Friends In Low Places

ThumbThey say a picture speaks a thousand words, but if this one does they are pretty vague. If you didn’t know what you were looking at you might not think it says anything at all.

Before we get to the picture, let’s have a little history lesson, shall we?

I know that some people think our articles are too long; this is where you get off, friends, because this one is going to speak those thousand words and then some.

I’m telling you this in advance, to stop you moaning about it on Facebook and elsewhere later.

Are they gone? Good. Let’s get down to it then.

The State of Qatar has been ruled by one family – the Al Thani family – since the 19th century. This makes the British royal family look like a brand new concept. It is a small country, with a population of 1.8 million, with the highest “per capita GDP” in the world. Qatar is a rich country, with the third largest oil reserves on the planet.

For the last ten to fifteen years, Qatar has gotten big on sport. They have hosted tournaments, sponsored sides and pushed hard to be taken seriously. Above all, as we’re all aware, they made an audacious, and successful, bid for a World Cup Finals, and FIFA has been dealing with the fallout from that decision ever since.

The scandal surrounding it has been truly Sevconian.

We’ve had talk of bribes. We’ve had resignations from FIFA investigatory committees set up to get to the bottom of it. We’ve had allegations of corruption that go all the way to the top, and worse; Amnesty International are demanding judicial hearings, and talking about dead workers. International trade unions are calling the Qatari government killers.

In football terms, the World Cup, normally played in the summer, has now been re-imagined as a winter event, to be held in November, which will have knock on consequences for leagues all around the globe, but especially in Europe, that will reverberate for years.

It seems apparent to anyone who’s been observing events that the Qatari World Cup bid was a shameless fraud, purchased on liquid gold, and that it has damaged the Global Game.

It also seems pretty clear that as incestuous and disreputable the process of governing the game is here in Scotland that on the bigger stage of FIFA and UEFA they make Doncaster, Regan and Ogilvie look like amateurs, and you only have to look to England, the stony silence of the FA and the cack handed delusions of the PFA chairman as the Ched Evans saga burns through the game to see a level of incompetence the equal of anything here.

But you know what? I couldn’t care about any of that stuff.

Well actually, that’s not true, I do care about all of it, but those are matters for others to deal with for the moment.

We, Scottish football fans, can’t intercede in those affairs or change things outwith our borders.

The stuff that goes on here, in our domestic game … that’s still in our hands.

So take a look at that picture. Take a good look, because that picture is important. It’s a window onto the way things work, and the way they are done.

The meeting is in Doha, Qatar, sometime last year.

At that table are two representatives of Celtic, but if you read the piece that accompanies it, you get an explanation as to why Peter Lawwell, at least, is at the meeting.

Celtic was playing in a youth tournament over there, and so there’s a part of me that is glad to see he’s present.

Yet if you’ve read the piece you’ll already know that the other representative from my club is the commercial director, Adrian Filby, who I would presume is there to talk some kind of business with the Qataris.

That piques my interest, and not in a good way.

Read further, and you’ll see mention of the “Scottish contingent”.

Everyone listed in that report is from Celtic, from the boardroom to the youth setup, although only two, Lawwell and Filby, appear to be at the meeting.

There are a couple of other Scottish football personalities in the room though, and they’re not mentioned in that report at all.

One is sitting at the top of the table, looking down at us, which some would say is his default position.

It is, of course, Neil Doncaster.

We know this meeting took place last year. What else do we know about last year?

Well we also know that sometime last year the SPL sent a “delegation” to Qatar to explore several commercial options.

The delegation included Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping.

Curiously enough, Topping is in the photo, sitting behind Lawwell. It stands to reason, then, that this is in fact the SPL official delegation that was fleetingly referenced in some papers, and on some websites, but in the main passed almost un-noticed by the world.

Celtic, it just so happens, were in town at the same time, right?

Coincidence?

Let me ask you this; If a Sevco delegation just happened to be in Qatar at the same time as the SPL’s team, I don’t think any of us would accept that answer.

So my first question is this; what’s the connection between a commercial delegation from Celtic and a commercial delegation from the SPL? The answer, on the surface of it, is Peter Lawwell himself, who has a foot in both worlds.

Yet this report is plainly about Celtic, plainly about the club, and the SPL Two aren’t even mentioned in it at all.

Added to that, the sparse media reports about the SPL team, in which both Doncaster and Topping are named … they don’t include reference to anyone from Celtic.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the media was keeping that quiet.

Why though? Why would they?

There’s one possible reason why everyone involved wants to keep the lid nailed shut, and it doesn’t bode well for the maintenance of peace and harmony.

You see, as you’ve doubtless read in the report – which is from a Celtic site, with a link going somewhere else, and contains direct quotes I can’t source, but are good enough to suggest they’ve been hived from the mainstream media – the Qatari’s are very interested in a certain match that’s being played on 1 February this year.

In fact, Doncaster is said to have invited a delegation of them to come over for the game.

It seems pretty clear that this fixture is being marketed with an eye on the future, and that offers an explanation into why Doncaster and the SPL delegation was there.

It also suggests the timing of Celtic’s trip being something other than a coincidence.

I’ll get back to that shortly.

Almost every Scottish football supporter – and doubtless some of the clubs – believes that Neil Doncaster is a joke figure who ought to be out on his arse. There is general bafflement that this guy remains in post.

You’d almost think he had a Guardian Angel, a human shield, someone who had the ear of the other chairman and was either propping Doncaster up, or dancing him like a puppet on a string.

Most people could hazard a pretty good guess as to who that is.

When Doncaster went south, to London, to “rescue” the Sky TV deal, the one that actually cost Scottish football £750,000 in production fees to screen Sevco’s long walk through the divisions, it was Peter Lawwell who sat beside him on the plane.

It was Lawwell the press hailed in some quarters as the man who saved the contract … for all that proved to be worth.

What were the details of that contract? What guarantees did these men give, on behalf of Scottish football?

Celtic’s silence – indeed the total silence from the clubs – on Doncaster’s recent assertion that Sevco and Rangers are one in the same has been coached as that of an institution that has nothing more to say on the matter, but those comments are potentially destructive and the need to clarify them is acute because otherwise they offer an alibi to whichever of the factions wins (or even loses) the Ibrox power struggle should they adopt a “scorched earth” policy and burn the club to the ground.

If you close your eyes and stretch out your hands you can grasp the form the campaign to have Rangers 3.0 fast-tracked into the place Sevco holds at present will take. After all, the main creditors wouldn’t be banks or tax payers this time. They would be the spivs who, so we’re told, are stripping the club of everything, and deserve what they get.

Victimless crime, right? Or, at the very least, one where the victims get what they deserve.

Even I could have a pop at selling that. Let me try, in one sentence.

Why should we continue to punish “Rangers fans” and the club – that ephemeral reality which may or may not actually exist except as a word, and a history, depending on who you are talking to and on which particular day – for the sins of a few greedy men?

You can hear that, or a variation of that, if you listen carefully, in the dark. You can imagine what it will read like, on a thousand headlines and amplified by a thousand voices.

Celtic fans are taking out a newspaper ad to contradict Doncaster’s statement, and the assertion itself, that in Scotland football clubs can’t die. They are doing it off their own backs, whilst their club continues to hide from the issue, except when the deign to answer emails on the matter, and then shield themselves with fancy language, which really doesn’t say anything at all.

I understand that there’s been a suggestion that Celtic’s silence has been put in place to protect its staff, and there are some who agree with this on the basis that the 1 February game has the “potential to be a bloodbath.”

I’ve got to say, when eight guys, whose only crime in the world was to draw cartoons, were massacred last week in Paris, the outpouring of support for them, and the courage showed by millions in refusing to be afraid, made my heart swell … and I didn’t even particularly like the work those guys did, as I made clear in the lengthy article I wrote on the subject.

If this game really does have the potential for serious disorder, I would stipulate that one of the reasons why is that, for too damned long, we’ve been in thrall to the kind of people who don’t belong in any kind of society, far less a civilised one.

We did have a manager who was sent bullets and bombs and threatened and attacked. You know what? He won, because he didn’t hide. He stood up to it all, and he picked the time and the manner of his own departure, and that’s his greatest victory.

When that man was suffering all that, when a jury was clearing the guy who attacked him on live TV, for millions to witness, and when the men who sent him explosives in the post were finally charged with “conspiracy to assault” instead of being hurled under the steamroller of anti-terrorism laws (I say again; amongst there other targets were elected officials and members of the judiciary; that would be terrorism anywhere else in the world) the government of this fair land was passing a law to criminalise the singing of Irish songs.

It’s like a bad joke. We’ve been running scared from these people for way too long.

We have pandered to bigots and criminals and thugs, and part of the problem is that the totem pole they danced around wasn’t smashed to bits and scattered to the winds with all the baggage that came with it.

Cowardly men, or those too self-interested to recognise, or care, about the greater danger, have allowed some part of it still to stand.

In our failure to properly get, on the record, the truth we all know and which only some of us dare speak – and myself and any number of others do it openly, in our own names, in contrast to many of the journalists of Scotland who are too terrified to speak out even when they know they should– that the club they called Rangers is dead and gone, we’ve allowed myths and lies to replace truth and reality.

Worse than that, we’ve inspired the haters to think of themselves as victims – and that never ends well – and we’re on the verge of legitimising the next shredding of the rule book rather than treat them as we would anyone else.

Now the fans go where the clubs fear to tread. It’s astonishing.

I can’t be the only person who’s sick of this, sick of this depressing series of retreats and compromises and attempts to deal with the wild beast that won’t be tamed and won’t be sated.

You give these people an inch and they will take the mile and then some more.

If these really are dangerous people … do you think they’ll moderate their behaviour because we lie on the floor, with our hands outstretched, and say “Please don’t hurt me?”

If I believed fear was the only reason for the silence, that would be enough to make me want to go to bed, pull the covers over me and sleep for a long, long time … but I look at that picture and I wonder if there’s more, if there’s another truth that dare not speak its name.

I’ll say it again; Doncaster could not have made those comments and hoped to survive without having some kind of support. Somebody’s propping this guy up. The silence of the last week or so proves it beyond doubt. He’s still in post, despite advertising to every crook and con-man who can read a press release that Scottish football is open for business.

The question is, what kind of business was he over in Doha selling?

The answer might lie in the Qatari’s interest in the coming match at Hampden, because that interest isn’t a recent thing, you see.

On 22 November 2011, The Daily Mail printed a story that suggested Celtic and Rangers were exploring the possibility of a “Game 39” scenario – similar to the one being touted in England, where a top EPL game would take place abroad – only this one would involve a match between the two Glasgow clubs, exploiting the “Old Firm market” for all it was worth.

According to that report, Rangers had already arranged a meeting to discuss it with sports media heads of Qatari owned Al Jazeera.

Whatever was being planned, it never got off the ground, because just three months later Craig Whyte finally lost control of the wheel, and Rangers crashed into the rocks.

But what if they hadn’t? Would those plans have gone ahead?

It appears clear that they were never properly put in the bin where they belong. Some version of them still survives, and there are people who’ve been openly exploring taking a shot at it.

On 2 May 2014, The Express ran an article which said Celtic and Sevco had held secret talks about playing a match in Dubai, and according to the report this was being done with the co-operation of the football authorities themselves.

Was it true? It’s hard not to suspect that it contained at least a kernal of truth.

And if it did, what then? Does a plan still exist? Is it being discussed? Or are we joining dots in the dark?

Is it a coincidence that an SPL delegation and a Celtic delegation were in Doha at the same time, that the media never properly explored it and that one of the outcomes was Doncaster extending an invite to the Qatari’s to come and take in February’s game?

Or that he’s since “clarified” the SPFL’s view on the “continuation of history”, for which no club has offered a public rebuke?

Yeah, maybe it is. Maybe it’s all smoke and mirrors. But it looks an awful lot like a well-thought out campaign to re-establish a shabby brand no right thinking person wants anything to do with, the one that fills up the casualty wards and splits our game into two spheres of influence, to the detriment of every other club, the “partnership” that the media miss, that Sevco clearly needs but is a plague on Celtic’s house.

It could be that I’m seeing things that aren’t there.

It could just be that all Peter and the gang were doing over there was trying to climb into bed with a corrupt football association that’s up to its armpits in black gold and blood, hiving off another part of our club’s soul for a few pennies from the rich man’s table.

I’d almost forgive him for that, in light of the alternative.

He really does have some friends in low places.

That’s the kind of thing that comes back to haunt you, in ways you never expect.

I hope he took his Long Spoon. You don’t sup with the Devil without one.

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

13 thoughts on “Friends In Low Places

  • 13 January, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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    Absolutely spot on again, I for one am getting totally sick of the charade that the sfa continue to pass off, AND lawells silence does speak volumes, if this continues much longer here is one supporter who won’t be contributing to Celtics coffers any longer, the writing has been on the wall for too long now

  • 13 January, 2015 at 1:20 pm
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    Great piece JP.
    What comes to mind after reading the piece,is last years Parkhead AGM.
    Remember a group of shareholders put forward a motion for the board to ask EUFA to investigate the SFA’s handling of the sevco debacle,and Peter Lawell diswaded them,and the motion was abandoned.A few months later the same PL said we needed the new entity at Ibrox to survive,as we had lost £11 million since there old club were liquidated.
    At the start of this season PL appointed Ronny Deila as manager,and that has cost us more than £11 million he was talking about.
    Looking at it all I get the impression he is in bed with the devil’s disciples.

  • 13 January, 2015 at 1:41 pm
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    So the reason we never challenged the ‘no sporting advantage’ theory from LNS, was because Peter was scared. The tangled web we weave. HH

  • 13 January, 2015 at 2:43 pm
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    im also sick of the whole thing.its been depressing.think I will have to think about renewing st.

  • 13 January, 2015 at 2:58 pm
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    Great article again James.

    We’re always told Celtic is a club like no other, a club renowned around the globe. Renowned not just as a football club but as an organisation with principled values , social inclusion and a strong personal identity.

    I also believe this. Although like James said, without even going down the Qatari link. Have we a board who issue soundbites that we’re ‘a club like no other’ and have no need for association such is our strength of identity ,but are playing us all along ?

    Reading into this it’s hard not to escape that our CEO and others in our hierarchy believe us to be nothing without a rancid, turgid, bigoted little imitation of a club who fed and perpetuated bigotry in this country.

    With the exception of sevco followers, few miss them. Never mind football , this country has been a better place to live since they died. Bringing back this fixture and the poisoning of the attitudes and mind set of young people in this land isn’t worth it.

  • 13 January, 2015 at 3:05 pm
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    Sorry, I meant strong identity not personal identity.

  • 13 January, 2015 at 7:00 pm
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    This all comes as a shock to me James. I had always thought that PL was present at the TV negotiation to guide and support the silly beggar (typo) who had just announced to the commercial world that our product was garbage, but please buy it anyway.

    If you’re correct the club I’ve followed for many years has lost its bearings.

    If so, although its the same club founded in 1897 and incorporated in 1898, they would no longer be putting people first. The draw they have for me would be minimal. They’d be different. We need answers.

  • 13 January, 2015 at 9:17 pm
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    Brilliant article again,James……magnificent.

    Can’t believe the hypocrisy of our uber Hoop ‘fans ‘. going to Hampdump to watch LCSF against a team who should not really be in existence.

    They really are an embarrassment as they slaver over their ‘Old Firm’ fix.

    Almost Hunesque really.

  • 14 January, 2015 at 12:11 am
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    Correction, founded 1887, incorporated 1888. Thanks.

  • 14 January, 2015 at 12:29 am
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    Should be interesting when the Celtic Fan article is put up for public consumption. Is it just me that is thinking that PL may well have shot himself in both feet. If he has indeed been working behind the scenes to help the very club that would have put us to the sword without hesitation we are in trouble.

  • 14 January, 2015 at 12:52 am
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    Great article James,thing is though,I’m certain that a good few Celtic fans out there know exactly which way our club is heading,take a look at our recent past,September 18the tae be exact,look at the names of our NO voters….Kelly,McMahon,Murphy,Reid,Haughey
    Curran,Wilson,MacLeod,Auld,to name just a few,all Celtic fans,all Unionist lovers.

  • 14 January, 2015 at 1:32 pm
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    James,

    A long article is one that resists the soundbite and the headline. It strives to explain the minutiae in order that the reader may come to understand the subject matter and, in understanding, may be educated in the detail as opposed to being brainwashed by the vaccuous hysteria of the tabloid. Personally, I am happy to set aside the time to read an article or blog post that, based on prior knowledge of the author, is likely to provoke reasoned thought in the reader. I often read articles from the right wing press as I believe that you cannot form a balanced view without attempting to appraise the opinion and philosophy of your opponent, regardless of obvious contra-polarity.

    With regards to Lawell, I think most of our fans are now polarised on our thoughts and opinions of him. Many of us have long suspected that he failed to back WGS when we could have buried them, so that the original Entitled could survive. Perhaps our fans should consider that Lawell is fiscally tethered, by the nature of his contract, to ensure the balance sheet is always in the black. This is not always to our detriment but is always to his benefit. If we are successful , he wins. If we sell our best players, he wins. If we scrape the league, sell our best players, embarrass ourselves in Europe because he chose not to invest (speculate), yet turn a profit , he wins. In the financial world the man is a bear. In the SPFL he may as well be a bear.

  • 14 January, 2015 at 5:19 pm
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    Great piece again – the present leaders of our club shame us and our history. Rangers are the last major bastion of the cancer in Scottish society and I rejoice in their demise – no money deal is worth their survival in any shape or form. Who thinks your articles are too long? I am always disappointed to get to the end!

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