Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interview with John Paul Taylor

What was your first memory of Celtic?

It’s hard to say, I think it was in the garden when my dad was teaching how to play football, I’m sure that’s the first time I actually became aware of Celtic, probably around 1969 / 1970

When did you start going on your own to Celtic Park?

I started going to matches when I was 6 years old, 1971.  I remember going to a European match against Ujpest Doza, I have a vivid memory of my dad throwing me into the air when Celtic scored, we were in the old main stand, we always went to the main stand when I was young.  My first cup final was in 1972 when we beat Hibs 6-1 and Dixie scored one of many hat tricks against Hibs.  I can remember that day like it was yesterday

How did get the job at Celtic, who interviewed you, what was your first day like?

 I got my job at Celtic through John Maguire who is the Head of Celtic Pools.  John recommended me for a position as Manager of the ticket office.  The Head of that Dept at the time was a lady named Mary McAdam, a very nice woman who was Financial Controller at the time.  Mary had a very difficult job at the time looking back on it but she was always very calm and composed, she was a real professional.  I liked her immediately and although I didn’t do great in my first interview she invited me for a second interview where I did much better.

My first week was pretty hectic, at the time it was pay at the gate for home games and only tickets for home games were for European and Old Firm games so there were only 5 other staff, remarkably I think they are all still at the Club.  We had a European match against Sporting Lisbon and Chris White, Club Secretary at the time had applied for permission to use the Rangers End, this was supposed to be closed due to new UEFA regulations surrounding seating and standing at matches.  What Chris omitted to tell anyone was that he was successful and immediately called Ritchie’s printers in Edinburgh to produce tickets, he then announced it on radio.  He conveniently forgot to tell us so the first thing we knew about it was when we were descended on by hordes of people looking to buy tickets which we didn’t even have!!!

Shortly after the tickets arrived in and then there was chaos, we had no float, no change to give to give customers; in fact we didn’t even have serving positions.  I think it’s safe to say they didn’t really think that one through.

At the weekend we had the small matter of Rangers at Ibrox, that was the day we won 2-1 with goals from O'Neil and Collins, in hindsight that match was a breeze compared to some we had to deal with in the later years.  An old colleague and Celtic Park legend John McAlinden gave me some handy hints at that time and he was spot on, I’ve never forgotten them or John for that matter, he was a great man

Describe what it was like, as an employee, when Fergus took over?

 It was actually very worrying, we were full time employees and anyone who has been involved in any kind of takeover at work will tell you that the uncertainty is extremely un nerving.  We all had mortgages and other financial commitments so you were worried if you would still have a job.  A lot of new people were now hanging around, and you didn’t know who was who so it was a pretty worrying time as an employee. 

As a supporter it was naturally very exciting, there were a lot promises which you were convinced would be followed through.  Fergus appeared to be a man of his word and you just felt confident that he would deliver what he said he would

What was the Hampden season like for the Ticket Office?

 The Hampden season was horrendous.  Everything had been agreed with Queens Park very late in the year and I think it was late May, early June before we got renewals and application forms out to supporters.  I actually recall one evening where Rangers were playing a European match at Ibrox and we were just starting to process season ticket applications.

The other big problem with Hampden was that there were no real systems in place at the time, the ticket booking system had just been replaced and none of us were all that sure how it all worked, reconciliations were a nightmare and we had a huge map of the Hampden stadium on the wall outside the ticket office.  Of course 5000 people marked down that they wanted to sit in seats bang on the halfway line.  Well you just knew that was going to end in disappointment!!

For every home game we worked from a Portacabin in the car park selling tickets, it was dismal, I don’t think the sun shone once that whole season.  I’m sure everyone who was there would agree it was a very depressing season.

New Stadium comes, easy to shift season tickets?

New stadium presented a whole new set of challenges.  Firstly everything had to be mapped on to the ticketing system and bearing in mind this was all being done from drawings, there were quite a few seats which did not correspond, especially in the corners.

In answer to the question though, yes demand was incredible, we managed to take the 18,000 sold at Hampden to 22,000 in year 1 and that was us full to capacity, we had to retain some seats to meet with shareholder obligations, which was a whole other story and enough to accommodate Rangers Fans when they played at Celtic Park

Can you put into words the day we stopped 10 in a row?

It’s hard to if I’m honest.  I remember driving to work that morning and made a detour down
Garngad Road.  It was a sight to behold with a sea of green white and gold everywhere.  You looked on and just thought, there is no way we can’t win this today.

As the day went on so did the tension, I was desperate to clear the office so we could all get across to see the match, we were just about finished when Henrik scored the first goal, the place just went crazy and it was a case of just doing what you had to do to make sure everyone got in and we could join in on all the excitement.

Having got across the tension was almost unbearable, we desperately needed the second goal and when Harold slotted it, the relief was evident amongst the whole crowd.  The celebrations were amazing and it was inevitable the pitch invasion would take place, after the match I went back to my ma’s and joined the celebrations with my dad and other family.

I think the whole day took so much out of everyone though and I don’t think it was a particularly late night but certainly a very happy one

In 2000 you were the architect of the Away Ticket Registration scheme, which still goes today, was a that a big breakthrough for the allocating of them?

I would say so yes.  Football was changing, everyone wanted to be part of it and more and more fans wanted to go to all matches.  Rangers had been a dominating force in Scottish football and there was a sense amongst our fans that we were about to lay down a challenge.

It was obvious that we needed a better allocation system than what had been place in the past, which was very much a manual process of drawing vouchers from boxes.  There was no recognition of loyalty and it was a hassle and expense for the fans as well as ourselves so it seemed like the time was right to come up with something new.

The key was to provide a scheme which recognised and rewarded attendance at the less attractive matches.  It seemed to me that you can’t have fans missing out on big matches when they have attended the less attractive games at the likes of Kilmarnock, Dunfermline, St Johnstone, St Mirren and cup matches against opposition from the lower leagues.  So we set about building a scheme where you applied once at the start of the season, indicating what games you wanted to be considered for.  We also allowed fans to apply as a group so that if you were successful the whole group was successful, that way the standard travelling arrangements were maintained.  There was little point in splitting groups so that fans who went together were split up.  This would lead to problems in terms of why someone in the group got a ticket and someone didn’t.  Also what if the driver didn’t get a ticket, there was no transport so it seemed illogical to split groups.

I think the scheme was a success, it certainly provided a rationale for the allocation process whereby if someone obtained tickets through the scheme it counted toward future tickets, I believe that’s how it should be done, you must reward your most loyal fans

It is said that Martin O’Neill “Ran Celtic” when he was there, true?

Yes, that’s absolutely true.  Martin was Celtic, he wanted to be involved in everything.  He wanted to know everyone and he spent a lot of his time with the staff and getting to know them.  On many an occasion Martin would pop across to the Ticket Office for a cup of tea and would sit for a couple of hours taking questions and sharing stories of his time at other clubs and his family.

He would tell us all about his time at Forest and Brian Clough, John Robertson did a brilliant impression of Clough.  When we won the league for the first time under Martin we threw a huge party in the Ticket Office, at about 6pm we had some gatecrashers, it was Martin and all the backroom team with their families, they said they were in the mood to party and the ticket office was where it was at.

Martin was also very generous to the staff, I think he appreciated how hard everyone worked to make things successful and he wasn’t slow to acknowledge this, on more than one occasion he made a significant contribution to the office night out.  He also brought over trophies to the office to allow everyone to get a photo and made everyone feel they were a part of the team which had won it.  He loved a wind up as well and wouldn’t be slow to get in on the act if he thought there was something going on, he had a wicked sense of humour but you would never want to get on the wrong side of him, he was no soft touch and I caught the wrong side of him one day after we had drawn with Bayern Munich.  Some of the players were unhappy with the quality of tickets they had been able to purchase and made him aware of their displeasure the night before the match.  The result being that the day after the match I was summoned over to see him.  He certainly made me aware of his feelings reminding me that the players were the most important people at the Club and must be looked after at all times, I tried to explain but he wasn’t in a listening mood.  A few days later he called me over and we settled our differences but I never had a problem with him, he was the manager of the Club and you respected that.  I had and still have huge admiration for him

Can you put into words what the demand for Seville tickets was like?

Well I guess that’s the period everyone will associate with my time at the Club.  You can’t actually explain what it was like. Unless you were in that office during that period you can only guess.  The demand was insatiable and every day from qualification through to the final itself was taken up dealing with ticket demands, complaints and other related issues.

The whole thing got off to a bad start when the offer letters were dispatched a day early so when we came in to the office on a Saturday morning to do the prep for the Monday when the offer letters were due to hit we were faced by an angry mob of about 100 people.  They had been advised by friends they had received offer letters and blazed a trail to Celtic Park to find out where their letter was, so we were on the back foot right from the off.  That day I set up what could only be compared to a doctor’s surgery and met with everyone who was there taking their details and promising a follow up.

Every single day after that was full of enquiries from supporters, demands, threats and accusations.  Ticket prices were going through the roof and it started to become a bit of a phenomenon with newspapers and radio stations carrying all sorts of stories.  Of course we had all the stories about Westlife and Rod Stewart and every celebrity getting tickets, none of which was true but it was like a red rag to a bull and I was the red rag!!!

Every night when I arrived home from work there were queues of people at my front door and we even took phone calls at home from people we didn’t even know, it was way over the top but it was my job  and I just had to deal with it.

Two of the best stories of that time were when I did the super scoreboard show on Radio Clyde to answer queries from fans, it all went very well and I was very pleased that it was all over when the next thing I heard my mother on the show defending me from the flak I had been taking.  I have to say I didn’t see the funny side at the time but looking back it was really funny, I certainly took some stick for that but hey, it’s your ma, what can you do.

The other story was during the build up we went to Seville to meet with the UEFA delegation and the local police and organising committee, it was myself, Ronnie Hawthorn and Rhona MacDonald.  During the pre match meeting I was informed of our ticket allocation which I think was about 15,000 and was asked how many would come, I replied about 50,000, the people asked me to repeat and when I did they thought it was a mistake and asked me to write down the number.  When I did they said, you must say no, you must tell fans not to travel if they do not have a ticket.  We explained that was standard procedure but it would make no difference.  The people were bemused they could not understand why so many people would come, I can only imagine what they must have thought when they seen the number that actually did travel. 

Another story which people won’t be aware of is how close we came to not receiving tickets until the week of the match.  Due to the value of the tickets no couriers would deliver them, on the Monday two weeks prior to the Final we received notification from the organising committee that our tickets were awaiting uplift and we must do so in person.  It was a bank holiday and I was in a restaurant with my family, I received a phone call, it was Ronnie in a panic, there was a flight leaving for Heathrow in 2 hours and I needed to be on it, if I had missed it we couldn’t get another with a connection for a week.  So, I had to leave the family, head home pack a bag and be at Glasgow airport in an hour, I would then travel to Heathrow, book into a hotel, catch a flight to Madrid at 6am and then a further flight to Seville.  On arrival at Seville, I was met by a man with a two huge boxes, they were in hold all bags, he passed them to me and left, I did an about turn and then caught a flight back to Madrid, then back to Heathrow and finally back to Glasgow where I went straight to the office with what felt like the Holy Grail.  Had I missed that flight we wouldn’t have got the tickets until the Tuesday prior to the match, I can only imagine how much worse that would have made things, if in fact it could have been worse

 Come the day of the match anyone who was there will know that getting a telephone signal was impossible, we made our way to the stadium with club guests and sponsors, I had three tickets which had to be given out at the stadium but as communication was impossible panic began to grip me, it was now less than an hour to kick off and I was outside waiting.  Eventually and almost in tears I decided it was going to be impossible to get these tickets to their intended recipients, I made my way into the stadium.  There was a perimeter fence which you had to get through and from there you passed through the turnstiles, as I made my way to the turnstiles I saw a young lad running towards me his face was pure panic, he had made it through the first fence but was being pursued by police, he had no ticket.  As he reached me, he begged can you help me, as the police approached I produced one of the three I was holding and said, no problem, the police backed off and the boy got his ticket for the face value  of the ticket, 30 Euro I think, he thanked me and disappeared, I’ve no idea who he was.  As I made my way further round I was stopped by another supporter, the guy knew me, he was with his elderly father.  They had made it this far without tickets but like the young lad before them the road in to the stadium was blocked, no tickets.  I produced the last two and saw them in to the stadium, that was it, my job was done I could now enjoy the biggest match I ever saw Celtic play in, sadly it was to end in disappointment but I’ll never forget those few weeks.

It has to be said for every five people who like you, one will hate you, all because of tickets it seems, why is that?

 I think that’s just the nature of the job I did, when you are in a position to dispense a rare commodity you will be held in high regard by those who benefit but equally you will be held in disdain by those who didn’t.  The key was to ensure you worked to a stated procedure to protect yourself but its understandable that when you can’t satisfy demand people will hold you personally responsible, it’s just the way life is.

It has been said that probably your most manic week ever was Rangers, Liverpool, Rangers, Liverpool in March 2003, true?

 Yes that was crazy; we had two Liverpool and two Rangers matches in just over ten days.  In many ways it’s a similar situation to the one which Rangers find themselves in at the moment, with back to back Old Firm games in between two European games, one being a league cup final.  One thing which really helped at the time was I did an interview with Not the View to explain how the tickets for Anfield were being allocated, I gave them it all open book, down to the last ticket.  Once that had been done there was complete transparency and everyone sort of backed off, we got very little grief for tickets for that match but overall the demand during that short period was pretty intense.

Its worth highlighting that a lot of work goes on in the background in terms of the setting up of events, so when the team qualified for the next round of the European campaign in order to be on sale the next day we needed to have a team of people work through the night setting the event up on the system.  In addition not everyone can manage to Celtic Park to buy their ticket so again we had a team working round the clock printing and fulfilling envelopes ready for the mail the next day.

It was for these reasons I sought to partner with Ticketmaster to provide us with a greater capacity to handle our incoming bookings and set up the online booking facility, I believe that partnership has continued and proven to be very successful in helping cope with the demand for tickets during successful periods

Can you describe a typical pre season in the Ticket Office?

 Pre season is a hectic time, naturally you have the Season Ticket renewal campaign going on with intense pressure to sell as many tickets as possible, you have the sales side, the relocation process, the reconciliation aspect, the marketing of the product and the resourcing, a whole host of different constituent parts make up the whole campaign.  You also had the setting up of the away ticket registration for the new season, the pre season fixtures at home and away so you had to be on your toes constantly.

A lot of people think it’s an easy summer as there is no football going on but it’s by far the busiest time of the year and if you qualified for the Champions League, which the team did often then there was no real respite until the back end of then year, it was extremely demanding

You left the Ticket Office for a new role but left the club in May 2008, was it the right time to go do you think?

 I think so yes.  I had been at the Club for almost 15 years and had seen a lot of great times, I had been treated very well, my role allowed me extensive travel throughout Europe and I was privileged to travel with the first team on many memorable occasions.  I had managed a variety of campaigns including a European Final and set up the partnership with external partners to facilitate sales and provide additional channels.  I felt that there wasn’t much more I could achieve in that particular role and I began to find it all very mundane.  I’m ambitious and it appeared to me at that time that there weren’t any great opportunities for me to progress my career at the Club so I elected to look elsewhere.  That may seem strange but in the end up you can’t kid yourself you’re enjoying something if you aren’t no matter whether it’s Celtic or anywhere else.

Unfortunately for me the role I moved to proved not to be what I had expected, I’m sure there are a number of reasons for that, I think I struggled to settle, after such a long time in one place its difficult to start again, it takes time to adjust.  Fortunately I did settle into a new role with a different Company and am very happy with the way things have turned out

What do you do to relax?

 Watch and play football, go to the gym, watch TV, read and listen to music, same as most folk I guess

What’s your favourite film, band, holiday destination?

Favourite Film would change from day to day but possibly Alfie, the original with Michael Caine

Favourite band would also change on a regular basis but right now it’s probably Fleet Foxes

Favourite Holiday destination is South of France

As a supporter, what do you think of the on-going madness in recent times?

I think that the media have to take a huge share of responsibility in everything that’s gone on this season.  It should be pointed out that at no time have Celtic called anyone cheats or accused anyone of bias.  This all came about as a result of a referee telling a lie to the Celtic manager.  Celtic quite rightly made their feelings known in the same way that any Club in world football would have done.  The media then turned on Celtic and the Club were made out to be the bad guys for asking for the matter to handled in the same way that any disciplinary matter would be, Celtic did nothing wrong.

In relation to the recent issues, I think the Scottish Cup replay antics were completely blown out of proportion, when you consider what happened in Milan a few weeks back, which was far worse.  Again the sensationalism of events as portrayed by the media make it look much worse than it was.   I was also very annoyed at how everything was geared towards the ‘Old Firm’ Celtic players behaved perfectly well over the two games yet somehow an image of bad behaviour by both sets of players is projected.

With regards to the Manager, I think it’s sad that he has been demonised in such a way by a large part of Scottish society.  I don’t understand what he has done wrong, why do people appear to dislike him so much?  I hear people on phone in shows talk about Neil Lennon in a way that you would think he had committed some horrible crime; I can’t see what the man has done wrong, sure you may disagree with players and managers of other Clubs but there is a vitriol reserved for Neil Lennon which doesn’t exist with anyone else in the Scottish game.  I can only hope that whole aspect settles down in order that we can get back to football and a healthy sporting rivalry

Finally, do you miss the job?

I miss parts of it, it is a very difficult and demanding job but I did have some great times, some real highs but also some huge lows.  I think when you have been part of something for such a long time it’s difficult to feel indifferent to it.  I don’t miss the grief that comes around during successful periods and big matches but I miss the involvement and being part of a decision making process at such a major institution.  I am however very happy and settled with life at the moment, I work for a great Company with great people; it’s a new industry for me so I’m learning a lot.  I have a great work life balance and I enjoy going along to the match on a Saturday as a regular fan without all the stresses of queues, turnstile failures, segregation worries, duplicate tickets, lost tickets, restricted view seating, seats that don’t exist, fans scared of heights, relocations, angry fans……..

Er, no I don’t think I do!!!

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