Three months have passed since Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war on the Nazi State. Europe has been bracing itself for the full horror of it ever since, but it has not yet begun for real. The “phony war” has been on-going since September.
It will be a further four months before battle is joined on the Western Front, as the Nazis launch their invasions of France and the Low Countries.
In the meantime, there is little enthusiasm for battle in either Germany or the West. The mood on the streets is still morose, and tense. The people don’t quite know how they got here, and if someone were to tell the average German than in six months’ time he or she would be wholly supportive of the national leadership, and the war in the West would have seen stunning victory after stunning victory, it is likely they’d be called mad.
It is 8 November, and Adolf Hitler and his entourage are gathered at the Bürgerbräukeller, to enjoy their annual celebration, the one that commemorates his failed attempt to take power in 1923, the crime for which he had been sent to Lansberg Prison.
Hitler was a gifted speaker, and the audience that evening expected a rousing, raucous night, with the man himself expected to rant about his, and the country’s, enemies for quite some time. As it turns out, they are disappointed when he finishes his speech in short order, appearing distracted and out of sorts. He certainly was. He had the invasion of France to organise. He left earlier than planned. He cut his two hour speech in half and he did not stay to spend time with his old comrades, as was his annual custom. He left the beer hall at 9:07 pm.
Thirteen minutes later, a bomb tore apart the stage on which he had been standing a quarter of an hour before. Hitler would not have survived. The war may not have ended that night, but it is very doubtful there would have been six years of carnage before it did. The history books recall the name of the man who tried to kill him – a factory worker and former clock maker named Georg Elser – but they also recall the consequences of his failure.
There was another attempted assassination that had profound consequences. In 1933, American’s had just elected Franklin D. Roosevelt President. He was not yet sworn in when he paid a visit to Chicago, to meet with the mayor Anton Cermak. In the crowd was an avowed anarchist, and hater of “rich men and capitalists”, named Giuseppe Zangara. He was a small man, and in front of him stood a woman in a large hat, a woman called Lillian Cross.
It was because of Lillian Cross and her hat that he was standing on a chair to get a better view. He was also armed, and he soon had his gun out. The chair he was on was unstable and wobbly. His first shot missed. Lillian Cross turned and grabbed his arm and began beating him with her purse. He fired four more shots. None hit Roosevelt, but Cermak was shot. His last words before they took him away were said to be have been made to the future President.
“I’m glad it was me instead of you,” he’s alleged to have said. So is history.
History turns on these things. Aborted speeches, wobbly chairs and big hats. We don’t like to think about that, about how different it might have all looked but for little moments. Yet they happen all the time.
At Celtic Park, in 1999, a piece of guttering fell off a roof before a Scottish Cup tie with Inverness Caledonia Thistle. The match was called off on safety grounds. When the rescheduled match took place Celtic lost 3-1. That was the end of John Barnes. By the start of the following year, the manager was Martin O’Neill, and the rest is history. The good kind.
At Ibrox, the history ended with liquidation, but a lot of people don’t believe that. I’ve long argued that whether they are wrong or right is largely irrelevant. The club these people grew up supporting died, and it isn’t coming back. History or no, newco or oldco with a different corporate structure, those who think Rangers “got away with it” because they are one season away from being in the SPL have obviously missed the point. They were nuked.
Where was the single disastrous moment that drove Sevco Rangers to the wall? History will remember the mis-steps of Maribor and Malmo as the twin calamities that struck the old club and drove Craig Whyte’s plans into the dust. Yet the real hammer blow, the one that destroyed any chance of a version of them on the same level as the old, came a little later on, and history will remember it as one of the worsts mistakes of this series of events.
It was when John Brown stood on the steps outside Ibrox and made his demand to see the title deeds. You want to talk about wobbly chairs changing history? That was the Scottish football wobbly chair moment to end them all. John Brown? Trying to launch a takeover bid for a club that had only been sold two minutes before? Seriously? Except … it was serious.
Had a passer-by grabbed the microphone first that night he might have made more sense, and been more credible, than the snarling face of Brown. Of all the people involved in the Ibrox maelstrom at that moment, it was “Bomber” who got up there first and “articulated” – as best he could (haha) – the concerns of the support.
At the time, it appeared to be a minor matter. It was soon laughed off by everyone outside Ibrox. Yet Brown was the worst possible advocate for a reverse takeover. His speech was spat rather than spoken, in parts incoherent and overall simply a mess that boiled down to one slogan.
There were legitimate questions about Green – we were asking them, a lot of people were – but when the media made Bomber Brown the “public face” of those questions … that was it.
What appeared, at the time, to be a bizarre diversion, one which caused much hilarity on our side and face palming on the Sevco Rangers side, has surprised us all, because it’s the issue that has never gone away. The status of Ibrox and Murray Park, and what happens to them in the future, is still the cause for which the fans are willing to die in the ditch.
I do believe Brown was onto something. For a long time I suspected he was alluding to the switcheroo involving Sevco 5088 and Sevco Scotland Limited, but I now more strongly suspect that he was tipped the wink about something else, and it’s that which worries him most.
Today the Sevco fans are claiming they’ve forced the hand of the board of directors because the board has indicated a willingness to talk over providing some kind of security over Ibrox. I find the notion amusing for many reasons. The idea of Ibrox being “sold from under the club” is the biggest red herring out there, and it has been for a while now.
For the record, I never believed the ground and the training ground would ever be used as collateral for loans or as part of a sale and lease back deal. Some folk have suggested it, but I think they tend to misunderstand the overall picture within Ibrox right now.
Let’s put it this way. In their scenario, Sevco Rangers runs into trouble. As a result it is forced to talk to financial institutions, which give them a few million quid and take the assets off their hands.
Yet it fails to take into account a simple truth. There are investment boards with their claws in Ibrox right now. They don’t need to do a sale and lease-back to get their hands on the stadium and the training ground. They already own a stake in them. Furthermore, any share issue, especially one where shares are offered to existing “institutional investors” first, will give them more control, not less. These people already run the table.
The short con is over at Ibrox. We’re deep into the long game now. Had Rangers fans found a better “hero” than John Brown, someone with the intellect and ability to dig down deep and get to the bottom of the corporate structure Green and Co were putting in place, things might not be such a mess. The real danger would have been spotted much sooner.
As it is, Rangers fan sites are calling Wallace’s offer of a guarantee a “victory over the board” when the board makes a promise never to use Ibrox as security for a loan, or to consider sale-and-lease-back as an option. Even a kid fresh out of law school could write that “guarantee” in such a way as to make it look solid, and if you were a lawyer who’d been instructed only to make sure the club could not sell the assets to an “outside body” you might well accept that as legal and binding. And it would be. Except in an administration, or liquidation, where all bets would be off … a flaw in this “plan” so huge you could drive the US IV Army right through it.
Anyway, selling to an outside body isn’t the plan. It never was.
Rangers fans did this to themselves with their insistence on the “continuation of the history” nonsense. It was, and it remains, the biggest existential danger to the Newco, and it’s where the real threat lies in the issues surrounding Ibrox and Murray Park. They have allowed the board to establish the “fact” of the separation between company and club, and that’s where the long con has its roots and its base, and it’s why their “guarantee” is worthless, even if it is actually committed to paper and not just another, in a long line, of stalling tactics.
The ground and the training ground, the carpark and the bars, all of them can be shifted this way and that, left and right, within the “company” itself. As long as they never leave the “company” the board can still look the fans in the face and say “we still own Ibrox.” We hear, often, how the “club” is in no debt. True or false? It depends on who you ask. One of the “companies” owes another of the “companies” millions of pounds already. Where does the “club” fit into this? Who knows? And right there is the big issue, the big problem.
Are season tickets paid to the “club” or the “company”? If it’s the “club” what happens when they run out? Who pays the players? The “company” one would presume. What happens when the “company” says enough is enough? Is the “company” going to put the club into administration or liquidation? If it did then all bets would be off, all contracts would be invalid, and the fans “guarantee” would be absolutely worthless.
The “company” has already taken a loan from a major shareholder, as part of keeping on the lights. The first 7000 or so season tickets will go towards paying that loan off. That’s a sale and lease back in all but name! How long before it becomes the norm? Before 10,000 or 15,000 season tickets need to be sold and the monies handed over to the “investors”, to keep the plug from being pulled?
The second a fresh share issue is announced, watch how quickly current shareholders “over-subscribe” to it. The “club” will get its “shot in the arm”, a £10,000,000 “investment” to keep things tiding over … but the position of the “company” will be stronger than ever before.
How long before the “company” is charging the “club” interest on the debts? Will the fans still see the distinction between them then? Who owns the SFA licence? The “club” or the “company”? In whose name is the football team registered?
The second the fans insisted that you could split one off from the other, there were always going to be dire consequences, and questions like this would require answers.
Had anyone even semi-articulate and possessed of even an ounce of investigative ability been first to grab the microphone, everything might be different. Instead, the voices which were loudest came from the throats of Dingwall, Graham and the rest of the Brains Trust, who were arguing for trusting Green … and the man they call Bomber, who wanted him run out of town before he’d got his feet under the table.
Bomber bombed all right. He bombed the whole club into oblivion, because his intervention pushed those questions onto the conspiracy nut-job margins, where the only people discussing them on the Sevco side were the loonies who thought Brown was the perfect standard bearer. The only other people discussing Green were us, the Internet Bampots, and Sevco fans were still smarting from us being right about Craig Whyte. They were never going to listen to us over Green.
The irony, of course, is how close to the truth John Brown actually was. He simply failed to understand the complexities of what he was talking about, even if his gut was telling him it wasn’t quite right. When Stockbridge showed the deeds to the Daily Record, all their hacks had to see was the word “Rangers” on those deeds and no more questions were asked.
When this crisis reaches its nadir, when the long con is revealed in all its gory glory, I am willing to lay a bet that the word “Rangers” will still be on the title deeds at Ibrox. But there will be two, or even three, “Rangers” entities by then, and one of them will be charging the “club” rent.
That’s where the danger lies, where it has always lay, and last night’s “victory” for the Sevco Rangers fans is another step closer to that day. It closes the door to one possibility, and immeasurably strengthens the more profound, more dangerous, one.
One last time I’ll say it … for their fans there is no “victory” to be had here, only degrees of losing. If what they are hoping for is a return to the “grand old days of yore” they better buckle in for a bumpy ride, because it’s not going to happen, and the sooner they realise it the sooner their club can extricate itself from the god-awful (and highly amusing) mess they are in.
There is going to be blood on the walls before this is over.
For the Sevco fans it will be a long, horrible summer. For Celtic fans, I can see high times and much chortling and amusement. For neutrals, it will be another spectacle to leave the senses reeling and the mouths wide open.
There’s going to be plenty more to write about, that’s for sure.
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