The following is from the latest issue of the Famous Tartan Army Magazine, published online earlier today. Please feel free to share the link.
Back in November of 2011, whilst myself and others were doing our due diligence on Craig Thomas Whyte, it started to dawn on us that 2012 was likely to be one of the most tumultuous years in the history of the Scottish game. The information we were uncovering about this man and his background was so incendiary it was astonishing to us that the media was not covering the same ground, and there was a concern that perhaps the powers-that-be were as in the dark as much of the public was. This was not good news.
For those of us who’d made it our business to be aware of the details, the situation at Rangers looked critical. Rumours were flying about the club being on the brink. The money had run out, some said, including people with contacts inside Ibrox itself. It seemed as if Rangers was sitting on a ticking bomb. It was just a matter of time.
They were one of the top two clubs in the country, and for twenty plus years the entire axis of our game here had shifted on the basis of their rivalry. That looked just about ready to collapse. Were our governing bodies blind to that? Was the whole game sleepwalking towards the cliff? How could it be? We could see it coming a mile away. Why couldn’t they? Surely they did. Surely there was a plan. We crossed our fingers. We hoped.
In February the roof caved in, and to say our authorities didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory was an understatement. The efforts – all of which failed dismally – to elevate the Newco Rangers into the SPL, and then to SFL Division 1, showed the game here in a very poor light.
It was an awful spectacle, and when it had finished there was barely a fan anywhere in the country, not even those of NewCo Rangers, who were happy with the conduct of the governing bodies. They had unified the supporters … in opposition.
The media too had been against Newco Rangers starting from the bottom, and they presented the authorities proposals as if they were fait accompli. For so long, the media believed that they were the sole opinion makers in the game, and their readers were just slaves to the nonsense on the back pages, incapable of independent thought. The gutter level at which these “informed” writers conducted the debate was truly appalling.
Imagine their shock when the new media began to push the debate in another direction. In the end, the unity of the supporters, up and down the land, smashed the grubby deals to pieces. Clubs started to do something they hadn’t done in years; listen to their fans. Furthermore, the fans themselves woke up to realise something which hadn’t dawned on them in even longer; they were important after all. They were the ones who mattered.
Yet still, it was occasionally disheartening. For one, we had to witness the shameful, unprecedented spectacle of those with the ultimate responsibility for talking up our game, and securing its financial future, not simply talking our game down but virtually writing it off. We had commercial directors declaring the product worthless, executive’s with responsibility for negotiating contracts predicting, in public, in the press, that the companies who would be asked to renew them would withdraw or drop their offers through the floor.
Yet the sponsors and TV companies had more faith in Scottish football than the people who were supposed to be selling it. Some of these companies had more than just a financial stake in the game; some actually cared about it, and wanted to see it renewed. The situation we saw unfold at Rangers showed this game at its worst, but we also got to see it at its best.
When our smaller clubs refused to buckle, and the new Rangers was made to start at the bottom the shock expressed by commentators, pundits, ex-players and managers, all across the game, and especially down south, was genuine.
Make no mistake about that. It was absolutely real, born of utter incomprehension. Imagine football clubs putting their balance sheets aside for the mad notion of “sporting integrity.” How could they be so stupid? Powerful clubs, influential clubs, do not die and are forced to start again at the bottom of the game. How can it happen?
How the Hell can all these small clubs be listening to their fans? How did the Have’s become dependent on the Have Not’s? This is not the football we have come to know and love, is it? In fact, is this really football at all?
God yes! This is what football should be, across the face of the world. The destiny of the Global Game, in the hands of supporters.
At last, at long last, Scottish Football has established a standard for the rest of the game to aspire to. Yes it happened in spite of the governing bodies, and not because of them, but even that isn’t strictly true when it comes down to it. The SFA could have just ploughed on, regardless, and stamped all over the smaller clubs.
Yet they didn’t. They respected the decision, and the wailing of some sections of the media and certain CEO’s aside, the game here has moved on, and looks to be getting stronger. Furthermore, although there will be heated debates about the form of the coming league reconstruction, it’s been made clear to all that it will be done on the basis of merit, and that there will be no shortcut to the SPL for the club that plays out of Ibrox.
This, too, has sparked howls of disbelief from those who think our entire football universe revolves around two teams. It has never done so, and must never be allowed to do so. The wrong decision here would have reduced it to that, and elevated those two clubs so far above the rest it would have fundamentally altered the nature of our game, destroying any notion of it as a sport.
We would never have recovered from the consequences of that.
In England, they sneer at all this. A familiar refrain down there is, “How can Scottish football have been so short-sighted? Don’t they know Rangers is one of the biggest clubs in Europe?” Even if it were true, so what? Should the integrity of the game, and the nature of our sport, be cast into permanent darkness for the benefit of one club? Any club? In other countries, maybe it would be, those countries where money has so come to rule the game you can no longer imagine their football landscape without it. In those nations, so enamoured with the money, they devote Transfer Deadline Day to obsessing on the numbers on their electronic “Total Spending” scoreboard. There, perhaps, they would have fought to maintain a status quo which let the madness continue … but here we had very different ideas about what is important.
There are values here beyond the “market share”, values bigger than the cost of the next world class player. There are values more important than the next television deal, values greater than the inflated “worth” of clubs which are swimming in debt.
Scotland has said no to that. Scottish football refused to trade integrity away for a few extra scraps from the bean counters at Sky. We embraced the basic principles of the game itself, the core of what it’s all about. The supporters made it happen, the clubs took their wishes on-board, and in the end, the authorities were with us all the way, and remain steadfast.
We live in a cynical time, when football in certain countries has become rooted in greed. Even here, going to games costs too much, players earn too much and clubs are still spending too much, all in a bid to keep growing something that is already inflated all to Hell.
The product we watch on the pitch, week in week out, may not be fresh, or exciting, and at least two of our four leagues are going to be won at a walk by clubs far bigger than their respective opponents can ever hope to be.
And yet, in the tumultuous year that was 2012, a flower grew amongst the rubble of Rangers’ inevitable collapse. It might be ten years before our national side is ready to compete again at the highest level, and longer still before this country produces a genuinely world class player, far less a team of them. But here, something noble, and brave, has happened and with it we have laid down a marker and it says the interests of the game come first.
Nothing we have ever done on the pitch may ever have been as important as the example we just set off it.
I am proud of it, as we should all be proud of it. In years to come, we will look back on 2012 as the year when our national sport regained its soul.
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