A dictator toppled – Peter Lawwell resigns as Celtic CEO

After 17 years of being at the helm of Celtic Football Club, Peter Lawwell has retired as Chief Executive Officer and will leave his post in June.

Peter Lawwell took on the role as CEO of Celtic FC in 2003, succeeding the then Ian McLoed. His long reign in the position has came to an end in a somewhat surprisingly timed announcement which has taken place at the tail end of a disastrous season for the football club, which has seen the nine-time Scottish champions out of every cup competition on offer (Scottish Cup pending on being permitted again after cancellation) and 20+ points behind league leaders Rangers. Although Celtic do have three games in hand, it looks almost inevitable judging by trends that the premiership title will be going to Ibrox at the end of the season.

This will come as good news to much of the Celtic support who have grown disillusioned with the corporate body of our club and decisions being made at the highest level. The tensions between supporters and the board of directors have ran on for years but have been laid bare with the lack of success this season in which Celtic were gunning for a historic 10th league title in-a-row.

A multitude of disasters have happened on the pitch, which can be traced back to the start of the season where Celtic were knocked out of the Champions League Qualifiers by Hungarian minnows Ferencavrosi TC. Leading on from that were poor results against title contenders Rangers, dropping points and lacklustre performances against almost anyone in the league, resulting in an incredibly disappointing Europa League campaign where Celtic were out of the competition before Christmas with poor displays against the likes of Sparta Prague (in which Celtic were hammered 4-1 in both the home and away ties).

Big money and reputation signings brought in by the football club such as Vasilis Barkas, Albian Ajeti and Shane Duffy have not hit the standards that were expected when they all initially signed.

The straw that possibly broke the camels back though was when Celtic were knocked out of the league cup by Ross County in a shock exit at the second round of the competition. This, along with everything else that transpired before, infuriated supporters and many gathered in great numbers in Parkhead to show their disgust.

Fans voiced discontent at the board of directors and Peter Lawwell specifically for lack of forward planning ahead of the campaign, more motivation for profit targets on merchandise and season tickets over looking after the football side of things and their refusal to relieve Celtic manager Neil Lennon of his duties after a historically poor run of form. The board showed contempt for the supporters and our concerns for the direction of the club and instead decided to double down on their support for the manager and his back room staff, which only ignited further agitation from supporters groups with multiple banner drops outside Celtic Park and socially distanced demonstrations.

At the turn of the new year, Celtic also made the decision to travel to Dubai for an expensive warm weather training camp just as Scotland was going into a lockdown. This caused public outrage even outside our fanbase. By travelling to Dubai, there was a complete failure to read the room of the situation not just in regards with football matters but in regards to the record number of coronavirus cases growing in the UK. It painted a bleak picture of how far the club had went away from its standards and ended up backfiring  tremendously with defender Christopher Jullien (who has had a long-term injury, which raised further questions as why he travelled with the squad to train) testing positive and forcing a massive chunk of the squad who were close contacts to self-isolate. This derailed the season massively for Celtic and caused public opinion of us to plummet.

The North Curve and Bhoys groups specifically have directed fan actions to mount pressure on bringing about change at Celtic. Mission statements have been made demanding that CEO Peter Lawwell, main shareholder Dermot Desmond and manager Neil Lennon to resign from their duties.

Peter Lawwell has been celebrated by the mainstream media as a successful example of an efficient business strategist and high praise has been heaped upon him for apparent good management of finances at the club. While it may be true to look at it on face value and say that he has kept the club financially stable, this has been undoubtedly been at the expense of the fans relationship with the structures of the football club amidst greater marketisation, exploitation of staff working for Celtic FC in their hospitality and retail sectors and downsizing of the club to maximise profits.

Unite the Union found in 2016 that workers at Celtic Park and clubstores were employed on zero hour contracts. This flies in the face of the club’s principles and origins that harp back to the foundation of Celtic as a sporting institution, founded to help and feed the impoverished across Glasgow. For Lawwell and the powers that be at the club to then contradict that is a damning indictment on how an institution which is viewed by an alleviator of poverty had been twisted by capitalism to become an enforcer of one itself.

Lawwell invested the bare minimum to keep the club one step ahead domestically while he was being paid wages that would make eyes water, spending money from sold assets on mansions in the country and heated driveways. Up until now, for many years he was the highest paid CEO in British football.

The Irish identity of the club has been threatened many times by Lawwell and co. as a continued assault since the Fergus McCann era. Ultras group the Green Brigade have been threatened by the CEO many times for anti-board sentiment, displays deemed not kosher by the PLC and singing songs about the history of Ireland and the story of the diaspora and British oppression at Celtic matches. Whenever challenged, the Green Brigade and other similar group have still stood firm against this and have offered atmosphere, noise and standing up for a cause where the Celtic board have only desired to turn the fans’ matchday experience into plastic instead of a legitimate celebration of our club and our community that has built it from 1887 onwards (the board has been happy to profit off the Green Brigade’s displays on merchandise though, which highlights another case of money laced hypocrisy).

The board of directors at Celtic is populated by Conservative Party members and supporters of Loyalism. It is safe to say that we can’t really trust these people to have the best interests for the club at heart when the fact is they probably wouldn’t be anywhere near our club if it wasn’t for a profit incentive. Along with Lawwell, these people have to depart our club as well.

There is still a long way to go to save the soul and integrity of Celtic and Peter Lawwell leaving is only a small step in that. Tax dodging billionaire Dermot Desmond is still the mastermind behind corporate operations and he has already picked Lawwell’s successor in the form of Dominic McKay, CEO of Scottish Rugby.

Celtic supporters must get involved with the Celtic Trust to help the cause in establishing fan ownership and democracy from the top-down, not the bottom-up. We are not customers; we are supporters who are there to support our team and support the club at board level if we deem it necessary. The club can survive without an executive but it would always go under without the fans. We must fight for fan ownership and fan decision making because it is the only viable option to make sure we are doing well as a football team through boardroom decisions and to keep the soul of the club alive. Neoliberalism, like it does to all things in society, is killing that.

As the North Curve have stated themselves – One down; more to go.

Raymond Christie, is a member of the YCL’s Glasgow branch

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