Football: Palace partnership behind Celtic bid

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JIM McAVOY, a director of Crystal Palace, has emerged as a major player behind Kenny Dalglish and Jim Kerr's bid for Celtic.

McAvoy, a financier based in Kilmarnock, is the business associate of the Palace owner, Mark Goldberg, and a wheeler-dealer in his own right. He has been a Palace director for the past year after being involved in the leisure industry.

Apart from being the managing director of two of Goldberg's companies, McAvoy is connected in the business world from his time as chief executive of Fitness and Leisure Holdings in the mid-1990s. In that job McAvoy was in charge of the Champneys Health Farm, a business persons' retreat, and in his career he has collected contacts in those circles.

McAvoy turned his attention to football after teaming up with Goldberg and through his contacts he made inroads with Dalglish and Kerr. He is the managing director of Sports Management Corporation, a Goldberg company that also has Kath Robertson as one of its directors.

Mrs Robertson is the sister-in-law of Dalglish and is also friendly with the singer Kerr, another at the middle of the web of connections that has put together the proposed package to buy out Fergus McCann, Celtic's majority shareholder.

While Goldberg, who bought Palace this year, is being associated with the buy-out, McAvoy is involved in lining up the finances. It is not against any football rules for directors to have interests in clubs outside England.

McCann yesterday hinted that he might be open to persuasion as pressure mounted for him to consider the consortium. Speaking at a news conference, called to confirm that the goalkeeper, Jonathan Gould, has extended his current contract until 2003, McCann refused to answer questions on the matter, but did clarify his stance.

He reiterated that he would prefer, in the first instance, to offer existing shareholders the opportunity to invest at the end of the season. But he conceded that, if he was convinced another alternative was better for Celtic, he may yet reconsider.

"My own position is that I have had many approaches made in strict confidence," he said. "I would be delighted to talk to people with proposals, whether they are of benefit to the club as a whole is then a question for the board to decide.

"But it is early days; we are yet to see a well thought-out proposal from a well-funded source.

"I have not changed my position regarding what happens next year after I leave. That will be a matter for the shareholders to be given the opportunity to take up my shares.

"I will not change from that unless I am persuaded by the shareholders, by the board, the supporters and others that something is better for Celtic.

"What I will say is that I will not be leaving early - that is, before the end of the season - as I don't see any purpose in doing that at this stage.

"The position that I have is that the club and the board in conjunction with me would be happy to consider detailed proposals put forward by any reputable party which we felt would be of serious advantage to the club."

McCann disclosed that, following Jock Brown's resignation as general manager of the club on Saturday, he has personally assumed a more active role in dealing with Celtic's most pressing internal affairs.

Despite McCann's indication that he would be happier selling to shareholders, the analyst William Davies, of Capel-cure Sharpe, said: "That is fraught with improbability. The vast majority of individual shareholders have bought into the club they support not entirely for financial benefit but to own a part of Celtic.

"If Mr McCann wants to keep Celtic as Celtic, as he seems to have indicated, then this proposed offer would probably be the best way he could do it.

"The other option would be to sell to the highest bidder which may well mean a Scottish media company becoming involved, which would be likely to offer a higher price."

McCann also moved to assert that there is no prospect of the Swedish international Henrik Larsson departing, despite interest from Sheffield Wednesday, who are known to be ready to pay about pounds 4m for him.