Sleeping With The Television On

xpzivcIt’s been two months at least since I last posted something on this site. During that time, people wondered if the site itself was now defunct. It isn’t. It wasn’t. I was just taking some time out to do other stuff, and giving you all a break!

One of the great wise-ass witticisms about commentary is that you should break the ice with the audience by starting with a joke.

Sevco fans have always provided good humour for us, so they were an obvious starting point. In the last few days I read a story which simply broke me up with laughter, and I thought, as this is my official return to the site, that I would share the more amusing aspects of it with you.

The story made the front page of The Sun two days ago, for ludicrous reasons. They completely missed what I regard as the point, and chose, instead, to focus on the fluff.

The Sun article relates to something on Googlebox, and a “new family” that has joined. They are called the Manuel’s. They are from Croydon, although they originally hail from Glasgow. During their debut show, they kind of went out of their way to fly their colours; they are Sevconian’s, of course.

When the show was repeated (and why wouldn’t it be?) everything in it was just the same, but Channel 4 chose to pixelate the image of a mug that had appeared on their coffee table; it was one for the Bridgeton Loyal. And that decision has sparked social media outrage from the Peepul who see in it the work of the Unseen Fenian Hand.

Channel 4 said it is procedure to edit out anything that might in some way compromise commercial neutrality. The Sevconian’s aren’t buying that explanation at all. They are raging (as usual) and bombarding the producers with hate.

There is literally nothing about this that isn’t hilarious; from the idea that extras from The Hills Have Eyes now have their own TV show, to the way the usual suspects amongst their demented support have leaped on this issue to add Googlebox to the Follow Follow banned list … it all beautifully hits the spot.

I feel there’s enough raw material in this tale to keep this site in stories for a year.

Way back when I was a media student, one of the things I often slated was the rash of “reality TV shows” which had started to pop up all over the place. I was of the view that there’s nothing “real” about the bulk of reality TV, but I’ve changed my tune slightly based on the success of certain shows; Gold Rush, Deadliest Catch and a few outstanding others, which is to say nothing for the docu-dramas and true crime specials of which two in particular – Making A Murderer and The Jinx – were riveting and brilliant.

As a consequence I’m no longer as ready to simply dismiss anything in the genre as I once would have. For all that, I’d never have known that The Manuel’s of Croydon existed without The Sun’s expose, but I’m very glad now that I do.

Don’t get me wrong; I will never watch their Googlebox show but it gladdens my heart that they are out there all the same, and I hope, sincerely, that others in their social circle take the plunge. The whole thing tickles my funny bone.

Sevco fans. Reality TV. Sevco fans and any kind of reality at all. The world being able to take a peek inside their daily lives. At their beliefs and their prejudices.

Wow. Just wow.

It has a special kind of magnificence attached to it, don’t you think?

A public examination of the kind of people who, in the States, live in trailer parks proudly flying the Confederate Flag and blaming the Unseen Hand of Washington for the fact their lives aren’t better. Imagine them trying to explain the Survival Myth to a wider audience. Imagine seeing their pride and swaggering arrogance on the “Glorious Twelfth.”

This is what reality TV was made for.

This is where we’ve been heading all this time.

Towards giving every hick in Hick Town his own platform and there’s something especially juicy about showing up The Peepul to the world. This is what you’d gladly pay the license fee for. It’s just too good to be true, as if you fell asleep watching the box and dreamed about it.

Undoubtedly, there is a market for Hillbilly TV.

There has to be, based on the number of people who’ve sent their complaints to Channel 4 and Googlebox over this.

That a national newspaper deemed their pitiful wailing worthy of a front page story is truly a remarkable thing in itself; talk about a slow news day. You have to be thankful you live in a world where this is the most controversial thing happening, right?

And see, this is part of what I’m talking about; imagine if we were somehow able to get that perma-raging to the widest possible audience? Imagine every Billy Boy singing, sash wearing, Nazi salute making Sevconian had his own late night special?

I mean, I’m convinced that “Rangers fans on independence” – that hilarious video, as close to a spoof as I’ve ever seen but was actually real, and which ends with a Scottish guy in an England top advocating moving to Wales (as England is too full of immigrants) if Scotland gets indpendence because we’ll “end up like Ireland” – won at least 100,000 votes to the Yes cause …

If you can imagine dozens of such people … all with their own show …

Man oh man. I would pay to watch all of it.

The one pity is that the kind of companies that would do well out of advertising on such shows are the ones that, traditionally, never bothered with that kind of approach to driving sales; Carlsberg Special Brew, Buckfast and the like.

As Irvine Welsh said in one of his books, they find their way to their customers eventually.

Those adverts would have been fun to watch though, don’t you think?

The serious side to all this, of course, is the gushing of vitriol over it, but even that makes me howl hysterically when I consider it.

I mean this is Channel 4, the TV network that pioneered shows like The Word, that televised Jackass in the UK, the station where I once watched someone drink a pint glass full of sick. This is the channel that would show anything.

I get the giggles thinking of them pixelating out a logo.

It also makes me laugh to think that Sevco fans, in their own wee delirium, were sitting at home watching this crap and instinctively blamed Celtic fans when they saw it had been done. Because in their world thousands of us were watching it too, and although perfectly happy with the rest of 4’s often mind-bending output, this is what sent us over the edge and caused us to complain.

I love it. I just love the way their minds work.

Channel 4’s official explanation – that they do this regularly, with commercially sensitive content (the mug is on sale on the Bridgeton Loyal site; over the last few days they’ve virtually sold out of them, so Channel 4’s contention that it could have constituted free advertising is in no way ridiculous) – was deemed an “excuse.”

No, this was “getting it up the Rangers”, this was a slur against their club, this was a pre-mediated act of provocation, or the result of thousands of Celtic fans moaning.

So add Channel 4 to the conspiracy. The one that already involved the BBC, STV, the whole of the print press, the Vatican, the EU, Labour, the SNP, the Tories, Glasgow City Council, the NHS Trust, the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator and a hundred other organisations. A grouping so vast and disparate they’d need to hold their meetings at Wembley.

Such wee sensitive souls are they (paranoid lunatics in other words) that they think the whole world really is out to get them. So self important are they that they believe the rest of the world cares at all.

And so twisted are they, they believe we all see things through similar eyes.

As I said, there’s literally nothing about this whole episode I don’t find fascinating and blackly funny.

I love the idea of Hillbilly Television, brought to you by The Peepul.

I love that enough of them were tuning into it to cause such a stink.

I love that they thought we were all doing the same.

I find it absolutely hilarious that they believed Channel 4 pixelated an image of a mug because people might have found it offensive when it was the first UK network to show the unedited version of Scum, and which produced six separate documentaries on Banned Television in the UK.

More than all of that, I find it increasingly delightful that their fans get so up in arms over the tiniest wee thing these days.

These people can be driven to madness by just about anything.

At times I’ve described them as dangerous, but really only to themselves.

These are the kind of people who would plug bare wires into a wall socket with wet hands because no-one had ever told them not to do it; the kind of people for whom those “Do Not Eat” warnings they put on the gel packs that come with new speakers were made.

They are The Peepul.

They would make such great television.

I cannot wait for the next instalment; Songs Of Praise, By Jamie Bryson, maybe …

(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 a small sum every year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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Strategy? What Strategy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twelve months on, how different the landscape looks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond that?

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

Who decides what an “icon” is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is making the cut the same as making the grade?

These are philosophical questions, of course.

There are harder questions to answer.

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

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

What do we strive to be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who thinks this fits into a coherent pattern?

Who thinks it makes even a fraction of sense?

I’ve stopped looking for sense.

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

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

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

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

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

We no longer behave like a football colossus.

Now we “settle for.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks, in short, like a scam.

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

(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 a small sum every year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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The Herald Sacks Angela Haggerty As Journalistic Freedom Hangs By A Thread

Angela Haggerty 1 SAToday, as the bulk of Scotland’s journalists keep a low profile and say nothing in support of Graham Spiers, a second columnist at the Herald has been carpeted after pressure from Sevco.

This time it’s Angela Haggerty, and this time the paper didn’t stop with embarrassing her.

In fact, they sacked her.

To call this a crisis for the profession is an understatement. Its entire reason for being is hanging by a thread. No-one working within its ranks is safe today if they collectively allow this to happen, without comment, without criticism, standing idly by as they currently do.

One organisation – and it’s a skint West of Scotland football club; we’re not talking about a multi-billion pound transnational corporate behemoth with unlimited funds and a legal department that would make Coca Cola’s CEO piss his pants – has decided it will not tolerate any negative press, at all, and it is now set on threatening any media outlet which doesn’t play ball.

And most of Scotland’s press has fallen shamefully silent.

I have never had less respect for them than I do today. I have never felt this much contempt for those who work within its ranks.

They are cowards almost to a man.

The rare exceptions are hung out to dry and made twist in the wind for the amusement of a mob.

There’s no excuse for it.

If their business is really all about money – and commercial considerations appear to be high on the list of factors in what The Herald has done – then they’re essentially putting a price tag on their integrity.

And in this case, that appears to be around £40,000.

So an entire generation of real journalists, of writers of conviction, decades of breaking big stories and a proud history of bringing truth to power, it’s all been flogged off and betrayed, for less than the half the price of a one bedroom flat in the drug addict part of town.

What price a free press in Scotland, eah?

In England, Peter Oborne resigned last year from The Telegraph, after he said their entire coverage of the banking industry and the politics surrounding it had been slanted by the advertising fees paid by organisations like HSBC, who were under investigation for multiple counts of fraud, money laundering and other offences … none of which his paper wanted to write about.

This is where we are now in Scotland, it seems, only a smaller scale.

A much smaller one.

An embarrassingly small one.

There’s no such thing as a free press; now you, too, can buy it for the price of a family car.

For some at these papers, the stench must be overwhelming.

Oborne wasn’t a man working alone, as Graham Spiers isn’t. Yet Angela was the first mainstream journalist working in the media here in Scotland to stand up for him, and based on what’s just happened to her certain people will be calculating that she’s going to be the last.

She better not be.

Everyone who can hold a pen should be behind her.

You know, when the Charlie Hebdo attacks murdered so many of that publication’s journalists in Paris, it brought forth a wave of support for journalist freedom that filled me with enormous pride.

I now realise how phony that all was, because it’s easy to express support for the dead when you’re not personally in the gun-sights. It’s easy to take a stand, or to look like you’re taking a stand, when you’re not being put under pressure. What we saw wasn’t courage; it was calculation. An entire industry lathered itself up in self congratulation for its “courage”, and all the while it buried child abuse allegations, government scandals, allowed criminals to escape justice and corrupt corporations to escape scrutiny … out of fear.

Fear of less than a bullet.

Fear of losing a few quid.

Here in Scotland journalists fold the hand because they get some abuse on Twitter. Editors refuse to let plainly true stories run because the Blue KKK might organise a dozen or so unemployed yobs to protest outside on a Monday morning. And God knows how much gets buried because advertisers issue veiled threats about pulling their copy.

Can you imagine these people ever doing anything so serious as to warrant the attention of real fanatics, and not just the Saturday afternoon variety?

No, me neither.

A collection of cowards, that’s what we have instead of a press.

The only people with guts in all this are the Bampots, of whom Angela is a shining example.

She’ll continue to write the truth, no matter what it costs her, because she gets it. She understands. She takes the job seriously and she knows that, in the end, she herself is a cog in a big wheel and her voice is important, and maintaining it through this kind of shit is what will keep the nature of what she does going long after those who sold it out are dead and gone.

Those of us in the blogosphere don’t do it for huge rewards.

I work for limited advertising and donations, and entirely without regrets.

The bills get paid (most of the time) but I’m not driving a sports car.

I have a media degree and could have pursued a career in the press, but I never wanted it.

On a day like today I’m glad of that.

Because I couldn’t do as Graham Spiers may have to.

I couldn’t go into the offices of an organisation that just shafted me.

I couldn’t call myself a journalist and have my livelihood dependent on the whims of the advertising department.

And that’s not a criticism of Graham. I’ve read his work, and I know he has balls. I also understand where he is right now. The guy probably has a mortgage to pay and a wife and kids to support; he’s not in a position where he can spit the dummy out of the pram and walk away.

Which is exactly the point.

No newspaper worthy of the name should ever put one of its writers in such a diabolical, heart-wrenching position.

It makes me sick. It makes me physically sick.

Graham knows now what his lifetime of work has been worth, and what it means to the bean counters. That has to hurt like a bastard and to say I feel enormous sympathy with him, and with Angela, and with every other writer out there who’s facing similar pressure … well words don’t do justice to how absolutely scunnered I am for them all.

Here on the blogosphere, we operate entirely without those concerns.

But we also work entirely without a safety net.

The media is fond of telling their readers that there are no restrictions on what we are allowed to write – as if the libel laws and contempt of court laws don’t exist on the internet. In truth, our every article is a walk along the tightrope. Our every utterance has to be weighed against the possible consequences, and I’m not just talking about legal ones.

We know what’s out there.

We know those people exist.

Some of us deal with their abuse on a day to day basis.

But we’re big boys and girls, and we can take it.

We have to, because on days like today it looks as if no-one else will.

But I could be wrong.

Maybe every journalist in Scotland is furious about this. Maybe they’re organising industrial action in support of their colleagues even now. Maybe they get that to walk away from Graham and Angela is to paint a target on their backs. Maybe they get what an enormous moment this is. Maybe.

And then again, maybe some of them just don’t care.

Hell, the money is good, it’s steady, and you get to see your name in print.

What’s not to like?

Like career politicians, with not one iota of political conviction, maybe that’s what really matters to them.

And if that’s the case, hey, fair play to they.

But they ought to stop pretending to be journalists.

This is the third article in a row I’ve written on this site, on this subject, and that is depressing and infuriating in equal measure.

Yet it’s important to keep on doing it.

It’s important to keep on speaking the truth, even when it does come at a cost.

Even when it does have consequences.

Because the cost and the consequences of silence are even greater still.

(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 a small sum every year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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Spiers “Apology” Heralds In Dark Days For Scottish Journalism

hqdefaultThere’s a moment during the film Nuremberg, starring Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox, Christopher Plummer and a host of other top stars, when Hermann Goering is relaxing in his cell awaiting the next phase of his trial, when he is visited by a young American soldier named Tex.

Goering, played to perfection by Cox, greets him warmly, as the two have formed an unusual bond during the course of his imprisonment. The kid is impressionable, and Goering knows this.

Goering starts to tell him stories of the Reich, and of the Fuhrer.

At one point he starts to hum a tune, and then he begins to sing the song, whilst tapping his feet and waving his arms. It sets the mood he’s trying to evoke quite brilliantly.

Tex is now completely caught up in the Nazi leader’s memories of watching thousands of men march in front of the Glorious Leader. When Goering suggests the remnants of the despotic regime should be freed, and that both sides should “unite to fight the Communists” Tex agrees with him wholeheartedly.

I’ve always wondered if Tex went away humming the song.

If he did, he would quickly have found himself in trouble with the brass.

It’s a catchy enough tune, and one that predates the Nazi Party’s usage of it. In fact, it’s an ancient German folk song, but it’s one I strongly suspect isn’t heard anymore. The modern incarnation has closed off all avenues of revival.

We now know it as the Horst Wessel Lied.

I would never describe it as “a great song.”

Because it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics contain nothing explicit about bigotry or hate; it’s about a shoot-out with Communists where Wessel, a Nazi Youth member, was killed – other songs dealt with the racist stuff – but it was the Nazi Party’s anthem and if you played it at parties you’d run out of friends quickly and if you sang it walking down the street you’d get a sore face shortly thereafter.

This isn’t about musical appreciation.

I have eclectic tastes and listen to everything from country rock to classical.

I am big on lyrics, above all else, and whilst I think, for example, the Spitting Image song I’ve Never Met A Nice South African is one of the best (and most hilarious) that biting, satirical show ever turned out I would not play it, far less sing it, in a public forum because it would be staggeringly offensive in a modern context.

It is hard to think of any setting – outside a dingy back street boozer in Glasgow or the Six Counties, or, of course, at Ibrox – in which there wouldn’t be people who found The Billy Boys not only to be offensive but bigoted with it.

Yet a director at Sevco, a current director, apparently described it as “a great song” whilst talking to a journalist.

There is no context in which that is anything other than a shocking statement.

That journalist, Graham Spiers, a guy this site has criticised as well as praised, rightly decided that this was a news story.

On 30 December, he told the tale in a piece he wrote.

In fact, I would go much further than just to say it was newsworthy. It ought to have been the headline above the piece.

It was a massively important news story; current, informing public debate, challenging officialdom, suggesting that a football club that perceives itself as a tremendously powerful social institution had, on its board, someone who had sympathies with people engaged in criminality and sectarianism.

The enormity of that cannot be overstated, especially as the debate over the issue has blossomed since the piece was run.

Now football’s governing bodies, the police and non-governmental organisations such as Nil By Mouth are pressing for Strict Liability rules to be implemented inside Scottish grounds.

We also know that the SFA is also seeking public funds for facial recognition software to be installed in stadiums.

Current rules, which the SFA believes are not robust enough, mean that clubs have to demonstrate that they’re “taking all possible measures” to keep discriminatory chanting out of their stands.

The Ibrox club is currently under investigation by the football authorities, with a decision due based on that criteria.

In other words, the importance of that story has only grown since publication.

This is what good journalists do, and good newspapers are supposed to stand by them when they do it.

Here in Scotland, of course, that doesn’t always happen.

A number of journalists have, in the past few years, been targeted for daring to deliver the news and in some cases their employers have not done enough to lend them support in the face of it.

Jim Spence was just one case in point, but there are others.

With respect to Jim, I think what has happened to Graham Spiers, in this case, is of a far worse, and much more sinister, nature. He has been well and truly hung out to dry by The Herald, and he knows it. Whilst his independent statement is coached in conciliatory language, for the most part, his anger is plain and his disillusionment is clear.

They could not make him apologise or retract the story, although it’s clear they tried to make him do both. When he stood by his piece their one and only question – if they even had to ask – should have been “Is this true?” When he answered in the affirmative that should have been that.

They should have stood by their man, and resisted the “pressure.”

Instead they apologised for him, and “clarified” things in his name.

It is beyond scandalous, gutless and embarrassing for everyone at the paper who isn’t up in arms over the way the top brass have behaved.

Frankly, I’ll never trust a word I read in The Herald or any of its sister papers again. Because if they can be spooked into retracting a news story on the basis of pressure from a second tier football club or a rabid pack of its followers then nothing they say can be relied on when it comes to challenging those who have real power and influence.

Their credibility as a journalistic vehicle is shot, pure and simple.

As far as I’m concerned they have joined the tabloids in pandering and sucking up, in framing “the news” so as not to offend certain people, people who, these days, are offended by everything anyway.

It is cowardly, and corrupt, almost beyond comprehension.

I am amazed he’s not already tendered his resignation, because his statement makes it pretty clear just how pissed off he is.

I hope he’s taking the matter to the NUJ and making it clear that he’s not going to stand for it.

In addition, he might want to take a look at the Rangers Supporters Trust website and their article on the Herald’s craven crawling, because there are things in that statement that are unmistakably libellous, such as the assertion that he has “made a career out of fanning the flames of sectarianism” and numerous examples where it calls him a liar.

I’ve written about the way that organisation behaves before; if I were a Sevco fan reading some of their press releases I would be cringing with embarrassment and shame and this one is as base ignorant and deliberately provocative as any I’ve had the misfortune to read, and it crosses a line in the sand that it should not be allowed to get away with.

These people, the conduct of their club and those who run it, and the assortment of idiots, cretins and vile bigots who swarm around in the vortex, never cease to amaze me with the level of their bile and intolerance.

These things are probably to be expected in those with 15th century attitudes still fighting the wars of their grandfather’s forefather’s ancestors (and without really understanding them), but the level of bullying and intimidation they get away with is what really takes the breath away.

I’m not even remotely afraid of these people, and it stuns me that senior editors on national newspapers are.

On the days when my inbox fills with invective and my Twitter feed oozes with their slime, in the moments when my Facebook page is crawling with trolls, all ending their posts with some kind of reference to child abuse or closing off with their standard statement of racial and religious “supremacy”, I don’t despair or get spooked.

I am emboldened.

Because I know I’m doing it right.

Chris McLaughlin was “doing it right” when he reported the outbreak of sectarian singing at the Hibs game.

For this he was banned by the club itself.

Jim Spence was “doing it right” when he called out the Survival Myth for the aberrant fantasy most rational people know it to be.

For that, he was harassed and bullied and his employers threatened until they offered a ridiculous apology simply because he stated the facts.

Angela Haggerty was “doing it right” when she called time on the way she’s been treated by these appalling bastards and their sickening level of hate.

She no longer lives in Scotland, and has been forced to seek redress in the law courts because of what she’s endured.

Other journalists have suffered similar persecution for behaving in a way that’s consonant with the job description, and what the Herald has done to Graham Spiers for “doing it right” is dangerous, and an affront, to every single one of them and every single person in Scotland, whether at a mainstream publication, a local paper, or simply blogging online and who is dedicated to telling the truth.

The last article I published on this site was on this very thing; about the way certain Sevco fan sites and organisations are forming an “orchestra of hate” against anyone who dares to offer any criticism, however justified, about their club.

I asked at the end if these people were “winning.”

That question is more pertinent than ever.

Does the Herald’s editor even have the first clue what he’s done here? What the significance of this decision actually is, beyond the impact it has on his own shitty circulation figures? Beyond even sport?

Does he even care?

This is a sad, dreadful, tragic day for “journalism” in this country, and I mourn it like a death because myself and others care deeply about this profession and the important role it plays in our world.

The Herald has pissed all over that.

They have betrayed one of their own, but the betrayal is felt by more than just Graham Spiers himself. It is felt by every one of us.

It makes “doing it right” more important than ever.

Today, “I Am Graham Spiers.”

We all are.

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Sevco & The Orchestra Of Hate

rangers_2047642cThis week feels like another red letter one in the recent history of hate in Scotland.

Before I start, I want to share a story with you.

Back in the 1980’s, Italy was being riven by violence as the heads of the Cosa Nostra, many of whom were in prison or awaiting trial, unleashed a war on the state in an effort to back off the many prosecutors and judges who were attempting to bring them to justice.

It was a bad time to be one of that handful of brave men, much like those who were fighting a similar battle, at the same time, against the growing power of the Colombian drug cartels and facing similar unrelenting terrorism.

On two continents, the self-same chaos was being unleashed and at the root cause of it all was money and the corruption that was rampant.

In Italy they had a word for it; pizzo, which is a derivation of pizzu, a Sicilian word literally meaning “beak”, as in “letting me wet my beak”; i.e giving someone a taste.

The Pizzo – the protection money – went both ways; local businesses paid it to the Mafia and they in turn spread it up through the political system so they wouldn’t be targeted by the judges and politicians.

It was a sweet deal for those who took the cash. For those who didn’t, who took their responsibilities seriously, it meant death.

In Colombia the same system was in operation, where it was called Plata O Plomo, “Silver or lead”. You either took the Cartel’s money or you accepted their bullets instead.

It created chaos and it made life exceedingly dangerous for the men who refused to be bought or cowed.

In Colombia they were soon being gunned down and blown up in spectacular acts of violence.

In Italy, where Cosa Nostra was altogether more sophisticated and their penetration of the system more acute, the killings happened in due course but the psychological warfare came first.

It manifested itself in various ways; for example, prosecutors would be sent funeral cards inviting them to their own wake. Wreaths would be delivered, hour on hour, to their judicial offices. Coffins would be left outside their homes.

This was nothing compared to the reaction of their colleagues.

Like an animal cut from the herd, the brave few would find themselves isolated and alone, shunned by their peers, snubbed by the establishment they were sworn to defend.

One described it as walking in a crowd and then watching people drift away from you one at a time until you were standing there in empty space; the “clear field of fire” which would send a very obvious message to the gangsters.

The point of the story is that these criminal elements drew their real power from the corruption of the state.

Without that they would have been the ones standing alone on a killing ground.

In Italy, in particular, the killing of high level individuals usually only happened at the point when the state itself turned its back on them and gave the assassins their cue.

I’ve always been fascinated by that, and by the way other governments and other organisations with influence over the actions of others have, from time to time, sent them subliminal messages urging action or caution, sanctioning certain things or letting them know it was time to stand down.

Which brings me to the point.

Earlier this week, I got an email from a friend of mine drawing my attention to a brand new website promoting an organisation called The Bears Fightback.

I read their editorial with much amusement, all the while recognising the menacing tone in which it had been coached.

I’ve seen similar missives before.

I’m not even terribly ashamed to admit that once, back in my intemperate days, I got in trouble at the University of Stirling for posting a similar article on an official Student Union messageboard, wherein I “invited” a certain right wing organisation to visit the campus, even offering to organise a “welcome party” for them at the train stration.

The Bears Fightback site didn’t really hide what it was all about; it had been created for the same reason as the Italian Cosa Nostra sent wreaths and funeral cards to the offices of prosecutors.

It was intended as a “frightener”, albiet one mysellf and most others in the Internet Bampots didn’t find very frightening.

I mean, just on a personal level how seriously am I meant to take nonsense like that? Targeting my employers? I am self employed, supported in part by you, the readers, especially those who are able to make a donation.

So what are they going to do?

Grass me up? To you lot?

I don’t know this for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion many of you already know how I feel about Sevco and Rangers and that section of their support which refuses to join the rest of the world in laying aside hate and 17th century attitudes.

The “threat” to inform my family, friends and loved ones seems, to me, equally absurd. I have a vague inkling that they just might be aware of it too.

If I’ve been hiding it under a bushel up until now, I should maybe spell it out; I don’t like these people very much, which, I dunno … wasn’t exactly a secret.

As for the notion that they will “investigate” me, what’s there to investigate?

Again, I’m not exactly leading a secret life.

I post under my own name, my Facebook page is an open book, I’m on Twitter, Amazon Authors, I’ve been in a couple of newspapers and I have an active social life which doesn’t require disguises or an assumed identity.

The notion that such people might one day “come after me” is pretty ridiculous as well. In terms of “action within the law” I’m more than happy for them to try because I’m perfectly prepared to sue anyone who steps over the line in that regard, and the money would pay for a lot of tins for the Green Brigade’s annual food-bank appeal.

Such action would also, very quickly, pull back the veil of secrecy these cowards choose to hide behind. That probably hasn’t twigged with them yet.

As to other action, the very futility of it is reason enough not to bother.

It absolutely would would not stop me.

I would simply write down every detail and publish it, shaming them and “their club” further by exposing their behaviour to civilised view.

At some point they have to realise the embarrassment and shame they heap onto the thing they profess to love. At some stage the circuits have to fire in their tiny, infinitesimal brains and they have to comprehend that nothing damages it more than they do, because no sane person who values their own reputation would want it associated with an organisation which attracts such people like flies around fresh shit.

And you know what?

At some point that organisation has to realise it too.

Which is the real point of the article, of course.

As I said earlier, the Italian prosecutors who went after the mob knew the hammer was going to fall the minute their colleagues started to desert them. That official “nod and wink” isn’t exactly subtle, in the way some of the “dog whistle” politics we see here in the UK is clearly about pandering to ignorance, fear and hate.

Equally unsubtle, coming in the same week as “Bears Fightback” rears its head, was the “nod and wink” to the wise which came out of Ibrox, in the shape of another ban on the BBC journalist Chris McLaughlin.

In my opinion, there is a causal link here.

Am I suggesting that someone inside Ibrox, or at their PR firm, is responsible for the sudden emergence of “Bears Fightback”?

Of course not.

My God, how stupid would that make them?

An organisation which did something like that would deserve everything coming to it.

The matter is currently being investigated by Police Scotland. I suspect they will very quickly establish who the “authors” are, and that’s their cards marked.

So whilst I’m sure neither the club nor its PR arm are reckless enough to have been involved in the creation of this horrendous site, I am in no doubt at all that they were fully aware of its existence.

As such I find myself marvelling at the coincidence of it appearing, and the notorious petition targeting McLaughlin with it, in the same week we get news that he is, once again, persona non grata within Ibrox Stadium.

And I ask myself; am I imagining things here?

Because if I’m not … well, isn’t that appallingly dangerous?

Couldn’t it be seen as a de-facto endorsement – by the club itself – of that site, and its not-too-subtle threatening tone?

The BBC has reacted properly, by giving McLaughlin its full support.

As a result, he’s not standing in a free fire zone.

He has the support of his colleagues (that some of his former ones had been given the same) both in journalism and in the blogosphere, and I write that having openly called for people like Keith Jackson to be banned from Celtic Park.

As I’m fond of saying, people can criticise and slag you all they want … but they ought not to be surprised if you ban them from doing it in your front room.

What makes the difference, at least in my view, is that Jackson and others are opinion piece writers, like me, who’s ability to do the job and earn a living isn’t impacted by such bans and who’s writing is designed to provoke a response.

You only have to look at the reactions of those who get banned to see how little it bothers them; Hugh Keevins wore it like a badge of honour for years.

I’ll tell you what though; I would have a very serious issue with our club if it decided it would ban a journalist simply for reporting facts.

I also might wonder what we were trying to hide.

What Chris McLaughlin did in this case – and in the last case where he was banned from Ibrox – was he reported the news.

He simply laid out the facts, and we all know exactly what facts they were and how inconvenient they were for the club; that during the Hibs game at Christmas a large number of their fans sung a song that UEFA and Scottish criminal law considers not only offensive but sectarian and thereby criminal too.

The decision to ban him is an attack on journalism itself.

It’s saying that the reporting of facts is to be discouraged, and that does impact on the ability of these people to do their jobs as well as on how they do them.

And, especially in this case, that has wider implications.

Because to me, and to others, this looks in many ways, like it could be a co-ordinated effort between a website which has threatened “the enemies” of Sevco and the club.

It looks, in some ways, like a nod and a wink.

Other journalists and news outlets were named by this site, all for having the temerity to have reported facts the club, and the site, would rather they’d not. That, in itself, should have every writer out there asking who these people are and where they sprung from.

This obsession some Sevco fans have with the way the world views them, and with trying to “protect their image” – such as it is – appears paranoid verging on hysterical, but it has a serious point to it for an institution which is rattling the tin cup.

What makes it especially hilarious to me is that all their conduct does is heap further disgrace on them, something that appears not to have dawned on them at all.

They’ve made their club famous for this, and brought further – and even more widespread – attention to the stuff McLaughlin and others have been trying to highlight.

I’ll be frank; had I wanted to cause the maximum negative publicity to the club playing out of Ibrox, and in turn eroded their ability to raise external finance … Hell, I might have created Bears Fightback, and written that inflammatory editorial, myself.

For all that, it wouldn’t exactly shock me to find out some within Ibrox were wholly in favour of this latest example of counter-productive stupidity.

After all this wouldn’t be the first time the nuttier elements of the Sevco support have been given a steer by someone from within the club.

Both Craig Whyte and Charles Green were very quick to court those elements from the moment they took over, and the Yorkshireman gave them one of their most famous soundbites when he accused the SFA’s member clubs of “sectarianism” following the decision to make Sevco start in the bottom tier.

And who can forget McCoist’s snarling demand for the names of an SFA investigative panel, and the subsequent targeting of those individuals in the aftermath?

Or his spiteful – and wholly wrong – suggestion that the burning of a garage and the destruction of the club’s new bus was something “rival fans” might have done?

Many of us aren’t surprised by this kind of conduct, but that doesn’t make it any less worrying.

So yes, this does feel like a red letter day for those who chronicle the hateful behaviour of certain elements in their support.

It feels like a new low, and the coincidence of the club’s action in the same week as this website appears, with McLaughlin very publicly in the cross-hairs, is clearly something that needs more than the standard media response.

This is a broadside against their whole profession.

The club itself has serious questions to answer here.

Let’s see if anyone dares to ask them … and if not what else are we to conclude but that these people are winning after all?

They must not be allowed to do that.

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Keith Jackson & A Corpse By The Road

c84ac210c673e30ec0698dad83800a2fFor those of you out there who enjoy nothing more than settling down with a loved one for a Saturday night movie, there are certain genres best avoided and within those genres a number of movies which stand out as to be definitely left alone.

One of them is an American “made for TV” film called The Day After. It’s an internationally acclaimed piece of cinema, despite its birth-place on the small screen. That’s because of the subject matter, which no Hollywood studio would touch or ever has.

The movie’s about the consequences of a full-on nuclear strike against the US.

You can imagine this film, without having seen it.

The reality of watching it is much worse (and the British version, Threads, is even worse than that … a searing, harrowing, horrendous, nightmare inducing experience like nothing you’ll ever watch); it’s a film for making you genuinely despair about where we might be headed as a species.

At the end of the movie, Jason Robards is travelling to Kansas City, where he’s from, to see his home one last time before he dies. He hitches a ride with a National Guard unit and in the back of the truck he embarks on a tour of Hell itself.

Yet he barely sees the corpses by the road.

By that point, no-one really does anymore.

Scottish football was supposed to look a little bit like that today.

At the weekend, when Aberdeen came back from a goal down with ten men to win three points at Ross County it was another one of those moments when you marvelled at how good the Scottish game might become again.

But Aberdeen was supposed to be like Hearts, Motherwell, St Johnstone, Kilmarnock and Inverness by this time; a hollowed out shell.

Nothing but a corpse by the road.

How different the picture is to the “Armageddon” they presupposed.

Today Keith Jackson has written a piece about how Scottish football is, as he puts it, emerging from a “long winter.”

I don’t know that he’s thinking about the nuclear sort, but I suspect he is. Because one of the foremost traits our media and the governing bodies have is that when it comes to Armageddon none has ever admitted just how wrong they got it.

Over the last four years, most of our senior clubs have wiped out their debts.

Another thing that wasn’t supposed to happen.

Those debts were supposed to have wiped out them.

The trophies have been spread around.

I don’t like it much, and would rather we’d won the lot of them, but it’s given other teams a taste of glory that has spurred them on.

Attendances are up almost across the boards; the one notable exception is at Celtic Park, where there are reasons a lot of fans are staying away that have nothing to do with “no Rangers in the league” … I would bet that only a mere handful of fans gave up their tickets with that specific scenario in mind.

Our issues go deeper than that.

The game itself is alive, vibrant, healthy … but that’s not how Jackson and others see it.

Apparently we’re only now emerging from a dark period during which “the national sport has been effectively neutered and robbed of its own self-esteem.”

What arrogant, sanctimonious, Sevconian bollocks.

We all know what would have destroyed Scottish Football’s self-esteem.

It was the course of action Jackson and others were urging on the game in 2012; that we allow a brand new club built from the ashes of scandal and disgrace to assume a place in the top flight of our sport – automatically – simply because it bore the name “Rangers.”

Jackson hasn’t noticed that the game has rolled on quite nicely without the Ibrox club, because in his own mind (you can hear it, rattling, in there like a pea in a tin cup) he actually does see the wreckage, the shattered wasteland, the corpses piled up like firewood, the rubble of what was once our national game, twisted and broken.

He sees these things because he has tunnel vision and because he just can’t focus beyond the boundaries of Ibrox, where there really has been Armageddon, and where that wreckage can be seen clearly.

No other club has failed to adapt to the new shape of football like Sevco, still clinging to a corpse, still struggling to accept the new reality, which is that not only did no-one mourn them, but no-one missed them either.

There, there really has been a “neutering” and a “loss of self-esteem”; the end of financial doping on the scale Rangers once pioneered.

The humiliations which have pounded Sevco relentlessly in the past four years were all made within its own walls, and the next crisis to engulf them will, likewise, come from there. These are the profound consequences of their having built a club with a superiority complex that bore no relationship to its place in the real world.

The dark winter there isn’t even close to being over yet.

Jackson has talked, today, about how that club is now entering a “period of normality” again.

I agree with him.

With convicted criminals on the board, looming court cases, allegations of tapping, unsettling players at other clubs, soft loans to keep on the lights, sources of short term funding with decidedly dodgy backgrounds, non-payment of bills, a swelling egotism and the typical fawning of the media, things there are about as “normal” as they can be.

Other clubs might regard all this as decidedly abnormal, but this is Sevco, and of course Sevco is different, operating in a different reality and playing by very different rules.

The more things change around here, the more they stay the same. The media obsession with this club continues unabated and the re-writing of history goes hand in hand with reframing the present into whatever shapes suits the Ibrox club the best.

Today’s article suggests that Celtic have missed a club calling itself Rangers in their league, but then ponders why we would loan a player to Hibs who might stand in the way of them getting there, as though this is really a mystery and not the confirmation of everything Celtic supporters and our board have been telling these people for years now.

We do not want a team from Ibrox playing in the top flight.

We’re not remotely interested in the media-hyped, hate-fuelled “rivalry” that is so necessary to the survival of the Sevco operation.

We hated that warped creation even when it was partly grounded in history, that of Rangers; we have zero intention of getting behind a Frankenstein’s Monster version of it founded on all the old hatreds the game here is better leaving behind, but turbo charged by the twin engines of the Survival and Victim Myth’s that are so prevalent in the excretal articles Jackson and others have produced and are still producing to this day.

This disconnect from reality is more greatly expressed in Jackson’s closing paragraphs, where he says Sevco will complete two signings this week (on no greater information than Mark Warburton suggested it at the weekend), that of Michael O’Halloran (who St Johnstone are saying won’t be allowed to leave for the current, derisory, offer) and a Brentford midfielder who’s own club is less than pleased at how Sevco have gone about their business.

But of course, the Ibrox club will “get their men” without “being held to ransom”, as if it was the two other clubs who were somehow at fault for not wanting to part with their own players for insulting sums.

This is the type of language that flows out of Ibrox; this is the type of language the media uses to frame the terms of the debate.

Jackson says these signings will “cost the guts of £1m in transfer fees”; the biggest piece of artificial inflating since Jordan went in for her last boob job. It will, he goes on to say, “provide solid proof Dave King and his board are not just cleansing their club but also have the wherewithal to properly fund Mark Warburton’s rebuild.”

I don’t know which part of that I found most hilarious, or a bigger insult to our collective intelligence; the notion that a convicted crook who’s keeping on the lights by the non-payment of bills and taking soft loans from other dodgy geezers is “cleansing” the place or that it proves King has “the wherewithal” to fund a series of major transfers.

Neither of those things is remotely true.

I often marvel at the ability our media has to distort reality and see only the parts of history that suit them whilst ignoring the rest.

Today, Scottish football is in the best health it’s been in for a long time.

Four years of work at the clubs has produced real reasons to be optimistic.

Jackson is right about that.

But he conflates these things with “the rise” of Sevco in sheer ignorance of the fact that our top flight is thriving without them in it, that it will continue to thrive if they fail to get promotion … and that all of this flies in the face of what we were told to expect.

When it comes right down to it, Jackson and others still see the destruction as if it actually happened.

That’s what they wanted and it’s what they expected.

What the rest of us see are cool blue waters reaching out from white sandy beaches.

If there’s a corpse by the road, somewhere up there beyond the dunes, it’s that of Rangers itself.

Across from us, down here on the sands, though, are two guys walking on either side of a dead body, supporting it in a despereate effort to pretend it’s still a living person, waving the arms, nodding the head, trying to make the bizarre and illogical seem … normal.

This isn’t The Day After.

It’s Weekend At Bernie’s.

And the joke is on Jackson and those who refuse to see that simple truth.

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Celtic Fans Know The Difference Between Bigotry And Political Expression

Celtic F.C.The charity Nil By Mouth has called on Scottish football clubs to accept “strict liability” when the SFA next puts it up for debate and a vote.

The organisation founded by the fiancé of Mark Scott, the Celtic fan murdered at Bridgeton Cross by the psychotic Jason Campbell has long concentrated its guns on football fans and was a vocal supporter of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which has done little more than criminalise free expression and political singing of a sort much of Scotland doesn’t like.

This statement came on the same day that Stewart Regan is all over the papers trying to push the issue. This suggests more than a little bandwagon jumping going on.

Before we know it, politicians who’ve not been in the papers for a while will be all in favour … just watch.

I want to be clear that I have no issue with Nil By Mouth per se.

How could I have?

The organisation exists to combat sectarianism and hate in our society, but I have a problem with the way in which they and other organisations – including Police Scotland – conflate these matters with legitimate political expression … the kind that supports Irish nationalism as opposed to, say, Scottish independence.

I support Scottish independence, and it infuriates me how some people can make all sorts of allowances for one whilst making none for the other. Granted, that isn’t as widespread as the anti-Irish sentiment which courses through many supporters of the union, but it is definitely there, in small ways, and in big ones too like the SNP’s much hated law.

I get tired of trying to educate people on this.

It seems that some folk just don’t want to bloody well hear it, and I find their attitudes entirely dishonest as a result of that.

Nil By Mouth’s statement was picked up by, amongst other media outlets, The Scotsman, where Andrew Smith’s opening paragraph was “Anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth has backed calls to introduce strict liability rules to Scottish football, with campaign director Dave Scott stating yesterday that “people are fed up to the back teeth” with behaviour that the group maintains fuels religious bigotry.

Let’s separate the fact from the fiction here.

First fact: Celtic fans do not engage in sectarian singing.

There is one song – a so-called version of Roamin’ In The Gloamin’ – who’s lyrics are so excruciating, waxing lyrical about how good it is to “be a Roman Catholic” that it’s certainly offensive (especially to Catholics) but even it doesn’t openly stray into hatred although it is mind-numbingly ignorant.

It’s the kind of thing that once passed for wit and which someone probably made up in a pub fifty years or so ago without any thought as to what the lyrics actually mean.

Listen to them if you don’t believe me.

It’s a collection of words with no coherence.

There’s a reference to St Patrick, who was born in the 5th Century, John Knox, who was born in the 16th Century and to King Billy, who was born in the 17th Century. I don’t know how you feel about a song that mentions all three drawing no connection whatsoever between them, but to me it’s the trademark of barely literate goons.

Most people realise this, and find the song crawl-under-the-bed embarrassing.

I haven’t heard it sung, by more than handfuls of drunk arseholes, for years.

There’s a chant you used to hear a lot, but which has also been on the wane for years, referring to dirty orange people of questionable parentage; I recommend those offended by that speak to the Orange Order, to which it’s a clear reference.

They are a sectarian organisation and a secret society, rabidly unionist and affiliated with the far right of British and Irish politics.

That chant is generally used in relation to referees, a number of whom have been proven to be members of said secret society, and whose professional ranks behave more and more like one with every year that passes.

The key term is “Orange”.

Not Protestant.

There is no sectarian connotation to that chant.

Then there’s the H word, which I rarely use and which has never been a reference to any religious affiliation but more about a set of behavioural norms; rioting, nazi salutes, spreading fear and taking part in general disorder … things for which a certain Scottish club’s fans were once famous. It’s also about having no respect for traditions, or loyalty, or lacking a certain moral character.

I have had long brainstorming sessions with people on this subject, and on the etymology of the word itself, tracing it back to Attila and to the Germans in World War I and 2 … and I’m always asked, in the context of Scottish football, who I regard as fitting the bill.

I once answered thus;

I consider Graham Souness to be one, but Trevor Steven not. I know for a fact Maurice Johnstone is one, but never thought Brian Laudrup was. Davie Provan, Charlie Nicholas and Jim Traynor are definitely amongst their number but I never for one second thought Graham Speirs, Alan Davidson or Ian Crocker were. Large sections of the Sevco support fit the bill. A small section of the Celtic support does too, and there are numbers of them at other clubs like Hearts, Motherwell, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Inverness and elsewhere.

I agree with the general sentiment behind Nil By Mouth’s statement, but that organisation is like so many others in this country; it tiptoes around things when it ought to stride forward with purpose.

There is bigotry in Scotland, sectarian intolerance that is both broad and, in some places, deep.

The fault isn’t to be found in football stadiums, although some of its practitioners go to games.

Anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred is still a profound problem, and one of the reasons it remains so is that those who practice it often hide behind seemingly legitimate initiatives like this one.

Which brings us to the second inconvenient truth: there was no need to pass the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Laws already existed to confront those who engaged in sectarian behaviour; the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act changed nothing except that it placed singing Republican songs into the same bracket as someone singing one of the more horrible hate anthems you’d expect to hear from the people who hailed Jason Campbell a hero.

What that law did is created a moral equivalence between the two, and that’s one of the most tragic features of it.

Because there is none.

The issue is bigger than just Nil By Mouth, but they have a high profile and they get a lot of attention whenever they put out a statement like this. They might not want to further the agendas of the very people they deplore, but I’ll tell you what … they do.

There are people who live in this country who would love to see every expression of Irishness outlawed, who would love every Catholic school closed, who blame us for creating intolerance when, actually, it stares back at them from the mirror.

No other religious or social group in this country is subject to this constant sniping and questioning of its values.

We don’t have a profound problem in this country with anti-Islamic sentiment; in fact, in comparison to certain parts of England things are positively harmonious. We also don’t have a serious issue with anti-Semitism.

Anti-Catholic hatred is Scotland’s own peculiar little fixation, and that has long had its roots deep in anti-Irishness.

The difference is that in some ways it’s now public policy.

Listen, I understand full well that there are people who don’t enjoy hearing the Republican stuff in football grounds. But I don’t mind saying I know those songs by heart, and I defy anyone to tell me where one of them – even one – promotes hate.

Supporting a “proscribed organisation” isn’t the same.

The people who do the proscribing once had the ANC on that list.

The Republican movement now plays an active part in government.

The ANC is the South African government.

The difference is, they were never fighting the British.

You get the point?

You understand why one of those organisations is now feted and the other remains banned to this day?

Here’s a challenge I’ve laid down many, many, many, many times and I do so again with no doubt that the result will be the same as it’s been on all those other occasions; if someone can tell me where in those songs hatred is promoted I’ll close these websites the same day.

No-one will answer that. No-one ever does.

So whilst I do understand that people don’t want to hear this stuff, I’d say to them that, sadly, it’s just too bad because one of the prices we pay for living in a free society is that we often have to tolerate things we don’t actually like. I’m not suggesting they go and look the lyrics up and try and understand the context of them … too much to ask, by far.

I’m asking that they actually embrace understanding of another subject; tolerance itself. Because whether they know it or not, their own attitude is profoundly intolerant. It’s close-minded, insular and yes it’s also arrogant; that the freedoms other people enjoy should be stymied and limited because they dislike certain of their opinions and ideas.

Tolerance means embracing diversity. Hammering everyone into the same mould doesn’t come close to the definition of that. That’s called enforced conformity and I don’t think that’s a country any of us actually wants to live in.

My problem with what Nil By Mouth and other apparently well-meaning organisations are doing stumbling into this minefield is that they aren’t really talking about sectarianism at all … they’re talking about shrinking the definition of what they find “acceptable” and if they don’t understand the danger inherent in that I can’t explain it to them.

The third fiction is that strict liability has been a success for UEFA.

It’s not true.

Strict liability doesn’t reflect well on UEFA at all.

It was introduced to combat right wing extremists using football grounds as recruiting posts. I understand why the sport considered that an issue, but in trying to find a way to ban those groups they did what governing bodies always do when they try to ride the middle lane … they overshot the runway and passed rules where any form of political expression was banned.

Except those which suit them, of course.

One of the recent obscenities was their decision to fine Celtic for our fans flying Palestinian flags. I don’t know what our club’s official response to that was but it was a scandal that UEFA ever considered such a ludicrous action in the first place. Another example was the “F*** UEFA” banner the Celtic fans flew, and which resulted in another sanction.

A refusal to allow criticism is one of the defining characteristics of fascism.

It would be different if they actually took the rule seriously, but they don’t because they can’t.

There are a number of overtly political football clubs in Europe who’s very existence flies in the face of UEFA regulations and there are other clubs whose fans have adopted overtly political views; they stretch across the continent, from France to the farthest corners of Russia.

They are openly ideological and UEFA can’t come close to policing them and doesn’t even try.

Not only does strict liability not work, but it’s barely enforced.

Celtic is not an overtly political club.

Our fans reflect a broad sweep of society, and we pride ourselves on being “open to all”.

Yet some of our own supporters consistently fly in the face of that concept, and make a nonsense of it, trying to tell other fans what they should be singing and what flags they should be flying.

I sympathise with them, to a degree.

Because some of it does get the club into trouble, and that’s wrong.

But it’s the regulations I think are the problem here, and whilst I think they should be obeyed, as long as they last, I think our club should be committed, along with others, to changing them to better reflect the reality; football and politics have always been closely linked and always will be.

This isn’t about flares and smoke bombs.

Those are banned for entirely legitimate reasons and don’t belong in football grounds, and I am wholly supportive of any measure that removes them from the sport entirely.

This is about political expression, and existing UEFA rules on it are as wrong as they can be, and Nil By Mouth and the SFA now want those extended to cover Scottish football too, a country where Irish political expression is already punished enough and where the governing bodies and others don’t even try to hide the intent, which is to restrict the rights of supporters to properly express themselves inside stadiums.

Every Celtic fan should oppose this, and let the club know it, not that they have to because Celtic has never been in favour of it and that hasn’t changed.

This is my last word on this subject for a while.

For the record, I don’t expect “strict liability” to pass.

The clubs in the main don’t want it, because they understand that there will always be idiots in any support and the clubs can only do so much to weed them out. Only someone who doesn’t really understand football could believe otherwise.

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SFA “Strict Liability” Proposals Are A Direct Threat To Celtic

JS31156726Stewart Regan. Dear oh dear.

You have to give him his due; he seems to know what side his bread is buttered on, and just who butters it.

Any time there’s crisis or scandal at Ibrox he’s a long way from home, posted missing, silent on the subject.

I’d call it gutless, but he’s never quite so remiss when it comes to tackling Celtic.

We all know that this man will do anything at all to keep the club operating out of Ibrox afloat, whether that’s bending or flaunting regulations; ignoring others; allowing convicted criminals onto the board and even looking the other way as a potential fraud is going on.

That same attitude applies, of course, to the occasional outbreak of illegal singing, like the one against Hibs, which it seems he only discovered yesterday as it was the first he’s mentioned it … and then only fleetingly.

Another club’s supporters were the real target of his rant.

Who knew that all it would take to bring him out of the bunker was Celtic fans throwing a few flares?

Hell, we can’t have that in our national sport!

Let’s change the rules … so that we can punish the club for it!

Yes, whatever you say Stewart.

Except … no.

What balls this guy has. What a brass neck on him.

He and his lawyers are, doubtless, going to be working hard on the proposals for “strict liability” in the next week or two, and if Harper MacLeod can ratchet up the costs a bit who are any of us to stand in their way? They’ve got to make a buck too … but at the end of the day the fruit of these labours will wind up in the bin. It belongs there.

Frankly, Regan can wipe his arse with them for all I care.

If Celtic voted in favour of these proposals – and the chance of it is somewhere between slim and none; there is no way in the world we’re going to do it – then a cold day in Hell it would be, and the problems would mount up down the road until we couldn’t move forward for them.

When I heard he’d commented on this, and said “strict liability” was going back on the agenda I was honestly fuming, and flabbergasted at his brazenness. The statement itself is absurd, and offensive to those of us who’ve been following the backstory.

There can’t be another organisation – except the SPFL – which is so selective in the things it chooses to care about on any given day.

Regan feels he can bang the drum on this one because it was in the Scottish Cup … well it’s funny, as he seems to care so much; he said and did nothing last season when, at the very same ground, Dundee Utd fans did much the same thing.

Now, no-one should misinterpret this as me defending the guys with the flares.

I’ve already written about that over on The CelticBlog this week, and my views were pretty clear. The guys who do this are a menace, pure and simple, and ought not to be allowed inside football grounds.

But see, that’s a police matter. It’s got sod all to do with the sporting authorities. We ought to let the police deal with it, as they have been doing. Let the clubs find the people responsible and ban them, and then allow the machinery of the law to take over.

Football sanctions to clubs for the behaviour of a few neds?

God, why not just punish certain clubs (i.e. Celtic) before the season even starts?

Save time on the disciplinary hearings.

Because these rules will be so open-ended you might as well.

I would be willing to bet every penny I make in the first year of their existence that we would be in front of the beaks more than any other club, and that has nothing to do with our fans but everything to do with a media that would whip up controversy every chance it got and the governing bodies themselves who might even jump at the chance to make the league more “competitive” by deducting us points every so often.

As the rules stand right now, all a club has to do to get off free and clear – see Sevco and sectarian songs – is demonstrate that they’ve taken “all appropriate measures” to discourage that. No-one even knows what that actually means, and that’s very deliberate.

And you know what? I’m content for that to be the position. Because that’s the way these guys work, and I have no doubt that should “strict liability” come into existence the regulations would be no more robust than the current rules, but would morph, instead, into an awful Offensive Behaviour at Football Act written by the governing bodies themselves, one handing match delegates complete discretion over what constitutes an offense … and that’s to say nothing of their famous “compliance officer” and what his own godforsaken role in all this would be.

Uh-uh. Not a chance in Hell.

Someone like Vince Lunny, with the power to deduct points and close stadiums because of what he personally finds offensive? Newspaper media rooms and PR companies scanning YouTube footage deep into the night and submitting it for his “assesment”?

You can see where Celtic might have a problem with this idea, right?

We may as well shut the stadium right now.

Even if the SFA could be trusted (I know, I’m laughing too) I’m not in favour of strict liability anyway, because it’s too easy to extend and amplify and would, eventually, turn all football grounds into soulless cathedrals of consumerism and make the experience akin to going to the theatre.

Regan uses UEFA as his exemplar here, because these rules already exist there.

Ha!

The SFA’s newfound embrace of UEFA standards is heartening but much too selective, and that’s the real problem here and where Regan’s hypocrisy is most clearly expressed.

There are UEFA regulations which do badly need implementing in Scottish football, foremost amongst them the one governing Financial Fair Play.

That it hasn’t already been passed is ridiculous; the English leagues got their house in order on that score five years ago.

But, of course, there isn’t strictly an establishment favourite club down there, one that would fall foul of those regulations every single year.

Quite how anyone could argue that Sevco would not be in current breach of those rules escapes me … which is exactly why they’ve yet to see the light of day, and why I suspect they never actually will.

King’s big talk about “front loaded investment” was always bluff and bluster anyway, but the whole concept has still been allowed a credibility it doesn’t deserve. That we continue to perpetuate this dangerous nonsense as somehow “good for the game” is part of a wider problem Regan and his people don’t even seem to want to acknowledge let alone do something about.

No, this is more typical of them, to focus on a cheap headline, a one day story, to leap onto a passing bandwagon.

This isn’t leadership; it’s deflection.

It’s an attempt to steer the agenda away from his favourite club at a time when the governing bodies are inextricably bound to their fate, and heading for a calamity that will make 2012 seem like small beer.

Regan would have been better focussing on that, or on the certainty that his name will come up over and over again during the trials of Whyte and Green.

If he wants to give the lawyers something to do he can dig out the emails he and Whyte exchanged, and the minutes of his discussions with Green, and others, and get the SFA legal team to investigate whether or not they were party to a fraud, however unwittingly it might have been,

I don’t like this guy; that’s no secret. I think he’s a coward and a charlatan and that he’s been wrong, and his association has been wrong, on every major issue of the last five years except the appointment of Gordon Strachan.

He and those around him can preen and posture for the cameras all day long. They can write all the useless and doomed regulations they want. They can fritter away the remainder of their time in office by pandering to the press and the Ibrox mob. Or they can find ways, even now, to redeem their reputations before it all comes crashing down.

This is partly about that, of course, about legacy shopping; one good deed to try and counter all the years of sitting on his hands. I’m not fooled for a minute, and no-one else should be either.

I’m past caring what choices they make.

But I’m damned if I’ll sit in silence whilst they try to use my club and its fans as a deflector shield when the biggest and most serious issues in the Scottish game can still be traced right to the door of another stadium in Glasgow and to the actions of a procession of dodgy geezers Regan and his people said were “fit and proper.”

Stewart Regan, leading reform?

Don’t make me laugh.

His real motivations are more transparent than he thinks.

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The Internet Bampots: Right From The Start

craig-whyte-rangers-court_3345309Last night, as I was reading over the incredible catalogue of crimes with which former Rangers and Sevco directors are being charged, something dawned on me.

None of this would ever have come to pass – not Whyte, not Green, perhaps not even King – but for the contempt in which many in the media and in the game’s governing bodies once held (and some still hold) the Internet Bampots.

Yet today, I feel more than a small degree of satisfaction; indeed, I feel fully vindicated in almost everything I’ve spent the last few years writing.

In some ways that’s enough.

It’s time we got some acknowledgement though.

I understand that there are legal minefields here in which I don’t want to tread. That’s the reason Part 3 of my overview of how Rangers and the SFA almost destroyed Scottish football has been delayed so long. It’s not that I lost the thread of it or couldn’t be bothered writing it; much of it is already done. The rest … well, the events Part 3 charts are in the court system at the moment and I’m being careful not to write a word that second guesses those proceedings.

I’m going to be careful here too.

But there are things that I can say with absolute certainty.

Not one single person connected to Scottish football is now in even the slightest doubt that Craig Whyte, Charles Green and the cohort that trooped through Ibrox in the years from 2011 – 2015 did enormous harm to the institutions of Rangers and Sevco.

Not one single person does not believe that some sections of an almost overwhelmingly subservient, cheerleading, wholly ineffectual media was not at least partially responsible for the chaos that has followed, by lending credibility to men who otherwise would have had none.

And not one single person with the remotest interest in the sport here is in the slightest doubt that had the SFA and the SPFL taken their own regulatory roles more seriously that none of these guys would have been within miles of a major Scottish football club.

As a lawyer might say, “these are the facts of the case and they are undisputed.”

The only people who can emerge from this with their heads held high are the fans, and in particular the online community who went where the press and the authorities didn’t want to go and who dug into Whyte and then Charles Green.

I’m going to do a few pieces on the coming case, obviously, but for the moment I just want to look at the basic charge sheet, the top sheet, not the more detailed indictment.

In broad terms there are three principle sections to it; 2010 until February 2012, February 2012 until the assets of the liquidated and defunct Rangers were purchased by Green and what followed on afterwards.

From the first, the Internet Bampots were onto Whyte.

Some in the media would rather ignore that.

The governing bodies have turned doing that into an art form.

Some in the media, at least, started nicking our stories and actually pushing them, although claiming exclusives they weren’t entitled to. The governing bodies waited until Whyte had already put on his show, dragged Scottish football through the mud and put a boot print on the national shirt before they did something about it, expressing their surprise the whole while.

According to the indictment, Craig Whyte is being charged with wilfully putting the club into administration, in order to leave behind creditors and emerge debt free.

It would take a neck of solid brass to pretend that comes as a shock to anybody, because he was quite upfront about it right from the beginning, and as the Bampots know well he even told the governing bodies about his plans.

If what he’s done is a criminal offence – and a court will decide that in good time – then it’s not hard to make a case that, based on information in the public domain, Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan should think themselves awful damned lucky they aren’t there in the dock with him, indicted alongside the rest, as co-conspirators.

Above and beyond what he told them himself, Whyte had a string of failed and liquidated businesses behind him, and we pointed this out, with many tweeting Regan at the SFA directly with their findings.

Beyond that, there was actual, verifiable, credible information in the public domain a full four months before the club entered administration, and it was put there by Mark Daly of the BBC, laying out Whyte’s previous MO in some detail.

At the time, not one other media outlet was demanding a fuller exploration of those accusations; indeed, many of his contemporaries in the print media sneered at him, and some of them continue to do so to this day.

But he had the full throated support of, and respect from, the Bampots.

I’ll tell you what I think of Mark Daly;

Scottish football is enormously indebted to him and the team who worked with him on those documentaries, because without them I am convinced – 100% – that Craig Whyte would still be at the helm of a football club calling itself Rangers, whether visibly or working behind the scenes. Oh the hacks might have dug around and found some of it, but Graham Speirs has already told us they knew things they never published because they didn’t want to be seen to have been the people who brought the regime down.

Sure as Hell, nobody in any position of authority wanted to hear us.

We know that because at Hampden they weren’t even really listening to him.

In fact, evidence suggest that not only did our governing bodies know this was going on but they wholeheartedly backed it, as Neil Doncaster himself said on 18 May 2012, when he dismissed the difference between a CVA and a liquidation as an “irrelevance” and said the “attitudes of creditors” should not matter to football governing bodies when dealing with financially stricken clubs.

He went on to say that whilst he didn’t think it was “right” for clubs to dump their debts and emerge unscathed on the other side that “it happens” and he had no problem with it. He had his facts badly wrong when trying to name clubs who had done it – the two examples he gave of clubs which had gone the NewCo route were Leeds and Palace, none of whom actually did – but few can be in any doubt that he wasn’t concerned in the slightest by the sheer immorality of it, or the dangers it posed to Scottish football in the long term.

He ought to have been sacked there and then.

His continued employment is a source of enormous frustration and offence to many people and I long since concluded that he can only be there because he still retains the confidence of our clubs, which means that on some level many of them do support this utter nonsense and don’t want to see him replaced by someone with a different view.

Indeed, this time last year I published a piece called A Moment Of Clarity, after he’d started 2015 with a scandalous interview which turned football reality in Scotland on its head.

I thought, then, that his comments were so absolutely ridiculous that he couldn’t possibly survive them … but a year on down the line, there he is, still in his office.

His presence there is about to heap scandal on disgrace.

He and Regan better understand this; they are our great piece of “unfinished business” and their part in this isn’t going to be simply ignored or airbrushed out of all memory. This is what these two will be remembered for, long after they’ve left office.

We are going to keep on highlighting these issues until they’re both gone, and then far beyond, because their conduct can’t be allowed to escape scrutiny and the verdict of history, otherwise their behaviour becomes a reflection on the wider game here.

They would have flushed sporting integrity down the pan in 2012.

Only the intervention of the fans stopped that.

If Craig Whyte eventually gets up, in open court, and talks about how Doncaster and Regan knew exactly what he was up to the whole time then that’s catastrophic. That’s a FIFA style scandal on our own doorstep, and the world will know it.

The reputational damage to our sport that the allegation itself will do … even if it’s never examined in greater detail … enormous.

The directors of the other clubs have to know some of what we do; are they waiting for legal proceedings before acting to safeguard the game?

Shouldn’t the chairmen themselves be asking for an independent inquiry, not into Whyte and Green but what the governing body CEO’s really knew about events at Ibrox?

I can’t put it more bluntly than to say that these two men and their continuing presence at Hampden represents an existential risk to the reputation of our sport … and the more you dig into the charge sheet the more serious it starts to look for them.

And once again, the Internet Bampots were signposting the way.

There isn’t one Celtic site whose writers and contributors were not asking questions, from the off, about the manner in which Charles Green emerged, as if from nowhere, to bid for the assets of OldCo Rangers. The antennae were twitching from the moment his name was first mentioned and it didn’t take long before numerous links between Whyte and Green were established.

Those links are unmistakably real; there’s not the slightest debate about them and no rational person with a scintilla of knowledge about these matters actually believes these two men didn’t know each other beforehand.

It might not have been Paul McConville who first starting asking questions about Sevco 5088 and its relationship to a company called Sevco Scotland Ltd, but he certainly wrote a series of outstanding, and deadly, pieces on that subject.

Not one newspaper article ever ran asked the questions those articles demanded.

The SFA never once issued a statement on them.

Those question have been ongoing since mid-2012 and were ignored by governing bodies and media outlets alike, although then and now they were enormously significant. I myself posed some of those questions when Green announced the share issue, and Whyte emerged to allege that he’d had some role in setting Sevco up.

Plenty of us were asking those questions.

No-one wanted to answer us.

The media blanked them, or accused of us being fantasists.

The governing bodies … well, I have no idea how they felt about the possibility that they might have assisted in the perpetration of a fraud, but as far as I can see the road would be wide open, in the result of guilty verdicts, for not only the creditors of OldCo Rangers to sue them but for those who bought shares under Green to do so as well.

See, that’s something else no-one else ever explores; the SFA and the SPL/SPFL are regulatory bodies … it is their legal responsibility to assure that the highest standards of corporate governance are being observed by their member clubs.

It’s not enough for them to step back and let those clubs police themselves; this is why fit and proper person criteria exists in the first place, it’s why punishments are handed down for those who violate it.

(Unless those people are connected to Ibrox, which is sort of the point.)

The Pinsent Mason report is an outrage the club should never have been able to get away with, and not one of the Celtic blogs was silent in calling that an embarrassment and a disgrace. That reeked, and it reeks today, especially in light of these court cases.

Anyway, ignorance of these matters – even if we believed they were ignorant – might not be enough to save them from legal consequences, and a judicial inquiry at least.

I repeat; they had, and still have, a duty to do their homework, and not simply abdicate that responsibility to those who run those the clubs. The clubs themselves should be holding them to account for loss of earnings and reputational damage … and I don’t know why they don’t.

And far from learning lessons from those events the SFA continues to ignore its duties, even today.

No-one is asking whether Sevco is technically trading whilst insolvent, and the backgrounds of those who’ve given them the latest loans to keep on the lights aren’t deemed worthy of comment in the press, far less an investigation at Hampden.

Once again, only The Bampots seem interested in what is obviously a major story.

If that money had been dropped off at Ibrox in cash, the proceeds of a heist … Jesus, are we to believe Doncaster and Regan would simply have shrugged their shoulders and deemed that a matter for the club itself to look into?

What kind of people are these?

The technical term for this is “institutional failure”, and on the larger stage it’s what brought us the banking crash of 2008, in which the roots of Rangers’ demise and all these issues can be found.

Ignorance isn’t what happened anyway; what actually happened is partly to be found in the nearly universal contempt for the bloggers that existed then and which will we continue to struggle against in our quest to be taken more seriously.

The governing bodies were well aware of all this stuff at the time, and the media were too.

Enough people on Twitter and elsewhere were sending them links and stories and telling them what we’d found out, and what we were speculating on.

Either the governing bodies decided these issues weren’t worth looking into or they knew more than people were aware, and didn’t like us rocking the boat.

The media refused to take us even remotely seriously, and that was because they didn’t acknowledge us as worthy participants in the debate.

Nobody is laughing at us now.

Nobody underestimates our role.

I’ve been doing this for nearly five years, and I now make a tentative living out of it because of the support some of the readers are able to provide – and I’m beyond grateful to all those who do. Between that and the ads I manage to make this thing work.

As a consequence, I can now devote myself full-time to the task of analysing these issues and others like them, to research and explore evidence no matter where it comes from.

I never expect to make the money a “journalist” at The Daily Record would; if I was interested in that I’d be pursuing it properly as a career, but knowing that I’d have to give up my independence and the right to say what I wanted.

Money isn’t everything. As long as I can pay my bills as they fall due I’m a happy camper, because I’ve come to love this stuff and it gives me the freedom to pursue my grander goal which is to make my way as a writer of fiction. (If I can ever finish the second novel!)

Likewise, I don’t do it for glory because there’s precious little of that when I have to be hypercritical of my own club at times; on those horrible days this feels like shovelling shit uphill … or raking leaves in the rain, if I might use one of my own actual experiences to emphasise the point.

Like other guys, I do this because it’s often fun, it’s intellectually challenging and finally because it’s nice to feel part of a wider endeavour and a community all dedicated to the same stuff.

More than that, I genuinely believe this is important.

What I do, what James Doleman’s been doing, what The Clumpany does, what Paul Brennan has been doing even longer than me, what sites like VideoCelts produce every day … this stuff matters.

This isn’t just a Scottish football story … Rangers was a major social institution, and what happened – what was allowed to happen – within its walls for decades, preceding even these events, was outrageous and an affront to more than just sport.

We’re not PR factories, spinning facts and twisting reality.

We’re in nobody’s pockets and nobody’s employ.

We write what we see in front of us, without fear or favour – and I do this about politics in Scotland as well as on football – without taking our cue from others.

None of us expects to win awards, nor great wealth, nor any special status doing what we do.

We have the respect of our peers and the thanks of a great many people who like to be informed and entertained without the media’s PR filter and that’s enough. On most days.

Beyond that, we don’t ask for or want anything at all.

But today, reading the charge sheets against a bunch of people we’ve spent the better part of five years warning Scottish football against, and seeing the catalogue of offences which bear a striking resemblance to those we were asking questions about before even the Fraud Squad got to them, it would be nice if we got some acknowledgement for it.

It would be nice if we got some credit from those who treated us with such appalling disdain.

Because whether these cases end in guilty verdicts or not, these issues, which we were told weren’t worth bothering about, were serious enough to have warranted a trial.

The questions we were asking, and which so many were ignoring, were prescient enough and forensic enough, to have merited police and judicial attention.

The evidence we were digging for, examining, and highlighting in the hope those with the resources and the reach to do it justice, or in the hope that the governing bodies would take note and move to avert the consequences for our sport – and those consequences are coming – and which those people sneered at or refused to even look at … well they had the substance to start the machinery of legal proceedings.

In short, I do believe, verdicts notwithstanding, that we’ve been vindicated in full.

It would be good if our critics acknowledged that simple truth.

The Internet Bampots.

Right from the start.

(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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Are Foriegn Clubs Trying To Tap James Forrest?

imageOne of my favourite films of all time is The Big Lebowski, a movie which speaks to me in so many ways. Jeff Bridges has never been finer, in all his career on-screen.

What makes the movie great? Three things. First, tremendous and witty dialogue by the Cohen Brothers. Second, a complicated and brilliantly told story and third memorable characters who get into memorable (and often wacky) situations.

The launchpad for the story is a bizarre case of mistaken identity; a group of heavies for a porn kingpin target low-down bum Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, an unemployed former radical hippy who lives in a slum apartment and who’s one major interest appears to be bowling.

They break in, see the state of the place, and realise he’s got nothing except junk. (When his car is stolen later it gets abandoned with the tape deck still in it. They don’t even steal his Creedence tapes!)

What this tells them is simple; he’s not the guy they’re looking for.

The guy they’re looking for is a millionaire.

A millionaire who just happens to have the same name.

They pee on The Dude’s rug instead and, because “it really tied the room together”, he goes looking for a replacement from the man he blames for the whole mess, The Big Lebowski himself.

I won’t go into any more of the film, which swiftly becomes a cross between Raymond Chandler and Monty Python. None of it is important, neither to this article or actually even to the movie itself, which is more a series of wonderful little moments than a coherent whole (although it does have all the constituent parts of a film; a beginning, a middle and end).

What’s important is The Dude, and the Big Lebowski.

Mistakes happen, even if you sometimes can’t understand how.

In the movie, The Dude, played by Bridges, is an unkempt shaggy, bearded scruff who lives on the down side of town. The Big Lebowski is much older, rich, an apparent go-getter. He has lost his legs, and is in a wheelchair, which he claims never held him back from becoming a success. (That’s a bunch of BS as it turns out!)

The contrast between them is summed up beautifully when, at their first meeting, The Big Lebowski asks if The Dude is employed. “You don’t go out looking for a job dressed like that, do you? On a weekday?”

And for a moment, The Dude is momentarily taken aback.

“Is this a … what day is this?” he asks, absolutely without a clue, or a care.

How could these two be mistaken for each other?

Easy, apparently.

Because I get emails every single day asking me if I’m James Forrest the footballer.

I’ll tell you what I tell them. It’s an easy mistake to make.

He’s in his 20’s. I’m 39.

He is a professional athlete.

As anyone who’s ever met me in person knows full well … I’m definitely not.

I write, not just about football but other things and some of them are even more controversial than what I put on here and much of it is freely available for public consumption on Facebook and elsewhere.

If our young winger held and expressed such forthright opinions on everything from politics to celebrity culture we’d definitely have read about it in the papers. My twitter feed ranges from jokey comments to shocking expletives and whilst there aren’t a lot of pictures of me online they do exist.

I also post, frequently, when games are actually being played.

If I was the football player I’m sure someone, somewhere, would have noticed that …

In short, I look nothing like him, I’m fifteen years older, outspoken in a way he wouldn’t be able to be and sometimes, like The Dude, I spend my working day dressed in a way you definitely wouldn’t turn up for the office.

Yet the mistake still happens.

Frequently.

And especially right now when my Facebook picture currently shows a wolf, and has for weeks.

So let me tell you why we’re here.

Last night, I’m sitting going over an article on Jeremy Corbyn’s re-shuffle and Facebook is beeping away merrily on comments and likes for the piece I’d put up on The CelticBlog about young Aidan Nesbitt and how I reckon he’s our next mega-star.

Facebook now has a filtered inbox; that means there are some emails that get stuck in what they intend, I’m sure, to be something like the Spam folder you get in your ordinary email account. I check it every day, because sometimes people send me stuff and because they’re not on my friends list or connected to me except by six degrees of separation their messages get slung there.

Last night, there was a new message, from a guy in Moscow.

His name is Fedor Burdykin.

I’ve never heard of him, but I read his email, which seemed to be addressed to me, personally.

I couldn’t quite get what he was trying to say, or ask, but I had initially put that down to poor grasp of English.

(His, not mine!)

I was talking to my girlfriend at the time, and asked her what she thought.

She, too, was none the wiser.

And it was only when I realised that he, for some reason, had mistaken me for the footballer that it actually made sense.

I read it a couple of times and had a good laugh over it.

It reads thus:

“Hello James. Happy New Year. How are you? I’m Fedor. Agent from Russia. I looking winger Russia and Turkey. I like your game. What do you think?”

That’s it. Word for word.

So my attention, and curiosity, was awoken by this and I had a look at his Facebook page.

On it, he claims to work for a company called Sports Focus Group, who I Googled of course but couldn’t find anywhere.

There’s a link to their Facebook page on his, and I checked it out and it’s unimpressive to say the very least.

The page itself has only existed since last year.

It has a logo, but not a shiny special one. The kind you could do on your own.

There’s a single post on that page, written in Russian, but with a helpful translation.

“Agency activities: Standard Services Sports Agent – Search Club or tournaments for participation, the negotiations on the optimal conditions, permission of contentious situations, the involvement and support of the advertising and sponsorship of the contracts. We negotiate with dozens of sports clubs. Our main task, to create for the sportsman of the maximum comfort, with nothing to distract him from the game. We’re working the maximum openly, honestly, and at the result. Cherish our every client.”

A little broken, but understandable.

His Facebook page also contains pictures of a dozen or so footballers, but they don’t appear – on the surface anyway – to be clients of the same companies. His friends list is a little more interesting; amongst those he’s recently added to it is a youth coach at an Israeli club, an “intermediary” at the US Soccer Federation (who’s LinkedIn profile suggests he, too, has spent time as an agent) and a whole host of others, mostly minor players at minor clubs throughout the world … agents, footballers, coaches, PR people … you get the drift.

And who is Fedor Burdykin himself?

Well, as it turns out his Facebook page highlights the town where he was born; Voronezh. That was a big help when trying to identify him properly because that information is right there on his full profile on TransferMarkt.

He’s a 26 year old goalie, no longer at a club since leaving Russian side FK Khimki.

He’s played for five or six clubs in that country, all apparently lower league ones, since 2007.

All of which is to say that he’s genuinely involved in the sport, in a professional capacity, but appears to no longer be a player. He wouldn’t be the first failed footballer to go into the agent business, and it looks as if that’s what he’s done.

Now, I have no way of knowing if he’s registered or not, if he’s “official” or not, but that hardly matters less.

On the surface all this looks like amateur hour … but he’s not the first person to make the mistake and think I’m James Forrest, Celtic player.

Google James Forrest and Celtic and you’ll see how easy this mistake would be to make, for someone who wanted to contact him and ended up getting me.

So amateur hour, yes but only to a certain extent.

Because, of course, the objective of a back-channel approach would be to do it through the individual and not his registered representatives and, for sure, to keep it at arm’s length from the club.

I’ve read stories of agents and the dodgy ways some of them go about their business, and I also know that registered/unregistered, these are simply tags for those who serve as the public faces of those companies and that behind the scenes a lot of folk are doing leg-work on their behalf who don’t even work for those agencies in a formal sense.

If you were a big firm, or representing a big club, and you were looking to feel out a footballer in the last year of his contract and you wanted to do it in such a way as to arouse no suspicion and set off no red flags, well there are a lot of freelancers out there who could provide you with the deniability you need, keeping yourself at a distance whilst they do the graft.

I find the use of language in his email somewhat … specific.

“I looking winger Russia and Turkey.”

If you were a wannabe agent looking to set up a new business, would you care what position your clients played? This is more like a fishing expedition, an assignment, to go out and find a specific player type, like scouting, which I’m sure some agencies do.

But mostly on behalf of clients.

The reference to the countries themselves?

Well he’s clearly not looking for players from those countries, because mistaking me for James Forrest is one thing, but you’re not going to get someone’s nationality wrong, are you?

He’s looking for players to play in those countries …

So who is Fedor Burdykin, really?

Failed footballer, now agent, or so it seems … but working for who?

Who employs him now?

And who are they working for?

Someone in Russia or Turkey?

Well, that covers a lot of ground.

But there’s money in those countries, lots of it, as we saw when Fenerbahce came to town recently boating Robin Van Persie and a host of other big names. Russian football’s reputation as a big-spending, and somewhat lawless, football environment precedes it.

James Forrest isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (neither myself not the footballer!) but Ronny Deila rates him and he has actually been critical of his agent in the past month, wondering aloud in a press conference why he can’t get the guy on the phone.

Celtic, apparently, wants to tie the player up in a long-term deal, as his current one runs out in the summer of next year.

As it stands right now, he’s not technically free to talk to interested parties for another twelve months and I am sure that both he and his representatives are observing the regulations on that to the letter.

This article in no way relates to their conduct.

This is one of those weird wee moments I live for.

Sometimes I have to go and find stories.

Sometimes stories find me.

We’re not in any imminent danger of losing James Forrest to another club but it looks as if people are fishing around the margins.

Oh this might just be a young kid, representing himself, taking a punt … but that seems off, doesn’t it? Everyone knows that this isn’t the normal way agents approach footballers … it’s unprofessional at best.

As bizarre as this one is, it looks like something a little sneaky, something deniable, something that’s being undertaken on behalf of someone who doesn’t want to get personally involved.

And if that’s the case, Celtic should be keeping an eye on it.

I hope they are.

(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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Sevco: Survival Of The Unfittest

Wolf_chasing_rabbitA few days ago, during the Steam Christmas Sale, I bought a brand new game for the PC. It cost me £7, and rarely have I gotten such satisfaction from spending so little.

It’s a quirky wee title, called The Long Dark, which is a reference to the inevitable moment when the game kills you.

It always does. The game is a survival simulator, with the single objective to last as long as you can. My record thus far is four days.

Last time I died I was sitting in an ice fishing hut on a frozen lake, during a blizzard. I had nothing to light a fire with, and no way of getting the quarter mile or so back to my camp because I’d been attacked by a wolf and he was still out there somewhere.

The game is full of “safe places” where you can hide out from the weather. There ought not to be any need, ever, for me to have slipped into the Long Dark in that tiny hut. The reason I was there was simple enough; I needed to fish because I had no food left and even with the wolf attack, I would have been fine had I been able to get a heat.

What this game does is brings survival down to a few key things. It becomes a constant struggle for resources; for the stuff to feed you, for stuff to burn, for the medicines that will knock down a wolf-bite infection and keep you alive a little longer.

It has a certain savage beauty to it.  I really do love it, and although it’s only in Alpha, and not yet complete, the designers have made something that is astoundingly simple to get to grips with yet amazingly complex at the same time and even in its current state it plays like a full title. Seriously, if you like games I’d recommend it to you all.

I was delighted that in this game I found my theme for what, aside from the weekend’s dire Celtic performance and the need to address issues at my own club before I wrote a single word about the one across the city, would have been my first major article of the year.

It’s been clear to many of us for a while now that Sevco was in serious danger of slipping into The Long Dark, and the Festive Period was remarkable for the way in which the news of their latest series of loans was spun, as somehow something positive.

In the game, you, the wildlife and every item you can discover is generated randomly at the beginning, and scattered across the various locations on the map. You never know where you’re going to wind up at the start or what you’ll find in each place you explore, but as a rule of thumb you’ll always find stuff in any dwelling you stumble across.

It’s possible, therefore, to get by the first couple of days in-game simply by travelling from place to place if you’ve got a good idea where to head. But that doesn’t last, because before long you’ve found every soda can and every chocolate bar there is left to find (unless you stumble upon the fabled bunker, which I haven’t yet, and who’s location is also randomly generated) and the struggle against the elements and the wolves starts for real.

But yeah, for a few days at least that “plan” can get you by …

And that’s exactly where Sevco is right now; like the protagonist of The Long Dark, moving from place to place, scrounging whatever meagre sustenance he can find, not with long term goals or ideas – and those are possible in the game, when you’ve taught yourself how to trap wildlife, how to make rudimentary weapons and to use snow for drinking water – but simply to survive in the short term. To get through the next few desperate days.

I’ve said this before, but in light of yesterday’s piece I figured I better say it again; in spite of my concerns that “the strategy” at Celtic Park is taking us backwards, it doesn’t threaten our survival in the short to medium term. Long term, it’ll need to change if the club is to maintain season ticket sales, but that’s for down the road.

The truth is, we can downsize some yet to keep up with falling crowds and I get the impression a lot of our fans wouldn’t care as long as they had Celtic Park to go to every week; that’s up to them, and I’m not about to criticise them for loving their team, although I honestly wish they would extend myself and other fans the same basic courtesy.

But even as a critic, I have to admit that our strategy is cautious, pragmatic, risk-averse and it’s intellectually consistent and with a coherence that’s hard to deny. No wonder it still looks like the smart way to go for a lot of our supporters.

We’re looking ahead further than just a day or two at a time.

Sevco has no long term plan, just short-term loans. There’s no real sense that they are moving in the right direction; they’re simply staying alive, living one day at a time, a hand to mouth existence that will work just so long as the next cabin on the lake has enough tomato soup cans in it to alleviate that particular worry for a little bit longer.

As Chuck Palahniuk says, in Fight Club (the quote appears as one of the loading screens in the game, which I was delighted with) “Sooner or later, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero …” That’s a universal truth, but external forces can rapidly speed up the process.

I can’t understand the general outpouring of relief, and even some delight, in the press over this news. The phrase “robbing Peter to pay Paul” comes to mind and that’s to say nothing about the “dodgy geezers” they borrowed the money from in the first place. I don’t even want to speculate on how wide and deep their version of that goes.

My first reaction to hearing that story was to burst out laughing. I thought it was a joke, and in part I suppose that’s what it is. Because only in the environs of a screwball comedy could you come up with a scenario, and a football club, like this.

As straight fiction it would be too unbelievable.

But then this is reality.

Reality at the club calling itself Rangers.

If you believe the media right now, everything that’s happened over there in the last few months has been washed away in a couple of days. Ashley and his people have their money (and they still have their merchandising deal, but let’s not mention that eah?), they have what they need to keep the lights on a wee bit longer and they are winning on the park.

I watched the Hibs game. I thought Alan Stubbs’ team defended dreadfully and were the architects of their own destruction throughout. I was also amused to note the euphoria that surrounded their win at the weekend; Falkirk had a similar result, at the same ground, earlier in the season and not one single newspaper gushed over it the way they have here.

The mood of self-congratulation over there is hilarious to the outsider, and not a little bit bizarre to behold. Don’t get me wrong; survival itself is not to be knocked, and I would never give them stick for it. It’s more than the club that came before them managed, after all.

But the manner of their survival, being celebrated like it’s some kind of major victory, that suddenly wild mushrooms grow on every tree, that the cupboards are full and all the wolves have been turned into bunny rabbits … maybe I’m just not seeing what they are.

Just because trouble isn’t visibly mounting all around them it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Financial trouble and debt at a football club is like a dead body hidden in the basement; sooner or later it starts to stink the place up and before long someone’s going to come looking for it. Eventually it has to be dealt with. As Phil is fond of reminding people; this is a loss making company with no credit line from a bank.

These loans have to be paid back, and on top of that there’s the next big demand on funding, which will come during the summer if not much sooner.

At the moment Sevco are sitting pretty in the Trappers Lodge (apt, right?) with a good supply of antibiotics, a little deer meat and enough bottled water to see them through a few stormy nights. That’s a good result, as results go in the survival business.

But it all runs out. It always runs out. And then regardless of what the weather outside looks like, they’re going to have to pull on the heavy boots and get moving, back to the hand-to-mouth stuff, the act of desperate scrambling, just to stay alive.

Sooner or later the survival rate for all indebted football clubs drops to zero.

When Sevco finally runs out of resources – and time is the most precious resource of all – their fall into The Long Dark will be unlike anything we’ve seen in Scottish football before. I can’t conceive of circumstances where a third version of Rangers emerges.

In the game itself, there’s one last outstanding feature which I have to mention, and it has the players debating endlessly, with most (myself included) in favour of it because it ups the stakes massively.

It’s called perma-death.

When you succumb everything goes; even your save game is deleted, forever.

As in real life, there’s no second chances or “retention of history.”

All your achievements are wiped away.

All you’ve accumulated, everything you’ve done … it’s gone in heartbeat.

Realistic, or what?

And we know who it reminds us of, right?

(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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Coffee’s For Closers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You call yourself a salesman, you sonofabitch?”

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

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

Blake isn’t kidding around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me to the point of the piece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for him I do at least have some sympathy.

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

But not all of this is his fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is business, not personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wouldn’t hold that against him at all.

But my sympathy doesn’t extend very far.

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

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

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

Disastrous and disgraceful.

He’s a nice guy, but so what?

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

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

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

Progress in Europe is beyond him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is no time for cheap sentimentality.

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

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

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The Offensive Double Standard

Brussels - March 03: Twitter Hit By Hackers.There’s a lot of joy, an awful lot of it, on social media today over the fate of a West of Scotland Primary School teacher who posted some pretty heavy stuff on Twitter and is now facing disciplinary action for it.

I’m not going into detail; if you follow the news at all you can’t have missed the story.

She might yet keep her job, but that couldn’t matter less as far as the wider impact goes.

The media, both old and new, has spoken, declared her guilty and branded her a bigot.

They’ve hung that tag around her neck like a rank piece of dead flesh and that, as they say, is that.

Career cancer. Game over.

What appalling hypocrites some of these people are.

I debated with myself about whether to make this a piece for this blog, but ultimately I decided it belongs here and not over on Comment Isn’t Free, my politics one, because there’s a lot of overlap between the grave dancers online and the issues this site occasionally covers.

For one thing, she’s been reported to Police Scotland, presumably under the auspices of that deplorable piece of legislation the Offensive Behaviour Act, an act any number of those rejoicing at her current fate might be hauled up for contravening themselves based on their remarks.

I’m not advocating that. I’m simply pointing it out.

A lot of these people crawled out of a sewer.

Any number of them have made this an issue about Catholic schools, Catholicism as a whole, Irish expression, Scottish nationalism (there’s a photo of her with Nicola Sturgeon) and, of course, Celtic.

(She was pictured with Tony Stokes too, and it’s not hard to guess which team she supports.)

One guy posted on one of the many articles about this on a newspaper’s website – in almost orgiastic delirium – about how overjoyed he was to find a story that gave him a chance to take a shot at all of those targets at once.

And of course, he called her a bigot for good measure.

This is the level at which these people operate, and others still decided the gutter was too good for them and posted the sort of comments that are simply unprintable here and really do belong in the province of the courts.

If she has good lawyers she could sue enough of these people to put her on easy street for the rest of her natural life, and she should.

Let’s be clear; this isn’t a piece defending her, although I’m moved to suggest that someone who decided to pursue a career working to develop young minds and had to have grafted like mad towards that goal, and who’s record in doing it is probably as clean as a whistle and who has, doubtless, made a huge and positive difference in her community probably deserves better than the witch-hunt she’s currently facing, and maybe a chance to keep on doing her job.

Added to that, I can’t help but wonder about the kind of regulations which intrude into someone’s personal beliefs, and what that has to do with her place of employment.

She wasn’t sending those tweets out on an office computer, after all.

None of this stuff intruded on her lessons to the kids, did it?

I’m fairly sure the tabloid muck-rakers would have mentioned that.

But Hell, those are issues for another day.

No, this is a piece calling out those who’ve forgotten one of the first, and most important, maxims of the Christian faith, which I don’t think is an out-of-order subject at this time of year; not even forgiveness but the one that goes “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Yes, a lot of people forget that one.

Let me give them an example of the sort of things that do my nut in.

For a start, calling someone a bigot in the same sentence as she’s subjected to a sectarian slur is not going to get you into the Quiz Kids.

Ad hominem attacks in the same tweet that question a person’s character … well that demonstrates a high IQ for sure, one that might even hit room temperature when they’re straining all the brain cells.

The Illiterati of the internet are bad enough, but we’ve got media outlets busily destroying her as well, and they are far worse.

I don’t need to give anyone a refresher course on how they’ve behaved over the years.

They’ve excused the inexcusable, and ignored what suited them. Journalists chortle over people like John Brown and his dislike of anything remotely connected to Celtic which goes all the way to not wearing the colour green, but scream from the rooftops whenever supporters express similar views. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Real bigotry is a subject they’ve kept at arm’s length for as long as I’ve been alive, but that would have been difficult to tackle, and this is an easy target they’re going after, and their relish at the task oozes from every editorial.

This doesn’t even stop with the kind of stuff they routinely ignore.

Most of them clap their hands with undisguised glee at the idea of what they refer to as the “return” of the Old Firm game, the brand built on hate which they’ve spent the last four years falling all over themselves to rebuild and promote anew.

They also think nothing of seeking the opinions of men like Hugh Dallas – who one paper put on the back pages this very week, even as they lambasted her on the front – and radio stations and the evening news channels still go out of their way to seek the opinions of “supporter reps” who’s own social media postings raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Graham Spiers, writing in The Herald recently, even suggested that Scottish football should “rehabilitate” Craig Thomson, who’s own behaviour on the internet was about a million times worse and more extreme than anything this girl did.

You tell me; what’s wrong with this picture?

In the meantime, his newspaper has its reporter’s door-stopping this girl and circling like vultures, which of course does nothing good in terms of her discipline case, making this into a national issue and pretty much leaving her bosses with nowhere to go … something else I hope her legal people are all over, and planning to highlight when the time comes.

And all this is to say nothing, of course, about their political coverage, which has created more “out” groups – everyone from social security claimants to immigrants – than Goebbels’s propaganda ministry would have dared dream about.

Our media as moral guardians?

Give me a sodding break.

They can keep their phony outrage and hysterical commentary, but that’s easy for me to say as someone who’s not been directly in their crosshairs. The stench of their own double standards reeks out their offices, but I understand that they’re simply playing to their traditional audience and this is a story that, as I said above, simply has everything for those retrograde scum.

I posted a piece on this site just last week about the number of their fan sites, and supporter reps, who spend their days trawling the net for information they can use to damage anyone whose opinion doesn’t merge with their own.

I was inspired to write that by a tweet from Jim Spence, about how he’d heard a story about another journalist whose job was under threat by these people.

I now think I know who he’s talking about it, and it wouldn’t be the first time this particular person has been targeted by these folk.

One website in particular has editorialised on this writer at great length, and much of the content is libellous and ought to be pursued.

This story is another case in point.

It’s not difficult, I’m sure, to imagine how this is being greeted on those same forums and websites.

This is like something Santa dropped down the chimney.

It’s the potential ruination of somebody’s life and what it brings to them is great joy.

I don’t know what else to say about that other than it makes my skin crawl.

These same people, emboldened by this action, are now frantically trying to select a target for the encore, and Jeanette Findlay’s name has been bandied about as she, too, works in an educational environment and has views they don’t happen to agree with.

Jeanette has already made her disgust at the hate-mob – old and new media both – known as regards this issue, and I applaud her for that and thank her from the bottom of my heart for reminding us all that there’s still a spark of humanity out there in the world, and those who are intelligent and compassionate enough to look at the bigger picture.

But of course the “big picture” doesn’t matter to the pitch-fork wielding horde, some of whom can’t wait to moralise against anyone and others who have more specific targets in mind and think of this story as a God-send.

Their anger is the phoniest kind there is, and it makes me retch and it ought to make all decent people feel the same way.

Their own hatred is palpable, and even a little scary.

They are a different species.

Someone’s career hangs in the balance here. Someone’s life is quite literally on the cusp of being destroyed, and at Christmas time too. In their attitude towards this lies the truth about their own rancid characters.

Their overriding emotion isn’t regret or sadness … it’s glee.

This is the Festive Season in Scotland, eah?

Goodwill, and all that.

Aye, right.

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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.

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Reconstruction Talks Go On As Sevco Stumbles

article-0-0C3CF7F7000005DC-511_468x333Once upon a time, I would have sworn that, in sports terms, sycophantic guff and PR pieces spun to say the opposite of what they meant was the province of the West of Scotland media alone.

Then I read the Aberdeen Press & Journal last night.

The article in question was under one of the most cynically deceptive headlines I’ve ever seen; “Now Is The Time For Change In Scottish Football” is what it read.

The actual contents of that article made the headline a sham.

For what was being proposed within it wasn’t change at all. It was the same old tired shite we’ve been putting up with for ages now.

It was more of that Armageddon nonsense, set to a slightly different tune.

The argument it put forward was that Scottish football will never be able to improve as long as the “biggest teams” aren’t in the league.

The architect of this concept – proving not only that there’s nothing new under the sun but that stale socks and empty lager cans are all that some people can glimpse on the distant horizon – was, of course, Stewart Milne, who you’d think would have already offended his own fans enough after a shambolic and ruinous display at Aberdeen’s AGM, where he called for forgiveness for Sevco and expressed his wish that they play in the SPL next season.

I had written about that earlier in the day, over on the CelticBlog, and I knew Aberdeen fans must already be furious with him for those remarks, furious enough, perhaps, to have caused his heart to flutter ever so slightly.

But no; Stewart had grander ambitions than that, although, alas, not for his football club.

He knew he had only dipped a toe in the water of the River Offence.

So, in front of his home town press toadies, he stripped down to his yellow underpants and leaped right in.

Not only did he push this view that only when Hibs and Sevco were in the top flight would the “best teams” be represented – ignoring that for all Sevco’s high cost base they’re nowhere near being a Premier League outfit and that Hibs were relegated two years ago, amidst calamitous circumstances and don’t remotely deserve to be in the SPL yet – but he then splashed around merrily as he offered the view that “Aberdeen is probably similar to most of the larger clubs in Scotland – we want to be finishing every season in the top three …”

And that’s where I sat, open-mouthed, in disbelief.

The top three?

From a side currently second, and allegedly chasing first?

Oh my, what a grandstander he is.

What an ambitious man.

To go from wanting to take the top spot away from Celtic to being willing to settle for … the next rung down on the ladder?

And who, exactly, does he envision being the third – or is it second – team in that equation?

That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

In short, Stewart Milne is preparing his own fans for failure, and worse; he’s readily embracing the idea.

He’s saying not only that he anticipates Sevco replacing his team as our biggest challenger but that it’s perfectly alright with him, that it’s the “natural order.”

Aberdeen fans must be appalled.

Peter Lawwell must be shaking in his boots.

Who knew Milne was capable of such confidence in his vision?

The crux of his argument, the fulcrum around which it turns, is arrant nonsense talked down to us by someone who considers his audience brain-dead. He’s talking about how Scottish football has had a torrid five years, but that in that time the clubs have rebuilt their finances and are now in a healthier position than they’ve ever been.

If that’s a problem then it’s a damned nice one to have, and he knows full well that what changed in the game wasn’t superior thinking or some revolutionary master plan but that one club, the one that had wrought so much damage with spendthrift policies it couldn’t afford, and which they couldn’t afford to compete with, died and vanished from the top flight.

Aberdeen posted record profits this year, due in no small part to their second place finish and their competing in European matches. Most of all, their financial position is better than it’s been in years because the fans returned in large numbers as a consequence of their success and the stated ambitions of the club.

Today those ambitions are in ruins.

Milne’s other big announcement was that he wants to move the club into a new stadium. He forgets that in order to fill that ground week in week out he needs to have fans, and those people drifted away steadily during the decades of financial doping and the Glasgow duopoly.

They came back when that was shattered and they would be perfectly happy to keep on going to games as long as they believed they were watching a straight sport.

Alas, Milne isn’t even offering them that.

He wants Scottish football to put the past aside, he says.

What he means, when we strip it down, is that he wants us to ignore years of cheating. He wants us to pretend it never happened. He wants justice dumped by the side of the road.

Screw sporting integrity because, clearly, in his view, that just holds out sport back.

So he came out in favour league reconstruction, and in time for next season if that’s what it takes.

Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan are already on the record as supporting changes, and although their lackies in the mainstream media say the mood at Hampden is against doing it for next season – not having a choice in that helps – the truth is they’d like nothing more.

And incredibly, they were joined this week by Peter Houston, manager of Falkirk, one of Sevco’s rivals for the Scottish Championship title.

He went on the record about this issue, and predicted that if Falkirk won the title that league reconstruction will be rushed through to give Hibs and Sevco a berth. He was, he said, fully in favour of this scenario.

“Do you think if Rangers and Hibs don’t go up this season there might be league reconstruction?” he asked. “Or if Falkirk go up as champions? I know what I think would happen – there would be league reconstruction. I believe there will be reconstruction because there is an acceptance now that we need our big clubs back in the Premiership. If Falkirk went up as champions they would do it and I hope it can happen like that.”

Did you notice what he didn’t say?

He didn’t say that if his side comes third that he would support league reconstruction on his team’s own behalf!

Maybe that goes without saying, especially as neither he nor his chairman appears to give a damn about sporting integrity.

His chairman is one of the people pushing league reconstruction talks, and no-one is going to convince me that the plans he’s promoting will suddenly make Scottish football better.

It’s nothing more than re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I’ve studied his ridiculous idea and I can tell you what most people already know; our sport is not going to improve one iota by putting in place a fourteen team league with a stupid artificially created split which has the sum total of nothing to do with sporting merit but will exist solely to assure a certain number of games between Celtic and the club that’s pretending to be Rangers.

When that club died this dire concept, that of the SPL split, should have gone to the grave with it, and we should have returned to a ten team top flight.

It’s time this was laid to rest once and for all.

Besides, nowhere in their considerations does there appear to be an acknowledgement of some simple facts.

First, none of this is about sporting integrity at all.

If the objective is to get the “biggest teams in the country” in one league, then why are we bothering with promotion and relegation? Why don’t we just abandon the idea of a meritocracy entirely, and rebuild the leagues based on average attendance and possible TV audience?

Hell, that way we can have it any old way we like it.

Because otherwise this is probably all academic anyway.

In order to create a bigger league relegation would probably have to be removed from the equation in the SPL, and that would be a travesty.

But in that scenario only two teams from the Championship would go up … which, if Falkirk are in the top two, doesn’t suit the proposed narrative of getting Hibs and Sevco into the SPL for next season.

So what then?

Relegate one SPL team and promote three?

That would work, sort of.

But what if the relegated team was Dundee Utd?

Aren’t they a “big club”?

What if either Hibs or Sevco were unable to get promotion anyway?

Would we end up with a 16 team league? A 20 team one?

How much are we willing to bend this sport to get the result certain people want?

All the way, it seems.

Whatever it takes. And sporting integrity be damned.

They can talk all they like about merit, but a league structure exists, right now, and it works based on that.

The fans made sure of it three years ago.

As a consequence, the top teams play in the top flight and no amount of spin will change that. These people might not like reminded about this, but Sevco finished third in the Championship last year.

Ergo, they are not one of the top teams any longer.

When they can get out of that league by virtue of winning football games then not a single one of us will have cause for complaint, and the same applies to Hibs.

They’re next, by the way, the next club who’ll be pressed for a view, the next club the media will be leaning on to come out in favour of this stupid and corrupt idea.

I’d love to say their board will hold firm; Rob Petrie is one of the real leaders in our game, and the way his FansTV deal was killed to give Doncaster leverage against the other clubs when Rangers went bust was disgusting.

If he comes out in opposition to this lousy proposed setup … well, that man ought to be made the next head of the SFA.

But I fear he’ll put his own club first, and if Hibs fall out of contention could we really hold that against him?

This isn’t Milne, getting ready to abandon his own club’s ambitions to accommodate the Ibrox operation; this is a guy who’s club can’t afford to spend God knows how long scrambling around in the second tier.

He’s in a lousy negotiating position, and he knows it.

It’s not hard to imagine Doncaster and others dangling SPL football in his face if only he votes for the stitch up.

The flipside of that, of course, is that Hibs looks as if they could get there without a grubby backroom deal like this. If he believes in his manager and his squad then he might very well tell those pushing this to go and get stuffed, as he should.

Although his Dundee Utd team is in the relegation zone, Stephen Thompson is not backing a change as early as next season.

He is in favour of reconstruction of some sort, but not now and not if it means sacrificing sporting integrity to save his own club.

Ross County’s chairman is also in favour, but he too is opposed to doing it in time for next season.

These guys care.

They want any reconstruction talks to be based on merit, and on what is good for the sport.

They aren’t in favour out of selfish reasons.

But a lot of others want this done to get a certain club back into the top flight, and the opposition of some chairmen aside they may just get what they want.

The people charged with governing our national sport make me physically sick.

They would turn the whole game upside to accomplish by reconstruction what Sevco was wholly incapable of doing on the park last year and which they might well struggle to do in this one.

The same people were floating this scheme last year … and it’s no coincidence that it’s only raised its head now, when Sevco looks to be stumbling in the race.

Scottish football clubs are drifting ever further from their fans.

If we end up with Sevco in the top flight because of some scam people will desert this sport like never before.

Stewart Milne has spent the last few days banging on about people “looking at things objectively” and embracing “radical thinking and changes.”

How about these for examples of radical thinking and embracing change?

First, let’s see our clubs and football administrators having the imagination to envision a football environment built around what’s good for all of the clubs, and which doesn’t revolve around pandering to the whims of two teams, and in fact just one?

Second, how about we stop grubbing around for crumbs from Sky’s table and look, seriously, at Petrie’s FansTV proposals all over again?

Third, how about we get some leaders, genuine leaders with guts, in at the SFA and the SPL instead of leaving them in the hands of jokers like Regan and Doncaster? These guys ought to have been out the door three years ago; their continuing presence in those offices is an affront to every support in the country, and their conduct is soon to be the subject of at least one court case. Quite how their positions can be defended, by anyone, is mystifying and stinks to high heaven.

Fourth, and finally, how about the clubs – all of the clubs – starting to take the views of the fans seriously instead of treating them with undisguised contempt? And I refer to my own club in this too, for the way they’ve behaved over the Living Wage and the conduct of the chairman at the AGM where his comments were shameful.

2015 was, in many ways, a triumph for the clubs of Scotland, as many of them crawled out of the financial mire and got their houses in order at last. They’ve been on the right road for a couple of years now, and they did this during a period when our esteemed media and governing bodies had assured us that Armageddon would follow from the death of Rangers.

That it didn’t makes mugs out of them. Rather than acknowledge this, many of them have taken to telling us that we’re imagining the good things and that only “reform” can save the sport.

The fans have already done that.

In 2016, we’re going to have to do it all over again, and you know what? I’m game.

I’m up for it, and I’ll commit this website to taking a full part in that campaign.

I’ll do podcasts, re-launch the magazine, even, if it comes to it, attend one of those self-congratulatory Q&A things if that’s what it takes to get in front of people and bring them on board with this.

If we leave this to our appointed “leaders” Hell … well, you’ve seen how they feel about it.

I don’t trust them.

I don’t trust any of them.

But I trust my fellow fans and I always have.

Because they know what’s important.

They know the “credibility” of our game doesn’t come from which teams are in the league.

I firmly believe that the greatest symbol of what our sport stands for was a club called Sevco playing football in the bottom tier; that was our gift to football itself, the one time when the game here in Scottish actually set an example for the rest of the world. We put sporting integrity first, and that was our shining moment, our finest hour.

I’ve never forgotten that it happened in the face of such venom and arrogance and outright opposition, and that some of our “leaders” and many of those in the media still mourn that decision today … well they are an embarrassment and we’d be insane to leave something we love in their hands for one minute longer.

(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.