The Celtic Takeover – “Tread Softly”

“Tread softly”

The takeover 1

READ THIS…Part 1 of this five-part series: The battle for Celtic’s soul – “No enemy but time”

As the Celts celebrated their centenary season in 1987-88, few can have envisaged the decline that the club was subsequently to face. Joe Miller’s strike in the 1989 Sottish Cup Final stopped a Rangers treble, but it was to be the Ibrox side that dominated the 1990s. Celtic would not win a trophy again until 1995.

Celtic versus Rangers Scottish Cup Final 20th May 1989 Hampden Park Glasgow Scottish football score 1 0

In a financial sense, the club was even worse off than these pitiful on-field performances. By 1992, Rangers were making twice as much from their commercial side as Celtic. And when it came to an assessment of Celtic’s assets value, even Partick Thistle was worth four times the Celts!

For Celtic fans, the solution to this was clear; an entirely new Board was needed that could attract new expertise and, more importantly, finance. As well as the ordinary supporters, rich businessmen wanted change. Notably this included Fergus McCann and Gerald Weisfeld, but also involved men such as Brian Dempsey, John Keane and Willie Haughey.

The various prospective leaders of Celtic took different approaches in how they would achieve this change. Some tried direct negotiation with the Celtic board, offering to buy their shares which would in turn give them ownership of the Hoops. Others targeted smaller shareholders around the world, as a means of gaining a foothold in the club.

This entailed journeys all across the globe, often speaking to people who owned shares purely because of a great-ancestor they’d never met and rarely thought about. These shares were found in Canada, the USA, Ireland and numerous other countries. In fact, David Low, a ‘rebels’ advisor described a meeting in a cow shed in Ireland where he tried to buy shares.

David Low

All of these efforts succeeded in giving the rebel groups a sizeable Celtic ownership, but not enough to enact the changes they wanted. This is not to say that all was well with the Board; in fact, they were being driven apart by factionalism and arguments.

This was so much the case that in March 1992, an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) was called by some members of the board. Its aim was to remove two other Board members, Tom Grant and James Farrell. In fact, this move failed – and eventually made it even harder for the rebels to gain control of the club.

Following this EGM, an apparent outbreak of unity gripped the Celtic board. Five of the club’s directors – and main shareholders – agreed a pact to unite their shares. This involved Kevin Kelly, Michael Kelly, Chris White, Tom Grant and David Smith. It meant no-one could sell their shares to people such as McCann, or vote against any move which would dilute the board’s control.

The ‘Celtic families’ still believed they could shape Celtic’s destiny, and announced an initiative which was claimed would transform the Bhoys and build – literally – a 21st century club. Plans were announced for a ‘Field of dreams’, a new stadium at Cambuslang which would see Celtic move to what would have been the third Celtic Park.

The ‘rebels’ next action was to try and force a new share issue. They believed that this would raise the significant figures that the club needed and also end the family dynasties’ control of Celtic. Planning meetings took place in unusual places, including Casey Jones Burgers in Queen Street station (named after the nineteenth century US train driver).

In November 1993, another EGM was called, this time to vote on a motion to set up a new share issue. The Celtic board – especially the ‘Gang of five’ – would not allow such an action. Even any individual amongst them who wanted to do so was prevented from this by the legal pact they had signed. Quite simply, the rebel plan was always destined to fail.

If there was to be change at Celtic, it would have to be driven by other factors. And in this regard, the fans stepped forward. The Bank of Scotland eventually played a substantial role too, as would – entirely inadvertently – Celtic player Willie Falconer.


The campaign group Save our Celts had enjoyed some early successes and attracted publicity, but its influence and energy was beginning to wane. In its place came Celts for Change, established in September 1993 with the aim of giving substantial voice to growing fan anger. They participated in various activities such as leaflets drops, protest marches and rallies.

A conclusion was fast approaching. But would it be the end of the old Board, or the end of Celtic itself?

Visit The Celtic Star tomorrow to read Part 3 of this five-part series…

Matthew Marr

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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