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Peter Lawell- 17 years as Celtic CEO

17 May 2021

Peter Lawell will leave Celtic in June with an impressive CV, a pension and very healthy-bank balance after 17 years as CEO of Celtic. For 17 years he has overseen some great achievements at the club and a few disasters including this season which has seen us stumble from one crisis to another.

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The January transfer deadline day proved disappointing when we were crying out for a central defender, after a month after the transfer window opened and the expected pre-signing of Ben Davies from Preston, Peter failed to get the business done early in the window, Ben opted to sign for Liverpool who only became interested in him at the end of the window. Penny Pinching are two words that come to mind.

Peter and the board of directors have been almost silence throughout the season, and they lost the trust of most of the Celtic fan base. Back slapping from Dermot Desmond and Ian Bankier has not washed with the broader fan base who acknowledge his achievements but have also witnessed his failing during this season with so much at stake.

Peter is a Celtic fan from a Celtic family whose brother, Paul I know and first met in a pub in Drogheda when he was working over here. I met him watching a Celtic v Rangers match when I broke my leg and was unable to travel to the game.

Paul traveled on our supporter’s bus to a Champions League against Bayern Munich game and since he left Drogheda, I have bumped into him at Celtic Park over the years and enjoyed a beer or two with him on the odd occasion.

After the success of the Martin O’Neill years, Celtic appointed Gordon Strachan after we are told a chance meeting of Gordon and Dermot Desmond at a horse racing meeting outside the Corporate boxes (although I would imagine there was more detailed research done before his appointment). The club were downsizing and not looking to spend the type of money that was made available to MON.

Gordon Strachan was not a popular choice among the support and after a disastrous start to his reign against Artmedia Bratislava he would go onto have plenty of success and lead us into the last 16 of the Champions League something that MON never achieved.

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Under Gordon we saw the first signs that the manager was not in full control of the playing squad. The signings of an ageing and injured Roy Keane had all the hallmarks of Dermot Desmond flexing his muscles. The Thomas Gravenson signing remains a mystery to everybody.

Paddy McCourt was another Dermot Desmond signing when he arrived Gordon Strachan did not know who he was. Paddy went onto be a Cult Hero among the fans. His signing came about when he was talking to English clubs after lighting up the League of Ireland, a friend contacted Dermot to alert him to his availability. I can’t say for sure but after hearing Paddy talk about this I would not be surprised if Dermot knew who Paddy was at the time!

The next appointment on Peter’s watch was Tony Mowbray, his reign was short lived, not even a late-night transfer on deadline day of Robbie Keane could save his job after St. Mirren hammered us in Paisley. Reserve manager, Neil Lennon came in to take over as caretaker boss and he would be handed the job on a full-time basis at the end of the season.

That first reign under the Lurgan man will be remembered fondly for beating Barcelona, while the transfer windows saw players of the quality of Virgil and Victor coming in who both proved outstanding signings along with on loan goalkeeper, big Frazer.

Neil decided that he had brought the team as far as he could, Why? Was it that Peter cut his transfer budget or was he told his position going forward would be a coaching role and not to worry about players that the recruitment policy was in transition. Or was it that he did not want Ronnie Delia as his number two? Only Neil can tell us the real reason why he left.

The grass was not as green away from Celtic for him. Management jobs at Bolton and Hibs followed before a short period of unemployment then Peter reached out when he handed him another shot in the dugout on a temporary basis after Brendan Rodgers mysterious after dark departure from Glasgow.

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After Neil left first time around, Ronnie Delia was announced as Manager and it was a case of Ronnie Who? Not even the football anoraks knew who Ronnie was, with Rangers going bust, Ronnie would not have the intense pressure attached to competing with our old rivals from across the city and along with John Collins may have been seen as a stop gap as fans protested with disappointing results in Europe but after each game the Ronnie Roar would be expected from the fans especially on away days.

Ronnie became a likeable character, I met him at a few supporter’s functions and he was warm and appreciative of his responsibility as manager of Celtic and was allowed to leave the club with dignity and see out the season after losing to the Rangers in the Cup, the announcement was made that the Delia era was over but he would see out the season and leave with the best wishes of the Celtic support.

There was plenty of fanfare when Brendan Rodgers was announced as the new Celtic Manager and soon after his arrival the seats which had remained empty in the top tier of the Lisbon Lions stand were filled again. The emergence of the new version of Rangers from the lower leagues will also have helped the cause to fill the stadium.

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Brendan brought the fans back, the Champions League Nights, he made some decent signings and he humiliated our city rivals. Although we did get pumped by PSG and Barcelona in Europe.

Many Celtic fans believe that Brendan left like a snake in the night for the riches of the EPL but others believe it has more to do with a breakdown in his relationship with Peter and his meddling in the January transfer window. Only Brendan can tell us this and it looks like he has been sworn to the professional secrets act.

Once the news broke and the fans turned on Brendan, Peter was back smiling and posing for selfies outside Easter Road with fans while the club was laughing all the way to the bank with the money Leicester had to pay for taking Brendan and his back room team down to England. How times have changed, managers used to leave Leicester to come to Celtic!

The departure of Brendan would ultimately lead to Neil being offered the job on a fulltime basis for the second time in the showers at Hampden, while the Double Decker was getting the final polish before the journey through the streets of Glasgow. The news broke of Neil’s appointment it was not universally popular among Celtic fans but the treble celebrations continued.

This season Neil lost the support of the vast majority of fans and Brendan Rodgers would ultimately prove to be a hard act to follow.

When Neil Lennon was still caretaker manager, I had a long conversation with his friend and agent, Marty Reilly about Neil and the prospect of him becoming the manager on a permanent basis.

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I told Marty that day that if Neil guides Celtic to the Treble he should walk away as a modern-day Celtic Legend as the job could prove to be poison chalice. I was right but it was an opportunity he could just not turn down, to get a Celtic job once is a dream to get it twice is fairytale stuff.

With the disappointment of this season, it is easy to forget that Neil has wrote himself in to our famous history becoming the first Celt to win a treble as both a player and a manager.

With the disappointment of this League campaign, an embarrassing European campaign, the shock exit to Ross County at Celtic Park in the League Cup. Peter Lawell while in charge for the 10 may have tarnished his reputation among the Celtic fans who paid his wages, but he will also be remembered for over-seeing a very successful period at the club.

Peter will leave Celtic after over seeing 29 trophies at the club including 13 League titles, 4 Trebles in a row and reaching the last 16 of the Champions League on 3 occasions. It’s been a successful journey but you always wonder what might have been if he had gone out with all guns blazing and a 10IAR title salute!

Andrew Milne started More than 90 Minutes in 2001. He has written for numerous publications and online about Celtic.  He is a former newspaper columnist with the Daily Ireland and the man behind celticfanzine.com. He is host of the Celtic Soul Podcast & Celtic AM pre-match events at Malone’s in Glasgow on match days and follows Celtic Home & Away. He is a season ticket holder for Celtic FC and the Republic of Ireland. He is also P.R.O. of St. Margaret’s CSC, a member of the Celtic Trust and the Celtic Graves Association.

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