F**k The PLC: A Brief History of Celtic FC’s Boardroom

F**k The PLC: A Brief History of Celtic FC’s Boardroom

By Dennie Bhoy

Since the early demise of the Celtic Football Club’s intended charitable purposes, the departure and appalling treatment of Brother Walfrid and like-minded board members, there has been a relentless drive for power and wealth, fuelled by the greed of those in power at Celtic Park. From ‘limited company’ to PLC, any charitable notions the club once proudly cherished were altered quite readily in pursuit of the personal dreams of wealth and riches of those at the top of the club.

The ‘corporate squad’ was led by John H McLaughlin, who was responsible for their part in shaping our club and board members’ completely unacceptable attitudes and policies for years to come.

When the membership made the decision to change the club from a charitable institution into a business, in St Mary’s Hall on the 4th March 1897, the club wasn’t even a decade old. Yet, as early as 1892, almost immediately after Brother Walfrid’s departure, the club’s original charitable intentions were of little or no importance. The New Celtic outlook deemed easily attainable profits, bonuses and huge salaries the number one priority. The irony being that their new lavish lifestyles were being mainly funded by the money generated from the poverty stricken Irish immigrants of Glasgow’s East End, paying gate fees to watch Celtic play. Undoubtedly those same Irish immigrants that volunteered to build the new stadium in 1892 would also have been paying an unreduced entrance fee to watch Celtic play also.

These businessmen would have you believe that an establishment of a limited liability company was the club’s natural evolution to paving the way for further progress, whilst no doubt claiming that if Celtic remained a purely charitable institution then they would have gone on to become an endearing eccentricity, in the manner of Queens Park.

In 1895 the Glasgow Observer ran a story condemning ‘ the biggest-drawing club in Scotland’, for not one penny had been donated to the poor children’s diner table for which the club had been instituted, even though the demand for free dinners had increased from 66,000 to 97,000 in little over a year. All the while players, committee members and officials of the club had become so fixated and intent on fiddling money from the club without declaration to anyone outside their own small group, that by June 1895 12 members of Celtic (players and officials) were listed as proprietors of public houses in Glasgow and Lanarkshire. The club which originated for charity had turned into ‘a gravy train’ for certain individuals. A rather unholy alliance with the drink trade at the perceived expense of the clubs charitable remit was well and truly in place. In fact, the clubs board of directors after turning PLC, consisted of 6 wine and spirits merchants and builders merchant, Mr John Glass, or as I would have called it “6 publicans only one glass”.

Brother Walfrid had the final remark for these wet-lipped buffoons when, Celtic were returning from a continental tour in 1911, he parted from them in London with a farewell remark

“Well, well. Time has brought changes. Outside ourselves there are few left of the old brigade. It’s good to see you all so well, and I feel younger with the meeting. Goodbye, God Bless you!”

This may not be the remark or action I or anyone else would have taken against a group of corporate profiteers who single-handed turned the charitable foundations on which the club was based into one with completely opposite values around the accumulation of wealth. However, being the deeply devout and spiritual man Brother Walfrid was, I believe his remark ultimately challenges the PLC lot, whilst cleverly highlighting their drift to the devil’s side.

      [1889] Catholic charities received donation of £421 from club

      [1891] £545 of charitable donations made by club

      [1892] Selfless Irish volunteers build new stadium (current location),

      [1892] Brother Walfrid is transferred from club by his superiors to take up post in London.

      [1892] Only after he had departed could the advocates of limited liability – and paid officials –  characterise their opponents safely in such terms as ‘impertinent meddlers’, ‘dinner table soreheads’, and ‘soup kitchen kranks’.

      [1892] After Walfrid’s departure charitable donations were slashed to £230

      [1895] No charitable donations made.

      [1897] March 4th, Celtic AGM results in club becoming a PLC, paid £10,000 to landlord of site of stadium to have full ownership of the land.

Even before Brother Walfrid was transferred to a London Parish in 1892, a divide was created amongst committee members regarding the direction of the club. AGM’S and half-yearly meetings became the battleground for the soul of the club. The opposition to the idea of limited liability were eroded and worn down, or eradicated completely over the years until the eventual formation of “The Celtic Football and Athletic Company Limited.” On the 25th February 1897, a committee was struck to draw up a scheme to be submitted to the membership as a matter of urgency. Ironically, the committee would include Tom Maley, Frank Havelin and Michael Hughes in the provisional board, all of whom were critics of the executive’s failure to live up to the club’s original goals. The inclusion of these three men was surely the clearest possible indication that ‘the rebels’ had bowed to the inevitable. The advocates of the new limited Company had won, and on 4th March 1897 the PLC had been accepted. However Tom Maley, Frank Havelin and M. Hughes were not part of the new PLC board after the club’s new status had been approved.

The first Board members of the PLC of 1897 were as follows:

Chairman: John H McLaughlin

Board Members: John O’Hara, John Glass, Michael Dunbar, James Grant, John McKillop and James Kelly.

Within the first few weeks of their election, they appointed Willie Maley, as secretary-manager.

Here are some facts which may be of interest to Celtic supporters:

The kernel dispute which divided the club was graphically illustrated by a contretemps at the December half-yearly meeting between Frank Havelin, a gas work labourer and Celtic member, and John H McLaughlin, Celtic’s then Vice President. Havelin was forced to defend himself at Glasgow Sheriff Court in a slander action brought against him by McLaughlin for an allegedly ‘false and calumnious statement’ made at the meeting.

In his defence Havelin claimed that “Celtic was being ruptured by a class divide, and asserted that working men had been attracted to the club originally because of its charitable aims and had become enthusiastic supporters. The club’s primary purpose had been abandoned and what is known as professionalism was introduced by the executive in the system of management dividing the membership into 2 different camps or parties, one representing the working class element and the other the better-to-do party’.

The latter group was symbolised by McLaughlin, who was also a Hamilton Publican. He had been irritated by Havelin’s spirited defence of the club’s status quo at a meeting held in April 1895. At this meeting, McLaughlin moved that the management committee be granted power, if necessary, to call upon the members to pay such sums as may be their pro rata share of the clubs liabilities within 14 days of receiving the notice by registered mail, or else be deemed to have let their membership lapse. Havelin immediately moved an amendment, which he affirmed that such a rule would drive out all working-men. A large majority carried Havelin’s amendment. McLaughlin’s court action claimed the sum of £100 in damages, a tactic which should be viewed to silence opposition through financial intimidation. The £100 amounted to 2 years salary for Havelin. The Sheriff shared the general opinion of Havelin and awarded him the costs, stating such an action should never have been raised.

At the 1891 AGM, John Conway was deposed as honorary president; later in the 6 hour meeting he suffered more humiliation when he lost in a bid to replace John Glass as president. Dr. Conway was a man of unimpeachable integrity and was lauded by the St Vincent de Paul Society as a generous contributor and was publicly thanked by them for his ‘gratuitous attendance to the poor’. Ultimately he paid the price for having the temerity to deplore the committee’s introduction of paid officials without the sanction of ‘the general body of the club’ and for seeking to have those appointments annulled. He claimed there were men available to take over such duties for the love of the club – and the object for which it was formed – and so long as such could be got, he would oppose paying anybody’. Even his death in January 1894, went without tribute or notice at the clubs next AGM. The Glasgow Observer did though stating, “It was greatly owing to his exertion that the Celtic Football Club was started, and in acknowledgement of his efforts in that direction the members appointed him honorary president for 3 years.”

On 6th October 1894, the same paper suggested that with the approach of winter the poor children’s’ dinner table might be assisted by Celtic playing a game on its behalf. Adding ‘less deserving matters have had greater attention given them by the club executive’. It fell on deaf ears as did a plea to share the gate receipts of a cup replay with Hibernian a few months later, a game that was replayed due to Celtics protest against Hibs fielding an ineligible player. A request from the Sacred Heart conference of the St Vincent De Paul Society two years earlier when they asked Celtic to play a match for the same purpose was ignored. Realising “their” club would not oblige they turned to Clyde and Edinburgh Hibernian who did help out, to the Celtic board’s embarrassment. The game was played at Barrowfield Park in April 1893, not a lucrative turnout, mainly because on that same day Celtic went to Ibrox to play rangers in a friendly match and pocketed their share of the proceeds from a much larger attendance.

After the Glasgow Observer’s campaign against Celtic, the club transferred its advertising to the newly formed Glasgow Examiner. Coincidently, the football column would be compiled by no less a personage than John H McLaughlin that noted flayer of the ‘malcontents’.

The December 1894 half-yearly meeting saw Stephen Henry, a former committee man, who had been ousted 7 months earlier after querying whether those running the club were fully accountable to the membership, asked a question about ‘irregularities in stand drawings not very long back’ relating to a Scotland v England match in April. The implication was obvious and an embarrassed  McLaughlin was forced to admit that although suspicions had been roused, an internal investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. However Tim Walls, a committee man who acted as auditor that day spoke out, “In fact, so plain did he speak that a member of the committee informed the chairman that, if Mr. Walls said any more, the matter would not be settled there. Whether Mr. James Curtis meant in the arena of play or the court of justice he did not further enlighten the hearer. Mr Walls, objected to Mr Curtis taking charge of money on the day mentioned, as Mr Curtis had nothing to do with the matter. This matter was the dropped.” (Scottish Referee 14/12/1894) It no doubt came as a great relief when Mr Walls emigrated to South Africa 5 months later.

The Glasgow Observer, (13/07/1895) remarked ‘to say the least a trifle curious how certain men, players or officials, not in what one could call flourishing financial condition, suddenly blossom into publicans’. Notably, they referred to players such as James Kelly, Paddy Gallagher, Sandy McMahon, ex-player Mick Dunbar and Dan Doyle. John Glass was discomforted over this issue, as at the AGM a month previously he refused point blank to answer any questions relating to the source of funds for Doyle’s pub in Baillieston.

John H McLaughlin entered the wine and spirit trade in 1893, whilst John O’Hara was an east end publican from the early 1890’s. In February 1895, the Scottish Referee exposed Arthur Murphy as the owner of the Celtic Bar opposite the Camlachie Institute close to Celtic Park, which he acquired for the princely sum of £1,200. (Murphy was once described as ‘the champion of labour’ when he opposed a limited liability proposal at the AGM in 1893,) James Kelly, Celtic’s first ever captain, had acquired the tenancies of pubs in Blantyre, Hamilton and Motherwell within a decade of joining the club as an amateur and an apprentice joiner. The success he enjoyed with running these 3 businesses ultimately smoothed his path into public life as a justice of the peace, county councillor and school board trustee.

Father Francis Hughes of the Sacred Heart parish bemoaned in his sermons ‘the prevalent poverty in the district, caused in very many cases, both directly and indirectly by indulging in strong drink’. He also voiced his concerns that Celtic was embroiled in the controversy over the issue. October 1890 Archbishop Eyre questioned the judgement of his clergy who bestowed their support on a football club that bankrolled the unsuccessful application of Willie Groves to the licensing court for a pub in Taylor Street in the Townhead district. After the introduction of the PLC a United Celtic Brake Club meeting in July 1897 stated that it was now a question of ‘supporting temperance on the one hand, and brewers and publicans on the other’.

December 1895 half-yearly meeting, Tom Maley rose to attack the move to vote on Celtic becoming a limited liability company, on the constitutional grounds that an AGM or an extraordinary meeting with advance notice would have been the appropriate forum. He stated that he ‘would not object to any scheme brought forward if he thought it would enable the club to carry out the noble purpose for which it was started, namely charity.’ Unlike his brother Willie, Tom lost some favour with the committee, probably because he frequently castigated them on their neglect of the poor children’s tables. His passion at this meeting was derided by one office bearer, William McKillop (ironically, a prosperous restaurateur), as ‘mere claptrap’. Tom Maley contributed personally to charity, and nobody should have questioned his genuine concern for the poor, nor his commitment to the St Vincent de Paul Society or to the poor children’s’ dinner tables.

In June 1896, James McKay the honorary treasurer could report on Celtic’s British record income of £10,000, yet a request from the St Vincent de Paul Society for a specific donation to the poor children’s tables of St Mary’s, Sacred Heart and St Michael’s was turned down. However, funds were made available to award the treasurer and match secretary (Willie Maley) £75 each in honoraria. In the same year the clubs status as PLC was announced, Celtic purchased the site of their stadium for £10,000, and the real motives of the advocates of limited liability could be seen within its first year of operation. An income of £16,267(another British record) resulted in a 20% dividend for shareholders and directors, but nothing for charity. The original impulse was truly dead.

In 1898, James Grant had a palatial stand built on the London road side of the ground and contracted with the club to operate it as a matter of private enterprise. Grant took a percentage of the admission money as a means of recouping his investment. The first two tiered structure of its kind in Britain it included padded tip-up seats and a glass fronted design to protect paying customers from the rain, however little allowance was made for condensation and the windows misted up obscuring the customers view. There were also complaints the stairs leading to the seats were too high or steep. On the 9th may 1904 a fire broke out and damaged the pavilion and stand on the opposite side of the ground, arson was the main suspicion. The mainly wooden structure, capable of seating 3,500 was razed. Although the pavilion was capable of repair. In view of the drawbacks already detected in his “Grant-Stand”, John Grant was only too happy to sell it to the club in their predicament.

These were the principles of the board members and directors of 1897. Almost 115 years later, has anything significantly changed?

It is my opinion that the current Celtic PLC board are as bad if not worse than their predecessors.

Their constant attention to get one over rangers off the field – concerning balance sheets, debt control, sustainable debt, and financial gain – has ultimately given our greatest rivals a continued supply of oxygen rather than finish them off. As a Celtic football fan, the demise of our most hated enemy is the best thing that could happen. Ask yourself why the Celtic PLC board would not want to share the fans’ point of view and help finish off rangers? The answer is blatantly obvious, the real “Old Firm” are in the boardrooms of Celtic and rangers, it is they who need each other like a fish needs water. This is how the profiteers act; the business and football interests of the respective boards are dependant upon each other.

But the greatest hypocrisy of the Celtic PLC board is their attitude towards the fans. Others from TAL have exposed the complicity and duplicity of the board in supporting the police agenda that seeks to criminalise a section of our supporters. I will give just one example of this hypocrisy from last season – the hoo-hah created by the police and board regarding ‘lateral movement’ of fans (i.e. standing up, moving or jumping around). Fans were advised to stop this due to the ‘health and safety fears’ of the City Council and the police. The club then tried to make an example of the Green Brigade and other section members for ‘lateral movement’ due to its ‘health and safety fears’, despite tolerating much larger examples of ‘lateral movement’ involving almost the entire Celtic support – i.e. ‘doing the huddle’. Their ‘fears’ were arbitrary and applied to a section of the support that the police had identified as ‘the enemy within’ at Celtic Park.

The actions of the police are supported by a hypocritical PLC board that sanctions the playing of songs popularised by the Green Brigade over the tannoy system and selling official merchandise emblazoned with ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, etc… Another example of boardroom double-speak appeared on billboards with the slogan “The thunder has returned to Parkhead, will you?” in order to sell season books, knowing full well that any ‘thunder’ or atmosphere injected into what was previously a funeral parlour of a stadium has come solely from voluntary fan organisations. All this was going on whilst the PLC board and ‘club security’ withheld the applications for season book renewal of everyone in Section 111.

Considering the constant stream of lies that emanate from the Celtic boardroom, the ill treatment of fans, and the regard for corporate business values over common decency, it is a wonder that the club hasn’t suffered more in terms of boycotts and withdrawal of co-operation by the fans.

Now, and Forever in Celtic,

PMFA – No.1