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  • Charity is at the heart of Celtic

    Charity is at the heart of Celtic

    By: Tony Hamilton on 09 Mar, 2014 16:21

  • YOU don’t need me to remind you that Fergus McCann has cemented his place in Celtic folklore. That was just over 20 years ago and it was one of the happiest moments I’ve ever had as a Celtic supporter.

    I would place it in the same category as the centenary double, beating Rangers 6-2 on that glorious August afternoon while Martin O’Neill broke the high jump record at the touchline and the day my favourite child was born…

    Armed with sound advice, financial support from John Keane and others, the backing of determined fans’ groups and a good few bucks of his own cash, McCann ensured that there was a continuance of Celtic history and with it no insolvency event of any kind.

    Once we were on an even keel, and in tandem with his plans for stadium development and reconstruction, the Scots-Canadian businessman did two other things of note. The first was waging a campaign against those who did not see us as the all-inclusive organisation that we have always been and he did this with his ‘Bhoys Against Bigotry’ initiative. It divided opinion.

    The second part, however, and more pertinent to me in my current role in Celtic FC Foundation, was when he set up what was then the Celtic Charity Fund.

    Where the club had been formed some 106 years before because of a financial need in our community, for long periods of our history that need had taken second place to commercial return and survival for the Club’s owners at various stages throughout that period.

    And in modern day Celtic, things have developed even further and Celtic FC Chief Executive, Peter Lawwell, now positions charity (through Celtic FC Foundation) as one of three strands of our DNA with football excellence and the commercial expertise which underpins it being the other two.

    But it was Fergus McCann who laid that foundation. Pun intended… McCann’s model was to give back where we could to a whole range of good and worthy causes at home and abroad, and that’s exactly what he did and what he encouraged the supporters to do. He also famously got ‘buy-in’ from the players – by that I mean that he donated their bonuses to Yorkhill Hospital after he couldn’t reach agreement with them.

    The homeless and the sick were high on his priority list and some of the charities he chose to support and some of those charities’ clients are still benefiting 20 years down the line.

    That’s thanks to benefactors like the Celtic support, our corporate partners and many people who have neither Scottish nor Irish roots or any real connection to Celtic, but they do believe in what we are doing and they do like the uniqueness of this football club’s story. 

    It’s reasonable to say that Fergus McCann continued to divide opinion in the five years he had at the helm in Glasgow. He upset some people - managers, players and some media - yet he delivered exactly what he said he would, within his stated timescale.

    In simple terms his legacy is our survival. However, for me and many others who worked with him throughout that period, he provided a solid basis upon which the Club has gone from strength to strength.

    Charity is what differentiates us from every other club in the world. That, and a European Cup, by comparison in Scotland…

    Charity, while seen by many in modern society as an evil necessity, is in our blood. And charity is one of our major priorities as a football club and the only one I have as Chief Executive of its charitable arm.

    Since it was set up, the Charity Fund and the Club’s community foundation department have merged and towards the end of 2013 we formed a new charity called Celtic FC Foundation.

    We now have a focus on four main areas which are improving health, ensuring equality, providing education (and with it opportunity) and tackling poverty, and that work starts here in the East and North of Glasgow and spreads from there.

    We have had many successes in the past few months and the highlight of those would be the match in which Stiliyan Petrov featured last September, in front of a capacity Celtic Park crowd. And that element is of major significance and we should never understate it.
    While we would put children and young people at the heart of our endeavours, those who continue to keep such work alive are, in the main, ordinary Celtic supporters.

    But we’re at the beginning of a long journey and we can’t rest for a second. We have a lot of great work going on in schools, we’ve magnificent support from industry professionals who assist us regularly, we’re delivering many programmes in Ireland (some with GAA and we’re the only football club to enjoy such a relationship) and we’re adding value to local communities in East London, which is funded primarily by Celtic supporters who live in that part of the world and who want to see their money spent in their own local communities.

    We are working on forging new relationships and we’re talking to people every day who may be able to help financially or in a more practical way.

    We’re in this space not to pay lip service to any Corporate Social Responsibility policy but because it’s the right thing to do. Celtic is one of the biggest employers in this part of town and the stadium is the focal point of the local community. It’s only right that we do what we can to help because we can – not for any other reason.

    The work of Brother Walfrid and the Founding Fathers was revisited by Fergus McCann in the mid 1990s and in 2014 that work has been reinvigorated and has the unanimous support of the Celtic board and its management team. Fergus, meanwhile, deserves massive respect for giving us back our roots.

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