YOU would have to get up early of a morning to put one over Fergus McCann. Better still, best not to go to bed in the first place.
Money, of course, was a major importance in his life and he duly treated it with particular reverence. While Celtic fans celebrate the 20th anniversary of the McCann-style revolution, however, it may be worth remembering the one occasion Fergus’s fingers were scorched, if not quite cremated.
Back then, football, to me as chief scout, was a priority. And it was likewise to the manager, Tommy Burns. We were in a hurry to get out there and buy players. To shop in what you might call the “big stores.”
But Fergus’s priority was putting the club back on a sound financial footing, so if you worked in the recruitment department, that wasn’t so great. Tommy, meanwhile, was experiencing exasperation We had signed Pierre van Hooijdonk from NAS Breda for a million pounds. Then along came Andreas Thom, from Bayer Leverkusen.
I can’t go into too many details about that particular £2.2million transfer in 1995, but let’s say that once it was all done and Fergus saw how football worked, I think he had to be led into a darkened room and fed a couple of Temazepan.
There was money flying everywhere. Fergus said that the longest talk he had about the deal was with four people from the Bank of England, who represented the player. Thom had come out of East Germany and he needed to make money quickly; he was paying massive amounts of his salary into a pension plan.
But I think that financial arrangement put Fergus off all the rest of the deals that had to be done during his time at Celtic Park. I think he’d been dragged over a barrel as far as Thom was concerned. But, fair play to him, he learned oh, so quickly as Paulo Cadete and Paolo di Canio would learn.
I certainly liked him. He didn’t mess about. Ever. A spade was a shovel with that wee man. I don’t think you’d want to stand too long with him at a bar, engaged in jovial conversation, but he did what he said he would do. My memory tells me he put £8 million in and took £40million out. He built a stadium and stopped Rangers from winning ten in a row.
Sure, having to deal with Hooijdonk, Cadete and Di Canio obviously had him reaching for his pills. I mean, Hooijdonk came in quite a quiet boy who would hardly lift his head to speak to anybody. But, within a couple of years, prompted by the adulation he got at Celtic Park and no doubt by his agents, he was complaining that his wages weren’t good enough for the homeless.
Certainly, there was a bigger change in Pierre than there was in Fergus in that time. The latter understood what footballers are like. They give the impression of loyalty to the fans with their kissing of the badge, but in reality the big ones are managing directors of their own companies. Wee Fergus was one of the first to see through that nonsense. I think he could spot a fraud very, very quickly.
But I’ve got to say he did me a couple of favours. He came to see me in my wee office one day and said: “I’ve got a bit of a situation here. I’ve got two people coming to interview me, Chic Young from the BBC, and Davie Provan from Sky. I don’t want them putting their heads together, so when they arrive put the BBC in the boardroom and ask Sky to wait down the tunnel.”
My son was working in the reception at the time. I went down there and told him to see that the orders were carried out. Some time later, I met him and he told me that Provan had wanted to go into the boardroom and not down the tunnel. When he insisted that this was the arrangement, he claimed Provan told him to eff off.
We cut a long story short here, I was buzzing with anger and caught up with Provan. Angry words were exchanged. He called my son a liar. That did it. I took my jacket off and ordered Provan to follow me outside where we would sort the matter out in time-honoured fashion. I had entirely lost the plot. “Hey, that’s my son there and he doesn’t deserve to be spoken to like that!”
No blows were actually thrown that day, but the next morning I was in my office when George Douglas, the head of security, knocked on the door. Fergus had sent him, wanting to know about the altercation I’d had with Provan. I told him what happened and said that the altercation had been because of him. “That’s not what he told Fergus,” said George.
He said he would need to report to Mr McCann again. Just as he was going out the door, he said: “Wouldn’t you think that a wee apology would suffice?” I shot back at him. “Listen, George, if Davie Provan wants to apologise, that’s fine by me!” George told me he’d be back down. I never heard another word.
Many years after, I met George and he gave me the real SP. Fergus, apparently had said there wasn’t much he could do about it and that at least I had offered Provan a one on one compromise. My guess is that he didn’t fancy the running to schoolteacher bit.
But that wasn’t the last favour Fergus did me. There used to be a corridor from outside his office that bypassed the front door reception area. No one was allowed to use it apart from himself. One day, running late for a Monday morning meeting, I nipped up that way. Who should I meet but Fergus?
He looked at me in that certain way that promised I was going to get a row. Instead, he asked me if I’d bought shares in the issue. I said I had and still had them. “Hey,” he says, “those shares are worth about five times what you paid for them, It’s probably a good time to sell. A very good time.”
So I sold them. He didn’t half do me a favour. See about a day after that they were worth three bangers and a balloon. No, any time I had dealings with him, he was very fair. I have good memories of Fergus McCann. Hey, he wasn’t universally liked. People knew he had a lot of money and they wanted him to puts lots in, but that was never the template of the plan.
And what about his parting shot? When he left, someone asked him what he would miss about Glasgow and Scotland. He looked the guy straight in the guy and said: “I’m gonna miss all the free advice!” Just brilliant!