The Celtic Opus – the monster tome, bound with fine leather and in a silk, clam-like case that cost a mere £1,967 – proved one of the rare occasions he lowered the wall to a journalist in order to fulfil what he considered a duty.
I happened to be the member of the fourth estate despised by the secretive billionaire tasked with profiling the power behind the Celtic throne as the club’s major shareholder some years ago. The Irishman proved charming and candid, even, as he stressed there was no way he would have given me the time of day were I not contributing to a club publication. The tape of the interview I unearthed this week. In doing so I discovered it contained almost freakishly-pertinent insights into the recent goings on surrounding Neil Lennon.
Desmond is a man for whom decorum is non-negotiable. He accepts that football is an “emotional”, “irrational” and “passionate” environment. However, he believes these facets is no way excuse the sort of corner boy behaviour witnessed as a group of Celtic fans sought to stage a verbal lynching – with a smattering of real violence thrown in – of Lennon, the board and the club’s faltering squad at Parkhead on Sunday.
‘Utter desecration of that song’
Desmond simply could not have damned such antics more forcefully when we spoke. “The biggest contradiction about Celtic, and Celtic supporters, is from the minority. When those same supporters that sing about ‘being faithful through and through’ then boo those at the club that is a complete and utter desecration of that song,” Desmond said.
“I totally abhor anyone like that. Real support is when you are losing. Everybody gives me support when I don’t need it. I only want support when I need it. When we are winning matches here, when we are winning trophies or winning the league, there will be people that will come up to me at Celtic Park and give me a thumbs up, smile at me, and tell me ‘good man’. We lose a big match and I’m the greatest bollox on the earth. It’s all my fault, all the directors’ fault. But when we win it is down to the manager and team, not the directors. We are beneficiaries of abuse, we are never beneficiaries of praise.”
Desmond believes in Lennon. Whatever the on-pitch implosion of the past two months, that is entirely understandable since until then the Celtic manager had rarely made a wrong step across a silverware-stuffed near two-year second spell. Lennon has spoken of the “values” held by Desmond. That extends to refusing to deviate from what he considers the proper course of action, however humungous the outside pressures.
Won’t bow to pressure
“If a million people told me to do something [in a body of] only a million and one, and I was the one and I didn’t feel that something was right, then I would take my own counsel. And they can shout, and they can exhort all they like, and I will not change my opinion if I think it is the right thing for this club.
“Everything that is done from this club from all the board members and the management, we all do it because it is in the right interests. We might not get it right all the time, but we genuinely act without self-interest. When Celtic are enjoying a period of success some people think that is a just cause, requirement, a need. It makes it more difficult to manage expectations. The difficulty is to produce a good team.
“I have to contribute in a way that brings success. And success is not immediate, or guaranteed or continuous – no club has that right. But what we do is make a club people can be proud of. It is totally irrational to get involved in a football club. But you cannot build a club on irrationality; you must have structures, you must have a vision, and plan it out from A to Z. We want Celtic to be a showpiece for how football clubs should be run, without having thrown money at it. Every football club’s solutions to all their problems is to throw money at them.”
In our conversation it came over loud and clear that the perception of him as some sort of "absentee landlord” nipped him. As did the charge that he runs Celtic as his personal fiefdom following a power grab … the reality being he only increased his shareholding because no-one else stepped forward to underwrite an offer raising funds for the Lennoxtown complex.
Living and breathing football
“The term ‘absentee landlord’ is an emotive, evocative one that goes back to Ireland and the landlord days, it has nothing to do with me,” Desmond continued, speaking back in 2008. “What matters is what you do with your time and how I take on my responsibilities as a shareholder and a director of this club, to contribute to it. It is inexplicable [how immersed you become]. I get up in the morning, half five, six o’clock, and will go on to soccer sites and see what’s happening, see the transfer market rumours. I won’t believe everything I see or read but at least you are filled with information, and some of it is right. I watch a lot of matches. I often watch a French match at half four, or a South American match. I see every Celtic match. I don’t have to wear a hooped jersey, I don’t have to spend 365 days in Celtic Park to be a good, faithful devotee of Celtic.
“It was not my ambition to be the controlling shareholder, it was not my ambition to be the major shareholder here because that carries responsibilities over and above just being a shareholder. And the most likely result of being a major shareholder at a football club is dog’s abuse. It is an absolutely no-win situation.”