Open to all?
Those of you who read my ramblings will know how much I support Celtic’s ideals of inclusion as a club open to all. That openness includes those of all faiths and none, all ethnicities and all political views which stay within the bounds of sanity and decency. Our support has grown beyond the progeny of the founding generation of Irish migrants and now includes people from all walks of life and that is how it should be. There is however a tendency among a minority of our fellow fans to be rather unforgiving to any who don’t feel as they do about certain issues surrounding the club. This is nothing new as the early history of the club saw an event which caused great soul searching among those who followed the Celts.
One of the great controversies of the early years of Celtic FC occurred shortly after the club converted from charitable status to become a Limited Company in 1897. The years between 1888 -1897 saw Celtic deliver on their promise to fund the Children’s Dinner Tables and do so in a spectacular way. The club was an instant success and the crowds were turning up in large numbers. The Scottish Cup victory of 1892 had the east end of Glasgow in a state of fevered excitement. Walfrid’s team had arrived and were looking to be the dominant force in the land. However there was some division within the camp between those who saw the need for the club to become a Limited Company and those purists who saw the charitable trust as the way forward. In the end the hard headed businessmen, led by the tough and pragmatic John Glass, won the day. Celtic needed to become a Limited Company, Glass clamed, so that in the increasingly professional world of late Victorian football they could raise revenue to rebuild the stadium to the required standard and recruit players of high calibre.
Glass was probably right in as much as the Celtic we know today might not exist had it remained a charity. More professional outfits would soon have left the club in their wake had they not become a formal business on a secure financial footing. Professionalism was coming and Glass saw that a charity would be hard pushed to sign or retain top players and Celtic might not remain a leading club if it stuck with the old model. However funds being donated to charity fell in the years after Walfrid left for London to the point where in some years nothing at all was given and that remains a stain on the record of the early Celtic Board. In 1963 Walfrid’s old school, St Mary’s, celebrated its centenary and a history published to celebrate its 100 years was scathing towards the new business culture at Celtic…
‘The Penny Dinner Tables lost the financial aid of the Celtic Football Club. Brother Walfrid, who founded Celtic as a charitable trust, was sent to London in 1892 and the Committee freed from his restraining hand ignored the end for which the club had been founded.’
The purists eventually attempted to form a new club, Glasgow Hibernians, which they thought might resurrect the spirit of the early Celtic. Glasgow Hibernians failed, principally because the community supporting Celtic were firm in their loyalty to the Parkhead club and as Eric Cantona once said: “You can change your wife, your politics, your religion, but never, ever can you change your favourite football team.”.
Today few seriously challenge the need for Celtic to be run on modern lines like every other top club in the world. There are of course the usual discussions about the direction the club takes, the amounts given to charity and such things are part and parcel of any institution followed by such a passionate support. Many Celtic supporters though are also very politically aware and this is perhaps a result of the club’s history. The ideals of a club ‘open to all’ are challenged for some when it comes to accepting others with different political views to their own. The Celtic support is rightly proud that a side born into the Irish Catholic community was accepting players and officials of all faiths and none from their earliest times. As Willie Maley famously said; ‘It’s not the creed, nor his nationality that counts, it’s the man himself.’ In that spirit Celtic can count among their greats many who did not come from a traditional Celtic background.
It did not go unnoticed among many that Celtic non-executive Director, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, is a Conservative Peer and as such generally supportive of the proposed cuts to tax credits which analysts say will hit 3 million of our poorer families should they come to pass. Some have demanded that Lord Livingston be removed from the Celtic board amid claims that his stance is not compatible with the charitable traditions and ethos of Celtic FC. An online petition to this effect has had over 8000 signatures added to it and my Twitter timeline contains many comments regarding this matter. A minority have resorted to rather base language but alas that seems to be standard fare on social media in the modern era. I decided to get in touch with Ian Livingston and put the question to him directly and emailed him the following:
Tirnaog: ‘I am an ordinary Celtic supporter from the East End of Glasgow. I wanted to ask you how you could possibly vote in favour of tax credit cuts for 3 million of the poorest working people on these islands and square this with your work at Celtic FC, a club founded to support the poor in Glasgow? You must realise that these measures would hurt many of the most vulnerable in society among them many Celtic supporters. Brother Walfrid would be appalled.’
Lord Livingston replied promptly and I must stress that he did so in his role as a Peer of the House of Lords and not as a Celtic Director…
Lord Livingston: ‘I believe that the tax credit changes should be adjusted to help those affected. These changes should also be set against the changes to the minimum wage and much higher level before people pay tax in looking at the net impact. However I voted against the amendments to effectively stop the implementation of the reduction in working tax credits because I think this financial matter was constitutionally a matter for the democratically elected House of Commons not the House of Lords.’
Firstly as a Tory Peer it is fair to say that he is in general agreement with the budget deficit reduction the current Government is trying to achieve but he stresses he wants to see those worst affected helped. He also voted in the way he did on the point of order that the House of Commons not the Lords should decide on financial legislation. I responded to Lord Livingston by asking the following question..:
Tirnaog: ‘In choosing the name ‘Lord Livingston of Parkhead’ in your title must surely make you think of the lives of the powerless out here in the real world who have had a most difficult time these last few years. A society is judged on how it treats the most vulnerable and ours is frankly failing them. I see it in the rise of food banks, children coming to school ill shod and hungry and that Sir is the reality of life in our poorer quarters. 127 years ago a good man said, ‘A football club shall be founded for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and unemployed.’ Are we returning to those days?’
Again Lord Livingston was quick to respond and emphasised that he is in favour of changes to the current proposals:
Lord Livingston: 'I would like to see changes to the tax credit proposal to ameliorate the impact of it. However, I voted against the motions as it is not the constitutional role of the unelected House of Lords to overturn the clear will of the elected House of Commons on a financial matter.'
Lord Livingston is not unaware of the campaign being waged against him on social media and this has in turn been picked up by the press who always seem to enjoy disseminating tales of disharmony in the Celtic camp. In response to my question about choosing the title ‘Lord Livingston of Parkhead’ he said:
Lord Livingston: ‘I note the characterisation of me by some. I took the name Parkhead not just because of Celtic but also as my father was the local GP for 30 plus years. You could walk round the Barras and people from all sides would greet him. He was the first to go to university in the family. My grandfather was born in the Gorbals and my great grandfather was a penniless immigrant.’
It is up to each of us to decide how we feel about the proposed cuts to tax credits. I don’t mind airing my view that I feel they are essentially an attack on the working poor which is unjustifiable and immoral. But the issue I am raising in this article is one which goes close to the heart of what Celtic FC is about. I often use the phrase ‘Open to all or not at all.’ Are we really saying that we want Celtic FC to close its doors to those whose political opinions we find unpalatable? Ian Livingston is a Tory by choice just as Jackie McNamara Snr was an avowed Communist in the 1970s. Who decides which position is acceptable at Celtic FC? Lord Livingston himself said to me… ‘I believe Celtic should be open to all faiths, creeds and opinions.’ Is he correct in this? We tread a dangerous road indeed when we look to exclude people on political grounds.
I understand fully the chain of thought which sees a clash between supporting punitive cuts to the income of poorer workers and the founding ethos of Celtic FC. I am old enough to recall the devastation of the Thatcher years and the suffering it caused and will take to my grave an undying distaste for the Conservative Party. I want Celtic to be socially responsible and I believe the club tries hard in this area although issues such as the living wage suggest the PLC Board could do much more to live up to the founding principles of the club. Unless there is change of revolutionary proportions the current structures will remain intact. I hear talk of fan ownership or Barcelona style membership schemes but it remains nothing but talk. The harsh concrete reality is that Celtic operates in the manner most clubs do these days and hire people with business acumen to ensure the financial stability of the club. Ian Livingston is one such man.
Should we wish to defeat political opponents and end the iniquity of proposals such as the proposed tax credit cuts the way to do it is at the ballot box. All of this is of course just my opinion and I’m happy to share it. Can we accept that other Celtic fans have different opinions from us and more importantly can we leave our opinions at the door as we enter Celtic Park and unite not as supporters of political ideologies but as Celtic Supporters? That is the real question we must ask ourselves.
I believe Lord Livingston will read this article and should you wish to leave a message in the comments section, please do. Try to avoid being abusive if you can. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
Postscript: 2nd November 2015Lord Livingston read the above article and the comments below. He is not disconnected from the real world and understands fully the depth of feeling which exists on the issue of proposed tax credit cuts. He emphasises that he keeps his work at Celtic and his role in the Lords completely separate. He stated today...
‘Whilst we disagree about politics, your article is balanced.
To some of the comments made in your article or the comments setion: I do not represent Celtic when in the Lords nor the Lords (or BT before that) when at Celtic. To do so in either case would be a conflict of interest and against the law or House of Lords ethics (most do have them!). If you feel that directors should have no other interests, this would certainly cut the potential pool of expertise.
Also, I am only a member of the House of Lords because I was prepared to serve (for nothing) as Trade Minister and gave up being CEO of BT to do so because I felt I could help create employment and economic growth for the UK by promoting exports and inward investment. I feel I had some impact. I had little history in politics and certainly no intent to be involved in govt until the PM asked me to become trade minister.
Finally, I know a lot of Labour peers felt differently about the role of the House of Lords vote but interestingly they did not vote for the fatal motion which does suggest they knew that there was an issue. I am surprised to see so many people thinking the non-elected House of Lords should override the will of the Commons. To my mind the House of Lords insofar as it has any role should be a chamber that scrutinises and amends the details of laws.’
Lord Livingston is clearly commenting in his capacity as a Peer and not as a Director of Celtic. He states clearly that to mix the two would possibly constitute a conflict of interest. It is up to each Celtic supporter to consider his words and draw what conclusions they will. My correspondence with him suggests he is an intelligent man who knows that he must clearly differentiate the roles he has at Celtic and in the Lords. He also knows that his political opinions may not match those of the majority of working class Celtic supporters. Indeed many Celtic fans have expressed their opposition to his continued presence on the Board on the basis of his political leanings being out of kilter with Celtic's origins and ethos. That is for each individual fan to decide but I'm sure Lord Livingston would echo the words of the great Reformer Martin Luther who defended his beliefs with the words: 'Here I stand, I can do no other.'
I asked earlier in the article if we were comfortable with the idea of excluding someone from a position at Celtic FC on the grounds that some don't like their politics. This would surely set a dangerous precedent?
Celtic supporters know more than most the heavy hand of prejudice and must surely strive to ensure we don't become the very thing we claim to despise?