Way back in the sands of time, when there was no TV and people got their entertainment from actually leaving the house and attending a show, two song writers, Augustus Durandeau, who composed the music, and E. W Rogers, who penned the lyrics, wrote one of the most famous songs ever to come out of that era. (The 1890’s).
The song they wrote was first sung by James Fawn, and it’s one of those tunes which has passed down through the ages and is best remembered for these lines:
“If you want to know the time, ask a policeman. The proper Greenwich time, ask a policeman, Every member of the force has a watch and chain, of course, If you want to know the time, ask a policeman!”
The song presents itself as being one about the helpful constables of that time. It’s how most people who’ve heard of it think about it. A quick glance at the lyrics offers much the same view.
A close reading, and a knowledge of the time, hints at the mischief of the writers and tells a different story.
That verse (indeed much of the song) is a nod and a wink to the wise. You think the police could afford to give all their officers a timepiece back then? Do you know how expensive they were?
The reason every member of the force had a watch and chain is that they used to steal them off the drunk, well-heeled gentlemen they met in the street, as the composers were well aware.
This is a great example of how time marches on and the meaning of things gets lost. Most people who’re aware of the song aren’t aware of much more than that chorus, and they just naturally assume that it’s about friendly neighbourhood coppers, when actually it’s a jab at corrupt sods who were mostly poorly educated working class lads on a power trip.
The policeman could, according to the song, get you a drink when the pubs were shut (and even open them up, although it doesn’t say how, but I can guess), find a “maid” for you (we’d call that “procuring you a hooker”) and even take care of your missus when you were away. (Uhuh.)
Aaah the good old days, eah?
How weird the passage of time is.
How strange and distorted it makes things look and how crazily it skews the picture.
We don’t know half what we think we know.
The first draft of history is written by the winners and truth sometimes gets lost in the fog. One of the greatest of all the historical parlour tricks is the subject of Christopher Nolan’s latest Hollywood blockbuster, the Dunkirk fiasco, which has been moulded into a tale of heroism and victory; PR really can accomplish anything.
Now, when the pro-Brexiters talk about the “Dunkirk spirit”, you’d never guess that they know deep down that they’re talking about a resounding defeat where 300,000 servicemen from this country were evacuated from a beach under heavy fire, leaving the poor sods of Nazi occupied Europe essentially to fend for themselves for years.
(That, by the way, is not an allusion to modern Europe and its dominance by Germany. I revere the European project set up by the Germans and French to promote co-existence, ending centuries of war on this continent, and I can’t believe we’re walking out on it.)
Nolan’s film is about that defeat; it’s a historical telling of a catastrophe narrowly averted. Losing the meaning of things, and of writing history the way certain people want it, was easier back in the days before the movies and TV and the internet.
There are no secrets anymore, and the winner’s version isn’t the only side of history future generations will get a chance to evaluate.
As Tom Petty once said, “Even the losers get lucky sometimes.” And sometimes it comes down to more than luck. Sometimes a page people thought was closed forever turns again, and what’s in those books gets rubbed out and a more accurate version written.
Sometimes the pages are being re-written almost as fast as they are being put down. History is full of examples of that too.
On 1 May 2003, George W. Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln with a Mission Accomplished banner at his back, and proclaimed the Iraq war at an end. History records that, now, as an act of monumental folly … but at the time a lot of seasoned pros, people smart enough to have known better, were fully on board with the sentiment.
There are some stains, some things so beyond the pale, that history doesn’t even try to rehabilitate them.
As a whole, humanity isn’t terribly far apart on what the Nazis were. Most people are agreed that Nixon was a pretty diabolical character who’s behaviour perverted and partially destroyed the US system of government. We’re all pretty much of a mind that serial murderers will never be cast in a noble light no matter how many fans they get on social media.
History also takes a dim view of corruption, whatever cast it wears.
Those of us with an interest in these things know, for example, about Enron.
There’s just no spinning that one. That name will forever carry a taint. It will forever be associated with crime and fraud and degeneracy and the people who went to prison as a result of it. If someone wrote a song about the good things Enron did in the world, and laced through it plenty of oblique references to the scandals and thieving, a hundred years from now nobody would mistake that for affection and nobody would sing it with anything other than a tongue firmly in their cheek.
Nowadays that sort of misunderstanding is impossible.
Which brings me, after 900 words, to the point, and you all know where this is going.
It’s Stewart Milne and Peter Lawwell and Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan and the Enron of Scottish football, Rangers, and the basket case that rose from the leftover bits.
Milne wants us to “move on” from what Rangers did, but it won’t happen and not just because the fans won’t let it. History won’t let it. History won’t move on. There is a permanent record of what happened here, a Supreme Court verdict for God’s sake, and a big light will always shine on this period because of it, and there’s no escaping that.
Fifty years after all of us have gone, the facts of this will still be there and what people, what clubs, do in this moment will cast a long shadow.
That shadow will fall across individuals and boards of directors. Their names will not sit alongside the word “cheat” like those who were at Ibrox at the time; the word in their case will be “coward” or something that means the same.
They will be the people who allowed cheating. Scotland will be the country whose football body accepted it had happened and then did exactly nothing about it. Regan and Doncaster will be the men who, in an act of perversity, consulted lawyers to justify a decision to ignore one of the biggest sporting scandals of all time.
Milne says he doesn’t want this to drag on for another five years; there’s an easy answer to that, and in fact it’s the only answer.
Don’t let it drag on.
Confront it in the here and now.
Deal with it and in five years we’ll already be well past it.
Do nothing in the here and now and in five years it will stink more than it does today and in ten years more than it did after five and fifty years after we’ve gone and people are still calling for an inquiry it will be the size of Mount Everest.
In the interim, the question “Will you support a historical review?” will be the first one the citizen journalists ask at the press conferences to unveil every subsequent chief executive of the SFA.
Whatever those men achieve, whatever the chairman’s above them do, however Scottish football grows, this will be there, hanging over all of it, tainting every accomplishment. That’s a fact, and I can say that because the Internet Bampots are going nowhere and we and those who come after us will make sure of it, as long as people are reading the blogs.
We will turn on the flamethrowers and we will scorch these people’s reputations for all time.
Every chairman of every club who takes the stand that this can be left on the record, who wants to leave this in the past, who looks the other way, who does nothing, will be branded the same way. We will leave them without a name and everybody who comes after them will be faced with the same questions and the same grisly fate.
And this will go on, forever, until something breaks.
History books will record the truth of what happened here.
They will record those ten years as cheating and those titles will go.
And you know what? To all intents and purposes they are gone already, because we’ll make damned sure that whenever someone talks about them, writes about them or commemorates them that the word “cheats” will be associated with them as standard.
In a very real sense the asterisk is there already, in outline, but not growing less faint with the passage of time.
It’s there in every article about this, every tweet, and in every headline and on every banner and until it is official and everyone can see it clearly the pressure will be relentless.
Other football associations have had issues like this one, some have had issues which in many ways are far worse. Italy, Germany, Spain, England and others have faced allegations of match-fixing, of illegal betting and even bribery of officials. Not one of those associations lives with the lingering stench of scandal, not one said “oh we know this happened but we’ll move on.”
All dealt with it, whatever it meant, however great the cost.
The 2006 Italian football scandal rocked their entire sport.
It affected some of their biggest clubs.
The term “without fear or favour” could have been written for the way their association relentlessly pursued and punished those involved. Clubs were deducted points for the season just finished, and for the following campaign. Some were banned from Europe. Others, including the mighty Juventus, were relegated. There was no favouritism, no wishing it away. The title, which that season had been won by Juve, was stripped from them and given, instead to Inter Milan.
That any association, anywhere, would acknowledge that a gross act of cheating has taken place, something that perverts the very nature of sporting integrity, and has resulted in matches won by prohibited means, and then allow trophies and titles to stay on the record … it is ludicrous. There is no other national body anywhere in Europe, probably the world, that would be content to live with such stigma, with such shame, with such cowardice.
How hard can it be to get consensus around Doing The Right Thing?
Fans everywhere want it.
Time will not wash this stain away.
Indeed, history may even take an ever darkening view of the silence and the disgrace.
Future generations will not be swayed by appeals to “get past it.” They will wonder what the Hell those in the here and now were thinking when they allowed it go unchallenged.
I can answer that question for them; self-interest, corruption and fear.
The whole game in Scotland stinks of these things.
Some believe that sacrificing the integrity and standing of our game is a price worth paying for a quiet life where the gravy train keeps running. That they do untold, perhaps permanent, reputational damage to Scottish football bothers them not one bit. Perhaps the damage to their own historical reputations will.
Or maybe they don’t give a monkeys either way.
We’ll find out I guess.
You know, the media and a lot of these people would have you believe that this is a more complex issue than it is.
They would talk about how bonuses would have to be paid to players if clubs were retrospectively awarded titles they didn’t win, they talk about how players would lose their medals and how it would create chaos and confusion … all red herrings, all utter nonsense.
They talk about how “the titles were won on the park.”
Lance Armstrong’s were won on the track.
What’s the point these people are trying to make?
There is no complexity here. It requires an act of almost unbelievable simplicity; you remove names from a record. You amend the SFA website. You put a wee star, that wee asterisk, next to the names on the cups.
Nothing complicated about it.
You remove tainted titles from the record and you leave those spots blank as we did during the Second World War. There will be no shame attached to that action; the only shame would be to leave things as they are.
People say this campaign is about revenge; it’s about justice.
They say it’s about Celtic fans, but we aren’t the only people who were cheated in this long, dark spell when Rangers drove up the prices for everyone else and lorded it over the game, spending money they didn’t have.
Everyone suffered, to varying degrees, and if other clubs want an example of how little has changed they only need to look at the papers today, at a club that was dependent on soft loans before the season even kicked off, has already been knocked out of Europe … but which is publicly getting ready for unsettling SPL players in a predatory attempt to sign them on the cheap.
Those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
How much more of this will Aberdeen fans, or Hearts fans, or Hibs fans, or Motherwell fans, how much longer will any fans in this country, have to take before things really change?
This is about the integrity of our game. If we let a decade of cheating and corruption stand we’re saying that for ten years or more we didn’t have a sport at all; we had a rigged deck. We’re saying that’s alright. We’re setting ourselves up for more cheating in the future, and we’re posing a fundamental question; if there was cheating then, how do we know there’s not cheating now? If we say it goes unpunished then aren’t we saying that we’ll never punish it?
Surely no-one in Scottish football is in favour of that?
History will record what happened here, and what happens next. The stink of this will not dissipate by ignoring it; it will grow stronger and more pungent the longer people try to pretend it’s not there.
The simple truth is that this is too big to sweep aside.
The highest court in the land has called what Rangers did a fraud; the trophies won via that fraud cannot be allowed to stay on the record, or the game here has started its slow slide towards the abyss.
It was Harry Truman who said “there’s nothing new in the world except the history you don’t know.”
But even with what’s on the record, right now, Scottish football cannot escape disgrace if the current situation is allowed to stand.
Don’t bet on it being the last great scandal to rock us either, because Truman was speaking at a time before Wikileaks and the Internet Bampots. Everything that happened here is going to come to light … and it will include stuff that makes the present situation even more untenable, even more disgraceful.
George Orwell said, “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”
That reflected the time and the place in which he lived; now objective truth is out there, for any who want a fuller picture of events.
Noah Feldman, the American author, intellectual and legal mind, said “Empires inevitably fall, and when they do, history judges them for the legacies they leave behind.”
Stewart Milne goes out, right now, as the chairman who won a League Cup and bottled out of taking the biggest decision in Scottish football history.
Ann Budge helped save Hearts, and for that their fans love her, but she can undo all of it by failing to protect what she’s built. She can enhance it by ensuring the playing field is level and that it stays that way, and that only happens when we right these immense historical wrongs.
Few men in Scottish football have seen reversals and triumph such as Rob Petrie, who I think has always tried to do the best for the whole sport as well as for his own club and has paid a staggering cost over and over again for doing it clean … he can leave behind a legacy that washes away everything that’s come before and makes him one of the towering figures in our national sport.
And Peter Lawwell can be the guy who played perhaps the greatest role in helping to restore honour and dignity to Scottish football and made Celtic what it has always wanted to be, that shining city on the hill, that beacon of hope and good, a club that looks after more than its own interests and which will never suffer the disgracing of the sport as a whole.
Or he can go down as a huckster with a heated driveway who enriched himself as our game fell into ruin and disgrace.
History will know his name, it will know all their names, either way and for what they actually did when the crunch came.
No-one will mistake cowardice for courage or avarice for virtue.
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