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.

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31 comments on “A Dance With The Devil
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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!!!!

  7. 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…

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

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