A Dance With The Devil

691196-bigthumbnailAt a crucial moment in Oliver Stone’s stunning movie JFK, Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison looks down the table at the rest of his legal team and tells them they have to seriously adjust their thinking, and the way they see the world.

“We’re through the looking glass, people,” he tells them. “White is black, and black is white.”

Tonight, it’s difficult not to feel that we are now truly in the realms of the surreal.

Celtic Football Club is tumbling into shambles as Sevco Rangers hurtles towards The Second Death. No-one realistically believes that some form of administration at Ibrox is anything other than certain. Their financial woes are far too serious, their club’s balance sheet too far gone. There is a feeling out there that this crisis has reached past the point of no return.

Early on Friday morning, this website published an article called All In The Q&A, where we listed some of the questions the media would leave out when Peter Lawwell appeared before them, as we’d been told he was due to do that afternoon.

What actually happened was even more craven. In a move reminiscent of Murray, Whyte and Green before him, Lawwell did the interview “in house”, from the soft seat at Celtic Park, answering loaded softballs written by a club employee. In other words, it was nothing more than a PR piece, far worse than what we’d anticipated.

The “interview” was then distributed to the press, who ran its contents verbatim, often intimating that they’d got it in a face to face, something I consider an act of fraud against every reader who bought one of their papers. It was, in short, a complete snow job.

Much of what he said was contemptible nonsense. Some of it involved selective use of the facts, such as when he went over the spending of Celtic’s last five managers without any focus on the amounts raised from player sales in that time. He reversed his own position of seven years ago, when he promised Celtic fans that there would always be a number of blue chip players in the squad, around whom the team would be built.

Back then, when he spoke of the Champions League, he said he considered us a “last 16 club”. Now he says we should consider ourselves lucky on those years we do qualify.

It is a shameful surrender of ambition, at every level.

The newspapers who had printed this PR spin, straight from the CEO’s mouth, without questioning a word of it, had even more grist for the mill, and every one of them ran with the headline story today that Lawwell had claimed Rangers absence from the league had cost Celtic £10 million plus. His inference was very clear; their absence from the top flight has damaged us.

This, too, is a reversal of position from some years ago, when he said that Celtic had a business plan that was not impacted by their absence from the league.

Since then, the club that played out of Ibrox died and a NewCo replaced it, with Celtic having been one of the clubs who took the position that the NewCo would have to start in the bottom tier of the game. At the time most of us felt this was the club’s way of saying they believed Rangers was dead. Now Lawwell has cast that perception into doubt.

He now talks about them as having “gone down,” which is a blatant misrepresentation of what actually happened. Tellingly, he puts them in the same bracket as Hearts as having “gone bust”, when actually, as a man in his position should know, Rangers were liquidated whereas Hearts were not. To compare the two is to sit an apple beside an orange (no pun intended). This kind of talk would be offensive in itself, but coming from Lawwell it’s especially worrying as it makes it difficult to be sure just what hat he’s wearing.

Is he talking as the CEO of Celtic, or as a board member of the SPFL and the SFA?

Either way, as an employee of our club this is not talk any supporter of Celtic wants to hear. It’s the most glaring example of all of just how disconnected from the views and the feelings of the support that this man is. He is now in dangerous territory, and if some of us are viewing things correctly Scottish football really is through the looking glass.

White is black and black is white. We have the CEO of Celtic pushing the Survival Myth, and telling Celtic supporters that reductions in the quality of the playing squad at Parkhead are a direct result of the now dead Rangers no longer being in the league.

Just what the Hell is going on here?

There is a suspicion, a dark suspicion, one I wasn’t willing to consider until now.

Is Celtic’s lack of transfer activity in this window deliberate, to sell the idea that we need Sevco Rangers back in the top flight, for our own good?

The timing is interesting, and worrying. Without wanting to sound like a paranoid, it’s hard not to be deeply, deeply suspicious about what we’re hearing here.

Lawwell’s dual roles on the governing bodies means that when the time comes, later this season, for those bodies to deal with the nuclear meltdown at Sevco he will have to make a decision about whether we change the game’s rules once again if it looks as if the Ibrox club will have to pay a points penalty for going into administration.

Sevco Rangers is a newco. The penalty for entering administration should be 15 points as this is their first administration event. Yet, the Survival Myth, which Lawwell was pushing in the interview, depends on the notion they are a continuation of the club which is dead. That means the penalty will be 25 points instead, and with that any chance of the club achieving promotion is certainly gone.

In our last article, Wolves At The Door, we described that as an extinction level event at Sevco Rangers, who have constructed what “business plan” they have on being an SPL club next year. Without that, I firmly believe it’s curtains over there. They will lurch from administration into the virtual certainty of liquidation again, and no-one will be able to stop it.

No-one except the SFA and the SPFL, that is.

When Sevco Rangers announced their stock exchange plan in the middle of last week they were admitting that there are now grave doubts about the club’s ability to get through the season. They need money – a lot of money – if they are to complete their fixtures. It is incumbent on the SFA to call their directors in and question them about this at length, as the licensing requirement explicitly depends on a club submitting financial projections to show they can complete a league campaign. This is not a small matter; it is a fundamental principle of football governance.

There is a precedent, a deadly precedent, for what is supposed to happen here.

Before the 2008 season started, Gretna ran into financial difficulties and they informed the SFA that they could not guarantee that they’d be able to complete the fixtures in their coming league campaign. The SFA took the only appropriate measure they could. Gretna had already been relegated from the SPL to the First Division, but more drastic measures were required to limit the impact on the leagues. The SFA took the decision to relegate them to the bottom tier.

Gretna had been trying to find a buyer for the club. With that SFA decision no-one was ever going to step forward to take up the slack. The club was liquidated. No-one tried to resurrect it, or pretend one could double as the other.

Last year, the SFA had a meeting on pushing through reforms, in light of the Rangers situation. One of the proposals put forward was for automatic relegation for sides which went into administration during the league campaign. That motion was defeated, on the grounds that it was overly complex. This is a bizarre statement, and a bizarre policy, but it happened largely without inquiry.

With automatic relegation off the table, and the penalty now having been clarified by the rulebook, there seems little hope of Sevco Rangers getting automatic promotion should they take the hit, but there is a sting in the tail, and it’s this; the power to decide on these matters will no longer reside with the SPFL members but with the SPFL board.

There will be no more debates between the clubs about what constitutes a NewCo and what doesn’t. If a club should run into difficulties and be liquidated, and the people in charge of that club decide to re-emerge as a going concern it is perfectly feasible, if they have dodged the bullet and amassed enough points before they did, that the SPFL board could decide they were a direct continuation of the club that came before … and life would go on.

Had the Sevco Rangers matter been in the hands of the SPFL board they would have started life as a top tier team, albeit minus 15 points.

It gets worse.

Sevco Rangers will achieve critical mass at some point in the next 12 months. It is nearly impossible to imagine them getting through the current season without taking that 25 point hit. It is likely that much of their playing squad will have to go. They would face a second season in the second tier, impoverished on and off the park, with little or no hope of any kind of quick-fire recovery.

If season ticket revenues fall off, they could be stuck there for years.

That Peter Lawwell, as CEO of Celtic, claims we need this basket case club to provide “competition” is ridiculous. One could be forgiven for believing we are weakening deliberately in case they return to the top flight, to present the appearance that the “competition” is real. There is no other way of making a challenge from them even vaguely credible.

The insult to other clubs in the top flight, well run clubs, clubs who try to live within their means and don’t go chasing dreams, is also shocking, and profound. As well as being well short of catching Celtic (at least for now) Sevco Rangers are nowhere near the level of Aberdeen or Dundee Utd or Inverness and others. The very notion that they are going to provide competition for Celtic whereas these other teams can’t and won’t is offensive, and a spit in the face to those sides who are working hard to get better.

That Peter Lawwell, board member of the SFA and the SPFL, is claiming that Sevco Rangers absence from the top flight has cost his side £10 million, and is responsible for the collapse in revenues to Scottish football, puts him at the crossroads of a very bad moment in the game’s history, where he might find himself taking a decision about whether that club lives or dies.

We have long suspected, and worried, that when the waves were flowing over the top of the barricades at Ibrox that the SFA and the SPFL would come together and reach some understanding that would negate the damage to the greatest possible extent.

The leagues have no sponsor. It’s a disgrace for which someone should be sacked. Lawwell’s claim that Celtic have to sell top stars because there is no Rangers in the top flight ties together his failures to replace key players with Scottish football’s lack of credibility, and finance, and he has held up, as the solution to our ills, the embrace of a clinically insane organisation that has flouted every single one of the precepts of prudence and good governance he has forced on his own club, to the detriment of its team and its reputation.

The hypocrisy and double standard is breathtaking.

It is indefensible for the CEO of Celtic, a club he calls “one of the best run in the world” to actually be taking the position that we need, for our own prosperity, a club which has flouted regulations, spent its way to the edge of death and acted with a recklessness in light of what happened to its predecessor which beggars belief.

We need that club for competition? We need that club to get back to the level we should be at?

This is beyond parody. It is like some kind of malign gag, a sick joke on all of us.

What worries me is that when the choice comes about what to do about Sevco’s financial implosion that he appears to have already made up his mind. These statements, coming in the week Sevco announces that it’s circling the drain, seem almost timed to perfection, and seem, to me and to others, like the beginnings of a PR campaign designed to put fans, and especially Celtic fans, on the side of moves to insulate Sevco from the consequences of its own excessive spending.

He has already moved into the camp of those who subscribe to the Survival Myth. He has as good as said Celtic needs a strong Rangers. He appears to be positioning us to keep on cutting until they return to the league, and even as he does so he has to be aware, as we all are, especially with his role at the SFA, that their chances of doing so next season are receding fast.

Sevco fans are already being blackmailed into buying shares to save their club. Celtic fans are now being blackmailed into accepting cuts to secure the future of theirs, at least until a club called Rangers is back in the league.

How long before these objectives converge? How long before Celtic fans are being explicitly told that our very survival depends on that of the club playing on the Broomloan Road?

The writing is already on the wall. If Lawwell convinces enough Celtic fans that measures need to be rushed through to make sure Sevco can still reach the SPL, in spite of an administration event, and that the costs of them not being there will continue to fall hardest on our own club, how difficult do you think he’ll find it to get a mandate when he proposes other clubs accept the fix?

His roles on both governing bodies puts him in a position to do a lot of arm twisting, and he has allies who’s own clubs have already felt the pinch. If the deal could somehow be spun to help Hibs too, Rob Petrie would be on-board and it would be all the easier for the SPFL board and others to package it not as a measure to save Sevco, but as a plan to save Scottish football itself.

The groundwork could already be getting laid for the most blatant stitch up in the history of football in this land, and it seems to me that one of the key decision makers has already set out his stall, which is that we, the followers of Celtic, are going to need to accept this for our own good.

There has never been a more important time for the bloggers to be about their business and for the supporters of all clubs to be watching the landscape with wide open eyes.

The crisis at Sevco Rangers risks plunging the whole game into the abyss once more, and those who’re running the show are already spinning it so we’re back where we were three years ago; that the club playing out of Ibrox, for all that its wounds are self-inflicted, that although they did this to themselves, they cannot be allowed to fail, and sporting integrity be damned.

We are on the razors edge. The writing is not the only thing that’ll be on the wall if this comes down the pipe, and Scottish football’s supporters are made to swallow the bitter pill of favouritism, cronyism and self-interest benefiting a single club, the most egregious breaker of rules, the most reckless spender of money, the most arrogant and elitist club in the game.

In the movie 8mm, Nicholas Cage plays a private investigator who’s looking into the adult film industry, on behalf of a wealthy client. On his journey through the sewers and the swamps he comes across a kid who’s in the know, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who at a crucial juncture in the picture warns him about getting too close to the subject matter.

“When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. The devil changes you.”

To all intents and purposes, the CEO of Celtic now appears to be the chief agitator for the swift return to the top flight of a club called Rangers. With that club locked in a downward spiral of its own making, he also sits on the boards of the two governing bodies who will have the final say in whether or not measures are taken to limit the damage they’ve done to themselves.

That should appall everyone who follows Celtic Football Club.

It should scare to death everyone else who cares about the Scottish game.

(On Fields of Green badly needs your support as we enter our own transitional period. If you can make a donation, we’d appreciate it. You can do so with the Donate button at the top or the bottom of whatever device you’re using. Every bit of support we get is massively helpful.)

James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

31 thoughts on “A Dance With The Devil

  • 1 September, 2014 at 5:36 am

    A great post, James, one of your best. I wholeheartedly agree. Dancing with the devil is spot on- Lawell is risking Celtic’s very soul with this nonsense.

    I have strongly suspected over the last two years that Celtic’s role in the admission of Sevco to senior football was not at all as advertised. Now Lawell’s mendacity is laid bare for the world to see.

    If Celtic now organise some sort of rescue for TRFC, then we can only conclude that Celtic or on exactly the same moral and ethical level as TRFC- and that level is rock bottom, not just in the swamp, but below it.

    Celtic’s heart, soul and principles are currently being deconstructed by the money men. The fans need to unite and oppose this, or they will very soon not have a club worthy of their support.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 6:52 am

    I have said it for a few years now that at the end of it all the only team who will hurt is Celtic. Their fans (currents) will rejoice and gather in numbers believing they are imortal whilst the Celtic fans myself included walk away in disgust.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 7:33 am

    Excellent piece. How can any fan be confident that the level playing field that has existed for the last 3 years will not be removed? Getting them to the top league is one thing. The level of leniency required to keep them there would be astonishing. I am afraid my time loving and supporting Celtic FC is coming to an end. All because some idiots believe that we cannot live without a blue team from Ibrox. But here is a question. Can they live without a Celtic FC because that is the logical conclusion here. CFC fans will desert the game in droves and all because of a relentless drive to save Sevco.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 7:38 am

    some very good points in there James but i have a nasty feeling and it has been growing on me for quite a while now that the club is lost to the greedy men sitting on the board. The only way forward imho is someone to present a bill to the SG at Holyrood demanding Fanownership. We must get rid of these parasites who are running the club.

    KTF we will see today what Lawwell is up today

  • 1 September, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Lawwell out.
    Our club, well it was but isn’t any more than a rich mans plaything now, is being systematically destroyed from within.
    The blinkers need to come off and for people to see the real Peter Lawwell and what is happening.
    40 plus years of following Celtic, 20 years as a season ticket holder and I cannot remember feeling more apathetic towards them than now.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I’ve said it before that our club has a major shareholder is nothing but an Irish Tory, he does NOT have an emotional attachment to Celtic & he has filled OUR boardroom with like minded individuals, this is how we’ve arrived at this sad place. A Tory MP will tell you what you want to hear then stiff you when they get what they want, a vote. A Tory will slate everyone claiming benefits as a sponger whilst fiddling their expenses, because they’re hypocrites. A Tory MP will tell you we’ve got to have these austerity measures extreme as they are because its a world wide recession & someone else caused the mess so we’ve got to screw you to pay for it. A Tory MP is heartless, soul less & morally bankrupt because all they can see is money & personal wealth & they would sell anything or anyone down the river to achieve that extra £ in their bank account. Unfortunately they have filled our boardroom with exactly the same type of people, Tories!!! To my knowledge we no longer have anyone in the boardroom in the mould of Dempsey & the original rebels, all have been banished & replaced by chancers there is no longer ANYONE left to speak for us or fight our corner to do the best for Celtic & not the balance sheet. We are a football club not a bank or a money tree for changers so do us all a favour Peter & get yourself to Fuck out of OUR club you narcissiststic prick & take Desmond & the Tory clique with you your no longer welcome. If you had been chased all over Bridgeton trying to get home from a game or had a relative had his throat cut making his way home from watching the team he loved, you wouldn’t want that club who breed hate still breathing, now Fuck right off you parasite!!!!

  • 1 September, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Re the 15/25 pt penalty…is it not the case the rules were changed last year so that even as the new club, that due to it being a related corporate entity, it is classed as a 2nd insolvency event hence 25pts? Or am i reading it wrong? ‘Theyll’ shout same club bollocks tho…

  • 1 September, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Great article again JF. Have bored my friends for months about this same point.

    What happens if newco appear in the SPL and they are dire?! What do we do then ? Give them some players? Make a donation ?

    Is this the business approach dermott Desmond and Iain Livingstone take with rival companies to their own ? Aid a rival ? Not on your life do they do that in the business community so why do they have the arrogance to do it to a football club where they are temporary custodians where thousands of people have an emotional and financial interest.

    The heart has been ripped from our club and if we stand back and allow it we as fans are no better than the gullible hordes across the city who believed Murray / Whyte / Green / Wallace.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    You’re assessment is correct James and I see no way we, the fans, can stop this rotten association that is turning us against our own; brother against brother.

    Time to remove ourselves from this mess of a football league that seems determined to reward cheating and corruption.

    It may cost us, initially, to join the Conference but in ten years there may be great rewards; can’t be any worse than the present situation.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Spot on James the day that we rely on a single ” thin dime” from these cheating b-starts is the time to chuck it. Hh

  • 1 September, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t know if anyone else heard it,but Mr Lawell has said this before,and when some fan shareholders asked CelticFC to send a complaint about the SFA;s handling of the Sevco case EUFA,Lawell was the one who stopped it,and he had Neil Lennon saying we needed Sevco in the premier league to survive.
    I for one have been saying for ages,the only way to get them to sit up and take notice, is to vote with our feet because it looks like they don’t care about us fans.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    We had a great chance to change things when the Celtic Trust was formed,fans backing deplorable we were left to “wither on the vine” by those now lamenting,shameful.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    King Pedro chases the sectarian pound, an all time low from the CEO. It really does appear that he has taken the oath, to do his brethren no harm. HH

  • 1 September, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    James, your article is spot on and is quite correct. The club has been in decline every year since Seville and the standard has got worse year on year.
    Lawell is being treated in a similar fashion by MSM as Murray. It is time for a change and a New Strategy. It is obvious that NL left because there was no investment and Lawell is calling all the shots both on and off the Park

  • 1 September, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    What’s Lawwell’s motivation for helping the newco ? Do we assume he as CEO believes Celtic need newco and thus will facilitate a rule bending for their benefit ?

  • 1 September, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    If Sevco go into admin & are deducted say 15 points or 25 you know what will happen is they’ll make the SPL
    into an 18 team league to make sure they get in.They’re already talking about a 16 team SPL.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Imagine the reversal of all this, (ok so CFC would have been finished off at the point of league admission) but that aside, what would the Chairman / CE of TRFC be doing right now?
    Setting the agenda for the return of Celtic?…………. or organising a ‘Sash Bash’ for the funeral of Celtic?
    My money is on the latter and eternal shame on PL if he is, as I and others suspect, setting us up for more rule breaking.
    So what if Celtic attendances are down? Manage it.
    I don’t see Legia or Maribor struggling without home 50,000 fans. It’s all about the passion. You either have it or you don’t.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Did he not claim that nearly half the figure quoted was down to chopping £100 off the cost of a season ticket? I don’t remember anyone complaining about that happening………

  • 1 September, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    PL is more qualified than I to judge whether Celtic need Newco. If he says the absence of a Rangers has hurt us financially then I will take his word for that – he’s paid to look after Celtic shareholder’s interests and given the performance of the share price, he’s doing OK.

    Regardless, on purely sporting fairness, if rules are broke to help newco, I will not be back at CP.

  • 1 September, 2014 at 3:37 pm


    It will not surprise you to know that, as a sceptic, I don’t buy much in the way of conspiracy theorising.

    In my world, the bad guys mostly do bad things in plain sight and get away with it. Most conspiracies fall apart because of hubris and ill-discipline. It is hard to keep a secret to yourself once you conspire with another and, as you do not know if your co-conspirator is leaking details, when the heat comes on, you sometimes spill or reveal yourself to protect your position or make a deal with the investigating authorities.

    Take the conspiracy to Save Rangers. Most details of who did what to whom became known quickly thanks to the contacts of investigators like Phil Mac and the readable summaries of those by bloggers such as yourself and the Big Tax Case blog. Even juicier details were leaked via Charlotte fakes. Problem is we are so paranoid that we do not know if this was information leaks or disinformation leaks. Intelligence agencies and Terrorist Groups alike can disappear up their own fundament and slaughter their own, as they react to rumour and counter rumour as to the reliability of their own men.

    What a sceptical mind brings to an evaluation of conspiracy theories is an open mind with a scientific bent. Instead of asking the non-scientific question of “What facts support this theory/hypothesis?” you have to ask yourself the basic scientific question- “What would prove this theory/ hypothesis wrong?”

    So what is wrong with your picture? What facts don’t fit?

    Well, let’s start with the basic- self-interest. What is in it for Celtic? Yes, we will attract back a lot of our missing crowd if an Ibrox based club appears in our league again as people suddenly decide it was not the recession, the playing style or the downsizing which was behind their absence, but the money we gain from that is dwarfed by the pot we could lose if we jeopardise CL qualification as we may no longer be certain SPFL winners. So we revise the terms of the conspiracy- we want an Ibrox club back but as easy-meat opponents, because it will be great craic to give them regular doings. But if we give them regular doings, then after a few years we will be viewing them much as we do ICT now, a team that might beat you but whom you usually beat. They will be fallen giants and no longer scary opponents. So, for the conspiracy theory to work, they need to be credible opponents but, if they are credible, they risk depriving us of the chance of a big pot. Who would do that to themselves? In order to make it make sense, you are reduced to arguing that these are closet Rangers fans undermining us, from within, in order to make them good again. At that point, we should catch ourselves on and say “If it does not make coherent sense, perhaps it is nonsensical.”

    The second thing wrong or contradictory is the timing. In your view we have been downsizing for some time. The earliest the Ibrox club can be in the SPFL is next year and you do not believe that is likely as they will go bust and get a points penalty. Therefore, 4 years ago the Celtic(?) conspirators who desperately wanted them back would have had to know that they would not get back in 3 years time via promotions and had foreseen that and started to weaken Celtic so that it did not look so sudden and alert the troops to their betrayal (except for the switched on paranoid types). Otherwise we could have just sold all our best players next year or the year after, whenever they actually do make it to our league.
    Instead we have to make ourselves believe that we were doing our darnedest to do ourselves out of CL qualification riches along the way. Why would a rapacious businessman like DD give up on 3 to 4 years worth of those lovely profits in order to make less money than he would make from the return of OF fitba? He could have, instead, swallowed bonuses from 4 years of CL money, then downsized to make us match up better to the Ibrox club and then sell up as he recognises that getting out of this impoverished playing environment is a pipe dream. That way he wins money every year. Our club is just a small and not very profitable part of his business empire. Why would such a Machiavellian strategy suddenly becomes a worthwhile mechanism for cash making?? We would then be truly unique in world football if we turned the kind of profit that DD would get out of bed for whilst performing in the SPFL, even one with an Ibrox club.

    There remains one possible synthesis of all the facts that does fit a new conspiracy hypothesis to be tested. What if this was the price we were to pay for getting out of Scottish football? What if we were told that is what we have to do in order to be let go from the SPFL in order to seek pastures new without the Ibrox club going with us? Would that be attractive to PL and DD? Would they be prepared to go along with a plan to pretend that Rangers did not die in order to be freed to the promised land of the Championship with a shot at the Premiership?

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that either. Whatever forces are conspiring to make a life long Tim like PL betray his club would have to be powerful enough to Save Rangers more effectively than it did. And it would be powerful enough to get them into an English league too.

    No, in this case I do not think we are reacting correctly to the observation that “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.”

    I think we have someone who is longing to spot a duck and has been fooled into believing that by a duck impersonator.

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