Shame on the greed of my beloved Celtic FC
The Observer, By Kevin McKenna
Celtic FC are so rich, yet they cannot bring themselves to pay the living wage.
A living tapestry slowly emerges from the walls of Celtic Park as you approach the main entrance to one of the cathedrals of European football. Over the last few years, thousands of otherwise unremarkable red bricks have been turned into memorial stones on which are inscribed the names of individuals and entire families who have stood here these last 100 years or so and supported their beloved Celtic FC. Many of the family names bear witness to the journey this club has made from its angry birth among the slums and soup kitchens of the East End of Glasgow, where it was immediately put to work providing funds for the poor Irish escaping famine and death in the country of their birth. I belong to this club and so have five generations of my family.
Ten days ago, at Celtic’s annual general meeting, the sacrifices and unstinting devotion of these people and their forebears were betrayed by those who claim to be the modern custodians of what the club is supposed to stand for. A motion by the Celtic Trust calling for Celtic to ensure that each of its employees is paid the living wage of £7.45 per hour rather than the minimum wage of £6.31 per hour was thrown out by the rich men and money-changers who hold sway at Celtic Park. Directly addressing them, Jeanette Findlay of the trust stated during the debate that preceded this act of corporate and social irresponsibility that it was a decision that "shamed you and shamed us". It was all of that and then some.
For this is a football club that for decades has portrayed itself as the Mother Teresa of world soccer: scattering goodwill and charity in its wake; healing the sick and comforting the poor. The romantic narrative of its scrofulous origins has helped to spread Celtic’s fame well beyond Scotland and Ireland. While many of the descendants of the Catholic Irish who came to Scotland have become affluent, successful and influential, the fact remains that the Celtic support still occupies the lowest rung of Britain’s socioeconomic ladder. Its bedrock is in neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s East End and Lanarkshire where the indicators of poverty and illness are among the highest in Europe.
Many of those who are in work will be labouring for barely the national minimum wage. A top-up to the living wage would make a considerable improvement in their lives. This winter,they will encounter fuel poverty and food shortages. Many will need hand-outs from the increasing number of food banks in Glasgow. Yet, and let’s be frank here, the so-called living wage isn’t really a wage to live on at all. The Living Wage Foundation calculates that it is the minimum required to allow a person to rent property, run a car and eat healthily.
But then you might choose to include factors such as the ruthless exploitation by some landlords of the shortage of social housing, the extortion of the energy cartel, the vagaries of petrol prices and the onerous taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. A family of two parents and two children cannot survive on £7.45 an hour. Celtic likes to think that some of its traditions are rooted in the values of a close-knit family unit.
Companies that elect to become "living wage" companies are helping to build Britain’s economy by taking a long-term view on the health of their businesses. They are expressing appreciation of and respect for all their workers who, buoyed by that little bit extra in their pay packets, will put it back into the economy. No job is too menial or too unimportant not to be considered worthy and noble. In a civilised society, are we really saying that those among us who are cleaners or shelf-stackers do not deserve the dignity that goes with the living wage?
The plc directors of Celtic FC don’t seem to think so. Two of the three main reasons cited by the club for rejecting the living wage proposal were these: that it would cost £500,000 annually to implement, and that no other British club does it. Lest we forget; in the last two seasons, Celtic have spent around £10m on fees and wages for three strikers who would struggle to locate a coo’s arse with a satnav, let alone hit it with a banjo.
I would have thought that these were precisely why they should have opted for it. Celtic’s group revenue increased by 47.7% to £75.82m this year and its profit before tax was £9.74m. The remuneration of its chief executive, Peter Lawwell, was £999,591. The members of the plc board each receive a £25,000 emolument for the onerous task of attending monthly board meetings and travelling all over Europe first class. They include Dermot Desmond, one of Britain’s richest men, and Brian Wilson, the former Labour minister, who is an outspoken and eloquent campaigner against the iniquitous pattern of land ownership in Scotland. Like many other companies that refuse to implement the living wage, Celtic can comfortably afford to do so.
Following the AGM, Mr Lawwell, otherwise a very able husband of the club’s resources, attempted to explain further by pointing out that most of the 180 or so employees paid below the living wage were part-time and topping up existing salaries. Did it not occur to him that the main salaries of these people may be so low that they are forced to take a second job? Surely no one thinks that because many of them have an emotional attachment to the club they are happy to accept scant remuneration because that would simply be exploitation.
Many Celtic fans have already been betrayed by our church and those Labour politicians who failed to turn up last week for the vote on the bedroom tax.
Until 10 days ago, we thought we could at least rely on our football club. "Celtic is more than just a football club," its directors like to proclaim. Well, now we know that we are not really that special at all.