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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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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La Liga Looks Abroad to Improve Popularity

Madrid2-Milan0_20101019_224210A few weeks ago, news reports suggested that Celtic and Dundee were in talks to play an SPL match in the United States. The news went down well with many fans, but the governing bodies appeared not to be interested in it, or in supporting it.

But it was thinking outside the box, and that’s ever more necessary as cash continues to flow into the Premiership, sucking the life out of other leagues.

You’d often be forgiven for thinking Scotland is the only country affected by the huge financial power of the EPL. In fact, Europe’s top leagues are suffering too.

With the latest land rush for the English Premier League broadcast rights, there is more money in the sport than ever before and the other domestic leagues of Europe are searching for a way to replicate England’s success, lest they be left behind.

Spain’s La Liga is looking to turn itself around through international expansion and a revamped system of negotiating its own TV rights.

The EPL has been in the process of selling the overseas broadcast rights for the sport from 2016 to 2019 and the rights are estimated at greater than £3 billion worldwide, which evens out to more than £1 billion a year.

This is more than double what the Spanish league sees for its own rights.

No one questions the history and legacy of the Spanish La Liga but let’s be honest with ourselves, how often do you really think about the Spanish league if Barcelona and Real Madrid aren’t playing?

This lack of interest beyond the league’s four big teams has some worried that the Premier League could become to football what the NBA has become for basketball in the world.

It could lead to a league that snatches up all the top talent and leaves the rest of the leagues to languish with lower-quality players.

“We run the risk of having the Premier League become the NBA of football in the next five years, with the rest of European leagues turning into secondary tournaments,” La Liga president Javier Tebas said in an interview.

“We all know that every talented basketball player discovered anywhere in the world ends up going to the NBA, and if the European football industry and the Spanish football industry don’t react, we will also be losing talented football players.”

Despite boasting arguably the two best players in the world, La Liga still finds itself standing in the shadow of the world-renowned Premier League.

While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can draw crowds, too often the league is seeing its most promising players lured to England by promises of fame and fortune. Nicolas Otamendi, one of the league’s most exciting young defenders, was snatched away from Sevilla by Manchester City over the summer transfer window.

And with the exception of big spenders like Real Madrid and its Galacticos, the transfer of talent between the two leagues often seems to be a one way street.

In an effort to increase its cultural clout in the world market, La Liga has learned that to be successful abroad, the league needs to be attractive and desirable as a whole product. In the States, the NFL has done an exceptional job of this with its annual games held in England that are widely attended regardless of the quality of the teams involved.

“We’re not here to see Detroit, we’re not here to see Kansas,” an NFL fan told Bleacher Report; “we’re here to see the NFL.”

This is the kind of thinking that led to the proposals to play an SPL game abroad, an idea that has been discussed in England as well. This concept works for other sports. It’s a matter of time before it is tried in football.

In the meantime, even the Spanish game is not immune to the pinch, and getting fans to invest in the product and the sport itself, as opposed to just one team, will be crucial to the continued success of La Liga.

They’re set to face Arsenal next week, in Champions League action, where they’re favoured to continue their international success against the team. That being said, the Gunners should give the Blaugrana a run for their money, as they’re having one of their best Premier League seasons in the past decade. If they can translate that success to the Champions League, it could be anyone’s match.

The financial issues that have long haunted the Spanish league are much to blame for many of its current problems. La Liga hopes to alleviate some of these through a more egalitarian distribution of broadcasting revenues and providing smaller clubs with a bigger share of the pie. The idea is that by giving mid-table clubs the capital needed to retain players, Spain can create a more enticing product that can eventually compete with the Premier League in popularity on the world stage. We can only hope that the Spanish league can figure itself out because better football is something everyone can get behind.

We can only hope that the Spanish league can figure itself out because better football is something everyone can get behind, and if they get the model right it might even be one that can be copied by other leagues, including the one in Scotland.

Owen Gordon is a freelance writer and passionate football fan based out of London. In his downtime, he enjoys running, cooking, and making his way through his Netflix queue.

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

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

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

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

Part Seven: The Start Of The Whytewash ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their time would come. He could afford to wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things were bad, they shortly got worse.

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

Bain and the judge were right to be worried.

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

Part Eight: The Taxman Cometh …

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

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

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

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

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

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

By February 2011 HMRC knew that was a lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Nine: Vindication For The Bampots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because Whyte had already had some of the key meetings.

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

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

And the people who’d been at them?

The unlikeliest folk imaginable.

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

Part Ten: Saviours In The Shadows

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

Whether or not he’d taken the decision to start with-holding tax revenues at that point is irrelevant; he must have realised that was the logical route of travel. There was little point in paying some bills but not others, and he’d clearly already concluded that, in keeping with his previous strategies, that anything kept from the creditors now would be kept from them for good.

It was the business he was in. He’d been doing it for years.

Yet Whyte was in a slightly unusual position when it came to Rangers. This was not a private company one could simply wipe out and walk away from. This was a massive football club, with massive exposure and media interest, one which David Murray had once described, with typical hubris, as “the second biggest institution in Scotland after the church”.

In order to douse what he knew would be a firestorm Whyte needed friends, people who could help him smooth the path towards his eventual destination, and he needed guarantees that the club itself could emerge on the other side of it.

He reached out to the only people who could give those to him; to the governing bodies.

This is where the Rangers situation, already a scandal involving the club, the bank, Murray and a cast of characters out of a Hollywood movie widened to become one that involved the SFA and the SPL, and became of grave concern to everyone who cares about the game.

In early October, Whyte flew to London and met with two men, Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping, of the Scottish Premier League. By his account, he told those men, at that meeting, that the club was in a dire financial position and that administration was near certain. In addition to that, he says he told them that the issues they faced were so tough that getting a CVA was “unlikely.”

Whyte has a difficult relationship with the truth, but there’s no reason not to believe this version of events. Indeed, emails followed confirming that these discussions had been had, emails in which the SPL CEO suggested that Whyte share with them a “road map” spelling out exactly what he’d do and how the governing bodies should respond.

This document already existed, dated 5 October.

It had been put together by a company called MCR. The code-name for the plan was Project Charlotte.

On 31 October, eleven days after the BBC had stripped Whyte in front of the nation, revealing his background, his business record and his modus operandi, as stated by his long-term business associate, and convicted fraudster Kevin Sykes, the SPL held a meeting to discuss the future of their television deal with Sky.

Neil Doncaster went to that meeting knowing that a plan virtually identical to what Sykes had alleged in court was already underway at Rangers. He knew it would involve debt dumping. He knew it would leave the tax payers millions of pounds out of pocket. He knew too that there were probably some football clubs who would suffer.

He did not share that information with the SPL board.

At that point, the Sky TV deal had three years left to run, but the SPL had an “opt out” option for the following year, and the meeting was to consider whether or not that option should be exercised in light of proposals which had been brought forward for a TV company owned by the league itself. Named Fans TV, it would have ended, once and for all, Scottish football’s dependence on the crumbs from Sky’s table.

The architect of the plan was Hibs chairman Rob Petrie.

At the 31 October meeting, it was decided to put off a decision until 21 November. Petrie and others left believing they had a chance to make the Fans TV case, and further work was done to make sure all the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed.

At some time over the next few days Doncaster got his board together and told them something – we’ve never been able to fully establish what – that provoked fury around the table, and questions about what Doncaster had known, and when.

In addition, it killed the possibility of Fans TV stone dead.

Insiders spoke later of being told about a developing “situation within Scottish football” that would have left the SPL dangerously exposed. Doncaster urged the board to adopt a proposed extension to the Sky TV deal “without delay.”

Why did he do that?

The deal had three years left to run at that point.

What was the urgency?

Why was it necessary to re-negotiate an agreement which was iron clad?

What we know, for sure, is that the revised television deal, which was signed and sealed in short order, committed Sky to a further two years of Scottish football. By the end of the contract the full package would have been worth £80 million.

By this point, the SFA would have been in the know about coming events at Rangers, as Whyte’s roadmap required them to give guidance and support on the mooted “transfer of membership”, as well as information on the legal position of a NewCo.

It helped that the traffic of employees between the governing bodies and the club was working both ways at the time.

In June that year, Whyte had appointed a new CEO at Ibrox. It was Gordon Smith, who had resigned from his post at the SFA just a few weeks before, citing “family reasons”, just as the EBT story had broke.

Smith had departed with the praise of his former bosses, and Rangers manager Walter Smith, ringing in his ears, in spite of a tenure weighted down with gaffes and PR disasters, the last of which was a public spat with Livingston FC who claimed he’d gone around the ordinary procedures to discipline one of their players for diving.

His appointment at Ibrox certainly couldn’t have hurt a club that needed official sanction, and assistance, for its more secretive plans and schemes.

But in November 2011, public disclosure of those was still a ways off.

In the meantime, something else had been going on in the background.

At the meeting on 21 November, the SPL agreed to renew the Sky deal after the member clubs were finally informed of some of what was brewing at Rangers.

Ewing Grahame, a journalist on the The Telegraph, had a meeting with Neil Doncaster on the day the SPL signed the agreement.

In the article he published afterwards, he made a striking claim.

“The Old Firm remain the biggest draw for broadcasters,” he wrote, “and one of the conditions attached to the new document was that the Glasgow giants will continue to play each other four times in the league.”

In case anyone was in doubt as to this being the big story, Grahame’s article was headlined “Recession-beating five-year TV deal binds Celtic and Rangers to SPL.”

Yet in the piece, Doncaster claimed this had been a standard part of Sky’s TV deals “for years.”

Still, Grahame wrote about it as if it was new information.

Indeed, Doncaster’s claim seems ludicrous in light of what the public facts were then.

First, the clause would have been pointless.

Neither club had ever been remotely in danger of relegation. Neither could leave the Scottish league, even if there was somewhere to go, without a lengthy notice period and financial reparations, and the only way both would ever have done so was with the connivance, and probably at the behest, of television itself.

Some have suggested it was a clause to block league reconstruction proposals, the kind that would have expanded Scotland’s top flight and eliminated the prospect of the “four Old Firm games.”

This is nonsense too.

No TV company would ever have inserted itself into the game’s politics in such a manner, and clubs wouldn’t have stood for it.

Anyway, league reconstruction had been mooted literally dozens of times in the years of Sky’s Scottish football involvement, from 2002 onward. At no point was the issue of how it would affect television contracts ever raised in that time.

Besides, as many have pointed out since, the only conceivable circumstances in which this scenario might have occurred would have been Celtic or Rangers having a disastrous year and falling out of the top six; with the SPL’s odd structure, that possibility would have seen them play each other three times and not four.

But for a TV company to withhold cash on that basis would have been a serious risk to sporting integrity which no sane person would ever have allowed in a contract.

There has also long been some doubt about exactly how the clause was worded.

In Grahame’s article, he drew attention to the possibility that it might “save Rangers” in the event they entered administration and faced relegation or demotion from the top flight. Some have suggested that the clause didn’t mention “four Old Firm games” at all; that it was specifically concerned with “circumstances where either Celtic or Rangers were not in the league.”

If that’s the case, how did Sky come to the conclusion that this was likely? Rumours of administration were one thing … but at that point few people thought the club itself was in serious jeapordy. Only a handful of people knew better.

It so happened that Neil Doncaster was one of them.

Whatever the truth, this clause, which appeared to have come out of nowhere, was to prove crucial to the events which followed, and cast serious doubt on the real motives of the men running the league.

That was for the future.

The Big Tax case First Tier Tribunal had kicked off on 7 November, and the club and Murray sent their legal representatives into action. On 30 November, the club published accounts for the last time.

They weren’t properly audited, and never would be. They revealed a miniscule operating profit for the previous year of just £76,000. You didn’t have to be a maths genius to work out that between bills coming due, no European football, a raft of legal expenses and other things going on that the club was in serious peril, and that the cash would soon run out.

A day later, Whyte confirmed that he’d received a directorship ban from the courts.

In the background, the SPL and the SFA were still in talks with him over how best to handle the upcoming carnage at the club; now he’d confirmed the basis of the BBC documentary that had accused him of concealment and even fraud.

The governing body asked for more information.

In the meantime they continued to assist him as he plotted the wholescale dumping of the club’s growing debts.

Based on the announcement itself, they could have opened immediate proceedings against him, on the basis that he had not disclosed this before and was clearly not a “fit and proper person” to hold a position of responsibility at a Scottish football club, but they didn’t.

To do so would have exposed the club, immediately, to the full horrors of administration, without someone at the helm who was willing to go through that, and then beyond, to what would inevitably follow.

So Whyte had to be left in charge, with no official interference, to finish the job, or at least put the restoration of the Ibrox operation on the rails … and it didn’t matter what happened to the creditors, or indeed the game itself, in the meantime.

Up until that point, it was the single most damaging period in the history of Scottish football and one of the most disgraceful series of events in the history of professional sport on this island, and that was based only on what was in the public domain.

One issue that was already raising its head, and scaring the SFA press office stupid, concerned the Wee Tax Case, and the moment when it “crystallised”.

If anyone was in any doubt about the willingness of the governing body to assist the Whyte regime at Ibrox, they only had to look back on the earliest days of it, when a seemingly routine decision was made in relation to club licensing, one that, had it gone the other way, would have doomed Whyte before he started.

That decision still haunts the SFA today.

Part Eleven: Out On License

In October 2013, Celtic shareholders put a remarkable item on the agenda for discussion at the club’s AGM, which was due to take place on 15 November. The board sent an immediate letter out, asking the fans not to support this item, and gave no further comment.

The press interpreted that as the board wanting the issue buried; in fact, they opened up a line of dialogue with the supporters behind the scenes. On the morning of the AGM those who proposed the motion withdrew it from the agenda, after talks with club officials. The matter had not been kicked into the long grass; in fact, it was, and still is, very much on their minds.

The matter was adjourned. The club and the fans kept talking.

The motion was entitled Resolution 12.

Such an innocuous name for something so potentially devastating.

At its heart was a simple, but deadly, question;

On what grounds exactly were Rangers Football Club allowed an SFA license to play European football in the 2011-12 season?

The resolution asked that the club clarify this, not with the SFA but with UEFA, and urged Celtic to support a UEFA led inquiry into not only this affair but the way the governing body had dealt with the whole Rangers situation from the granting of that license until the liquidation in 2012.

The question as to Rangers’ European license had first come to light when the sheriff officers visited Ibrox in August 2011, to serve HMRC’s notice on the club in regards to the Wee Tax Case.

SFA regulations specifically forbid the granting of such a license when the club in question has a “tax liability payable” to Revenue and Customs.

As we’ve already established, this bill was the very definition of that; it was due by summer 2011 and it had been for months.

The club’s own legal advice was that it should be paid.

During those summer months, the SFA was involved in its annual audit of Scotland’s clubs in preparation for the coming season. The relevant paperwork, and all the club declarations, had to be in place by the end of May.

The existence of the Discounted Options Scheme was not a secret any longer. It had been in the public domain from April that year, when Rangers themselves published it in their annual accounts.

The SFA could not have been unaware of its existence.

The license was allowed, provisionally, at least, but by the end of June 2011 they had to meet UEFA’s own deadline and criteria, and at that point the SFA had an obligation to clarify this matter once and for by talking to the club, and if necessary HMRC, and inform UEFA of what they had found.

Again, this clearly hadn’t been done.

Calls to Rangers saw the whole thing put in a holding pattern; the club apparently told the governing body they were “in talks” with HMRC on the matter. A single call to the tax authorities would have clarified what that meant.

Whyte was stalling, and as we’ve seen from his history it was probably on his mind the whole time that he could let this one lie.

As we know, the bill was still unpaid in September that year when HMRC issued its “final warning” on the matter, and it remains unpaid to this day.

As with many other things it was folded into the carnage of the administration and what came afterwards.

By mid-September numerous football websites were already clamouring for the answers the Celtic fans would formally apply for in November 2013. Leading the way was the RTC site, CQN and Scotzine, an all-purpose site on the Scottish game.

By December, Stewart Regan, the Chief Executive of the SFA since Gordon Smith resigned, was forced to talk to the fans about the issue. His answers, given on Twitter, were vague, even contradictory.

He claimed at one point the bill had not come due at the point when the licensing decision was made, using the later oft-quoted phrase “crystallised” to describe the process.

He had his facts badly wrong.

That bill was due from 20 May, at the latest, and by mid June it had certainly become overdue as defined in UEFA FFP articles.

He seemed rattled.

He had reason to be, although none of us knew what they were until November 2013.

The truth is that Celtic’s board had been concerned about this issue going all to way back to the awarding of the license itself, and before the sheriff officers came calling at Ibrox.

They had queried the European license themselves, and received what they regarded as highly unsatisfactory answers.

Following that visit, they sought further clarity and, again, were unimpressed by what they’d heard.

They had never quite given up on the issue, or on others they believed were peripheral to it, and this was why they’d agreed to keep the lines of communication open with the supporter’s who’d raised Resolution 12.

As has clearly been demonstrated already, Rangers was a club floating on an ocean of debt at the time, and even though the bank were no longer holding anything over them anyone who could read a finance statement knew they faced a huge hole in the balance sheet without European football income.

In light of what happened later, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine the SFA denying them an avenue to money which was quite literally keeping on the lights, no matter what the club had done.

Yet had the SFA acted when they should have, and demanded that Rangers settle this bill immediately or accept the revocation of their European license, Whyte would have been faced with coming clean about his plans sooner, or finding the money to pay up.

They either abrogated their responsibility to check out the true status of that bill or they waved the European license through regardless; either way, it was another scandal in a growing series of them.

The ultimate irony of this, of course, is that it was all for naught anyway.

The Promised Land of Champions League income was never to be realised. Ally McCoist’s later maligned managerial incompetence took care of that, and they exited the elite competition against Malmo before Maribor turfed them out of Europe entirely.

It was to become a feature in everything that came to pass; the governing bodies would bend over backwards, even breaking their own rules, to assure the Ibrox operation as smooth as a passage as was possible, and here, as with later, it didn’t help them a bit.

Part Twelve: The Final Mile

On the night of 15 October 2011, the day after Donald McIntyre appeared in court to seize £350,000 of Rangers’ assets, and five days before Mark Daly stunned Scotland with his seismic documentary on Whyte, one of those football matches that, in hindsight, changes the course of the future took place at Rugby Park.

Whilst things off the field were, by now, spiralling out of Craig Whyte’s control things on the pitch had been better than anyone could have dreamed and Celtic appeared to have collapsed completely.

The Parkhead club went into that game ten points behind the Ibrox club, and badly in need of a lift.

Before half time, it all looked over … the league challenge, and the reign of the manager, Neil Lennon.

Kilmarnock had run riot.

The score was 3-0 to the home side.

All of us watching remembered what had happened to Tony Mowbray, caught in a similar storm, on 24 March 2010 when his Celtic team was destroyed 4-0 at Love Street against St Mirren.

He lasted less than 24 hours, being relieved of his duties and Lennon put in charge on the following day.

The second half transformation was extraordinary, made all the more so by an atmosphere in the ground that was electrifying from the moment the teams came out of the tunnel for the 45 minutes. The Celtic fans have rarely given such passionate, vocal, unequivocal backing as they did that night, and it lifted everyone out in the pitch in a club jersey.

The team rallied. They clawed back the deficit and might even have won the game.

They dropped points, but that night Rangers did too and the equation hadn’t changed. But something had. Although Celtic dropped two more points before that month ended, in a match against Hibs, increasing the gap at the top to 12, and pushing us into third, albeit with Celtic having a game in hand, something had irrevocably shifted in the dressing room and out on the park.

From that point on in the league, Celtic barely looked back.

Every match in November was met, and matched. Lennon’s boys were storming just as Rangers began stumbling. As off-field chaos continued to mount, McCoist’s team began reverting to type and blowing it in their own definite style.

Off the pitch, things continued to get worse.

Eight days after Whyte had confirmed to the world that he had, indeed, been banned as a director the club was rocked by yet another financial blow, this time delivered by Celtic themselves.

The clubs were due to meet, at Celtic Park, on 28 December, and it was custom and practice for the away side to receive its tickets and pay for them later. Celtic had been following events at Ibrox closely, more closely than most were aware, and weren’t about to join what was already known to be a rapidly expanding creditors list.

According to the Scottish media, who covered the story with typical hyperbole, on 9 December Celtic asked for the full balance – £350,000 – upfront, or the tickets would be placed on public sale to their own supporters.

Whyte found the cash from somewhere and the tab was duly paid.

Months later, with Rangers circling the drain, the same media shrieked that the Parkhead club was refusing to pay for its own match tickets up front. With their usual lack of grace and respect for the tension of the times they even accused Celtic of putting jobs at risk whilst the club was in the process of an administration.

Celtic refused to comment on such hysterical claims, and three weeks later, with the game out of the way, they paid the cash in full. At the time, they briefed that they were reluctant to part with cash, in advance, for a match that might not take place, and in the circumstances of that time, that position had seemed like nothing but good common sense.

A day after that story broke, Rangers settled with Donald McIntyre out of court.

The details of the final settlement were never published, but it couldn’t have been cheap.

By the time the match at Celtic Park came around everyone at Rangers knew the New Year was going to bring nothing but misery.

They went into the match with their lead at the top of the table reduced to a single point.

In the 56th minute of the match, Charlie Mulgrew whipped a corner into the box. Kirk Broadfoot, the Rangers defender, was the nearest to the ball but Joe Ledley, the Welsh midfielder, was more determined to get there, and he rose above him and nodded it home.

Parkhead erupted.

Celtic had been 15 points behind in early November, and even with two games in hand the psychological advantage Rangers had enjoyed was enormous.

By full time, Celtic were on top of the table.

Ally McCoist and his players were shattered, and in truth they never really recovered.

The whole club was on the brink.

2012 opened with another hammer blow, the news that the club had been banned from the Stock Exchange for not having a set of audited accounts in by the years end. This was, technically, another breach of SFA regulations but again, nothing was done, probably because the governing bodies already knew how this particular story would end.

The Tax Case tribunal, which had paused during the Holiday Season resumed on the 16th. It finished two days later, and the judges retired to ponder the issues and render a verdict.

It wouldn’t come for an age, and in the meantime things ran their course.

On 20 January, Andrew Ellis was appointed to the Rangers board. He had been involved with Whyte in the takeover, and would later tell another BBC documentary he had personally introduced Whyte to David Murray after the Motherwell Born Billionaire had sold him on his vision for the club by giving him the name of a mystery man who wanted to invest.

The man was none other than Prince Albert of Monaco, a man Whyte said he “saw every week.”

He just never elaborated, and Ellis never asked him to.

By then, time was quickly running out.

On 31 January, the intrepid Scottish media, shocked into life by the news that Whyte wasn’t what he’d seemed, and no longer able to rely on PR releases to guide them through the maze, actually ran a major story in the case.

The Daily Record told the country how Craig Whyte had sold four years of future season ticket revenues to a company called Ticketus, in order to obtain the cash that had let him pay off Lloyds Bank in the deal which saw him get control of the club.

Keith Jackson shamelessly claimed this as an exclusive, and he has got a lot of mileage out of it since. Indeed, whenever the mainstream press wants to defend its shattered reputation, this is one of the stories they point to.

In truth, the story itself was months old. Jackson had written a version of it in June 2011, but Whyte had brought in lawyers and successfully spooked The Record into blocking it.

Yet even then, the story wasn’t as “exclusive” as he’d claimed.

In fact, the Ticketus story was broken by the bloggers.

The Rangers Tax Case site and the Celtic fans forum Kerrydale Street were foremost amongst them. The Companies House document from which The Record got their story had already been published on both of those sites, and all the pieces put together, a fortnight before.

The Internet Bampots had made all the crucial connections, with some even scrutinising previous Ticketus deals for clues.

On 6 June, a full week before Jackson’s “exclusive” first ran, one of the KDS posters wrote, with remarkable prescience, “I reckon the probable solution to this is the most obvious. It’s season tickets we’re talking about here. Who gives out loans against future season ticket revenue? Ticketus. How much is involved here? Roughly £52million. What were the total sums pledged by Whyte for his takeover over four years? Roughly £52million. So what’s happened here? Whyte has pledged future Rangers season ticket cash to pay for his takeover.”

The numbers may have been off, but the guy had it right on the nose.

The story hitting the tabloids was, however, a minor turning point.

Rangers’ fans, for a long time asleep at the wheel, finally woke up to the reality of the position, on the same day the club sold its star striker Nikica Jelavic to Everton, for £7 million.

Five days later they crashed out of the Scottish Cup, at a half empty Ibrox, against Dundee Utd.

A day after that, the BBC’s Mark Daly struck again when he revealed that Whyte may have lied in testimony he gave to a Glasgow court.

The allegation centred on a civil case dating back to December where he’d appeared in connection with an unpaid debt to a firm that had done building work at Castle Grant, his lavish country home.

During his testimony the prosecution asked him about his seven year directorship ban. Whyte said he couldn’t remember what it had been for. When asked if it related to his treatment of creditors, Whyte had denied it.

Those records were gone, or so he’d believed.

Actually, Daly had obtained them and within them was a damning paragraph from the judge in his case.

Only one figure connected with this whole saga would ever be subject to such withering criticism from a judicial bench, although time may change that.

“The assets of the company were put out of the reach of the creditors … the degree of recklessness shows Mr Whyte is thoroughly unfit to be a director.”

Whether he’d committed perjury or not, it was another warning to the SFA about the kind of man they were already tucked up in bed with.

The time for robust action, to save the game from further embarrassment, ought to have been there, and then.

The decision to continue dialogue, to wait for Whyte to send them further information, could only have been made by an association that wanted him in place until certain other conditions had been met.

No-one inside or outside Ibrox would have blinked had they convened a hearing that very day and kicked him out of Scottish football at once. That would have left the club rudderless, going into administration without a man at the helm who’d been over the ground before.

Project Charlotte was, to their eyes, the only route through for Rangers.

So, again, they did nothing at all.

The SFA would finally declare Craig Thomas Whyte “unfit and improper” on 23 April 2012.

By then, a lot of things happened that didn’t have to.

On 13 February Rangers announced that they’d enter administration the following day.

For the supporters on both sides of the Glasgow divide Valentine’s Day would never be the same again.

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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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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.

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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.

(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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Mouthy Malmo Need Shutting Up

Ronny-Deila-009I’ve seen a lot of managers cross the threshold of Celtic Park, and leave mouthing off. Football is full of these people. Win a league title, win a couple of trophies, and some managers believe they are a few games away from a call from Barcelona.

Rarely have I wanted to see the smirk wiped off a face as much as last night, listening to the Malmo boss, Age Hareide in the aftermath of that game.

We won the match 3-2, and their second goal came deep in injury time. Our keeper was barely tested during the match but they came away with what looks like a very credible result.

At least on paper.

In truth, we outplayed them for much of the match and had easily the better chances. Indeed, we could have been three or four up by the midway point in the first half, and if Stefan Johansen had scored when through on the keeper the tie would have been done.

It takes a special kind of arrogance to emerge from a close escape like that full of predictions of what your team will do in the second leg. It takes someone monumentally full of himself to predict, after a defeat, that his team is wholly confident of going through.

He’s basing much of this on what his team has done in previous rounds, and in previous years. But football isn’t about that; it’s about “what have you done for me lately?” It’s about the present day, the here and now, not the last game but the next one.

He leads a team which, itself, has way too much to say for a side currently sixth in their domestic title race and who’s last qualification for the Champions League Groups ended in a bottom place finish, with one win and five defeats in six games … a record even a Rangers manager would have blanched at, although they managed the feat twice.

I can understand a side giving out a bit of verbal if they are conquerors, although the actual conquerors, the super clubs, tend not to be so small minded and petty. They act with a certain class and dignity which Malmo simply don’t have.

The Swedes are far from that level though, appearing to take an inordinate amount of pride in a tendency to scrape through ties after poor first legs.

This “home record” of theirs is being talked about a lot, as if it’s comparable with the one we used to have at Fortress Parkhead.

Two years ago, they reached the Groups and this was their competition record at home.

They drew 0-0 with Ventspilis of Latvia, going through courtesy of a 1-0 win over there, they beat Sparta Prague 2-0 to overturn a two goal deficit from the first leg (4-2) and then they beat Red Bull Salzburg 3-0 after losing the away game 2-1.

In the groups they beat Olympiakos 2-0 before losing 2-0 to both Atletico Madrid and Juventus.

This season, so far, their European home record is a 0-0 draw with Žalgiris Vilnius, and proceeding due to a 1-0 win away as well as another 3-0 win over Red Bull Salzburg, who had beaten them 2-0 at home and shamefully couldn’t close the deal.

I don’t know … I am less than terrified.

They don’t appear to concede a lot of goals at home, but so what?

Aside from their Champions League Groups last season they’ve not exactly come across world beaters.

Red Bull Salzburg looked a good side when we were still trying to become one … Age Hareide reckons they are a better team than us, but I think he’ll be eating those words come this time next week. Red Bull’s own record is hardly staggering. I would have been wholly confident of taking them the distance had we drawn them instead.

Malmo have played 20 matches in their domestic league this season, and won 10 of them with seven draws and three defeats. Their defensive record at home is good there too, but that is where their weakness lies and it’s that we must exploit.

Score early over there, blow apart this grandiose belief that they’re something special at that ground and watch the dynamic of this tie change radically. You can’t have watched how we scythed open their defence last night, almost at will, in those first 20 minutes, and doubt that we’re capable – well capable – of going there and scoring not only once but a couple of times.

One of the criticisms Age Hareide levelled at us in the aftermath of last night’s game was that we don’t seem to have the legs for 90 minutes … worryingly, I do think we tend to fall out of games late in the day at the present time, switching off at stupid moments as we did against Kilmarnock and with the concession of the second goal in this tie.

But an analysis of their form this season shows, clearly, that they tend to peak in the first half. Their performance last night actually bucked that trend, which makes it all the harder to take.

This suggests to me an inability on their own part to effectively go the distance. I didn’t think they looked fitter or sharper than us last night, and but for lamentable defending at the crucial moment we’d have gone there by far the more confident team.

I see no reason not to still have that confidence.

My belief that we’d win this tie was never based solely on a strong home performance and then merely surviving the away leg. It was based on a belief, one that hasn’t changed, that we would win both home and away, and their record be damned.

They are a good team, and their defensive record is impressive. Indeed, at home it’s very impressive. But their record as comeback kings doesn’t hugely impress, or intimidate, me.

You play football according to those odds and sooner or later you get found out.

Sooner or later you pay the penalty.

Teams from Lithuania and Latvia have gone to their ground and kept clean sheets, so I’m not entirely convinced that we need to be mortally afraid of conceding goals … their reputation as a tough side to get the best of appears to lie more in their own defensive record than their ability to destroy opposing teams.

Whatever happened to Red Bull being the notable exception.

And let’s take a look at what actually happened there; Malmo scored all three of their goals in the first half, and Red Bull were unable to test them, even when the Swedes had a player red carded. To me, that suggests greater deficiencies with the Austrian team than anything else.

Their arrogance would be intimidating to a side from the lower echelons of the game, but it should inspire nothing but contempt at Celtic Park. In the 15th minute of the game last night, with Johansen clean through on the keeper, they were out of Europe for all their bravado and big talk … and that our midfielder didn’t wrap it up in a bow is the only reason they left our ground with something other than a right good hiding.

Their manager thinks this tie is over. Berget talks about “taking revenge” as though our club did something to him, except try to resurrect his career. It was his own failings at Celtic Park that packed him off to Sweden, not some vindictiveness on our part.

This morning their players are calling ours pigs and children.

Offensive, crass and very, very stupid.

Use that arrogance Celtic.

Use it to destroy them on their own turf.

There is no greater weakness in sport.

If you were trying to inspire a side to give you a good thrashing you couldn’t do more and that Age Hareide allows his players to do this, that he perhaps even encourages such disrespect and trash talking, reveals his own lack of respect and hints at his own flowering ego and the belief that the call from the Nou Camp is due sooner or later.

The task facing our club couldn’t be clearer.

Aside from the bounty which will be ours if we make the Groups, the inspiraton, the motivation, is screaming at us out of every headline and back page. Our players better read it all, and burn those words into their minds … and avenge them.

All we have to do is go there and not lose.

They have to chase us, it’s that simple, and they expect it to be easy, for us to sit back and try and hold on to our narrow lead.

That we might come and try and score early apparently hasn’t dawned on them.

That we might just go out there and try and kill the tie stone dead hasn’t entered their darkest nightmare.

Yet it really is that simple.

Forget playing for the draw Ronny.

Go out there, Celts, and play for the win.

Because if we do that, we’ll get one.

We have better players in every department. We have the hunger and the will. We have Norways finest manager, someone developing in the right way and who has a humility and decency his opposite number would do well to learn from.

Age Hareide and his team need shutting up.

Do it Celtic.

Go over there and do it.

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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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Obstacles To Progress

Ronny DeilaAs many of you will doubtless be aware, and have seen, I have spent the last few weeks focussed almost solely on the political situation as we entered the General Election, so I’ve not been able to devote much time to the football.

In the interim, Celtic has won its fourth title in a row (and congratulations to Ronny Deila and everyone at the club for it) and we can now begin to accurately measure his progress.

He is now a title winning coach with a League Cup on the side, a man who was robbed of a potential treble by an insipid performance from his team and a scandalous refereeing decision.

Progress, yes … good progress. Lots of progress.

But how do we measure it?

I laughed the other day when I heard Hugh Keevins give his verdict on our manager. Not Proven, he said.

Keevins is unintentionally hilarious. He believes comments like that are controversial. They are simply stupid; fundamentally, irrefutably stupid and he doesn’t come across as anything other than a clown.

Yet, in a certain sense he may not be wrong.

Ronny will not really have proved himself until he competes again on the Champions League stage.

We all accept that. It’s the ultimate challenge.

But how do you measure progress in as unforgiving an environement as that?

You cannot have watched the semi-finals this week without being acutely aware that an enormous gulf in class exists between the major clubs and the rest of football.

Damage limitation is probably the best most sides can expect against the colossal powers of the European game like Bayern, like Juventus, like Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Yet that’s not our biggest problem, or the biggest factor counting against us in terms of our ability to advance.

For that, you need look no further than the border and the green and pleasant land of England, which just re-elected David Cameron and whose top league is awash in wealth that enables even the likes of Wigan to spend millions we could not afford.

There are some Celtic minded individuals who are so blinkered in their passion to see us play in that league that they actually advocated voting No in the independence referendum last year, in part because that would have ended our chances of ever taking that stage.

They continue to believe that there is a place in that league, just waiting for us, and that market forces and historical trends will see us assume a position there before long.

In that land of milk and honey, which has sent wages soaring, ticket prices rocketing and has cast a dark cloud over the rest of the European game, with knock-on effects everywhere that remove it further from the fans with every television deal, they say we will realise our ambitions.

Their belief is misplaced. Their hope is nothing but a shadow on the wall.

Giving us the financial wherewithal to compete with Hull City is not what will unlock the enormous potential of our football club.

Let us, for one moment, look at how we might get there.

One possible route is to lobby the UK government, or our new crop of MP’s, to re-examine the financial arrangements by which this league essentially sucks money from the supporters of all the clubs in the game, with the aim of spreading it around more.

That would require redistributive measures to be forced on the EPL or the broadcasters.

I don’t think any of us sees the remotest prospect of success in that endeavour.

Another route is by a legal challenge, to crack open the qualification route.

I have long heard rumours that Celtic do believe they could successfully pursue this matter in the courts if UEFA or English FA regulations tried to stop us, but even if they succeeded, we’d need to start in the lowest tier of the game unless an invite came from within the leagues themselves.

That, too, appears unlikely.

I have long argued that this most likely way into the English game is via the franchise route – buying a lower league English club and transforming them into Celtic – and I don’t believe the FA would have any legal standing in trying to stop us.

Their one regulation – that clubs need to be based in England or Wales – would not stand up for a second in a courtroom and that would give us a ready-made place in the structure.

Yet we would have to leave behind our history and our Scottish roots.

To leave the game in this country would mean liquidating our club.

In short, our way in is not clear or even presently within the rules.

That we could challenge it – and probably successfully – is certainly true too, but any scenario would inflict huge damage on the sport.

That’s assuming all of us wanted to go in the first place, either by direct invite or by one of the hare-brained schemes I just looked at.

I, personally, think it would be an enormous mistake.

The English model is as badly broken as the union itself.

The cash that has flooded the game has changed it beyond recognition and whether it continues to be built on untrammelled greed or the oft-predicted crash comes, that road leads to disaster.

Because those are the possibilities, it is not a league in which I want our club to have a place.

There are other – there are better – options.

One of those options is to use our position at the SFA to push for wide ranging reforms in the European game.

We should be pursuing some form of regionalised league set up.

UEFA knows there is a problem with English football, and the growing financial strength of the EPL.

Their own flagship competitions – the Champions League and the newly formatted Europa League – were supposed to provide clubs from around the continent the chance to grow the game. The relentless flow of money to England is contracting it instead.

Outside of a few super-clubs, the EPL is now European football’s centre of gravity.

No-one wants that to continue.

Gross over-spending on top players is one thing, but almost all the English clubs are now spending vast sums of money on youth recruitment too and if they are able to succeed in securing the best young players in the world with the promise of huge earnings then the game really is going to crash, sooner or later.

Regionalised leagues need not necessarily impact on the two top competitions.

If they were UEFA organised and licensed (and they would be) they could be folded into those easily enough.

The Atlantic League proposals, when I first read them, legislated for the domestic season to be played alongside the regional one, and there would be ways of making it work.

Celtic has to start using its clout within the governing body in Scotland, and its wider reputation as a European side, to start pushing for these reforms or we are going to find ourselves in a far worse position than we are in today, where players already view moving to clubs like Norwich and Southampton as a career step forward.

This isn’t just about money. They want to play against top players every single week, and much as this season has been entertaining and interesting we know the likes of Adam Rooney and Nadir Cfiti aren’t that.

Guys like Van Dijk and Johansen will only stay here so long.

The lure of Celtic will keep them beyond what is normal or to be expected, but developing a squad takes years and we’re clearly never going to get that if things continue on the present course.

So we go into the European tournaments badly outgunned.

How can we examine the progress of Ronny Deila until that actually changes? What is a good result in Europe these days?

Just getting to the Champions League Groups?

Or do we need to go beyond that? Is it even possible in the growing insantiy of a sport drowning in greed?

It hardly seems fair.

There’s one other option, course; to chase the dream. To spend stupid money.

Not even I advocate that.

Like Hugh Keevins’ version of journalism, it’s a mugs game.

(This writer needs your help! I’m a full timer scribbler with bills to pay! You can show your support by making a donation.)

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A Brief History of 2014

3782671_640x360This article was originally going to be very different, detailing, month to month, the main events in Scottish football over the last year. It’s no longer going to do that, because, frankly, it would have run into ten thousand words and much of it would have bored you to death.

Instead of being a blow by blow account, this’ll be an overview. It’ll be quicker to write, easier to read and the emails will flood in about all the things I’ve missed. There will be hundreds of major events that don’t make the cut. This article does not seek to classify those I’ve mentioned as being of greater import … but they clicked for me.

Let’s start with the first thing. The year ends with Armageddon Averted; Scottish football clubs have never been in better financial health, and the incredible part about this is that it’s been achieved at a time when the people supposedly running the game here have lurched from drama to crisis and failed miserably to rebuild the game’s commercial reputation, which they themselves had guttered when they were threatening the clubs in the wake of Rangers’ collapse.

It astounds me that the people who have gotten their clubs to this point still allow the likes of Regan, Doncaster and Oglivie to be the public faces of the governing bodies, when they are an embarrassment to the game, and a blight on their institutions. The end of the year saw them take a positive step, with their decision not to allow Mike Ashley further influence at Ibrox, but that wreckage of a club remains a monument not only to the catastrophic mismanagement within its own walls but to the failures of oversight that allowed it in the first place.

I’ll come to the Sevco situation later. The other clubs in this fair land deserve more than just a couple of paragraphs at the start of this piece, and if I move on, now, to the organisation operating out of the offices behind the Marble Staircase like a crime syndicate I’ll have no room for anything else.

Edinburgh has been the centre of a lot of this year’s most famous events. Hearts were doomed to relegation when the year began. The question was whether they would survive at all. Not only did they, but they rebuilt their club in a fashion that has Sevco fans looking on in envy and disbelief.

Purely and simply, Hearts did everything right. They ran a proper administration for a start – not one that is likely to see its authors winding up in court. They slashed costs across the board, amongst the playing squad in particular, knowing full well what that would mean to a club which had already been deducted 15 points. They put their faith in youth, and they were fully prepared for the consequences of that.

Their supporters kept the faith. More than that, they dug deep, into their own pockets, and they kept on the lights and prevented the football club from going the Rangers Route to the Graveyard.

They end the year on a dizzying high, top of the Championship in spite of nearly every pundit writing them off, with a staggering 15 lead over Sevco, who in many ways represent their mirror image, the cautionary tale of what might have been.

They are blessed with an excellent, articulate young manager who knows his business, an attractive attacking football team which scores a lot of goals and a CEO who, like it or not, has come out swinging and is a no-nonsense type who can offer them much needed off-field leadership, in stark contrast to the appalling state of affairs we all knew so well from the days of Romanov.

Hearts will make their return to the SPL next year, and they will have earned that place, and the respect of the other clubs. They are not perfect; some of their supporters need to get a grip, something that, in fairness, could be said of every club, but they will be a welcome addition to the top flight, a team that plays the game well and has its act together off the pitch.

Hibs started 2014 in trouble.

Most of the pundits believed the appointment of Terry Butcher was the right one; I wasn’t so sure. He had taken a long time to stamp his mark on Inverness, to turn them into a credible side. The job at Hibs meant starting from scratch, with the clock ticking down. I wondered if he had the experience and the talent to pull it off, and from an early stage it was apparent that the malaise at that club went too deep.

From around March I started to feel there was something in the air at Easter Road. The team had taken on a doomed look, and I started to tell people I thought they were heading to the Championship with Hearts. When Hamilton scored with virtually the last kick of the ball in the playoffs it sealed a fate that, in truth, the club had been spinning towards for years.

Hibs started badly in the league, so badly in fact that many wondered how long the newly appointed Alan Stubbs would last. What turned it around was a storming first half performance at the home of Sevco, where the former Celtic manager drew something from his team that had Ally McCoist staring into his own grave as a coach.

Had Hibs gone on to score more in the second half, I am convinced the Sevco boss would have been on “gardening leave” by 1 October.

Now the club sits in third spot, and after absolutely destroying the Glasgow NewCo in a frightening efficient 4-0 victory only last week, they are in good shape for the playoffs. They, like Hearts, have done everything right, building a team of young, ambitious talents who are hungry for top flight football, with Scott Allan in particular standing out and looking the business.

Having predicted that they would go down last year, I said earlier in the season that they looked traumatised and in chaos, and I thought it might be a long while before they made it back to the SPL.

I was wrong. I think they’ll be back next season. They quite simply look a different club.

If Hibs do go up, it will be harsh on Queen of the South and Falkirk, two sides who know what they are about. The Queens, in particular, have been solid, and steady, for the last couple of years, building a great team on a shoe-string budget, preceding the Sevconian adventure with a rapid rise of their own, albeit with the added bonus of a Challenge Cup win along the way.

They have been dreadfully unlucky in the Championship this season, after getting to the play-offs last year and looking like one of the favourites to come up, only to find themselves facing not only Sevco but the Edinburgh clubs too. As spoilers for that playoff spot go, you wouldn’t bet against them though …

Aberdeen have had one Hell of a 2014, winning their first trophy in 19 years and continuing, under Derek McInnes, to develop into one heck of a good side to watch. They recently agreed deals to keep two of their top players – goal scorer Adam Rooney and winger Niall McGinn – at the club for extended periods, reflecting their growing confidence and financial stability.

They should probably have won a second trophy last season, reaching the semi-final where they were knocked out by eventual winners St Johnstone. They also secured third place in the SPL, and are hoping that 2015 will be the year they do even better.

Over in Dundee, you have to admire what Jackie McNamara has brought to the table since taking over. They play good football. They have exciting players, and now that their finances are sorted out they can afford to deter suitors with valuations of £3 million for indvidual stars.

Their scouting network, and the youth system, both work seamlessly, and produce the goods. They might well be the perfect model for how to run a football club in Scotland.

Their neighbours, Dundee, who headed down a blind alley with the appointment of Ned In Chief John Brown, have recovered nicely with Paul Hartley at the helm, and look a good side who are perfectly capable of consolidating their position in the league. 2014 was a good year for them, as they scooped the Championship. 2015 may yet see them scrap their way into the top six of the SPL.

It’ll be hard. St Johnstone are one of the clubs who stand in their way after a cracking 2014, where they won their first trophy, the Scottish Cup, against Dundee Utd at Celtic Park. They too look solid and capable, as they try to build on last season’s success story. They’ve also had a taste of European football, which they’ll certainly want another shot at, and they could do it too.

Hamilton are the real surprise package in the top half though. 2014 must have seemed like a fairy tale as their blazing brand of football took them to the Championship play-offs, after they narrowly missed out on automatic promotion despite a stunning end to the last campaign. They beat Hibs after one of the most dramatic finishes we’ve seen to a match in the game’s recent history here, returning to the SPL as most people’s favourites for the drop.

Yet their progress in the top flight has been frankly astounding. They are fourth in the league at the time of writing, in a European spot, and amazingly only six points off the top.

Inverness are now a solid performer in the league, and this has been another good year for them, sitting, as they are, in fifth place at the moment. To the outsider, it may look as if they are a club that has found its level, but the SPL, outside of Celtic, is wide open … and sooner or later one team will step up to provide the main challenge to the Parkhead club. Is that Inverness? This year will be interesting. They are five points off Aberdeen in second, and seven behind the champions.

Which brings me to Celtic. This has been a tumultuous year for Celtic, with a title win and then Neil Lennon’s decision to leave. I welcomed that decision, both from a footballing perspective and to allow Neil himself some time away from the stresses and strains which have stalked him from the time he took over as our manager.

There is a lot of talk in the press about how much “Coisty” has had to suffer as a coach, and those ridiculous articles and comments make my blood boil because nowhere in his time as boss was he sent bullets or bombs, or attacked in his dugout, or made a target for the boot boys on the streets. He enjoyed almost unlimited goodwill, which persists to the present day in spite of the evidence of his self-serving nature.

Lennon endured things no other manager in Scotland has, with a hostile press howling against him all the while.

Added to this was a level of hate amongst fans of others clubs, even outside the twin horrors of the Ibrox and Tynecastle supports, which was at times incomprehensible. What in God’s name did Neil Lennon, a thoroughly decent man and a consummate professional, do to deserve the appalling level of abuse he had to endure, everywhere he went?

None of that has followed him to England, where he is now weaving magic at Bolton. He is popular down there, and far more respected than he was here. It is a damning indictment of the scribblers and their tendencies that this guy was often painted as “his own worst enemy” and as somehow responsible for what he had to put up with.

Shame on them for that, and for much else besides.

Neil Lennon’s departure triggered an expected firestorm of media predictions and speculation. For a while it did seem like Roy Keane would be stepping into the managers shoes, but aside from a handful of pundits and former players the idea went down like a lead balloon. Celtic cyberspace made its position quite clear, with a resounding No.

This website never believed it was likely, and I said so in a piece at the time which speculated on whether the idea could ever have found favour within the walls of Celtic Park. It would have created a situation where the CEO had been over-ruled, and where his power would have been diluted. I have long argued that this is necessary – more on that in a minute – but not at the expense of the club’s internal stability, and ructions would have been assured with Keane in post.

It wasn’t to happen. Just as I thought, the board were looking for someone who would work within a budget, who would not challenge the orthodoxy of “The Strategy”, someone content simply to be at the club. His name was Ronny Deila, and six months on a lot of Celtic’s fans remain unconvinced.

I like him. I thought the appointment was a good one, and I admit that. I think if he’s given the resources to do it his way we will see a very, very good Celtic team. I worry that this will be allowed. I worry our board lacks the ambition for it. I worry that we’ve taken a decision to downsize towards the point where aspiring simply to win the title every year is the level they’ll settle for.

The most horrifying example of this came with our Champions League reprieve, following the hammering handed out to us by Legia Warsaw. A lot of us knew going into the games against the Polish club that Celtic was going to struggle. The routing we got was a shock to the system, though, one that showed how far we’d fallen and how far behind good sides our squad was.

When we were handed our gift from the Gods at UEFA, allowed back into the tournament after Warsaw’s paperwork snafu (which in Scotland would have been fine, provided they played out of Ibrox), myself and many others expected the board to have learned a lesson. I thought they’d provide the squad with a little additional support going into the games.

Nothing happened. Nothing at all. One player arrived on a permanent deal after it was too late to matter, and the rest of Delia’s “signings” were brought to the club on loan.

It is a shocking state of affairs for a so-called “big club”, one that has guaranteed us a fraught January window if we don’t want a second period of rebuilding in the summer. Next season’s Champions League qualifiers – should Celtic get there, and that’s not a lock – will be as difficult as the ones where we proved so incapable this year.

That is bad planning alright, and that’s our fate because I honestly don’t expect major moves in the next month. The usual excuses will be trotted out – there are no players available etc – and there will be some kind of mad scramble on the last day, when the prospects are even less, and doubtless we will hear some good PR spin … but the team will be no stronger for it.

I hope I’m wrong. But confidence isn’t exactly high. Past precedent, and our awful summer, gives us some pointers as to how it’ll go.

Ronny’s ideas look good when they work though, as they have several times this season. The team is being asked to play in a new style, but I worry that he might be too wedded to it, and watching one man upfront trying to break down the likes of Ross County, with a ten man defence, is mind-numbing and depressingly awful.

Things have to change at Celtic Park in 2015.

From the outside, going up the Celtic Way, you’d swear this was a club that considered itself amongst world football’s elite. But scrambling over transfer fees, not wanting to pay the going rate in wages, being unwilling to push the boat out that extra mile to properly equip the manager … they are the strategies of a club that has run out of ideas on how to get better. We have a CEO who is on a salary that would have made McCoist’s eyes bulge, now effectively working for us part time as he climbs the SFA ladder.

He is the public face of The Strategy that saw us crash out of the Champions League twice in a month, and who has overseen a parade of different managers at the club since his appointment. As such, we’ve been robbed of a solid period of continuity and proper development. Not all of that is his fault, and indeed there is not a single Celtic fan who would rather have Graham Wallace at the helm, but some of the choices we’ve been forced to make in that time have contributed to the uncertainty. Something has to give there, and no mistake.

I think 2015 is a make-or-break year for Peter Lawwell. The empty seats around Parkhead have nothing at all to do with an environment without a club called Rangers. They have everything to do with a credit crunch, and people who see no sign of life in the Parkhead boardroom except at bonus time, and who have decided there’s a better use for their money.

Sevco fans are staying away because they don’t like the board. A lot of Celtic fans are staying away because they don’t like the direction our board is taking us. I firmly believe that. I know it because I am one of them.

It’s irritating to me, because I think on one hand that we’re lucky to have guys at the helm who run our club in a professional way. On the other I think it’s a nonsense that their method involves having the football club finance the business instead of the other way around.

January will be telling. The summer is do or die. If Celtic shows no sign of ambition beyond finishing top of the SPL and “making it” to the group stages of the Europa League – and that’s about the limit of where we were this year – then getting fans to renew their season tickets is going to be a tough sell, with or without Sevco in the top flight.

Which brings me to them, and to the story that has dominated the whole year.

I think the chances of us seeing them in the SPL next season are balanced somewhere between slim and none. They are an utter shambles, on and off the field, with a variety of media fantasies both sustaining and heightening the series of unreality that continues to surround them.

The gap between the Ibrox NewCo and Hearts on the pitch – fifteen points at the current time – is a shadow of that which exists between the two sides off it, which is incredible considering that Hearts were in as perilous a situation as Rangers for a while there, but handled it in a much more level-headed and sophisticated way.

Today’s news, that the so-called “Three Bears” have “grabbed control” is more spin from the people who brought you “Motherwell Born Billionaire” and who spent much of 2014 telling the world what a prize Graham Wallace was, until he wasn’t; what a good thing Mike Ashley was, until the penny dropped about what he was after; what a great guy Malcolm Murray was, until he was no longer in favour; how the “120 Day Review” would answer all the questions, until it didn’t … and on and on I could go.

If today’s “coup” is about getting changes, then you only have to look at the departure of “Scotland’s boy wonder” Lewis McLeod, for a paltry £800,000, to see how things stand. Changes, if they come, will be too slow … and probably too late.

To convene the EGM needed to get new faces on the board, they’ll need to apply for one. The present incumbents can make them wait five days before even agreeing to it. Following that, they have a further 21 days to schedule it.

If they call it today, we’re already deep into January before it can convene, and then what?

The club only has the money to reach the end of that month. The EGM might elect new directors, but they’d have a short window in which to work to meet payroll. Could they raise the money in time, without having to offer Ashley something? Doubtful. Would Ashely play ball, and give them further loans? Possibly, but in exchange for what?

To issue new shares would require one of two things; a new vote on Resolution 9, requiring 75% support (unlikely at best, as Ashely holds enough proxies and support from the Easdale’s to block it) or the existing plan, which would only allow existing shareholders to participate.

Either way, setting up a new share issue on that basis requires a vetting period, the making up of a prospectus, the setting down of terms and it will cost £500,000 or thereabouts. In the meantime, nothing will change either on the pitch or in terms of the position this club finds itself in.

All that’s happened here is that a new group of shareholders has emerged to challenge the existing ones. That is a recipe for more internecine warfare, whilst the team on the pitch dies a death.

The importance of a unified boardroom at Ibrox is critical. Even if they raise the £6 million they say they need, that will get them through until season ticket renewal time at most. But then what? If they are still stuck in the Championship – as I expect them to be – there’ll be demands that they strengthen the playing squad. A large number of its players are out of contract in the summer, meaning even more money has to be found.

This is a club who doesn’t even have certainty over the manager.

McCoist is hanging about like a bad smell, raking in a tidy penny, and his cohort of backroom staff remain firmly entrenched. The task of bringing in a new manager can’t even begin until that has been resolved … and then what? He inherits a skeleton of a squad, no money to buy replacements and no scouting system to identify targets even if the cash to bring them in was there.

Even getting this club up to something approaching par is a Herculean task which is going to cost someone the fat end of £30 million or more … and it’ll take years.

Not a single individual in this saga so far – not even those, like Ashely, for whom that kind of money would be chump change – has shown the slightest inclination to spend anything like that, and the Sevco support wouldn’t play the long game even if they did.

In real terms then, today’s events change nothing at all. A group of shareholders who remained mostly anonymous have been replaced by a rabble rousing bunch who the press are already treating as insurgents, as if what Sevco needs at the moment is a fresh insurgency.

The club ends the year skint and dependent on short-term loans from Ashley, as it would have ended like this had the share trading of today never happened. What makes it different of course is that if Ashley feels he is being squeezed out of the picture he can turn off the taps and consign the club to the dustbin of history with the OldCo.

If he feels, for one second, that his own influence at Ibrox is under threat I fully expect him to fight to protect his interests.

Ironically, it may just be that someone like Ashley, long term, is actually just what Sevco needs, as today’s sale of Lewis McLeod shows. Along with sending McCoist to trim the hedges, and demoting his backroom buddies and installing McDowell as interim boss, Ashley and Llambias have taken the sort of steps that ought to have been taken right at the start. They’ve shown some kind of sense about what this club requires if it’s to survive. They are fully entitled to be compensated for that effort, and only an ingrate would challenge that assertion. If the man’s money was keeping the lights on in my house, I would think twice before I crossed the street to piss on his cornflakes.

The last thing Sevco needs are “Rangers men” cut from the cloth of old, chasing the dream, trying to pretend nothing has changed.

Everything has changed. The next 12 months will be even more tumultuous than the last 12. Aside from the boardroom bloodletting that is inevitable, we’re going to see the start of the legal processes which will unravel the truth about the Whyte takeover of Rangers and Green’s creation of Sevco.

We’re probably going to get a “warts and all” expose on the whole thing, including who knew what, and when, at the SFA.

This has been one Hell of a year to be a football fan in Scotland. The national team has started to play real football again under Gordon Strachan, and a little bit of pride has been restored. Cups and trophies were evenly spread out amongst the teams, with no one side dominating as many had predicted, and season ticket sales were up almost everywhere, with the two big exceptions being in Glasgow, albeit for very different reasons.

I want to sign off for this year saying that 2014 was the year On Fields of Green really found its feet. There have been more than 100 articles, we’ve launched a magazine (issue 3 is just about finished, the delay has been in trying to decide what we want to do with the project long-term) and the guys who keep it running with me have been debating podcasts and other stuff, which we’ll see about as time marches on.

One thing is clear; without your support, your sharing of articles, your comments, your criticisms (which all help us make it better), your advice and those occasional gold nuggets of information which help clarify and crystallise the muddy waters around us … and of course everyone who donated something, love and respect to every single one of you … this website purely and simply would not exist at all.

In the coming year, we aim to write more and to do more to involve ourselves with the battle for the soul of Scottish football, a battle we’re not in the least complacent about. There’s a hell of a lot to be done.

This year will be vital to the game’s long term prosperity. Before 2015 ends, we might see financial fair play in our leagues. We might see an SFA President who’s not cut from the same old cloth. We might yet see more changes in European football and, by God, even our national team making a real push for qualification to a major finals.

All things are possible. Believing is the first step to achieving.

Happy New Year comrades, friends, ladies and gentleman.

Faith, Truth and Justice.

(This has been a huge year for the site, and everything we do continues to depend on you. You can help us out by making a donation at the PayPal link at the top or the bottom of your page, depending on which device you are using. Scottish football needs a strong On Fields of Green 😀 )

Flying The Flag

celtic-green-brigades-pal-flagThis article was originally intended to be about the transfer window, but I wasn’t looking forward to writing it as it left me decidedly underwhelmed, in spite of Celtic signing the strikers we’ve been crying out for. It feels like too little, too late.

(Especially as one of the deals is hanging in the balance. I don’t even want to go there.)

I am glad I found something else to write about, but I’ll tell you something; I’m sitting here, right now, and I am absolutely furious about what that something is.

UEFA has decided to warn two Scottish clubs over the conduct of their fans, the clubs being Celtic and St Johnstone, because their supporters had Palestinian flags at recent European games.

This, says UEFA, is a breach of their articles on political expression.

I am staggered by this notion, and I hope to God that neither club stands for it. Not only is it a nonsensical position for UEFA to take, but it is hypocritical and itself politically weighted. It defies belief that they would actually argue such a thing, and it will be an immoral disgrace if the clubs simply roll over and accept it.

Palestinian flags have long flown at Celtic Park. It is an expression of solidarity with an oppressed people, and an expression of support for the cause of establishing a fully-fledged Palestinian state, a cause supported right across the world. It is not anti-Israeli and it is not a flag of war. Indeed, in 2012 the United Nations granted Palestine the status of an observer state. This is one step away from giving them full recognition as an autonomous nation. It is the same status as is held by the Holy See and it was the legal position of Switzerland until 2002.

Is UEFA saying it would not recognise the Vatican City State flag as that of a nation state, but would consider it a “political statement”?

UEFA is based in Switzerland, where it presumably flies its national flag. Did it refuse to do that before 2002? Because surely that would have been a political statement too, right?

I’ll go even further. In 1999, the European Union itself recognised the right to a Palestinian state, in the Berlin Declaration. Palestine is a signatory to a number of international treaties, including the Convention on War, the Geneva Convention and the Vienna Conventions on Treaties and Diplomatic Relations. The nation state is recognised by 134 United Nations members.

The Celtic and St Johnstone fans were not holding up a political banner. The clubs have been prosecuted because their supporters held up a national flag, one that is recognised by almost every country on Earth, the European Union and the United Nations.

Furthermore, Palestine is a recognised nation in football too. They are member of the Asian Football Confederation and are recognised by FIFA.

There are no words for the contempt I feel for this decision.

According to reports, UEFA deem the flag a political symbol because of the on-going struggle in the Middle East, and it’s this notion I find most offensive.

Because how can they deem a national flag a political symbol, unless they themselves are viewing it through the prism of political ideology? There are only a few countries which do not recognise it as the flag of a nation state. The UK is one. America is another, and, of course, so is Israel. UEFA’s refusal to recognise the flag, even as the European Community does, is a blatantly political statement and a blatant taking of sides in the conflict.

No-one would ,or should, suggest that Israeli clubs do not fly their own national flag. Yet they are on the other side of this conflict. To label one side in a certain way and not the other is, itself, a profoundly political decision. It stinks to high heaven that they reckon they can do this kind of thing with impunity, as if the contradiction is not obvious to any right thinking person.

The Green Brigade were sanctioned last year for their Wallace and Bobby Sands banner shortly before UEFA ordered every club in every member nation to observe a minute of silence to remember the life of the great Nelson Mandela. People within the Celtic support were asking how one could be alright and not the other. They pointed to the similarities between these three men and this was further borne out when Sands’ contemporary Gerry Adams was chosen by the Mandela family as part of his funeral guard of honour.

UEFA ties itself in knots when it does this stuff and it doesn’t even appear to realise it.

The promotion of anti-racist organisations is a profoundly political statement. Their awareness campaigns on homophobia are political statements. I agree with them on these particular political issues, but that’s not the point.

They allow Scotland, England and Wales, as well as the north of Ireland, to compete in their competitions as separate states, although all are members of a single political, social and economic union. This is a political decision, and it could be argued that at the moment Scotland fans have less actual right to fly the Saltire at football than to fly the Palestinian flag, as the nation state of Scotland doesn’t presently exist on the world stage, at any level, far less that for which Palestine has recognition.

Where does UEFA get off here? Are the SFA really going to stand for this? Are the two clubs going to let this pass? This impacts especially heavily on Celtic, as we’ve had a pull for political expression before and with our fans propensity for flying the flag it may well not be our last warning in this regard. In fact, it almost certainly won’t be.

Peter Lawwell has a seat on the SFA board. This would be a good time to put it to use, to stand up for both of our clubs and their supporters. UEFA ought to be made explain this one, publicly, to argue the reasons why they deem a national flag as something else and this verdict, which I predict will become a notorious one, reversed.

We should be using social media to promote the hypocrisy of this to other clubs and their fans. We should get the idea of flying that flag out there, and get it to go viral. Widespread condemnation and public opinion should be brought to bear on this issue.

I hope to God we don’t remain silent here. This one has to be challenged. Peter Lawwell gets a hard time on this blog, but he will go up in my estimation enormously if he takes this one on, on behalf of the two clubs and their fans.

This can’t be allowed to stand.

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Indefencible

1519816_w2Last night, when the full time whistle blew at Celtic Park and we assumed the historical mantle of being the first team who crashed out of the UEFA Champions League twice in the space of a month, first one round and then the other, I switched the channel over and my horror was complete.

Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United had just been trounced 4-0 at MK Dons. He had fielded a B-Team, yes, but the result is a shocker in anyone’s book, the kind of result that has inquests going on, the kind that has occasionally sparked sackings.

I knew then that nothing would change because of the inept, shameful display I’d just witnessed. I knew then that some of our fellow fans would find succour in the Manchester United result. That they’d say “there’s a world class coach, with world class players, who’s had a hundred million to spend and who’s suffered a shocking start to the season. What chance do we have with a relative unknown, operating in the confines of the SPL?”

Oh yes, it was all too clear to me in that moment. Some people will grab those excuses like a comfort blanket.

Whatever made them sleep well last night.

And you know what? It’s cobblers.

Last night, as with Warsaw before, we saw the inevitable result of a team going backwards, a team regressing at a rapid rate. Two years ago we qualified from a Champions League group including Barcelona and Benfica. The team which did that was quickly dismantled. Very little of the money was put back into the side. Our club is either a colossal waster of money, on a Sevconian scale, for which someone has to be answerable, or we are sitting on a mountain of it, for reasons passing all understanding, whilst the team rots. We were given a staggering reprieve in the biggest competition in football, after a trouncing at the first hurdle. Result? We sold our goalkeeper in an eight figure deal and spent nothing. A failed gamble, or a sign that the people inside our club just don’t give a damn what we think?

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

If, as some say, this is a transitional season then it’s hardly our first for a while. Why? We’re on our fourth manager in the last six years. Two walked, one was sacked and the latest is already under pressure, having been given no money whatsoever to spend so far – a major contributing factor in that we have crashed out of this competition twice against second rate teams. Because of this, we have no more continuity on the touchline than we do out on the pitch, and so the club Is never stable for very long. We veer in and out of anarchic close seasons. Is this part of the strategy, or can we no longer retain good people?

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

Our scouting system seems to have failed more often than it has succeeded. Even then, transfer negotiations take longer with Celtic than just about any other club out there. Today we’re told our latest striking target is considering his options in light of last night’s result. Had we signed him before the tie – making him eligible for it – one can’t help but wonder whether we’d still be in the tournament. But we waited until the tie was at the half-way stages and got the deal only half done. If it collapses now, who do we blame? Is it the player’s fault that the deal stalled? Shouldn’t we have pursued other options who would have given us a quicker answer? Or did we approach it, half-assed, and thought we could meander over the line? Shameful whatever way you dress it up. Small time thinking.

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

The wage cap means that even when we do find good players we are often unable to sign them once their terms are on the table. The end result of this is that we start with a list of 100 targets, of whom we can sign perhaps 10. Of that 10 we pursue only those who fit a certain age bracket, so they have a re-sale value if it turns out they are any good. This is how a list that starts with Alfred Finnbogasson is narrowed to the signing of Temo Pukki. Now, whether the mistakes lie with the scouts themselves, for even identifying Pukki in the first place, or with the strategy that binds us to these kind of signings, our squad is packed with second rate dross, and so it doesn’t matter. The end result is the same.

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

We are told, constantly, that football is now a business. That our club has to be run like one. Last night cost us £15 million and upwards. The only way to recoup that money is to sell first team assets, further weakening the team. How many fans will buy tickets to watch an even more depleted Celtic team play in the second tier European tournament? The business model has just taken a very major hit. In any other corporate field someone would carry the can for such a shocking overnight loss. Either the manager is out of his depth or he’s working with tools that are completely unsuited to the job at hand, tools no-one could work with.

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job. Otherwise we’re rewarding failure.

The failures at Celtic Park are systemic. They are the direct result of a strategy that has failed, a strategy that was always going to fail, and the people responsible for that are still in post, and they lack the dignity and class to accept that and move voluntarily.

I am sick of it. I am sitting here right now boiling with frustration and anger at the way a very good, very promising, Celtic side of only two years ago has been reduced to the shambles of last night and I no longer believe there is any question that Neil Lennon walked away from a job he loved because he knew this strategy was hanging him – hanging the whole club –out to dry.

A lot of people don’t believe I have the right to talk this way because I am no longer a visitor to Celtic Park. I stopped funding the strategy a while back, and I’m not returning until the people responsible for it are gone.

This isn’t about backing the team either. I owe no loyalty at all to mercenary players who talked last night and today about their “devastation” at not making the Champions League groups, but who’s regrets are tempered by wages in excess of their abilities and who’s contribution to the disaster was evident for all to see. Many of them don’t have the heart to be Celtic players and would never play in the team again if many of us had our way. Their selections, like that of Charlie Mulgrew, are an aberration.

Because of this, I owe no loyalty to a manager who I’ve said I think is a good appointment but who’s alibi of not getting any of the tools for the job is likewise tempered by baffling decision making and reversals of himself which are already awakening serious doubts in even those of us who supported the choice.

To play an untested young central defender in the away tie but not deem him experienced enough for the home game is indefencible.

To leave Kris Commons out of the away tie for tactical reasons makes sense. To leave him out at home is indefencible.

To call Leigh Griffiths the best striker at the club and not have him feature at all is ridiculous, and to play Anthony Stokes up front, on his own, when he hasn’t scored a European goal in 17 months is indefencible.

The manager has nowhere to hide after those decisions. As poor as our squad might be, those look like the choices of a man who contradicts himself at every turn, or who’s mind can be changed for him, as it clearly was over the signing of players on loan.

The time has come to ask ourselves what we love about Celtic, and what we’re willing to do for it. I voted with my feet, never thinking it would do the slightest good, but unable to be a hypocrite who pays his money and knows full well it’s wasted.

I love Celtic, the institution. I love Celtic, the idea. I love Celtic, the Family. What happens on the pitch has always been secondary to my pride at being part of everything else Celtic is. But even that is being eaten away.

We have people inside our club who could not even reach a temporary accommodation with some of our most passionate supporters for a match when we needed every voice in the house to be raised high. When even something as simple as this cannot be handled right, or won’t be handled right, perhaps because some inside Celtic want these guys gone then something stinks.

I’ll make a prediction right now; the Green Brigade will be at Celtic Park long after Peter Lawwell has packed up his pencils.

We have people inside our club, founded for charitable purposes, who wouldn’t pay the living wage to our employees last year, although I’m willing to bet they’ll agree at this AGM as part of a charm offensive to win back disgruntled fans. It will benefit those who earn it, and I’ll be pleased for them, but it’s too little too late to start pretending to care.

We have people on the board of Celtic who should never be allowed near the building. Right-wing reactionaries who have taken part in Tory government attacks on our poor, our vulnerable, our sick and our young.

Lord Iain Livingstone, you stink out Celtic Park. Go now, and whoever’s idea it was (Iain Bankier, reputed Rangers fan, now our chairman, who has made a “positive contribution” which, as far as I can see is the sum total of nil) should be following you out the door.

Does anyone think the storm clouds over our club are not the direct consequence of having such soulless men on our board? That their one dimensional view of a world of consumers and customers, those who can afford to pay and those who can’t, the “deserving and undeserving poor” isn’t part of the reason we’re mired in mediocrity, swimming in a Nile of trouble at the present time? You think their social and political outlook isn’t changing the very nature of what our club is meant to be? We’ve become a football club that runs a business for gods sake.

You’re deluding yourself to believe otherwise, and if this “business” decides it doesn’t want “customers” who buck the system and ask too many questions or examine too closely or see too clearly or communicate what they think … well, that’s how it’ll be.

Next season, when they’re trying to sell season tickets at inflated prices on the back of games against Sevco, will you hold your nose? Will you close your eyes, swallow your doubts, and pay your money down?

We have an absentee majority shareholder, who would do us all a big favour if he sold to someone who wanted to play a more hands on role, who wanted Roy Keane for the manager’s job but didn’t even have the ability to force through the decision, not that it would have made a blind bit of difference anyway. Keane too would have had to work in a straightjacket.

This Family is being eroded, with those of us who are unhappy being labelled huns and wreckers and those who’ve opted to vote with their feet being told we’re unwelcome anyway and not to come back. There are many amongst the Celtic support who think it’s a more noble act to keep on attending Celtic Park than it is to stay away and that anyone who does otherwise is a lesser individual.

I feel bad for them more than angry, because they are the real victims of this appalling corporate multifaceted failure. It’s their loyalty the strategy depends on. They are its lifeblood, sustaining it when the more circumspect won’t.

I wish I could tell those guys everything will be fine, that our club is on the right track, that their loyalty and their faith will be rewarded. But I can’t. I won’t. They are being told enough lies as it is. They are being led along by too many people already.

It’s not alright. It won’t all be fine. We’re going backwards at an alarming rate, and a few signings will no longer steady the ship or fix this overnight.

Heads are going to have to roll, and from the very top, where the strategy was born.

Nothing else will heal these wounds or change this downward spiral.

It’s nearly time to make your choice. How much do you love Celtic? What are you prepared to do in the struggle for its soul?

(On Fields of Green badly needs your support as we enter our own transitional period. If you can make a donation, we’d appreciate it. You can do so with the Donate button at the top or the bottom of whatever device you’re using. Every support we get is massively helpful.)