The Killing Fields

JS90873954So yesterday the registration deadline for the third round of Champions League qualifiers came and went without our club bothering to make a signing. Just how big a problem is that?

Well, in the first leg of the last round we played Efe Ambrose at central defence, with the predictable results. Such was the magnitude of that disaster – our worst result in our history – that we dropped him entirely from the second leg and played three at the back with our young full-back Keiran Tierney deputising for the night as a centre back instead.

Brendan Rodgers knows we have problems in that area. He has asked the board repeatedly, publicly and privately, for the signings he needs. One of the names he and his assistant have trailed over the weeks has been Shane Duffy. Today we discovered that the club is yet to make a formal bid for the Blackburn Rovers defender.

It makes you wonder how hard people are trying.

This is a perilous place for our club to be. Brendan Rodgers is the huge managerial appointment the Celtic supporters wanted. His is the name we craved. But we didn’t get this guy off the slag-heap. He wasn’t waiting around for our call, and willing to go anywhere. The chances are very good that if this guy hadn’t been appointed at Celtic Park that he would have been unveiled as the England boss this very week. Forget Allardyce and others; England’s FA would have passed over these second raters for Brendan in an instant. That’s how good a boss we’re talking about.

There’s a caricature of Brendan in some parts of the English media, that he’s vain and ego-driven. They point to frivolous stuff like his having his teeth done and hair fixed and the diets he went on. They point to his good looking young fiancé, who he proposed to just after formalising his divorce from his ex. In short, they think he’s a bit of a Jack the Lad.

As far as Celtic fans are concerned, all of it is nonsense because it has nothing to do with his ability as a boss.

Yet there’s undoubtedly truth to a lot of it anyway, and that does give us some insight which might be important.

Brendan has a very healthy self-regard.

He likes the limelight and he likes to be seen to be doing well.

This is not a negative. This is a guy who won’t settle for second place, or for failure. That’s why we appointed him.

It’s also why we will struggle to hang onto him if the board of directors continues to fail him when it matters.

There’s a moment at the start of the fantastic 1997 movie Twin Town where two corrupt cops are having a discussion about a piece of corporate art, etched into the stonework outside Swansea Train Station.

It reads “Ambition Is Critical.”

As they discuss the meaning, the older of the two men claims that it’s a response to an alleged Dylan Thomas quote, that Swansea is “the graveyard of ambition.”

A local poet wrote the three word answer to that. He worked for the council.

They adopted it as the town’s moto.

I always laugh at that scene, especially Dougray Scott and his assertion that it’s a dreadful slogan. His own three word take on Swansea a “Pretty Shitty City” at least rhymes.

He is scornful of the notion that anything, far less ambition, can thrive in such a place.

Ambition is critical though, and if someone had inscribed those words on the stairs at Celtic Park I think most of us would get the point at once. What I’m not sure of is that everyone who stepped over them on the way into work in the morning would.

Ironically enough, Brendan made his name in Swansea and it wasn’t the graveyard of his ambitions at all.

It was the proving ground for them. It was his performance there that took him to Anfield, and made him a contender. It was the place where he showed the world what he could do, where he’d have first come to the attention of Celtic.

He arrives at our club via a sojourn at Liverpool, where things went spectacularly right and then horribly wrong.

Is he here to rebuild his reputation?

No, I wouldn’t go that far. He says Celtic is a natural fit for him, and I agree. We are still a massive club, with huge pull for the right man, someone who “gets it”, someone who understands.

I was furious last week when, in the aftermath of the Red Imps result, Brendan Rodgers offered his glib, unconcerned response to the club’s stunning defeat. The result was easily the worst over 90 minutes in our history; some have argued that, but none has been able to find another occasion where we lost a competitive game to such a side.

There are simply no comparisons that come even close.

In my heart of hearts I know Brendan was angered by that result, and that his comments in public hid a deep frustration in private. He knows how that result makes our club, and him, look in the eyes of the world.

He’s not the kind of man to take that lightly.

He’ll know something else; he’ll know that good managers have come to Scotland before and died on their arses.

Some say Scottish football is the graveyard of ambition; it’s not.

These are the killing fields.

It’s not widely talked about, but Scottish football hasn’t just stalled careers. It has wrecked them. For such a small place, such a little corner of the footballing universe, this place has a helluva reputation for ruining folk, and Glasgow in particular.

Look back over the recent history of football in this city.

There are a parade of names who have come here, and then gone bust.

At Celtic, John Barnes career was obliterated before it had properly begun. He didn’t manage at another club for nine years, when he went to Tranmere, who sacked him after just eleven games.

Kenny Dalglish, who was a hero in English football, especially at Liverpool and Blackburn, wilted under the pressure of trying to steer the team after Barnes was fired. He won a League Cup but it was nowhere near enough. The Celtic board’s decision not to give him a permanent crack at the job was vindicated when they appointed Martin O’Neill instead.

It would be almost a decade before Dalglish returned to management, for a brief spell as caretaker boss at Anfield.

On its own, success in Scotland doesn’t guarantee the kind of advancement one might expect either, but failure here, even perceived failure, can undo good work that might otherwise count in your favour.

Martin O’Neill had a right to think he would have been a contender at any top club in England when he got Celtic to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville, but when he left the club the league title resided at Ibrox and that must have been a bad sign for some down south.

He ended up at Villa, then at Sunderland, instead of one of the clubs he craved.

The same could be said of Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon, good men both, one of whom got us out of two Champions League groups in a row and the other who masterminded a win against Barcelona. Gordon left Celtic having lost a league title. Neil left after a Champions League group stage car-crash, but one no-one could blame him for. Nevertheless, only Bolton offered him a job.

At Ibrox, the same pattern emerges.

Alex McLeish became Scotland manager after leaving there but his managerial career petered out with moves to Birmingham, Villa, Forest and finally a move abroad, where he took over at Genk. He was in Egypt managing a club at the turn of this year, but they sacked him after just a few months in the job.

Even the big names to take over there encountered disaster.

Dick Advocaat left Ibrox to take on the Dutch national team, and ended up at Zenit St Petersburg with all their money, yet it could be argued that his career ran onto the rocks in this city when Rangers dispensed with his services after Martin O’Neill proved he had the mastery as Celtic stormed to two titles on the bounce.

Advocaat arrived at Ibrox with a huge reputation. He could have ended up anywhere, at a top European club, but this country exposed his limitations with a brutality that must have taken him by surprise.

The same thing happened to Paul LeGuen and in even less time; his was a glittering CV which less than a year here absolutely shredded. He was never to recover the ground he lost in that 12 months. He went to Paris St Germain from Ibrox, before money transformed that club completely. They were 17th on the day he was appointed; no other club in France would touch him.

What I’m trying to say here is that no-one should be under the misconception that Scottish football is some kind of soft option or doss. None of the guys named above left on a high, save maybe for Lenny. Even Gordon and Martin left after surrendering league titles.

Ronny Deila is an exceptional case because he actually lost his job despite winning the title.

But none of these guys was head-hunted by a bigger team.

None went on to “better things”.

Failure here is like a near-death experience and these are the guys (Barnes excepted) who got out without being absolutely humiliated.

Tony Mowbray had his reputation as a title winning boss at West Brom to fall back on, but his time at Celtic Park had made him toxic to most clubs in England; ironically, he replaced Gordon Strachan at Middlesbrough shortly after Celtic let him go.

Which is to say nothing for Ally McCoist, whose failures at Sevco were about as colossal as one could ever hope to see.

I predicted in 2012 that he would never manage a top flight team again and I see nothing at all to suggest I was mistaken then or now. Indeed, he may never manage in football again; that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Brendan Rodgers doesn’t see Celtic as a “stepping stone” but that doesn’t mean he’d be willing leave our club with his reputation in the toilet. The current squad isn’t good enough; he knows it and the more dreadful events of last season have left us in no doubt about it. If we needed further evidence of it we got it last week. This is a side that more and more resembles one needing radical surgery. Sticking plaster solutions just aren’t going to cut it and we’ve got big problems ahead unless we refresh it with some new blood.

If Brendan Rodgers thinks he needs certain players to take the Celtic team forward I know for sure that he will fight for them; he has to. Never before in our history has second place been worth less to us, never in our history has it been so absolutely unacceptable, and if that’s the case for the fans it’ll be even more so for a manager who does think a lot of himself and who might still fancy managing at the highest level if and when he leaves Celtic Park.

Hell will be paid for failure, and not just in the manager’s office, but it’s the manager who will pay the highest price and it’s to be wondered if his career would recover from it. His days of managing top clubs would certainly be at an end.

Brendan Rodgers won’t accept that.

He knows, furthermore, that only a quantifiable success in Europe will keep his career from ending as those others did.

That quest was dealt a shocking blow last week.

With Astana next up, there clear potential for something just as bad.

Brendan Rodgers will not accept that.

He won’t tolerate having his hands tied.

This guy has a deep affinity for Celtic, but I absolutely believe he would be willing to walk away and scorch the Earth behind him if he thought his own reputation was being damaged by working here with no backing. He won’t do it right away, of course, but he’ll already be angry and concerned and if, in Astana next week, Champions League horror follows on top of last week’s Champions League horror, when all the signs were there, when the need for at least one signing who could play in the team was acture, I think he’d have valid concerns and be harbouring serious doubts about the commitment of those above him to make good on their own “ambition.”

This is a man who will not quietly fall on the killing fields.

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Strategy? What Strategy?

Celtic-Celtic-FC-SPL-SPFL-Ronny-Deila-Leigh-Griffiths-576180My good friend Babs McMahon celebrates her birthday today, and she was probably hoping for a very decent present, like cup final tickets getting sent out in the post.

A year ago, she and most of the Celtic support probably had a killer hangover because 12 months ago today we were celebrating how we’d managed to reach the League Cup Final after beating Sevco, with what I described at the time as “embarrassing ease.”

They were in turmoil, with an interim manager at the helm who looked like he wanted to be any place in the world but at Hampden.

There was genuine optimism in the air at Celtic Park, and why not?

Our Champions League disasters seemed far behind us. We’d qualified from a feisty Europa League group and were looking forward to a match against Inter. We’d reached one cup final, and were top of the league.

A shaky start had been weathered, and early adversity overcome.

Twelve months on, how different the landscape looks.

That we’ve gone backwards is plain for all to see. We’re still top of the SPL, but there the similarity ends and we’re faced with more questions than answers, and I fear for what those answers might end up being.

Today the best bit of news so far is that we’ve confirmed our standing as a feeder club for Manchester City by taking an 18 year old kid on loan for a year and a half.

He may well prove to be a good player – in fact, reports suggest he will be very good indeed – but I would stipulate that you don’t need to be exceptional to look like a star in the current Celtic team.

Let’s not kid ourselves about this though; this is our aternative to having to spend real money on the wide position during the summer. A kid, with no experience of first team football on the European stage.

In the meantime, Ronny’s “number one target” from the summer has been allowed to leave on loan, a tacit admission that £1.5 million has been wasted on Nadir Ciftci, adding him to the long line of disastrous attempts to sign a goal-scorer in complete ignorance of the only criteria on which one should ever be judged; the amount of times he’s put the ball in the net.

Babs, the birthday girl, is from Dublin, and like many other fans she travels across the Irish Sea to watch our team play its home games at Celtic Park, and doubtless she is as in awe of the magnificent Celtic Way as anyone is.

Our stadium looks incredible right now, a true home fit for heroes.

The Way itself is special, and the host of memories it conjures up are wonderful.

It makes our club seem special, as special as the Celtic PLC advertising department is fond of marketing it as.

And looking at it, I wonder who the next “Celtic icon” to feature on it will be?

Those who defend The Strategy can help me by answering this question; how do you create legends, and icons, at a club whose policy is to acquire, whether by buying or loaning, young unproven talent and then moving them on before they reach their peak?

From the current Celtic team, there are a few obvious names; Commons will hit 100 goals. Brown will go down in history as a fine captain. Griffiths should make it if he’s at Celtic Park long enough, if the big offer doesn’t come in that Lawwell bites someone’s hand off for. Armstrong has the makings of a future captain, provided he doesn’t peak early and gets sold …

Beyond that?

Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it?

Who decides what an “icon” is?

Under The Strategy, Henrik Larsson would have been sold within two years.

Does Victor Wanyama deserve his own Celtic flag on The Way, by virtue of good performances and a hefty transfer fee? Would Patrick Roberts get one for dazzling us for 18 months? Should we consider Jason Denayer a candidate? Do you think Carlton Cole will ever earn the accolade? Can we hold onto Nir Bitton long enough to give him his?

Where does the current Celtic team fit into the pantheon of heroes?

Am I being unfair to say that if they’d won yesterday and went on to win the treble that it would be the poorest Celtic side in our history to achieve that feat, something better, far better, teams could never do?

Would future generations’ hearts have swelled with pride at the team that boasted Ambrose and Stefan Johansen?

Is this a team future writers would have judged to be worthy alongside Martin’s treble winners, or Stein’s?

Is making the cut the same as making the grade?

These are philosophical questions, of course.

There are harder questions to answer.

Do we still behave like a club that takes itself as seriously as the Celtic Way would suggest?

Our history is something in which we all take inordinate pride, but as we marvel at the triumph and tragedy that make that history up, have we completely taken our eyes off the future and how best we might go about adding to that special collection of memories and accomplishments?

What do we strive to be?

The biggest club in Scotland is a given, but beyond that?

Do we have ambition left for that greater stage, or have we accepted limitations set on us from elsewhere? Is there a plan? Because, as I said in an earlier piece, where I talked about that moment in Apocalypse Now when Kurtz asks Willard if his methods have become unsound, I’m with the captain when he tells him, “I don’t see any method at all.”

Today, on the day a Manchester City youth player arrives at Parkhead to wild acclaim from some quarters and entreaties to us to embrace our new found position on the food chain, one of our own, young Aidan Nesbitt, has left on loan, on the very day he scored (twice) against the Sevco youth development team for what is the umpteenth time, and was garnering the usual praise.

Aidan Nesbitt should be a prime-time candidate for one of the banners on The Celtic Way, a home-grown superstar with the attitude and talent to make it big. Yet I don’t think we’ll ever fly the flag, because I don’t think we’ll ever see him develop at Parkhead.

Even as he proves, yet again, that he has the attributes to be a top talent, we’re scrambling around the free transfer market, trying to bring to the club a player who’s attitude reeks, who’s personal reputation goes way before his footballing one, and who looks as if he will play in the very position young Nesbitt could be filling, if we had a club with any coherent strategy at all.

12 months on from a day in which we were all filled with optimism, the picture at Celtic Park looks confused and chaotic and those running things divorced from reality.

Out of the League Cup. A European campaign that was disastrous and humiliating. A playing style which has regressed, and where there’s none of the “faster, fitter, sharper” we were promised and looked, this time last year, as if we were developing nicely.

Nothing but short-term solutions being mooted to fix long term problems.

Far from building a team capable of making it to the Champions League next season we look as if we’re simply patching holes as we go, trying to make things seem like they make some sense.

So, Ciftci goes because he’s not scoring goals. In the meantime, a player arrives whose goal tally at 29 isn’t even what Griffiths has managed in a Celtic shirt thus far. He arrives with an armful of baggage and attitude issues which makes it seem like a risk whilst a player who has scored lots of goals in a Celtic shirt, Anthony Stokes, is loaned out to Hibs because his own attitude isn’t what the manager wants to have in the dressing room.

I’ll ask just one question about our latest signing; would we ever give him a place on The Celtic Way, no matter how well he plays or what he achieves in a Celtic shirt? We know the answer … and that should say enough, on its own.

Who thinks this fits into a coherent pattern?

Who thinks it makes even a fraction of sense?

I’ve stopped looking for sense.

It doesn’t exist at Celtic Park, and every level, from the boardroom to the boot-room, is lost in a fog.

Yesterday, when we brought on James Forrest, I realised, for the first time, that I’ve broken the habit of mentally adjusting our team formation when we make a substitution. Somewhere along the line, and I don’t even know when it happened, I simply stopped doing it. Because Deila so often puts players in places they should never be, in a system that doesn’t fit their skills, that trying to work out the game plan is an exercise in futility.

They say that a chess grand master playing against a novice will lose more pieces in the early part of the game than a lesser player would; it’s because the grand master assumes there’s a strategy unfolding, and spends time looking for a pattern where there’s none.

A lot of Celtic fans feel that way watching our team at the present time. We try to fit logic and consistency into a set-up where they just don’t belong. We’re looking for some underlying structure where there really isn’t any to find.

Babs McMahon and all the rest who walk down The Celtic Way every other week are rightly proud of what it signifies and are entitled to marvel at how our club must look from the outside, at how impressive it must seem, to those who perhaps don’t know all the details about what the Lawwell defenders call The Strategy.

We no longer behave like a football colossus.

Now we “settle for.”

Yesterday, those who were “settling for” a treble switched, in an instant, to dismissing the League Cup as having relevance, and got comfortable with “settling for” a double. Those who were expecting big names and signs of intent from this window are already “settling for” seeing all of our problems solved in the summer.

We’ve been here before, and before, and before.

Now’s not the time for questioning the manager. Nor The Strategy. Some people say, anyway.

But I find myself asking, again; if not now then when? 

See, looking at The Celtic Way right now, I wonder who will be the next Celtic Great to adorn that wondrous avenue. Maybe we should just skip right over the playing staff and give the CEO the accolade of being the first club official ever to grace the path.

To me, if we’re not aspiring to add to it, it looks like nothing more than a triumph of marketing and PR, an entreaty to spend your money by tugging the heart strings with appeals to the past by a board which is incapable of presenting a road map towards the future.

It looks, in short, like a scam.

Because right now I cannot conceive of whose flags will fly there in the future, or of how we go from where we are now towards something better … and no matter what they might tell you, either publicly or through their own PR arms, the people running Celtic at the present time don’t know either.

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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?

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Coffee’s For Closers

A-1Alec Baldwin has probably never had a finer seven minutes on screen than those he gets in the magnificent David Mamet film Glengarry Glen Ross.

His character, Blake, was not in the Pulitzer Prize winning stage version of the story; Mamet added him later, and Baldwin was cast knowing he’d only be in the film for one scene.

When he read the script, he didn’t hesitate to accept the role.

His little cameo towers over the whole film and haunts the other characters, the “deadbeat” sales force who chase the “good leads” at Rio Rancho Properties, a real estate office where desperation fogs the air like the steam that rises from the pavements outside at night.

None of the three men forced to sit through his speech that night is a natural “closer”. Whatever skills they once posssessed are gone. None are now capable of making a high pressure sale, getting some poor sap to “sign on the line which is dotted.”

They are losers, all bit Ricky Roma, played by Al Pacino, who is riding high and therefore doesn’t need to there, sat at the “sales conference” where Blake gives them the most de-motivational motivating speech that’s ever been put on film.

“Your names Levine?” he asks Jack Lemon, with the deepest contempt.

“You call yourself a salesman, you sonofabitch?”

Shelly “The Machine” Levine looks back in shock. He was once the “top name on the board” and is now a man almost weighed down by a “streak” of constant failure, of doors closed in his face, of telephone hang-ups, of a daily grind of humiliation. He was standing with a mug in his hand, waiting to fill it, when Blake singled him out for the first battering.

“Put that coffee DOWN!” Blake shouts from across the room. “Coffee’s for closers only.”

Blake isn’t kidding around.

He’s been “sent downtown from Mitch and Murray”, the big bosses, on what he says, without a trace of irony, is “a mission of mercy” to give these guys the news; “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest,” he says. “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Wanna see second prize?” he asks, brandishing a set of steak knives, which seems like a lousy substitute for a car until he tells them what’s next.

“Third prize is you’re fired,” he says, looking venomously at the three men – two of whom will be “hitting the bricks” at the end of the month – and asks them, “You get the picture? You laughing now?”

No-one is, and thinking about the scene neither am I.

At its blackest moment, he’s sitting across the desk from Moss, played by a waspish Ed Harris, who at first thinks he can meet Blake’s aggression and contempt with his own. But Blake isn’t in the least bit intimidated by this joker.

He takes off his watch and brandishes it in Moss’s face.

“This watch cost more than your car,” he tells him. “I made $970,000 last year. How much did you make? See, pal, that’s who I am … and you’re nothing.” As Moss’ expression changes to betray his own stark self-loathing Blake hammers it home to him. “Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? @@@@ you! Go home and play with your kids! You wanna work here? Close!

Which brings me to the point of the piece.

Yesterday, Celtic scraped through a disturbingly difficult 90 minutes at home against Partick Thistle, a game we’d have dropped points in but for Leigh Griffiths, who’s become an indispensable part of our team in a way no player has probably since Larsson.

I find it alarming that we’ve become so reliant on one player.

We’ve got the biggest wage budget in Scottish football, and without Griffiths God knows what state our season would be in. To say he got the manager out of jail yesterday is to put it mildly. One Celtic site says a lot of our bloggers would have been tearing up their match reports when he stuck that ball into the net; mine didn’t change one word.

I lost faith in Ronny Deila months ago. A late goal from a player who was thrown into the mix because the manager didn’t have any other card in the deck, any other plan, has done nothing whatsoever to restore it.

I don’t know if it can be restored any longer.

We were awful yesterday. The playing style is awful. The tactical system is awful. The manager’s refusal to change it is awful. The mounting sense of dread many of us get watching this team play, knowing Champions League qualifiers will expose our weaknesses more horribly than SPL teams are capable of – as has been the case in the past two years – is awful.

The eternal optimists – or those who just can’t bring themselves to think, let alone acknowledge, that there might be something wrong at Celtic Park – have wondered aloud if this isn’t the moment that “sparks” the team.

I don’t know whether to laugh at the sentiment or cry about it. I don’t know where such hope comes from; it’s the very definition of having faith – “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”

I’m pretty angry today, I was even angrier yesterday, and that’s make me quite snappy when it comes to this subject, and in that I’ve probably said things I shouldn’t have said – and didn’t even mean – in public, and in private.

But this is what comes from frustration and the realisation that things aren’t going to change in a hurry, that for this to be over, barring the miracle we all hope for but in which I simply don’t believe, something awful, something irrevocable, something disastrous, will have to come to pass.

And right now, it feels like all we’re doing is marking time towards that, and it’s like waiting to be shot.

One guy on my Facebook page – Peter Murray, thanks mate – cut to the heart, this morning, of why days like this are so rough and why, invariably, they see us arguing with, and falling out with, each other, which is the very last thing we should be doing.

“This is like a loving family watching someone they all love dying in front of their eyes,” he said, and whether you think that’s overdone or not, you can’t argue with the next bit. “We all care about what happens to them but end up arguing amongst ourselves about the best way to help them.”

And that’s the crux of it, right there.

None of us wants to see things get worse. We’re all trying to analyse this thing and find answers, all of us, that is, but for that small and shrinking number who refuse even to accept that there’s anything wrong.

But you know what? Families always have those folk too.

In time, even they won’t be able to deny what’s in front of their eyes.

There are some amongst us who, whether they believe in Ronny or not, honestly think he is the best manager we’re likely to get at the present time. The question as to who we’d replace him with haunts them, even more than the bad performances do. Their fear over there is so consuming that it’s paralysed them into apathy.

I think they’re woefully underestimating our pull, but I don’t doubt that their belief is genuine.

At the same time, others think we would attract David Moyes or someone else, but those guys would want money, or full autonomy to run things, neither of which they are likely to get, and I’m not sure where those folk get their own eternal optimism from.

The stuff that’s wrong at Celtic Park doesn’t begin, or end, at the manager’s office.

We can change the guy in that room – and in my opinion we should, we must – but his replacement would probably be another punt, another shot in the dark, exposing us to even greater uncertainty.

Deila is not the only person at Celtic Park in whom I have no faith.

But for him I do at least have some sympathy.

In my brutally honest opinion he is shockingly out of his depth, in a job that is now threatening to overwhelm him, and he’s been the architect of much of his own trouble with an inflexibility that would be understandable in a guy who was sweeping all before him aside but seems here either to be the height of arrogance or the complete absence of a Plan B.

But not all of this is his fault.

I have some sympathy with what he’s had to put up with up since he planted his flag on Scottish soil. Much of it has been unbelievable and even hateful. The media, right from the start, were outrageous and determined to sink him, and their own arrogance and dismissal of his achievements in Norway were typically petty, small-minded and, in many cases, simply anti-Celtic.

We could appoint Guardiola and many of these people would find a reason to sneer.

This is why I understand, above all, the enormous reluctance amongst our support to even seem like we’re throwing our manager to the wolves and giving his critics a warm body to dance around.

But I’m not interested in what the media writes and I never have been. The day we let something they print or say or even don’t print or say get in the way of what’s best for our club is a bad one indeed.

It pays, at a time like this, to be able to detach yourself from the screaming and analyse things dispassionately.

And on that basis, his jacket’s on a shoogly peg and it ought to be.

Yesterday, a lot of people took serious umbridge to some of the commentary on our match, particularly that of Pat Bonner. In their haste to simply dismiss anything the media had to say about Ronny on the basis that it’s all negative anyway, they slammed our former keeper for the simple act of telling the unpalatable truth. We were rank yesterday. The criticism was deserved.

We’re not tossing our manager to the snarling pack by acknowledging that.

These people aren’t always wrong. I would rather they covered us honestly, as Bonner did yesterday, than have a host of ex-Celt’s lining up to tell us transparent bullshit about everything at the club being just tickety-boo.

Another club’s supporters swallow a constant diet of that, and it hasn’t done them the slightest good.

We took a risk on Ronny Deila, and I supported that risk.

I didn’t start out opposed to Ronny but neither am I a bandwagon jumper.

Time, performances, the stuff I can see, eroded my confidence, especially over the last eight or so months.

What do I think of Ronny Deila on a personal level?

He seems, from a distance, to be a Good Man.

Even the media hacks who’ve spent the year baiting him agree that he’s a Nice Person and pleasant to be around.

Yet when it comes to what’s best for Celtic, I don’t care about any of that.

Because coffee’s for closers, and I want to win, every week.

Beyond that, I want us to be more than a provincial Scottish club with a once proud name.

I want to see signs of life, that we’re moving in the right direction, that we’re still committed not just to football success but to winning it the right way, and what I’ve watched lately would get a game stopped in a public park.

This is business, not personal.

Football management is a tough environment, where sometimes nice guys finish last.

Ruthlessness is sometimes part of the job description and I think he lacks the killer instinct as much as the requisite tactical skills.

My disquiet on that front preceded my doubts about his ability in the dugout.

I knew from the start that this guy was going to be under intense media pressure, and that some would look at his record and conclude that he was a “yes man” hired because he wouldn’t rock the boat.

I knew there would need to be an early show of strength.

Yet there, at his first press conference, he was embarrassed and upstaged by the chief executive in a moment that still boils my blood today, when John Collins was forced on him in front of the whole of the Scottish media.

I wrote an article about that at the time, and I didn’t hide my fury or my belief that accepting this would be a mistake and one that would hamstring our coach right out of the starting gate. I feel unhappily vindicated.

Rumours continue to circulate about the negative impact Collins has on the dressing room. I have no way of knowing if these reports are true, but they are the sort that have swirled around him for years and which haunted him at Hibs and Livingston.

In short, I don’t think the manager operates in harmonious circumstances, and I don’t think he ever really has.

He was denied his own people and perhaps there’s a little bunker mentality set in with him now.

I wouldn’t hold that against him at all.

But my sympathy doesn’t extend very far.

I think of his last two press conferences and I shake my head in disbelief at his lack of concern over what we’re watching right now. For him to have said, after the Hearts game in which I thought we struggled, that he had his “old team” back again, and to have watched yesterday’s all too predictable horror show and then heard him express his delight … something just doesn’t compute. It’s just wrong.

I cannot conceive of this man taking us into next season’s Champions League qualifiers.

Our performances in Europe since he took over have been beyond bad, and he’s not exactly put teams out against the best clubs in Europe. One shining moment – against Milan – does not cover a record of disaster and disgrace, and that’s how I think it’s been.

Disastrous and disgraceful.

He’s a nice guy, but so what?

Good father? Then he should go home and play with his kids.

If he wants to work at Celtic Park his team has to close.

They have to start burying teams week in week out, first to demonstrate to all comers that we’re the biggest and best side in this country bar none, and not simply one that relies on having no competition.

Progress in Europe is beyond him.

If he takes us into the Champions League next season that will be an unacceptable risk from our club for which more than one person would have to pay with his job.

I love our club too much to keep these views to myself, much as a lot of folk wish I would.

A few weeks ago, Jonathon Wilson, from The Guardian, wrote a magnificent piece on Jose Mourinho, and in it he mentioned the “three year cycle” which claims so many managerial scalps, and which has haunted the Portuguese boss on the only two occasions in his career when he has stayed at a team beyond two seasons.

The theory, proposed by the Hungarian coach, Béla Guttmann, who managed Benfica to two European Cups, is that “the third season is fatal.” By then, a manager’s tactics are known to his opponents and his style of play is easily exploited.

Few coaches, a very few, buck the trend and even at Celtic we can see Martin O’Neill’s failure to win three in a row and the way Gordon Strachan very nearly didn’t, taking his third season to the final day.

Deila’s team selections and tactics are already being found wanting, and we’re midway through season two.

The best does not look as if it’s in front of us.

If Ronny Deila isn’t willing to change the way his team plays, and we don’t see some improvement on the park – and one that isn’t simply a “one game wonder”, forgotten the next week in a return to lethargic, geriatric football – then, to quote Blake in that searing seven minutes of screen time, I don’t care how nice a guy he is, Ronny can “hit the bricks pal, and beat it … because you are going OUT!”

This is no time for cheap sentimentality.

The longer it takes for change to happen at Parkhead the more days like these we’re going to go through.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already fed up with it.

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Apocalypse Soon

_76287225_ronny_deila3On Saturday I saw things in the Celtic team with the potential to haunt me from now until the Champions League qualifiers next season.

Callum McGregor in the holding midfield role. Nadir Ciftci finishing the match playing behind a grossly unfit Carlton Cole. Scott Allan brought on as a substitute and stuck out wide left.

Blame the players for the defeat if you must, but I’m moved to wonder if they can really be held accountable for such a shambolic and structurally incoherent set of choices.

There is a sterling moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent movie Apocalypse Now where Cpt Willard has reached the jungle compound of the renegade colonel Walter Kurtz and he’s seen for himself why the orders from on high are to “terminate his command” with “extreme prejudice.”

Amidst piles of dead bodies, and heads mounted on sticks, in sight of a former photojournalist who’s time with the colonel has turned him into a babbling loon, Willard comes face to face with the man he’s travelled up a dirty river and through nine circles of Hell to find, a man he’s been sent to kill because his “methods have become unsound.”

“Well,” Kurtz asks him. “Have my methods become unsound?”

Willard’s eyes have the haunted look of someone who’s seen much more than he ever wanted or could have conceived in his darkest nightmare.

“I don’t see any method at all,” Willard says.

And that’s how I feel now, watching Ronny Deila’s Celtic.

If there was a plan, there’s no longer any trace of it. Hidden amidst the chaos, we thought there was some underlying order, some sign that this is all leading somewhere better than the destination we can most clearly see in our own minds.

There had to be, right?

Well, no.

I’ve stopped looking now, and a lot of folk have. It’s fruitless. We’re searching for Cibola, one of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. If it exists we’ll be enriched beyond our wildest dreams, but in our hearts we know it’s a fool’s errand we’re on.

We’re chasing a phantom.

It’s time to come back to reality.

Today I feel a little bit like somebody who’s bought an expensive ornament and turned it over to find a sticker on the bottom saying “Trotters Independent Traders”. We got a bum deal here. It wasn’t a con exactly … but it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.

Where is the attacking football? Where is the high pressing game? Where is the flowing passing and movement off the ball? All these things were promised, and I don’t feel let down as much as I feel betrayed. I’ve broken up with girlfriends for less. I’ve nursed a grievance against Peter Lawwell for years over a single misleading statement, and yes, it was a big one … but still.

I don’t believe any longer in what Ronny and those who’d defend him are selling.

I don’t believe there will be jam tomorrow or any other day.

All that’s in our future with this guy at the helm is a diet of gruel.

Some stale bread and water if we’re very lucky indeed.

This is an unfolding tragedy, and somebody at our club needs to show the requisite leadership before it turns into a disaster.

There are those amongst our support who still cling to hope of a treble, but in 18 league games we’ve already failed to win five this season and we’ve been utterly humiliated in European football.

It will take one bad day – and even when we’ve won this season we’ve often not looked terribly convincing – and that’ll be the end of that particular ambition.

Besides, the truth – and it’s one some in our support find increasingly hard to face – is that being only marginally better than the teams we play here in Scotland week in week out is nothing to boast about. Our current malaise ought to be a source of shame, that and the news that we’ve recently dropped a mind-numbing 25 places in the European rankings, to sit at 75th.

It’s where we belong right now.

The unveiling of a statue to Billy McNeil ought to have made Saturday an occasion to savour, one that evoked memories of our heyday as the biggest club in Europe. Instead, we looked bereft and more like the team that played in the latter days of the old board.

We are staggeringly bad right now, and the supporters haven’t missed that fact.

Our recent record at Celtic Park, two wins in the last eight games, is deplorable and when we’ve not been playing football here in Scotland the gap between us and even second rate continental teams has looked vast.

I harbour no hope at all for next year’s Champions League qualifiers … if we manage to reach them that is.

Because this is getting worse, not better.

I spend a lot of time on this site writing about the shambles at Sevco, and when the full-time whistle went at Celtic Park on Saturday I briefly turned my attention to what was happening at Easter Road fully expecting Warburton’s team to have escaped a full-on calamity by the skin of their teeth.

Imagine my reaction as Hibs won the game late, to plunge the Ibrox operation into its own deepening morass.

And then something dawned on me.

The Sevco supporters would have taken no satisfaction from our own defeat.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

As sick as their fans must have been at the Edinburgh club’s late winner, it’s nothing compared to how scunnered they must feel every waking minute of every single day at the opportunity they’ve squandered.

If their club had been born anew, instead of clinging to a corpse, they could have been in front of us already.

Because we’re going backward and we are there for the taking right now, and they know it and they’re stuck in the mud at just the moment when they might have been there to punish us.

Last season’s calamitous failures over there are all the worse for them in light of where we presently find ourselves.

If they weren’t in such disarray they might very well fancy their chances of catching us before too long.

What their fans can see, clearly, is their historical opportunity being pissed away, because this can’t go on forever; Celtic can’t remain in such dysfunction in perpetuity.

But that knife cuts both ways.

At some point, you think, Sevco simply has to find stability and the right combination of elements that turns them into a functioning unit. Our own window to vanish over the horizon is closing rapidly, as league reconstruction becomes the cause célèbre amongst the mainstream hacks, with Matthew Lindsay in The Herald the latest to bang that drum with a piece today that’s about as unhinged as anything you’ll read this side of the asylum bars.

They increasingly look like a club that is going to depend on some official fix to get into the top flight, and that is embarrassing for everyone connected with the Ibrox side, but for the moment I am holding back on the gloating because we’re no great shakes at the present time either.

Instead of moving so far ahead of them that they can’t see us any longer we’re suddenly looking very vulnerable to any club that can put together a sustained run.

Simply put, this is becoming a race to see which of the Glasgow clubs gets its act together first, with Aberdeen already waiting in the wings and fully capable of their own smash and grab act.

For Deila to write them off so blithely at the weekend … shocking.

Our manager is developing a profoundly arrogant streak which I do not like and which I do not think is fitting of a man who’s embroiled in such uncertainty.

The amateur statisticians have had a field day in the last few weeks telling us that Ronny’s record stands up alongside that of anyone we’ve had in the manager’s office in recent years.

Fine, bravo, well done to the Norwegian boss, and well done to those who’re today lambasting many of our fans for saying the club has gone backwards.

You are watching a different team to me.

Because things are not good at Celtic Park right now, and you can see it in the team’s performances and in our ridiculous playing system.

Futhermore, things just don’t feel right at the moment, do they?

There’s a creeping sense that we’re watching something profoundly horrible beginning to unfold. It might not be Apocalypse Now, but every passing day increases the sense that it’s Apocalypse Soon.

Had Motherwell converted their chances at the weekend, Ronny would have packed up his pencils already. It’s inconcievable that he could have survived a hammering at home from such a poor team.

But it’s coming. It’s in the wind.

There’s no evidence that things are getting better; indeed, all there is suggests a football club going the other way. We’re regressing to the point where a lot of our fans are trying to rationalise the abject humiliation of finishing bottom of a Europa League group without a win.

Last season we reached the last 32 of that competition.

You see the direction of travel?

I’ll give you a clue; it ain’t forward.

For the record, if you’re asking me, that group table, on its own, ought to be the catalyst for a change of management at Celtic Park.

If we truly value what’s left of our dwindling European reputation then we’ll act in defence of that, because this guy can’t take us into another continental campaign. His failures – and those above him; they don’t get out of this without criticism, no way in Hell – have already cost us an estimated £30 million in lost revenue … and the damage financially is nothing compared to that done to our name.

How much worse do you want it to get, Celtic?

A loss of £45 million?

Dropping to 100th in the rankings?

Failing to make the groups of even the second tier European tournament?

People are saying “give Ronny the money in January to sign his players and then judge him on how well they do.”

Really? And should we not bother to judge his performance in that area thus far?

Because this will be his fourth transfer window as boss.

And what does the picture look like?

We’ve made baffling choices, like signing Cole when we play every week with a single striker, like signing Scott Allan when the central midfield area is already full and yet somehow leaves us so short we’re sticking a winger into a holding role … this is indefensible stuff.

Managers are sacked for choices like these.

Including 6 loanees, he’s brought 19 players to the club.

Of the 13 permanent signings how many have been huge successes?

How much flair and imagination was there?

He’s signed three of them from Dundee Utd, one from Hibs, one from Derry City, one from Inverness (albeit we’ve not seen him in the Hoops), two un-attached free transfers, one from Dinamo Zagreb, two Reserves of Manchester, a reserve goalkeeper and Stefan Scepovic.

Where’s he again?

This is what our much vaunted network of contacts in the game has produced for us in this guy’s time in charge.

Three transfer windows right out of a first time Football Manager player’s handbook.

The days of Sky Sports Scouting were bad enough; who knew we’d wind up doing the BT Sport Scotland equivalent of it?

Today there’s talk that we’re looking at a £2 million rated midfielder.

From Walsall.

Because that’s just what we need at the present time, right?

In spite of over a dozen signings thus far, gaping holes exist all over the squad, in particular a chronic lack of half decent wide players. It says a lot for how dysfunctional things are at the moment that Scott Allan was left on the bench to accommodate one of them playing in a holding midfield role and that when he was finally brought on he was played … out wide.

How do you even begin to defend that?

The whole case against Ronny Deila as Celtic boss was on the teamsheet at the weekend before the game even kicked off.

I’m not in favour of letting this guy sign one more footballer. Not with that record.

What’s next? Let him sign wingers and then play them as central defenders?

It’s over. I’ve had it.

I’m sick and tired looking for positives here, and I can’t take any comfort from a one point lead in the SPL with a game in hand or being in a League Cup semi-final anymore.

We are dreadful to watch and just falling over the finish line because we don’t have a sustained challenge just isn’t going to cut it.

I’m fed up looking for order amidst the chaos and whilst my fellow Celtic fans are welcome to continue looking for the method in the madness right now I don’t see any method at all … and Ronny Deila has to carry the can for that.

But not alone.

A serious challenger to our hegemony is going to emerge in Scotland, and probably not on the long timeline many appear to think.

We’re awful damned lucky one hasn’t done so before now.

(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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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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Exile On Kerrydale Street

celtic-virgil-van-dijk(A Guest Blog by George Paterson.)

I love the Rolling Stones. No secret there, I suppose.

They’re one of my go-to bands if ever I want to feel like an (ageing) rebel, drive my Prius a little faster or just party like the rock star I wish I once was.

53 years after their formation, they remain the industry standard for rock rebellion, standing firm – with their thick lips, tousled manes and suspiciously bulging jeans – as the greatest and most balls out survivors in popular music history. A red hot streak of albums from 1968’s ‘Beggars Banquet’ to the seminal ‘Exile on Main Street’ a mere four years later cemented their legacy and created the blueprint from which every other bad boy rock band has subsequently sprung.

It’s been 10 full years since they released a studio album. ‘A Bigger Bang’ was another in a long line. A collection of jagged riffs, forgettable lyrics and nondescript fillers that is best left in the bargain basements.

In fact, the last 32 years have seen them produce 6 studio releases, with about half a dozen tracks worth recalling between them.

Not a great average, I have to say.

But the Stones aren’t about being relevant anymore. They are more than happy to trade off on past glories. And the public lap it right up.

From their much talked about Glastonbury appearance to their magnificent ‘Sweet Summer Sun’ farewell in London’s Hyde Park, they are masters of giving the people what they want.

And what they want is the hits. Lots of them.

And played by the guys — 60% of them anyway — who brought them to us,

50 odd years ago.

Past glories, like I said.

Like a one hit wonder who can still get beers bought for him on the back of a single smash hit.

Yesterday, I compared Celtic Football Club to a Rolling Stones type band, and James asked me to amplify that and write this piece.

It seems to me that there are key similarities.

What we have is a merchandising juggernaut, trading on past success, knowingly retro but constantly angling for your hard earned while dropping in the occasional reference about the regard in which the brand is held throughout the world.

Thinking about it again, in more detail, I think that this is actually unfair.

On the Stones, that is.

They know what they’re about and they know where they’re going.

They don’t have to remain relevant.

They’re the Rolling Stones.

There are amoeba in ponds in Ulan Bator that could hum ‘Satisfaction’.

We are a different case altogether.

We were only briefly ‘the biggest rock band in the world’, and in that respect we’re more like Neil Young, to be honest.

Or we should be. Consistently trying to push the envelope while retaining affectionate links to a once heady past.

Because Young can still surprise and shock, even in his dotage.

He’ll never sell out stadia like The Stones but he’ll pack them in at a more reasonable level and more importantly, never sell out his principles.

He knows his market and adapts when he feels it suits.

He’s influential and relevant, even now, and he probably never compares what he does to The Stones.

We should be aim to be Neil Young.

But that dream is too much of a stretch for our current custodians.

The model they have for us is more like The Drifters, in more ways than one.

The most lasting of the doo-wop R&B bands of the 50’s and 60’s, The Drifters’ legacy is one that’s nowhere near as secure as it should be -or as secure as the previous artists I mentioned – despite being ever present on oldie/hit radio stations.

Constant chopping and changing meant that legendary vocalists such as Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King and Johnny Moore only rarely reached sustained heights and virtually never together.

Money was a major factor in the regular splintering of The Drifters.

Rather than keep a settled line up, their managers reckoned that if Clyde wanted too much money, they’d release him and get another cheaper version while keeping the name going.

Sometimes it worked (the aforementioned King and Moore being the prime exceptions) but given that there have been over 60 vocalists in various versions, it’s absolutely certain that the quality was diluted.

They may have had their successes but they lacked the stability of a Four Tops for instance; 44 years without a single personnel change, by God! Think what that might have led to for The Drifters!

The Stones themselves — on the rare occasions they’ve had to — have replaced top men with even better ones, even poaching Ronnie Wood from a rival powerhouse, The Faces.

See, they know what our club’s custodians haven’t twigged yet.

Substandard signings diminish the brand and with it the selling power declines.

Look at where The Drifters are playing now.

Clacton and Cleethorpes instead of Las Vegas and Paris Olympia.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that if you set your sights low, changing your personnel regularly by taking the cheapest road, you find that tends to take you to Cleethorpes Winter Gardens, or in Celtic’s case The Aker Stadion, Molde instead of the Nou Camp.

Of course football is a sport, not the entertainment business (though these days, I’m not totally sure the purity of sport is as cherished by the custodians as it should be but that’s for another rant). And granted, we are hampered by Sky’s massive investment in English football but this may be where we’re going wrong. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to compare ourselves to the giants of their league, their Rolling Stones and U2.

Look at the Neil Young’s of the game. The Ajax’s, Benfica’s, The Anderlecht’s.

Sure, they can’t always get what they want — our first Europa tie is against the former Dutch powerhouse — but they rarely sell themselves short in the attempt at self betterment.

None of the sides I mentioned has the cushion of a huge TV deal and they all realise that though their fans are desperate for another ‘Exile on Main Street,’ they’re unlikely to get it.

But it doesn’t mean that they should continually serve up sub par crap like ’Bridges to Babylon’ and expect their fans to pay through the nose for it, just because we’ve obediently kept our end of the bargain, over and over again.

There are plenty of failed businesses who gambled on the continued loyalty of an increasingly choosy public.

Our recent dwindling attendances might be a symptom of a greater malaise.

In short, we need to forget about being the Stones – but just as importantly, stop acting like the short sighted management of the Drifters – and concentrate on being a bit more Neil Young, albeit with a heart of Green, White and Gold.

Bizarre rant over.

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The Last Days Of Peter Lawwell

Lawwell_3108913Way back in 2006, there were a lot of Labour MP’s who were, for one reason or another, struggling to accept what most people outside Westminster regarded as a simple fact, and which the country had reconciled itself to more or less completely; that at the top of the party, the two key architects of New Labour were openly at war with each other.

Everyone knew by then that the two men were somewhat at odds over a promise Blair had allegedly made to step down and hand over the reins. Some simply refused to understand just how deep the enmity was, or how out of control it had all gotten behind the scenes.

Blair and Brown had been at it for well over a decade by then. The fights over the succession had started, more or less, from the minute Labour won its second term in 2001, but their roots went all the way back to Blair’s ascension to the leadership after John Smith had died.

On 9 May that year, Gordon Brown himself torpedoed all pretensions those MP’s had left about the debate being conducted in a civil manner, with an attack on Blair that was so brazen and naked and public that it erased all doubt and opened up the enormity of the conflict to full public gaze.

Brown was appearing on GMTV, where he and his aides knew the question of the handover would certainly arise. He had already made several media appearances that week, and brushed off the question during all of them. He welcomed it on that occasion.

“There are problems that have got to be sorted out and they have got to be sorted out quickly,” Brown told his interrogator. “Tony has said he is going to do it in a stable and orderly way. That means he is going to be talking not just to me, but to senior colleagues about it. Remember when Mrs Thatcher left, it was unstable, it was disorderly and it was undignified.”

Senior Labour ministers, who had no idea it was coming, openly gasped when they heard that.

Those MP’s who’d been in doubt were shell-shocked that the Chancellor would so openly issue such a threat to his boss.

The reference to Thatcher and her being deposed by her own party was unmistakable, deliberate and amongst the most cold blooded things Brown ever did whilst serving in Blair’s government.

In spite of this, there was a core of truth in what Brown had said.

Leadership always comes at a price; if you hang around long enough people get tired of you, and then it ends in one of two ways. You can choose how you want to bow out or let others do it for you.

One of those paths can – and sometimes does – end in something like triumph, although that’s rarer than people think.

The other road is ignominious, humiliating and often shambolic.

A lot of those who’ve suffered that never get over it, professionally or otherwise.

The club across the city, and the fate of some of those who’ve worked there, provides many cases in point for those who want to look.

Last year, I wrote a scathing article on the Celtic strategy, in full knowledge that it would change precisely nothing.

I’ve written a similar piece in the last few weeks, again knowing that there was no possibility of it influencing events.

No-one involved with our club is minded to support a coup or a full-on Celts for Change style revolution and we all know it.

But I tell you … the people running our club would be complete mugs if they believed that what’s now is forever.

Times change, and people change with them.

Lawwell and his board follow supporter opinion closely, so they know what I do, even if the full implications haven’t sunk in yet; there are large sections of our support who have simply had it with the austerity agenda.

I use that phrase quite deliberately.

In my life, I’ve had two great passions; Celtic and left wing politics.

By that I used to mean the Labour Party, as almost everyone who reads this blog will undoubtedly be aware. The first comes with no qualifications; I am Celtic fan now and forever, until the day I die.

My party political loyalty was never as concrete, as I’m an ideologue rather than a tribalist.

I’ve left the Labour Party three times in my life, going back twice against my better judgement. What finally decided me, and caused me to quit for good, was a combination of things, but the stink of Iraq was fresh in the air and if there was a straw that broke the camel’s back then that was certainly it.

It had been clear to me for over a decade that the party took people like me for granted, that it rode roughshod over my wishes and aspirations and ignored me when it wasn’t asking for my vote.

Then, and only then, did it engage and it did that in the most appalling, arrogant fashion, not trying to make me an offer based on hope but on trying to scare me into the voting booth instead.

They assumed my loyalty and that of people around me. They never earned it.

It reeked, and I knew, as you sometimes instinctively do, that one day there would be an almighty backlash, one that would rock them to the foundations.

It came last September, of course, with the referendum campaign, but it didn’t manifest itself until this year, when the general election result in Scotland engulfed them like a tidal wave.

Even then, the party leadership in London didn’t understand the reasons for it, and seemed Hell bent not only on continuing the dreadful policies that contributed to that defeat but to actually accelerate them, dragging the political centre of gravity even further right.

The scale of their misjudgement can be most clearly seen in the spineless way they abstained on the welfare bill when the Tories put it before parliament just a few months ago.

The mood of the activist base, disillusioned already, looking at Scotland and seeing a political reawakening, an atmosphere of hope and engagement, erupted. The consequences of that are apparent in the scale of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election landslide; if you wanted a perfect metaphor for how swiftly events can overcome an institution you could not do better than to look at all that remains of “New Labour” … the organisation that once thought it would dominate UK politics for a whole generation.

Today, nothing but rubble remains of it.

The signs of its coming were everywhere, for those who cared to look. But our political class was too busy talking to itself and asking all the wrong questions, drawing whatever conclusions fitted into the view from the Westminster bubble.

I know a lot of Celtic supporters take a similar, narrow focus view on Lawwell and the strategy.

They’ve accepted, as any number of Labour MP’s accepted, austerity as a given, as merely a consequence of our circumstances and the economic climate. This “we play in Scotland, that’s our level” argument is used to justify lack of spending, lack of ambition and the way in which we’ve watched as the quality of the team has been eroded.

Ten years ago, our stated ambition – from Lawwell’s own lips – was to be “qualifying for the latter stages of the Champions League.”

Now, our ambition is to simply get to the Groups, and not even every single year.

He considers it a success if we achieve it three years out of five, a target we’re not even meeting at the current time.

We hear, constantly, that we can’t compete with England, as if anyone has ever asked us to.

There are even those who say that spending money doesn’t guarantee success; take a look, would you, at the last fifteen years as proof positive that this is garbage. Under Martin O’Neill we spent money, and we got to a European final. Under Gordon we started out spending money, and we got out of the group stages twice, meeting exactly the target Lawwell and others had said we should be striving for.

And the financial rewards of it were obvious; those were the years in which we hit our peak earnings, cracking the £70 million barrier … incredible for a Scottish club, and the result of showing ambition and playing in front of packed houses as a result.

The truth, the one some people struggle with for some reason – as it’s actually a very pleasant truth – is that when we’ve taken ourselves seriously as a major force, the rewards have followed.

It’s when we’ve taken our eyes off the prize that bad things happened.

My love affair with Lawwell ended with the Wilo Flood transfer window, and I’m happy for anyone who wants to trace my writings on the subject all the way back to that.

I thought we were told blatant untruths during that month, but it was certainly the moment the club stopped going the extra mile, the point we stopped trying to grow.

Amidst warning signs so stark that some of us were practically screaming from the side-lines about the need for a striker, the board refused to give Gordon Strachan the funds for one.

The result? Rangers came from behind to win the title.

And the next two after it.

Before that, I had been a huge supporter of Peter Lawwell and the strategy.

I wrote glowing things about him, and the way he had allowed Strachan to develop his squad at the same time as we posted profits.

Back then, I thought he walked on water.

I wrote a lengthy blog about this some time ago (A Pale Horse), where I tried to address some of the misunderstandings about the Lawwell era and where I changed my mind.

See, it didn’t start badly; it started phenomenally well.

So too did New Labour though.

In fact, those early triumphs are one of the reasons he remains in the good graces of a lot of Celtic fans today, in much the same way as a lot of the PLP self-define as members of the Church of the Third Way.

What they forget – what a lot of our supporters forget – is that the early reputations of both New Labour and Lawwell were a consequence of the very type of policies that they later ran, screaming, away from.

Strachan succeeded because he was allowed to develop a team, instead of developing players so we could sell them for profit.

The 1997 Labour manifesto, which so many members of the PLP who deribe Corbyn never tire of defending, the one that won a national landslide, was about as left wing as any Labour party document has ever been.

It committed the government to a national minimum wage, a windfall tax on privatised utilities, devolution for Scotland and a host of other things. It was what happened after they’d been elected – cutting benefits to single parents, university tuition fees, the private finance initiative, Iraq and a tumult of other betrayals – that started turning people off.

You can only continue spitting in the faces of your most loyal supporters for so long before they become cynical.

Then they become angry. Then you pay the price.

I ended A Pale Horse with a quote which originated with Oliver Cromwell, but is better known for being delivered by Leopold Amery MP, levelled at Neville Chamberlain, during the Commons debate which brought an end to his government and ushered in Winston Churchill at the height of the Phony War of 1939 – 40.

“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

In my view, it’s time for Lawwell’s departure from his role at Celtic Park.

As long as he’s there the strategy will be continued, and if changing it means that he’s got to go then hey, “farewell and good luck to you”.

If he does it whilst Celtic are still on top in Scotland he’s got a fair chance of being warmly regarded, well remembered and finding another post at another club if he wants to continue climbing football’s ladder.

But he ought to heed the lessons of history, and the consequences of hanging around too long, because there’s a flip side to that coin.

The policy he’s presided over has led to a disastrous decline in the standards of our squad, it has resulted in attendances dropping like a stone and it has sown deep distrust amongst the fans, who see too little action inside and outside our club, and a creeping suspicion that he’s not exactly sad to see a team calling itself Rangers inching its way towards the SPL.

He and some of his cohort seem to believe this will be greeted with great relief and enthusiasm by the vast majority of the Celtic support.

This misjudges the mood every bit as much as Labour’s MP’s did when they abstained on the welfare bill shortly before Jeremy Corbyn rocketed into the lead in the leadership election.

What most Celtic fans feel about this prospect is nausea and revulsion, and the club would be making an epochal mistake to think otherwise.

The vast majority of us aren’t looking forward to that with any enthusiasm at all.

We have no wish to be force fed all that “greatest derby in the world” cobblers, made one half of a twisted commercially driven “rivalry”, fused into the wreckage of that cobbled together zombie club, led as it is by Mr Resurrection Man himself, a convicted tax cheat who Lawwell and the SPL board ought never to have allowed near the running of a major Scottish football club.

If Peter Lawwell goes in good time, and the strategy with him, his reputation will be largely intact. People will look back, and those who choose to remember the positives will have them to hold onto and the black spots in between can be conveniently ignored.

Otherwise not a single Celtic supporter will remember him with other than disgust and contempt.

He will turn himself if not into Celtic’s Craig Whyte then certainly into its Charles Green … a CEO who presided over a financial calamity, to the detriment of any good he might have initially done.

I suspect he’s already used up as much luck as he’s going to get.

The future of our club, and how he’s considered, almost pivoted completely on the night of 11 October 2011, when we were 3-0 down at Rugby Park.

Neil Lennon was considering his future at that point, and had we lost that game it’s not unreasonable to suppose that he would have walked.

Rangers had a 10 point lead going into that one, and although they also drew that night we would have suffered a major psychological trauma from which it’s difficult to believe we’d have recovered.

Rangers had won three titles in a row. Had that night ended differently the road to a fourth would have been wide open, and although they were to self-detonate in spectacular fashion just four months hence we’d have been dealing with the reality of that evening as it presented itself at the time, without the benefit of foresight.

Lennon’s departure would have made him the third manager to go in just four years.

Lawwell, who had already apologised to the fans for the disastrous appointment of Tony Mowbray, would have been under the kind of pressure to follow him out the door that people just don’t survive.

What’s more, based on the three years prior to that night it’s not unreasonable to suggest that had Rangers not gone into a tailspin and been liquidated that under the confines of the present strategy we would probably not be trying for five in a row.

Don’t forget that when the chips were down in the aftermath of Mowbray’s departure, Celtic’s solution was to hand the job to an untested coach with all the attendent risks that presents.

Don’t kid yourself that Lennon’s appointment fitted into some grand plan … it was an enormous risk, taken in desperation, as a cheap and easy option, to buy time and stave off difficult questions.

In short, they were making it up as they went along.

The alibi people offer Lawwell is that we can’t be expected to compete in Europe. That will get him only so far, because he’s only allowed that because we’re the biggest club in Scotland at the moment … and that has as much to do with the collapse of Rangers as any great genius of his. Stop denying this, people, it’s a stone cold fact and the sooner we face it the better.

Woe betide him – and those making his case – if the day comes around whilst he’s in post when we are no longer that.

We all know that shouldn’t even be remotely worrying us for at least the next five to ten years. The Promised Land of ten in a row should be well within our reach. We should be out of sight, ahead of everyone else by light years, and cruising towards it.

And we’re not. Nowhere near it.

Complacency is part of what’s going to end our ambition of reaching that milestone, but complacency isn’t what I’m accusing him and the board of, because this isn’t taking your eye off the ball … we are where the strategy has put us, and the strategy is going to continue.

This is gross mismanagement of the football club.

The result on Saturday spurred me on to write this piece, but it had existed in embryonic form for longer than just the last fortnight.

I’ve been arguing for a while that Peter Lawwell’s best days at this club are far behind him and that the only way is down.

Corbyn’s victory, in the face of a quite extraordinary media campaign and in opposition to so many hysterical voices within the ranks of his own parliamentary party, simply gave me the theme.

Times change. Circumstances change. And people change with them.

It took Labour a catastrophic defeat in Scotland before they even started to think about altering their politics and their knee jerk reaction was to veer further to the right. Internally, the PLP would actually still be struggling with those lessons today, but then Corbyn came along and made their naval gazing redundant anyway.

But it happened, in no small part, because they took our votes for granted.

They assumed them rather than earned them.

They believed that all you had to do in Scotland was stick a red rosette on someone and they would waltz into office.

One look at the Celtic FC website today should tell you all you need to know about how the club is handling our European defeat and yesterday’s reversal against ten men; of the articles that went up in the last 24 hours, almost all were concerned with money, with asking the fans to spend it, without giving them one good reason why they should.

They take the fans for granted.

They assume the loyalty of the supporters without doing anything to earn it.

I wrote a year ago on this site about the need for the club to give us a vision. Lawwell sat in front of CelticTV and answered a bunch of softball questions lobbed at him by one of his own employees and then tried to pass that off – with the help of a compliant media who were only too happy to eat succulent lamb from Celtic’s table in the absence of one at Ibrox – as offering that to those of us who’d dared ask.

I wrote a similar editorial a week or so ago, after Malmo, and what we got were some second hand comments about the board having faith in the manager. It no longer looks like complacency as much as it seems like contempt.

But you don’t have to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.

Our club is heading backwards, where signing SPL and even Scottish Championship players is becoming the norm. Aberdeen have their best chance in a generation to catch us in the league, and if it’s not them then it could easily be someone else.

If a genuine challenger should emerge – and all it will take is a Scottish team with a good enough squad to edge in front of all their competitors – and we slip even a little … everything comes crashing down.

Can you imagine the reaction when we next lose the league flag?

On a long enough timeline, it’ll certainly happen … but it ought not to be for many, many, many years to come.

If Peter Lawwell is still in office when it does, and that looks more possible with every passing day … meltdown.

A few short months after Brown had dragged the political corpse of Margaret Thatcher across the floor of GMTV, and pushed it into the face of Tony Blair, the two men finally agreed on the handover of power. To get there, Brown had orchestrated an open rebellion within the PLP, in an effort to push the takeover forward. It hadn’t been an empty threat.

One of Blair’s senior aides in Downing Street mourned the way in which matters had resolved themselves, telling Andrew Rawnsley of The Guardian, “Prime Ministers never get their departures right, do they?”

Peter Lawwell may be a mere CEO, but in this he still has the power to make the right call.

If he cares, at all, about Celtic and about saving his own reputation, then I’d suggest he thinks very strongly about what to do next.

He can leave on his own, or wait for the turning of the tide … and it’s coming.

You cannot watch what we’re becoming and seriously doubt it.

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Dave King: An Obsession With Celtic

Dave+KingWell, … just when you thought it was all quieting down in Sevconia.

You know, I wasn’t even going to bother with an article on King’s comments yesterday, save for the quick one I posted on the CelticBlog about Scott Allan. I figured that it was just another excuse for him to get his face in the papers, which we all know he loves.

What I didn’t expect – although I think this guy is an absolute charlatan – was that he would do the interview in a manner that suggested someone had slipped something into his water. Some heavy dope maybe. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

So tell me, then, how do Sevco fans feel about him tonight?

Are they still liking what they hear? What they see?

Do they still have faith?

Are they worried yet? Concerned?

Because … by God, they should be.

They have a certifiable nut running their club. No joke. I am not being flippant. I really believe this. There are deep issues with Dave King that have nothing to do with his past, but are all concerned with the way he sees the world.

This guy is off his face, and if they’re happy with that then I guess I’m happy for them to be. Because there’s no way this is good for them. There’s no way this wannabe, this Walter Mitty character, has answers to the myriad questions they should be asking.

Honestly, I’m sitting here trying to get my head around what I’ve just read.

Let’s start with this one.

He says the club has no need of his £20 million, although he admits soft loans will be required to get them through the season. I literally don’t know how else to respond to that than with sarcasm, mockery and disbelief.

That, on its own, would have had me on the floor busting a gut.

I can just imagine some fans nodding their heads in agreement at that.

Those who think this guy can do no wrong, and don’t even want to question him.

But the rest of them must be going ballistic.

This is such open nonsense that I have to conclude he thinks they are all thick.

Putting it bluntly, Dave King is insulting their intelligence.

He’s feeding into every negative thing I’ve been saying, and writing, about some of them in the last couple of years. Their own chairman – their big hero – is saying things that don’t even hide that he thinks large numbers of them are absolute mugs.

If their supporters swallow this, they might as well paint targets on their backs because this guy is going to bleed them for every cent he can. Green, at least, was happy enough taking the cash raised from the institutional investors to buy his swanky pad over in France.

King wants the real cheesecake, the untapped tens of millions in their pockets.

The more you look at Dave King, the more you see that this is a guy who dissembles on every subject, no matter who his audience is or how important the issue.

Sometimes he merely bends the truth, sometimes he gives a wrong impression about it, leading the listener away from what he’s actually saying and down a path towards another meaning entirely. There are times when he invents reality whole, like a fiction writer, as if he hopes you’ll get so immersed in the world he’s created for you that you will forget, albeit briefly, the real one.

I cannot think of anyone in the history of Scottish football – and I include Charles Green, Craig Whyte and everyone else connected with the sordid Ibrox operation – who has been quite so brazen as this.

Whenever he gets in front of the media he openly contradicts everything he’s said before.

Let’s cast our minds back to the judge’s view of him in South Africa, and I don’t simply mean the “glib and shameless” part, which I’ve always thought of as being a nice line but one that falls far short of being the real meat in that particular helping of succulent lamb.

For openers, Judge Smallwood pointed out one of King’s key character traits.

“He is extremely arrogant and obviously thinks that whatever he says is so.”

Arrogance can be perilous. At its worst, it confers upon someone a belief in themselves which often far outstrips any actual skill or talent they possess. But look at the second part of that statement; the judge is also calling him delusional.

The next bit should occasion shock amongst even his defenders.

“He deliberately misrepresented the facts of the case to his legal representatives.”

When you’re in the fight of your life and you are lying to your own lawyers … well, that’s not a sign of anything good is it?

As if that’s not enough, Smallwood went on to say;

“As his evidence progressed, it became clear that he has no respect for the truth and does not hesitate to lie, or at least misrepresent the facts, if he thinks it will be to his advantage.”

Smallwood and his fellow judges then delivered what I believe to be easily the most damning verdict of all on the South African who now runs Sevco.

“(We) saw Mr King testify in court and in cross-examination for four days and are unanimous that he is a mendacious witness whose evidence should not be accepted on any issue unless it is supported by documents or other objective evidence.”

I didn’t just make those quotes up, or invent them out of thin air.

They are part of the official record, the official court transcript, in a tax evasion and fraud case against him.

The judges are saying that King lied to the court. He lied to his lawyers. He lied to everyone, perhaps even himself, on things both great and small. He lied when huge matters were at stake. He lied to protect himself. But he also lied about little things.

He lied when he didn’t even have to, as if lying itself comes naturally to him, as if it’s a habit or a compulsion.

Does anyone really believe that a guy who would sit in a courtroom and tell blatant, open, brazen untruths to a judge, whilst under oath, would hesitate to do the same in front of a Scottish media pack that is all too ready, and willing, to believe?

That never questions him?

That never goes away and scrutinises even a single word he’s said before accepting it as fact?

If you were of the right mind-set, facing such pitiful interrogators, you might find yourself misleading them for no reason other than that you could. For the sheer thrill of it, to know that no matter how barmy your comments that they’d find an audience and make the front page. You too might well find yourself selling pie in the sky and promising moonbeams.

Of course, this interview was notable for one thing in particular; King’s “plan” to restore the OldCo.

That this is fanciful rubbish – an absolute Dave King fantasy- hardly needs saying, but that he’s even discussing such a loony concept in the press is proof that he just likes to see his name in print.

Yet I think, when you look at the whole interview, and the conduct of this guy and his board in the last six months, you see something else, something I find hugely interesting.

When I posted on the CelticBlog concerning the Scott Allan comments, I said I thought they were typically small minded and petty from this guy, as he seems simply unable to see anything go past him.

But it’s only when I read the whole interview that the over-arching theme comes through.

This guy is obsessed with Celtic, and the entire direction of his club at the moment is geared towards nothing less than matching every single thing we do. His strategy is totally reactive, and it’s dictated by our own actions.

When he talks about the club’s ambitions in a football sense, challenging Celtic is all he sees.

The rest of the teams, they don’t matter to him.

They may as well not even exist, because we’re all he thinks about and talks about.

This is understandable, in a sense, because we are, after all, the biggest club in the country, by miles. That he has set his sights on our rear view lights is perfectly normal, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t stop there.

His determination to catch us means he’s committing his board – for all a commitment from this guy is worth anyway – to over-spending, and risking their existence, if that’s what it takes.

This, too, you could simply put down to a typically Sevconian outlook in order to catch the top side … but he’s also basing his transfer policy on ours and planning to emulate our approach to that.

So it’s buy them young, train them up and sell them on.

Forget the fact this policy has seen Celtic go from a Champions League team to one that can barely handle the Europa League … this is the road he’s going down, or so he claims.

There’s not an original idea in this guy’s head … he’s copying everything from Celtic Park. This is not a guy who’s come to Ibrox with a grand master plan of his own. No, his sole strategy is to bend his club until it looks like ours.

Even here he might just be forgiven as there’s a certain logic in doing things the Celtic way if the objective is to make money – which for him, it is.

This, too, can be rationalised.

Where he starts coming off like a stalker is when he tells the fans they have to be more like us, to spend more money than us, to try and copy us as he’s trying to copy our strategy.

It becomes even spookier when you factor in his reaction to the Allan transfer and the way he sarcastically thanked us for signing the player … although he was their top target.

In light of that, his comments about Allan make perfect sense.

His ego has been pierced here, and the arrogant side of him came rushing to the surface.

No other club could have had this effect on him, though.

He is consumed by his obsession with us.

The Ibrox fans must have squirmed hearing him talk yesterday about restoring the OldCo for no other reason than we badger them about the death of their club. They’ve spent three years telling us this is not an issue … and in a single day he has expressed his own doubts loud and clear, and claimed to want to resolve it. He then says it doesn’t bother him!

Aye, right …

He knows full well – he said it before the CVA was rejected – that Rangers is dead and gone, and that even relisting the company that once existed won’t bring them back to life … the whole exercise is pedantic, and pointless, and stupid and will make no difference at all.

But it burns him that we have that to hang over his head, and it affects him so much that he’s largely oblivious to the myriad footballing issues that would arise – such as another enforced absence from European football for materially changing the corporate structure of the club – as well as the legal implications if HRMC are to claim a final victory in the Tax Case.

This guy thinks about Celtic constantly, and he will risk everything – expect his own money – to catch us.

He talks big, but ultimately he talks nonsense.

Yesterday was the day he finally tripped the wire and veered into outright nuttiness.

His Celtic obsession, his ego and his pathalogical inability to tell the truth … they merged, perfectly, in one session with the media.

If I were a Sevco fan, I’d be very concerned about all of that.

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An Open Letter To Adrian Durham

Ad angryAaaaah, Adrian ….

I really used to love TalkSport you know.

I remember Christmas 2002, when I was stuck in student digs over the holiday period with a new computer, Command & Conquer Generals and TalkSport.

Everyone else on my floor had gone home for a fortnight. I was there on my jack jones, but I enjoyed much of that time.

The show has gone downhill since then, with people like yourself trying to carve themselves out celebrity careers.

We had our own Shock Jock up here for a wee while – Scotty McClue he called himself, the on-air persona of a guy named Colin Lamont. The difference is that his IQ is off the scale and he’s got a real devotion to creative endeavours.

A lot of his stuff was said to make a point.

Not sure I can say the same about you.

You come across as a troll mate.

Indeed, The Guardian called you exactly that once upon a time, after one of your self-aggrandising rants.

Do you believe half of what you say?

Like when you said Italy didn’t deserve their four World Cups and that the Arsenal team that finished a league season unbeaten was over-rated?

Man oh man, those aren’t opinions as much as attention seeking squealing.

That’s just if you ask me, of course.

Everyone’s entitled to their view.

You probably know why I’m writing this, coming, as it does, from what’s percieved to be a Celtic blog.

This won’t be the first time you’ve sparked a response from Celtic fans; on this you are, at least, consistent.

You’ve been talking utter pish about this club for a long time.

You’ve also talked some amount of garbage about the one across the city, and that’s where you and I are going to have a wee falling out, I think.

Because as smart as you are – as you clearly are – you’re also institutionally stupid to be stepping into the minefield you just did, writing the arrant nonsense that is running in Britain’s Favourite Brand of Toilet Paper today.

The thing is, normally I wouldn’t care what you wrote or said or where you chose to say it, because it’s pretty clear many of your “views” are so ridiculous they can’t be more than ratings chasing guff, and that’s alright as far as it goes.

But it’s not something I particularly want to listen to, so I don’t.

As a consequence, I’m not phoning your show and giving it even one hit.

I’m not posting this where the article was run, doing your paymasters a service they don’t deserve for commissioning this crap.

I’m putting it here, where I’m sure it’ll find its way to you somehow … you can give me the hits, and let our guys post replies that don’t line your pocket.

I’m not out to make a name though, or create controversy.

I just want to set you, and the record, straight and tackle not only some of the more fanciful (i.e. ludicrous) parts of what you wrote … but to correct the more dangerous bits.

Oh yes, dangerous bits.

See, nothing better demonstrates how stupid this intervention was than the way in which it promotes certain myths that Scottish football is better off without.

There’s just no way I was letting you away with that.

Let’s start from the top shall we?

First, you’ve mentioned how “embarrassing” it was for us to crash out of the Champions League before the Groups.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me who thinks that a guy who’s bread and butter job is commenting on the most over-hyped league in the world talking about European football embarrassment is a bit rich.

Two EPL clubs, for all that hype, for all that wealth, for all the spending, are already out of Europe altogether.

The ease with which the top clubs are routinely beaten by the Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s and Bayern Munich’s of this world should shock you and be cause for taking stock. Instead, you’re writing about the SPL.

The record of the Premiership collective last season was horrific … just horrific when you consider the status of that league.

For all the dough sloshing around, for all the over-paid foreign players (oh yes, the one profession where all of England is united in embracing the immigrant) those clubs can field … they’re just not at the races.

We’re a Scottish club, with a Scottish club’s budget.

Where should we be aiming to get? Quarter finals? The semis? Please ….

That said, I won’t hide behind that.

We were well capable of beating Malmo and we should have done.

We’re a better team than Malmo.

But there are things going on at Celtic right now which few of us are qualified to properly understand, not being there on a daily basis.

Is it a problem with the manager and his tactics?

Maybe, yes.

Is it an issue with just not having the right type of players to fit into his system?

That could be it too.

But stop kidding yourself on that you can jolt us with your inspired realisation that we’re not a Champions League team right now.

Most of us sussed that out a while back.

I smiled reading those lines just the same, because in them you wistfully (sarcastically) looked back on our Champions League run of just three years ago, as many of us do.

You have rightly called it a memorable and wonderful night, but if you were there on that evening you must have been eating a whole cement mixer of humble pie (I’ve had to do it myself during the last few weeks) as Tony Watt put the ball in the back of the net.

Cause only a year before you’d said Neil Lennon was a failure.

Yeah … it’s those “expert opinions” that keep the punters coming back for more.

Your next assertion is completely facetious.

That somehow our decline as a club is due to the absence of a great domestic rival.

That’s one of the areas where I’m having trouble with your content, although you do get partial points for stating (at that point) what happened to that rival … “sunk into liquidation before resurfacing in the Third Division.”

(I hear that you actually changed the article to read that, having previously wrote that they had been “demoted.” Someone, it seems, has already been setting you straight on the facts.)

So liquidation, yes, but I’ll correct you on the “resurfacing” bit.

That still sort of suggests that it was the same entity which appeared overnight like a particularly virulent form of the runs.

It wasn’t.

Here in Scotland neutrals call them Sevco; the name under which the new club was formed.

If you’re going to wrie about this stuff it’s best to have your facts right.

You then describe our policy as being about “weakening the other Scottish sides” to assure our claim on the SPL title.

First up, what would it matter if we hadn’t?

What if we’d left Mackay Steven, Armstrong, Christie and others with their respective clubs?

Would they have suddenly attainted superpower status and pushed us all the way?

You said only one club was “capable” of doing that … and it wasn’t one from the north of Scotland or the East coast.

So, I’m a little baffled as to what you’re suggesting.

If these clubs were already much weaker than ours, it seems a bizarre strategy to spend our resources just to weaken them further.

Is that the business we’re in?

Playing schoolyard games?

Should big clubs no longer sign domestic based players?

Is it an embarrassment when clubs in your own league do the same thing?

Maybe you missed Chelsea’s summer pursuit of John Stones. Or the way Man City splashed out on Raheem Sterling from Liverpool. Or Manchester United going and getting Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton. These signings make three of the top four stronger at the expense of other clubs in England. Do you think that was the over-riding factor in those deals?

Does that make the EPL an embarrasment?

Your point is sheer nonsense.

You then launch into a gushing praise of Sevco and their new manager.

Dear oh dear, what were you drinking when you wrote this?

You do realise that their great start to the season – the one the media up here is hyping like it’s Arsenal on their famous unbeaten run (the one you don’t rate) … was achieved by a team playing part-time players for the most part?

A team with a wage budget some 20 times bigger than any other side in the league?

Your praise of James Tavernier as a “sensationally good player” is hilarious as it only makes sense to those who’re unaware that he’s had eight clubs in four years and is plying in his trade now in a league which is even less prestigious, or likely to produce an European class team, than the one the first half of your article makes out to be a joke.

The Ibrox club is only doing this year what a club with those resources should have been doing from the start.

This is all very nice, as far it goes … but it doesn’t go very far.

You mentioned their “winning mentality”, which again I find kind of unusual in an article which is hypercritical of a perceived failure at Celtic Park.

Do you know what our record is this season?

In terms of matches played, and wins?

We’ve lost once … to Malmo.

We’ve drawn two fixtures, including one of our European ties.

We’ve won the rest.

Five wins in the league. Four in Europe, for nine in total, against full time teams, with resources and means.

But I guess there’s no “winning mentality” to be had in doing that.

That was where your article lurched from being slightly daft to be plain barmy.

It’s the next bit that prompted me to write this article.

“Celtic will face a Rangers side with momentum, angry and fired up for revenge for what that club and its fans have been through …”

First, let’s get this straight; what that club has “been through” is purely a consequence of stupidity.

That of its own supporters in believing a rogues gallery of people taking them for a ride – in spite of warnings from a whole lot of websites and blogs, including this one; check the archives if you think I’m kidding – and third rate hacks like you, writing baseless, fantasy-land nonsense about how the future was going to be glorious and bright.

Maybe I’ve read this wrong, but having started out with the truth about their liquidation you seem awfully close to embracing the paranoid “Victim Myth” that is so prevalent amongst their supporters, and which even now won’t let them enjoy the sunshine of the present day but has them thinking about crap like “revenge.”

Revenge for exactly what?

Your radio station seems awfully keen to embrace the nut-job reality presented it, and your listeners, by hacks like Keith Jackson, who I’ve heard on there pushing this nonsense like a drug.

Some of you ought to know better than to listen to a discredited joke like him, but clearly there’s something slipping past you, so I’ll fill you in.

If you think the standard of our football is bad up here, you ought to take a moment and check out the standard of the journalism. It makes you and the other contributors at The Mail like look Woodward and Bernstein.

It was this media, asleep at the wheel or too craven or in the pockets of the Ibrox club to speak out, who sold the fans on “Motherwell born billionaire” (a quote from Mr Jackson himself) Craig Whyte when he bought Rangers from then owner David Murray for £1.

A quid Adrian.

For “the second biggest Scottish institution after the church.”

(Murray’s own words that time, which no-one in our media even thought to argue with.)

Money that if you dropped it you wouldn’t even bother to bend down to pick it up again.

That club was so scandalously run and financially doped to the gills that it had, effectively, been cheating the rest of Scottish football for years, buying players it couldn’t afford due to the largesse of a bank that nearly collapsed entirely and is still the subject of one of the largest corporate fraud investigations ever launched in the UK.

Although their squad was made up of expensive footballers, in August 2011, shortly after you’d criticised Neil Lennon for failure (at a time, when our rival club was alive and well and we had the challenger you claim is necessary to give our success validity; in retrospect you just sound like a guy who doesn’t like Celtic very much) they were beaten twice in successive European competitions – ironically by Malmo first, and then by Maribor.

With no bank funding to bail them out, and no sugar daddy to take them forward, they collapsed because of their rampant debts and shortly thereafter they were gone.

No-one harassed them to the grave.

No-one was vindictive or punitive.

HMRC refused a CVA because of outstanding tax bills and a pending legal case (as is their stated policy, and which only came as a seismic shock to Rangers supporters because the media had spent months telling the fans that it wouldn’t happen) and when no-one came forward to take on the debts and assume responsibility for saving them liquidation followed.

As it had at Gretna, at Airdrie and at a host of other clubs around the world.

Sevco, which arose from the wreckage, a new entity entirely and which had to be granted a temporary SFA license to play its first game (unparalleled before or since) then made a cheeky effort to assume Rangers’ former place in the top flight, and for a while the authorities had been willing to go right along with that until supporters lobbied their clubs for fairness and sporting integrity to have its day.

In short, Sevco started life where all new clubs do – at the bottom – and even then the rules were actually bent in their favour as the whole club licensing and membership application process was turned upside down to get them into the league setup as fast as possible.

What the Victim Myth does is promotes an unhealthy concept, one of some great crime against Rangers and its fans.

It never happened.

I call it a myth because it has gained some kind of following, and people believe it.

But in point of fact, what we’re dealing with, what we’re really dealing with here, is a media and PR firm inspired lie, designed to give the new club some historical and psychological grounding with mug punters who would only buy season tickets if they believed they were following the same team.

We call that The Survival Myth and with The Victim Myth it makes a noxious combination which has the potential to do enormous harm to the Scottish game, above and beyond that which its governing bodies and the press actually did in 2012 when they tried to put Sevco in the top flight.

You know something about Lennon, I’d presume. You know what he went through up here.

You know there’s a lunatic element on the margins that thrives on this victimhood crap.

And you’re giving them legitimacy.

Will you take responsibility if they act on that?

I suspect not.

Like the hacks up here who do the same, I have a sneaky feeling that down deep you’re actually gutless.

You’re all too ready to stir the soup but you’d run – not walk – away from pot the second it started to bubble.

I expect this from the Scottish press, which has its own historical leanings and other reasons for wanting to push these ideas.

But from a journalist based down south, this reeks of laziness and bad research, that and listening to all the wrong people.

Some of us do know the limitations of the current Celtic side, and the running of the club, and we’ve been writing about it and not just in relation to one bad result.

Some of us know what actually went on at Ibrox, and were trying to warn our rival fans – yes, warn them, as odd as that might sound to you – about the people they and the hacks were embracing as saviours long before the wheels fell off for them.

Some of us do care about Scottish football, and see it as more than just a two club game and don’t particularly relish the prospect of seeing a duopoly again.

Furthermore, and I speak for a lot of fans here, I think that you and Jackson and the rest sound like arrogant arses when you blithely dismiss Aberdeen, Dundee Utd, Hearts and others from having any say in whether or not that will establish itself.

What you characterise as a “worthless” three years has seen St Johnstone and Inverness both win the Scottish Cup. It has seen St Mirren and Aberdeen triumph in the League Cup. Aberdeen and Motherwell had finished in the top three twice apiece, and St Johnstone and Inverness once each. Attendances have gone up at almost every top flight club.

Tell their supporters that the last three years have been “worthless.”

You really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

Finally, you’ve suggested that Celtic fans be somehow worried about the makeshift sides of Championship players and loanees which is currently beating part time teams in Scotland’s second tier.

Believe me when I say we’re not.

We’re more aware than you clearly are about the underlying flaws in the Ibrox superstructure.

Some of us have spent years looking into this.

We also know that Chairman Dave – Dodgy Dave King – doesn’t have the wealth to back up his grandiose claims, those on which you and others are basing this notion of them as a superpower.

Rangers was a club built on debt. That’s all.

Today banks and investors are much less tolerant of throwing good money after bad.

Why do you think my own club hasn’t come close to breaking its own transfer record – of £6 million – since we signed Chris Sutton fifteen years ago?  Whatever else I might say about them, our board has some appreciation for how insane it would be to chase unicorns, and without that kind of spending Sevco is going to find us awfully hard to catch,

Maybe you know all of this. Maybe your article is just click-bait.

Or maybe you really are as ill-informed and stupid as it appears to suggest.

Either way, the radio is probably the best place for you.

I would say stick to what you’re good at … although it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember just what that is.

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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Gloating From The Gutter

JS46681927Three things were inevitable in the aftermath of Tuesday night’s defeat, and I’ve watched them all creep across the landscape with a certain wry amusement.

First was the defence of the strategy, which is being mounted by a lot of Celtic fans who see no problem with the club being defined in terms of what it can’t do these days rather than in what it wants to.

Before I start with the general point of this piece, I want to say something to my fellow Celtic fans that maybe got lost in the last 24 hours.

It is this.

We’re all part of a Family here, and I love all of you and have the greatest respect for how you see our great club.

And we are still a great club, albeit one in rough waters at the moment. I never forget that, measuring that, as I do, by criteria other than the team sheet or the balance sheet or which particularly European competition we’re playing in.

I know everything you’ve said in the past day or two has been said out of love for Celtic.

I only wish I believed the club loved you as much as you do it.

That it had the same affection and respect for you as you do it.

But I don’t believe that at the moment.

Yet in real terms it couldn’t matter less.

This club is something we’ll pass down through the generations, something we’ll give to them, and that makes it bigger than any player or director or manager enjoying a temporary sojourn within its walls.

We’ll see off whatever challenges come our way or whatever disasters impose themselves on us, because of that.

I wanted to say that, right from the off.

This club is lucky to have so many supporters who do believe in faithful through and through. I think they take advantage of it, but my awe at your sacrifices and depth of feeling for Celtic is immeasurable whatever they might think.

So yes, the defence of the strategy and where our club is right now … that was wholly predictable.

The media response was too, and I have to take a minute to cover that as well.

A lot of our fans, for understandable reasons, are angry at some of the press and their depiction of the defeat as being a consequence of bad management either from the boardroom or the boot room.

The thing is … these guys aren’t always wrong.

That some of them have waited a long time to write these headlines doesn’t detract from the simple truth in much of what they are saying.

The hacks, for one reason or another, are often on the lookout for anti-Celtic stories and an anti-Celtic slant … but there are times when they are fully justified in their reporting, albeit the tone in some of it.

I’ll get to that shortly. It’s the point of the piece.

But let’s not pretend there isn’t a lot of truth in the current criticism.

There most certainly is.

The hyperbole is what we’ve come to expect – especially that concerning the future of the manager – but in the main, they are asking some of the questions I’d want them to.

Some of the tone in certain quarters has, however, been quite gleeful and mocking and gloating.

That’s the third thing I expected, and it amuses me most of all.

But there’s a part of me that chafes at it, and I freely admit that.

It really is something to see a litany of joy in the tweets from the supporters of clubs outside Glasgow at Celtic being knocked out of the Champions League.

Now, I accept that certain sections of the Celtic support weren’t exactly mourning on the night Inverness went out, or Aberdeen failed to reach the Europa League groups, but I suspect that was a minority, as I suspect the guys on Twitter celebrating Celtic’s exit are too.

Because it takes a peculiar short-sightedness to be so delighted at your own club losing out on a £250,000 windfall, which would have been heading their way had Celtic made it, in much the same way as I find it baffling when my own club’s fans can be happy seeing other Scottish clubs tank with all the damage that does to the co-efficient.

We know, of course, that such silliness is often just a result of banter.

There are a few, a sad, tragic, few, who do get delight out of seeing other Scottish clubs crash, and in particular when it’s the big boy on the block who’s hitting the skids … but they are rare.

They, of course, are a different species again to the genuine haters.

You know who I am referring to.

Confession time; way back in the sands of time, when they still followed a club called Rangers, and not the one we refer to by its founding name, Sevco, I used to take enormous pleasure and satisfaction seeing them get stuffed whenever they strode onto the continent.

But that was at a time when we were genuine competitors.

My glee was as much about seeing them lose major income and the advantages that conferred as it was about seeing the glum faces of their fans on the telly – although that used to occasion great hilarity in this house.

They had much the same outlook on it, as we would frequently be playing in Europe in the same week, and if you suffered a reversal it made it all the more imperative that your rivals did the same, or there was a risk of them opening up a gap on you.

Now, I always knew that on a very real level this was a form of madness.

Those who wail right now about us having to play three qualifying rounds in the Champions League, with all the attendant risks that brings … well, this is a consequence of those days and every time we danced jovially as Rangers were pumped.

On those nights, our own future path got that much harder to navigate.

This is only one of many reasons I find their glee so absurd.

Their own path towards European football will be hard enough, but once (if) they get there they can forget being a seeded side for the next 100 years. Success for their fellow Scottish clubs would have lessened the extent of their problems on that score.

They’re not interested in that.

I really don’t have much of an issue with them wishing us ill, but they were as pleased to see the other clubs fail as they were to see Malmo beat us the other night.

They really did expect, at the start of what they once called The Journey, to rise to an SPL that had been devastated in the absence of an Ibrox club.

They wanted that.

Their own need for vengeance at the perceived injustices – it makes me laugh – was all consuming, and it still is.

It burns them that Scottish football hasn’t collapsed.

It aggravates them and it troubles them because if they get promoted this time around they won’t be facing part time teams next year but sides in robust health, who’ve got a taste of European football and the winning of trophies these last few years and who will see them as the upstarts they are.

Last week, I wrote an article about how reasonable performances on the park have helped to gloss over the gaping holes that still exist in the superstructure of the RMS Sevco, and the response I got from their supporters was to accuse me of wishful thinking and being motived by hate.

Not one of those responses addressed a single point I made.

Not one of them attempted to argue that I was wrong in any way.

It was a typical fingers in the ears, “nanananana not listening” reaction from people who really do think they’re only a couple of seasons away from taking our place in those qualifying games.

Man oh man … you’d think last season would have dissuaded them from such fanciful and stupid thinking but nope.

A few good performances and they’re world beaters.

They are about ten years away from where Celtic is right now.

I firmly believe the Icelandic champions would have been confident of taking their current side over two legs. Quarabag would certainly have beaten them, and Malmo would have had the tie finished in a half hour.

The total spend required to get their team even to the level of ours, far less to the level needed to reach those Groups year in year out, is beyond them, beyond even their limited comprehension, and I say that as someone who thinks my own club has stopped even trying.

They are in a mighty rush to tell us we’re not as good as we think we are.

I laugh at that too.

What do they really believe our level of self awareness is?

No-one has to tell Celtic supporters about the limitations of our side.

Not a single one of us is unaware of what our level presently is.

Many of us believe this has been imposed on us because of lack of ambition in the boardroom.

The rest believe it’s simply a consequence of our financial position in relation to the English game and the Champions League’s structure, designed specifically to let certain clubs and nations hoover up all the money.

I may debate those who believe that, and they are certainly ready to debate me, but we are united in understanding where it puts us.

Not a one of us believes in fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Not a single person who supports this club thinks we’re two or three signings from the Champions League quarter finals.

We’re a Europa League team at present.

No-one believes anything else.

Reality, you see, is something we embrace rather than deny. Because to do otherwise sets you up for crushing disappointment at best … and at worst sends you tumbling into the abyss.

We have a business plan that takes into account these failures, and that’s about the only positive thing I can actually say about the strategy as it presently stands. We can absorb these shocks precisely because we don’t spend too much.

At Ibrox they are already banking on future European money, although they are, at best, another year from being able to even contemplate that stage. Their entire “business plan” is a sheer fantasy, based on achieving goals that are so financially prohibitive for a club presently losing £700,000 a month that even if they did realise them the cost of doing it would certainly put them in a graveyard hole next to Rangers.

I said in the post on the night before the game that the result, come what may, would need to be handled with a sense of perspective.

Had we won it would not have made us ready for the Groups any more than a defeat leaves us at deaths door.

I think for our club to move on certain fundamentals need radically altering, but the notion that we’re on the verge of crisis or collapse is risible, and anyone making that suggestion – and I’ve read at least one lunatic example of it on a Sevco site – needs a reality check.

It simply ain’t true.

What Sevco fans have witnessed over the last few days is not the soul searching of fans of a club in despair but an internal debate between Celtic supporters on how to take the club to the next level.

None of it has resembled the lamentations of doom, whatever their febrile minds imagine.

Europa League income, along with season ticket sales, would, even without Van Dijk or someone else going and netting Celtic a pretty penny will give us a heavy financial advantage over Sevco for the 12 month accounting period.

That gap is getting wider, not smaller, with every passing year.

It would have been wider still with the Champions League money … but no-one at Ibrox should be kidding themselves that they’re catching us up.

Gloating is all well and good when you and your rivals are on even keel and you’re watching them suffer defeat in the knowledge that it weakens them in relation to you.

What they are celebrating is our vanishing over the horizon. We’re not moving as fast as we might have been, but we’re outpacing them, easily, without breaking sweat. Even if we were standing still … they are a loss making club without a credit line.

Deep down they’re not unaware of that.

The defining moment, as far it relates to us in comparison to them, didn’t come on Tuesday. It came at full time in the Quarabag away match, when we secured our place in the Group stages of the Europa League.

Only a fool would have failed to grasp that.

But then we’re not exactly dealing with The Brains Trust here, are we?

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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As Good As It Gets

Malmo-FF-v-CelticFew things in football focus the mind like defeat.

Victory can eliminate all thought about the “bigger picture” and can cover a multitude of sins. Had Nir Biton’s perfectly legitimate goal been given last night, had we gone on to take something from the match, much of what I am about to write would have been ignored or scoffed at.

I still expect it to be in some quarters.

This article would have been the same regardless. Because I said in my last piece that win or lose this tie, it would not define the season.

It won’t. This season was defined before a ball was kicked in these matches.

It was defined by a strategy which has already failed on several levels and which our club is locked into like a death grip.

As you all know, I’m a movie fan and there’s a scene in one of my favourite films which speaks to me particularly loudly today.

In the movie Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a best-selling author of women’s fiction, gushy, romantic, warm and open-hearted stuff which makes his readers swoon. But he’s an appalling character in person, a misanthrope, a guy who says what he thinks without filtering his words, self-centred, egotistic and absolutely without compunction.

He also has obsessive compulsive disorder, and in the scene in question he’s just barged into his psychiatrists office without an appointment, and been sent packing. Angrily, he steps out of the office into a waiting room full of people. He looks at them all, sitting there, each already several steps down their own personal path to being “whole” and he knows exactly what to say to shatter all their hard work in a single moment.

“What if this is as good as it gets?” he asks them.

You might as well walk into a bar of Hibs fans or Aberdeen fans or St Mirren fans or Motherwell fans after their side has been knocked out of the Scottish Cup of a season and ask them the same question.

This is what it feels like no longer to be shattered by defeat.

To have, on some level, been mentally prepared for it because you realise, deep down, that your side simply isn’t good enough to be anything more.

It’s the question I asked my mates in the pub last night as the reality of the result was sinking in. In European terms, the Europa League is, without a doubt, the level at which we presently belong.

They say that success has a thousand fathers but that failure is an orphan; that’s never more true than when Celtic are doing well. Certain people at our club can’t wait to have their faces front and centre and in the papers and on TV.

When things go wrong, they bunker.

In this case the line of those to blame for last night’s result stretches around the block and back. But foremost amongst them are the Usual Suspects, the people who cause me to exile myself from Parkhead; Bankier, Lawwell and Desmond.

Managers who fail get sacked. Players who don’t cut it get punted. Only directors and CEO’s at football clubs have the arrogance to hang on in there year after year, presiding over garbage like this. They, alone, of football’s leading figures never quite pay the bill for failure.

It is beyond question that the Celtic “strategy” is deeply flawed. It has cost us tens of millions of pounds in income, money that ain’t coming back. It has placed us in the perverse position whereby we are a football team which funds a business rather than the other way around. Our commercial department has failed to crack Asia and the United States, despite huge efforts.

People talk about us being “risk averse”, but I’ve long argued that it doesn’t get more risky than the way we do business at the moment, rolling the dice in this competition year in year out.

There are ways we could change all this, and move forward. But those ways are anathema to a board of directors and a CEO who, in their arrogance, won’t budge. It doesn’t matter how many of these reversals we suffer … they are locked in, and unwilling to change.

That strategy can be summarised best like this; buy them young, “develop them” and then move them on.

We don’t buy quality anymore.

We buy potential.

That this often explodes, like a hand grenade, in our faces shouldn’t be surprising.

I think the squad does have potential. I think if it was left to “develop” it would be promising.

But I know it won’t be.

Van Dijk has one foot out the door. Biton or Johansen will be next, and something tells me we might not need to wait too long before that happens. The signing of Scott Allan hints at plans for at least one midfield departure.

See last night’s performance would be more tolerable to me if I thought this was a squad at the bottom of a very steep learning curve, but one that would get a chance to grow and toughen up in the required areas.

What makes it worse is that transition is our permanent state of affairs, because the strategy has locked us into that. We’re never going to have a “settled team.” We’re always going to be walking the wire in this way.

There’s something about our strategy that only became apparent to me last night, and it should worry every fan.

It hit me when I looked at our back four.

Charlie Mulgrew, at 29, was the oldest of them. Van Dijk is 25. Boyata is 24 and Janko is only 19. That has to be one of the youngest, and least experienced, defensive lines in the Champions League. Mulgrew, who more often plays in a bizarre midfield hybrid role these days, was the “wise old head” in that back line last night and it showed.

That lack of experience, that lack of a cool head, someone who’s been there and seen it and done it and knows how to properly lead a defence and organise those around him, is precisely why they looked like rabbits caught in the headlights last night, why they were a shambles and conceded twice from set pieces, which over the tie is what’s put us out.

And this is deliberate.

It permeates the whole team, as does the paucity of ambition in our signing policies.

You want to know why we’re out of Europe’s biggest competition?

Think on it like this for a moment.

Our goalkeeper is a wonderful signing, but we were fortunate with that because he might still have been unfit. We took a risk, punting our first choice for millions and putting our faith in him, but that risk has paid off, by and large and we’re damned lucky it has.

Our right back was signed from Manchester United Reserves. Let’s get that straight from the off. He was not a first team player. He was a reserve. I think he’s a fantastic prospect … but it’s that word again, and all the connotations of it that continue to haunt us.

Our first choice central defender was signed from Holland, when he was just 21. He has a shot of going far in the game but he ain’t close to being the finished article and if we get the reputed £12 million for him we shouldn’t turn it down.

His defensive partner was signed from Manchester City Reserves. He is 24 and has made only 66 full time, professional, appearances since 2009. Ponder that for a moment. He too is potentially a very good player, but that we put our Champions League future on his shoulders last night, was lamentable and reeks of bad planning. The consequences of it are obvious when you watch his positioning for the goals last night and in the first leg.

Charlie Mulgrew was signed from Aberdeen five years ago. On a free transfer.

Our midfield is bossed by a player we signed from Hibs, albeit he is now our captain and a fine player, having matured into the role because he was given the time to. Few of his team-mates from last night will be at Celtic Park five years from now.

He was joined there by an often injured product of our youth academy, a player we signed from Norway, one we brought from an Israeli team for £700,000 and a guy who was at Dundee United last season. I think all four are excellent … prospects.

None but Brown is near 30.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the striker who was carrying our Champions League ambitions.

Like Scott Brown, his last club before Celtic was Hibs.

Here’s my favourite part; aside from Craig Gordon, not one of these guys was signed over 25.

Ponder that too for a moment.

Pop quiz time; who was the last outfield player we actually bought, for cash, who was over 25?

And who was the last one we bought for cash before him?

I’ll tell you this much; over the last five years we’ve brought in a few players over that age, but all were on short term deals or free transfers. None of them was at Parkhead longer than a year. They were stop gaps.

None was brought in to actually improve the team.

I’ll put you out of your misery; the last one we paid cash for was only 26.

He was Derk Boerrigter.

Before that, you’ve got to go back to 2011, and Kris Commons, who was 27.

Prior to that, we hadn’t signed an experienced footballer, who actually enhanced our squad, since Paul Hartley in 2007, who was 29 when he first pulled on a Celtic shirt and cost us £1.1 million, a transfer fee he repaid with virtually one moment, his memorable header against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League qualifiers.

Before that, such players were frequently added to our squad.

Were there some misfits?

Well, Thomas Gravesen was not a success but Jan Venegoor of Hesselink, who was 28 when he signed on the dotted line at Celtic Park, scored 34 goals in 78 appearances, including against Rangers, Barcelona and Manchester United.

You do get what you pay for.

That kind of quality justifies the outlay.

But those players are of no interest to Celtic.

Because experience and skill and maturity aren’t what we’re looking for in our signings.

All we’re looking for is “potential” and that’s not so much potential to grow as footballer players … it is only potential resale value that counts.

We no longer sign players who can lead the line, marshall a defence, rally a midfield, bringing to bear the lessons of years as professional sportsmen. Every player we go for is signed with a view to moving him on somewhere down the line. All are young. All are expected to grow under the weight of expectation that they can be be more than they are.

Those who do show something early – like Wanyama, like Van Dijk – are punted as soon as good money comes in.

As a consequence, we never move forward.

Last night is the all-too-predictable result of our flawed approach.

The strategy has failed to deliver on every level; we’re heading for five in a row right now and that will make a lot of people smile widely and happily … but the number is important and instructive and should serve as a reminder of just how little time has passed since the geniuses at our club were unable even to deliver our own domestic championship.

Indeed, we’ve only won six out of the last nine league titles, four of them without a major challenge.

If anyone thinks our procession towards ten will be unhindered and unimpeded, I would advise them to think again because that’s a long way from now and anything could happen in between times.

Perhaps that’s what it’s going to take to make this clear to even those who don’t want to see it.

Perhaps it really is going to take Derek McInness walking around Pittodrie with the SPL trophy, or something less dramatic but still calamitous, like the two domestic cups at Tynecastle.

Something that slaps people awake without the wheels falling all the way off.

There’s no prospect of any of this changing, which is why I said last night would not define our club or our season.

Those who “settle for” will “get behind the team” as we go into the second tier of European football, and they’ll “settle for” that and a domestic treble. Lose in the League Cup and they’ll “settle for” a double. Lose in the Scottish Cup and as long as we’re still heading for the next milestone in titles they’ll be perfectly content.

There is no appetite for pitchforks in the carpark and a demand that these policies are changed.

No revolution is just around the corner.

Instead, a lot of fans will simply not go to games.

There will be no banners in the stands, but there will be a godawful lot of empty seats.

Today the internet buzzes with threads about whether the manager should carry the can and whether certain players ought to be shown the door.

Those who would blame Ronny for last night’s debacle, those who say tactical inflexibility and poor coaching are responsible for it, and who point to how little we’ve moved forward in the last 12 months, may well have their point proved even more brutally than we just saw.

I’m not convinced by their reasoning, but I am not blind to some of the issues.

His one man up front approach is ridiculous without the players to make it work, so it’s not getting the results. That he persists with it anyway seems more about stupid pride than anything else and if he doesn’t realise that the team comes first that will cost him.

If the “Norwegian Experiment” ultimately proves a failure then his head will roll in due course.

But it will be a scandal if his is the only one because our problems start at the very top of the house and removing the man in the dugout won’t make them better because his replacement will be from the same mould and will have to labour under the same restrictions.

This is the way people at our club – and even sections of our support – want it though.

Risk averse. Bloodless. Settling for.

Last night was not only an echo of the past but a glimpse of what we can expect in the future.

As long as we’re run this way, this is as good as it gets.

(This article was amended. In the section covering the league titles it originally read that we’ve won 5 out of 9. It’s actually 6, so thanks for the guys who brought that to my attention.)

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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Keeping Tonight In Perspective

GW404H338Tonight in Malmo Celtic will play a single football match.

That is all. We’ll take the field against the champions of Sweden and we will play 90 minutes.

Tomorrow morning, whatever the result of that game, there will be a gushing of hyperbole. We’ll be told that it either makes our season or sends it speeding off the rails.

Neither of those things will be true. We’ll have a minimum of six more games to play in Europe come what may, and we’ll still be contesting a domestic treble.

One result will not change any of that.

Our supporters, and our club, will not starve for entertainment or for money as a consequence.

If we make the Champions League the pot will be somewhat bigger and the entertainment greater, … but the fundamentals will remain the same.

I believe this is going to be an enjoyable evening, but I will be heart sick if our team does not make it through.

My frustration will revolve around two things; first, a profound believe that we’ve got a club now which “settles for”, rather than aims for greatness and second, that I understand full well that to a certain extent this is how it has to be.

It is not the fault of Celtic that our horizons are limited.

We live within the boundaries of what is possible in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Realists point out the futility of our club chasing dreams of getting to the quarter finals, semi finals, or even the final of the biggest football competition on Earth, when it’s the same handful of teams, all with resources vastly in excess of our own, who reach those stages every single year.

I can’t argue with them.

Not competing with those clubs isn’t a failure of ambition and that we choose not even to try is simply accepting reality.

We live in a world where television dominates the global game like never before, and this curse on the sport that we love has skewed everything horribly and perhaps even permanently.

Those who are waiting on the Premiership bubble bursting, radically realigning the game again, have been talking about that for the last ten or so years.

Those who cling to the belief that we’re one day going to engineer an invite to the EPL are kidding themselves as they’ve always been.

There are only two ways we’re ever going to play in that league; the “franchise route” of buying a small club in England, assuming their identity and traveling up the leagues or by some kind of legal challenge, although God knows what the basis for it would be.

I would support neither.

Celtic is about more than just what happens on the pitch and enough of our soul has been squandered in recent years by those in the boardroom who run us like a “bottom line” business, no matter what that means.

The notion that our club, which was founded for starving people, should ever pay £20 million for a single footballer, or give one a weekly salary three or four times the average annual median wage … it’s offensive to every notion I have of what Celtic is supposed to be.

For all that, Celtic would be a giant in the EPL … not a mid-table battler, not a relegation struggler but a genuine contender.

With our fan-base – and a truly global one, unlike the West of Scotland pretenders to greatness we share a city with – and our historical roots we would be an irresistible draw, one that would make us a serious player from our very first match in the league.

Most of the time it’s enough for me to know that.

Most of the time it’s enough to remember that Celtic is more than just a football club, that we are a true cultural and social phenomenon, so much so that even with the limitations of our league we still retain a magnetic pull like few other sides.

One ridiculous article over the weekend asked if our club is in permanent, irreversible decline.

The notion is ludicrous.

Celtic may reach a level beyond which it can no longer progress within the current football landscape, but when you measure the club by a different criteria than money – the loathsome “equaliser” that has a dozen English sides with not a fraction of our history far less our cultural roots as “bigger” than we are – you see how ridiculous the concept is.

Our club will remain special, it will still be significant, and it will continue to carry our dreams and our hopes and our hearts.

We will continue to be relevent for as long as we exist, and this will be true whatever the result in Malmo tonight, and I write this as someone who fully expects us to win and proceed to the next phase of the competition.

For all of that any defeat will continue to rile me, for many reasons.

Foremost amongst them will be the risk averse way we approach our business.

No-one expects us to try and compete with the big boys – as I’ve said above, that is a simple matter of accepting the reality of where we are and where we play. What we can expect, however, is that the club shows some signs of life, that they fix clear deficiencies in the side and cease with the strategy of betting small and for huge odds.

This is the strategy that sends us into tonight’s game with an off-form left back and the possibility of having to play Efe Ambrose out of position on the right. It is the strategy that sends us to Malmo still lacking a truly special midfield talent who can open up defences with a killer pass and, above all else, still without the proven finisher at this level we’ve been crying out for.

There are a lot of reasons why we don’t have those things, but as long as amongst those reasons is that we lack the ambition, the imagination and the will to go out and sign them up I’ll continue to be frustrated and angry and hold our board partly accountable for any failure.

There is simply no reasonable excuse for some of these deficiencies.

Some of them have been standing out, clear as you like, for the last couple of years and our strategy for fixing them has been haphazard at best when it hasn’t been outright scandalous.

Take the £2.4 million we paid for Scepovic.

I would suggest that was not a failure of scouting, as some have stated.

We weren’t buying anything like the finished article there and we knew that at the time.

If that guy had been the thirty goal a season player we needed we’d never have got near him because his value would have been three times that at least and that would have stopped us from even pursuing the matter.

Instead we bought “potential”, because that’s cheap and relatively risk free.

And in some ways, that kind of money does represent a hit we can afford to take – and I’m not writing him off, by the way; he’s been at Celtic less than a year – but that’s £2 million worth of footballer who doesn’t even make it into the squad most weeks.

The slot he was supposed to fill remains empty.

Signing Ciftci was not part of the solution, as he’s a different type of player entirely and that we even attempted to fill this round hole with his square peg, before giving Leigh Griffiths a go, says it all.

It isn’t simply the money we’ve lost in transfer fees on punts like Pukki and Balde either.

Failures like these are often the difference between the Champions League Groups and settling for football in the lesser competition, and the financial consequences that entails.

There are some who’ll say spending money guarantees you nothing.

I have three words for them; Manchester City and Chelsea.

The latter won a Champions League, and they didn’t do it by developing their youth talent. The former quite literally spent their way out of virtual irrelevance to grab an EPL crown, and have ambitions to go even further.

Spending big bucks doesn’t guarantee you success of course, but if you want to be taken seriously in the game you act it. Buying quality stacks the odds in your favour – sometimes overwhelmingly.

For everyone who says it doesn’t buy you success, there are a dozen clubs who’ve done it.

Look at Rangers and their trophy haul in the crazy years.

And how did we finally put a stop to it?

We spent big money too.

Don’t let anyone kid you that it “guarantees nothing.”

The very people who hide behind that excuse are most often the ones who’re constantly telling us that EPL wealth means we can’t compete.

They know theirs is a bogus line of argument, but to accept that means challenging the orthodoxy of their own club, and they’d do anything rather than confront the possibility that we might just have it wrong.

There are others who will point to the liquidation of Rangers and refuse to countenance that kind of risk.

Their argument is the weakest of all.

No-one is suggested insanity on that scale and they know full well we’re not.

In truth, we know that every transfer buy is a punt, a shot in the dark, but there are better ways to do business than blindly rolling dice and hoping to hit the jackpot.

For all that, I do think we’ll do it, that we’ll make it through tonight and be in the draw.

Because we have got some of the fundamentals right.

We have got ourselves an excellent head coach and he’s been able to mould quite a decent team out of the scant resources he’s been given.

That’s why I can say, with total confidence, that we’re a better side than Malmo in every department and that their home record notwithstanding there’s nothing here that concerns me.

But I’ll repeat what I said at the start, disappointment or elation aside this one result will not make our break our season.

It will not radically alter the structure or the underlying nature of what Celtic is.

This is 90 minutes of football, and that is all.

Afterwards, win or lose, Celtic will go on as before.

I’m not suggesting it isn’t an important night.

It is. It most certainly is.

But just this once, I’m going to keep it in perspective.

If we go out, it’ll be one of those things; a result of stupid mistakes on the pitch, against a team we should have beaten, and partly a consequence of missed opportunities and the road not taken off it.

Yet it will also be a measure of where we are in comparison to other teams.

Whether we like it or not, this is it for us at the moment, banging our head glumly against the glass ceiling of playing in Scotland, unable to rise as far as we’d like or as far as we could if that ceiling were not there.

Celtic belongs on the Champions League stage.

That’s why it’s so important that we get there.

Our stature demands it.

Our name justifies it.

Our history has earned it.

That we have to struggle like this to get there is infuriating.

Tomorrow I’m going to elaborate on that point, and write about the meritocracy.

For today, and tonight, enjoy the game friends.

2-0 to the Celtic.

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Sevco Losing Allan Is A Failure On Every Level

allan-e1439471240976-660x496I don’t have to tell anyone in Celtic cyberspace how I feel about the impending Scott Allan transfer to Celtic. My comments on it, over various blogs, do that well enough.

I never believed this deal would come to pass.

I never believed he was good enough to sign for us.

I never believed he would fit into an already overcrowded midfield.

It looks like I’ve been proved wrong about the first bit, hope to be proved wrong about the second and realise that with so many games coming up in the near future that there is some surface sense in having him.

From the moment he signs, Scott Allan will receive my absolute and unquestioning support.

He’ll have made an enormous personal decision, signed for the biggest club in the country, set himself up for all kind of abuse from across town and faces the toughest task of any player in the land, to break into a midfield that is loaded down with top class players.

The mental strength that suggests is enormous.

That bodes well if nothing else does.

If his footballing skills develop in the way he’s matured psychologically this may yet prove to be the steal of the summer.

Time and time alone will tell.

Scott Allan, welcome to Parkhead.

You will never regret making this choice.

As unusual as this deal is for Celtic, I do not believe for one second that it’s been done for the purposes of upsetting Sevconia.

We simply don’t operate like that.

We certainly would not devote resources to something so inane.

This deal obviously fits in to a larger plan, and I have to trust Ronny Deila on that score, and I do.

Allan is clearly buying into that, as Ciftci did, and as young Kieran Tierney just did by signing a brand new four year deal, and praising the manager fulsomely.

Something important – perhaps something very special – is happening at Celtic Park and the texture of it is only now becoming apparent.

The club is moving forward at a brisk old pace, and the future looks brighter than it has in some time.

That’s where the Allan deal clearly fits into a bigger picture, and a long term plan.

This has its mirror image in what this deal means for the club across the city, and that, in the short term at least, might prove to be just as important, and perhaps more so.

Because Scott Allan’s decision is a clear repudiation of the whole Ibrox strategy, from top to bottom.

It is a quite stunning – and I don’t use that term lightly – vote of No Confidence in the club, in its management team, in its board of directors and its short to medium term future.

It can be looked at no other way.

No amount of spin will transform this into anything other than a colossal snub, and the ramifications of it are enormous no matter how much certain people start to backpedal and change the narrative to suit themselves and their agenda.

Scott Allan is a self-confessed Sevco supporter.

He wanted to play for the club that rose from the ashes of his boyhood heroes.

He handed in a transfer request to that effect when the club’s bid for him was rejected.

There is no question about any of that.

That Scott Allan is not currently being paraded inside Ibrox, but has wound up instead at Celtic Park, is a harsher verdict on the current Sevco regime than anything else I could have written or imagined at the start of the summer.

If you’re a manager who wants a talented footballer you couldn’t ask for more than this scenario presented to Mark Warburton.

It was a slam dunk. Or it should have been.

Hibs, forced to play another season in the second tier, couldn’t afford to turn down a decent offer for any of their players.

As a supporter of the Ibrox club Allan’s willingness to sign wasn’t in doubt.

He has one year of his contract left, which always makes the team he’s playing for vulnerable to losing him for free.

Hibs would not have resisted a decent bid.

They couldn’t have.

Their fans would have understood, and the club could have re-invested some of the money.

Hibs’ reaction to this saga didn’t emerge simply out a desire not to see their best player end up in the hands of a rival team.

These things happen in football.

Liverpool sold Sterling to Man City during this window, and most notably St Mirren sold their most promising player to Hibs themselves.

It’s not like there is no precedent for such a move.

Dundee Utd didn’t like it when Celtic came in for two of their top stars last season, with a cup semi final in front of them against our own club.

They simply bowed to the inevitable market forces; we made an offer they couldn’t refuse, the deals were done and that was it.

They made the same choice this summer when we made our offer for Nadir Ciftci.

Had Sevco made a half decent offer in the first place, one that gave Hibs a genuine decision to make, Scott Allan would be their player.

I know that for a fact.

Their manager wanted him.

He made his position on it clear enough, and not only once.

Stubbs, in fact, was angry at the repeated attempts from Ibrox to make the player aware of their interest, even going as far as to slate “the ambassadors of Rangers”, as he called them, who were doing the club’s work through the press.

And that, you see, was part of the problem here.

Sevco opened this saga up with an offer that was frankly offensive.

I’ve heard from good sources just how ridiculous that offer was.

Hibs treated it with contempt, and it deserved that contempt.

I’ve also heard they didn’t, at that point, decide they weren’t prepared to do business with the Ibrox side.

Actually, they pretty much told them to “get serious” if they were making a second offer.

In other words, although Sevco weren’t presented with a hard number they had a fair idea what Hibs believed Allan was worth.

They knew what they had to do.

The first failure is on the part of the Sevco board.

For all the grandiose promises about spending “whatever it took”, they were unable to put together a financial package which Hibs found acceptable; and I’ve been told that would have been as little as £600,000 had they made that their initial approach, and that £750,000 would have been enough to secure the player even after the insulting opening bid.

King couldn’t find that sum.

A sum Celtic’s directors would consider a bargain basement price for a footballer their scouts rated.

Questions ought to be asked as to why King and his people were unable to complete this deal long before it became a standoff.

This site has suggested it’s because he can’t.

He doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to make this thing work.

This doesn’t confirm that our assertion is right, but King and his board could have gone a very long way to proving all the doubters wrong.

This guy is yet to show the colour of his money, and as a consequence of these delays and making excuses the player who was their highest rated transfer target of the window – a player one Sevco fan site said had the “wow” factor no signing they’ve made in the last three years has been able to muster- has ended up at Parkhead.

Aside from being a boardroom failure, this is also a PR calamity.

I’ve been following Phil’s story on what the Sevco board members are drawing out of the club, whether in their “directors” guise or in other job titles, with a lot of interest, but although it’s a fun story I’m actually just as interested in how much they are spending on outside public relations, helping to put a brand new dining wing on Casa De Traynor.

It can’t be inexpensive.

In the last few weeks, Level5 PR have been very busy on their behalf, doing all manner of work helping to generate season ticket sales.

But they’ve also been busy helping push pieces around the board in regards to the Scott Allan transfer.

Their fingerprints are all over some of the stories about this, and some of the people who have come out to suggest that Allan’s move to Sevco was inevitable have long standing links to the people at Level5, including Traynor himself.

It’s hard to think of a more offensive way of securing a players services than those operating on the club’s behalf have pursued here.

The first offer was bad enough, but Sevco then leaked it to the press that they had made a second offer, and from then on they started to pressure Hibs through the media, in the hope of making them crack.

It was this that led to Dempster and Stubbs rejecting the second bid and making it clear they would not welcome a third.

Yet even then, they would probably have been amendable to a serious offer.

Sevco continued to try and destabilise them and force the issue instead.

This is how King and his board do things, and they knew full well that it’s the strategy their PR company would pursue.

When the PR campaign kept on, relentlessly, pushing the player into handing in a formal transfer request, the Hibs manager’s patience snapped.

From what I can gather that was the point where he went to the board.

He told them it was a resignation issue.

The board did not even try to argue the point; they, in fact, were equally incensed and were only too happy to issue, collectively, the game-changing statement that they would not, under any circumstances, sell Allan to the Ibrox club.

Thus the PR campaign to destabilise the player’s relationship with Hibs and force the Easter Road side into a deal was disastrous and self-harming from start to finish.

The very public nature of it has made it impossible for the club to now claim Allan was not their key target, and it was a contributing factor in Hibs making the approach to our club for a cash plus players swap.

Hibs clearly relished the opportunity to throw a grenade into the Ibrox dressing room.

Sevco gave them every incentive to play Gutterball.

In short, it was Sevco’s own PR bandwagon that pushed Hibs to offer Scott Allan, on very favourable terms, to the team at Celtic Park and it was always likely that once he started down that road that he’d be wearing the colours of our club.

Forget all this “aye but he’s a Rangers man” nonsense the press has been spoon-feeding their fans.

This is another example of the media telling them only what they want to hear.

There is ample historical precedent for players from their background crossing the divide.

The lure of Ibrox didn’t matter to King Kenny.

It didn’t stop Danny McGrain.

It had no impact on Scott Brown’s ultimate destination and it was never going to matter here.

In fact, this ought to have been made clear to the Sevco PR department just from looking at Scott Allan’s own career history thus far.

He has had two previous chances to sign for the Ibrox club, and he spurned both of them.

Although Celtic sought private assurances that he was willing to sign for us before we made a formal offer, it was never really in doubt that he would snub the club he grew up supporting for a third time if he believed it would be to the betterment of his career.

Scott Allan has a healthy streak of self-interest that will serve him well from now until he hangs up his boots.

Without question, the means by which Sevco pursued the player have been a contributing factor in the journey that has ended with the inevitability of his taking a bow on the hallowed turf of Paradise.

If this is the kind of PR “expertise” they are paying for I hope they continue with it.

Long may they utilise the services of such eminent and highly skilled “professionals.”

Third and finally, this is a failure of vision.

Scott Allan’s friendships with a number of Sevco players are a well-known, highly publicised fact.

A lot of PR fluff has been in the press recently about how everyone at Ibrox is buying in to the “Warburton Revolution.”

But when you’re part of something, on the inside of it, you pretty much have to say that, don’t you?

Scott Allan will have heard all about it from his friends inside the club.

They will have had a chance to sell him on a vision of the future there.

It might even be that some of the Sevco backroom team have talked to him in private – I am not alleging that, mind you, but simply saying it’s possible.

It’s clear enough that Allan could have simply waited until December and then opened talks with the Ibrox side, with a view to moving there in the summer.

So why didn’t he?

If Scott Allan believed that Sevco were on their way to the Promised Land of King’s every press release – playing in the top flight, challenging Celtic, competing, eventually, in the Champions League and being paid well for the privilege – well that becomes a no brainer.

Who, from such a background, wouldn’t want to be part of that?

The trouble is … you do have to believe in it.

And clearly, Allan doesn’t.

The big picture didn’t appeal to him, even with the guarantee of being a first eleven starter week in week out.

Even without talking to the club directly, Allan clearly doesn’t get the sense that they’re going anywhere.

He’s doubtless done a lot of soul searching over this one, and just isn’t convinced.

Which means he’s smart as well as self-aware, because for all the bravado and ebullience of the Sevco supporters theirs is still a club deep in crisis off the park, and one which as yet only won a handful of games on it.

Warburton has already had a pop at Allan for this decision, telling the press that “we only want players who want to play here.”

That’s the worst comeback, the worst excuse making, I’ve ever heard.

When the guy hands in a transfer request to get a move to your club that’s pretty definitive proof that he wants to sign for you.

But when your club messes about, when it fails to make a reasonable offer, when it engages in the kind of activity that can only be described as amateurish and offensive, even a die-hard will think twice.

How do you think Allan feels, knowing how little the Ibrox club was willing and able to offer for him?

Talking about being disillusioned.

This isn’t a problem with Scott Allan.

It’s a problem at Ibrox, and that Warburton was allowed to get away with that nonsense today is proof, as if we needed it, that the media here isn’t fit for purpose.

Serious questions arise from this, about Sevco’s lack of a long term strategy.

This ought to have been an early sign of ambition, a triumphant demonstration of Dave King’s determination to create a football team that could actually achieve some of his stated goals.

Instead it is a humiliation.

It is a reminder of just how far ahead of them we actually are, on the park and off it.

We’re in another league, in more ways than one.

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The Numbers Game

Dave-KingThe day before yesterday, Dave King gave an extraordinary interview to a star-struck Jim White where he said that in order for the club to catch Celtic the supporters would have to outspend ours.

This rare moment of truth from King – an admission, in effect, that the money wasn’t going to be coming out of his pockets or those of his “investor” friends – has been the subject of much discussion on the forums and the blogs already.

My last piece for this site was on that very subject, in which I explored the whole interview, but the specific part of it where he laid it out for the Sevco supporters needs to be examined in some detail.

Forget for a second that he is equating Sevco with Rangers.

We know they are different entities entirely.

Let’s take it on face value, as he intends it.

His claim is that the Rangers/Sevco fans “built the club” by outspending the Celtic supporters throughout their history.

Now, we can’t trace the club’s financial ins and outs for every single year of the century he’s talking about, but it’s plainly garbage, like nearly everything King says.

What we do have are some pretty detailed financial figures for the decade 2001 – 2010, from the audited reports.

Those are pretty telling, offering up a devastating story which doesn’t just blow holes in the nonsense King is talking, but reveals the scale of the task he’s now putting onto the shoulders of the long suffering Sevco fans.

Let’s start with this; Celtic’s turnover was greater than theirs for eight of the ten years.

Split those ten years into two five year periods, and the average has Celtic’s turnover well ahead in both.

Obviously the overall ten year average also has Celtic on top.

These aren’t small advantages either.

The 2001-2005 average has Celtic an astonishing £8 million better off, per annum, over the course.

The 2006-2010 average is even grimmer, because that has Celtic an almost mind-bending £15 million (and change) better off, on average, every single year …

The ten year average for the period has Celtic with a £63 million turnover, and Rangers lagging far behind on a turnover of £51.6 million … a differential of more than £11 million.

Drill down a little deeper.

Let’s take the numbers year by year.

In 2001, on a turnover of £42,000,000 we finished £5 million behind Rangers, one of only two years during that decade where we did.

It is, by far, our lowest year in turnover during that ten year period.

Our average for the timeframe is £20 million higher.

Season 2000-2001, the season these numbers refer to, had Rangers in the Champions League, where they reached the Groups, finishing third, and dropping into the UEFA Cup, where Kaiserslautern knocked them out.

They played 6 games at home in European competition that season, including the three Champions League group game matches.

In contrast, we played three, all in the UEFA Cup qualifiers.

Their turnover of £47 million was on the low side compared to what we would later have.

Indeed, our turnover exceeded it by £9 million the following year and we never came close to dropping below the £50 million level during the next decade.

In contrast, Rangers managed it four times, actually dropping below £40 million during one particular season which I’ll get to shortly.

The following season, 2001-2002, we participated in the Group Stages of the Champions League, and we saw our turnover rocket accordingly.

It hit £56 million that year, whilst Rangers’ fell back to £44 million.

Our fans outspent theirs by £12 million.

The following season, our turnover hit the £60 million mark, as what looked like a catastrophic setback in Europe – being knocked out of the Champions League by Basle – resulted in our march to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville.

Celtic had increased their turnover by 50% in just two years.

Rangers’ remained stagnant. That year their turnover was £49 million.

The following year, both clubs managed to reach the Champions League Groups and when we finished third in ours we dropped into the UEFA Cup, where we got to the quarter finals.

Our turnover rose by another £9 million, putting us on the cusp of the £70 million mark.

Rangers turnover went up to £57 million, which was an increase of £8 million.

Yet in spite of this, they still finished far behind us in overall terms.

The following year, our turnover dropped back instead of surging forward; we made £62 million, in spite of again reaching the Groups.

Our fourth place finish was abysmal, but it was better than Rangers managed; they failed to reach the Groups in the Champions League, dropped into the revamped UEFA Cup and finished fourth in a five man group run on a bizarre system of each team playing every other side once instead of twice.

They lost £2 million from the previous year.

We lost a dreadful £7 million in turnover terms.

That money being lost didn’t put them in front of us.

We still topped their turnover by £7 million.

The following year, their turnover leapt by £6 million, whilst ours fell again, with us hitting a four year low of £57 million.

They got above £61 million, finishing above us, with a total turnover advantage of £4 million.

And how did they do this?

Well, that was the year of the Nightmare in Bratislava where we crashed out of Europe in Gordon Strachan’s first attempt, whilst they were in the Champions League Groups and qualified for the second stages, where Villarreal finally put them out.

We played one European tie at home. They played five.

That was the key difference that year, the only reason they finished in front of us.

The £4 million advantage works out at about £1 million per European game.

European football was the only reason their income rose by £6 million on the previous year.

The following season, oh what a difference.

Their income dropped like a rock; £20 million was lost to them as our income leapt by £18 million.

This was for two main reasons.

Alex McLeish, who had been manager the previous season, had been wobbling for some time and managed only third place in the league. The “loyal Rangers fans” were moody and introspective.

Celtic fans, on the other hand, were buoyant at what Strachan appeared to be building.

That was one Hell of a year for us.

It was the year of Nakamura’s free kicks against Manchester United, the year we lit up Parkhead with big performances against big teams.

We were painfully, crushingly, close against Milan in the Champions League knockout rounds too.

Rangers had reached the last 16 of the UEFA Cup too, being dispatched by Osasuna.

This begs the question as to just what happened that transformed the clubs so spectacularly in one year, that Celtic finished with a financial advantage over Rangers of a staggering £34 million.

LeGuen had started to fold the hand in November and was replaced in January; his term at the club cannot explain away, and nor can the disparity between Champions League football and not, the enormity of that financial gulf.

The following season, Rangers income rose by £20 million on the back of the Champions League Groups, where they finished third, dropped into the UEFA Cup and had their own, shame filled, march to the Final.

Celtic also reached the Groups in the Champions League, going through to the knockout stages along with Milan, before Barcelona sent us home.

We still finished £8 million in front of them on the financial front.

In the financial figures posted in 2009, Rangers had their worst year for over a decade.

They were knocked of Europe by Kaunas, whereas Celtic played in the Champions League groups again.

They finished the season with a turnover of £39 million whereas ours was £72 million … another astronomical gap which revealed the difference between the two clubs was not just to be found in Champions League income.

The following year, having meekly surrendered our SPL title in 2009, we had to play in the Champions League Qualifiers whilst they went straight to the groups. We navigated one round, got Arsenal in the next one and dropped into the revamped Europa League.

Despite having to watch as Rangers won the double, played in the biggest tournament of them all and enduring a dismal season in the Europa League groups, where we finished third in our section, Celtic fans still outspent Rangers supporters by £5 million, on a turnover of £61 million against their £56 million.

That takes care of the ten year period in question.

What about the modern numbers?

In 2013, Celtic posted astounding annual turnover figures of £75.8 million.

Sevco’s income was a mere £19 million.

Last year we dropped some, with a turnover of £64.7 million.

The drop is significant, because as awful as those figures appear to be, that number is still more (narrowly, by about £200,000) than the high water mark of Rangers’ earnings in the ten year period before the club was liquidated in 2011 – their UEFA Cup Final and Champions League groups season.

Paul Brennan of CQN thinks that our turnover in the next set of accounts will be our lowest since 2001, some £55 million.

That will represent a calamitous fall in our finances that is going to be difficult to turn around in the short term.

It is the consequence of a major drop in the price of season tickets, a fall in overall attendances and no Champions League football.

A winning team on the park, a return to the Groups, some signs of life from the boardroom and those problems can be resolved.

But you know something you won’t read in The Record when the numbers come out?

Even with a drop that big, that £55 million will still be more than Rangers earned in five of their ten final years of existence … the pinnacle of their historic earning power, and they are never going to get close to that again.

Sevco’s last published accounts show income at £25 million.

So even now, preparing for our worst set of annual figures for a while, and second worst in the last 15 years, they would need to roughly double their income even to break even with us.

Our figures for last season are exceptional in that they’ll fall below the £60 million mark for only the fourth time in 15 years.

If they managed to reach the £60 million mark it would only be for the second time in that same timeframe.

Don’t let anyone kid you about their club being bigger than we are.

Don’t let anyone feed you guff about them outspending our fans either.

In 15 years the Ibrox operation has only managed to exceed our income twice, and one of those years was in the exceptional circumstances where they played in the Champions League groups and got to a UEFA Cup Final.

They also reached two domestic cup finals.

Yet in that year our earnings were greater than theirs.

In the period between 2001-2010 Celtic’s total turnover was £630,000,000.

Rangers’ turnover for the same period was £516,450,000.

King says he wants the Sevco fans to outspend Celtic supporters “again.”

He claims that they’ve done so for most of the last century.

I think he’s certifiable because a look at those numbers shows how poorly the argument stacks up.

To catch Celtic, King’s club is going to need to spend serious money.

The turnover differential when the next accounts are posted will be somewhere in the region of £30,000,000 and that’s on an exceptionally bad year for us.

They won’t get that close this season or next.

Can the supporters really be expected to plug that kind of gap, far less exceed it?

What will they expect in return for that kind of effort, even if it were someone conceivable for the club to double the price of season tickets, renegotiate the Sports Direct deal to more favourable conditions and get the fans to buy more merchandise than they ever have before?

The interview was a joke.

If this is all King has got he’s got nothing.

The Sevco fans are being led up the garden path here and no mistake.

The numbers do not lie.

We can’t say the same about the man in the big chair at Sevco.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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A Strategic Approach: Why Celtic Have To Get It Right This Year

maxresdefaultYesterday Celtic were drawn against the Icelandic champions FC Stjarnan, in the first of the three ties we will have to navigate if we want a place in the Group Stages of the Champions League.

Last season, with a new manager at the helm and a nice style of play to get used to, there was always the danger that things would not work out, that these were tests too great, that the wheels would come off the wagon.

What none of us could have expected was the pitiful way in which our board responded to the challenge, and in particular to the second opportunity which was presented to us when the Polish champions, Legia Warsaw, were correctly disqualified from the competition.

It was appalling, and no two ways about it.

In fact, if we’re being honest the last two Champions League qualification campaigns have been equally shocking.

Neil Lennon must have known the gig was up in his final season, when he saw the side weakened three times in a row before major games.

No manager would have stood for that for very long, and it was an insult to expect him to.

I knew he would leave when the board did that. When they made it clear that there would be no continuity, no attempt to build and develop a squad, no sign even that the money he raised from player sales would be reinvested in the team.

Ronny Deila arrived here seeing the Celtic job as a major step up in his career.

But this guy has grown in the job, and the better he does the more he will insist on doing things his way.

He, too, will see the writing on the wall before long, and if it continues to look like this, he too will walk.

Ronny Deila can be forgiven for what happened last season in Europe; not the defeats, but his failure to fight for the sort of players he knew were needed to take the team forward.

He has to show the strength this time, the self-regard to get what he wants and what the team needs, and the board has to learn – and they have to learn fast, because, it seems to me, that they haven’t learned so far -that in the absence of a domestic challenge (and we don’t look likely to get one of those for years) that the only thing that will make fans buy season tickets in large numbers are signs of life in Europe.

The deterioration in the attendances at Celtic Park has been blamed on a lot of things; the recession, the absence of competition, the club’s “political stance” and a general dissatisfaction with their perceived lack of real action on the Rangers-Sevco shenanigans amongst other things.

But at the root at much of it is something the fans believe in implicitly; a distinct lack of imagination and ambition at the club.

I hate writing these articles you know.

This message – that we don’t get everything right – is one few people on our side of the fence want to hear, but they are even more necessary than the Sevco pieces this site puts up, because it’s hypocritical to highlight the failings of that club without acknowledging our own.

It’s also dangerous, because like with politics when you make those at the top immune to criticism you foster arrogance, you let things stagnate and you make it impossible to fix (or even acknowledge) mistakes.

Remember, Sevco didn’t hit the rocks and shatter overnight; it drifted towards those rocks for years before it ran against them.

That is what happens when fans stop asking hard questions, when they cease to take an interest in the direction of their club and place unlimited faith in those running it.

At Celtic we’re better than that. Smarter than that.

Now, it has to be said before I go on that I am not knocking The Strategy; not all of it anyway.

But whereas some people may want to rewrite history on, for example, the Temu Pukki signing, there were those of us who, at the time, expressed serious disquiet about us going for a player without a proven goal scoring record when a proven goal scorer is what we were crying out for.

The same applied to Amido Balde, and these two have cost somewhere in the region of £3 million for no discernible return … which is the consequence of “experimental” signings or “projects” or whatever you want to call them.

Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet, and go for quality.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the modern transfer market is insane, and the cost of players is sky high. No-one expects us to compete in that market, but it says a lot that this club has spent £6 million or thereabouts on players three times; Sutton, Hartson and Lennon.

They all played in the same team and that team reached a UEFA Cup Final.

The last of them, John Hartson, was signed in 2001.

That’s fourteen years ago now and we have never come even remotely close to matching that signing in terms of cold hard cash since.

So even as costs have gone up in football, across the boards, including what fans have to pay for tickets, and whilst revenues have continued to increase from Champions League income and other areas, we’ve actually gone backwards and stopped even trying.

I am not advocating spending £10 million on a footballer. When Rangers spent that kind of money on Flo it was clearly sheer insanity.

But to haggle over a £4.5 million deal for Alfred Finnbogason was lunacy, and to have left a proven finisher like Aron Jóhannsson at AZ when £3 million would have sealed the deal is just a nonsense.

Those players would have excited the fans.

They would have got the blood pumping.

And in cash terms, for the fees, they would have cost only marginally more than the disastrous Balde and Pukki, who were stupid signings and proved it, when they couldn’t even manage to score goals in the SPL.

So no more experiments. No more “projects.”

Quality, proven goalscorers are what we need from now on.

And the need for it is as pressing as ever before.

The top drawer finisher we were looking for is still not in the Celtic squad. The board did a wonderful job in securing Guidetti on loan; the deal didn’t work out the way we wanted it, but it was the right move at the time.

His leaving his left a hole in the squad which someone needs to fill, and I’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we fill it.

Stefan Scepovic, by the way, does not represent a risk at all. He is a good player and will do a good job in the Celtic shirt and everyone knows how I feel about Leigh Griffiths; he will score goals in Scotland for fun.

It’s Europe I worry about.

Because neither player has thus far proved they are out of that top drawer, although I have a sneaking feeling that Griffiths could score anywhere.

Until he demonstrates that, he’s not the high calibre we are looking for and have been for quite some time now.

We also need at least one more central defender because if something should happen to Van Dijk (like getting sold) or Boyata then we’re desperately short in a crucial area of the team.

That might stand up reasonably well in Scotland, but in Europe we’ll be in big bother.

None of this is exactly new information.

We knew we’d be losing Denayer, so we brought in young Boyata.

But we also knew we’d be losing Guidetti and we all suspect that we stand to lose Big Virgil as well.

Nobody is suggesting that we spend crazy money on signings, but the fans need a reason to believe we’ll settle for more than just being in the Champions League draw this time around, and no-one ought to be fobbed off with John Kennedy rolling out pre-determined lines about Armstrong and Mackay Steven being “this season’s” signings who were brought in early.

That’s not going to cut it at all, I’m afraid.

In the final analysis, no-one is asking us to compete with Man City or Chelsea or sides from the big leagues.

Because it was a team from Poland who knocked us out at the second hurdle last year, and when we were allowed back in it was a team from Slovenia who finished the job.

The year before that, we got the fright of our lives against a team from Kazakhstan.

Let’s not kid ourselves that our failures have been simple matters of economics and our inability to compete with the top sides.

We didn’t compete with sides who we ought to have been miles in front of, and the reasons for that were obvious beforehand.

Let me repeat; Neil Lennon had to navigate three rounds of Champions League football in his final season with a weaker side in every round than he had the round before. That’s just scandalous.

Last season Ronny Deila had to attempt the same with a makeshift team bolstered by loanees.

That’s simply unacceptable. That’s failure at every level.

Last year there was an alibi, however weak, for what transpired.

This year … there will be no excuses.

The Strategy needs to deliver this time.

Lawwell and the rest have to prove that we’re about more than just money in the bank.

Robert Browning’s famous poem about ambition says that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?

Is the height of ours really only to hear the Champions League music?

We used to be so much more than that.

It’s time for us to be that again.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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