore.
    now i hate referring to football and especially Celtic in the business sense and fans as customers but for Peter Lawwell that’s how he sees it.
    I think we have a good man in Ronny as our manager and he needs time and backing from the board and fans which i hope he will but I think P L might now be a bad thing for us, bad for Ronny and bad for the fans. Yes he has done well for us and I thank him for that but I also think it is time for him to stand down and move on.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Absolutely unbelievable responses to this one. Unbelievable.

    First, I’m sorry that I haven’t written Wine & Roses. I think we’ve got problems, and I think “the strategy” has passed the point of being defensible, but almost everyone who’s posted here has accused me of negativity and tried to do just that. Once again, I apologise for writing FACTS. I apologise for laying out an argument. It’s not the one you want to hear.

    I’ll respond to you all one at a time.


    I followed the team during the same years as you did. Back then we were impoverished, Rangers were on a high spending money, Scottish football was being sucked into a cycle of debt and we were woefully, inadequately, unprepared and short in ever department. Those failures of strategic thinking resulted in a supporter uprising and brought down the board. I have just argued, and I think in a reasonable way, why I believe the current strategy has been a failure, and the best you’ve given me is “faithful through and through.” Where does that differ from “We don’t do walking away?” except in the specific words? Turn off the critical faculties, blindly follow where others lead … that’s for sheep, not men.

    Something I love rots from the inside. I will not stand on the side of the road and watch. I will not pretend everything is alright. Sticking together, in other words “pay your money, support the team and shut up” leads to one place, as another club’s fans well know. The graveyard.


    Your list of things I’ve “proved” is erroneous.

    1) I have proved that we are successful when we spend money. I accept that one, because I have demonstrated it clearly. When we’ve shown ambition we’ve been successful, not only here in Scotland but we’ve made our name ring out in Europe too.

    2) I didn’t prove we’ve been successful when we spent no money at all. I demonstrated quite the opposite. When we failed to replace Larsson we lost the league. When we failed to strengthen in January 2009 we lost the league. When we failed to support either Tony Mowbray or the early years of Neil Lennon we lost the league. I don’t even want to examine our European record of those years. It was horrendous. What I did demonstrate is that two years ago Neil Lennon worked an absolute miracle and took a team assembled for little money to a title and a wonderful run in Europe. And then I demonstrated – clearly, with facts – what happened to the team he’d built and how little he was rewarded for it.

    3) We have been successful when Peter Lawwell was CEO. I say this clearly. In his early years Peter Lawwell’s stewardship of our club was phenomenally successful, and deserving of high praise. You accuse me of not being objective, but I have been very clear that I believe he did a tremendous amount of good before it all went wrong, and I cannot be more objective than that.

    4) I didn’t discuss the period of time before he was CEO, but we’d had two other Chief Executives as far as I can recall and neither of them did half as good a job as Lawwell … in that early period.

    I fail to see any merit in your suggestion that I have written a “personal feelings” piece here. I have laid out facts. Sorry they’re not to your taste.


    Nonsense, as I demonstrated above. I’ve laid out a case. The case is for why I think his time is up, but I have been fair and I have been objective. If I have strayed from FACTS anywhere, kindly tell me where and when and I will amend as appropriate. Your mention of “glory hunting fans” is, itself, an ad hominem attack on any number of your fellow supporters who’ve simply had enough. Besides, if you believe some of your fellow fans these ARE glory years, and so there’s no excuse for the glory hunters staying away.

    I’ve shown clearly that Neil Lennon, for all the loyalty he showed Celtic, was treated in an appalling fashion, that his team was deliberately weakened by the board. That even when he achieved success he was not allowed to reinvest the money. I have shown that Lawwell is one of the highest paid people in Scottish football, I’ve argued that the job he does in no way merits that salary and, indeed, that he was better at it when his recompense was not so firmly wedded to the balance sheet. I can’t do more than tell it straight.

    I didn’t say Anyone But Peter either, but advertise the Celtic CEO job and watch how many applicants you get. More than for the manager’s job, and a higher calibre of candidate by far.


    Are you asking me for my own 120 Day Review? Pay me the requisite salary and I’ll get right on it. Sorry I ruined your morning with facts.


    There are 4000 words in this article. If it was dumped after the first paragraph, how do you know what it did, and didn’t, say? The next time you call me a hun will be the last time you post.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 11:35 am

    A wee bit of re-writing history, James, topped up with some stylish hyperbole.

    “Back then, I thought the guy walked on water”??

    Those of us who remember your writings at the time will find that recollection out of sync with what you wrote. You were, and you remain, volatile in your mood swings dependent on results. There will have been elements of grudging praise, particularly around Summer 2012, when “speculate to accumulate” seemed discredited but there was much criticism from you after Artmedia, Sion, Utrecht and Kilmarnock (3:3).

    As for “spiralled” to a disastrous championship loss, after the Willo window, you are ignoring the real trakectory. You do cite the loss of form in January to March when we slipped behind from a leading position but you gloss over, because it does not fit the narrative, the true facts that we recovered and fought our way back into the lead with 2 games to go. We surrendered that title at Easter Road in a match where our touted season saviour was as inept and tired as all the players we fielded. Gordon Strachan tried to repeat the successful formula of the previous season and go with the tried and trusted players, the guys who had clawed back that spiral you talked about. Only this time they ran out of legs while game changing, hungry players like Paddy McCourt were unused. And it cost Gordon Strachan his job, that one failure. So much for us being happy with the strategy until recent times. The outcome was the same, you may say, but it does not fit in with the kind of collapse we saw back in the glory days when Fergie’s Aberdeen did overhaul Billy McNeill’s Celtic team and did stay ahead. You know, back in the Glory Days when we could not blame it on Peter Lawwell?

    There is a lot wrong with our strategy and I have fears that Ronny Deila may turn out to be a football purist in the Kenny Sheils/John Hughes style but I will back him for a little longer until I can see more clearly what he is doing.

    One statistic stands out in the narrative of spiralling failure that you allege us to have suffered and that is the stat that MON won only one out of 6 in a “humiliating” campaign. Last year we won one out of 6 again so we have not yet dropped below those standards. There were many times from 1975 to 2000, for example, where we would have killed to get by the second round of any Euro competition we were in, so getting to the CL stage and winning at all in that elite company is tremendous progress.

    When we reached the Seville final, the consensus of the Celtic fans was that the next stage to kick on to was getting through a group stage of CL and we have, since achieved our targeted improvement on 3 occasions, the most recent in 2013. It has not made the Celtic fan base as happy as we would have predicted then but it certainly does not fit a narrative of gradual and predictable decline because of failure to invest.

    Like you, I fear our hold on the top table is precarious. I just have a different explanation for why this is so. And removing Peter Lawwell would make no difference to our fortunes in the narrative I see, which has no need to re-invent history to comply with what actually happened.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Celtic vastly outspend rivals at home and we vastly outspend rivals for the CL groups.
    We lost to a much smaller club with a much smaller budget. The difference is that they bought domestic and bread their own players. Exactly what we should be doing. But on a larger scale.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Where have I “reinvented history” here?

    You even half-admit that there are times when I praised this guy, but you gloss over THOSE because it doesn’t fit YOUR narrative. Grudging praise. Dear oh dear. Now that is reaching. If I’m the spiteful sonofabitch you seem to believe, blinded by my own hate, why the Hell would I offer ANY praise at all, grudging or otherwise?

    Artmedia was Strachan’s first game. If I was slightly miffed at that it was because it was an horrendous result from a manager who hadn’t yet been given real money to spend. Sion, Utrecht and Kilmarnock all fit in the period I’ve classed as a failure, and my criticism of them is entirely consistent with the case I’m trying to make.

    As to the Wilo Flood shambles, where do I “ignore the real trajectory”? I remember those last two games well. We couldn’t have scored in either match if we played there all day. Those ten games without a win, something like eight of them were draws. Had we won just two of them – i.e. had we had a proven goalscorer, which, you know, I am just speculating, but it might have given us a chance – we would have been champions. The frontline needed freshening up, badly, and instead we signed a midfielder. Strachan chose to sign Flood, but he was not the only player Strachan wanted.

    I have written 4000 words on why I believe our hold on the top table is precarious. I’ve given the man credit where he deserved it, but in forcing penury on Neil Lennon and allowing us to go backwards he deserves none. I didn’t take my “six year period” out of thin air. It was the period Graham Speirs chose to highlight in his recent Lawwell-Love-In about the “success of the strategy.”

    Our record in the last six years, those of the downsizing, is horrible. Three league titles lost. The ones we won, we secured the first after Rangers blew a 15 point lead and we secured the other two with no domestic competition at all. That’s something a lot of us don’t like to face, but it’s a fact nonetheless. In that time we’ve had one good season in Europe and the board of directors dismantled the team that had done it the very next year, when we were already sitting on a transfer surplus of £22 million. We have won three out of the last twelve domestic cup competitions, and already this season we’ve banked another £10 million in transfer income and spent NOTHING … with the predictable consequences of a hiding from the Polish. I am sorry this does not sit well with you and others.

    I have never argued that Martin O’Neill did everything right. Far from it. But Peter Lawwell cannot take any of the responsibility for the failures of the O’Neill era as he was not here.

    Some people will defend Peter Lawwell and the strategy come what may. Even the sight of a 40 year old Lee McCulloch holding a league championship trophy might not be enough for a lot of folk. The “too wee, too poor” argument is nonsensical on so many levels and an insult to our intelligence.

    Lastly, if a fan campaign removed Peter Lawwell do you not believe the strategy would change accordingly? Oh I know full well there’s no stomach for one, but if there was the message would be loud and clear that the Celtic fans were ready to engage again, to get involved again, to stop worshiping at the alter and apply some hard-nosed scrutiny to how our club is run.

    Things would change alright. Pronto.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Bottom line celtic are a fitba club, those paid the highest should be players and mgt team.
    Whethet you back lawell or not, he is being paid far too much (imo).
    As for the rich getting rich etc, which camp would you put our ceo in?.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    James I would really love to read an article by you that offers up some sort of solution or ‘strategy’ that would serve our great club better. How do you believe we can do things better as you clearly believe Peter Lawwell is part of some great machiavellian scheme to control Celtic and Scottish football.

    You talk about Celtic’s desire to meet market value having expired, how do you propose we meet the inflated market we find ourselves in? Nottingham Forrest has recently paid £5,500,000 for a striker who has scored 49 goals 107 appearances, hardly prolific. Do you think by spending that money it would elevate us to being competitive at Champions League level? Is there some sort of guarantee of success related to net spend?

    I believe sometimes you do have to speculate to accumulate but Celtic Football Club isn’t run every season as if it’s the last hand at poker, let’s go all in and hope we come up trumps. A long term view has to be taken which takes into account associated risks and forecasts so that we all have a club to support for another 127 year. It’s all very well and good peppering your posts with historical references but perhaps pick up some business books from time to time and appreciate how volatile and competitive a market we find ourselves in and how easy it can swallow you up. All you have to do it look at our dear sevconians for evidence of that.

    We all want a successful club on the pitch, our CEO included, if you truly believe your own rhetoric it would be in Peter the megalomaniac’s best interest to have us competing regularly in the Champion’s League and past the group stages. But we are up against it every year we compete through market constraints.

    I understand that when it comes to matters of the heart it is often difficult to think clearly but think clearly we must. The great history of Celtic Football Club is littered with difficult periods which only makes the good times all that much sweeter.

    I will continue to make my way to paradise every season as I support the famous Glasgow Celtic. Sometimes that season doesn’t always turn out the way I hoped it would but to know that we always have next season to make amends helps me sleep that little bit better.

    We are Celtic supporters faithful through and through

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    I can’t believe you find criticisms of this article unbelievable.

    You have expressed your opinion…ahem!…at length, and I think the responses have been mainly in agreement that they do not agree with your point of view.

    There’s no need to become angry, which your reply suggests, when others disagree.

    Your remarks that Rangers were on a high spending money ‘back then’ is inaccurate.

    I wasn’t referring to that period.

    I’m talking about the late 1940’s into the mid 1950’s.

    You comment ‘you’re sorry you didn’t write about wine and roses’.

    Well, you didn’t, nor does anyone claim you should have.

    Your remark is akin to an obese person advised by his doctor that he might think about losing weight, mutters…
    “Everybody wants me to be as thin as a stick’.

    In other words going from one extreme to the other.

    The doctor is not suggesting his patient should move from obesity, one extreme, to anorexia, the other extreme.

    Nor did anyone suggest you should move from one extreme, your truly negative post, to the other extreme, wine and roses

    This kind of argument is only a deflection.

    We are all well aware everything in the garden is far from rosy, but I feel we must give Lawwell and others running the club some reasonable amount of time to turn things around.

    We’ve just come off three league titles in a row, and the moaners were complaining we didn’t win the Scottish Cup.

    as for someone calling you an uncomplimentary name, I’d suggest pot and kettle.

    In your address to me you asked ‘what’s the difference between faithful through and through’, and ‘we don’t do walking away’.

    The inference is disgusting.

    You need to rein in your temper.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    And being faithful through and through does not make me a sheep it makes me a fan of a football club. If there was an actual crises that put at risk the continuing existence of my football club I would stand side by side with my fellow fans like in 1995 but to start a mutiny because I do not like the fact we are not making £6,000,000 signings any more would be delusional and out of touch with the reality of the situation. Whatever way you slice it James in the world of football money talks and unfortunately we do not have access to vast wealth other clubs do. Anything else is irrelevant.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    You’re not talking about the same years as me.

    I was referring to the mid 1940’s to the mid 1950’s.

    I find it unbelievable that you find it unbelievable that others disagree with you.

    You’re a good writer James, but this doesn’t mean your opinions trump everybody else’s.

    I think the bulk of the replies agree that your opinions on this are a bit one sided. The replies have balance that up and there was no need for further comment, which just inflames the issue.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    james iff you dont like peter educate yourself about him you might change your mind like you did about cromwell by the way celtic had the ebt titles stolen they were not lost

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:51 pm


    Peter Lawwell has been at the club for ELEVEN YEARS. How much more time should he get?

    Where do you detect my temper? Once again, I’ve given a straightforward and sober analysis of where we are. You disagree with it.

    My question as to what the difference is between “faithful through and through” and “we don’t do walking away” is perfectly valid. Both put loyalty to club above all other considerations, including whether or not you believe that supporting the present incumbents is justified. I simply asked that you make a better, more compelling, argument than that we should have blind faith.

    You have compared the environments of 70 years ago with the one we’re in today. And you think it’s my argument that’s weak?

    Greg Kelly:

    I am not the £1 million a year CEO of Celtic, and therefore I am under NO obligation to provide an alternative strategy. Pay me the money and I’ll have a go, but until then it’s a lousy debating point.

    I have never suggested that we try to be “competitive” in the Champions League. Merely that we should not merely settle for reaching the Groups once every so often. We were a credible club back when we acted like it, before shoring up the balance sheet became the primary motivation. And let me tell you, your comment on Peter the Megalomaniac is equally out of sync with what I wrote. He earns more money than anyone at the club, more than any player, far more than the current manager, nearly three times what Lennon did. If you agree with that, then alright, I won’t argue with you.

    The “look at what happened to Rangers” argument is so old, and worn, that it’s barely worth putting up a case against. No-one is suggesting that, certainly not me. It’s the Animal Farm argument, “We don’t want Mr Jones back” and only a fool would accept it. I repeat; no-one is suggesting that we spend our way into heavy debt, that we flirt with death for some short term success.

    Faithful Through and Through is not an argument. It is the bleating of sheep. I am sorry to use such a harsh term. Accept mediocrity if that’s what you want. The “bad periods” in our history you refer to were either a result of the cyclic nature of football or the lack of a credible plan for going forward. This particular period of footballing poverty is the DELIBERATE POLICY of the board of directors, and that has never happened in our history as far as I am aware.

  • 13 August, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Sorry for returning comment on my own site. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that.

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