JOHN Reid is to resign as chairman of Celtic later this year, and he will be replaced by Ian Bankier, a 59-year-old whisky executive and former corporate lawyer, who joined the club's board of directors yesterday.
The largely unexpected announcement signals the end of heavyweight Labour politician Reid's colourful and often high-profile four-year tenure at Celtic. Now Baron Reid of Cardowan, since his elevation to the House of Lords last year, the 64-year-old will formally step down as chairman at the club's annual general meeting in October.
Reid insists it is "the right time" for a change at the head of the Celtic board and sources close to the club stressed there had been no pressure applied on him to quit.
His appointment in November 2007 did not meet with the universal approval of Celtic supporters, many of them making clear their opposition to his role in Britain's deployment of troops to Afghanistan as defence secretary in Tony Blair's government.
His first season at Celtic saw Gordon Strachan win a third successive SPL title for the club, prompting Reid to proclaim him their best manager since Jock Stein. Failure to win the championship in 2009 prompted Strachan's departure and saw Reid instrumental in the ill-starred appointment of Tony Mowbray as his successor.
Celtic won three trophies during Reid's chairmanship, most recently the Scottish Cup under Neil Lennon's management, but he believes the club are now well placed to enjoy greater success on and off the pitch in the coming seasons.
"It has been an honour to have been chairman of this great club for the past four years," said Reid. "I will always be grateful for the support, encouragement and friendship I have received from Dermot Desmond and my colleagues on the board, the management and staff and, above all, the greatest supporters any club chairman could wish. That is something I will forever value.
"We have come through a challenging period, but I believe we have come through stronger than ever. We now have in place a new, young talented managerial team led by Neil Lennon and capable of great things. Equally, we have recruited and shaped a new, young and talented squad whose promise for the future we have only begun to glimpse.
"Under Peter Lawwell's stewardship we have weathered the storm of financial recession that has so badly afflicted other clubs. Hopefully, we have provided impetus to the reform of our wider football institutions. Above all, throughout all of these challenges we stood together, more united than ever.
"Rebuilding and renewal is a continuing process on the park. And so it must also be on our board of directors.Over the past few years we have followed a policy of continually refreshing the board with new, talented members. I believe this is now the right time to do likewise with the chairmanship, to lead us through the next stage of our development from the next AGM, and ensuring an orderly and smooth transition.
"I have great pleasure in welcoming Ian Bankier, who joins the board as our new director and chairman designate. Chairman of Celtic is a demanding role but Ian is someone of considerable experience and achievement. He will be a formidable addition to the board and will greatly strengthen our development over the coming years.
"For my part, I will always be grateful for the opportunity and the comradeship which I have received. I will leave the chairman's post as I joined it, a Celtic supporter first and last."
Bankier, who read law at Edinburgh University before becoming a partner of leading Glasgow law firm McGrigor Donald, is currently the executive chairman and part-owner of Glenkeir Whiskies. His company operates the Whisky Shop chain, which is the UK's largest specialist retailer of whiskies. He has been involved in the Scotch whisky industry for 15 years, having been managing director of Burn Stewart Distillers and chief executive of CL World Brands. His daughter, Imogen Bankier, is one of Scotland's leading badminton players.
He will become the 15th chairman of Celtic in the club's 123-year history and is relishing the challenge.
"I was brought up in Glasgow and have spent much of my career here and in Scotland," said Bankier. "As a long-standing supporter of the club I feel very privileged to be invited not only to join the board of Celtic, but later to become its chairman. I am looking forward to it tremendously and hope that my own contributions to the future success and well-being of this extraordinary club will be as positive and beneficial as those of my predecessors."
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell paid tribute to outgoing chairman Reid and welcomed Bankier's arrival.
"John has been an extremely committed and enthusiastic chairman, and is a true Celtic supporter," said Lawwell. "The entire Celtic executive, management and staff acknowledge the contribution he has made to the club over the last four years. We are looking forward to working with Ian as he settles into his new role as a director and chairman designate."
Celtic manager Lennon issued his own vote of thanks to Reid who has been a committed backer of the former club captain since he replaced Mowbray last year.
"I have benefited enormously from an excellent relationship with the chairman in my short time as Celtic manager," said Lennon. "He has provided me with great support and valuable guidance through some very difficult times. He has been a passionate advocate for the club and the team and we all wish him well."