Celtic’s Saviour Fergus McCann


Twenty years ago this month was a huge time in Celtic’s history.

The club were in the middle of a financial mess that could have led to its ruin. According to many commentators and those in the know, Celtic football club were on the verge of going into administration or perhaps liquidation.

Then out of the shadows came the club’s saviour.

He wasn’t wearing the famous hoops strip, he didn’t have the famous number seven emblazoned across his back and he wasn’t a huge strong man wearing a ┬ácape!

No the saviour, Fergus McCann, was a small elderly gentleman. Wearing a suit that always seemed a bit big for him. He also had a bit of a wonky eye, that seemed magnified behind a huge set of spectacles. Then there was the famous bunnet he would wear to all the games.

When you think of a hero, you don’t automatically think of Fergus McCann.

But be in no doubt, he was a hero for Celtic and this is coming from me, who has never been a fan of the ‘Hoops’.

When he arrived the club were in crisis. Not only with their finances, the team were nowhere near rivals Rangers and were finishing in 3rd or even 4th place in the league. In fact Celtic hadn’t won a single trophy since 1989! Mediocre players such as Wayne Biggins, Stuart Slater, Carl Muggleton and Anton Rogan were an all too familiar sight for Celtic fans.

Then there was the stadium. Parkhead had seen great triumphs and was often filled to the gunnels. But by the nineties it was no longer fit for purpose. The famous ‘Jungle’ had to go as it didn’t meet the new stadia requirements for all-seater stadiums.

Crowds had been quite low during the early nineties but McCann decided that was because the fans had hated the previous board and had seen pretty poor squads on the park.

So the Canadian businessman decided to keep Celtic at Parkhead but demolished three ends of the stadium and effectively build a brand new stadium. The club were re-homed at Hampden for a season as construction took place. Celtic Park re-opened in 1995 with a new 60,000 capacity and stands high in the Glasgow east end skyline. It will be key to the Glasgow Commonwealth games this summer.

McCann also brought in a better calibre of player to Celtic. Those players included Pierre van Hooijdonk, Paolo Di Canio, Jorge Cadete, Jackie McNamara, Craig Burley, Lubo Moravcik and of course Henrik Larsson.

In 1995, during Fergus McCann’s first full season in charge, Celtic won their first trophy in six years! The Scottish Cup celebration that year signalled a turning point for the club as they came back to the fore.

During his ownership at Parkhead, McCann got through four managers in five years.

When he arrived, Lou Macari was the present incumbent in the managerial hotseat. The former Celt couldn’t turnaround the clubs fortunes and often sent his team out to play cautious football, which didn’t win him much support with the Celtic faithful. Within a few months of his arrival, Fergus McCann sacked Lou for not being in Glasgow enough but probably because the boss just couldn’t get his side to play the Celtic way (win with attractive football).

In came another former Celtic legend Tommy Burns. Burns had done well at Kilmarnock, getting the Ayrshire club back into Scotland’s Premier Division in 1993. Tommy would see his Celtic side win the Scottish Cup in 1995. He was loved by the fans as his teams would play very attractive football with talented foreign imports complimenting solid Scottish counterparts. But unfortunately for Burns, he couldn’t wrestle the league trophy away from Rangers. He came very close but just couldn’t find enough points to overthrow Walter Smith’s men. He would be sacked in 1997 as McCann lost patience in his hunt for league success. Burns would serve under McCann longer than any other manager.

After Burns came Wim Jansen. The Dutch coach came in along with general manager Jock Brown. Jansen continued to play nice football but most importantly he succeeded in stopping Rangers win 10 league titles in a row. He also won the League Cup. But immediately after the double success, Wim left his post, citing McCann’s constant interference as his reason for departing.

Dr Jozef Venglos came in and was a disaster. He was quickly removed. In his last appointment, Fergus hired the duo of John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish. They didn’t last long as the partnership was deemed an utter disaster.

McCann just couldn’t leave a manager alone. He had to dabble in team affairs, wind up players over contracts and question his managers methods. Most of the bosses openly criticised McCann and how he dealt with football matters.

The bunnet wearing Canadian was ultimately at Celtic to save the business as well as the football club. He had more expertise in that side of things. He had a five year plan, that would make the club and himself money. But he was always open about that plan.

He was often mocked in Scotland as being a bit of a miser. Jokes would go about Glasgow that water was free at Parkhead but the cup had a rental fee. McCann certainly spent his money wisely and would look at many ways that helped make the club as self-sufficient as possible.

Unlike his Rangers counterpart at the time (Sir David Murray), McCann would never dream about throwing tons of cash at egotistic footballers. That might have cost Celtic a few titles during McCann’s tenure but look at the problems Rangers have had in the past few years.

Celtic are now seen as one of the worlds best run clubs. McCann made the football club successful both on the park and off it. They have a tremendous stadium and look to have a very healthy future.

Many fans of the ‘Hoops’ are critical of Peter Lawwell, but he has learnt that McCann’s astute way is best for business and it will protect the clubs history.

That is why Celtic fans should raise a cheer or a glass to Fergus McCann over the next week. He was the clubs saviour in their hour of need and his legacy will always remain at Parkhead.

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