Football: Celtic burdened by their former glories: Nearly pounds 5m in debt, a Scottish institution is facing up to an uncertain future. David McKinney reports

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The Independent Online
CELTIC continue to be a club haunted by Lisbon 26 years ago when Billy McNeill became the first British player to lift the European Cup. Jock Stein's team went on to become all-conquering with a run of nine consecutive league titles, and in the process set the standard of perfection the club has always strived for.

Last year the Lions of Lisbon celebrated their silver anniversary and their memory serves as a poignant, painful reminder of a golden age, as the club lurches unsteadily towards its future with almost four barren years behind and uncertainty ahead.

Today as Celtic visit Rangers for the Old Firm derby, those with the interests of the club at heart cannot agree about the best way to regenerate an institution almost pounds 5m in debt, and faced with implementing the Taylor Report while searching for a first major trophy since the 1989 Scottish Cup win over Rangers.

The present board of directors have pinned their hopes on a proposed move to a new stadium in Cambuslang, little more than a 10-minute journey from Parkhead, while other shareholders have become increasingly sceptical about the board's ability to bring the club out of its current predicament. There remains a strong feeling that the club has been slowly dying since the death in 1987 of the chairman, Tom Devlin, the last of the old guard, and that the strong-willed determined individuals who guided the club in the past have given way to collective reasoning.

Certainly there is an increasing polarisation between the factions with the only common ground being a desire to preserve the Celtic tradition as they understand it. David Low, a financial analyst, is one of the disgruntled Celtic shareholders who seek a change in the management of the club at board level.

'The club have reported a loss in six out of the last seven years and since 1987 the debt has risen from pounds 15,000 to pounds 4.8m,' Low says. 'One reason for this state of affairs is that the club are trying to keep up with the Rangers revolution which began with the arrival of David Murray and Graeme Souness but the current board of directors do not seem to have the ability to bring the club around.

'They admitted their shortcomings in 1990 by drafting Michael Kelly and Brian Dempsey on to the board but within four months Dempsey was out - seen as a threat to the power structure. And even now shares are changing hands as the balance of power continues to shift.'

In the other corner, the club chairman, Kevin Kelly, projects a picture of harmony from the custodians of a great tradition, commenting: 'The board are certainly united. We know what we want and where we are going. Once planning permission has been granted for Cambuslang we can go about securing a settled stadium for the future.

'The history and tradition of this club are all important but changing times have changed the whole situation especially with the Taylor Report implications. But we will soldier on and I think the fans realise we have the good of the club at heart.'

The resurgence of Rangers has helped to deepen the gulf between the Celtic factions. Scotland's two major clubs have shadowed each other for much of the last 100 years.

For the last 26 years the Celtic support have always held the ace of that European triumph against the most vehement argument for Rangers' superiority, and there is a genuine dread of their rivals repeating the feat.

'The board may have been unlucky with current events such as the Taylor report and the recession,' adds Low, 'but they lack the skills required to return the club to former glory. Unlike those before them, the current board have not balanced the books and we believe financial calamity for Celtic is just around the corner and that the status quo is almost certainly finished.

'Those of us watching from the sidelines have to question whether Celtic are salvageable and whether we should put money into the club but we only want what is best for the club and that means a new regime in charge followed by a capital injection.'

The off-field activities have had an effect on the playing staff. Liam Brady, the manager, claims 'there is more presssure at Celtic than at any other club in Britain', and has indicated that another barren season might bring about his departure although it is recognised he has gone some way to restoring the traditional Celtic style of play.

For the supporters, real progress will be measured on the pitch in comparison with their arch rivals.

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