Spiers “Apology” Heralds In Dark Days For Scottish Journalism

hqdefaultThere’s a moment during the film Nuremberg, starring Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox, Christopher Plummer and a host of other top stars, when Hermann Goering is relaxing in his cell awaiting the next phase of his trial, when he is visited by a young American soldier named Tex.

Goering, played to perfection by Cox, greets him warmly, as the two have formed an unusual bond during the course of his imprisonment. The kid is impressionable, and Goering knows this.

Goering starts to tell him stories of the Reich, and of the Fuhrer.

At one point he starts to hum a tune, and then he begins to sing the song, whilst tapping his feet and waving his arms. It sets the mood he’s trying to evoke quite brilliantly.

Tex is now completely caught up in the Nazi leader’s memories of watching thousands of men march in front of the Glorious Leader. When Goering suggests the remnants of the despotic regime should be freed, and that both sides should “unite to fight the Communists” Tex agrees with him wholeheartedly.

I’ve always wondered if Tex went away humming the song.

If he did, he would quickly have found himself in trouble with the brass.

It’s a catchy enough tune, and one that predates the Nazi Party’s usage of it. In fact, it’s an ancient German folk song, but it’s one I strongly suspect isn’t heard anymore. The modern incarnation has closed off all avenues of revival.

We now know it as the Horst Wessel Lied.

I would never describe it as “a great song.”

Because it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics contain nothing explicit about bigotry or hate; it’s about a shoot-out with Communists where Wessel, a Nazi Youth member, was killed – other songs dealt with the racist stuff – but it was the Nazi Party’s anthem and if you played it at parties you’d run out of friends quickly and if you sang it walking down the street you’d get a sore face shortly thereafter.

This isn’t about musical appreciation.

I have eclectic tastes and listen to everything from country rock to classical.

I am big on lyrics, above all else, and whilst I think, for example, the Spitting Image song I’ve Never Met A Nice South African is one of the best (and most hilarious) that biting, satirical show ever turned out I would not play it, far less sing it, in a public forum because it would be staggeringly offensive in a modern context.

It is hard to think of any setting – outside a dingy back street boozer in Glasgow or the Six Counties, or, of course, at Ibrox – in which there wouldn’t be people who found The Billy Boys not only to be offensive but bigoted with it.

Yet a director at Sevco, a current director, apparently described it as “a great song” whilst talking to a journalist.

There is no context in which that is anything other than a shocking statement.

That journalist, Graham Spiers, a guy this site has criticised as well as praised, rightly decided that this was a news story.

On 30 December, he told the tale in a piece he wrote.

In fact, I would go much further than just to say it was newsworthy. It ought to have been the headline above the piece.

It was a massively important news story; current, informing public debate, challenging officialdom, suggesting that a football club that perceives itself as a tremendously powerful social institution had, on its board, someone who had sympathies with people engaged in criminality and sectarianism.

The enormity of that cannot be overstated, especially as the debate over the issue has blossomed since the piece was run.

Now football’s governing bodies, the police and non-governmental organisations such as Nil By Mouth are pressing for Strict Liability rules to be implemented inside Scottish grounds.

We also know that the SFA is also seeking public funds for facial recognition software to be installed in stadiums.

Current rules, which the SFA believes are not robust enough, mean that clubs have to demonstrate that they’re “taking all possible measures” to keep discriminatory chanting out of their stands.

The Ibrox club is currently under investigation by the football authorities, with a decision due based on that criteria.

In other words, the importance of that story has only grown since publication.

This is what good journalists do, and good newspapers are supposed to stand by them when they do it.

Here in Scotland, of course, that doesn’t always happen.

A number of journalists have, in the past few years, been targeted for daring to deliver the news and in some cases their employers have not done enough to lend them support in the face of it.

Jim Spence was just one case in point, but there are others.

With respect to Jim, I think what has happened to Graham Spiers, in this case, is of a far worse, and much more sinister, nature. He has been well and truly hung out to dry by The Herald, and he knows it. Whilst his independent statement is coached in conciliatory language, for the most part, his anger is plain and his disillusionment is clear.

They could not make him apologise or retract the story, although it’s clear they tried to make him do both. When he stood by his piece their one and only question – if they even had to ask – should have been “Is this true?” When he answered in the affirmative that should have been that.

They should have stood by their man, and resisted the “pressure.”

Instead they apologised for him, and “clarified” things in his name.

It is beyond scandalous, gutless and embarrassing for everyone at the paper who isn’t up in arms over the way the top brass have behaved.

Frankly, I’ll never trust a word I read in The Herald or any of its sister papers again. Because if they can be spooked into retracting a news story on the basis of pressure from a second tier football club or a rabid pack of its followers then nothing they say can be relied on when it comes to challenging those who have real power and influence.

Their credibility as a journalistic vehicle is shot, pure and simple.

As far as I’m concerned they have joined the tabloids in pandering and sucking up, in framing “the news” so as not to offend certain people, people who, these days, are offended by everything anyway.

It is cowardly, and corrupt, almost beyond comprehension.

I am amazed he’s not already tendered his resignation, because his statement makes it pretty clear just how pissed off he is.

I hope he’s taking the matter to the NUJ and making it clear that he’s not going to stand for it.

In addition, he might want to take a look at the Rangers Supporters Trust website and their article on the Herald’s craven crawling, because there are things in that statement that are unmistakably libellous, such as the assertion that he has “made a career out of fanning the flames of sectarianism” and numerous examples where it calls him a liar.

I’ve written about the way that organisation behaves before; if I were a Sevco fan reading some of their press releases I would be cringing with embarrassment and shame and this one is as base ignorant and deliberately provocative as any I’ve had the misfortune to read, and it crosses a line in the sand that it should not be allowed to get away with.

These people, the conduct of their club and those who run it, and the assortment of idiots, cretins and vile bigots who swarm around in the vortex, never cease to amaze me with the level of their bile and intolerance.

These things are probably to be expected in those with 15th century attitudes still fighting the wars of their grandfather’s forefather’s ancestors (and without really understanding them), but the level of bullying and intimidation they get away with is what really takes the breath away.

I’m not even remotely afraid of these people, and it stuns me that senior editors on national newspapers are.

On the days when my inbox fills with invective and my Twitter feed oozes with their slime, in the moments when my Facebook page is crawling with trolls, all ending their posts with some kind of reference to child abuse or closing off with their standard statement of racial and religious “supremacy”, I don’t despair or get spooked.

I am emboldened.

Because I know I’m doing it right.

Chris McLaughlin was “doing it right” when he reported the outbreak of sectarian singing at the Hibs game.

For this he was banned by the club itself.

Jim Spence was “doing it right” when he called out the Survival Myth for the aberrant fantasy most rational people know it to be.

For that, he was harassed and bullied and his employers threatened until they offered a ridiculous apology simply because he stated the facts.

Angela Haggerty was “doing it right” when she called time on the way she’s been treated by these appalling bastards and their sickening level of hate.

She no longer lives in Scotland, and has been forced to seek redress in the law courts because of what she’s endured.

Other journalists have suffered similar persecution for behaving in a way that’s consonant with the job description, and what the Herald has done to Graham Spiers for “doing it right” is dangerous, and an affront, to every single one of them and every single person in Scotland, whether at a mainstream publication, a local paper, or simply blogging online and who is dedicated to telling the truth.

The last article I published on this site was on this very thing; about the way certain Sevco fan sites and organisations are forming an “orchestra of hate” against anyone who dares to offer any criticism, however justified, about their club.

I asked at the end if these people were “winning.”

That question is more pertinent than ever.

Does the Herald’s editor even have the first clue what he’s done here? What the significance of this decision actually is, beyond the impact it has on his own shitty circulation figures? Beyond even sport?

Does he even care?

This is a sad, dreadful, tragic day for “journalism” in this country, and I mourn it like a death because myself and others care deeply about this profession and the important role it plays in our world.

The Herald has pissed all over that.

They have betrayed one of their own, but the betrayal is felt by more than just Graham Spiers himself. It is felt by every one of us.

It makes “doing it right” more important than ever.

Today, “I Am Graham Spiers.”

We all are.

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Keith Jackson & A Corpse By The Road

c84ac210c673e30ec0698dad83800a2fFor those of you out there who enjoy nothing more than settling down with a loved one for a Saturday night movie, there are certain genres best avoided and within those genres a number of movies which stand out as to be definitely left alone.

One of them is an American “made for TV” film called The Day After. It’s an internationally acclaimed piece of cinema, despite its birth-place on the small screen. That’s because of the subject matter, which no Hollywood studio would touch or ever has.

The movie’s about the consequences of a full-on nuclear strike against the US.

You can imagine this film, without having seen it.

The reality of watching it is much worse (and the British version, Threads, is even worse than that … a searing, harrowing, horrendous, nightmare inducing experience like nothing you’ll ever watch); it’s a film for making you genuinely despair about where we might be headed as a species.

At the end of the movie, Jason Robards is travelling to Kansas City, where he’s from, to see his home one last time before he dies. He hitches a ride with a National Guard unit and in the back of the truck he embarks on a tour of Hell itself.

Yet he barely sees the corpses by the road.

By that point, no-one really does anymore.

Scottish football was supposed to look a little bit like that today.

At the weekend, when Aberdeen came back from a goal down with ten men to win three points at Ross County it was another one of those moments when you marvelled at how good the Scottish game might become again.

But Aberdeen was supposed to be like Hearts, Motherwell, St Johnstone, Kilmarnock and Inverness by this time; a hollowed out shell.

Nothing but a corpse by the road.

How different the picture is to the “Armageddon” they presupposed.

Today Keith Jackson has written a piece about how Scottish football is, as he puts it, emerging from a “long winter.”

I don’t know that he’s thinking about the nuclear sort, but I suspect he is. Because one of the foremost traits our media and the governing bodies have is that when it comes to Armageddon none has ever admitted just how wrong they got it.

Over the last four years, most of our senior clubs have wiped out their debts.

Another thing that wasn’t supposed to happen.

Those debts were supposed to have wiped out them.

The trophies have been spread around.

I don’t like it much, and would rather we’d won the lot of them, but it’s given other teams a taste of glory that has spurred them on.

Attendances are up almost across the boards; the one notable exception is at Celtic Park, where there are reasons a lot of fans are staying away that have nothing to do with “no Rangers in the league” … I would bet that only a mere handful of fans gave up their tickets with that specific scenario in mind.

Our issues go deeper than that.

The game itself is alive, vibrant, healthy … but that’s not how Jackson and others see it.

Apparently we’re only now emerging from a dark period during which “the national sport has been effectively neutered and robbed of its own self-esteem.”

What arrogant, sanctimonious, Sevconian bollocks.

We all know what would have destroyed Scottish Football’s self-esteem.

It was the course of action Jackson and others were urging on the game in 2012; that we allow a brand new club built from the ashes of scandal and disgrace to assume a place in the top flight of our sport – automatically – simply because it bore the name “Rangers.”

Jackson hasn’t noticed that the game has rolled on quite nicely without the Ibrox club, because in his own mind (you can hear it, rattling, in there like a pea in a tin cup) he actually does see the wreckage, the shattered wasteland, the corpses piled up like firewood, the rubble of what was once our national game, twisted and broken.

He sees these things because he has tunnel vision and because he just can’t focus beyond the boundaries of Ibrox, where there really has been Armageddon, and where that wreckage can be seen clearly.

No other club has failed to adapt to the new shape of football like Sevco, still clinging to a corpse, still struggling to accept the new reality, which is that not only did no-one mourn them, but no-one missed them either.

There, there really has been a “neutering” and a “loss of self-esteem”; the end of financial doping on the scale Rangers once pioneered.

The humiliations which have pounded Sevco relentlessly in the past four years were all made within its own walls, and the next crisis to engulf them will, likewise, come from there. These are the profound consequences of their having built a club with a superiority complex that bore no relationship to its place in the real world.

The dark winter there isn’t even close to being over yet.

Jackson has talked, today, about how that club is now entering a “period of normality” again.

I agree with him.

With convicted criminals on the board, looming court cases, allegations of tapping, unsettling players at other clubs, soft loans to keep on the lights, sources of short term funding with decidedly dodgy backgrounds, non-payment of bills, a swelling egotism and the typical fawning of the media, things there are about as “normal” as they can be.

Other clubs might regard all this as decidedly abnormal, but this is Sevco, and of course Sevco is different, operating in a different reality and playing by very different rules.

The more things change around here, the more they stay the same. The media obsession with this club continues unabated and the re-writing of history goes hand in hand with reframing the present into whatever shapes suits the Ibrox club the best.

Today’s article suggests that Celtic have missed a club calling itself Rangers in their league, but then ponders why we would loan a player to Hibs who might stand in the way of them getting there, as though this is really a mystery and not the confirmation of everything Celtic supporters and our board have been telling these people for years now.

We do not want a team from Ibrox playing in the top flight.

We’re not remotely interested in the media-hyped, hate-fuelled “rivalry” that is so necessary to the survival of the Sevco operation.

We hated that warped creation even when it was partly grounded in history, that of Rangers; we have zero intention of getting behind a Frankenstein’s Monster version of it founded on all the old hatreds the game here is better leaving behind, but turbo charged by the twin engines of the Survival and Victim Myth’s that are so prevalent in the excretal articles Jackson and others have produced and are still producing to this day.

This disconnect from reality is more greatly expressed in Jackson’s closing paragraphs, where he says Sevco will complete two signings this week (on no greater information than Mark Warburton suggested it at the weekend), that of Michael O’Halloran (who St Johnstone are saying won’t be allowed to leave for the current, derisory, offer) and a Brentford midfielder who’s own club is less than pleased at how Sevco have gone about their business.

But of course, the Ibrox club will “get their men” without “being held to ransom”, as if it was the two other clubs who were somehow at fault for not wanting to part with their own players for insulting sums.

This is the type of language that flows out of Ibrox; this is the type of language the media uses to frame the terms of the debate.

Jackson says these signings will “cost the guts of £1m in transfer fees”; the biggest piece of artificial inflating since Jordan went in for her last boob job. It will, he goes on to say, “provide solid proof Dave King and his board are not just cleansing their club but also have the wherewithal to properly fund Mark Warburton’s rebuild.”

I don’t know which part of that I found most hilarious, or a bigger insult to our collective intelligence; the notion that a convicted crook who’s keeping on the lights by the non-payment of bills and taking soft loans from other dodgy geezers is “cleansing” the place or that it proves King has “the wherewithal” to fund a series of major transfers.

Neither of those things is remotely true.

I often marvel at the ability our media has to distort reality and see only the parts of history that suit them whilst ignoring the rest.

Today, Scottish football is in the best health it’s been in for a long time.

Four years of work at the clubs has produced real reasons to be optimistic.

Jackson is right about that.

But he conflates these things with “the rise” of Sevco in sheer ignorance of the fact that our top flight is thriving without them in it, that it will continue to thrive if they fail to get promotion … and that all of this flies in the face of what we were told to expect.

When it comes right down to it, Jackson and others still see the destruction as if it actually happened.

That’s what they wanted and it’s what they expected.

What the rest of us see are cool blue waters reaching out from white sandy beaches.

If there’s a corpse by the road, somewhere up there beyond the dunes, it’s that of Rangers itself.

Across from us, down here on the sands, though, are two guys walking on either side of a dead body, supporting it in a despereate effort to pretend it’s still a living person, waving the arms, nodding the head, trying to make the bizarre and illogical seem … normal.

This isn’t The Day After.

It’s Weekend At Bernie’s.

And the joke is on Jackson and those who refuse to see that simple truth.

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Celtic Fans Know The Difference Between Bigotry And Political Expression

Celtic F.C.The charity Nil By Mouth has called on Scottish football clubs to accept “strict liability” when the SFA next puts it up for debate and a vote.

The organisation founded by the fiancé of Mark Scott, the Celtic fan murdered at Bridgeton Cross by the psychotic Jason Campbell has long concentrated its guns on football fans and was a vocal supporter of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which has done little more than criminalise free expression and political singing of a sort much of Scotland doesn’t like.

This statement came on the same day that Stewart Regan is all over the papers trying to push the issue. This suggests more than a little bandwagon jumping going on.

Before we know it, politicians who’ve not been in the papers for a while will be all in favour … just watch.

I want to be clear that I have no issue with Nil By Mouth per se.

How could I have?

The organisation exists to combat sectarianism and hate in our society, but I have a problem with the way in which they and other organisations – including Police Scotland – conflate these matters with legitimate political expression … the kind that supports Irish nationalism as opposed to, say, Scottish independence.

I support Scottish independence, and it infuriates me how some people can make all sorts of allowances for one whilst making none for the other. Granted, that isn’t as widespread as the anti-Irish sentiment which courses through many supporters of the union, but it is definitely there, in small ways, and in big ones too like the SNP’s much hated law.

I get tired of trying to educate people on this.

It seems that some folk just don’t want to bloody well hear it, and I find their attitudes entirely dishonest as a result of that.

Nil By Mouth’s statement was picked up by, amongst other media outlets, The Scotsman, where Andrew Smith’s opening paragraph was “Anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth has backed calls to introduce strict liability rules to Scottish football, with campaign director Dave Scott stating yesterday that “people are fed up to the back teeth” with behaviour that the group maintains fuels religious bigotry.

Let’s separate the fact from the fiction here.

First fact: Celtic fans do not engage in sectarian singing.

There is one song – a so-called version of Roamin’ In The Gloamin’ – who’s lyrics are so excruciating, waxing lyrical about how good it is to “be a Roman Catholic” that it’s certainly offensive (especially to Catholics) but even it doesn’t openly stray into hatred although it is mind-numbingly ignorant.

It’s the kind of thing that once passed for wit and which someone probably made up in a pub fifty years or so ago without any thought as to what the lyrics actually mean.

Listen to them if you don’t believe me.

It’s a collection of words with no coherence.

There’s a reference to St Patrick, who was born in the 5th Century, John Knox, who was born in the 16th Century and to King Billy, who was born in the 17th Century. I don’t know how you feel about a song that mentions all three drawing no connection whatsoever between them, but to me it’s the trademark of barely literate goons.

Most people realise this, and find the song crawl-under-the-bed embarrassing.

I haven’t heard it sung, by more than handfuls of drunk arseholes, for years.

There’s a chant you used to hear a lot, but which has also been on the wane for years, referring to dirty orange people of questionable parentage; I recommend those offended by that speak to the Orange Order, to which it’s a clear reference.

They are a sectarian organisation and a secret society, rabidly unionist and affiliated with the far right of British and Irish politics.

That chant is generally used in relation to referees, a number of whom have been proven to be members of said secret society, and whose professional ranks behave more and more like one with every year that passes.

The key term is “Orange”.

Not Protestant.

There is no sectarian connotation to that chant.

Then there’s the H word, which I rarely use and which has never been a reference to any religious affiliation but more about a set of behavioural norms; rioting, nazi salutes, spreading fear and taking part in general disorder … things for which a certain Scottish club’s fans were once famous. It’s also about having no respect for traditions, or loyalty, or lacking a certain moral character.

I have had long brainstorming sessions with people on this subject, and on the etymology of the word itself, tracing it back to Attila and to the Germans in World War I and 2 … and I’m always asked, in the context of Scottish football, who I regard as fitting the bill.

I once answered thus;

I consider Graham Souness to be one, but Trevor Steven not. I know for a fact Maurice Johnstone is one, but never thought Brian Laudrup was. Davie Provan, Charlie Nicholas and Jim Traynor are definitely amongst their number but I never for one second thought Graham Speirs, Alan Davidson or Ian Crocker were. Large sections of the Sevco support fit the bill. A small section of the Celtic support does too, and there are numbers of them at other clubs like Hearts, Motherwell, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Inverness and elsewhere.

I agree with the general sentiment behind Nil By Mouth’s statement, but that organisation is like so many others in this country; it tiptoes around things when it ought to stride forward with purpose.

There is bigotry in Scotland, sectarian intolerance that is both broad and, in some places, deep.

The fault isn’t to be found in football stadiums, although some of its practitioners go to games.

Anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred is still a profound problem, and one of the reasons it remains so is that those who practice it often hide behind seemingly legitimate initiatives like this one.

Which brings us to the second inconvenient truth: there was no need to pass the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Laws already existed to confront those who engaged in sectarian behaviour; the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act changed nothing except that it placed singing Republican songs into the same bracket as someone singing one of the more horrible hate anthems you’d expect to hear from the people who hailed Jason Campbell a hero.

What that law did is created a moral equivalence between the two, and that’s one of the most tragic features of it.

Because there is none.

The issue is bigger than just Nil By Mouth, but they have a high profile and they get a lot of attention whenever they put out a statement like this. They might not want to further the agendas of the very people they deplore, but I’ll tell you what … they do.

There are people who live in this country who would love to see every expression of Irishness outlawed, who would love every Catholic school closed, who blame us for creating intolerance when, actually, it stares back at them from the mirror.

No other religious or social group in this country is subject to this constant sniping and questioning of its values.

We don’t have a profound problem in this country with anti-Islamic sentiment; in fact, in comparison to certain parts of England things are positively harmonious. We also don’t have a serious issue with anti-Semitism.

Anti-Catholic hatred is Scotland’s own peculiar little fixation, and that has long had its roots deep in anti-Irishness.

The difference is that in some ways it’s now public policy.

Listen, I understand full well that there are people who don’t enjoy hearing the Republican stuff in football grounds. But I don’t mind saying I know those songs by heart, and I defy anyone to tell me where one of them – even one – promotes hate.

Supporting a “proscribed organisation” isn’t the same.

The people who do the proscribing once had the ANC on that list.

The Republican movement now plays an active part in government.

The ANC is the South African government.

The difference is, they were never fighting the British.

You get the point?

You understand why one of those organisations is now feted and the other remains banned to this day?

Here’s a challenge I’ve laid down many, many, many, many times and I do so again with no doubt that the result will be the same as it’s been on all those other occasions; if someone can tell me where in those songs hatred is promoted I’ll close these websites the same day.

No-one will answer that. No-one ever does.

So whilst I do understand that people don’t want to hear this stuff, I’d say to them that, sadly, it’s just too bad because one of the prices we pay for living in a free society is that we often have to tolerate things we don’t actually like. I’m not suggesting they go and look the lyrics up and try and understand the context of them … too much to ask, by far.

I’m asking that they actually embrace understanding of another subject; tolerance itself. Because whether they know it or not, their own attitude is profoundly intolerant. It’s close-minded, insular and yes it’s also arrogant; that the freedoms other people enjoy should be stymied and limited because they dislike certain of their opinions and ideas.

Tolerance means embracing diversity. Hammering everyone into the same mould doesn’t come close to the definition of that. That’s called enforced conformity and I don’t think that’s a country any of us actually wants to live in.

My problem with what Nil By Mouth and other apparently well-meaning organisations are doing stumbling into this minefield is that they aren’t really talking about sectarianism at all … they’re talking about shrinking the definition of what they find “acceptable” and if they don’t understand the danger inherent in that I can’t explain it to them.

The third fiction is that strict liability has been a success for UEFA.

It’s not true.

Strict liability doesn’t reflect well on UEFA at all.

It was introduced to combat right wing extremists using football grounds as recruiting posts. I understand why the sport considered that an issue, but in trying to find a way to ban those groups they did what governing bodies always do when they try to ride the middle lane … they overshot the runway and passed rules where any form of political expression was banned.

Except those which suit them, of course.

One of the recent obscenities was their decision to fine Celtic for our fans flying Palestinian flags. I don’t know what our club’s official response to that was but it was a scandal that UEFA ever considered such a ludicrous action in the first place. Another example was the “F*** UEFA” banner the Celtic fans flew, and which resulted in another sanction.

A refusal to allow criticism is one of the defining characteristics of fascism.

It would be different if they actually took the rule seriously, but they don’t because they can’t.

There are a number of overtly political football clubs in Europe who’s very existence flies in the face of UEFA regulations and there are other clubs whose fans have adopted overtly political views; they stretch across the continent, from France to the farthest corners of Russia.

They are openly ideological and UEFA can’t come close to policing them and doesn’t even try.

Not only does strict liability not work, but it’s barely enforced.

Celtic is not an overtly political club.

Our fans reflect a broad sweep of society, and we pride ourselves on being “open to all”.

Yet some of our own supporters consistently fly in the face of that concept, and make a nonsense of it, trying to tell other fans what they should be singing and what flags they should be flying.

I sympathise with them, to a degree.

Because some of it does get the club into trouble, and that’s wrong.

But it’s the regulations I think are the problem here, and whilst I think they should be obeyed, as long as they last, I think our club should be committed, along with others, to changing them to better reflect the reality; football and politics have always been closely linked and always will be.

This isn’t about flares and smoke bombs.

Those are banned for entirely legitimate reasons and don’t belong in football grounds, and I am wholly supportive of any measure that removes them from the sport entirely.

This is about political expression, and existing UEFA rules on it are as wrong as they can be, and Nil By Mouth and the SFA now want those extended to cover Scottish football too, a country where Irish political expression is already punished enough and where the governing bodies and others don’t even try to hide the intent, which is to restrict the rights of supporters to properly express themselves inside stadiums.

Every Celtic fan should oppose this, and let the club know it, not that they have to because Celtic has never been in favour of it and that hasn’t changed.

This is my last word on this subject for a while.

For the record, I don’t expect “strict liability” to pass.

The clubs in the main don’t want it, because they understand that there will always be idiots in any support and the clubs can only do so much to weed them out. Only someone who doesn’t really understand football could believe otherwise.

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SFA “Strict Liability” Proposals Are A Direct Threat To Celtic

JS31156726Stewart Regan. Dear oh dear.

You have to give him his due; he seems to know what side his bread is buttered on, and just who butters it.

Any time there’s crisis or scandal at Ibrox he’s a long way from home, posted missing, silent on the subject.

I’d call it gutless, but he’s never quite so remiss when it comes to tackling Celtic.

We all know that this man will do anything at all to keep the club operating out of Ibrox afloat, whether that’s bending or flaunting regulations; ignoring others; allowing convicted criminals onto the board and even looking the other way as a potential fraud is going on.

That same attitude applies, of course, to the occasional outbreak of illegal singing, like the one against Hibs, which it seems he only discovered yesterday as it was the first he’s mentioned it … and then only fleetingly.

Another club’s supporters were the real target of his rant.

Who knew that all it would take to bring him out of the bunker was Celtic fans throwing a few flares?

Hell, we can’t have that in our national sport!

Let’s change the rules … so that we can punish the club for it!

Yes, whatever you say Stewart.

Except … no.

What balls this guy has. What a brass neck on him.

He and his lawyers are, doubtless, going to be working hard on the proposals for “strict liability” in the next week or two, and if Harper MacLeod can ratchet up the costs a bit who are any of us to stand in their way? They’ve got to make a buck too … but at the end of the day the fruit of these labours will wind up in the bin. It belongs there.

Frankly, Regan can wipe his arse with them for all I care.

If Celtic voted in favour of these proposals – and the chance of it is somewhere between slim and none; there is no way in the world we’re going to do it – then a cold day in Hell it would be, and the problems would mount up down the road until we couldn’t move forward for them.

When I heard he’d commented on this, and said “strict liability” was going back on the agenda I was honestly fuming, and flabbergasted at his brazenness. The statement itself is absurd, and offensive to those of us who’ve been following the backstory.

There can’t be another organisation – except the SPFL – which is so selective in the things it chooses to care about on any given day.

Regan feels he can bang the drum on this one because it was in the Scottish Cup … well it’s funny, as he seems to care so much; he said and did nothing last season when, at the very same ground, Dundee Utd fans did much the same thing.

Now, no-one should misinterpret this as me defending the guys with the flares.

I’ve already written about that over on The CelticBlog this week, and my views were pretty clear. The guys who do this are a menace, pure and simple, and ought not to be allowed inside football grounds.

But see, that’s a police matter. It’s got sod all to do with the sporting authorities. We ought to let the police deal with it, as they have been doing. Let the clubs find the people responsible and ban them, and then allow the machinery of the law to take over.

Football sanctions to clubs for the behaviour of a few neds?

God, why not just punish certain clubs (i.e. Celtic) before the season even starts?

Save time on the disciplinary hearings.

Because these rules will be so open-ended you might as well.

I would be willing to bet every penny I make in the first year of their existence that we would be in front of the beaks more than any other club, and that has nothing to do with our fans but everything to do with a media that would whip up controversy every chance it got and the governing bodies themselves who might even jump at the chance to make the league more “competitive” by deducting us points every so often.

As the rules stand right now, all a club has to do to get off free and clear – see Sevco and sectarian songs – is demonstrate that they’ve taken “all appropriate measures” to discourage that. No-one even knows what that actually means, and that’s very deliberate.

And you know what? I’m content for that to be the position. Because that’s the way these guys work, and I have no doubt that should “strict liability” come into existence the regulations would be no more robust than the current rules, but would morph, instead, into an awful Offensive Behaviour at Football Act written by the governing bodies themselves, one handing match delegates complete discretion over what constitutes an offense … and that’s to say nothing of their famous “compliance officer” and what his own godforsaken role in all this would be.

Uh-uh. Not a chance in Hell.

Someone like Vince Lunny, with the power to deduct points and close stadiums because of what he personally finds offensive? Newspaper media rooms and PR companies scanning YouTube footage deep into the night and submitting it for his “assesment”?

You can see where Celtic might have a problem with this idea, right?

We may as well shut the stadium right now.

Even if the SFA could be trusted (I know, I’m laughing too) I’m not in favour of strict liability anyway, because it’s too easy to extend and amplify and would, eventually, turn all football grounds into soulless cathedrals of consumerism and make the experience akin to going to the theatre.

Regan uses UEFA as his exemplar here, because these rules already exist there.

Ha!

The SFA’s newfound embrace of UEFA standards is heartening but much too selective, and that’s the real problem here and where Regan’s hypocrisy is most clearly expressed.

There are UEFA regulations which do badly need implementing in Scottish football, foremost amongst them the one governing Financial Fair Play.

That it hasn’t already been passed is ridiculous; the English leagues got their house in order on that score five years ago.

But, of course, there isn’t strictly an establishment favourite club down there, one that would fall foul of those regulations every single year.

Quite how anyone could argue that Sevco would not be in current breach of those rules escapes me … which is exactly why they’ve yet to see the light of day, and why I suspect they never actually will.

King’s big talk about “front loaded investment” was always bluff and bluster anyway, but the whole concept has still been allowed a credibility it doesn’t deserve. That we continue to perpetuate this dangerous nonsense as somehow “good for the game” is part of a wider problem Regan and his people don’t even seem to want to acknowledge let alone do something about.

No, this is more typical of them, to focus on a cheap headline, a one day story, to leap onto a passing bandwagon.

This isn’t leadership; it’s deflection.

It’s an attempt to steer the agenda away from his favourite club at a time when the governing bodies are inextricably bound to their fate, and heading for a calamity that will make 2012 seem like small beer.

Regan would have been better focussing on that, or on the certainty that his name will come up over and over again during the trials of Whyte and Green.

If he wants to give the lawyers something to do he can dig out the emails he and Whyte exchanged, and the minutes of his discussions with Green, and others, and get the SFA legal team to investigate whether or not they were party to a fraud, however unwittingly it might have been,

I don’t like this guy; that’s no secret. I think he’s a coward and a charlatan and that he’s been wrong, and his association has been wrong, on every major issue of the last five years except the appointment of Gordon Strachan.

He and those around him can preen and posture for the cameras all day long. They can write all the useless and doomed regulations they want. They can fritter away the remainder of their time in office by pandering to the press and the Ibrox mob. Or they can find ways, even now, to redeem their reputations before it all comes crashing down.

This is partly about that, of course, about legacy shopping; one good deed to try and counter all the years of sitting on his hands. I’m not fooled for a minute, and no-one else should be either.

I’m past caring what choices they make.

But I’m damned if I’ll sit in silence whilst they try to use my club and its fans as a deflector shield when the biggest and most serious issues in the Scottish game can still be traced right to the door of another stadium in Glasgow and to the actions of a procession of dodgy geezers Regan and his people said were “fit and proper.”

Stewart Regan, leading reform?

Don’t make me laugh.

His real motivations are more transparent than he thinks.

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The Internet Bampots: Right From The Start

craig-whyte-rangers-court_3345309Last night, as I was reading over the incredible catalogue of crimes with which former Rangers and Sevco directors are being charged, something dawned on me.

None of this would ever have come to pass – not Whyte, not Green, perhaps not even King – but for the contempt in which many in the media and in the game’s governing bodies once held (and some still hold) the Internet Bampots.

Yet today, I feel more than a small degree of satisfaction; indeed, I feel fully vindicated in almost everything I’ve spent the last few years writing.

In some ways that’s enough.

It’s time we got some acknowledgement though.

I understand that there are legal minefields here in which I don’t want to tread. That’s the reason Part 3 of my overview of how Rangers and the SFA almost destroyed Scottish football has been delayed so long. It’s not that I lost the thread of it or couldn’t be bothered writing it; much of it is already done. The rest … well, the events Part 3 charts are in the court system at the moment and I’m being careful not to write a word that second guesses those proceedings.

I’m going to be careful here too.

But there are things that I can say with absolute certainty.

Not one single person connected to Scottish football is now in even the slightest doubt that Craig Whyte, Charles Green and the cohort that trooped through Ibrox in the years from 2011 – 2015 did enormous harm to the institutions of Rangers and Sevco.

Not one single person does not believe that some sections of an almost overwhelmingly subservient, cheerleading, wholly ineffectual media was not at least partially responsible for the chaos that has followed, by lending credibility to men who otherwise would have had none.

And not one single person with the remotest interest in the sport here is in the slightest doubt that had the SFA and the SPFL taken their own regulatory roles more seriously that none of these guys would have been within miles of a major Scottish football club.

As a lawyer might say, “these are the facts of the case and they are undisputed.”

The only people who can emerge from this with their heads held high are the fans, and in particular the online community who went where the press and the authorities didn’t want to go and who dug into Whyte and then Charles Green.

I’m going to do a few pieces on the coming case, obviously, but for the moment I just want to look at the basic charge sheet, the top sheet, not the more detailed indictment.

In broad terms there are three principle sections to it; 2010 until February 2012, February 2012 until the assets of the liquidated and defunct Rangers were purchased by Green and what followed on afterwards.

From the first, the Internet Bampots were onto Whyte.

Some in the media would rather ignore that.

The governing bodies have turned doing that into an art form.

Some in the media, at least, started nicking our stories and actually pushing them, although claiming exclusives they weren’t entitled to. The governing bodies waited until Whyte had already put on his show, dragged Scottish football through the mud and put a boot print on the national shirt before they did something about it, expressing their surprise the whole while.

According to the indictment, Craig Whyte is being charged with wilfully putting the club into administration, in order to leave behind creditors and emerge debt free.

It would take a neck of solid brass to pretend that comes as a shock to anybody, because he was quite upfront about it right from the beginning, and as the Bampots know well he even told the governing bodies about his plans.

If what he’s done is a criminal offence – and a court will decide that in good time – then it’s not hard to make a case that, based on information in the public domain, Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan should think themselves awful damned lucky they aren’t there in the dock with him, indicted alongside the rest, as co-conspirators.

Above and beyond what he told them himself, Whyte had a string of failed and liquidated businesses behind him, and we pointed this out, with many tweeting Regan at the SFA directly with their findings.

Beyond that, there was actual, verifiable, credible information in the public domain a full four months before the club entered administration, and it was put there by Mark Daly of the BBC, laying out Whyte’s previous MO in some detail.

At the time, not one other media outlet was demanding a fuller exploration of those accusations; indeed, many of his contemporaries in the print media sneered at him, and some of them continue to do so to this day.

But he had the full throated support of, and respect from, the Bampots.

I’ll tell you what I think of Mark Daly;

Scottish football is enormously indebted to him and the team who worked with him on those documentaries, because without them I am convinced – 100% – that Craig Whyte would still be at the helm of a football club calling itself Rangers, whether visibly or working behind the scenes. Oh the hacks might have dug around and found some of it, but Graham Speirs has already told us they knew things they never published because they didn’t want to be seen to have been the people who brought the regime down.

Sure as Hell, nobody in any position of authority wanted to hear us.

We know that because at Hampden they weren’t even really listening to him.

In fact, evidence suggest that not only did our governing bodies know this was going on but they wholeheartedly backed it, as Neil Doncaster himself said on 18 May 2012, when he dismissed the difference between a CVA and a liquidation as an “irrelevance” and said the “attitudes of creditors” should not matter to football governing bodies when dealing with financially stricken clubs.

He went on to say that whilst he didn’t think it was “right” for clubs to dump their debts and emerge unscathed on the other side that “it happens” and he had no problem with it. He had his facts badly wrong when trying to name clubs who had done it – the two examples he gave of clubs which had gone the NewCo route were Leeds and Palace, none of whom actually did – but few can be in any doubt that he wasn’t concerned in the slightest by the sheer immorality of it, or the dangers it posed to Scottish football in the long term.

He ought to have been sacked there and then.

His continued employment is a source of enormous frustration and offence to many people and I long since concluded that he can only be there because he still retains the confidence of our clubs, which means that on some level many of them do support this utter nonsense and don’t want to see him replaced by someone with a different view.

Indeed, this time last year I published a piece called A Moment Of Clarity, after he’d started 2015 with a scandalous interview which turned football reality in Scotland on its head.

I thought, then, that his comments were so absolutely ridiculous that he couldn’t possibly survive them … but a year on down the line, there he is, still in his office.

His presence there is about to heap scandal on disgrace.

He and Regan better understand this; they are our great piece of “unfinished business” and their part in this isn’t going to be simply ignored or airbrushed out of all memory. This is what these two will be remembered for, long after they’ve left office.

We are going to keep on highlighting these issues until they’re both gone, and then far beyond, because their conduct can’t be allowed to escape scrutiny and the verdict of history, otherwise their behaviour becomes a reflection on the wider game here.

They would have flushed sporting integrity down the pan in 2012.

Only the intervention of the fans stopped that.

If Craig Whyte eventually gets up, in open court, and talks about how Doncaster and Regan knew exactly what he was up to the whole time then that’s catastrophic. That’s a FIFA style scandal on our own doorstep, and the world will know it.

The reputational damage to our sport that the allegation itself will do … even if it’s never examined in greater detail … enormous.

The directors of the other clubs have to know some of what we do; are they waiting for legal proceedings before acting to safeguard the game?

Shouldn’t the chairmen themselves be asking for an independent inquiry, not into Whyte and Green but what the governing body CEO’s really knew about events at Ibrox?

I can’t put it more bluntly than to say that these two men and their continuing presence at Hampden represents an existential risk to the reputation of our sport … and the more you dig into the charge sheet the more serious it starts to look for them.

And once again, the Internet Bampots were signposting the way.

There isn’t one Celtic site whose writers and contributors were not asking questions, from the off, about the manner in which Charles Green emerged, as if from nowhere, to bid for the assets of OldCo Rangers. The antennae were twitching from the moment his name was first mentioned and it didn’t take long before numerous links between Whyte and Green were established.

Those links are unmistakably real; there’s not the slightest debate about them and no rational person with a scintilla of knowledge about these matters actually believes these two men didn’t know each other beforehand.

It might not have been Paul McConville who first starting asking questions about Sevco 5088 and its relationship to a company called Sevco Scotland Ltd, but he certainly wrote a series of outstanding, and deadly, pieces on that subject.

Not one newspaper article ever ran asked the questions those articles demanded.

The SFA never once issued a statement on them.

Those question have been ongoing since mid-2012 and were ignored by governing bodies and media outlets alike, although then and now they were enormously significant. I myself posed some of those questions when Green announced the share issue, and Whyte emerged to allege that he’d had some role in setting Sevco up.

Plenty of us were asking those questions.

No-one wanted to answer us.

The media blanked them, or accused of us being fantasists.

The governing bodies … well, I have no idea how they felt about the possibility that they might have assisted in the perpetration of a fraud, but as far as I can see the road would be wide open, in the result of guilty verdicts, for not only the creditors of OldCo Rangers to sue them but for those who bought shares under Green to do so as well.

See, that’s something else no-one else ever explores; the SFA and the SPL/SPFL are regulatory bodies … it is their legal responsibility to assure that the highest standards of corporate governance are being observed by their member clubs.

It’s not enough for them to step back and let those clubs police themselves; this is why fit and proper person criteria exists in the first place, it’s why punishments are handed down for those who violate it.

(Unless those people are connected to Ibrox, which is sort of the point.)

The Pinsent Mason report is an outrage the club should never have been able to get away with, and not one of the Celtic blogs was silent in calling that an embarrassment and a disgrace. That reeked, and it reeks today, especially in light of these court cases.

Anyway, ignorance of these matters – even if we believed they were ignorant – might not be enough to save them from legal consequences, and a judicial inquiry at least.

I repeat; they had, and still have, a duty to do their homework, and not simply abdicate that responsibility to those who run those the clubs. The clubs themselves should be holding them to account for loss of earnings and reputational damage … and I don’t know why they don’t.

And far from learning lessons from those events the SFA continues to ignore its duties, even today.

No-one is asking whether Sevco is technically trading whilst insolvent, and the backgrounds of those who’ve given them the latest loans to keep on the lights aren’t deemed worthy of comment in the press, far less an investigation at Hampden.

Once again, only The Bampots seem interested in what is obviously a major story.

If that money had been dropped off at Ibrox in cash, the proceeds of a heist … Jesus, are we to believe Doncaster and Regan would simply have shrugged their shoulders and deemed that a matter for the club itself to look into?

What kind of people are these?

The technical term for this is “institutional failure”, and on the larger stage it’s what brought us the banking crash of 2008, in which the roots of Rangers’ demise and all these issues can be found.

Ignorance isn’t what happened anyway; what actually happened is partly to be found in the nearly universal contempt for the bloggers that existed then and which will we continue to struggle against in our quest to be taken more seriously.

The governing bodies were well aware of all this stuff at the time, and the media were too.

Enough people on Twitter and elsewhere were sending them links and stories and telling them what we’d found out, and what we were speculating on.

Either the governing bodies decided these issues weren’t worth looking into or they knew more than people were aware, and didn’t like us rocking the boat.

The media refused to take us even remotely seriously, and that was because they didn’t acknowledge us as worthy participants in the debate.

Nobody is laughing at us now.

Nobody underestimates our role.

I’ve been doing this for nearly five years, and I now make a tentative living out of it because of the support some of the readers are able to provide – and I’m beyond grateful to all those who do. Between that and the ads I manage to make this thing work.

As a consequence, I can now devote myself full-time to the task of analysing these issues and others like them, to research and explore evidence no matter where it comes from.

I never expect to make the money a “journalist” at The Daily Record would; if I was interested in that I’d be pursuing it properly as a career, but knowing that I’d have to give up my independence and the right to say what I wanted.

Money isn’t everything. As long as I can pay my bills as they fall due I’m a happy camper, because I’ve come to love this stuff and it gives me the freedom to pursue my grander goal which is to make my way as a writer of fiction. (If I can ever finish the second novel!)

Likewise, I don’t do it for glory because there’s precious little of that when I have to be hypercritical of my own club at times; on those horrible days this feels like shovelling shit uphill … or raking leaves in the rain, if I might use one of my own actual experiences to emphasise the point.

Like other guys, I do this because it’s often fun, it’s intellectually challenging and finally because it’s nice to feel part of a wider endeavour and a community all dedicated to the same stuff.

More than that, I genuinely believe this is important.

What I do, what James Doleman’s been doing, what The Clumpany does, what Paul Brennan has been doing even longer than me, what sites like VideoCelts produce every day … this stuff matters.

This isn’t just a Scottish football story … Rangers was a major social institution, and what happened – what was allowed to happen – within its walls for decades, preceding even these events, was outrageous and an affront to more than just sport.

We’re not PR factories, spinning facts and twisting reality.

We’re in nobody’s pockets and nobody’s employ.

We write what we see in front of us, without fear or favour – and I do this about politics in Scotland as well as on football – without taking our cue from others.

None of us expects to win awards, nor great wealth, nor any special status doing what we do.

We have the respect of our peers and the thanks of a great many people who like to be informed and entertained without the media’s PR filter and that’s enough. On most days.

Beyond that, we don’t ask for or want anything at all.

But today, reading the charge sheets against a bunch of people we’ve spent the better part of five years warning Scottish football against, and seeing the catalogue of offences which bear a striking resemblance to those we were asking questions about before even the Fraud Squad got to them, it would be nice if we got some acknowledgement for it.

It would be nice if we got some credit from those who treated us with such appalling disdain.

Because whether these cases end in guilty verdicts or not, these issues, which we were told weren’t worth bothering about, were serious enough to have warranted a trial.

The questions we were asking, and which so many were ignoring, were prescient enough and forensic enough, to have merited police and judicial attention.

The evidence we were digging for, examining, and highlighting in the hope those with the resources and the reach to do it justice, or in the hope that the governing bodies would take note and move to avert the consequences for our sport – and those consequences are coming – and which those people sneered at or refused to even look at … well they had the substance to start the machinery of legal proceedings.

In short, I do believe, verdicts notwithstanding, that we’ve been vindicated in full.

It would be good if our critics acknowledged that simple truth.

The Internet Bampots.

Right from the start.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)

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Sevco: Survival Of The Unfittest

Wolf_chasing_rabbitA few days ago, during the Steam Christmas Sale, I bought a brand new game for the PC. It cost me £7, and rarely have I gotten such satisfaction from spending so little.

It’s a quirky wee title, called The Long Dark, which is a reference to the inevitable moment when the game kills you.

It always does. The game is a survival simulator, with the single objective to last as long as you can. My record thus far is four days.

Last time I died I was sitting in an ice fishing hut on a frozen lake, during a blizzard. I had nothing to light a fire with, and no way of getting the quarter mile or so back to my camp because I’d been attacked by a wolf and he was still out there somewhere.

The game is full of “safe places” where you can hide out from the weather. There ought not to be any need, ever, for me to have slipped into the Long Dark in that tiny hut. The reason I was there was simple enough; I needed to fish because I had no food left and even with the wolf attack, I would have been fine had I been able to get a heat.

What this game does is brings survival down to a few key things. It becomes a constant struggle for resources; for the stuff to feed you, for stuff to burn, for the medicines that will knock down a wolf-bite infection and keep you alive a little longer.

It has a certain savage beauty to it.  I really do love it, and although it’s only in Alpha, and not yet complete, the designers have made something that is astoundingly simple to get to grips with yet amazingly complex at the same time and even in its current state it plays like a full title. Seriously, if you like games I’d recommend it to you all.

I was delighted that in this game I found my theme for what, aside from the weekend’s dire Celtic performance and the need to address issues at my own club before I wrote a single word about the one across the city, would have been my first major article of the year.

It’s been clear to many of us for a while now that Sevco was in serious danger of slipping into The Long Dark, and the Festive Period was remarkable for the way in which the news of their latest series of loans was spun, as somehow something positive.

In the game, you, the wildlife and every item you can discover is generated randomly at the beginning, and scattered across the various locations on the map. You never know where you’re going to wind up at the start or what you’ll find in each place you explore, but as a rule of thumb you’ll always find stuff in any dwelling you stumble across.

It’s possible, therefore, to get by the first couple of days in-game simply by travelling from place to place if you’ve got a good idea where to head. But that doesn’t last, because before long you’ve found every soda can and every chocolate bar there is left to find (unless you stumble upon the fabled bunker, which I haven’t yet, and who’s location is also randomly generated) and the struggle against the elements and the wolves starts for real.

But yeah, for a few days at least that “plan” can get you by …

And that’s exactly where Sevco is right now; like the protagonist of The Long Dark, moving from place to place, scrounging whatever meagre sustenance he can find, not with long term goals or ideas – and those are possible in the game, when you’ve taught yourself how to trap wildlife, how to make rudimentary weapons and to use snow for drinking water – but simply to survive in the short term. To get through the next few desperate days.

I’ve said this before, but in light of yesterday’s piece I figured I better say it again; in spite of my concerns that “the strategy” at Celtic Park is taking us backwards, it doesn’t threaten our survival in the short to medium term. Long term, it’ll need to change if the club is to maintain season ticket sales, but that’s for down the road.

The truth is, we can downsize some yet to keep up with falling crowds and I get the impression a lot of our fans wouldn’t care as long as they had Celtic Park to go to every week; that’s up to them, and I’m not about to criticise them for loving their team, although I honestly wish they would extend myself and other fans the same basic courtesy.

But even as a critic, I have to admit that our strategy is cautious, pragmatic, risk-averse and it’s intellectually consistent and with a coherence that’s hard to deny. No wonder it still looks like the smart way to go for a lot of our supporters.

We’re looking ahead further than just a day or two at a time.

Sevco has no long term plan, just short-term loans. There’s no real sense that they are moving in the right direction; they’re simply staying alive, living one day at a time, a hand to mouth existence that will work just so long as the next cabin on the lake has enough tomato soup cans in it to alleviate that particular worry for a little bit longer.

As Chuck Palahniuk says, in Fight Club (the quote appears as one of the loading screens in the game, which I was delighted with) “Sooner or later, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero …” That’s a universal truth, but external forces can rapidly speed up the process.

I can’t understand the general outpouring of relief, and even some delight, in the press over this news. The phrase “robbing Peter to pay Paul” comes to mind and that’s to say nothing about the “dodgy geezers” they borrowed the money from in the first place. I don’t even want to speculate on how wide and deep their version of that goes.

My first reaction to hearing that story was to burst out laughing. I thought it was a joke, and in part I suppose that’s what it is. Because only in the environs of a screwball comedy could you come up with a scenario, and a football club, like this.

As straight fiction it would be too unbelievable.

But then this is reality.

Reality at the club calling itself Rangers.

If you believe the media right now, everything that’s happened over there in the last few months has been washed away in a couple of days. Ashley and his people have their money (and they still have their merchandising deal, but let’s not mention that eah?), they have what they need to keep the lights on a wee bit longer and they are winning on the park.

I watched the Hibs game. I thought Alan Stubbs’ team defended dreadfully and were the architects of their own destruction throughout. I was also amused to note the euphoria that surrounded their win at the weekend; Falkirk had a similar result, at the same ground, earlier in the season and not one single newspaper gushed over it the way they have here.

The mood of self-congratulation over there is hilarious to the outsider, and not a little bit bizarre to behold. Don’t get me wrong; survival itself is not to be knocked, and I would never give them stick for it. It’s more than the club that came before them managed, after all.

But the manner of their survival, being celebrated like it’s some kind of major victory, that suddenly wild mushrooms grow on every tree, that the cupboards are full and all the wolves have been turned into bunny rabbits … maybe I’m just not seeing what they are.

Just because trouble isn’t visibly mounting all around them it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Financial trouble and debt at a football club is like a dead body hidden in the basement; sooner or later it starts to stink the place up and before long someone’s going to come looking for it. Eventually it has to be dealt with. As Phil is fond of reminding people; this is a loss making company with no credit line from a bank.

These loans have to be paid back, and on top of that there’s the next big demand on funding, which will come during the summer if not much sooner.

At the moment Sevco are sitting pretty in the Trappers Lodge (apt, right?) with a good supply of antibiotics, a little deer meat and enough bottled water to see them through a few stormy nights. That’s a good result, as results go in the survival business.

But it all runs out. It always runs out. And then regardless of what the weather outside looks like, they’re going to have to pull on the heavy boots and get moving, back to the hand-to-mouth stuff, the act of desperate scrambling, just to stay alive.

Sooner or later the survival rate for all indebted football clubs drops to zero.

When Sevco finally runs out of resources – and time is the most precious resource of all – their fall into The Long Dark will be unlike anything we’ve seen in Scottish football before. I can’t conceive of circumstances where a third version of Rangers emerges.

In the game itself, there’s one last outstanding feature which I have to mention, and it has the players debating endlessly, with most (myself included) in favour of it because it ups the stakes massively.

It’s called perma-death.

When you succumb everything goes; even your save game is deleted, forever.

As in real life, there’s no second chances or “retention of history.”

All your achievements are wiped away.

All you’ve accumulated, everything you’ve done … it’s gone in heartbeat.

Realistic, or what?

And we know who it reminds us of, right?

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)

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The Offensive Double Standard

Brussels - March 03: Twitter Hit By Hackers.There’s a lot of joy, an awful lot of it, on social media today over the fate of a West of Scotland Primary School teacher who posted some pretty heavy stuff on Twitter and is now facing disciplinary action for it.

I’m not going into detail; if you follow the news at all you can’t have missed the story.

She might yet keep her job, but that couldn’t matter less as far as the wider impact goes.

The media, both old and new, has spoken, declared her guilty and branded her a bigot.

They’ve hung that tag around her neck like a rank piece of dead flesh and that, as they say, is that.

Career cancer. Game over.

What appalling hypocrites some of these people are.

I debated with myself about whether to make this a piece for this blog, but ultimately I decided it belongs here and not over on Comment Isn’t Free, my politics one, because there’s a lot of overlap between the grave dancers online and the issues this site occasionally covers.

For one thing, she’s been reported to Police Scotland, presumably under the auspices of that deplorable piece of legislation the Offensive Behaviour Act, an act any number of those rejoicing at her current fate might be hauled up for contravening themselves based on their remarks.

I’m not advocating that. I’m simply pointing it out.

A lot of these people crawled out of a sewer.

Any number of them have made this an issue about Catholic schools, Catholicism as a whole, Irish expression, Scottish nationalism (there’s a photo of her with Nicola Sturgeon) and, of course, Celtic.

(She was pictured with Tony Stokes too, and it’s not hard to guess which team she supports.)

One guy posted on one of the many articles about this on a newspaper’s website – in almost orgiastic delirium – about how overjoyed he was to find a story that gave him a chance to take a shot at all of those targets at once.

And of course, he called her a bigot for good measure.

This is the level at which these people operate, and others still decided the gutter was too good for them and posted the sort of comments that are simply unprintable here and really do belong in the province of the courts.

If she has good lawyers she could sue enough of these people to put her on easy street for the rest of her natural life, and she should.

Let’s be clear; this isn’t a piece defending her, although I’m moved to suggest that someone who decided to pursue a career working to develop young minds and had to have grafted like mad towards that goal, and who’s record in doing it is probably as clean as a whistle and who has, doubtless, made a huge and positive difference in her community probably deserves better than the witch-hunt she’s currently facing, and maybe a chance to keep on doing her job.

Added to that, I can’t help but wonder about the kind of regulations which intrude into someone’s personal beliefs, and what that has to do with her place of employment.

She wasn’t sending those tweets out on an office computer, after all.

None of this stuff intruded on her lessons to the kids, did it?

I’m fairly sure the tabloid muck-rakers would have mentioned that.

But Hell, those are issues for another day.

No, this is a piece calling out those who’ve forgotten one of the first, and most important, maxims of the Christian faith, which I don’t think is an out-of-order subject at this time of year; not even forgiveness but the one that goes “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Yes, a lot of people forget that one.

Let me give them an example of the sort of things that do my nut in.

For a start, calling someone a bigot in the same sentence as she’s subjected to a sectarian slur is not going to get you into the Quiz Kids.

Ad hominem attacks in the same tweet that question a person’s character … well that demonstrates a high IQ for sure, one that might even hit room temperature when they’re straining all the brain cells.

The Illiterati of the internet are bad enough, but we’ve got media outlets busily destroying her as well, and they are far worse.

I don’t need to give anyone a refresher course on how they’ve behaved over the years.

They’ve excused the inexcusable, and ignored what suited them. Journalists chortle over people like John Brown and his dislike of anything remotely connected to Celtic which goes all the way to not wearing the colour green, but scream from the rooftops whenever supporters express similar views. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Real bigotry is a subject they’ve kept at arm’s length for as long as I’ve been alive, but that would have been difficult to tackle, and this is an easy target they’re going after, and their relish at the task oozes from every editorial.

This doesn’t even stop with the kind of stuff they routinely ignore.

Most of them clap their hands with undisguised glee at the idea of what they refer to as the “return” of the Old Firm game, the brand built on hate which they’ve spent the last four years falling all over themselves to rebuild and promote anew.

They also think nothing of seeking the opinions of men like Hugh Dallas – who one paper put on the back pages this very week, even as they lambasted her on the front – and radio stations and the evening news channels still go out of their way to seek the opinions of “supporter reps” who’s own social media postings raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Graham Spiers, writing in The Herald recently, even suggested that Scottish football should “rehabilitate” Craig Thomson, who’s own behaviour on the internet was about a million times worse and more extreme than anything this girl did.

You tell me; what’s wrong with this picture?

In the meantime, his newspaper has its reporter’s door-stopping this girl and circling like vultures, which of course does nothing good in terms of her discipline case, making this into a national issue and pretty much leaving her bosses with nowhere to go … something else I hope her legal people are all over, and planning to highlight when the time comes.

And all this is to say nothing, of course, about their political coverage, which has created more “out” groups – everyone from social security claimants to immigrants – than Goebbels’s propaganda ministry would have dared dream about.

Our media as moral guardians?

Give me a sodding break.

They can keep their phony outrage and hysterical commentary, but that’s easy for me to say as someone who’s not been directly in their crosshairs. The stench of their own double standards reeks out their offices, but I understand that they’re simply playing to their traditional audience and this is a story that, as I said above, simply has everything for those retrograde scum.

I posted a piece on this site just last week about the number of their fan sites, and supporter reps, who spend their days trawling the net for information they can use to damage anyone whose opinion doesn’t merge with their own.

I was inspired to write that by a tweet from Jim Spence, about how he’d heard a story about another journalist whose job was under threat by these people.

I now think I know who he’s talking about it, and it wouldn’t be the first time this particular person has been targeted by these folk.

One website in particular has editorialised on this writer at great length, and much of the content is libellous and ought to be pursued.

This story is another case in point.

It’s not difficult, I’m sure, to imagine how this is being greeted on those same forums and websites.

This is like something Santa dropped down the chimney.

It’s the potential ruination of somebody’s life and what it brings to them is great joy.

I don’t know what else to say about that other than it makes my skin crawl.

These same people, emboldened by this action, are now frantically trying to select a target for the encore, and Jeanette Findlay’s name has been bandied about as she, too, works in an educational environment and has views they don’t happen to agree with.

Jeanette has already made her disgust at the hate-mob – old and new media both – known as regards this issue, and I applaud her for that and thank her from the bottom of my heart for reminding us all that there’s still a spark of humanity out there in the world, and those who are intelligent and compassionate enough to look at the bigger picture.

But of course the “big picture” doesn’t matter to the pitch-fork wielding horde, some of whom can’t wait to moralise against anyone and others who have more specific targets in mind and think of this story as a God-send.

Their anger is the phoniest kind there is, and it makes me retch and it ought to make all decent people feel the same way.

Their own hatred is palpable, and even a little scary.

They are a different species.

Someone’s career hangs in the balance here. Someone’s life is quite literally on the cusp of being destroyed, and at Christmas time too. In their attitude towards this lies the truth about their own rancid characters.

Their overriding emotion isn’t regret or sadness … it’s glee.

This is the Festive Season in Scotland, eah?

Goodwill, and all that.

Aye, right.

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Reconstruction Talks Go On As Sevco Stumbles

article-0-0C3CF7F7000005DC-511_468x333Once upon a time, I would have sworn that, in sports terms, sycophantic guff and PR pieces spun to say the opposite of what they meant was the province of the West of Scotland media alone.

Then I read the Aberdeen Press & Journal last night.

The article in question was under one of the most cynically deceptive headlines I’ve ever seen; “Now Is The Time For Change In Scottish Football” is what it read.

The actual contents of that article made the headline a sham.

For what was being proposed within it wasn’t change at all. It was the same old tired shite we’ve been putting up with for ages now.

It was more of that Armageddon nonsense, set to a slightly different tune.

The argument it put forward was that Scottish football will never be able to improve as long as the “biggest teams” aren’t in the league.

The architect of this concept – proving not only that there’s nothing new under the sun but that stale socks and empty lager cans are all that some people can glimpse on the distant horizon – was, of course, Stewart Milne, who you’d think would have already offended his own fans enough after a shambolic and ruinous display at Aberdeen’s AGM, where he called for forgiveness for Sevco and expressed his wish that they play in the SPL next season.

I had written about that earlier in the day, over on the CelticBlog, and I knew Aberdeen fans must already be furious with him for those remarks, furious enough, perhaps, to have caused his heart to flutter ever so slightly.

But no; Stewart had grander ambitions than that, although, alas, not for his football club.

He knew he had only dipped a toe in the water of the River Offence.

So, in front of his home town press toadies, he stripped down to his yellow underpants and leaped right in.

Not only did he push this view that only when Hibs and Sevco were in the top flight would the “best teams” be represented – ignoring that for all Sevco’s high cost base they’re nowhere near being a Premier League outfit and that Hibs were relegated two years ago, amidst calamitous circumstances and don’t remotely deserve to be in the SPL yet – but he then splashed around merrily as he offered the view that “Aberdeen is probably similar to most of the larger clubs in Scotland – we want to be finishing every season in the top three …”

And that’s where I sat, open-mouthed, in disbelief.

The top three?

From a side currently second, and allegedly chasing first?

Oh my, what a grandstander he is.

What an ambitious man.

To go from wanting to take the top spot away from Celtic to being willing to settle for … the next rung down on the ladder?

And who, exactly, does he envision being the third – or is it second – team in that equation?

That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

In short, Stewart Milne is preparing his own fans for failure, and worse; he’s readily embracing the idea.

He’s saying not only that he anticipates Sevco replacing his team as our biggest challenger but that it’s perfectly alright with him, that it’s the “natural order.”

Aberdeen fans must be appalled.

Peter Lawwell must be shaking in his boots.

Who knew Milne was capable of such confidence in his vision?

The crux of his argument, the fulcrum around which it turns, is arrant nonsense talked down to us by someone who considers his audience brain-dead. He’s talking about how Scottish football has had a torrid five years, but that in that time the clubs have rebuilt their finances and are now in a healthier position than they’ve ever been.

If that’s a problem then it’s a damned nice one to have, and he knows full well that what changed in the game wasn’t superior thinking or some revolutionary master plan but that one club, the one that had wrought so much damage with spendthrift policies it couldn’t afford, and which they couldn’t afford to compete with, died and vanished from the top flight.

Aberdeen posted record profits this year, due in no small part to their second place finish and their competing in European matches. Most of all, their financial position is better than it’s been in years because the fans returned in large numbers as a consequence of their success and the stated ambitions of the club.

Today those ambitions are in ruins.

Milne’s other big announcement was that he wants to move the club into a new stadium. He forgets that in order to fill that ground week in week out he needs to have fans, and those people drifted away steadily during the decades of financial doping and the Glasgow duopoly.

They came back when that was shattered and they would be perfectly happy to keep on going to games as long as they believed they were watching a straight sport.

Alas, Milne isn’t even offering them that.

He wants Scottish football to put the past aside, he says.

What he means, when we strip it down, is that he wants us to ignore years of cheating. He wants us to pretend it never happened. He wants justice dumped by the side of the road.

Screw sporting integrity because, clearly, in his view, that just holds out sport back.

So he came out in favour league reconstruction, and in time for next season if that’s what it takes.

Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan are already on the record as supporting changes, and although their lackies in the mainstream media say the mood at Hampden is against doing it for next season – not having a choice in that helps – the truth is they’d like nothing more.

And incredibly, they were joined this week by Peter Houston, manager of Falkirk, one of Sevco’s rivals for the Scottish Championship title.

He went on the record about this issue, and predicted that if Falkirk won the title that league reconstruction will be rushed through to give Hibs and Sevco a berth. He was, he said, fully in favour of this scenario.

“Do you think if Rangers and Hibs don’t go up this season there might be league reconstruction?” he asked. “Or if Falkirk go up as champions? I know what I think would happen – there would be league reconstruction. I believe there will be reconstruction because there is an acceptance now that we need our big clubs back in the Premiership. If Falkirk went up as champions they would do it and I hope it can happen like that.”

Did you notice what he didn’t say?

He didn’t say that if his side comes third that he would support league reconstruction on his team’s own behalf!

Maybe that goes without saying, especially as neither he nor his chairman appears to give a damn about sporting integrity.

His chairman is one of the people pushing league reconstruction talks, and no-one is going to convince me that the plans he’s promoting will suddenly make Scottish football better.

It’s nothing more than re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I’ve studied his ridiculous idea and I can tell you what most people already know; our sport is not going to improve one iota by putting in place a fourteen team league with a stupid artificially created split which has the sum total of nothing to do with sporting merit but will exist solely to assure a certain number of games between Celtic and the club that’s pretending to be Rangers.

When that club died this dire concept, that of the SPL split, should have gone to the grave with it, and we should have returned to a ten team top flight.

It’s time this was laid to rest once and for all.

Besides, nowhere in their considerations does there appear to be an acknowledgement of some simple facts.

First, none of this is about sporting integrity at all.

If the objective is to get the “biggest teams in the country” in one league, then why are we bothering with promotion and relegation? Why don’t we just abandon the idea of a meritocracy entirely, and rebuild the leagues based on average attendance and possible TV audience?

Hell, that way we can have it any old way we like it.

Because otherwise this is probably all academic anyway.

In order to create a bigger league relegation would probably have to be removed from the equation in the SPL, and that would be a travesty.

But in that scenario only two teams from the Championship would go up … which, if Falkirk are in the top two, doesn’t suit the proposed narrative of getting Hibs and Sevco into the SPL for next season.

So what then?

Relegate one SPL team and promote three?

That would work, sort of.

But what if the relegated team was Dundee Utd?

Aren’t they a “big club”?

What if either Hibs or Sevco were unable to get promotion anyway?

Would we end up with a 16 team league? A 20 team one?

How much are we willing to bend this sport to get the result certain people want?

All the way, it seems.

Whatever it takes. And sporting integrity be damned.

They can talk all they like about merit, but a league structure exists, right now, and it works based on that.

The fans made sure of it three years ago.

As a consequence, the top teams play in the top flight and no amount of spin will change that. These people might not like reminded about this, but Sevco finished third in the Championship last year.

Ergo, they are not one of the top teams any longer.

When they can get out of that league by virtue of winning football games then not a single one of us will have cause for complaint, and the same applies to Hibs.

They’re next, by the way, the next club who’ll be pressed for a view, the next club the media will be leaning on to come out in favour of this stupid and corrupt idea.

I’d love to say their board will hold firm; Rob Petrie is one of the real leaders in our game, and the way his FansTV deal was killed to give Doncaster leverage against the other clubs when Rangers went bust was disgusting.

If he comes out in opposition to this lousy proposed setup … well, that man ought to be made the next head of the SFA.

But I fear he’ll put his own club first, and if Hibs fall out of contention could we really hold that against him?

This isn’t Milne, getting ready to abandon his own club’s ambitions to accommodate the Ibrox operation; this is a guy who’s club can’t afford to spend God knows how long scrambling around in the second tier.

He’s in a lousy negotiating position, and he knows it.

It’s not hard to imagine Doncaster and others dangling SPL football in his face if only he votes for the stitch up.

The flipside of that, of course, is that Hibs looks as if they could get there without a grubby backroom deal like this. If he believes in his manager and his squad then he might very well tell those pushing this to go and get stuffed, as he should.

Although his Dundee Utd team is in the relegation zone, Stephen Thompson is not backing a change as early as next season.

He is in favour of reconstruction of some sort, but not now and not if it means sacrificing sporting integrity to save his own club.

Ross County’s chairman is also in favour, but he too is opposed to doing it in time for next season.

These guys care.

They want any reconstruction talks to be based on merit, and on what is good for the sport.

They aren’t in favour out of selfish reasons.

But a lot of others want this done to get a certain club back into the top flight, and the opposition of some chairmen aside they may just get what they want.

The people charged with governing our national sport make me physically sick.

They would turn the whole game upside to accomplish by reconstruction what Sevco was wholly incapable of doing on the park last year and which they might well struggle to do in this one.

The same people were floating this scheme last year … and it’s no coincidence that it’s only raised its head now, when Sevco looks to be stumbling in the race.

Scottish football clubs are drifting ever further from their fans.

If we end up with Sevco in the top flight because of some scam people will desert this sport like never before.

Stewart Milne has spent the last few days banging on about people “looking at things objectively” and embracing “radical thinking and changes.”

How about these for examples of radical thinking and embracing change?

First, let’s see our clubs and football administrators having the imagination to envision a football environment built around what’s good for all of the clubs, and which doesn’t revolve around pandering to the whims of two teams, and in fact just one?

Second, how about we stop grubbing around for crumbs from Sky’s table and look, seriously, at Petrie’s FansTV proposals all over again?

Third, how about we get some leaders, genuine leaders with guts, in at the SFA and the SPL instead of leaving them in the hands of jokers like Regan and Doncaster? These guys ought to have been out the door three years ago; their continuing presence in those offices is an affront to every support in the country, and their conduct is soon to be the subject of at least one court case. Quite how their positions can be defended, by anyone, is mystifying and stinks to high heaven.

Fourth, and finally, how about the clubs – all of the clubs – starting to take the views of the fans seriously instead of treating them with undisguised contempt? And I refer to my own club in this too, for the way they’ve behaved over the Living Wage and the conduct of the chairman at the AGM where his comments were shameful.

2015 was, in many ways, a triumph for the clubs of Scotland, as many of them crawled out of the financial mire and got their houses in order at last. They’ve been on the right road for a couple of years now, and they did this during a period when our esteemed media and governing bodies had assured us that Armageddon would follow from the death of Rangers.

That it didn’t makes mugs out of them. Rather than acknowledge this, many of them have taken to telling us that we’re imagining the good things and that only “reform” can save the sport.

The fans have already done that.

In 2016, we’re going to have to do it all over again, and you know what? I’m game.

I’m up for it, and I’ll commit this website to taking a full part in that campaign.

I’ll do podcasts, re-launch the magazine, even, if it comes to it, attend one of those self-congratulatory Q&A things if that’s what it takes to get in front of people and bring them on board with this.

If we leave this to our appointed “leaders” Hell … well, you’ve seen how they feel about it.

I don’t trust them.

I don’t trust any of them.

But I trust my fellow fans and I always have.

Because they know what’s important.

They know the “credibility” of our game doesn’t come from which teams are in the league.

I firmly believe that the greatest symbol of what our sport stands for was a club called Sevco playing football in the bottom tier; that was our gift to football itself, the one time when the game here in Scottish actually set an example for the rest of the world. We put sporting integrity first, and that was our shining moment, our finest hour.

I’ve never forgotten that it happened in the face of such venom and arrogance and outright opposition, and that some of our “leaders” and many of those in the media still mourn that decision today … well they are an embarrassment and we’d be insane to leave something we love in their hands for one minute longer.

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Sums Sevco Style

rsz_istock_000017344562_fullOn Saturday, Sevco came within a few minutes of losing to Morton at home.

Denny Johnstone, the former Celtic player now at Cappielow, said his team went to Ibrox confident that they could get a result. Sides no longer fear going there, even second tier ones.

Chris Jack, one of Scotland’s “up and coming” sports journalists, a guy who simply can’t bring himself to write unemotionally about the club he loves, said no-one in the crowd should have been surprised.

A bad performance, he said, “was coming.”

Indeed it was. It had been “coming” for months, and in case he’s failed to notice it wasn’t the first time they’ve struggled badly. In fact, Warburton has been dropping points left, right and centre and his club was very lucky a late penalty decision didn’t go against them (I know, I laughed too) and that Hibs spent much of their game against Falkirk with ten men … because without those things the pressure would be unbelievable.

It’s mounting up.

What amazes me is that Jack, and others, are proposing a wholly unrealistic solution to the club’s problems; spending money.

There’s an obvious obstacle here; they’re skint.

It seems we can go over this issue over and over again, but some folk just aren’t getting it.

This baffles me, as I’m sure it baffles many of you.

Not the issue itself; we understand that just fine, as we’ve written and discussed many times.

What baffles us is that they don’t get it, and we wonder how they can keep on living in denial as they do.

Let’s go back in time for a minute, to the start of this season.

King was promising “overinvestment” but that talking halted the minute the team started to win a couple of matches. Most of us were never convinced by this nonsense talk in the first place; the figures, some as high as £20 million, were sheer pie in the sky.

They spent virtually nothing on transfer fees, and the pursuit of one player – John Eustace – became so convoluted that it was hilarious. One Celtic blog – Video Celts – got in the habit of ending every piece with the words “Mark Warburton expects to complete the deal in the next 24 hours.”

It remains unsealed to this day, and the player is a free agent.

Don’t be surprised if his name appears on the list of targets.

Let’s not forget that just six months ago we were being told that the club had plenty of money.

Back then, when hacks mentioned the Sports Direct £5 million, the word was that there was cash in the bank but as it wasn’t actually a loan there was no immediate need to pay it back.

All of a sudden, at the EGM, they announced that they’d need £2.5 million to get through the season.

No-one bothered about the £5 million at that point because there were other issues and most of the media had accepted the story about there being no need for repayment of that particular debt.

Now something else has changed.

At the recent AGM they told their fans that the money was going to repaid.

Of course, at that time they had no idea they’d lost the crucial resolution at that meeting, the one that would have given them option of selling more shares to raise some capital.

When they found that out they should have ceased with the bombast.

But King needed a way to bamboozle the Sports Direct lawyers last week, and so his legal team told the court that the bill was now paid. That didn’t turn out to be 100% accurate, as we all know well, with them now claiming they’re £500,000 short.

Do the sums.

Even if the court cases had cost them nothing at all the club that was going to have borrow £2.5 million from its directors to get through the season suddenly has to find £5 million more.

Why?

What’s changed?

If they’ve almost paid it off, where did they get the money?

Let’s try to look at this logically.

As far as we’re aware, they were under no real pressure on the £5 million.

If Sports Direct were asking for repayment they were doing so quietly, and under the radar. They appeared to understand that forcing the club wasn’t going to help anyone.

Sevco itself was dealing with the matter appropriately. There were bigger fish to fry, because the need to get through the season without administration is obviously of monumental importance.

If they hit the skids tomorrow they’ll be in serious trouble and promotion will look unlikely at best.

The cash to finish the current campaign needs to be found, at all costs.

The signing of players was always going to come second best to that and Warburton needs to start grasping that fact, and quickly. That he’s keeping the faith is admirable, I suppose, but he’s probably not studied these matters, or those he works for, as much as we have.

So some belt tightening was already going to have to happen, and the manager’s chances of getting anything to spend were already going to be somewhere between slim and none.

The decision to pay the £5 million – if indeed it was taken – appears ridiculous in light of that, even if you accept the contemptible nonsense King was talking about at the AGM, of the club’s financial position being “the envy of world football.”

The paying back of £5 million you don’t have to … that’s just dumb.

Who made that decision?

King himself, or so it seems. He told the AGM he had a teleconference with the other directors and they agreed that it should be done. From that, we can infer that the proposal was his.

So what motivated it?

Was it to avoid the court cases?

Maybe, but Sports Direct’s case of last week appeared pretty weak, at least as far as King going to jail was concerned, and on top of that Ashley doesn’t give off the impression that he’s willing to negotiate a settlement at this point.

If the club finds the money he’ll take it, but I would bet on it changing nothing in their relationship.

The more you look at this, the more King’s decision looks like pure ego on the one hand sheer presumption on the other. After all, the cash, if it’s coming, isn’t coming from his own pockets here.

As far as the manager goes, it hardly matters what the reasoning was.

Warburton wants a transfer kitty at a time when the club needs to find anywhere between £3 million – £7.5 million – depending on whether you accept that they need the full amount or are only £500,000 short – before the directors give him a thought at all, and this doesn’t take into account their voluminous legal fees or whatever the ongoing situation with Ibrox maintenance is going to cost them.

How much money do they really need?

There are a lot of unknowns.

But one thing I know for sure; the manager isn’t getting a fortune to spend on players, not even the Scottish equivalent of one.

From where I’m sitting, Warburton would be better trying to pull rabbits out of his magic hat than waiting on King coming through with the cash. Even if your business knowledge extends further than Sums Sevco Style there’s no easy way to raise that kind of cash.

I’ll tell you something else too, and it appears to be largely ignored by their fans and the press; when a manager has a playing budget four or five times bigger than any other club in the league and still needs to spend money in the January transfer window in order to be sure of success then I’d suggest he’s just another chequebook boss without a clue as to how to really build a football team.

That’s another aspect of this the media would rather not go into.

But the window is nearly open.

By the end of it, the eyes of even the blindest Sevco fan will surely do the same.

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The Ingratitude Of Sevconians

JS56340180Today saw another court battle between Mike Ashley’s people and those of Dodgy Dave King.

It wasn’t as explosive as yesterday’s, but it was instructive nonetheless.

The headline story from it will be that Sevco hasn’t actually paid back the £5 million Sports Direct loan, as their legal counsel claimed in court yesterday; in fact, according to them, they’re still trying to get the money together to do so.

They’re £500,000 short … what Ashley would regard as petty cash.

I laughed reading that, partly at my own naivety in so readily accepting that claim yesterday. This was, after all, made at the same hearing where King claimed to have amnesia on so many issues I would not have been surprised if he’d momentarily forgotten his own name.

But all that is to digress. The reason for this piece is the dollops of abuse being heaped on the freelance journalist James Doleman, who’s covering the story from the courtroom, and tweeting back to all those who’re interested.

And for that, he’s being singled out. He’s being labelled a hater.

He’s also being called out for the crowd-funding campaign he ran in order to cover his expenses. I’m going to talk about that briefly for a minute before I go on, and I hope you’ll bear with me.

It may shock some of these people to realise this, but what James Doleman does, what I do, what Paul67 does, what Phil does, it’s time consuming and it’s difficult. This is my day job; it’s not a hobby that I spend an occasional five minutes on.

Yesterday, I wrote and published four different blogs, an article for a magazine, a third of a chapter of a novel and started re-designing a digital magazine. This is a full-time gig, and James is the same, a freelance journalist and blogger of some repute.

Neither he nor myself, or any of the other bloggers with Donate buttons on their sites, is asking for charity. If people like what we do they can support it, or not.

The notion that this is rattling the tin cup is ludicrous, and I don’t feel any sense of embarrassment about it.

I know what rattling the tin cup looks like.

It’s a football club that claims its finances are the “envy of world football” asking its own fans if they can carry out maintenance work at the stadium to save the club money, and the attendant consequences when bits of the roof are falling off.

It’s King going to his own directors for soft loans to keep on the lights.

It’s the club going cap in hand to the supporter’s own “Fighting Fund” singing a chorus of “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

It’s organising a football match for charity, then sloughing off part of the proceeds to pay the bills and feeling no sense of shame at all about it.

I’m surprised they don’t recognise it themselves.

So yes, James asked for help meeting his costs, and I’ve done the same and my own work depends on the steady trickle of support I get from good people who like what I do. So we have Donate buttons and fund raising appeals … and every penny is declared to HMRC.

But let’s be clear; we’re not putting up paywalls and asking for subscription fees. There are a few sites which have online shops, but none of us is making a living selling, for example, unbranded tat ostensibly in an effort to screw a major retailer.

James is a big boy, and he’s batted back easily enough at those who’ve labelled him as some kind of scrounger. It’s those who’ve tried to label him a hater that I want to talk about.

This guy has been working as a freelance court reporter for years. I’ve been following his stuff for a while. His blog is interesting and engaging and he knows what he’s talking about. He covers any matter he thinks there’s a public interest in, and say what you like about Sevco but it’s a circus that never ends and is the subject of much attention inside and outside Scotland.

James is probably not used to the abuse he’s had in the last week, not like some of us are, but the Goon Squad now have him firmly in their sights and I fear he’ll have to tolerate it a while.

An example of the garbage he’s had to put up with:

One tweet called him a “bead rattler”. James threatened to block the guy.

And what response did he get for that?

More abuse, and the guy calling him a bigot.

How do you even begin to respond to that?

Where do you start?

You’re not dealing with ordinary, well-formed individuals here; you’re conversing with the institutionally stupid, people so dense light bends around them.

Their favourite refrain, of course, is to say we’re “obsessed.” James got that one thrown at him more than a few times in the last week. Today he posted a link to his blog to demonstrate the extent of this “obsession” … and I’m sure you can guess what it reveals.

I know why they use that word so frequently, and I’ve blogged on it several times in the past; this is their self-image talking, this idea that the reason they’re still “current” is that they’re a massive football club with wealth and power, and not an impoverished wreck still floundering in the lower leagues. They’re missing the big picture, because all they see is their own narrow view.

And in the big picture they’re nowhere.

All this attention we’re paying to events there isn’t even wholly about them; the larger issue is the governance of Scottish football. The Ibrox freak show is amusement for some, schadenfreude for others and simply banter for more. But to those of us who take the game seriously, and care about it, events at Ibrox are a microcosm of a wider problem; the cancer eating away at our national sport, rotting it from within.

But there’s more. Their attitude stinks not just because it’s the product of unbelievable – and grossly misplaced – arrogance, but because it’s fundamentally unappreciative.

At the helm of their club is a notorious liar, a man who has no qualms about gilding the lily whenever he pleases, a man a judge in his homeland says will alter his narrative to suit whatever audience he’s in front of at any given time.

Yesterday he sat in a courtroom and feigned amnesia for most of the proceeding. Then, in violation of a judge’s orders, he went outside and told a subservient media that he had won some great victory, when, in fact, he had simply avoided jail.

To me, that seems like it ought to be an occasion for relief.

For this guy it’s business as usual, and that ought to trouble these people more than it does.

The media, which today proclaimed his great win, are not going to dig deep into what’s really going on at their club.

They never have before.

Theirs is now a cut-and-paste profession; every major story they’ve “broken” in the last five years was on the forums and blogs first.

They contributed nothing to the cause of “saving Rangers” and their habit of jumping into bed with anyone who claims to want to “invest” and give a manager a “war chest” long ago ceased to be embarrassing and has been a major factor in creating the circumstances that let men like Whyte and Green in there.

King is no better than those men, and I would have thought Sevco fans would have had a great deal of interest in those proceedings yesterdays and those still to come.

But their intolerance keeps getting in the way of their common sense. James Doleman now joins the ranks of “the enemy” when all he, and others, have done is try to keep them informed about events surrounding something they claim to love.

Yes, but he’s just “an obsessed Tim with an agenda.”

If more of them had given a damn, if more of them had focussed their own meagre intellects on events at Ibrox they might not be in such a godawful state.

And they know it. And they hate it.

And that’s why they’re so pissed off all the time.

Nevertheless, their behaviour and ingratitude is shameful.

It says a lot about who they are.

(This site depends on the support of its readers. If you want to help me keep it going, you can make a donation at the link below. If every reader was able to donate a small sum every year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. I honestly couldn’t do this without you all. Many thanks in advance.)

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King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime

The-Wicker-ManThere’s a fine moment in the great British horror movie The Wicker Man when the main character is being admonished for his naivety.

In the scene he’s wearing a garish costume (as are most of the others in the iconic moment), that of a familiar comic character.

“You are the fool, Mr. Howie,” he’s told. “Punch, one of the great fool-victims of history, for you have accepted the role of king for a day, and who but a fool would do that?”

Who indeed? Three guesses.

Today, Dave King walked out of a court-room in London after Sports Direct’s efforts to have him thrown in jail for breaching a gagging order were thrown out by the judge, who was pretty scathing about the failures of their lawyers to make a coherent case as to why he should be. Instead of retiring to a five star hotel room to count his lucky stars, he grabbed the first journalist he saw and gave us all a virtuoso display of hubris.

First he claimed he’d been vindicated completely, which he hadn’t. Then he moved forward with his usual reserve and decorum, by insulting Mike Ashley and saying how the hearing had “humiliated” him. Tactful, respectful and dignified it was not.

It was, in short, exactly what one would have expected from this embarrassment of a man, a guy who deflected his way through the hearing by referencing his notoriously short memory, including, in one fantastic moment of theatre, claiming that he hadn’t realised he had his “Rangers hat on” when talking about his club’s financial relationship with the distributor, in an interview where he talked transfer funds, the manager, the direction of Sevco and a possible share issue.

He also submitted an affidavit in which he claimed he wasn’t aware of the precise nature of the gagging order itself!

Had he been on the stand at the time, one can only wonder how that would have gone down with the judge.

In the meantime, The Daily Record was putting a “magic hat” on King’s lawyer, although he was barely heard during the proceedings, with the judge dismissing the central plank of the case without hearing detailed testimony from him.

For their ridiculous display of sycophancy, in which they anointed King like a triumphant warlord, the judge admonished them saying they got “nil points for accuracy of reporting.”

He also advised King, strongly, not to talk to the press, perhaps not realising the South African had already held court, and reminded him that he had not been “acquitted” just because he wasn’t being sent to jail.

Sevco fan sites, and the Twitterati, erupted with joy at this news, perhaps not realising that this matter is far from over. It was, in fact, merely a skirmish before the real fun starts early next year, with the legal cases starting to pile up.

This wasn’t a good day for their club or its chairman. In fact, he might well have talked his way into trouble far deeper than Sports Direct were able to conjure up in this case.

This was also a bad day for the SFA.

I said in the article Dark Places & Alien Space Bats that this would be the very worst verdict for them, and I stand by that. Had he been severely sanctioned today – and not even sent to prison, simply raked over the coals – they could have acted, revoked his “fit and proper person” status and hoped it would satisfy Ashley and make him drop his coming case.

This leaves him in place, more arrogant than ever, and with his statements today in front of the media it will have angered Ashley to the point where reasoning with him will be a non-starter. The trouble coming Sevco’s way is only just beginning; today was a foretaste of it and nothing more.

The judge has made it clear there are other proceedings to be had, but they appear to be in relation to the Sports Direct injunction, which it seems the company is not for lifting.

That it will tie King and Sevco up in court for many more days and weeks is, perhaps, part of the plan. Certainly, His Honour was a little baffled as to what Sports Direct were up to when he saw the weakness of their case today, and it has to be said that lawyers as expensive as Ashley’s don’t often – if ever – drop the ball to this degree.

Something more is going on, but what it is remains a mystery although it might be instructive to consider that the estimated £200,000 Ashley laid out for this is a high price to pay for what, on paper, appeared to be a pretty weak line of attack, and I can only conclude that it’s but one angle from which he intends to come at the King regime.

If that’s the case, think for a moment on the kind of man who will spend that kind of cash for no other reason than to waste your time and fill up days in the calendar. Is that the kind of man you’d stand outside a court and insult in front of the TV cameras?

Yesterday, The Guardian ran a massive story detailing how a couple of their undercover reporters had gotten jobs in, and gone digging around, Shirebrook, the home of the Sports Direct operation, and what it uncovered was awful yet unsurprising.

The business practices of the company Ashley owns are appalling, and the existence of such a place is anathema to me as a socialist.

It infuriates me that so many of us should be looking to him to take the action our clubs should have, in trying to get to the bottom of the corrupt behaviour of the SFA, and I want, at all costs, to avoid seeming as if I’m lionising this guy or making him some sort of poster boy for the campaign to reform our game here in Scotland.

I would not want this man as an ally, in any fight, against any opponent, but I definitely would not want him as an enemy, and Dave King appears to be doing everything in his considerable power to make sure this battle goes on and on and on.

And who but a fool would do that?

(This site depends on the support of its readers. If you want to help me keep it going, you can make a donation at the link below. If every reader was able to donate a small sum every year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. I honestly couldn’t do this without you all. Many thanks in advance.)

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Sevco: A Storm Off Starboard

ratsI just got done having watched the final season of Deadliest Catch, perhaps the best reality TV show I’ve seen. It reminded me, in many ways, of having read Sebastian Junger’s wonderful book A Perfect Storm last year.

After I’d finished reading that book I wrote an article for this site on the Sevco crisis in which I used a number of examples from the story to highlight issues relating to the club.

I called it Storm Front Coming, and it was prescient in a number of ways, especially in relation to the intentions of a man named Mike Ashley, who some of the media were telling us wanted Sevco as a valuable asset, to be competitive, that he saw value in “Champions League exposure.”

All nonsense, of course, as most of us were well aware.

That piece was well received by non-Sevco readers; I got a lot of nice emails and good comments about that one.

It went down like a lead weight with their fans, though, who took serious offence to any suggestion theirs wasn’t a sound ship, and to the notion that Ashley was only interested in sucking the marrow off their bones.

Yet look where we are now, on the day before Dodgy Dave King goes head to head with Ashley’s lawyers in court.

Much has changed in the year and a bit since I posted that piece.

Yet much remains exactly the same.

This vessel is still sailing in the stormiest of seas.

There’s little good to say about them on or off the park at the moment; their fans will say that’s ridiculous, when they are top of the second tier and in the third tier cup final, but actually some of them realise things aren’t going terribly well.

For all the “great start” they’ve made to the season, Hibs are perilously close to them in the title race and winning the third tier cup competition at the fourth time of asking – if they do – is not going to satiate the appetites of fans who stupidly bought into the Survival Myth and still expect to see this club playing in Europe in the near future.

Their League Cup exit came as a drastic, and sobering, shock although they and their manager try to laugh it off as though it were a minor matter.

The longer you watch this club, and the more you listen to these gullible fans, the more you come to understand what the Survival Myth really is; not a comfort blanket, as some have stated, but a drug they can’t manage to shake, a continuing act of psychological self-harm that combines the worst elements of obsession, arrogance and delusion.

And of course, it has affected all of Scottish football, with our governing bodies willing to bend over backwards to accommodate those who have a vested interest in promoting it.

The dark clouds on the horizon haunt the SFA as much as Sevco, because a lot of people at Hampden are deeply involved in the goings on up at Ibrox. The water level is rising around them. They are, literally, in this up their necks.

We know they were aware that Craig Whyte intended to crash Rangers, and that this would leave hundreds of creditors, great and small, out of pocket.

We know they looked the other way when allegations surfaced in relation to Green, even giving Sevco a green light to investigate itself.

We know too that they breached their own regulations to allow King a seat on the Ibrox board.

I could go on. And on. And on.

There is no hiding place for them if this Force 12 blows across the deck.

This will overwhelm them.

Yesterday, Roger Mitchell, the former SPL CEO, went public with his view that Sevco will come to regret putting King on the board, that he is “damaged” and ought not to have been granted “fit and proper person” status.

I agree with him, but King is just a symptom of the bigger problem.

The bigger problem is at the SFA itself.

After years of studying this stuff, I often ponder just what kind of state Sevco would be in if we had an association that treated them like any other club.

A big part of what makes the coming storm so destructive is that the SFA are about to be swamped at just the moment the Ibrox operation might need them most.

It is inconceivable to almost all of us that Stewart Regan can survive his own court appearance against Ashley in April next year. The Sports Direct supremo has him in the gun sights and he is a dead shot.

The SFA may try to buy him off, or to get him to quit, by throwing King on the fire as a sacrifice, but this isn’t likely to cut much slack with a man so set on winning.

The hurricane sweeping across the sea towards these people is going to blow away everything in front of it.

By the time it passes, the wreckage will stretch over miles of flat, calm ocean.

The scenario we’re looking at is one where Regan has gone and possibly takes a few others with him; it’s one where the clubs are flexing their muscles; where the league’s governing body is under pressure to play by the rules; where the media has been exposed as complicit in the whole Sevco scandal (as they are) and has no moral authority to even attempt to influence the debate, and where the Ibrox club is impoverished and endangered.

Removed of the association CEO who has protected them, without Ogilvie on hand to offer his own brand of “look the other way”, and with Doncaster exposed to the harsher realities of his own position with a mood amongst the other clubs that is in no way sympathetic to another attempted stitch-up, Sevco will be alone, its leaders standing on the deck of a floundering ship, staring out into the rain.

Reform will be possible then, real reform, and not the phony kind that’s raised its head this week.

I mean a reformatted League Cup, to create a group stage, but one which excludes the clubs playing in Europe?

Why does the cynic in me see a clear motivation of providing “more money for Sevco” in that arrangement?

Why, when I contemplate which club will gain the most out of that, do I think of them first?

Could it be that I see most of the matches in this competition being played in front of three quarters empty grounds?

That I see no real benefit to other clubs except more games?

Some of those clubs are already complaining about this, saying they weren’t consulted. Other clubs say they were, but you know what? Regardless of whether they were consulted or not, I have limited sympathy for the leaders of a lot of our teams right now; Doncaster and others only exist because these people haven’t acted decisively and removed them.

What, precisely, will it take for them to act?

When he and Regan all but destroyed the game here as a commercial endeavour in 2012 with their “Scottish football is worthless without Rangers in the top flight” guff, that ought to have been that; jotters, ta-ta, pack your pencils and beat it.

The fans knew it. The fans wanted it.

The clubs failed us all.

You can’t have followed these events and doubt it.

Today, secure in his job, with the “confidence” of the teams, Doncaster is singing that old familiar song about a 14 team top flight, coincidentally as Sevco and Hibs are within touching distance of each other.

I mean, seriously?

These people will do anything to see their beloved Ibrox club in the top flight, and if the directors of other teams haven’t twigged that yet – that their own wishes and ambitions will be subservient to that one – then I don’t know what to say to them.

This failure is theirs too, and if the day ever comes and the duopoly that almost destroyed them is restored they can explain to their own fans why it was allowed to happen.

Sooner or later the directors of other clubs have to wake up. Stewart Regan standing in court, fumbling his words, whilst Doncaster waits on his own turn in the dock as a witness for Craig Whyte … well, yes, that ought to do it.

In the short term, it will barely matter anyway.

This League Cup wheeze has a shelf life of five minutes, and if clubs are complaining about it before it’s even started I have doubts it’ll be more than a one season wonder. Whatever attraction it does have will wane quickly, once the novelty wears off.

The idea isn’t terrible, by the way, but the costs of putting on these games will be higher, in many instances, than the clubs can bring in at the gate, as fans offer their own verdict on the changes.

At Ibrox this is more acute than elsewhere, as the huge expense of match-day can turn a possible source of profit into a loss-making endeavour before you know it, and that this might not even benefit Sevco financially is hilarious to me.

The governing bodies have bent over backwards for this club in the last few years and not one decision they’ve taken has made life at Ibrox better.

Why should this be any different?

Rangers was like a sword boat that the Department of Fish & Game allowed to leave port overloaded with more gear than any other ship in the fleet. It was against regulations, those which existed to protect other vessels from unfair practices, but it also ran against those safety rules which were in place to protect the boat itself.

For years the captain and crew rode their luck, but when the hurricane swept over them in 2012 they went down like a steel anchor.

In a similar fashion, Sevco is like a ship holed below the waterline, allowed to leave port although the authorities are aware of the cracks in the superstructure. Furthermore, it’s one which is captained by a notorious character who cheated other regulatory bodies and was partly responsible for Rangers’ sinking.

As such, he ought never to have been given command of a boat again.

The authorities know this too, and have spent the last year crossing their fingers that everything would be alright on his watch anyway.

That it’s so swiftly gone bad must be haunting their every waking moment, and when this ship starts to sink they’ll do anything to keep the stink of the scandal from their own door.

Anything, that is, except do the only thing that can save Sevco, which is the spending of copious amounts of money.

Without that, their ability to direct influence events once this ship runs into trouble is much as it was when Rangers began to slide below the surface; in other words, zero.

With no Coast Guard cutter on the horizon, what is this club going to do?

One of the things I learned from Sebastian Junger’s book is that sending out a “mayday” quite literally means that everyone on the ship has given up and they’ve accepted that they’re going down.

The word itself originates from the French, “m’aidez”, which in English means “help me”.

For a while now that signal has been getting pumped out of the Blue Room on a fairly steady rhythm.

King’s wee visit to Hampden last week was either them answering or his making sure it was being properly heard; either way, they’re not the people he really wanted to be talking to.

A little sympathy, and maybe the promise of league reconstruction talks, is all they’re able to offer, and he needs those things, but not as much as he needs the money, and besides a change in the weather and he’ll no longer be able to rely on them.

In the meantime, they just keep on repeating the message;

“Mayday, mayday, this is the HMS Sevco … we are in urgent need of assistance … Mayday, mayday …”

But Jim McColl isn’t picking up the phone.

Brian Kennedy is slinging them a deafy.

The “Rangers minded businessmen” who King talked about, but conveniently didn’t want to name, haven’t been forthcoming.

The current board members are keeping things rolling along with soft loans, but they’ll last only as long as their patience does.

When the next distress flare goes up from Ibrox, the one to signify that there’s water in the engine room, shorting the circuits and turning out the lights as well as silencing the radio, it’s more than possible that storm will already have changed everything around them.

There they’ll be, friendless, alone, in the midst of the big waves, waiting for the ship to go down.

King can’t save them, and no-one else wants to, but what will hurt most of all will be that lengthy wait for the Coast Guard … followed by the realisation that help is no longer going to come.

This is the Perfect Storm.

Hell mend everyone caught in the path of it.

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Sevco, Dark Places & Alien Space Bats

Dave-King-XXX-high-resWe in Scottish football who’ve been following the Sevco story have had one heck of a day already, as we head into what might prove to be a defining week.

First up was the news that the Sevco shareholders have voted against Resolution 10 at their AGM, which was their only visible means of raising money in the short term.

Devastating.

And yet I am less than devastated.

Adrian Durham, who this website slated earlier this year, has written another bizarre article today saying Celtic fans miss a club called Rangers.

Does it sound like we do?

I’d like nothing more than to see Hibs catch them, forcing them into another play-off, and then failure.

You’d think Durham would learn from the slagging he took last time, but in he goes again like a kid who’s been burned once but insists on sticking his hand in the flames again.

There’s just one word for that; idiocy.

He’s not alone, of course. In the Scottish media, just writing nonsense is considered a masterful performance, worthy of awards.

In The Telegraph Roddy Forsyth has written another of his own barmy pieces trying to equate what Rangers did with the numerous legal tax avoidance mechanisms which individuals and companies all across the world exploit.

This comes days after The Evening Times ran a headline suggesting that Sevco’s financial position was “the envy of world football.”

At the same time, Celtic are being spun as in crisis because of a couple of tweets from a malcontented player.

Uhuh.

From the ridiculous to the sublimely ludicrous.

These people live in a parallel universe, I swear to God they do. They believe in things that are so utterly out of step with reality you want to give them a good shake sometimes.

Someone asked me recently if I can see a way of forestalling another administration event at Ibrox.

Today this news about the share issue only reinforces what I’ve long believed; there’s only one possible solution to their ills.

Their fans enjoy alternative history; Hell, they practically live in one.

The Survival Myth, the Victim Myth, this notion of still being a huge club … it’s all unreal, all the stuff of Narnia, but they believe it.

See, part of the problem is the media that publishes this stuff. They’ve proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there’s still a market for “alternative history” fiction … and as most of their stuff appears to fall into this category they’ll understand me when I tell them what I think is the only thing that can save Sevco now.

It’s simple. Alien space bats.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a phrase used in the alternative history genre to describe a plot point or event that is so implausible it almost breaks the narrative structure, as in “Sevco needs five million to see them through the season … they won’t get the money but they can conquer the Earth instead by using alien space bats …”

In other words, it’s going to take something out of left field, something ridiculous, an Arab billionaire with King Billy tattooed on his backside maybe.

Or Dave King finding money under the mattress … you know, large sums of undeclared South African Rand.

Other than that, I think they’re done for.

The Three Bears can loan them all the money they can get out of their pockets in the meantime, but finally that will run out … and then it’s all over.

King is the problem, of course, as most people are all too aware. The Scottish FA might love him, the Scottish media might idolise him, but business people don’t trust him and don’t want to be seen to be involved with a man of his background and reputation.

As long as he’s there, that’s not going to change.

Before Breaking Bad took the title of Greatest Television Show Ever Made, my favourite was a cop show with a difference; Shawn Ryan’s The Shield.

There’s a moment in Season 6 that always makes me laugh and I’ve been thinking about that moment lately in the context of Scottish football, the SFA and Dodgy Dave King.

In the scene, Vic Mackey, the main character, a dirty cop par excellence, is investigating the murder of a society girl. His objective is twofold; to catch the killer and to steer the investigation away from any inconvenient fact that will harm the reputation of her family and particularly her father, a man of some prominence and position.

Vic’s former boss, and candidate for high office, David Aceveda, comes to see him to ask how the investigation is proceeding.

“It’s getting to a dark place,” Vic tells him.

“Meaning?” Aceveda asks.

Vic gives it to him straight; the victim turns out to have been a drug addicted prostitute who paid for her stuff with sexual acts too graphic to go into …

“Other than that,” Vic says, “she was Pippi Longstocking …”

And that’s what we’re dealing with here; a football association which has allowed a criminal convicted on over 40 tax evasion counts, to take over one of its clubs.

This guy is due in court over the next day or two, charged with breaching a high court injunction, and he’s already on a suspended sentence for contempt in the country he calls home.

He’s also a congenital liar, as esteemed law lords in that nation can attest and he has one hand in the pockets of his fellow directors and another in the hands of his club’s own fans … without ever having put one in his own.

Other than that, he’s a perfectly fit and proper person.

And Brutus too is an honourable man …

In the meantime, BDO has announced their intention to appeal the Big Tax decision, which has a lot of people banging drums and celebrating wildly, as well as pointing their fingers at the Internet Bampots as if this decision somehow means the central thrust of what we’ve been saying for the past few years was wrong.

So this saga still has a ways to run. Scottish football’s governors, who are frantically trading manoeuvring space for time, like Soviet soldiers during the Great Patriotic War, have themselves a little room to breathe. No decision on title stripping is imminent, unless the Supreme Court tells BDO to chase themselves, which it well might.

But this delay is a disaster for football governance here.

It’s put off a series of decisions that, sooner or later, absolutely have to be made if we’re going to move the game forward. I don’t believe for one second that the Supreme Court, even if it hears the case, will over-turn this verdict, and that simply means that these issues will be waiting to confront the sport at another time.

In the meantime, chaos reigns.

Later this week, Dave King will face Mike Ashley in court. One suspects yesterday’s appeal decision may well be the best news day Sevco will have for quite a while. The ground ahead looks rocky at best, and they can cling to nonsense stories like Warburton rejecting a possible move to Fulham all they like; this is a club running into big trouble.

The SFA is, sooner or later, going to have to account for why they’ve allowed a guy like King to get his hands on the club. I have a sneaking feeling they know that quite well and they’re getting themselves ready for doing what has to be done.

Want my view on it? I think King will have left the Ibrox boardroom by March.

This guy is now simply a millstone around people’s necks.

With him in charge, Ashley will continue trying to tie them in knots. He’s also got one eye on the SFA now, and they’ve got to be having collective heart failure at Hampden as a consequence of that. The man from Sports Direct knows neither the club nor the association has the cash to fight a series of battles with him in the courts.

King doesn’t even live in this country, so his presence around the club is negligible, and when he does touch down on these shores he has brought trouble with him, and he multiplies it every time he talks to the press. His ego is far bigger than his brain but not quite as big as his mouth.

The only reason to keep King around, at all, was the so-called financial muscle he had at his disposal, but that’s turned out to be a busted flush.

So, I ask you, with the walls closing in on all sides what is the merit in keeping him around, either for Sevco or the association? The SFA must now wish he’d never been granted “fit and proper person” status, and they might even view this week as an opportunity to get rid, and hope that it satisfies Ashley enough to make him go away.

The very worst outcome here, for them, would be for the courts this week to do little or nothing, to slap King on the wrist and tell him not to be a naughty boy. That would leave this thing in flux, and only give Ashley an incentive to drum up trouble elsewhere.

At the same time, it’s become increasingly hard to shake the notion that King himself would love to leave all this behind, that whatever motivated him to get involved has been replaced by the dread certainty that this is all too much for him, that he’s better off away.

I can think of no better scenario for him than for the SFA to change its mind now, and do what it ought to have done in the first place. He can walk away from that clean, blaming all around him, and keeping his “reputation” in the eyes of the dopier Sevco supporters.

Whatever his end game was it’s over now. All that’s left to decide is the manner in which he finally leaves Ibrox behind once and for all.

We live in interesting times.

As Vic Mackey might have said, we’re “getting to a dark place.”

For the SFA and the Ibrox operation, the need for some Alien Space Bats has never been more acute.

The next few weeks are going to be … busy.

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Friends Like These

Walter Smith has confirmed in a statement that he is leading a new bid to buy RangersWell it’s been a fun few days in the Celtic blogosphere.

Let’s take the return – the welcome return – of RTC to Twitter.

The information he’s putting out there is, as usual, amazing.

The documents which show that Walter Smith had an EBT are not at all surprising, but they offer an insight into the Real Rangers Men which should intrigue everyone.

I wrote an article for this site last year called The Enemies of Rangers?. I made it clear who I believed those enemies to be; the people who’ve lied to their supporters over and over again.

Since that article was written, the inconvenient truth about Ally McCoist has seeped into the public domain.

When he said “we don’t do walking away” some of us realised he was talking about sticking it out on a huge and unjustified salary, that he was actually saying he’d be hanging in there as long as the terms and conditions were to his liking.

We tried to point that out.

Sevco fans didn’t listen, but they can no longer be in denial about what McCoist was; a leech, a fat, well fed leech who had every incentive to stay when others went.

He’s never going to come close to those earnings again.

Indeed, my prediction, made back when Sevco was born in the lower leagues, that he would never again manage a team in top flight football, anywhere, looks more secure by the day.

He and his predecessor, Walter Smith himself, did as much as any two people apart from Murray to speed that club towards the inevitable graveyard. They behaved with a selfishness that was, and still is, absolutely appalling, and yet their role in the downfall of that club remains largely unscrutinised except on certain blogs and websites.

Back in 2012, Alex Thomson broke ranks on this issue to become the first mainstream journalist in the UK to actually question the role played by Smith in what happened to Rangers.

It was commonly known, at the time, that the then boss was one of the loudest voices at the club raised against the austerity package Lloyds’ point man, Donald Muir, was trying to implement.

I think, to this day, that would have saved them.

What happened instead was that Smith went on the radio and told the world the bank was running the club, and in doing so he got the supporters behind a vicious campaign against them.

The banners, protesting against Lloyds, began to turn up at the ground. Impromptu protests sprung up outside the headquarters and at local branches. The calls came for supporters to start closing their accounts en masse.

Instead of offering a rousing chorus in praise of the one man on the board who was trying to enforce fiscal sanity on the rest – and the rest included Paul Murray and Dave King, let’s not forget – instead they were united in singing Money’s Too Tight To Mention.

Stop for a moment and ponder that for a second, the sheer insanity of what these people were doing.

Smith had said the bank was running the club. What he meant effectively was that Rangers existed at their indulgence.

Think about the idiocy, the lunacy, that’s required to actually spit in the faces of the people who are keeping your lights on.

The banks were the best friends Rangers ever had.

The nine in a row years would not have happened without them.

The club got to 2012 precisely because the banks were letting them spend far more than they ought to have. Forget EBT’s. This club was financially doped for years beyond count, before Murray ever embarked on that scheme.

Now we know that Smith was a recipient of one of those “trust funds”, thanks to what’s now in the public domain.

Aside from his own huge salary, he, too was taking a wee bit extra.

He spent years telling the world how committed he was to the club. In point of fact, the money was right and that’s what mattered. In fact, we can see, clearly, that there was barely an individual connected with the Ibrox operation who wasn’t sucking the marrow off the bones.

How tough must it have been for players and executives when they realised the gravy train was about to come to a sudden stop?

We’ve all been saying for a while now that the worst enemies of the club were the people inside its own walls, and that’s still the case today.

Only this time, there’s a new man at the helm.

I don’t have to tell anyone how I feel about Dave King or his alleged plans for the club. Nothing he says or does stacks up, and in doing a similar thing to what Rangers did over Lloyds – picking a fight with the people keeping the lights on – he’s dragged the club into a legal and financial dogfight against a guy with the means to shut them down.

Today Sports Direct released a statement accusing King of “misleading the fans.”

We’ve been saying much the same thing since he rode into town, and I understand why the supporters don’t want to hear it. There is no messiah on the horizon for this club, no-one waiting in the wings if King’s revolution upends and he’s forced to admit what we all know.

They’ve picked this guy. This is the last throw of the dice before hard times.

Those hard times are coming whether he’s there or not, but the truth of that will come down like an anvil if Ashley hammers him in court this time next week. God help them then.

In the meantime, King, like Murray, and like Smith, has his wee favourites and he’s not shy about promoting them.

Unlike those guys, King doesn’t choose them based on any skills they might have.

His decision to promote Chris Graham to the board could only have come from someone rewarding sheer sycophancy, without a clue as to what that move represented. It blew up, spectacularly, when the “fan rep” had to resign within days.

Yesterday, he appointed John Brown as the club’s ambassador for a trip to Russia, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Moscow Dynamo tour of the UK at the end of the Second World War. I can think of few less credible people to be representing a football club in an official capacity, but this is Sevco, and there’s something almost beautiful about the decision.

This is the sneering, semi-literate halfwit who Hugh Keevins once famously said wouldn’t have green jelly at his table at a night out once. A complete muppet, a goon, right out of nutjob Central Casting.

The guy who once made headlines standing on a doorstep shouting about title deeds, in front of a howling mob, foaming at the mouth, will now be travelling to Russia wearing a club blazer and tie.

Ambassador John Brown.

Wow. Just wow.

Sevco fans don’t like me much.

That’s hardly a surprise.

But sometimes you need someone from the outside to tell you the truth a friend won’t.

When you consider who their idols are, and the way those people have behaved, they should be welcoming any advice that doesn’t come from the Real Rangers Men.

This is an absolute shambles.

That they don’t want to hear that is only one reason they’re heading down the tubes.

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A Very Scottish Scandal: How Rangers Almost Wrecked Scottish Football – Part Two

craig-whyte-691403225(This is Part 2 of a lengthy article for this site and another one on the saga that saw Rangers fall into administration and liquidation, and how they and the governing bodies almost wrecked our national sport. Originally intended to be in two parts, this has grown to the point where it has to be considered a four-part piece with the rest soon to follow.

The last section charted the story of how Rangers was built on bank debt and tax evasion, how the party ended in 2008 and of how the club was allowed to get away with it all because it had friends in the governing bodies and the media.

This part tells the incredible story of the reign of Craig Thomas Whyte, and about how that same media exalted him without cause, how the governing bodies conspired with him without shame and how a handful of bloggers and serious mainstream media journalists investigated him without fear or favour.)

Part Seven: The Start Of The Whytewash ….

The high point of Craig Whyte’s time at Rangers came only 10 days after he took over the club, when they won their 54th, and final Scottish Premier League title. They were still betting everything on European football income, and winning the SPL had given them a potential path back to the riches of the UEFA Champions League.

Walter Smith, the manager, was due to leave at the end of that season and in a press conference after the match he told the waiting journalists that Whyte would have to deliver big money to “continue the success” at the club.

At that point, they had a squad of highly paid footballers, and operating expenses of over £40 million a year. The financial crisis was receding, but people were still feeling the pinch.

Smith’s statement was the purest sign you could get that the “Murray Way” of doing things at Ibrox was still very much part of the club’s DNA, and why not? Rangers hadn’t had to live within its means for nearly 30 years.

Three days later, Whyte told the media that the new boss, Ally McCoist, would get the money that he needed. It was a foolish promise to make when you considered that with Lloyds now gone they had no credit line from a bank and that the directors would be forced to personally carry any shortfall in funds.

But that kind of talk was needed to sell season tickets, and between those and European football income it might well have be enough to see them through the following campaign.

Just six days after making that promise, nine days after they won the title and only nineteen after he had secured control, the bloodbath started. Alastair Johnston and Paul Murray were kicked off the board. The chief executive, Martin Bain, and the Finance Director, Donald McIntyre, were suspended. Whyte’s gunsights were also trained on those who were left.

Their time would come. He could afford to wait.

In June, Bain announced that he was going to sue the club for breach of contract. When his case finally arrived at the courts, in September that year, Rangers were already reeling from one hammer blow after another.

The summer transfer business wasn’t what Rangers fans had been hoping for; there were no multi-million pound signings, but seven players were brought to the club for £4 million. There were a rash of outgoings, as several out of contract players weren’t offered new deals.

None of it significantly weakened the playing squad; in fact, the Scottish media, and the Rangers management team, were delighted with the business, and big things were predicted for the season.

On 26 July, Malmo travelled to Ibrox for the first leg of their key Champions League qualifying match. Rangers lost 1-0. A week later, on 3 August, they exited that competition after an ill-tempered 1-1 draw away from home. It was a disaster. Champions League revenues vastly outstripped those in the UEFA Cup, and the club needed them to stay afloat.

On 25 August even that was no longer there for them, when a 1-1 draw at NK Maribor, after a 2-1 defeat at home, saw them crash out of Europe for the second time in a month.

The hole this left in the balance sheet was enormous, somewhere between £10 million and £15 million. When their accounts came out later that year, they showed a profit of a mere £76,000 for the previous year.

European income had been keeping on the lights, quite literally, leaving the club just one season from disaster.

That season had arrived, and in the interim, player salaries had increased as all the top stars were offered new deals, and new players were purchased.

Things were bad, they shortly got worse.

The following month, when he appeared in front of the judge, in his case against the club and Whyte, Martin Bain’s lawyer told the court he believed the club was in serious financial trouble and would run out of capital by the end of the season. The judge believed him. He froze £500,000 in assets, in anticipation of a future court date.

Bain and the judge were right to be worried.

A lot of stuff about the club’s financial positon was already seeping into the public domain, in no small part because of more trouble with the taxman …

Part Eight: The Taxman Cometh …

On 10 August 2011, an astonishing thing happened at Ibrox. Sherriff officers came to the stadium, to serve paperwork on the club in relation to the Discounted Options Scheme, the Wee Tax Case, as it was known. An online journalist, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain – who, in fact, had been the man who brought the story of HMRC’s Big Tax Case demand to the attention of the world – had written a story earlier that week saying they were due; the club denied it and, as usual, the media ran with the denials and poured scorn on the idea.

The following day they all ran with the “exclusive” story, of course.

The sheriff officers’ visit was a crucial moment in this saga; it was the moment when things that had been going on behind the scenes momentarily came to light, like the tip of an iceberg, visible above the waves but hiding much more. The importance of it was not confined to the Whyte regime; it’s a moment that still scares the SFA.

The taxman had been investigating goings on at Ibrox for four years at this point, and whilst they believed that EBT’s per se were a form of tax evasion and were pursuing this vigorously, they already had precedent for saying that the Discounted Options Scheme was.

Discounted Options Schemes had been made illegal in 2003, and in November 2010, HMRC had won a landmark battle in the Aberdeen Asset Management case where they tried to apply retroactive punishment on that very point.

They presented Rangers with a bill for the Discounted Options Scheme almost immediately, but the club rejected the initial settlement offer. When HMRC had asked if side contracts existed, the club had flatly denied it.

By February 2011 HMRC knew that was a lie.

On 11 February, HMRC sent a letter to the club laying out a new payment demand, having revised their claim of November, adding interest and updating the claim to backdate it to a time they hadn’t even been aware of it at first.

HMRC’s communique also revealed their knowledge of the side letters.

The letter did not dwell on the matter, but reminded Rangers that they had previously denied this.

HMRC’s letter made it clear that it had been taken into account.

Rangers’ own legal adviser, Andrew Thornhill QC, read that letter and sent one to the club shortly afterwards, in which his advice was clear; plead no contest to the DOS EBT and pay the tab. He was particularly concerned with those side letters and that HMRC had discovered them; he knew that taking it to a tribunal would have been a losing battle where the club’s malfeasance would have been put out there for everyone to see.

Rangers decided to pay. They arranged a meeting with HMRC for March, where the two parties hashed it all out. We know this because the bill appeared in their April accounts, informing the wider world of its existence for the first time.

On 6 May, Craig Whyte took over the club. The bill was still outstanding at that point. On 10 May, Whyte told the Rangers fans that there was no tax bill outstanding; he admitted they were appealing the Big Tax Case, but didn’t mention the payable due on the Discounted Options Scheme.

Yet the very next day another meeting took place between Rangers representatives and the taxman. HMRC made it clear that the bill was due, immediately, pointing out that they had the power to levy further penalties and costs on the club if it didn’t follow at once.

They sent a further letter, to that effect, to the Ibrox club on 20 May, which was to be their final warning before additional action was taken.

That bill was due. That bill was unpaid, and that had been the status of it since the club’s own lawyer had said they should find the money and get it sorted out.

On 2 June, the sheriff officers served notice on Rangers for the first time. No-one knew about it, and the event went unreported, or even speculated on. It was to be two more months before the more famous visit by the taxman’s hard guys was reported in the press, and this one with pictures which made it undeniable to even the most hardened cynic or faithful supporter.

Pressures were mounting up on Rangers and on the shoulders of the Motherwell Born Billionaire. The club was embroiled in chaos. Board members had been purged. They had exited Europe, twice, in quick succession and now bailiffs had visited the ground.

The bill was still unpaid on 2 September. The taxman sent Whyte and the club a demand for payment which brooked no compromise. At the same time, a firm of lawyers had submitted a demand for £35,000 which was still unpaid, and they were taking the matter to the courts to get their own money, as fears that the club could go bust were growing inside Ibrox and elsewhere across Scottish football.

By the time Martin Bain and his lawyer got in front of a judge on 14 September things were already bad and getting worse. The court froze £500,000, money the club simply didn’t have. The judge accepted that there was a “real risk” of them going bust. A month after that, Donald McIntyre, their former finance director, put in a claim for £300,000.

Just six days after McIntyre made his move, on 20 October, the real crash came.

Part Nine: Vindication For The Bampots

At some point over the preceding months, a group of online bloggers and commentators had started to play an actual role in these events. The most famous of them was, and remains, an anonymous fellow who goes by the name The Rangers Tax Case. His blog was the first reference point for all of us who wanted an education in these affairs, and a place where the issues around them could be discussed and dissected.

There has probably never been a more important website in the history of Scottish football. It was where the information on Whyte was slowly, but surely, amassed and exchanged and it was the focal point for some of the campaigns that followed. But above all that, it was the first source of information we had on the scale of what Rangers had done.

RTC, as the site became known, went on to scoop the Orwell Prize for investigative journalism; it was an honour that belonged not only to the sites anonymous founder but to everyone involved in it, everyone who dug out a piece of information or uncovered a trail of breadcrumbs. You had to follow the work these guys were doing to fully get it, but it was, and remains, an extraordinary collective achievement, one that changed the game here forever.

I got involved in commentating on this saga at around about this time, working on a magazine with the team at another famous blog, Celtic Quick News. The magazine’s first issue came out in August 2011, so we were literally on hand to chart the course of the Craig Whyte disaster and all that came after it. Looking back on early issues now, and in the online debates that were going on, it’s incredible to me how far ahead of the media curve we actually were.

Yet for all that, we were disparaged by those same tired hacks.

They even invented a name for us, one we took and pinned on as a badge of honour and which we still wear today; the Internet Bampots.

Yet for that, for all the tremendous work these two sites and others were doing, the whole thing might have stayed an internet joke until the hammer came down in February 2012 had it not been for two brilliant investigative journalists in the mainstream press, Alex Thomson of Channel 4 and BBC Scotland’s Mark Daly.

These guys were on the ball. They brought the story to the attention of a wider audience. They put it on television, and that took it off the net forever. The Scottish mainstream press never admitted that we got this so right and they so wrong, but we’re not so leery of giving credit where it’s due. These two men uncovered much we hadn’t, and they published stuff the Internet Bampots would not have been able to. Without Daly and Thomson so much that was secret might have stayed that way for a long, long time. These guys, literally, shattered the can of worms.

On 18 October, the club made a twin announcement. First, John Grieg and John McLelland, two of the remaining directors on the Ibrox board, resigned, claiming they’d been isolated and marginalised in the boardroom. That was bad enough for Rangers fans to take, but the second announcement was a warning shot across everyone’s bow.

The club announced that it had broken off all relations with the BBC over a documentary that was due to air later that week. This was to be the first time, but not the last, that the club and the national broadcaster would come into conflict.

Two days later, on 20 October, Scotland found out why as the BBC broadcast a stunning documentary; Rangers – The Inside Story, fronted by the brilliant, and soon to be legendry, Mark Daly, a man who later went on to blow the lid off the biggest scandal in athletics.

It was the mainstream media’s first look at the hitherto untold (in their case) tale of Craig Thomas Whyte, and it laid out the story of the man who had taken over, and his early business history.

Whyte was not a billionaire, of course, and even the hacks had long since stopped referring to him as one. It was revealed later that the “Motherwell Born Billionaire” stories had originated with a PR firm who simply gave the Scottish hacks their instructions on what to say when people asked just how much money Whyte actually had.

The show blew the last remaining holes in his credibility, and theirs.

Rangers – The Inside Story was a startling journalistic achievement, for which Daly and his bosses ought to be proud; amongst the allegations it aired were claims that Whyte had been struck off as a director, in 2000, for a period of seven years; that investigators believed he had fraudulently run at least one company, Re-Tex Plastics, from behind the scenes during that time; that the company had been involved in a phony share issue and a tax fraud and that, furthermore, Whyte had even appointed a phantom firm of auditors to do its books!

The Internet Bampots had not found this stuff, but it had fully vindicated our view, held from the start, that Whyte was the dodgiest of dodgy geezers and not someone you’d want within 100 miles of any football club with which you had the slightest interest.

The documentary not only uncovered Whyte’s business history, but the rogues gallery with whom he’d been surrounding himself for years, including a convicted fraudster named Kevin Sykes. The program quoted Sykes during a 2001 courtroom appearance, where he laid out the Whyte MO for posterity. It’s worth pondering for a moment.

“What Whyte will do is buy a stake in a failing UK business, and it will be up to me, then, to assist him in restructuring the business, to be blunt, to be able to leave the unsecured creditors behind. Legally, of course.”

You could not have a wished for a more cogent, coherent, summation of what was about to happen at Ibrox over the next few months.

Whyte was no longer working alongside Sykes, at least as far as anyone’s been able to find out, but he was busying away behind the scenes, nonetheless. He knew, by this point, what the club’s financial situation was like, and he had a fair idea what to do next.

Because Whyte had already had some of the key meetings.

He had already started the ball rolling for what would happen on 14 February 2012.

Those meetings had, in no small part, already laid down the groundwork for the administration, and possible liquidation, of Rangers.

And the people who’d been at them?

The unlikeliest folk imaginable.

Or, at least, they would have been, anywhere but Scotland.

Part Ten: Saviours In The Shadows

Whatever his specific plans for Rangers had been at the start, Craig Whyte had known from the moment the full time whistle blew in the Europa League tie with Maribor that the club was heading for administration, and possibly worse.

Whether or not he’d taken the decision to start with-holding tax revenues at that point is irrelevant; he must have realised that was the logical route of travel. There was little point in paying some bills but not others, and he’d clearly already concluded that, in keeping with his previous strategies, that anything kept from the creditors now would be kept from them for good.

It was the business he was in. He’d been doing it for years.

Yet Whyte was in a slightly unusual position when it came to Rangers. This was not a private company one could simply wipe out and walk away from. This was a massive football club, with massive exposure and media interest, one which David Murray had once described, with typical hubris, as “the second biggest institution in Scotland after the church”.

In order to douse what he knew would be a firestorm Whyte needed friends, people who could help him smooth the path towards his eventual destination, and he needed guarantees that the club itself could emerge on the other side of it.

He reached out to the only people who could give those to him; to the governing bodies.

This is where the Rangers situation, already a scandal involving the club, the bank, Murray and a cast of characters out of a Hollywood movie widened to become one that involved the SFA and the SPL, and became of grave concern to everyone who cares about the game.

In early October, Whyte flew to London and met with two men, Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping, of the Scottish Premier League. By his account, he told those men, at that meeting, that the club was in a dire financial position and that administration was near certain. In addition to that, he says he told them that the issues they faced were so tough that getting a CVA was “unlikely.”

Whyte has a difficult relationship with the truth, but there’s no reason not to believe this version of events. Indeed, emails followed confirming that these discussions had been had, emails in which the SPL CEO suggested that Whyte share with them a “road map” spelling out exactly what he’d do and how the governing bodies should respond.

This document already existed, dated 5 October.

It had been put together by a company called MCR. The code-name for the plan was Project Charlotte.

On 31 October, eleven days after the BBC had stripped Whyte in front of the nation, revealing his background, his business record and his modus operandi, as stated by his long-term business associate, and convicted fraudster Kevin Sykes, the SPL held a meeting to discuss the future of their television deal with Sky.

Neil Doncaster went to that meeting knowing that a plan virtually identical to what Sykes had alleged in court was already underway at Rangers. He knew it would involve debt dumping. He knew it would leave the tax payers millions of pounds out of pocket. He knew too that there were probably some football clubs who would suffer.

He did not share that information with the SPL board.

At that point, the Sky TV deal had three years left to run, but the SPL had an “opt out” option for the following year, and the meeting was to consider whether or not that option should be exercised in light of proposals which had been brought forward for a TV company owned by the league itself. Named Fans TV, it would have ended, once and for all, Scottish football’s dependence on the crumbs from Sky’s table.

The architect of the plan was Hibs chairman Rob Petrie.

At the 31 October meeting, it was decided to put off a decision until 21 November. Petrie and others left believing they had a chance to make the Fans TV case, and further work was done to make sure all the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed.

At some time over the next few days Doncaster got his board together and told them something – we’ve never been able to fully establish what – that provoked fury around the table, and questions about what Doncaster had known, and when.

In addition, it killed the possibility of Fans TV stone dead.

Insiders spoke later of being told about a developing “situation within Scottish football” that would have left the SPL dangerously exposed. Doncaster urged the board to adopt a proposed extension to the Sky TV deal “without delay.”

Why did he do that?

The deal had three years left to run at that point.

What was the urgency?

Why was it necessary to re-negotiate an agreement which was iron clad?

What we know, for sure, is that the revised television deal, which was signed and sealed in short order, committed Sky to a further two years of Scottish football. By the end of the contract the full package would have been worth £80 million.

By this point, the SFA would have been in the know about coming events at Rangers, as Whyte’s roadmap required them to give guidance and support on the mooted “transfer of membership”, as well as information on the legal position of a NewCo.

It helped that the traffic of employees between the governing bodies and the club was working both ways at the time.

In June that year, Whyte had appointed a new CEO at Ibrox. It was Gordon Smith, who had resigned from his post at the SFA just a few weeks before, citing “family reasons”, just as the EBT story had broke.

Smith had departed with the praise of his former bosses, and Rangers manager Walter Smith, ringing in his ears, in spite of a tenure weighted down with gaffes and PR disasters, the last of which was a public spat with Livingston FC who claimed he’d gone around the ordinary procedures to discipline one of their players for diving.

His appointment at Ibrox certainly couldn’t have hurt a club that needed official sanction, and assistance, for its more secretive plans and schemes.

But in November 2011, public disclosure of those was still a ways off.

In the meantime, something else had been going on in the background.

At the meeting on 21 November, the SPL agreed to renew the Sky deal after the member clubs were finally informed of some of what was brewing at Rangers.

Ewing Grahame, a journalist on the The Telegraph, had a meeting with Neil Doncaster on the day the SPL signed the agreement.

In the article he published afterwards, he made a striking claim.

“The Old Firm remain the biggest draw for broadcasters,” he wrote, “and one of the conditions attached to the new document was that the Glasgow giants will continue to play each other four times in the league.”

In case anyone was in doubt as to this being the big story, Grahame’s article was headlined “Recession-beating five-year TV deal binds Celtic and Rangers to SPL.”

Yet in the piece, Doncaster claimed this had been a standard part of Sky’s TV deals “for years.”

Still, Grahame wrote about it as if it was new information.

Indeed, Doncaster’s claim seems ludicrous in light of what the public facts were then.

First, the clause would have been pointless.

Neither club had ever been remotely in danger of relegation. Neither could leave the Scottish league, even if there was somewhere to go, without a lengthy notice period and financial reparations, and the only way both would ever have done so was with the connivance, and probably at the behest, of television itself.

Some have suggested it was a clause to block league reconstruction proposals, the kind that would have expanded Scotland’s top flight and eliminated the prospect of the “four Old Firm games.”

This is nonsense too.

No TV company would ever have inserted itself into the game’s politics in such a manner, and clubs wouldn’t have stood for it.

Anyway, league reconstruction had been mooted literally dozens of times in the years of Sky’s Scottish football involvement, from 2002 onward. At no point was the issue of how it would affect television contracts ever raised in that time.

Besides, as many have pointed out since, the only conceivable circumstances in which this scenario might have occurred would have been Celtic or Rangers having a disastrous year and falling out of the top six; with the SPL’s odd structure, that possibility would have seen them play each other three times and not four.

But for a TV company to withhold cash on that basis would have been a serious risk to sporting integrity which no sane person would ever have allowed in a contract.

There has also long been some doubt about exactly how the clause was worded.

In Grahame’s article, he drew attention to the possibility that it might “save Rangers” in the event they entered administration and faced relegation or demotion from the top flight. Some have suggested that the clause didn’t mention “four Old Firm games” at all; that it was specifically concerned with “circumstances where either Celtic or Rangers were not in the league.”

If that’s the case, how did Sky come to the conclusion that this was likely? Rumours of administration were one thing … but at that point few people thought the club itself was in serious jeapordy. Only a handful of people knew better.

It so happened that Neil Doncaster was one of them.

Whatever the truth, this clause, which appeared to have come out of nowhere, was to prove crucial to the events which followed, and cast serious doubt on the real motives of the men running the league.

That was for the future.

The Big Tax case First Tier Tribunal had kicked off on 7 November, and the club and Murray sent their legal representatives into action. On 30 November, the club published accounts for the last time.

They weren’t properly audited, and never would be. They revealed a miniscule operating profit for the previous year of just £76,000. You didn’t have to be a maths genius to work out that between bills coming due, no European football, a raft of legal expenses and other things going on that the club was in serious peril, and that the cash would soon run out.

A day later, Whyte confirmed that he’d received a directorship ban from the courts.

In the background, the SPL and the SFA were still in talks with him over how best to handle the upcoming carnage at the club; now he’d confirmed the basis of the BBC documentary that had accused him of concealment and even fraud.

The governing body asked for more information.

In the meantime they continued to assist him as he plotted the wholescale dumping of the club’s growing debts.

Based on the announcement itself, they could have opened immediate proceedings against him, on the basis that he had not disclosed this before and was clearly not a “fit and proper person” to hold a position of responsibility at a Scottish football club, but they didn’t.

To do so would have exposed the club, immediately, to the full horrors of administration, without someone at the helm who was willing to go through that, and then beyond, to what would inevitably follow.

So Whyte had to be left in charge, with no official interference, to finish the job, or at least put the restoration of the Ibrox operation on the rails … and it didn’t matter what happened to the creditors, or indeed the game itself, in the meantime.

Up until that point, it was the single most damaging period in the history of Scottish football and one of the most disgraceful series of events in the history of professional sport on this island, and that was based only on what was in the public domain.

One issue that was already raising its head, and scaring the SFA press office stupid, concerned the Wee Tax Case, and the moment when it “crystallised”.

If anyone was in any doubt about the willingness of the governing body to assist the Whyte regime at Ibrox, they only had to look back on the earliest days of it, when a seemingly routine decision was made in relation to club licensing, one that, had it gone the other way, would have doomed Whyte before he started.

That decision still haunts the SFA today.

Part Eleven: Out On License

In October 2013, Celtic shareholders put a remarkable item on the agenda for discussion at the club’s AGM, which was due to take place on 15 November. The board sent an immediate letter out, asking the fans not to support this item, and gave no further comment.

The press interpreted that as the board wanting the issue buried; in fact, they opened up a line of dialogue with the supporters behind the scenes. On the morning of the AGM those who proposed the motion withdrew it from the agenda, after talks with club officials. The matter had not been kicked into the long grass; in fact, it was, and still is, very much on their minds.

The matter was adjourned. The club and the fans kept talking.

The motion was entitled Resolution 12.

Such an innocuous name for something so potentially devastating.

At its heart was a simple, but deadly, question;

On what grounds exactly were Rangers Football Club allowed an SFA license to play European football in the 2011-12 season?

The resolution asked that the club clarify this, not with the SFA but with UEFA, and urged Celtic to support a UEFA led inquiry into not only this affair but the way the governing body had dealt with the whole Rangers situation from the granting of that license until the liquidation in 2012.

The question as to Rangers’ European license had first come to light when the sheriff officers visited Ibrox in August 2011, to serve HMRC’s notice on the club in regards to the Wee Tax Case.

SFA regulations specifically forbid the granting of such a license when the club in question has a “tax liability payable” to Revenue and Customs.

As we’ve already established, this bill was the very definition of that; it was due by summer 2011 and it had been for months.

The club’s own legal advice was that it should be paid.

During those summer months, the SFA was involved in its annual audit of Scotland’s clubs in preparation for the coming season. The relevant paperwork, and all the club declarations, had to be in place by the end of May.

The existence of the Discounted Options Scheme was not a secret any longer. It had been in the public domain from April that year, when Rangers themselves published it in their annual accounts.

The SFA could not have been unaware of its existence.

The license was allowed, provisionally, at least, but by the end of June 2011 they had to meet UEFA’s own deadline and criteria, and at that point the SFA had an obligation to clarify this matter once and for by talking to the club, and if necessary HMRC, and inform UEFA of what they had found.

Again, this clearly hadn’t been done.

Calls to Rangers saw the whole thing put in a holding pattern; the club apparently told the governing body they were “in talks” with HMRC on the matter. A single call to the tax authorities would have clarified what that meant.

Whyte was stalling, and as we’ve seen from his history it was probably on his mind the whole time that he could let this one lie.

As we know, the bill was still unpaid in September that year when HMRC issued its “final warning” on the matter, and it remains unpaid to this day.

As with many other things it was folded into the carnage of the administration and what came afterwards.

By mid-September numerous football websites were already clamouring for the answers the Celtic fans would formally apply for in November 2013. Leading the way was the RTC site, CQN and Scotzine, an all-purpose site on the Scottish game.

By December, Stewart Regan, the Chief Executive of the SFA since Gordon Smith resigned, was forced to talk to the fans about the issue. His answers, given on Twitter, were vague, even contradictory.

He claimed at one point the bill had not come due at the point when the licensing decision was made, using the later oft-quoted phrase “crystallised” to describe the process.

He had his facts badly wrong.

That bill was due from 20 May, at the latest, and by mid June it had certainly become overdue as defined in UEFA FFP articles.

He seemed rattled.

He had reason to be, although none of us knew what they were until November 2013.

The truth is that Celtic’s board had been concerned about this issue going all to way back to the awarding of the license itself, and before the sheriff officers came calling at Ibrox.

They had queried the European license themselves, and received what they regarded as highly unsatisfactory answers.

Following that visit, they sought further clarity and, again, were unimpressed by what they’d heard.

They had never quite given up on the issue, or on others they believed were peripheral to it, and this was why they’d agreed to keep the lines of communication open with the supporter’s who’d raised Resolution 12.

As has clearly been demonstrated already, Rangers was a club floating on an ocean of debt at the time, and even though the bank were no longer holding anything over them anyone who could read a finance statement knew they faced a huge hole in the balance sheet without European football income.

In light of what happened later, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine the SFA denying them an avenue to money which was quite literally keeping on the lights, no matter what the club had done.

Yet had the SFA acted when they should have, and demanded that Rangers settle this bill immediately or accept the revocation of their European license, Whyte would have been faced with coming clean about his plans sooner, or finding the money to pay up.

They either abrogated their responsibility to check out the true status of that bill or they waved the European license through regardless; either way, it was another scandal in a growing series of them.

The ultimate irony of this, of course, is that it was all for naught anyway.

The Promised Land of Champions League income was never to be realised. Ally McCoist’s later maligned managerial incompetence took care of that, and they exited the elite competition against Malmo before Maribor turfed them out of Europe entirely.

It was to become a feature in everything that came to pass; the governing bodies would bend over backwards, even breaking their own rules, to assure the Ibrox operation as smooth as a passage as was possible, and here, as with later, it didn’t help them a bit.

Part Twelve: The Final Mile

On the night of 15 October 2011, the day after Donald McIntyre appeared in court to seize £350,000 of Rangers’ assets, and five days before Mark Daly stunned Scotland with his seismic documentary on Whyte, one of those football matches that, in hindsight, changes the course of the future took place at Rugby Park.

Whilst things off the field were, by now, spiralling out of Craig Whyte’s control things on the pitch had been better than anyone could have dreamed and Celtic appeared to have collapsed completely.

The Parkhead club went into that game ten points behind the Ibrox club, and badly in need of a lift.

Before half time, it all looked over … the league challenge, and the reign of the manager, Neil Lennon.

Kilmarnock had run riot.

The score was 3-0 to the home side.

All of us watching remembered what had happened to Tony Mowbray, caught in a similar storm, on 24 March 2010 when his Celtic team was destroyed 4-0 at Love Street against St Mirren.

He lasted less than 24 hours, being relieved of his duties and Lennon put in charge on the following day.

The second half transformation was extraordinary, made all the more so by an atmosphere in the ground that was electrifying from the moment the teams came out of the tunnel for the 45 minutes. The Celtic fans have rarely given such passionate, vocal, unequivocal backing as they did that night, and it lifted everyone out in the pitch in a club jersey.

The team rallied. They clawed back the deficit and might even have won the game.

They dropped points, but that night Rangers did too and the equation hadn’t changed. But something had. Although Celtic dropped two more points before that month ended, in a match against Hibs, increasing the gap at the top to 12, and pushing us into third, albeit with Celtic having a game in hand, something had irrevocably shifted in the dressing room and out on the park.

From that point on in the league, Celtic barely looked back.

Every match in November was met, and matched. Lennon’s boys were storming just as Rangers began stumbling. As off-field chaos continued to mount, McCoist’s team began reverting to type and blowing it in their own definite style.

Off the pitch, things continued to get worse.

Eight days after Whyte had confirmed to the world that he had, indeed, been banned as a director the club was rocked by yet another financial blow, this time delivered by Celtic themselves.

The clubs were due to meet, at Celtic Park, on 28 December, and it was custom and practice for the away side to receive its tickets and pay for them later. Celtic had been following events at Ibrox closely, more closely than most were aware, and weren’t about to join what was already known to be a rapidly expanding creditors list.

According to the Scottish media, who covered the story with typical hyperbole, on 9 December Celtic asked for the full balance – £350,000 – upfront, or the tickets would be placed on public sale to their own supporters.

Whyte found the cash from somewhere and the tab was duly paid.

Months later, with Rangers circling the drain, the same media shrieked that the Parkhead club was refusing to pay for its own match tickets up front. With their usual lack of grace and respect for the tension of the times they even accused Celtic of putting jobs at risk whilst the club was in the process of an administration.

Celtic refused to comment on such hysterical claims, and three weeks later, with the game out of the way, they paid the cash in full. At the time, they briefed that they were reluctant to part with cash, in advance, for a match that might not take place, and in the circumstances of that time, that position had seemed like nothing but good common sense.

A day after that story broke, Rangers settled with Donald McIntyre out of court.

The details of the final settlement were never published, but it couldn’t have been cheap.

By the time the match at Celtic Park came around everyone at Rangers knew the New Year was going to bring nothing but misery.

They went into the match with their lead at the top of the table reduced to a single point.

In the 56th minute of the match, Charlie Mulgrew whipped a corner into the box. Kirk Broadfoot, the Rangers defender, was the nearest to the ball but Joe Ledley, the Welsh midfielder, was more determined to get there, and he rose above him and nodded it home.

Parkhead erupted.

Celtic had been 15 points behind in early November, and even with two games in hand the psychological advantage Rangers had enjoyed was enormous.

By full time, Celtic were on top of the table.

Ally McCoist and his players were shattered, and in truth they never really recovered.

The whole club was on the brink.

2012 opened with another hammer blow, the news that the club had been banned from the Stock Exchange for not having a set of audited accounts in by the years end. This was, technically, another breach of SFA regulations but again, nothing was done, probably because the governing bodies already knew how this particular story would end.

The Tax Case tribunal, which had paused during the Holiday Season resumed on the 16th. It finished two days later, and the judges retired to ponder the issues and render a verdict.

It wouldn’t come for an age, and in the meantime things ran their course.

On 20 January, Andrew Ellis was appointed to the Rangers board. He had been involved with Whyte in the takeover, and would later tell another BBC documentary he had personally introduced Whyte to David Murray after the Motherwell Born Billionaire had sold him on his vision for the club by giving him the name of a mystery man who wanted to invest.

The man was none other than Prince Albert of Monaco, a man Whyte said he “saw every week.”

He just never elaborated, and Ellis never asked him to.

By then, time was quickly running out.

On 31 January, the intrepid Scottish media, shocked into life by the news that Whyte wasn’t what he’d seemed, and no longer able to rely on PR releases to guide them through the maze, actually ran a major story in the case.

The Daily Record told the country how Craig Whyte had sold four years of future season ticket revenues to a company called Ticketus, in order to obtain the cash that had let him pay off Lloyds Bank in the deal which saw him get control of the club.

Keith Jackson shamelessly claimed this as an exclusive, and he has got a lot of mileage out of it since. Indeed, whenever the mainstream press wants to defend its shattered reputation, this is one of the stories they point to.

In truth, the story itself was months old. Jackson had written a version of it in June 2011, but Whyte had brought in lawyers and successfully spooked The Record into blocking it.

Yet even then, the story wasn’t as “exclusive” as he’d claimed.

In fact, the Ticketus story was broken by the bloggers.

The Rangers Tax Case site and the Celtic fans forum Kerrydale Street were foremost amongst them. The Companies House document from which The Record got their story had already been published on both of those sites, and all the pieces put together, a fortnight before.

The Internet Bampots had made all the crucial connections, with some even scrutinising previous Ticketus deals for clues.

On 6 June, a full week before Jackson’s “exclusive” first ran, one of the KDS posters wrote, with remarkable prescience, “I reckon the probable solution to this is the most obvious. It’s season tickets we’re talking about here. Who gives out loans against future season ticket revenue? Ticketus. How much is involved here? Roughly £52million. What were the total sums pledged by Whyte for his takeover over four years? Roughly £52million. So what’s happened here? Whyte has pledged future Rangers season ticket cash to pay for his takeover.”

The numbers may have been off, but the guy had it right on the nose.

The story hitting the tabloids was, however, a minor turning point.

Rangers’ fans, for a long time asleep at the wheel, finally woke up to the reality of the position, on the same day the club sold its star striker Nikica Jelavic to Everton, for £7 million.

Five days later they crashed out of the Scottish Cup, at a half empty Ibrox, against Dundee Utd.

A day after that, the BBC’s Mark Daly struck again when he revealed that Whyte may have lied in testimony he gave to a Glasgow court.

The allegation centred on a civil case dating back to December where he’d appeared in connection with an unpaid debt to a firm that had done building work at Castle Grant, his lavish country home.

During his testimony the prosecution asked him about his seven year directorship ban. Whyte said he couldn’t remember what it had been for. When asked if it related to his treatment of creditors, Whyte had denied it.

Those records were gone, or so he’d believed.

Actually, Daly had obtained them and within them was a damning paragraph from the judge in his case.

Only one figure connected with this whole saga would ever be subject to such withering criticism from a judicial bench, although time may change that.

“The assets of the company were put out of the reach of the creditors … the degree of recklessness shows Mr Whyte is thoroughly unfit to be a director.”

Whether he’d committed perjury or not, it was another warning to the SFA about the kind of man they were already tucked up in bed with.

The time for robust action, to save the game from further embarrassment, ought to have been there, and then.

The decision to continue dialogue, to wait for Whyte to send them further information, could only have been made by an association that wanted him in place until certain other conditions had been met.

No-one inside or outside Ibrox would have blinked had they convened a hearing that very day and kicked him out of Scottish football at once. That would have left the club rudderless, going into administration without a man at the helm who’d been over the ground before.

Project Charlotte was, to their eyes, the only route through for Rangers.

So, again, they did nothing at all.

The SFA would finally declare Craig Thomas Whyte “unfit and improper” on 23 April 2012.

By then, a lot of things happened that didn’t have to.

On 13 February Rangers announced that they’d enter administration the following day.

For the supporters on both sides of the Glasgow divide Valentine’s Day would never be the same again.

(This site relies on the support of its readers. If you like what you read and are able, you can make a donation at the link below. If everyone who read On Fields of Green did that it would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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A Very Scottish Scandal: How Rangers Almost Wrecked Scottish Football – Part One

ogilvie1This article is the first part of a piece I’m writing for another site I’ve just taken over, one about football in England and across Europe.

I thought it was time we moved the Rangers-Sevco debate outside Scotland, to an audience beyond our borders, perhaps in the hope of interesting the London based media in this sordid, and unbelievable tale …

To do so, it’s necessary to tell it all, exactly as it happened, without inference or bias, as a straightforward presentation of facts. That way we can give investigators their framework.

It is going to be long, easily the longest piece I’ve ever published. It’s also complicated, as the situation has been, and continues to be.

Of course, it was always my intention to publish it here as well.

It’s still being written, but it was getting too long to post as a single article, so I’m splitting it.

Part 2 will be up in the next day or two.

In the meantime, this is the backstory of the scandal that almost destroyed Scottish football.

Part One: The Introduction

Football in England is in good shape. Or bad shape. Or improving. Or getting worse.

Depending on who you are talking to, it’s all of these things and it’s none of them.

From up here in Scotland it looks pretty healthy to me, without necessarily being on a par with how things are in, for example, Germany.

But the game is in safe hands.

You only to have look at the way the FA has dealt with club owners who’ve tried to take the piss to see that.

The folk running football in England get it.

When the game down there suffered the match-fixing/betting scandal in 2013, that sent a number of people to jail, the National Crime Agency was widely praised for their role in it, but in my view the Football Association deserved enormous credit too.

Football didn’t try to cover this up.

The FA co-operated in full. Nothing was with-held and nothing was swept under the carpet.

I envy you guys leadership like that. Up here, we have none.

I’m going to tell you all the story of a cancer eating Scottish football from the inside.

I’m a Celtic blogger, and I’m telling you that upfront because this involves my club’s biggest rivals, and I want it to be clear what my background is before you carry on reading a word.

Everything I’m about to write is the truth.

All of the facts are verifiable and easy to confirm.

Fans in England have maybe heard some of the story, but I’m willing to bet the version of it you’ve been reading or hearing about isn’t exactly … complete.

There are reasons for that.

For one thing, the story isn’t complete yet and it might not be for a long, long time.

It’s also complicated, with roots going back more than fifteen years, involving a Who’s Who of characters right out of a James Bond film.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not.

It takes place across four continents, with scenes set in South African mansions, waterfront properties in Monaco, expensive London hotels and grubby back door boozers in Belfast.

It’s a sexy story, involving politicians, dodgy bank officials, money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and a host of other offences, and I can’t even write down all the gory details because some of them are currently the province of the courts.

But it’s also about failures of governance, a compliant and even complicit media, and corrupt practices which are widely known about up here but haven’t yet been accounted for.

It’s about a decade of cheating, and about the concerted efforts of a group of people to make sure that no-one was punished for it.

They first tried to ignore it, then tried to excuse it, then tried to buy off their critics with promises to tackle it before they made it 100 times worse.

It’s the biggest scandal in the history of sport on this island.

It’s torn Scottish football apart, but could yet turn out to be the thing that saves it.

Part Two: 2007 – The Origins Of A Scandal

This story properly begins in 2007, with a police raid on Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, the home of my club’s biggest rivals, Rangers. The purpose of the raid was to obtain information, on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, to aid in their investigations of football corruption, involving backhanders in transfer deals and the tapping of players.

Amongst the evidence collected were computers and financial records.

One of the deals they were looking at involved the sale, by Rangers, to Newcastle United of the French defender Jean Alain Boumsong, for £8 million, a transfer that was somewhat unusual as he’d only been at Ibrox for six months, after arriving on a free.

The Newcastle manager was, of course, former Rangers boss Graeme Souness.

He wasn’t charged with anything, and in a later stage of the inquiry was cleared in relation to the matters at hand. Rangers itself wasn’t implicated in the scandal.

But there was a nasty sting in the tail for the club.

On the computers, and in the club’s books, there were details of dozens of payments made to footballers and club employees – and some ex-employees, as we’ll discuss – totalling tens of millions of pounds, payments which seemed unusual. The Met passed them on to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, who examined them and concluded that they were part of a tax evasion policy the world has come to know as an EBT – an Employee Benefit Trust.

HMRC began an investigation.

It was a bad time for the Treasury, with the first ripples of the coming global financial storm already tingling the antennae of certain economists and politicians, amongst them Vince Cable who was trying to warn his parliamentary colleagues that a catastrophe was just around the corner. They largely ignored him, as a lot of those in the Square Mile ignored their own Cassandra’s.

Reality can be ignored. For a while. Then it comes crashing through the walls.

The tsunami struck less than year later, and Gordon Brown’s government was engulfed as they tried to keep the rising waters from sinking the UK economy.

Alastair Darling, Brown’s Chancellor, was soon having round the clock meetings at Threadneelde Street and the Treasury with bank officials who started out claiming their institutions were sound but eventually were forced to admit this wasn’t true, and that they badly needed government help.

One of the last banks in the UK to admit they had a problem was one of the flagship enterprises Brown and others had been so proud of, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS), which had once been a sleepy, down home conservative high street institution but which over time had turned its backroom into a speculators casino.

At a dinner party, at the height of the crisis, Brown spoke privately with the head of another of Britain’s leading banking companies, Lloyds TSB, which had successfully evaded trouble by staying out of the dicier activities going on in the Square Mile, to find out if they’d be interested in taking over HBOS on the cheap.

In order to smooth the path for the deal, Brown agreed that the merger would be exempted from the UK’s competition regulations.

In one of the worst failures of due diligence in financial history, and with politicians breathing down their necks, determined to avoid a crash, Lloyds completed the deal in jig time, only to discover something appalling; HBOS was sitting on a £10 billion hole.

The big bosses at Lloyds slammed the brakes on at once, as they started to go through the disaster zone with a fine toothed comb.

Of particular interest to them were the goings on of a handful of directors, including Peter Cummings and his predecessor, a guy called Gavin Masterton.

I could write a book on these two, and in years to come others will definitely do so. Their story fits into the picture here and a bigger picture besides, which overlaps with this one. I’m not going into the full scale of it – most if has no bearing on this – but the part that does has to be laid out properly and understood, in order to comprehend how big this is.

Here’s a little history lesson, before we go on.

Part Three: David Murray & The Bank That Couldn’t Say No

Back in the 90’s Gavin Masterton was one of the most powerful individuals in Scottish football, although only a handful of people knew that at the time. His department at what was then the Bank of Scotland had on its books the debts of almost all the Premier League clubs, including Celtic’s.

In fact, in 1994, Masterton’s department came within 24 hours of closing Celtic down over a debt of £5.25 million, cash the old board couldn’t repay.

The club was saved by a Canadian supporter named Fergus McCann, who along with a group of likeminded individuals effectively put up the collateral for that debt and then paid it off entirely. According to McCann, who took over the running of the club, he and his board approached the bank 10 months later, to find out on what terms they’d be granted a loan facility.

The bank offered them £2.5 million, fully securitised, which McCann and his people regarded as an insult. They ended the club’s relationship with Bank of Scotland there and then, and he retained deep distrust of them until the day he stepped down from his role.

As a gauge of how ridiculous the bank’s offer had been, McCann later told a newspaper that shortly afterwards the club was able to obtain a £10 million loan on very favourable terms from the Co-Op bank in Manchester.

Celtic’s issues with the bank were in sharp contrast to the relationship Masterton had with the owner of Rangers, David Murray.

At that time, and for years afterwards, Murray was regarded as a true example of Scottish entrepreneurial genius. He seemed to have a flair for making money, and for courting publicity. Indeed, there’s much in his personal story that should earn him high praise. He prevailed through astonishing adversity in his early career, even coping with the loss of his legs in a car accident, to rise to become one of the shining lights of Thatcher-era business.

He took over Rangers in 1988, and immediately set about transforming the club into the biggest football operation in Scotland. First, he completed the re-development of Ibrox, turning into an all seater stadium the envy of almost every club in Britain. And, at a time when English clubs were banned from Europe, they spent lavishly on bringing the likes of Woods and Butcher and Steven to Scotland in big money deals.

But Fergus McCann and the new Celtic board were about to change the game entirely. They had arrived with a momentous business plan, one which the Canadian set about with aplomb, rebuilding the dilapidated Celtic Park into one of the biggest and best club stadiums on this island – crucially, with 10,000 more seats than at Ibrox.

After nearly a decade of being the biggest club in the land, Rangers saw their hold broken as Celtic stopped them from beating their own club record of nine in a row, on the last day of a breathless season in 1998. It had taken Fergus and his people just three years to rebuild the club into something the fans could again be proud of.

What happened next was staggering, and laden with consequences.

Murray threw more money at his team than had ever been seen in Scottish football. The knock on effects are still difficult to quantify; it ushered in an era of rising transfer fees and over the top spending at many other clubs … and to the crippling debts that came later.

Within a year, the Ibrox debt had swollen to £50 million, as Murray, with typical bombast, told a media that lapped up his every word, that “for every fiver Celtic spend we will spend a ten.”

In point of fact, he exceeded that by quite some way. The spending gap was actually far higher – a ratio of three or four to one, and was actually completely unsustainable.

Everyone assumed – because the media dared not ask – that Murray himself was footing the bill for this outrageous cash splurge. What nobody knew, until much later, was that a good deal of the money to fund these signings had come from the very same bank, and the very same people, that had almost closed Celtic down just a few years before.

In 2001, The Bank of Scotland had merged with Halifax to become HBOS, and Masterton had handed over responsibility to Peter Cummings, his protégé, who had been at his side through much of the insanity of the previous few years.

Over the next 12 months, the debt at Rangers climbed even higher until it topped £80 million. Again, the real facts were largely hidden out of sight, but we know now that in 1999 the bank had taken part ownership of Rangers during “corporate restructuring” at MIH, the umbrella organisation owned by David Murray, and which controlled 85% of the club. The banks £20 million “investment” in MIH entitled them to 12 million shares in that company and a holding in Rangers itself.

On the surface, everything looked calm. But HBOS and Murray were hiding a devastating secret, one which would be uncovered in due course. The Murray “success story” was being funded by bank loans. In 2001, they borrowed £50 million, on extremely good terms, and their exposure only increased in the years that followed.

In 2004, Murray “personally” underwrote a share issue to remove £50 million of the debt burden from the club. The papers lauded him for this largesse, but in actual fact, with the help of the bank and some clever accounting, the debt was simply transferred to another section of MIH.

By 2006, two years before the financial crash, the newly named Murray Group owed the Bank of Scotland £209 million. A year later, the debt stood at £290 million.

When Lloyds took over in 2008, they uncovered the truth, not just about the £10 billion hole but that HBOS had been effectively trading whilst insolvent, and had received a $12.5 billion emergency loan from the US Federal Reserve on the night of the takeover, and a £24.5 billion loan from the Bank of England at Threadneedle Street shortly thereafter.

Lloyds officials started to dig. They soon found out where the money had gone.

Masterton, Cummings and friends had been having a rare old time, lending money at ludicrously generous rates to their pals in business, much of it in Scotland, of whom Murray, through the ownership of Rangers, was the most high profile here.

These loans were generally acknowledged to be ridiculous, but as long as the companies they were investing in seemed solvent – and in Murray’s case high real estate prices, including Ibrox, which he had valued at nearly twice its land worth, were making it seem that way – they were able to keep a lid on the pressure cooker and the lending went on.

The HBOS affair was so toxic – and it wasn’t limited to Scotland – that it became the subject of a major criminal fraud investigation called Operation Hornet. I’ll skip the details of that, as it doesn’t apply to this story, but one fact ought to make the eyes of any reader bulge. A report commissioned by Lloyds Banking Group at the time estimated that fully 69% – worth a mind-bending £80 billion – of the money Cummings and his department lent during its roller coaster existence, fell outside of what the more conservative bank called its “risk appetite.”

The damage had been done. Saddled with this enormous hole in the balance sheet, Lloyds Banking Group – who had hitherto avoided being dragged into the swamp of the financial crash – became one of the organisations part-nationalised by the government in 2009, who took 43.3% of its shares in exchange for a bailout package.

As a consequence, most of the debts from that era were written off, at the taxpayers’ expense. Murray, and Rangers, as it turned out, were quite literally funded from the public purse.

We didn’t know the half of it.

Even as Lloyds was trying to get its house in order, turning off the lending taps and asking the recipients of HBOS loans to see the colour of their money, and as a consequence bringing Rangers into line with the rest of Scottish football, at last, in terms of spending only what they earned, the club was hit with a sledgehammer.

The 2007 investigation into the Jean Alain Boumsong transfer had provided HMRC with evidence of wholescale tax fraud at the club, and in 2010 they sent their tax bill to Ibrox, amounting to a demand for repayment of £40 million plus fines.

When the story broke it send shockwaves through Scotland. A tax bill that size, with HMRC insisting on payment on demand, was capable of wiping out any club overnight. Rangers were appealing it, so it wasn’t imminently due, but that was of little consolation to Murray who, with the bank breathing down his own neck, was no longer able to support the club as lavishly as he had with the use of his flexible friend and an unlimited line of credit.

He put Rangers up for sale, and waited for the offers to flood in.

A few people expressed interest. One was a hard-line Unionist MP, who never made it clear where he was getting the cash to buy a football club. Another was a Russian oligarch who turned out to be a vicious gangster. The News of the World ran an editorial saying Rangers fans were open to anyone, that they didn’t care where the money came from, or who the owners were, as long as the club was able to compete with Celtic.

Financial analysts and people within the club pleaded with Murray to start setting cash aside to indemnify them against a negative outcome in what became known as the Big Tax Case, but he wouldn’t hear of it. The club was still spending every penny that came in the door, as fast as it did, and in order to maintain the liquidity of his corporate empire Lloyds were still allowing him huge overdraft facilities. That allowed a certain leeway.

But the spectre of EBT use hung over the club like a killing weight. To understand how this happened you have to go back to 1999.

Part Four: Ten Years Of EBT’s

Celtic, under Fergus McCann, had just completed the shimmering new Celtic Park and Fergus had announced his departure, as per his “five year plan.”

In that time he had turned around the club, making them financially self-sustainable with the second biggest season ticket base in the UK after Manchester United. Furthermore, with 10,000 seats more than Ibrox the new ground was capable of giving the club a long-term financial advantage, provided both sides were run on a similar basis.

But of course, they weren’t and Murray was chasing more than just Scottish glory. He saw European success as a primary goal too, and that needed to be funded and even with the Bank of Scotland loaning him staggering sums he was looking at other measures.

As Fergus was preparing to exit Celtic Park, Murray told one of his media acolytes that “whoever takes over Celtic next had better have the deepest pockets imaginable.”

To be sure his were deeper still, in 1999 he and the Rangers board set up what became known as the Discounted Options Scheme, what we now refer to as “the wee tax case.” This was a highly complicated way of paying players huge lump sums on top of their salaries, so as to defeat the taxman. It was the dodgiest of dodgy schemes, like EBT’s now absolutely illegal, but at the time … well, borderline, if run right.

The scheme was opened by a Rangers director named Campbell Ogilvie, a man who was to play a huge, and important, role in what was to come. Over the four years of its existence, the Discounted Options Scheme provided remuneration packages for some of the most high-profile players in the club’s recent history, including Ronald DeBoer and Tore Andre Flo.

Part of the trouble, for Murray and his club, was that Celtic were undergoing a remarkable transformation in the early part of the new millennium. Martin O’Neill had arrived as manager and the club was on a sound financial footing, allowing him access to funds no boss at the club had ever been given before. He signed top players, like Chris Sutton, Alan Thompson and Neil Lennon, to augment the talents already at Parkhead, including Lubo Moravcik, Johan Mjallby, Stilian Petrov and, of course, the majestic Henrik Larsson.

In his first year at the club, 2001, O’Neill won the domestic treble.

Murray and the Rangers board then embarked on a level of spending hitherto unseen in football here. Their relationship with the Bank of Scotland was at its zenith, as Masterton made way for Cummings, but even that wasn’t enough. Murray slapped down the gauntlet with his notorious “for every fiver” speech and the crazy days began.

The £12 million purchase of Tore Andre Flo, a Scottish record to this day, sums up the insanity of it all. The deal made no financial sense, because it was designed to rub Celtic’s face in Rangers’ financial muscle, doubling, as promised, the £6 million we had splashed out on Sutton. The media loved it, not wondering where the cash was coming from.

The same year, Murray International opened up the Employee Benefit Trust’s at Ibrox, with the aim of paying players above and beyond their declared earnings.

The man who set up the scheme for them was a lawyer and financial whiz-kid named Paul Baxendale Walker, a colourful character with his finger in many pies, including writing, acting and TV production. He later became a writer, director and star in pornographic movies owned by one of his companies.

At the time, the only people he was interested in shafting were those at HMRC.

Over the next ten years, Rangers paid players an estimated £48 million over and above their declared salaries, through a scheme which was setup to look like it provided “soft loans” to those who applied for them. In fact, these payments were negotiated with the footballers in advance of them signing for the club, and as players and agents don’t trust handshake agreements or directors keeping their word, many of them asked for, and were given, “side contracts” to that effect.

These contracts were to pose problems when HMRC stumbled on the scheme. By their very nature, those contracts turned those “loans” into salary perks, making them taxable. Rangers knew that at the time, and so they were determined to keep them secret from all but those who were working inside the club itself.

So those contracts were stuck in a file cabinet and never declared, either to the tax authorities or to the relevant football governing bodies, whose regulations are pretty clear on the point that all paperwork relating to such matters as salary and remuneration should be presented to them post haste as part of their general licensing criteria.

In other words, without those contracts players were not properly registered.

But of course, Rangers didn’t worry about that.

They had friends in high places.

Part Five: Succulent Lamb & Friends In High Places

From 1989 until 1998, Rangers won nine league titles in a row, all of them with Murray at the helm. During that time, and with help from the bank, he filled the club with phenomenally talented, and hugely expensive, players like Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne. He also courted the media as no other football chairman ever had before.

O’Neill’s success at Celtic, and the new direction of the club, was the first serious challenge to their hegemony in that decade, at least as far as what happened on the pitch went. Off the field, Murray and Rangers’ position was pretty much untouchable for years.

During the glory days, he and Rangers were not so much Scotland’s football superpower as they were a hyperpower, and this extended into the way they were treated by the media and in the influence they held within the governing bodies.

How much influence did they have? Well, by 2007 a former Rangers player ran the Players Union, another was CEO of the SFA, a former director was the Vice President there and others sat on the boards of the Premier League and other agencies of the national association … all at the same time. No other club had so many of its officials and former employees so deeply embedded in the footballing power structure.

And this had huge consequences for the game.

Before the recent scandals, the biggest crisis in our sport had been sparked by the SFA’s failure to properly register a Celtic signing, the Portuguese striker Jorge Cadete, at a crucial stage of the league campaign in 1995-96. The deal had been done just prior to the transfer deadline, but someone inside Hampden didn’t put through the paperwork.

The player missed important games including that year’s Scottish Cup semi-final match against Rangers, which the club lost 2-1. Did it also cost Celtic the league? That’s a difficult question to answer, because he missed four matches, three of which ended in draws. The following year he scored 33 times in 44 games, but then Celtic didn’t win the title that season either.

You could debate that issue all day and all night, but what was important was that McCann was incensed and believed the failure to push through the registration had been deliberate. He focussed his anger in on two men in particular; the SFA chief executive, Jim Farry, and the association’s head of registrations, Sandy Bryson.

He took the matter to the courts, and in the case that followed, Farry destroyed his career with his own words. The SFA relieved him of his duties after Celtic won at the hearing.

Afterwards, McCann told the Scottish media, “I’m not claiming there was malice but there was intent. There was a failure on his part despite the advice of FIFA and Celtic. This is a matter that goes beyond Celtic Football Club, it’s a question of somebody who has failed to follow the rules of football.”

Sandy Bryson remained in his post, and the club settled for the CEO’s head on a spike.

Years later, Scottish football would have ample cause to regret that.

In 1998, with Rangers chasing ten titles in a row, David Murray sat down with a number of senior journalists at the Scottish dailies. One of them, Jim Traynor, wrote a remarkable account of one of the most famous interviews of that era.

The published piece that followed under Traynor’s name ranks as one of the most obsequious ever penned by a supposedly serious reporter. It gave Scottish football a catch-all phrase for the hacks who fluttered around the Rangers chairman, and the stuff that they gushed out onto the page.

We now call such stories “succulent lamb journalism.”

The relevant part of the text reads as follows;

If the past 10 years have taught Murray, who is one of Britain’s wealthiest individuals, anything it is how to win and he believes Rangers will continue to grow and prosper.

“I look upon these last 10 years as a having been a great era, but it is over and Rangers are about to head on into a new era,” he said over a glass of the finest red.

He was about to take in another mouthful of the most succulent lamb – anyone who knows Murray shouldn’t be surprised to learn he is a full-blooded, unashamed red meat eater – when he put down his knife and fork.

It was like a statement of intent and looking directly across the table to make sure I hadn’t yet succumbed to the wine, he said:

“Bring on the next 10 years, there’s more to come for Rangers. Understand that I care passionately about what I’m doing with Rangers and believe that in 10 years’ time we will still be setting the pace. Too many of us have put too much into this club and we won’t let someone come along and take it all away. What I’m saying here is that no matter who buys Celtic from Fergus, they will need to have the deepest of pockets imaginable.”

Speaking, years later, to Channel 4’s crack investigator Alex Thomson, when he embarked on his own coverage of the Rangers administration and liquidation crisis, the veteran journalist Graham Spiers, who was at that famous meeting, spoke about it and the wider atmosphere that pervaded Scottish football reporting at the time.

“Succulent lamb journalism means a culture – and I hold my hand up here too – a culture of sycophantic, unquestioning, puff journalism that went on around Rangers generally and Sir David Murray particularly … Look, you are making a pact with the devil if you like. You get thrown the best scraps. You get something for the back page or whatever. But there’s a tacit deal. You don’t dig too deep. You don’t cause any trouble.”

And that was the way of it, for over ten years. Every one of Murray’s pronouncements was treated as gospel. Even the sheer flight of fancy, in 2008, whilst the financial crisis was gathering pace and his bankers were working round to the clock to stave off disaster, that £280 million was about to spent on Ibrox, making it “the first stadium in Britain to have a retractable roof and a hovering pitch”, was printed and praised without serious questions being asked.

By then, the fans of other Scottish clubs were already calling him David “Moonbeams” Murray after another of his notorious public pronouncements, in 2006, where he’d used the colourful phrase to predict that another era of untrammelled success was just around the corner.

Even when the media had a profound duty to criticise the club, they didn’t do it. For over 70 years, Rangers had operated a sectarian signing policy excluding Catholic players. Murray had shattered that, and signed a number of them, but a section of the support remained wedded to the old times, and in 2007 they were the subject of a UEFA investigation for discriminatory songs at a match in Villarreal. The SFA ignored it, refusing to take any responsibility for what went on inside their own grounds. The response of Scotland’s media was even more astonishing.

First, they tried to paint the issue as being one involving a small number of fans, which clearly it wasn’t as anyone who’d ever been to Ibrox could attest. Then, after a steer from a PR firm with links to the Ibrox club, they tried to drag Celtic into the mire, accusing UEFA of ignoring that club’s fans and their singing about the Irish wars of independence.

Finally, with pressure from Ibrox to close the debate down, some of the media outlets started to question exactly what the Rangers fans had done wrong.

This was too much for some of them to swallow, and even the aforementioned Jim Traynor was past the point of trying to make excuses. In a memorable, and explosive, debate on Radio Scotland with one of his fellow pundits, the journalist, agent and former Rangers player Gordon Smith, who was one of the men pushing this line, Traynor exploded.

“Tell me, Gordon,” he asked, “which part of fuck the Pope do you not find sectarian?”

Smith had no answer for that one, and he stuttered and stammered through an attempted justification for his view. It didn’t wash, and everyone who heard him that day knew it. What few were aware of at the time was that he’d been asked to write a chapter in a book about the club, and he duly did so, in which he accused Scottish football, and its governing agencies, of having an “agenda” against them, a quite laughable assertion.

A few months later, with the resignation of the SFA chief executive David Taylor, the SFA placed an advert in the national press asking for applications to fill the post.

The man who ran the interview process was SFA President George Peat, who a year later would be instrumental in pressuring the SPL to extend the league campaign, for the second time, to accommodate Rangers quest to win the UEFA Cup, and who offered to suspend the showpiece event of the SFA’s season, the Scottish Cup Final, in which the club was taking part, without bothering to consult either his board or Queen of the South, the other finalists.

His most valued colleague during that time was the SFA’s Vice President, former Rangers director Campbell Ogilvie, who had been so active in the creation of EBT’s.

They had a list of criteria which was very detailed and specific, yet when the new CEO was unveiled to the media he ticked precisely none of those boxes.

You’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say next.

Yes, it was Gordon Smith himself.

Of course, none of this was of the slightest concern to the ranks of the Scottish press, who let’s Smith’s scandalous appointment pass without critical comment of any kind.

He resigned the post in April 2010, the very month in which the story about HMRC’s tax demand broke. He cited “family reasons.”

No-one bothered to ask if there was more to it than that.

Probably, that wasn’t considered “real news.”

Part Six: The Motherwell Born Billionaire

By 2010, the Lloyds Banking Group were done with Rangers, and wanted out.

They were so determined to get spending at Ibrox under control they’d placed one of their key point-men, Donald Muir, on the club’s board of directors and with other officials in place at Murray’s other companies a period of cost-cutting was finally getting underway.

Time was running out for the steel magnate, and the bank’s patience was almost at an end. They knew full well the consequences for the whole Murray empire if HMRC’s tax case verdict went against them, and anyway, they were equally sick of the sight of the man who, in 2007, had received a knighthood for “services to business in Scotland.”

He had been searching for a buyer for nearly three years, and had vowed to the club’s supporters that he would only give up control when the “right person” came along, someone with the means to take Rangers forward, someone who would “protect it” as he had.

After Russian mobsters and Unionist MP’s had failed to make their bids, and after a national newspaper had told the world that Rangers fans would accept anyone as long as that person made big promises about spending money, it was perhaps only natural that they’d attract the attention of a man like Craig Thomas Whyte.

He emerged as if from a clear blue sky with headlines screaming the unbelievable news to the world. The Daily Record was the lead-off hitter, telling its readers, on 18 November 2010, “Billionaire Scot Set To Buy Rangers For £30 million.”

As the deal neared completion, the fever inside the newsrooms spiked. Other news outlets rushed to hail the man Record “journalist” Keith Jackson had hailed the “Motherwell born billionaire” with “off the radar wealth.”

Murray’s Moonbeams were replaced by fantasies that the Rangers manager Walter Smith would be handed a “Whyte Knight Warchest” to spark a new series of big money signings.

It’s impossible to over-state how ridiculous some of this coverage was. The reports that Whyte was a billionaire were easy enough to confirm. Every year The Sunday Times extensively trawls tax returns and other financial records in the public domain to compile the definitive guide to the wealthiest people in the country – the annual Rich List. To be on it is considered the ultimate badge of honour, and Whyte had actually featured years before, earning a place on the Young Rich List when he was in his early 20’s, with an estimated wealth of around £20 million.

That year, The Rich List was so extensive that those at the bottom had wealth in the low tens of millions, similar to what his net worth had once been. He didn’t even scrape into this level, and so a lot of us knew early on that he had no “off the radar wealth” and we asked ourselves a couple of simple questions; what else were those big bold headlines hiding, and what else were our fearless crusading journalists equally unaware of?

The answer, as it turned out, was a lot.

With issues relating to the takeover, and what happened afterwards, in the legal system at the moment I’m limited in what I can write about the multi-faceted background and business history of Craig Whyte, but even the earliest, and most basic, enquiries revealed a string of failed companies and contradictions to the media narrative.

To use but one example, The Record had reported that the takeover was being plotted from Whyte’s “bases” in Glasgow and the Virgin Islands. Internet sleuths soon tracked down the registered addresses from which the bid was being run.

One was an office in Glasgow City Centre.

It was visited by an online blogger, who took photographs of a single locked room with grilles on the windows and nothing in it but a single filing cabinet, gathering dust.

The photograph another online investigator published, of Whyte’s Virgin Islands “headquarters”, was equally stunning.

It was a portacabin, in the middle of a field, surrounded by cows. That picture later appeared on the front page of The Daily Record’s sister publication, The Sunday Mail, months after the fact, when the war-chests hadn’t been delivered and everyone was asking questions.

Well before the takeover was completed there was ample information in the public domain to scotch Whyte’s credentials as a very wealthy man. His chequered business history was being discussed openly on the internet, on various Scottish football blogs. There was plenty of serious doubt about his ability to finance the club in the event that something went wrong, and it was generally known that bank was no longer prepared to.

From his “home base” in Monaco, Whyte appeared to be making ever more grandiose promises, issuing statements through a PR firm every other day, which the media was printing without doing any research. Part of the problem was the timeframe.

Rangers’ fans wanted signings made in the January window, and as that deadline came, and went, they wondered where the man with the money was.

The media, still being fed nonsense and still lapping it all up, claimed Whyte had made Murray an offer of £28 million to buy him out, but that it had been vetoed by Lloyds, who wanted the club’s debt erased before they would agree to a sale. As it turned out this, as with most other assertions in the press at the time, was nonsense. The bank hadn’t vetoed anything; what they had done was ask for certain guarantees that they’d be paid back.

The takeover was finally completed on 6 May 2011, and the first seismic shock, which ought to have given the Rangers fans pause was the purchase price; for all the talk of multi-million pound deals their club, stadium, players, history and all changed hands for £1.

Part of the SFA’s licensing regulations, on fit and proper individuals, requires the club itself to certify that its leaders are sound individuals with no blemish on their characters. It is a ludicrous policy, relying on self-policing and dishonest or disreputable individuals confessing that upon taking over and submitting their paperwork.

Whyte was hiding more than just his business history; he had also been banned from being a director at one point. His submission to the SFA included none of this information. They could have done their own digging, but they didn’t bother.

But what few people outside Ibrox were aware of was that certain directors at the club had been suspicious of Whyte from the first, perhaps alerted, in part, by the work being done by online journalists and bloggers. There was a Takeover Panel within the club to scrutinise potential candidates for ownership.

When they met the “Motherwell born billionaire” they were unimpressed by his “plans.” They then hired a private investigator to look into him, and he presented a report before the takeover was signed and sealed. That report found things that even the internet bloggers hadn’t. Did they include his directorship ban? Unknown. But the people on that panel shelved the report once he was in the boardroom. They didn’t share it with the SFA, as they had a duty to.

Boy oh boy, how they were to regret that.

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