A Celtic State of Mind: The McCann Takeover – Rebellion in Paradise

The McCann Takeover Part 1:
How photocopied fanzines and fan power led to rebellion in Paradise

It took just ten minutes to sell 500 copies of the photocopied first edition of Celtic fanzine, Not The View, before the first Old Firm game of Celtic’s centenary season. Just seven years later, Glasgow’s slumberous green-and-white behemoth was a mere eight minutes from extinction.

The importance of fan media to Celtic’s survival in the early nineties cannot be underestimated. This did not take the form of the slick blogs, quick news, podcasts and video content that we have all grown accustomed to in the near-25 years since Brian Dempsey stood on the rain-soaked steps of 95 Kerrydale Street to deliver his victory proclamation. But those 24 black-and-white satirical pages began an uprising within the Celtic support that proved pivotal to Fergus McCann’s eventual takeover on 4 March 1994.

The identities of contributors to the August 1987 issue of NTV were shrouded in mystery, but their Xerox manifesto on the opening page described them as:

A group of like-minded supporters who go to the Jungle every Saturday (and who) decided that it was time for the views of the ordinary fans to be heard.”

The club’s official media vehicle, the Celtic View, which had been the brainchild of the then Chairman, Jack McGinn some 22 years previously, was quickly christened, “Pravda,” by its nemesis due to it, “only putting forward the (club’s) party line.”

“Over the course of the season,” continued NTV’s unnamed editor, “we had written many letters to the Celtic View but they were never printed. Therefore, in order that we – the ordinary supporters – get a chance to criticize how the team is run, we have started this fanzine. We feel there is still a need for an alternative voice, perhaps one with a bit more venom and wit behind it, and we hope you’ll agree.

Any serious criticism of how the team is run at the very top would not be included in the official club newspaper, the Celtic View… We aim to print the sort of opinion you hear on the terracing but never see in the View.”

The manner of Celtic’s capitulation under Davie Hay during the second half of 1986/87, following the iconic 1986 Love Street title win, wouldn’t have softened the mood of these Jungle dwellers. Their frustrations would have been compounded further by the loss of Murdo MacLeod, Mo Johnston, Alan McInally, top goalscorer Brian McClair, and club stalwart Danny McGrain.

The result of this abject failure? “David Hay had to go,” asserted NTV. Despite the board’s refusal to build on the 1986 league championship win with the acquisition of any players of real quality, it was the manager who carried the can.

Hay’s successor was his former team-mate and captain, Billy McNeill, who, “should never have been allowed to leave… The truth is that most of the present gang of directors were at the club when the manager they were so unbearably smug at bringing back was forced to quit.”

McNeill’s return on 29 May 1987 had been prompted by Rangers, “providing the impetus by completely revolutionising their dinosaur-like thinking and dull, conservative image. The creative marketing of David Holmes had forced the Celtic board to act in a way which was totally alien to them. They actually had to think about the future of the club and make some long-overdue decisions.

“Billy McNeill must do better than his predecessor, and he can start by getting Paul McStay to sign a new contract now. This would enable him to build a team around McStay and stop any unsettling press speculation about contracts before it has a chance to begin again.”

Despite Celtic’s promising start to their centenary campaign – prompted by the rejuvenation of the aforementioned McStay – NTV were keen to stress that fans, “should not let this obscure the fact that there are still some things about the way the team is run by the board of directors which leave a lot to be desired… for too long the Celtic board have taken it for granted that we will turn up in all kinds of weather to stand in a stadium which is only now beginning to emerge from the dark ages.”

This new fanzine was on the money when it came to the ineptitude of Celtic’s board of directors, the choice of incoming manager, our star man’s contract, and they also had radical ideas on the future of the club’s stadium and how its transformation should be financed: “We can all have a good laugh at the Huns as they go through the annual ritual of the shareholders meeting… But at least they can make their views, however bigoted or stupid they may be, known to the directors face-to-face… Who are the Celtic directors accountable to? When was the last time you were at a meeting attended by one of them?

“We believe that radical changes should be made in the way the club is run at the very top. Celtic should go public and float a large number of shares. Not only would this provide a massive injection of cash, but with any luck we might end up with a chairman with a bit of style and charisma. If the board will not do this (would the turkeys vote for an early Christmas?) then at least they should be more accountable to the people who make the club what it is – you and I, the supporters. If we didn’t go along every Saturday then these Mr Magoos wouldn’t have a club to run.

“The stadium, in our view, is not worthy of a club such as Celtic, which considers itself to be one of Britain’s major teams. One is forced to ask where all the revenue that has accumulated since the club were founded has been spent, as it obviously has not been invested in the stadium… the fact remains that from once having one of the world’s foremost football stadia, we now have a ground that has fallen behind most of the major clubs in Britain… What makes this all the harder to bear is the fact that many clubs with better facilities for their fans than Celtic are able to provide them on gates which are, and have been for many years, on average much smaller than ours.

“We no longer need a stadium capable of holding more than 60,000 supporters. A capacity of around 50,000, or even less, would be enough for just about every home game. Only on very special occasions would this capacity be threatened.”

Despite their underestimation of Celtic’s pulling-power at the turnstiles, Not The View were years ahead of their time. They were mapping out a blueprint that the Celtic board of directors were incapable and unprepared to implement – it would ultimately be the board’s downfall.

Following a Sunday Mail article on 18 July 1987 which covered how Rangers, “had spent vast amounts of money on players and had won the title (their first since 1978) but ended up with an enormous trading deficit at the end of the season,” Celtic Chairman Jack McGinn’s mantra was eerily prophetic, “We think it would be wrong of us to overspend and put the future of the club at risk…”

NTV were adamant that McGinn’s stubborn response went, “a long way to illustrate the total lack of vision of our directors. Until this parsimonious and conservative attitude is blown out of the club like an old cobweb, nothing will radically change at Celtic… If the board have any imagination at all, they will give McNeill the money he needs to build on this squad and help put this team back at the forefront of European football where they should be.”

The glorious centenary season that followed would mask some of the board’s deficiencies, but their complete lack of business acumen would be embarrassingly exposed in the six years that followed. Celtic needed a saviour, and he would soon emerge from the unlikeliest of destinations.

This is the first in a series of articles by Paul John Dykes on how Celtic fans’ early nineties street movement influenced Fergus McCann’s eventual takeover of the club. Regular pieces will be uploaded between now and the 25th anniversary of the takeover in March 2019.

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