Tonight’s news that Peter Lawwell has been elected to the main board of the SFA is that rarest of things, in that there are no shades of grey about it. This is either a very great thing, or a very bad one. There’s no in between.
I am speaking purely as a supporter of Celtic here, but I know that other fans across the land will echo that view. I have issues with some of the things Lawwell has done at Celtic Park.
I think he’s shown lack of ambition, and of backbone. I have accused him, and the rest of the board at Parkhead, of being unwilling to take on the vested interests, and pursue maximum justice for our club. There are too many unanswered questions regarding licensing issues, fit and proper persons, too many questions about rules being broken and bent, and the feeling, by many, that Lawwell, and Celtic, were sitting on their hands and letting it go on, instead of grabbing these things by the scruff of the neck, and pushing for serious action.
Tonight, Lawwell is one of the powerbrokers. He has one of the seats at the top table, the very top table. He has the authority to speak on behalf of the other clubs, and he does so as, unarguably, the most powerful man in the Scottish game because our club is the most powerful in the game, now and for far into the foreseeable future.
We will either see changes, real changes, and real oversight, or this appointment will confirm the darkest suspicions of many amongst the Celtic support; that Lawwell and the Celtic board are utterly out of sync with the ambitions and objectives of the fans.
The fans not just of Celtic but of every other club in this land.
What we want, what we have long wanted, is to know this game is clean. To know this game is straight. To know it is being run right, and by the right people, for the good of all the clubs. To know that our structures, our commercial agreements, our rules and regulations, exist on the basis of fairness and sporting integrity and are not constructed around an axis of two clubs, or bent and twisted for the benefit of that two club system.
I may fault the Celtic board for their level of ambition, but I cannot argue at all that the club is a wonderful example of doing things by the numbers, of following the rules, of living within their means, of professionalism and of fair play. The board at Celtic Park has run the club in a manner which befits men of their calibre. They have played everything straight, and ticked all the boxes. Everything is done to a high standard, and according to the book.
On the other side of the city is a basket case club, run by an assortment of chancers, wide boys, quick buck artists and the occasional criminal. They have subverted regulations and they have ignored others. They have obeyed neither the wording of the rules or the spirit in which they were written. See this summer for a prime example. Doubtless McCoist and others have patted themselves on the back for the way they worked around their transfer ban, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of other supporters, and other clubs, those who’ve had to accept similar punishment in the past instead of looking for ways to negate them.
Two and some years ago, the SFA and the other governing bodies, tore up their own rule book in an effort to sustain a dead organisation, by granting a successor club which had never played a minute of football in this, or any other, country a place in the top division. Fan power defeated that ghastly intention, which would have obliterated the integrity of our sport. The new club started where all new clubs start; at the bottom.
Their preachy, arrogant sense of entitlement has brought the game to the point of crisis several times since, and no meaningful sanction has been applied to them.
They have ignored some of the most basic regulations and fundamental requirements the game has; everything from submitting audited accounts to their refusal to disclose the precise details of who it is who owns their club and controls its destiny.
They are possibly a year away from the top flight, and yet their future is uncertain, with factions scrambling for control in a boardroom war even as the club bleeds money at an unsustainable rate.
The SFA has a responsibility to the other clubs in the league to limit the potential disruption to football if this version of Rangers goes the way of the old club. The requirement for three years audited accounts exists precisely for this purpose, and whilst we cannot expect a new football club to be able to supply that number, it is incumbent on the association to study the books as they stand now, from the moment of this club’s inception to the present day, in an effort to gauge their current financial position and their likely state over the next 12 – 36 months.
With Lawwell at the helm, these things must be done. Lawwell has set his reputation, professionally and personally, on Celtic living by a certain set of rules. He has divided the Celtic support at times with his insistence we do not spend more in a season than we bring in. His adherence to transparency and the respect for the balance sheet speaks to a man who understands that good governance is fundamental not only to his own club but the wider game, and I will, frankly, be staggered and appalled if those standards are not applied without fear or favour, across the board, starting with the club directly across town.
Some will say he is using his position to further Celtic’s agenda, but that simply will not fly if what the man is doing is insisting that all clubs follow the same set of rules.
Where is it in the interests of anyone that certain clubs are allowed to spend more than they earn, to withhold crucial information, to populate their boardrooms with cast-offs from The Sopranos? If he gets a grip on that, then the only people who will have a problem with it are those who think cheating is acceptable, corruption is the norm and transparency and disclosure are for other people.
Scottish football has never needed strong leadership more, and if Peter Lawwell is going to bring that then this appointment is outstanding.
I have said for months that Celtic, as the game’s only superpower, has to be the club that takes the lead in pressing for genuine reform, and if that’s what the guy is in there to do then I am not only supportive but absolutely delighted to see it. This might well be the moment the game here has been waiting for.
If the critics amongst the Celtic support are right, however, and Lawwell and the Celtic board are of the view that Celtic needs a club called Rangers, no matter what rules must be bent, or ignored, or changed, if Celtic is of the view that a club called Rangers needs to be in the top division for us to fulfil our potential, and is willing to look the other way and ignore the regulations that every other club in the land has to live by, then this is a dark, dark day in the history of the game, and of the club, and football in Scotland is on its way back to being the province of two clubs again, and therefore headed for disaster on a hitherto unparalleled scale.
The first thing to happen will be a revolt of the Celtic supporters.
With Peter Lawwell now in such a position of influence, there will be no hiding place for him if that influence is not used to pursue answers to historical questions about what was allowed to happen at Rangers, and how that impacted on his own club.
The Celtic Supporters Trust and others have been working on motions for the EGM, motions which are setting out clear questions they want our club to lobby the SFA to have answered. Some amongst the support will suspect that Peter Lawwell’s elevation to the SFA board is the price they are willing to pay so those questions are never answered. Is Lawwell now bound by confidentiality, and collective responsibility?
He is now serving alongside a man the entire Celtic support believes is unfit for office. Did Celtic’s refusal to rock the boat during the re-election of Ogilvie allow us to put our man in place, to get further inside than ever before, to get more answers than we were ever going to get? Or was that a shabby deal and this the price of our silence?
Celtic’s front man is now in a position of enormous influence and authority. He can use that position to make real changes and to make sure the rules are enforced for everyone or he can make Celtic Football Club complicit in whatever disaster or scandal engulfs the game next.
There is no middle ground. Not anymore.
This is either the moment we’ve been waiting for, or a moment that plunges our game deeper into the dark than ever before, and will lead to an inevitable and irrevocable split between the governing bodies and the supporters, not only of Celtic but of every club.
This is a dangerous moment for Lawwell, Celtic and the SFA. The flipside of that coin is that it’s also a great opportunity. Time will tell.
Peter Lawwell, failure to sign players is one thing. Some will overlook it.
Failure to act resolutely to end the corruption? You’re on a whole new playing field now.
Failure is not an option. You are, as I said at the start, fresh out of alibis.
Don’t let us down.
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