Fergus McCann‘s influence proved to be immense in many ways.
First and foremost, he saved Celtic from oblivion. If Celtic had gone to the wall in 1994, there would have been far less pressure on Murray to overspend recklessly at Ibrox, less temptation to gamble with foolhardy tax avoidance strategies and no meaningful resistance to his plans for complete dominance of Scottish football.
Fergus revitalised the Celtic support as well as rebuilding the stadium, completely overhauling the business structure and overseeing the creation of the first genuinely competitive Celtic team for years.
It was during Fergus’s stint in charge of the club that Celtic acquired the services of genuinely international class players of the calibre of Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert, Marc Reiper and Lubo Moravcik which allowed the club not only to regain the upper hand in domestic football but also gradually re-established Celtic as a credible force in European competition.
Fergus’s attitude to the SFA hierarchy also deserves the highest praise. Unlike his predecessors, McCann was not willing to accept the unjust and unfair treatment which Celtic frequently received from the game’s administrators and he did not waver in his determination to pursue the issue.
The more the SFA closed ranks around James Farry, the more Fergus resolved to see justice prevail. Farry, as the SFA secretary, had deliberately delayed the registration of Jorge Cadete, a key signing for Celtic. As a direct result of Farry’s malpractice, Cadete was not eligible to play against Rangers in a very tight and ultimately decisive Scottish Cup semi-final tie which Rangers narrowly won 2-1. Even more importantly, the Portuguese striker also missed the league game against Rangers which ended in a 1-1 draw.
When he was finally allowed to play for Celtic, Cadete scored immediately against Aberdeen and went on to prove himself as a lethal, top-class striker. During the period of time when Farry prevented Cadete from playing, Celtic drew two games (1-1 with Rangers and 0-0 with Motherwell.) Those dropped points were the difference between winning the league and finishing second.
McCann’s anger and sense of injustice led him to raise the matter with the SFA and he demanded an investigation into Farry’s failure to deal with Cadete’s registration. When the SFA gave Farry its full support, McCann complained again and a second investigation also cleared Farry of any wrongdoing. Most people would have accepted defeat at that stage but not Fergus McCann. He instigated an independent tribunal, chaired by John Murray, Q.C. and after the first day of the hearing, when Farry had a nightmare under cross-examination, the SFA finally caved in. He was sacked for gross misconduct and his reputation was destroyed.
Long before John Reid spoke about Celtic no longer being prepared to “sit at the back of the bus,” Fergus had laid the foundations and set the precedent for confronting and successfully challenging the pro-Rangers workings of the SFA.