What the ideal candidate can bring to Celtic chair role as Lawwell rumours circulate
Celtic announced yesterday that chairman Ian Bankier is to retire at the beginning of next year, ending over a decade at the helm of the Parkhead club.
With former CEO Peter Lawwell reportedly the favourite to fill the role, there’s a feeling of Groundhog Day for supporters as Celtic once again look inwards to fill a critical position at the club, with current CEO Michael Nicolson himself a fixture in the club’s hierarchy prior to replacing the outgoing Dom McKay.
Just as many supporters felt when Neil Lennon was re-appointed manager after an interim period in 2018-19, it’s impossible to dismiss the suggestion that too often Celtic appear to shirk due process and ambition in favour of supposedly “safe”, known options.
Whilst McKay’s appointment appeared at first to mark a sea-change in this approach, the former Scottish Rugby CEO spent a mere three months in the role before leaving in September of last year.
In what turned out to be Bankier’s penultimate AGM, with his final meeting due this autumn, there was no mention of McKay at any point during a series of interviews published by the club, the former CEO all but erased from history. His apparent decisions, so said by the club at the time, such as appointing manager Ange Postecoglou, were instead later attributed to Lawwell. Bankier was also given a hostile reception by attendees at the meeting, particularly on mention of the then touted appointment of former Police Scotland assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins, and was not re-elected to the board by those in the room.
What a fresh club chair can bring to Celtic
Despite overseeing a period of unprecedented domestic dominance, Lawwell’s time as CEO also saw a consistent undercurrent of distrust between sections of the fanbase and the club hierarchy, with the 63-year-old often drawing the most ire from fans during troubled times.
The ideal new chairperson wouldn’t just be someone with no prior association, negative or otherwise, but someone whose mission statement from day one is opening a more consistent, honest dialogue with the fanbase. Fan forums are valuable and should continue, but these should not be treated as a tick-box exercise, or a proxy for consistent, open dialogue between the club and supporters.
The primary responsibility of the club chair is to oversee the smooth running of the football club in all facets. Still, that doesn’t mean it has to be done in high secrecy with little vision or direction communicated to fans that are the club’s lifeblood, both culturally and financially.
Major shareholder Dermot Desmond rarely makes public appearances, doing little to dissuade the popular image of him as a largely absent presence at the top of the club. The perfect candidate would help fill that void, acting along with the CEO, as a bridge, rather than a proxy for Desmond, with at least some public image that the billionaire’s decisions regarding the club faced reasonable scrutiny.
Dom McKay said on his appointment as CEO that it was his goal to make Celtic “world class”, so that every aspect of the club could be compared to the best on offer in football. It was a statement of intent, and a departure from the very self-aggrandising approach of his predecessor. It also felt like a smoking gun in retrospect when rumours circled that McKay left the club due to tensions between himself and the board – was he trying to change too much, too quickly?
Since that statement, Celtic have made an internal hire for CEO, and reportedly look likely to have a Lawwell as both chairman and head of recruitment. Regardless of the CVs on offer, it seems unlikely that the club already had the best possible candidates for all three positions in their contacts prior to commencing recruitment.
Although it’s unlikely that we’ll ever be a party to the details of McKay’s time at Celtic, I’m sure there are tales of blame on both sides, his stated goal was the correct final destination for the club, and the perfect chair should strive to make Celtic as close to world-class in every department as possible. That feels more difficult to do if we keep settling for the same known faces.
In other news: Celtic explain stadium makeover after 6-month process