Aftershocks & Broken Clocks

21058446I’m a huge fan of the US television show Breaking Bad. (See the bottom of this article.)

I’ve put people who were looking for exciting things to watch on TV onto that show and browbeat others who’d never have seen it otherwise into checking it out.

Like Walter White, the titular character, I’ve pushed it like a drug and created addicts.

One of the themes on the show is the “law of unintended consequences”, when something we do has a different result to what we anticipated.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of these, which I’ll outline briefly, along with a couple of examples of each.

First are those actions which have unintended benefits.

Aspirin is a pain relief medication, but it’s also an anti-coagulant, something that’s led to it being prescribed to heart attack victims. It was never designed for that. Thinning the blood is a side effect of aspirin use, but one that has made the pill part of the arsenal in fighting heart disease.

In Scottish football terms, forcing NewCo Rangers to start where all other new clubs start has had the unintended consequence of enriching the lower leagues, and making the SPL better in that it’s opened the way for clubs to be more competitive in chasing European places. Another unintended consequence is that it forced the governing bodies to instigate real change in the structures of the national sport. This would never have happened without the collapse of the Oldco.

Second are those actions which have unintended ill-effects.

The best example is the CIA plan to arm the Afghan rebels during their fight with the old Soviet Union. In my last article I covered The Fall of Empires, and it can be argued that the Afghan war was an expensive adventure from which the Soviets never recovered. However, the unintended, negative, consequence of it was that the Afghan rebel movement which defeated them morphed into what became the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The unintended ill effects of the death of Rangers are evident in that the new club was born with all the arrogance and ego of the dead one (as well as the baggage), but with additional issues such as a persecution complex and a chip on its shoulder.

Thirdly, and finally, are those actions who’s consequences are perverse, often the complete opposite of what was intended.

There’s a phenomenon called The Streisand Effect which I want to explore in both its literal term and the way in which it’s impacted on football reporting in this country. The Streisand Effect is so named for the singer Barbra Streisand, who in 2003 tried to force a number of publications to cease using pictures of her Malibu home. The intense interest this generated, of course, led to her home becoming more well-known and photographed than ever before.

Another good example is the story of the nine year old girl who’s blog post on school meals caused Argyll and Bute Council to try and censor her, leading to tens of thousands of hits and first national, and then international, reporting of the blog itself and their reaction to it.

In Scottish football, the Streisand Effect has been seen over and over again in the last 24 months. Every story the media wanted to ignore, everything the PR pit bulls at Ibrox and Hampden wanted kept out of the public domain has, instead, been published online on a hundred forums, twitter accounts and blogs like this one. The media’s shameless and shambolic attempts to minimise public exposure of the goings on at Rangers (old club and new club) have had the worst possible effect, for them, in that they are responsible for creating The Internet Bampots, who I suspect will haunt their steps and erode their influence now and forevermore.

What’s worse for all those involved in trying to keep the lid on this thing is that every new revelation creates its own chain of destruction, leading to the asking of more questions, the seeking out of more information, begetting even more damaging disclosures. The domino effect of this can’t be overlooked. Things have been set in motion with the potential to branch off in a million separate directions, with consequences all the way down the line.

Think of these wee branches as fault lines, each capable of creating its own earthquakes, and its own wee branches of aftershocks.

It’s been one of those days in Scottish football. This morning I woke to find snooker reeling from the fallout of the Stephen Lee affair, and in particular from Ronnie O’Sullivan’s contention that match fixing is rife in the game and that certain people have guilty consciences.

O’Sullivan is backtracking now, saying his words were taken out of context. But the only reason he’s doing so is because enormous pressure is being brought to bear on him, from within the game itself and the media which covers it, to explain those remarks. In other words, the media and those involved in running the game are taking their responsibilities seriously and demanding to know the details of what O’Sullivan is alleging. They deserve immense credit for this, for putting the integrity of the sport front and centre, and having the guts to pursue scandal and corruption, no matter where it eventually may lead.

Contrast the firestorm of questions being directed at O’Sullivan with the stone silence from both the press and the governing bodies over Ally McCoist’s far more serious allegations, expanded on and enhanced in one newspaper the following day by a former professional footballer, as to the extent of gambling within football in Scotland.

Let me remind you that McCoist did not only allege gambling by players, but went out of his way to mention officials too. Not one journalist, not one news outlet and not one SFA committee member has called on him to explain that, or elaborate on it, despite it being one of the most serious allegations ever levelled at people within the game here.

I wrote an article about it at the time, and did a follow up some days later, over the lack of attention given those comments in the press, and weeks later that remains the case. It is shocking.

There is an arrogance in this country that I find breathtaking. I’ve heard our assorted hacks criticise the game in various parts of the world for being corrupt, without a trace of irony or the realisation that we only know that because those countries had the courage to go looking for the dirt, in an effort to make the game there clean. The Italians are the oft-cited example of the country where the “problem” is at its most extreme, but of course what’s true is that in Italy it’s taken seriously, and ruthlessly investigated, and those found guilty are hammered, regardless of status.

Even when one of the most high profile managers in the game waves papers at the press in which he says are contained the names of hundreds of rule-breakers, and when a former player tells a national newspaper that, yes, gambling is rife in the game and that it’s morphed into match-fixing, no-one stirs. No-one digs deeper. No-one investigates it at all.

Hugh Keevins is on record as saying he, personally, would never investigate corruption in Scottish football because we might not like what we find, and I have no doubt this view is shared throughout the media here and in the upper echelons of the game. Forget the notion of sunshine as the best disinfectant. These people would rather live, in ignorance, in a game coming down with the plague than confirm that it’s out there.

Yet what does the law of unintended consequences tell us? If the aim here is to protect the reputation of our game, is a failure to investigate corruption going to have the effect of making it more credible? Of course not. That’s a preposterous notion. What it will do is allow corruption to permeate every facet of the game, and in the end it will destroy its reputation beyond recovery. You only have to look at the Streisand Effect to realise that nothing in Scottish football is going to remain secret forever. All the walls will come tumbling down, and the more we ignore it, the more crap builds up behind those walls.

Scottish football is a mess. If the people running the game here were genuinely courageous, and determined to reform it, they could do it. They would meet resistance, but they would have the support of the fans across the game.

I include Rangers fans in that. I do believe of all the supporters in Scotland it’s the Rangers fans who have been worst served by those in charge of our national sport. The hierarchy, in their efforts to “protect the club” have, instead, destroyed it. Their efforts to smooth the way for the newco handed the whole organisation over to people you would not buy a used car (or a burnt out bus) from.

I said earlier this year, in an article for The Scottish Football Monitor site, that it should be the Rangers fans calling for the enforcement of the rules, above and beyond everyone else, because ruthless and courageous application of the fit and proper person criteria would have had the effect of excluding, from their board of directors and thereby the centres of power, those with the potential to do their club great damage. Months on, they remain indifferent to this and the SFA remains unwilling to offer them the protection that would come with it.

Peter Lawwell is now serving on the main SFA board, and I believe this could be of enormous help to the Rangers supporters if he brings with him the structured, rules-first and transparent style he has applied to the running of Celtic. Several Rangers fan forums are up in arms at the appointment, worried that Lawwell might try and interfere in the running of their club.

Let me point out something to them, something that might not be readily apparent.

If Peter Lawwell insists the SFA follows its own rules, and rigorously, not only will these mercenary elements find their boardroom places under threat but your club will be forced to open the books, show you the money and explain exactly where it’s going and has gone. If he insists on even the most basic level of transparency your club will be the primary beneficiaries of that, because it will expose everything that’s going on inside Ibrox, and give you a chance to pull back from the brink.

Some of you will say those things are designed to undermine you, but as conspiracy theories go that one is a loser. How does it undermine Rangers to give the fans the information they need to take control of their own destiny again? How does it undermine the club to keep the vultures at bay, and to secure control in the hands of those who will run the club right?

On the other hand, Peter Lawwell and the SFA board could let things carry on as they are now. With your club pursuing a policy of concealment rather than disclosure. He can allow you to submit unaudited accounts until UEFA bans you for more years. He could allow your boardroom to be populated by people who will abuse their positions, leech the life from your club and ultimately bring scandal and shame down upon what’s left of your reputation. In those circumstances you’d be fully entitled to spin your conspiracy theories, because I cannot conceive of a scenario more damaging to you than if he decides that the practices which have worked so well at Celtic should not be enforced on your board of directors. Nothing would weaken you more.

Today we’ve seen another story break, this time about a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the Rangers share issue. This is nothing we’ve not been suggesting might happen, but the news that it’s underway is devastating, and should force the SFA to consider its own position here. Today’s revelations come from a thoroughly lamentable source, but he has connections and access to good information, and has been proved right in the past.

What’s that saying? Even a broken clock is right twice a day. In this case, he appears to be on the money, and the news is enormously damaging on any number of fronts, and for any number of individuals and institutions … not only Rangers.

This is the law of unintended consequences writ large. The quest to keep the Rangers situation under wraps has allowed all manner of darkness to spread to the point where it appears poised to engulf the club and all involved with it. If the meltdown happens, when bloggers and internet bampots have been screaming warnings for the last 12 months, it’s difficult to see how some of the people involved in running our game can survive. The lack of oversight has been truly scandalous, the lack of courage from all involved truly appalling.

I repeat again what I said earlier; forget trying to keep the secrets. The internecine strife within Ibrox has escalated to the point where these sides are ready to destroy each other, regardless of the damage they do to the club in the process. Both sides are leaking every damaging revelation they can lay their hands on, and if, as appears obvious, they’ve ceased to care what the collateral impact is on Rangers, how do you think they feel about inflicting existential damage on the SFA? I would suggest that if they could care less it isn’t much less.

To paraphrase a great Game of Thrones moment, either side would be happy to watch the whole of Scottish football burn if they could emerge as kings of the Ibrox ash pile.

The Five Way Agreement has been published. The stunning document where the SPL appeared to offer NewCo Rangers a blanket immunity for EBT’s is out there, and it casts doubt on everyone from Neil Doncaster to Lord Nimmo Smith. There is an investigation, on-going right now, into whether senior police officers were leaking information on HRMC’s investigation to people connected to the club, with dark suggestions that this information was passed on to the most extreme Rangers bloggers. It is deadly stuff, and the longer the silence from our authorities continues the worse this is all going to get. Add to this the heady mix of journalists being threatened, and football in this country appears on the brink of anarchy, over the conduct of one club.

Even something as simple as the decision over where the Ramsden’s Cup Final should be played has become a weighted scenario. Some of the press are suggesting Celtic Park is the perfect venue, whilst others are stating that the Rangers fans wouldn’t want to go there so it should be played at Ibrox. Apart from the absurdity of Rangers fans and their allies in the media daring to dictate terms on something like this (you don’t want to visit Celtic Park for a cup final? Too bad. If that’s where it’s played you have the choice not to attend, and let the match take place in front of empty stands) no-one seems to want to accept that as the country’s third tier cup tournament, and one that is the province of the lower league clubs, that the obvious, and historical, solution is that the match should be played at a neutral, lower league ground.

So if Rangers get there not every fan who wants one will be able to get a ticket. So what? If Celtic reach the Scottish and League Cup Finals, not every fan who wants one will get a ticket. We’ve played league deciders at grounds where less than 3000 Celtic fans were present. This is football, the way it’s supposed to be played. Take the Ramsden’s Cup Final to Dunfermline, or Dundee, and give a wee financial lift to them, rather the line the pockets of Celtic. Equally there should be no prospect, none at all, of playing the game at Ibrox. It’s an embarrassment even to make the suggestion, and it creates yet another precedent to divide the game.

The game doesn’t need further division. What it needs now is leadership, and the application of the rules as they were written, a game run for the benefit of all clubs … not just one.

This constant bending of the rules for Rangers benefit has done tremendous damage to the game already, but to Rangers most of all. We are all feeling the aftershocks, but the epicentre of the quake was Ibrox itself.

That’s the unintended consequence of all this rule bending, and the longer the game’s governing bodies ignore that, the longer they construct their policies around the whims and wants of one team, to the detriment of everyone else, the darker the future looks for the game, but for Rangers in particular.

That’s the truth of it, the one no-one wants to face.

Hell mend them if it continues to be this way.

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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.

6 thoughts on “Aftershocks & Broken Clocks

  • 20 September, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Good insights James.
    Here is another
    Maybe Peter Lawwell is now on the SFA board to protect the status quo and stuff like ther 5 way Finagelment to which he was copmplicit and to stop the stuff “we might not like” spilling out.
    If he really was an honest broker he and others like Petrie and Milne and MacGregor, and Cameron, and Brown and Thompson could and should have collectively blown their whistles and start a clean up.
    I don’t think they can or will because sadly they are all part of the problem because they helped forge the mess we are now in.
    And Doncaster and Regan were and are their puppets.
    But I’d love to be proved wrong.

  • 20 September, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Nail, hammer, hit full and flush on the head

  • 20 September, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    There are those in the Scottash Farce Association who would gladly let Scottish Football burn if it allowed Rangers to emerge King of the ashes.

  • 21 September, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Getting rid of Regan or Doncaster is not the solution, as they’re their to act as front man PR people. They don’t hold any real executive power like you would think of most heads of organisations. The real power lies with the faceless people in the committees. These people are largely traditionalists, or Celtic/Rangers minded people who are determined to keep the status quo. You only have to look at the farce surrounding the Levein sacking to realise how unfit an organisation the SFA is. What we need is fewer, more accountable and people. Who are more interested in making good decisions for the overall good of the game the big. Even if they’re to the detriment of the biggest sides.

  • 21 September, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Here in the South of England the vast majority have no knowledge whatsoever of the shenanigans going on up there, (even when Alex Thomson was on the case).
    I am aware only because I still keep in touch and occasionally pay a visit to Celtic Park.
    OK, the Scottish media and football authorities are guilty to the highest degree of cover up as you clearly point out but I can’t help thinking that UEFA must have some knowledge of what’s going on up there.
    Could the unintended consequence come from that direction?
    If only.

  • 21 September, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Another thoughtful piece James. Celtic get a rare seat on the SFA main board, although Peter Lawwell has no office within that board, and like every other member will have a single vote. Still it’s a step forward.

    But, a realistic look at the composition of the main and pro-game boards shows how hard it’ll be for PL to get anything through that lot. You talk of PL”allowing” things and “preventing” things. As an ordinary one vote member where does he get the authority to allow or prevent anything

    It’s a funny situation. On one hand we have RIFC fans and on the other, people like yourself getting irate at PL, but for opposing reasons. I wish those who think PL should be the saviour of Scottish football would put forward some ideas as to how he can be that. For example, what proposal(s) should he take to the board? What support is he likely to get for such proposal(s)?

    I have no idea how the man is going to approach the task in hand. Seeing the people he has to work with, I suspect the only way he’ll achieve anything is by quiet diplomacy. The class of people who have controlled Scottish football for over 100 years and dragged it into the gutter are not going to surrender their hegemony easily, as we are witnessing daily.

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