This website has its second birthday on 3 October, and I’m very much looking forward to celebrating that with a couple of friends. In the time since we started, we’ve published nearly 150 articles, on various subjects dear to the hearts of football fans, but there are a couple of recurring themes, and it would be crazy if there weren’t.
The shambles at Ibrox continues to fascinate. The strategy at Celtic Park continues to divide opinion. The future of Ally McCoist is as up in the air as it ever was and the kind of SFA reform that would drive real change is as distant as it was then.
Through all of it, the media has been useless, and it continues to be useless, and it should no longer surprise us when they write ill-informed garbage. Yet, they still have that capacity. They can still leave me scratching my head in wonderment, and contempt.
Yesterday’s papers contained at least two (I stopped reading after the second one) pieces where facts were twisted or misrepresented, lies were told and reality was denied.
First, Keith Jackson wrote a piece on why Celtic was correct to pursue a Champions League place against Legia Warsaw, even if it went against our former statements on “sporting integrity.” The article has so much wrong with it that it’s difficult to know where to start in pulling it to bits, but taking it on a purely emotional level, I found myself shaking my head and thinking “this guy just doesn’t get it at all, does he?”
He should get it. They should all get it. Yet Jackson’s line of logic appears in any number of media outlets as well as on assorted Sevco blogs. It’s almost as if they’re all singing from one song sheet, because it is hard for me to believe that so many people, all across the country, have completely misunderstood these matters. Once more, the press is indulging in its favourite game.
Jackson appears either not to know, or to be content to ignore, the fact that Celtic played no part in this at all, and nor should we. This was a matter between UEFA and Legia, and we did the right thing and left it to them. There was no lobbying from Parkhead, no campaign to get us into the draw.
There was also no provision in the rules for us to refuse the tie, or to agree to a one-off match. These fantasies were floated by a desperate club who’d manufactured their own disastrous exit from the tournament, an understandable enough reaction in itself. What isn’t so easy to understand is why our media ran with them as though they were serious propositions.
This notion of “doing the honourable thing” is a piece of sheer nonsense. Even if the “honourable thing” had been to leave the competition and allow Legia their place, it would not have been in keeping with the regulations … and that’s what counts here.
Jackson and others spit out the words “sporting integrity” like it’s a curse. They’ve never liked the phrase and long ago suspended critical thinking on what the point of it was supposed to be. Their view on it has long been that Celtic invented the phrase as a hammer to hit Rangers with. It’s not true, and it’s never been true. Our position on “sporting integrity” has not changed one iota from the first time the phrase was used, and our understanding of what the phrase means was our guiding light in the Legia situation as it was in the EBT case and other affairs.
Football is supposed to be a level playing field. It is supposed to be a sport decided on merit, and this, say Celtic’s critics, is why our failure to “do the right thing” goes against the sporting integrity principle. But Celtic’s historical argument is more exact than that, and essentially iron clad.
You can only assure that every side is treated the same way by having regulations in place covering as many aspects of the game as possible. When you find gaps in those rules, which allow one side to secure an unfair advantage over others, you plug those gaps. At all other times, for the good of the sport, those rules must be adhered to exactly as they are written, and applied without fear or favour, neither bent not broken for anybody.
In the article, Jackson petulantly accuses Celtic of blocking a league extension in 2008 to prevent Rangers winning the league and the UEFA Cup. This is absolute garbage. The league season had already been extended once. Celtic’s objection was based on the governing bodies attempting a second extension to it, and one which would have severely impacted on the Scottish Cup as well as the league. Our objections were based very specifically on the rulebook, and when this was pointed out to the SPL the idea was dropped.
All Celtic did was insist that the rules be followed. Nothing more and nothing less. The phrase “sporting integrity” came out of that time, with Celtic’s demand that it not be compromised to assist one team ahead of all others. Rigorous application of the rules as they existed were all that Celtic asked for, and no more and no less.
When Rangers died and the league authorities tried to shoe-horn the NewCo into the SPL, Celtic came out against this, again using “sporting integrity” as our catch-all. Once more, the primary concern for our club was that the rules be followed exactly as written. Rangers had died. The SPL and the SFA had no provision for a transfer of shares or membership to a new organisation. Celtic demanded that Sevco Rangers be treated like any other NewCo.
This, once again then, was principally about the application of the rules. Those who have spent time trying to knock us for it would do well to consider that the alternative – which was effectively that our league bodies wanted to state that the club out of Ibrox was “too big to fail” – would have destroyed all respect and faith supporters had in that what they were watching was clean. How could we ever believe that a club for which rules had been bent and broken, for which the whole of our national sport had been brought into disrepute, would not get other advantages?
We knew this was more than possible. What if, stripped of their top players as the Ibrox side was, they were facing relegation at the end of the next campaign? (A virtual certainty at that time). Would rules have been changed, again, to keep them in the league? You bet they would. Celtic were determined not to allow it. We drew a line in the sand, and we were not alone.
One man, Turnbull Hutton, spoke for us all when he stopped on the steps of Hampden to call the governing bodies “corrupt” for daring to force the issue on the clubs.
The issue of sporting integrity rose again when Lord Nimmo Smith delivered his scandalous and baseless EBT verdict. Celtic clearly thought the SFA’s lax regulations had allowed Rangers to get away with murder, and they demanded more robust rules be put in place for the future. We’re still waiting for that to come to fruition, but once again, Celtic had mentioned “sporting integrity” in the context of the rule book.
It is very clear what Celtic think the phrase means.
Celtic believe sporting integrity comes from the rigorous application of the rules, and we have not shifted our position on it one bit. There is no hypocrisy here. There is only consistency.
If the rules are not followed exactly, if clubs can bend them and break them, ignore or conveniently forget them whenever they like, and the authorities allow this, then we don’t have a professional sport at all, do we? Where is the meritocracy? How can we be sure we’re not watching a rigged game?
It’s the very reason guys like our Auldheid of CQN and the Scottish Football Monitor continue to chase the issue of the SFA’s decision to grant Rangers of old a European license at a time when they clearly had debts liable to HMRC, which the club knew full well were in breach of the rules. It’s why the issue of EBT’s refuses to die, despite a decision having been reached nearly two years ago.
UEFA takes rule-breaking seriously enough to act. Here, in Scotland, depending on who’s breaking the rules, we have a much more lax attitude, and it is wrong.
What Jackson and others are doing is promoting a general contempt for the rules. Their assertion that the verdict was “harsh” on Legia is nonsensical. The verdict was the only one there was any provision for. This was not, as the press likes to make out, “fielding an ineligible player”, which in itself could have seen the match result voided, something they conveniently forget. This was fielding a banned player, for which there is only one punishment, written down in black and white.
Is the punishment, as set down, too harsh? I don’t think it is. How do you differentiate between a clerical error and a deliberate decision to chance your arm? You can’t. Those who say that because the player only came on in the last three minutes of the match it shouldn’t matter are missing the point. Had this been allowed he’d have been declared eligible for the next two games as well, a situation that would have disadvantaged whoever Legia got in the draw. That’s something the media chooses not to focus on, if it’s dawned on them at all.
It would have over-turned UEFA’s regulations on Champions League registration too; namely that a ban has only been served when a player is registered in a squad. This rule exists for very valid, very specific reasons and no-one at all would deny that they are solid and just and that erasing them would have opened all kinds of loopholes.
The idea that clubs should be allowed to ignore regulations and settle matters between themselves would have created a fundamental and deep rooted problem with all UEFA’s rules, something that’s escaped the attention of our Scottish press entirely, although a rhesus monkey who’d spent long enough studying the game would surely have been able to work that out.
Jackson and those who have somehow sought to compare Celtic’s call for “sporting integrity” with our perceived silence on these issues are revealing their own stupidity, making arguments from ignorance.
Why don’t these people understand objective reality? Why do they ignore past precedent? Why do they pretend the rules are something elastic, something that can be bent? Where did it come from, this peculiarly Scottish contempt for what’s written down?
Perhaps from reading their own publications, or those of their rivals.
Last week I wrote a piece called Bitter Tears, about Neil McCann’s comments in the wake of Celtic’s win at Perth last Wednesday night. He was not alone in attacking the Celtic winger Derk Boerrigter for what he perceived to be a dive. Some of the other media outlets ran similar stuff. What made McCann different was the extent of his over-reaction, an almost farcical explosion of anger and outrage, which gave lie to his status as a “neutral.” Indeed, to have listened to the panellists after the game one might have thought it was Celtic who’d only had one shot on goal, who’d had roughly 45% of possession in the match.
Celtic won the game by a comfortable margin. They were the better team on the night, as our own possession and eight shots on target testifies to.
In the article, I said we should ban from Celtic Park those journalists who allow their inherent bias against the club to come to the fore, or who write lies or mistruths about us.
Imagine my surprise when one such report was in yesterday’s Sun newspaper, concerning the Derk Boerrigter affair and trying to make some facetious and irrelevant comparison between it and the Legia Warsaw situation.
The article was written by former referee Kenny Clark, who will need no introduction to many supporters, and although it masqueraded as a piece of “journalism” it was so shoddy, blatantly biased and anti-Celtic that it should have made the sports department at even that scandalised newspaper blanche.
The piece accused Celtic of hypocrisy in wanting to see the rules applied to Legia but not to their own player. The piece stated that Celtic had “not accepted” the SFA’s disciplinary panel decision to bring the winger in for a hearing.
He then went on to seemingly accuse Deila of lying to the press when he promised that he will not abide cheating from his players. He actually wrote the following, in black and white, stating as a fact that which was patently, obviously, not:
“Clearly Boerrigter is in the wrong yet Celtic are now insisting they won’t accept the offer of a two match ban. It is staggering. Delia has talked a good game but his player is bang to rights in this instance.”
I read this in some astonishment. I was aware that the SFA had called the player to account for the incident, but I was not aware of any word from Celtic regarding it, either officially or under the radar.
But, Clark’s piece left no room at all for dubiety. The club was “insisting” it would not accept the SFA’s view of the incident. To me, that seemed stonewall, but I kept on wondering when the club had made such a statement.
Of course, the club had done no such thing. There had been nothing at all out of Parkhead on the matter. Our spokespeople hadn’t uttered a word on it. Ronny Deila had said nothing since his statement shortly after Wednesday’s game. The player had given no indication as to his stance either. Not until today, when the club and the player sent word to the SFA and the media that they were, in fact, satisfied with the SFA case and were accepting the ban.
The basis for Kenny Clark’s whole article had been demolished. Indeed, it had no basis in fact to begin with. In order to justify his column and its attack on Celtic, he had invented our “position”, and to me that is unconscionable.
This is the kind of gutter hack-attack we should be acting against.
Celtic has emerged from the last few weeks with our reputation being hammered at from all sides, but in actual terms it is more than still intact. Our position on issues of “sporting integrity” and of respect for the rules has been hugely enhanced by these two matters.
Whatever arguments from ignorance the media makes, that remains a fact.
Nevertheless, the people who consistently misrepresent facts and who are not averse to simply making stuff up have spent the last few weeks trying to lecture us on doing what is right.
The irony of it all is certainly not lost on me.
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