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The latest event in a convulsive season for Celtic was the announcement that Peter Lawell will quit as CEO this summer and be replaced by Dominic McKay, chief operating officer at Scottish Rugby.
Lawwell’s departure will gratify those amongst the Celtic support who are sorely disenchanted about the collapse of the team’s bid to win an unprecedented 10 successive Scottish titles and who apportion much of the blame to the chief executive.
Such is the febrile nature of the Old Firm rivalry that Rangers’ commanding lead in the Scottish Premiership table has eclipsed Celtic’s feat in winning four successive clean sweeps of the domestic honours with last month’s victory over Hearts in the deferred 2020 Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park.
It is not wholly impossible for Celtic to secure a 10th title on the bounce – the potential of the pandemic for havoc having yet to be exhausted – but a more realistic prospect is that the Hoops could finish this campaign with nothing to show for their efforts, especially if the 2020-21 Scottish Cup campaign is abandoned or cannot be played to a finish. The SFA confirmed that the tournament’s fourth round fixtures, scheduled for February 20 and several of which feature lower division clubs, have been postponed until it is safe to play them.
Certainly, nobody could have foreseen such a ragged end to Lawwell’s 17-year tenure, during which Celtic accumulated 29 trophies, including 13 league titles. To be sure, the financial implosion at Ibrox in 2012 removed Celtic’s principal rivals from contention but, as the football dictum has it, you can only play what’s in front of you and, until the current campaign, the Parkhead club was largely ruthless in that regard.
Lawwell was assiduous in furthering Celtic’s interests within the Scottish game’s governance, usually accompanied by the words ‘sporting integrity’, often deployed as a dart against Rangers at the time of the collapse of Craig Whyte’s regime and its consequences. In ensuring that McKay will succeed him in the summer, Celtic’s board have acquired another accomplished operator on the Scottish sporting scene.
Neil Lennon, defended Lawwell’s record. “He's sad about the way things have panned out this season, as we all are, but I think when he takes a bit of time and reflects on things, he can look back on with a lot of pride,” the Celtic manager said.
“He’s been very strong with me and I’ve been very strong with him. It’s not like an old pals’ act. The season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, but previous seasons have and sometimes that's football.
“It's not all down to individuals and Peter shouldn't bear the brunt of this season on his own. It’s a collective responsibility.”
The Scottish Professional Football League, meanwhile, announced the retirement of their secretary, Iain Blair, who should have departed last summer but who stayed on to bring his expertise to bear on the disruption caused by Covid-19. He began with the Scottish Premier League in 1998 and stayed on through the merger with the Scottish Football League in 2013.
Blair’s speciality was the nuts and bolts of administration and he was not tainted by the sometimes vehemently expressed arguments about politics and power which have flared periodically within the Scottish game, especially during the pandemic. As a consequence, he was highly respected by clubs. His successor is Calum Beattie, who served as assistant secretary for the past four years.
Neil Doncaster, CEO of the SPFL, said: “League fixturing and acting as guardian of the rulebook are difficult tasks at the best of times, but Iain has retained a calm positivity and cheerfulness even amidst some of the most challenging moments.”
On the field of play there are four Premiership fixtures, with Celtic – 2-0 midweek winners against Hamilton – at home to St Mirren, who responded to their Betfred Scottish League Cup semi-final defeat by Livingston by hammering Dundee United 5-1 at Tannadice on Wednesday. A Celtic win would trim Rangers’ lead to 20 points, with Lennon and players having two games in hand.
Livingston, unbeaten under David Martindale since his appointment as interim manager in November, will attempt to extend the sequence at home to Aberdeen, whose striker, Sam Cosgrove, looks likely to move to Birmingham City over the weekend. “If the money is right, it will happen,” said Derek McInnes, the Dons manager.
“The indications are it could be a deal to be done. Discussions moved on quite quickly last night and we will see where we pick up on that today. He was training this morning and he will prepare for the game until something changes. Certainly, in the current climate, significant offers for your players have got to be looked at.”
The card is made up by Dundee United’s meeting with Hibernian at Tannadice and Kilmarnock’s home game against St Johnstone.