Making Enemies

don-vito-corleoneThere is a moment in Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel The Godfather when a young Don Corleone is at a sit down with a hot-headed gangland rival trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to a dispute that is threatening to get out of hand.

Don Corleone is already a very powerful and dangerous man, but at this meeting he attempts to smooth over the issues that exist between himself and his opposite number in a fair and practical way. His opponent mistakes this for weakness.

Finally, Corleone’s patience is exhausted. He throws his arms up in the air and says “Ahh, he will not listen to reason.” At that, he and his entourage get up and leave the room.

No threat has been made. No anger has been shown.

Don Corleone simply expresses his frustration that a compromise could not be reached, and he leaves it at that.

Yet the rival realises at once that he is in now in the gravest peril, and he turns pale.

A few days later he is shot to death.

There’s no further warning and no attempt at last minute talks to forestall or prevent that action.

Corleone made up his mind the minute he was on his feet, and the order was given without further preamble.

I thought of that scene yesterday when I read Dave King and the Sevco board’s sneering, arrogant, spiteful response to Mike Ashley and his demand for a General Meeting.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything.

As a former political activist, I’ve studied up on brinksmanship. It is a very effective tool in statecraft when it’s handled right, but the preponderance of books on great political and military thinkers and how their analysis can be used in business has made a lot of people think they’re smarter than they are, and caused them to make tremendous mistakes.

Von Clausewitz’s On War, for example, is often misread by businessmen who buy into the concept of “war as a continuation of politics by other means.” They seem to think the best strategy is always to crush your opponent, whatever it takes.

They don’t seem to understand that avoiding war is better altogether.

Somewhere along the line, they forgot the Nash Equilibrium, where in some circumstances co-operation between parties is what achieves the best possible results for all.

It’s hard not to conclude that going to Ashley with a reasonable, respectful, proposition which benefited everyone was the only move for the Sevco board to make here. It may even have borne fruit.

King has chosen not to bother. No-one in his camp is either interested in, or has studied, Nash and that’s fair enough.

But they are poking a bear with a stick.

These people aren’t even attempting to be reasonable at this point and they can’t even muster the intelligence to make it look as if they are for public consumption, which you’d think would be the ideal move if they wanted to fight a PR war.

Instead they are very publicly trying to pick a fight, and openly provoking a guy who has bottomless pockets from which to fund this conflict.

What in God’s name are they up to?

This is the summit of arrogance and the height of stupidity.

I had a look at the proposals last night and from where I am sitting they are mostly bluster, which makes it all the harder to understand.

King is playing high stakes poker with a weak hand showing, and only the hole card to bluff with.

It’s clear he’s got nothing because his threat to publicly disclose confidential information doesn’t stack up against the legal consequences of doing so, and he appears to know this. The giveaway is in the way some of the details have been leaked to his hand-fed press toadies today.

I would imagine Ashley will be looking into legal remedies as a result of that leak.

The “proposal” to remove Ashley’s voting rights, by folding Article 19 of the SFA Constitution into their Articles of Association, is equally ridiculous as doing so needs 75% shareholder approval and the mere threat of a long, destructive court case would dissuade enough of them from pursuing that course of action as to make the idea itself redundant.

Besides, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Ashley could simply transfer control of his shares to someone else and negate the move anyway. It is hot air, and nothing more, designed to make King and his board look tough and up for a fight.

But to what purpose? As I said, their refusal to even appear conciliatory would seem to rule out a PR war, but in some ways it looks as if that’s exactly what they are determined to wage.

And you know what? In the short term that’s a war they can certainly win, especially with a subservient media on their side, but in the end there’s no real victory to be had here.

When everything’s said and done this will result in a colossal defeat, whether that happens in the courts or outside them, in a settlement, or with Ashley simply changing tactics, after much waste.

This guy has the money, and now the motivation, to run this out for years if he has to.

With the leak today that his commercial contracts with the club are on a seven year rolling basis – an astonishing reveal – the costs of getting rid of him are going to be in the tens of millions easily.

I would not bet on him having made mistakes in the drawing up of those deals either.

The previous Sevco board was perfectly – legally – entitled to negotiate those contracts with him in exchange for loans and other funding. King and his people might not like it, and it might even be wholly unscrupulous, but it was certainly not in contravention of the law.

Besides, the notion that Ashley – who made every penny of his fortune legally – should accept lectures from a “glib and shameless liar” and tax cheat, who’s only allowed on the board in the first place because of weak football governance … well the idea is ridiculous.

I’ve already said, on this site, in the second to last article in fact, that Celtic had better be ready for a media onslaught in the coming months, something that will make the Murray years look tame.

King and his people are looking for battles to join, all the better to convince the supporters that they are “fighting for the club”, and it’s a matter of time before they start taking shots at us.

The more one examines their conduct, the more you have to conclude that this a truly reckless board of directors, one that might do anything. They’ve already picked, and lost, a fight with the SPFL over ticket prices for the playoffs, and cost themselves a right few quid.

They also decided to limit the number of away fans at games and now that too has backfired on them, and the wailing of their media pals on that subject has been amusing me for days now.

In short, these people stumble into combat zones without a clear idea of how to win battles.

Even if they had a rudimentary understanding of tactics, far less strategy, Mike Ashley is an enemy far above their capabilities.

It will take more than a little public relations and media manipulation to make this guy dance to the flutes.

This man could buy and sell them ten times over with what’s in the petty cash box.

He could raise a legal action a day, and for a club that’s very soon going to have to try and find outside sources of funding that is death itself.

Perhaps that’s what King wants; to build a case for liquidating the whole sorry mess and starting again, to use Ashley as his alibi and to try and sell the fans on how he never had a choice.

At this juncture it’s the only thing that makes any sense.

Be ready for that. When those drums start beating we need to be on top of it right away.

In another great moment from Puzo’s famous novel, Don Corleone tries to convince his youngest son Michael to continue his education and enter the legitimate world. One of the professions he asks his son to consider is the law.

“A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns,” he says.

Something tells me Ashley employs a couple of very good legal minds.

Something tells me he’s going to keep them busy.

Dave King and the Sevco board clearly want a war.

They are doing everything they can to get one, and I think in Ashley they’ll find a man who won’t deprive them of that.

As a character in one of my own fictional pieces once said, “Everybody gets what they want, one way or another. Not everybody ends up wanting what they get.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is headed.

King has said, repeatedly, that his ambition is to hear the Champions League anthem at Ibrox again. Well, unless they’re changing that to the tune of Chopin’s Funeral March he’s going to be waiting a wee while.

At another juncture in The Godfather, Don Corleone utters the famous words, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

So it’s ice cream and jelly then.

Again.

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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.

19 thoughts on “Making Enemies

  • 27 May, 2015 at 5:21 pm
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    Any liquidation with it’s resultant loss of points won’t happen till they have fallen into the SPL if it happens, if not then anytime will do.

  • 27 May, 2015 at 5:25 pm
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    “keep your friends close and your enemies even closer”

  • 27 May, 2015 at 5:48 pm
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    Another excellent piece, I totally agree with your assessment. It’s all going to end in tears for the fans of the club from Govan and they have no-one to blame but themselves. They would rather hear soothing fairy tales than deal in reality. They let their club die first time around, they’re actively pushing the second incarnation into the abyss, and it’s all because of their own wilful ignorance.

  • 27 May, 2015 at 5:49 pm
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    So it will be Game Set and Match,Mr Ashley,can’t wait,Great Article again James

  • 27 May, 2015 at 6:23 pm
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    So Sevco don’t want to pay their legal debts, who does that remind you of? The arrogance of these peeepel knows no bounds. Looking forward to my jelly and ice cream again.

  • 27 May, 2015 at 6:34 pm
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    I have always thought administration/reliquidation was King’s plan all along, and with the compliant media and puny SFA don’t be surprised to see them wriggle out of this with their SPFL place intact, hope I’m way off here and that MA decides to raize that shit hole to the ground.

  • 27 May, 2015 at 6:41 pm
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    i think king and co are trying to get the people on there side more than they already are and try to scare the Ashley camp next step for them will be back to Neil Lennon stuff bombs etc

  • 27 May, 2015 at 7:45 pm
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    There are many intelligent Sevco fans who will be concerned with this tactic and drawing their own conclusions about King and this EGM
    They are not all stupid.
    The only reasons for this approach one can see is stupidity or Administration
    What would happen to Ashley”s agreements if they go into Administration?

  • 27 May, 2015 at 8:16 pm
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    They just don’t get James do they,and I suppose they won’t until they are gone.
    All I can say is it couldn’t happen to a better bunch of scumbags.

  • 27 May, 2015 at 8:48 pm
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    Excellent and right on then only . I with many others have been convinced there will be no serious money put into RFc until decks are cleared ie CVA / big L
    You can hear now the PR spin / speech to to the SFA etc who had Doncaster preamble this scenario with his same club nonsense recently …it was the big bad wolves who did it nothing to do with honesty football men ..10 point penalty anything else would be ridiculous when the big L happens
    No way!! They would still be in divison 3 or 4 with Ally limited to only funds he couldn’t borrow …not 41 clubs fault they blew it on crap players and expensive clowns as managers
    Lowland leagues at best is where they should go .All us diddy clubs will be doing 2012 all over again ..this time harder !!

  • 27 May, 2015 at 9:01 pm
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    the truth shall prevail great stuff james

  • 27 May, 2015 at 9:54 pm
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    I think it might have been Henry Clarson back in the early days of RTC who foretold this very final act virtually word perfect although there’s been a hiccup or two en route: plan was to dump debt, be in top league, pass back to RRM, nothing much happened here, off we go as before.

    Mind you they’ve had to revise the strategy once or twice. Liquidation was a bit of a problem, but the wonderful H.C. Andersen story about the club somehow freeing itself from its incorporation and surviving liquidation is a cracker of a yarn.

    I agree with those who say that RRM v MASH looks like a contrived skirmish, a phoney war; a bit like those modern mediaeval wargames. It’s all following the battle plan, both sides waving their wooden swords around, with a little bit of improvised tactics needed here and there from the highly experienced skirmishers.

    Peace should break out soon, followed by the Treaty of Ibrox. I don’t suppose there’ll be too many bothered by conscience or scruples inside or outside the blue room.

  • 27 May, 2015 at 10:46 pm
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    I think it was Phil that said that, at their SD meeting, Ashley’s men wanted McCoist’s contract details in the press. Now its out and from the Lyin King. Coincidence? I think not. Ashley is Don Vito in this movie.

  • 27 May, 2015 at 11:05 pm
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    I really enjoyed that. They really don’t seem to have a clue what they are doing. The EGM notice was all bluster and I would laugh out loud if they seriously tried to deprive Ashley of his voting rights.

    Unless they have found a magic bullet to get out of the contacts with Sports Direct then the only sensible play is indeed to try and work with him.

    But there are no outward signs of them being able to bring themselves to do it!

    Some further thoughts on this from me are here if anyone is interested!

    https://theclumpany.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/rollin-rollin-trollin/

    Keep up the good work!

  • 28 May, 2015 at 12:18 am
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    Dear Scottish Football Chairmen,

    Do you want empty stadiums next year?
    Then allow this charade to continue.
    Rang3rs will kill the game.
    Treat us like mugs and you’ll follow Scottish Labour to the grave.

  • 28 May, 2015 at 2:20 am
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    I was talking to a sevco supporting friend of mine yesterday and the same old nonsense about ‘fighting for the club’ was the main thrust of his argument in favor of the current board, when I advised that in some case’s picking your battles is a preferable strategy he came out with ‘We’re STILL getting it from all corners, so we need to fight everyone’ I gave up. Now he is a genuinely nice guy, family man and in a good job, how he can look at this situation and not see the folly in it all just confuses me? I am now certain that DK and co will be heading down the big L route before too long and as you rightly say, we need to be ready for it. Nothing has ever really made sense in this omnishambles but to blindly back DK is the stupidest act yet??

  • 28 May, 2015 at 8:51 am
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    Great piece again James. They really are a dumb shower. I await the horse’s head. Hh

  • 28 May, 2015 at 10:45 am
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    It\’s fecking hilarious.

    The journey almost completed and whats the first thing on Sevco fans minds………………………who are we going to boycott next year?
    Lets start with all the clubs who voted against us either going straight back into the SPFL or into the Championship……………..that should guarantee no away fans at any games next season whatever league Sevco participate in.
    McCoist and McDowall will be sitting at home over the next few days willing McCall to drag them over the line.
    As both are still contracted then that will ensure that they will be partaking of the bonuses earned for promotion to the big boys league.

    Given Green\’ s propensity for giving out contracts with 100% of basic as guaranteed bonus it\’s little wonder that King has been trying to strike a deal with the gardeners. 80k a month between them is bad enough but the bonus payments are the real killer.

    Given that the playing squad and perhaps some of the previous executive team will be partaking of the bounty, can Sevco afford to be promoted?

    The bonus payouts will dwarf the 500k to be paid to Big Mike.

    Today is pay day at Ibrox. Who is picking up the tab this month and will the monies be claimed as a loan or an investment?

    Only Sevco\’s various owners over the last few years would have the brass neck to claim the financial well being of the club, the low level of debt etc, forgetting the millions owed to creditors left behind.

    Are you listening BDO, HMRC?

    As we are daily assailed with the same club fairy story why not make it official then pursue them on behalf of the creditors?

    For me that will be the litmus test.

  • 28 May, 2015 at 1:40 pm
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    Firstly make no mistake I love Celtic more than anything , years of reading ur articles and following other similar blogs is a breath of fresh air , but stop reporting After the fact , ur reports having been saying the same thing for 18 months, and all you do is change the story to whatever is getting reported that week , I have said before on ur site and will continue to say it , Sevco or whoever they are will not go under , they will play in the premier league again , thanks to the powers that be , Question , where will they be in 12.months ?

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