Tuesday 20 March 2018

Globe-trotting Hoops more than just showbiz

Emotional investment and smart purchasing model part of Celtic's worldwide appeal, writes Kevin McKenna

Celtic's Charlie Mulgrew celebrates his goal against Raith Rovers with Joe Ledley
Celtic's Charlie Mulgrew celebrates his goal against Raith Rovers with Joe Ledley

The source of Snoop Dogg's oft-stated allegiance to Celtic football club is hard to pinpoint. Some say the Glasgow club's origins in providing succour for poor Irish immigrants to Glasgow in the 1880s chimes with the experiences of poor blacks in urban America which influence much of the rap king's oeuvre. Others claim he simply took a fancy to Celtic's green and white-hooped livery and added it to his vivid wardrobe. Nevertheless his commitment to the Glasgow club seems genuine enough.

Following the Scottish champions' victory over Barcelona in November he tweeted his followers thus: 'Congrats 2 the Celtic on makin it to the last 16 of tha Champion League! We doin it big this year!'

Last month he stated his desire to be the team's mascot against Juventus on Tuesday night in the last 16 of the Champions League. Which is why Celtic's chief executive, Peter Lawwell, has been acquainting himself with the delights of dealing with hip-hop royalty. "Our people are talking to his people," said Lawwell in time-honoured showbiz fashion. "We're keen to make it happen . . ."

If Snoop does make it to Celtic Park, presumably they will find him a seat next to Rod Stewart, whose tears of joy after the Barcelona match defined the historic victory more than either of the two goals. Celtic aren't quite a Hollywood club but the international showbiz community is well represented in a global fan base which owes much to the Irish diaspora.

It is Lawwell's job, though, to ensure the club does not get carried away. "Our wide supporter base is something of which we're very proud, but part of my job is to manage expectations. Celtic have a magical historical narrative and we have a great European pedigree, but we must be aware of our surroundings and work within our means and ensure that each penny we make is re-invested properly and in the interests of our supporters and our shareholders."

Being aware of the surroundings means, in Celtic's case, acknowledging they operate in a league where television revenue is less than one per cent of England's.

Or from where you can only look on in quiet astonishment when clubs which provide the Premier League's relegation fodder, such as QPR, are sanctioning transfer fees and salaries which swamp the entire cost and wage bill of the Celtic team which triumphed against Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. The Celtic team that night included the young Kenyan powerhouse Victor Wanyama; the Honduran left-back Emilio Izaguirre; the former Scunthorpe striker, Gary Hooper (the subject of a reputed £9m bid by Norwich City) and Tony Watt, a 20-year-old from Airdrie who cost £100,000 and scored the winner against Barcelona. Then there is Efe Ambrose, who is set to play for Nigeria this evening in the Africa Cup of Nations final, and James Forrest, the gifted young winger from Celtic's youth academy who was named by FIFA on a list of global "ones to watch" last year.

Their alignment in this season's Celtic constellation marks the successful culmination of a five-year economic plan which might have prevented the global banking collapse had it been applied by Lehman Brothers and RBS: cover your risks and secure value for money on every transaction.

"We decided to take significant funds from our first team in 2006-07 and to re-invest it in building a state-of-the-art training campus; developing a youth academy; constructing a sports science programme and the recruitment of an international football development manager," said Lawwell. "It is all about building a sustainable, long-term economic model which will buttress us from the effects of any sudden downturns. It is designed to ensure that we remain competitive in elite European competition."

Celtic have become expert in shopping in what they call "under-valued markets" in Asia, Africa and Latin America. No one at the club is under any illusion that they will keep their stars for more than a few years, but from a collective outlay of less than £10m they will expect to earn a profit of around five times that. This was exemplified by the £6m sale of Ki Sung-yueng to Swansea City last summer three years after the South Korean midfielder had been purchased for £2m. It is the sort of transfer arithmetic that has made John Park, Celtic's development manager, as big a target for Premier League clubs as any of those who will line up against the Italian champions on Tuesday.

It also offers a rebuke to the transfer window coconut shy in England in which vast sums are thrown at a depressing array of mediocrities in a desperate attempt to cling on to top flight survival.

Long before the end of this decade English football will be strewn with the corpses of clubs, like Portsmouth or Leeds United, who put everything on Premier League black only to see the ball choose red. Too many sturdy English clubs have failed properly to scrutinise the motives and credentials of those who promise them diamonds and glory.

The Celtic chief executive is adamant that his club will never be engulfed in the swirl of emotional expectation that accompanies it. The majority shareholder, billionaire Dermot Desmond, expects Celtic's success to be the result of organic growth and prudent house-keeping.

Celtic also developed partnerships in Mexico and India that will help foster community outreach in under-privileged areas. "We see these projects also as an emotional investment as it shows that we are more than a football club and that we want to remain true to the principles that led to our birth," Lawwell said.

Mr Dogg's 1996 Snoop's Upside Ya Head is his meditation on loss and redemption. On Tuesday the Celtic supporters will customise it with Ooh Aah Samaras in honour of their talismanic Greek striker Georgios of that ilk. Snoopy though, may be entitled to think they are singing it just for him.


Irish Independent

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