The Celtic Takeover – “The game is over, the rebels have won!”

“Things fall apart”

The Celtic Takeover

Click on the links below to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this five-part series on The Celtic Star…

READ PART 1…The battle for Celtic’s soul – “No enemy but time”

READ PART 2…The Celtic Takeover – “Tread Softly”

By early-1994, things were becoming desperate at Celtic. Despite seeing off the rebels’ EGM efforts, it was obvious that new money was urgently needed. And by March of 1994, things had reached a crisis point.

The Bank of Scotland was increasingly unhappy, unsure of how Celtic could possibly pay back the club’s debt. And the rejection of a share issue which might have achieved this had not pleased the Bhoys’ financial backers. Disaster then occurred owing to a recent Celtic signing.

Willie Falconer, Celtic FC 15 August 1994

Willie Falconer arrived at the club in February 1994. Later that month, Celtic was due to pay an instalment of his transfer fee to Sheffield United. However in doing so, this took Celtic over their agreed overdraft limit. Now the Bank acted. At first, they asked the club’s directors for personal guarantees, which the Celtic men could simply not afford to do.

And then things got even worse for the Board. Firstly, the funding package they said they had secured to pay for Cambuslang was shown to be non-existent; the bank Gefinor denied any formal involvement or agreement. And a Celtic versus Kilmarnock match was affected by a fan boycott which saw fewer than 9000 in Celtic Park.

The Bank now spoke to various potential Celtic funders that could provide the money which was needed. At this point, Fergus McCann – and John Keane – stepped back into the story. Financial guarantees were sought – with strict deadlines. In simple terms, £1 million was needed straight away to stop Celtic going into receivership, which Keane provided.

READ THIS…Administration was unthinkable,’ – Thanks a Million, John Keane, Celtic Hero

Fergus McCann then flew from his North American home to Scotland. The Bank of Scotland had set various deadlines, and by 12 noon on Friday 4 March 1994, Celtic faced the prospect of being wound up. McCann arrived in Scotland and went to his bank (Clydesdale Bank), before quickly making his way up St Vincent Street to the Bank of Scotland.

At 11.52am – just eight minutes before the decision could have been taken to end Celtic’s illustrious history – a deal was reached which saved the club. However, this did not give McCann or his group control of Celtic, which moved the next scene of battle to Celtic Park.

As the Scots-Canadian arrived at the ground, fans were already starting to gather to celebrate the change they had long hoped to see. But in fact, things were not as simple as this. There still had to be work done to persuade the major shareholders to hand over control.

READ THIS…The Rebels have won – or at least Fergus McCann had

At this point, the rebels fell into disputes. Some believed it important to strike a quick deal and pay the old Board what they wanted for their shares. However Fergus McCann is said to have argued that “not one thin dime” should go to the men whose actions had led Celtic so low. It was a sentiment the fans would certainly understand.

The alternative was that the rebels could allow the Bank of Scotland to call in the receivers. At that point, ownership of Celtic could be secured for a far lower price than would otherwise be the case, but equally this would have been a huge embarrassment to the club’s fine history.

McCann – under pressure from Brian Dempsey and others – eventually agreed to buy the required shares which would give him and others control. Following this, all that remained was to tell the fans. As the old Board were safely escorted from the ground, Brian Dempsey stood at the main stand steps and famously announced: “The game is over, the rebels have won!”

However, for Celtic – and especially Fergus McCann – the real work was only just about to begin. And like the takeover itself, it would prove to be a very rocky road.

Visit The Celtic Star tomorrow to read Part 4 of this five-part series.

Matthew Marr

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About Author

Matthew Marr first started going to see Celtic in the 1980s and has had a season ticket since 1992. His main Celtic interest is the club's history, especially the early years. In 2023, Matthew published his first Celtic book, telling the story of the Bhoys' first league title. He also runs Celtic history walking tours.

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