THERE is a heap of hokum talked about Celtic being “more than a football club”. Yesterday’s agm, however, proved there may be something in that claim.
Unfortunately for the club’s powerbrokers – all in attendance at the meeting in the stadium’s Kerrydale Street suite, except for, as usual, the most powerful largest single shareholder, Dermot Desmond – the community spirit was illustrated in a manner that had them shuffling decidedly uncomfortably in their seats.
It is difficult to think of another club where the most impassioned submissions from supporter-shareholders at such a gathering would concern the desire to see all club employees paid the living wage. Yet, resolution 11, which sought support for “taking all necessary steps” to make the club a living wage employer and so ensuring staff were paid £7.45p an hour instead of the minimum wage threshold of £6.31, did just that.
The subject was entitled to have those at the top table squirming. For, this being a Celtic love-in, it came after we had been treated to such cloying assertions from chairman Ian Bankier that “charity is in the club’s DNA”, and that “nobody took their responsibilities to the community more seriously”. To really hammer home such a “how-great-are-we” narrative, we were shown a video that gave numerous insights into the work of the Celtic FC Foundation – this charity’s tagline “football for good”. Cue, the Celtic ethos being expounded as having followed on from founder Brother Walfrid who, in case you didn’t know, set up the club to raise funds for the poor Irish immigrants of the east end.
If you know your history when it comes to Celtic, mind, neither will it be lost on you that his vision was sold out within ten years, when the club became a plc, stopped making charitable donations of any note and started paying fat dividends to directors.
Celtic Trust chair Jeanette Findlay is sure to be more than acutely aware of that 100-odd year ago betrayal of Walfrid, who later distanced himself from what the club became. Sometimes dismissed as wannabe Celtic Rosa Luxemburg, Findlay spoke movingly and powerfully about how she had been “knocked for six” at the board’s recommendation the living wage proposal be rejected – the kiss of death to any motion, with Desmond and other large shareholders commanding stakes that carry any vote.
She appealed that paying it made “good business sense”, enhancing staff retention and productivity and that some private companies, as well as the NHS and the Scottish government, had recognised that fact. She won cheers from the hall in stating that the charity begins at home initiative to tackle “in-work poverty” was not some “mad cap scheme” but supported by the club’s followers. It was the chance to lead the way as the first football club to offer the living wage, to “put our money where our mouths are” and prove that the “club’s ethos was not a brand, and image something to package up and sell”, with current charity work paid for by extra supporter contributions, she pointedly noted. The rejection of the living wage by the suits was, she claimed, “one of the grubbiest and divisive decisions made by a Celtic board”.
Other supporters endorsed the resolution with similar vigour and received standing ovations, almost the equal to that given to Findlay. One said that the decision “struck to the heart of the club” and was “taken aback” by the board’s negative response when he expected it to be a “no brainer” for the club to accept a position that would demonstrate it to be a “model of social responsibility”. Another contributor – who offered up a fiver that he said should be the sum added to season tickets to pay for the living wage adjustment – became heavily political after stating no Celtic employee should be paid below the official poverty line. He demanded to know the number of people who would be affected, the costs, whether trade unions were recognised and whether the club had objections to trade unions.
At this point Bankier, otherwise an impressive and emollient host, elected not to read a prepared board response but stated that 178 employees were on minimum wage and changing them to the living level would cost around £500,000. He also said the club would not recognise unions but did not object to them. He defended the club’s wage position by stating most of the workers involved were part-time, undertaking match-day jobs at Celtic Park as second sources of income.
This issue aside, and that of the events in Amsterdam which have led to Celtic offering support to the two fans still in prison in the country, there was the usual mix. The yearly resolution to encourage greater communication between supporters’ groups and the board was voted through on hands before meeting its end with the board veto.