Another Brick In The Wall

Neil Doncaster and Peter Lawwell Celtic FCLast night’s article, focussed as it was on two news reports, was fixated primarily on the first of the two rather than the second.

The first was on Colin Duncan’s piece in yesterday’s Daily Record, and it was an exploration of the idea that Sevco Rangers fans can save their club by starving it to death, which I believe is a case of twisted logic as bizarre as most I’ve ever seen.

Far more twisted was the second story, the one that got a few paragraphs at the bottom of the piece, following on from the Celtic Research team’s exclusive, which the media last night caught up with, about the SPFL subsidising the showing of Sevco matches.

People are urging caution here. They are suggesting we all relax and wait to find out what the precise details of the TV deals were. They suggest this as if we’ll ever know that, as if we’ll ever find out. The companies are already hiding behind “commercial confidentiality” and not even Freedom of Information requests will breach that particular wall. Bottom line … we’re never going to know exactly what the small print is.

Should we, therefore, be careful anyway?

I respect some of the people urging caution here. I respect, and I trust, their motives. But you know what? To actually back up here would be an egregious surrender of responsibility. These matters require scrutiny, because they suggest that the lessons of the inglorious past have not been learned, by anybody, and that we really are destined to repeat the cycle of uncertainty we fell into a couple of years ago, when Rangers entered its death spiral and Sevco was born.

The media aren’t going to do this job properly. They will be content with one day of headlines. No-one is going to dig deep for the truth. It’s possible there’ll be a wee sit down with some of the principal players, but they will layer on the spin and the story will be allowed to die. One of the Celtic Twitterati, SwedBhoy, summed up the media today for me as “turnaround of reality specialists”, and I wish I’d read that phrase last night, as it would have fitted nicely into my Age Of Unreality piece … but it’s an undeniable truth just the same.

This will come down to the Internet Bampots, as per usual.

So, stripped of all the shiny ad-on’s, what’s the truth?

The club playing out of Ibrox is already in existential crisis. There are doubts about their ability to make it through the coming season without an administration event, grave doubts (are there another kind?), because no less than the head of their football board has said that he doesn’t believe they could survive that process.

This isn’t a recent development. The seeds of this were inherent in the DNA of Sevco Rangers, on the day it was born. We could all see it at the time. We wrote about it at great length. I penned an article for The Scottish Football Monitor when Sevco was given its temporary licence, where I suggested that if the SFA hadn’t done its due diligence on who really had bought the assets of the DeadCo there would be Hell to pay for the whole game.

There was no coherent business plan, and no strategy. When the club started spending money again like they’d been given Kate Middleton’s credit card and told to go mad it was nothing we hadn’t expected, and predicted. Since then there have been boardroom meltdowns, ownership battles, court cases and the resurrection of Craig Whyte.

Despite all of it, our game’s leaders continue to promote the game in this country as if Sevco Rangers was a key component in it, something necessary for the game to survive. How many of Hearts’ games in the Championship next season will be shown live on TV do you think? I know four will anyway … and they will all involve a club from Glasgow. I’ll get back to this point in a moment.

Sevco Rangers would have been given a berth in our top division had the SPL board had its way. It would have destroyed the game in this country, but they were determined to do it regardless. The clubs said no. The governing bodies then leaned on the SFL clubs to accept the NewCo in the second tier. They, too, said no, and resoundingly. Doncaster and Regan were walking around predicting Armageddon and essentially threatening our teams.

Part of the strategy was to moot the collapse of the TV deal. There was a key meeting, at Hampden, to brief the teams on the potential consequences. The key word there is potential. The TV companies had already announced that they’d continue to support the game, but the ruling bodies ignored that, and called the meeting to lay out for the clubs what would happen if the NewCo wasn’t given its free ride.

Club chairman who were at the meeting said they frankly did not believe what they were being told. They knew the presentations from Doncaster and Regan were, essentially, extreme worse-case stuff which would have put the TV companies on the wrong side of public opinion, their own subscribers and possibly even the courts. How do you enforce a “4 Celtic – Rangers games” clause in the first place, without sporting integrity being utterly compromised? Was there no “Act of God” style provision in those deals?

It doesn’t matter anyway. Clubs didn’t believe the scare stories were genuine.

The clubs knew it was a bluff … and they called it. Sevco was told to start where all new clubs start, at the bottom, and sporting integrity was saved.

On 27 July 2012, Sevco Rangers were granted a “conditional membership”, a mere 48 hours before they were due to play their first game, a Ramsden’s Cup tie.  On 29 July, on the day of the game itself, Charles Green, playing to the gallery of the vilest of the vile amongst his fans when he said the other clubs had taken their decision based on “bigotry.”

On 31 July 2012, it was announced that Sky and ESPN had agreed a revised five-year contract to show Scottish football games. The exact figures weren’t disclosed, but it didn’t matter. Armageddon had been averted, with room to spare. The new TV deal had folded in coverage of Sevco Rangers games as part of the package, and that was mooted as the big change.

Regan gave an interview where he defended his handling of the whole affair, resisted calls to resign, and then was asked to explain why Sevco had only been granted a “conditional license.” As part of his answer, he said the following;

“There were negotiations taking place over media rights. There were negotiations taking place over sanctions. There were negotiations taking place over the practicalities of organising the match at the weekend.”

I believe the first two parts of that statement are highly revealing.

The TV deal that was announced on 31 July 2012 was between Sky/ESPN and the SPL. Understand that part first. The deal was with the SPL. As part of this deal, however, Sky/EPSN were contracted to show a number of Sevco Rangers games. They could have organised their own, separate, deal with the SFL for these matches, but they didn’t. Instead, the SPL themselves handled that part, giving over a chunk of the money to the SFL for the rights.

So we had the TV companies paying the SPL for the rights to a package of matches, and in turn the SPL were paying a cut of that money to the SFL, to purchase the rights to a bunch of Sevco Rangers games, which the TV companies then showed. Who else thinks this is bizarre?

We’ll be told the TV companies insisted on being able to show Sevco games.

Bear in mind, at this point there is no chance at all of there being four Celtic – Rangers games on the box. One of the biggest TV audience draws was gone. There was no Sevco Rangers in the top flight, so big, dramatic matches where the league title was up for grabs … they too were gone.

At the same time, Sky had spent fortunes securing English football, making the whole of the Scottish game an afterthought anyway. Many of those matches were on live in direct competition with Scottish games, as tends to be the case.

With this in mind, I come to my first question.

Did showing Sevco Rangers games in the lower league make any commercial sense for the broadcasters?

We’re talking about a club with a large support, yes, but a club almost universally reviled by every other team in the land. Most “neutrals” in Scotland would rather watch paint dry than watch Sevco Rangers beating cannon fodder teams in the lower leagues. What, exactly, did Sky and ESPN expect, in terms of audience share, for watching that? A few diehard Sevco fans in Scotland … and precisely who else? I ask again; did showing these games make any commercial sense for Sky and ESPN?

Hold that thought for a minute.

The TV contracts were signed on 31 July, and the guarantee of Sevco games was in there. I gave you a dateline, above, which you should go and study again for a second, and see if you spot the hole in it, if you haven’t already.

You see it? It kind of jumps out at you when you know to look for it.

On 31 July, when that deal was signed, a deal that must have been negotiated over weeks at least, it was a TV contract guaranteeing to show Rangers games when there was no club called Rangers officially licenced to play football in the professional game in this country. Dismiss this as being an irrelevance all you want, but it’s not. It is pretty damned far from being an irrelevance.

It brings us neatly back to the Five Way Agreement, the subject of one of the most widely read and circulated articles this website has ever posted, a piece called A Window On A Scandal.

I argued in that piece that the “accepted wisdom” has been that Sevco Rangers met all the criteria that was demanded of them, that it was Charles Green and his board of directors who “blinked”, and gave the governing bodies a number of guarantees about everything from EBT sanctions to paying football debts.

Yet what do we know, what do we now know for a fact, about those “agreements”?

They were supposed to give a full accounting of who owned the club, the procedure by which it was bought, who supplied the money and what the business plan was.

We now know the SFA has no idea who’s really running Sevco, that they don’t know where the money came from to purchase the assets and that there was no business plan to speak of. In fact, the SFA is so scared to admit they don’t know any of this, and equally terrified of what the answers are, that when Craig Whyte launched a legal case to prove he was part of it the SFA took the unprecedented step of letting the club investigate itself over allegations that could have seen their license suspended. What does that tell you?

This website, aided by the researchers at the Scottish Football Monitor, has already offered the proof that the Lord Nimmo Smith case was shackled from the start, not only by a scope that was deliberately narrowed to exclude the Discounted Options Scheme, but also by a secret guarantee given to the club that they would suffer no serious consequences.

Sevco Rangers was allowed to “negotiate” how much of its football debts its paid, in one instance taking advantage of the financial plight of Hearts to cut the fee they owed over Lee Wallace in exchange for a larger lump sum than would otherwise have been due.

The “transfer ban” that was imposed was actually a “registration embargo”, a distinction which most of us missed at the time, but was deliberately worded to give the club an “out” big enough for Godzilla to climb through. So transparent was that fraudulent “punishment” even looking back on it makes me reel. Ironic that it’s had dire financial consequences for them, isn’t it?

Whatever was in the Five Way Agreement, it’s perfectly clear to me that it was Sevco Rangers who got the better of the deal, and why not?

They went into those negotiations led by a man who held two thermonuclear threats. The first one was the possibility of going to the courts, which Green knew would cripple our national game … because the only sanction the SFA held in reserve when faced with that possibility was to stop Sevco playing football at all.

And that was the second of his nuclear threats, because Green was a man who didn’t care whether the club was playing, a man who didn’t care if it never again took the field. He had his assets, and for a nominal sum, and would have been content to lock them in a box and wait for a buyer. He was perfectly capable of telling the SFA that such a threat cut no ice with him.

Above all, he knew the SFA would never have uttered such a threat, because it would have been a transparent bluff. They had spent months telling the whole world that a Scottish game without Rangers was a wasteland. Regan had already used the term “civil disorder”, a scandalous over-exaggerated piece of scaremongering for which he ought to have been sacked. The governing bodies had fallen all over themselves to assure Sevco a soft landing … they would never have started down the path towards banning them entirely, and everyone knew it.

I said in the same lengthy piece that the moment Sevco Rangers were granted a “conditional license” and allowed to play one game it skewed any negotiations in favour of them, because once a team bearing that name took the field and played a match the onus left them to prove they’d complied with the terms of that agreement and fell on the authorities to prove they had not. That was the point where someone “blinked.”

Two days later, a TV deal was signed, guaranteeing games involving the club, the club that hadn’t yet fulfilled all its obligations. It was three days later that they were deemed to have done so, and the license to play granted.

Do you believe for one second that with a renegotiated TV deal now in the bag that there was any prospect at all of Sevco not being given its license? Whatever bargaining chips our governing bodies held had evaporated when that deal was done.

We know what the authorities wanted from the Five Way Agreement. We can say with some degree of certainty that they did not get it.

What did Sevco want from it?

Let’s revisit, for a moment, Stewart Regan’s comments regarding the “negotiations” that were on-going and which led to the granting of a temporary license.

“There were negotiations taking place over media rights. There were negotiations taking place over sanctions. There were negotiations taking place over the practicalities of organising the match at the weekend.”

I said I found the first two parts of that interesting. Let’s take the second of those parts, negotiations over sanctions. What were the results of those negotiations?

They were handed a transfer ban they found it simple to get around and they were offered a cast iron guarantee that they would not be stripped of trophies over EBT’s.

So, those “negotiations” ended in victory for Charles Green and Sevco, and were, essentially, a one-sided sham.

Which brings us to the first part; media rights, which presumably includes TV rights.

Sevco Rangers had risen from the DeadCo’s grave, financially hammered, commercially shattered, its reputation obliterated, its global brand damaged almost beyond repair. Part of the strategy being pursued by Green and his people was to assure that brand could be rebuilt, and he was sitting in the room with a group of people who were very sympathetic to that objective.

The club could not afford to be seen as reduced, in image terms. The newspapers in Scotland would have written fawning press, and the radio stations would have covered every match, if they’d been made to start life in the Northern Aberdeenshire Farmers Second Division … we all know this to be true. But netting a shirt sponsor, netting a kit manufacturer, getting any meaningful or worthwhile commercial partnerships at all depending on the Sevco Rangers brand being seen as valuable to more than just a Neanderthal audience from Larkhall.

That meant coverage outside this fair land … and that meant getting them on TV.

For Sevco to grow at all, for any share issue to have any prospect of success, for anyone outside Scotland to maintain even the slightest interest, this club needed to look like it was still important, and still relevant, and that meant they had to be on the telly a lot, and not just the odd game.

How fortunate for them, then, that the TV deal that was eventually signed committed the broadcaster to show fifteen of their league matches per year. Deep breath when you read that. Fifteen. Almost half of all the games they played in those competitions, starting with the third tier league in a country which isn’t exactly watched across the world at the best of times.

I ask again the most potent, and obvious, question that arises here:

Was there a commercial benefit to the broadcaster in showing Scottish lower league games?

Whilst we’re there; was there concern expressed, somewhere, anywhere, about showing so many?

Which brings us to the next question: was it the broadcaster, or our games governing bodies, who were so insistent on showing so many matches from those leagues, all with one thing in common; that they involved a club called Rangers?

We’re almost done with the questions Two more to go.

Did Sevco Rangers themselves get a cast iron guarantee from the governing bodies that a certain number of their games would, in fact, be shown on the telly?

Last, but definitely not least. This is the big one.

Was that guarantee part of the “media rights” section of the Five Way Agreement?

I don’t know if viewing number clauses are standard in television contracts involving football matches. I do know that where such clauses exist for advertisers that most of them would work on a sliding scale, which would reduce payments depending on the audience share.

I have never heard of a system whereby the company selling its rights to sports fixtures has to pay back some of that money depending on what the audience share is. That strikes me as being a most unusual clause, and it suggests that the broadcasting companies themselves were concerned with what they were being asked to broadcast. Think about that for a second, and let that one sink in too.

The only thing that makes any sense here is if the companies themselves had said to the governing bodies that, “yes, we’ll do it your way … we’ll screen those particular games …. But if this ends up costing us money in advertising … you will make up the shortfall.” What other explanation makes even the remotest sense? They could – easily – have taken £1 million off the top of the package they offered if they had “exceptional costs” to meet covering games in lower league grounds without TV broadcast facilities, so that argument is a non-starter.

Did I say I was done with the questions? Indulge me a little longer.

Why send outside broadcasting units to so many grounds without the capability to host them in the first place if you don’t have to? Why incur that extra cost, to show a game with a market share that scrapes the bottom of the barrel, when there are other games you could have chosen to screen? Since when do companies fret about the costs of erecting temporary TV gantries anyway? You’d think they’d have a certain level of expertise at it, because it’s not like it’s never been done. Cup ties have been shown at those grounds before.

If the broadcasters wanted so many Sevco games why didn’t they just negotiate them separately with the SFL? Why was it the SPL itself who wrote the cheque to the lower league body to purchase those matches?

What exactly was the chain of events that saw a TV contract like this negotiated in the first place before the various legalities and other issues surrounding OldCo Rangers had been resolved, when there was still material uncertainty about the NewCo?

Angela Haggerty coined a nice wee phrase the other day; Sevconomics. Is that, in fact, the economic theory that drives the entire game here now? One club, again, at the centre of it all, everything bending around them, to suit.

This whole affair reeks to high heaven. It’s apparent to me that Scottish football, all of it, is paying to subsidise the “global Rangers brand.” It makes no sense, commercially, for the TV companies to show so many of these matches, but that’s cool because they’re getting part of the money back from us anyway whenever the “audience share” drops below a certain point.

That’s the “Sevco subsidy” right there, and that comes from other clubs.

Not to worry though, because in the beginning it came only from the clubs in the SPL.

I find that amusing especially as when the league reconstruction talks wrapped up recently, and the SPFL was formed, all of these agreements were swallowed up by them, and continue with one governing body running the show.

There is a lovely wee postscript to all this … one last wee twist of the knife if you’ve not sufficiently steamed up by what you’ve already read.

As part of that reconstruction, there was a redrawing of how TV money was paid to clubs and to the respective leagues … a wee re-distribution of resources we were told. It all sounded altruistic and good, but in effect, it was, actually, the £800,000 Sevco subsidy, only done in a different way.

On top of that, the costs incurred for showing Sevco games falls to the whole league to pay … £250,000 to BT Sport if the audience share for their games isn’t up to par. All this, we covered above, in some detail.

At the same time, it was announced in a few outlets, and covered on a number of Celtic sites, that our club had “voluntarily” given up £1,000,000 in our own television revenues, as “an act of good faith”, to get the changes through.

I am not great at sums … but £800,000 plus £250,000 …. yeah, close enough.

Now you know where the money went. How do you feel now?

(You can support On Fields Of Green by making a donation. Thanks to everyone who’s done so already.)

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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.

22 thoughts on “Another Brick In The Wall

  • 21 May, 2014 at 4:42 pm
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    I agree totally with the article. This is corruption at a level which would be unacceptable in most third world countries.

    Just one small correction. Sevco/Rangers started out in the fourth tier of Scottish football, not the third. Which just makes the situation even more laughable- well you have to laugh, otherwise you would weep.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 5:32 pm
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    Hi James, I’ve never commented before, however I felt I had to say I am disgusted that Celtic must have been complicit in all of this, pretty much from day one..!! I used to wonder why my club kept quiet on the whole Rangers/sevco issue……now I can only conclude that Celtic, as a business, want a Rangers, ANY Rangers to exist..!! Why..? One reason……MONEY..!! It would appear from our club’s continued silence on these matters that Celtic DO need that lot……..As a fan, If that is indeed the case, I’m done with the whole lot of it…!! Keep at them..!

  • 21 May, 2014 at 6:53 pm
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    Bravo. 10,000 words without mentioning Peter Lawell’s role in this farce.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 6:55 pm
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    No, I figure that when there’s a PICTURE OF HIM walking out of the airport with Neil Doncaster there’s not much NEEDS saying on that score.

    But hey, I only opened the article with that photo and ended it on the £1,000,000. I didn’t expect the point to get lost, you know what I’m saying?

    More a rhetorical question that …

  • 21 May, 2014 at 7:28 pm
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    I have been following this story for a very long time and sadly I am not surprised by anything that is uncovered, the people at the top of the game in Scotland have been proven to be biased, dishonest and unfit for purpose. The fact they are still in positions of power proves to me that our clubs are quite happy with the situation and the decisions that have been and continue to be taken. I will forevermore support my club, it will be here long after the current regimes are gone I can only hope that those who follow in their footsteps have some dignity, morals and an ability to distinguish right from wrong unlike those now in charge.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 8:20 pm
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    Jack Brauer, I’m with you on this one 100/cent. What are celtic about? Do they not listen to their supporters, we do not want those cunts anywhere near our sport ,” Period”. We do not need them . Peter get your act together quick style. Hh

  • 21 May, 2014 at 8:26 pm
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    Sorry, Jack Bauer.. Hh

  • 21 May, 2014 at 9:18 pm
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    You know what, am not even scots born or raised but I have supported celtic all my life, despite the fact that it would’ve been, still is, easier to go and watch newcastle who’s stadium is two and a half miles (approx) from my front door, its just that celtic are different, the club just seems to have that certain magnetism that no other, excepting say barcelona, have, certainly not manu, that is completely different, not a nice different which now I am beginning to sense about my own club.
    I’ve just about had enough to be honest, this is truly sickening, soul destroying.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 9:40 pm
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    Never in the history of world football have so few cheated so much.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 10:52 pm
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    My brother, as celtic minded as they come,will pay for his accies season book next week,win or lose the playoff. I can now see where he was coming fromback in the summer of 2012

  • 21 May, 2014 at 11:06 pm
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    Thanks ,James, for this excellent expose. ‘Sickening’ is the word. The time has come for our club to come clean about its involvement in this disgusting affair. Some facts would be helpful e.g.
    – the details of the 5-way agreement;
    – the names of those present;
    – the authority,(if any )given to the officials present;
    the number of live games televised last season by the following clubs – Celtic, Motherwell, Sevco.
    Thanks for all your work.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 11:08 pm
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    First of all a quick reply to Jimmy White; What was the attraction to Celtic, the fact that their fans openly supported Irish terror groups that were bombing our country (England). Because that was the reality.

    However to the point in question, nothing in that article is being stated that has never been stated before, we all knew that Celtic and the SFA wanted and needed Rangers as the article shows that Rangers are and always have been a very significant factor in Scottish football, no question of that.

    For there to be any credible top league in Scotland Rangers and Celtic both need to be competing against each other, this season and last season supports that view without a shadow of a doubt, many can deny that but that is the fact of life of Scottish football. Won’t be too long before both are competing against each other once again.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 11:20 pm
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    Take your “Celtic IRA lovers” debate somewhere that wants it, okay? Total irrelevance and that’s why it’s in here.

    Celtic do not NEED Rangers … indeed, there is NO Rangers to need. We certainly do not need a third rate basket case run by crooks and spivs and about to go under again.

    But tonight our argument is not with Sevco Rangers … it’s with the people who act as if we DO need you. So take your show on the road.

    As for competing … if that’s what you call it then fine, I know it will bear no resemblance to competition. Yet even if it did … I don’t want your club back in the league again. I would live the rest of my life glad if we never again took the field against each other. The game, the country, society, is better without the “spectacle.”

  • 21 May, 2014 at 11:26 pm
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    James,I concur fully with your insightful
    and thought-provoking piece.
    Us,faithful Celtic fans have been conned,big time.From Regan’s bullshit,
    ” without fear or favour “re Sevco.To OUR
    club helping keep the Zombie club afloat.
    The whole shabang is one big stink.

  • 21 May, 2014 at 11:35 pm
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    james
    Very Well thought out….and mindboggling to think CFC paid 80% of the Cost of Keeping Rangers relevant in the wider sporting public’s mindset.
    This is nuclear stuff if true.
    Before we leap to the conclusion that this was contrived malice and forethought…i am ot being naive i hope… Is it just possible that CFC have been taken for a complete ride by the Hampden crew (even possibly by accident) and effectively duped into making a contribution they thought was going to the SFL but In reality in net terms actually helped RFC ?
    Btw what the wee clubs could do with £1m between them?

  • 21 May, 2014 at 11:54 pm
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    Sorry meant to add this to the above point ..So what you are saying by your logic is all CFC season ticket holders paid roughly £20 per head of their ticket to allow RFC games to be televised?
    Nice !

  • 22 May, 2014 at 12:50 am
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    Excellent piece James and so much I agree with

    But I don’t buy the complicit Celtic board theory

    To me it looks more like TV media called the shots in this and they said the alternative was Armageddon like so many others in the media.

    Football clubs have been doing what the TV media people want since Sky dishes popped up on all the walls and roofs

    Strangely there were no complaints from the general public about all these aesthetically challenged eye sores whilst we gladly paid our subscriptions

    All understandable of course when you consider we all became a captured audience hooked on fitba and to hell with the consequences further down the road

    Fans lost their voice when they signed up to this

    Celtic had no choice bar walking away from what the TV people wanted

    No club can do that now and there is nothing in football bigger than TV money at the mo

    PL at the end of the day must do what is best firstly for his club and secondly what is best for the business environment it works in.

    I believe he has done all of those things with one hand tied behind his back like most chairman facing negotiation with the TV moguls

    The TV people wanted to keep Sevco in the limelight so they could one day tap again into the OF brand that made them lots of money

    The Celtic board like their peers at other clubs were powerless to change this

    HH

  • 22 May, 2014 at 8:32 am
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    To Dee:
    If it was the media’s fault then why the silence? No, Lawwell is up to his neck in this.

    To McLean:
    The only good thing that would come out of the tribute act getting to the SPFL would be the hammerings you’d receive on a weekly basis and the real 4 humpings at the hands of Celtic, but like most, if not all, decent football fans in Scotland both Celtic and non Celtic, the game is far better off without you rabble turning up and singing your sectarian bile, it is 1690’s,just like where most of you live.
    Get yersel’s off to Linfield in July and fill yer boots at your annual bigotfest, Scotland doesn’t want you.

  • 22 May, 2014 at 10:25 am
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    Think you are missing the point. Without the SPFL paying the money to have Rangers games shown on Tv, THERE WOULD BE NO TV DEAL. Remember your good ole Pete was heavily involved with the negotiations. Do you think if there was a chance of a TV deal without paying for the Rangers games to be shown the deal would have been signed?

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