Reality Bites

BRITAINAbout fifteen years ago, an American journalist on the business pages of one of New York’s premier papers was sent to cover a conference of multi-national fast-food companies.

On the afternoon of the third day, he found himself sitting in a three quarters empty convention hall, listening to a speaker droning on about energy policy and its relationship to national security.

The journalist had not really been paying attention.Like most in the hall that afternoon, he was bored and probably killing time until the buffet opened.

Yet he found himself curious, curious about why such subjects were being discussed at a trade summit for McDonalds and Wendy’s executives, and so he lifted up the glossy brochure laying out the schedule, and he located the speaker’s name.

He thought at first that it was a misprint, but it wasn’t.

He looked at the man on the stage, and sure enough it was him.

The speaker, addressing an almost empty room that day, was the former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev had appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial some years before, in 1997, and the journalist assumed that perhaps this was the reason for his selection on that afternoon. He was wrong, and the subject of the speech should have clued him in to what the purpose really was.

When he spoke, later, with one of the organisers, he found out the real reason the man who had headed what was, at one time, the foremost military power on the planet, had been brought to the conference, to speak in a poorly attended session.

“We won,” the organiser told the journalist. “It does no harm to remind them of that from time to time.”

Gorbachev had been brought there to quite literally play the role of the dancing bear, for the amusement of the moguls of American consumer capitalism, many of whom didn’t even pay him the respect of showing up.

It was, in the mind of the organiser, the ultimate expression of power and success.

The idea isn’t new.

When Roman generals returned from successful campaigns, the highest honour the state could bestow upon them was the awarding of a Triumph, a parade through the streets of the city itself, where the victorious commander would ride in a chariot, wearing a laurel wreath crown.

It was part of the custom that the leaders whom he had defeated would ride with him in the procession, but in chains. At the culmination of the parade they would first be displayed to the crowd, and then hung from the neck.

The tendency to gloat is part and parcel of our humanity, and our cultural background. It is normal to rub the faces of your opponents in the glory of your victory, and in the shame of their defeat.

In sport we call them “the bragging rights”, and not for nothing.

As a consequence I feel no guilt or shame over what I am about to indulge in. The day might well come when those over who’s dishevelled forms I stand, chest out, are able to rise again to overthrow me and mine … and I will expect no quarter given if that comes.

But for today, the summit belongs to me and mine, and to you and yours.

For we are the victors, and to the victors go the spoils.

As people who’ve been following this blog for a while will know, I grew up in an era of twin horrors; of Tory governments and the dominance of Rangers. Both dreadful spells were broken in 1997, when Labour won a landslide and Celtic Stopped The Ten.

Since then, the Tory Party and the Ibrox club have had periods of success, but in truth their path has been steadily going downhill. I don’t want to dwell on those years, because it would take all day and I would get into subjects I don’t want to talk about here.

What I will say is this:

In the darkness of my formative years, I often wondered what the world would be like if those two titanic institutions had never been.

Rangers, in particular, haunted me and I remember dreading going to Ibrox for years and years because I could not even imagine a time when we might win there.

In fact, it wasn’t until Martin O’Neill rode into town, in the season of the treble, in 2001, that I actually saw a Celtic victory at that ground.

From 1997 until today, I’ve had seen us experience glory years; the treble, Seville although we won nothing, Gordon Strachan’s first two title wins and our progress in Europe, his third title win on that dramatic final day of the campaign and Neil becoming a title winning manager, followed by that night at Celtic Park when we beat Barcelona … all of it has been enjoyable, all of it went some way towards making up for the pain of the years of torment.

We put up with a lot during those years, and not just watching our team losing leagues and cups.

We had to endure a media that posted a broken Celtic crest every chance they got, a few times even going so far as to do it during pre-season, when all we’d done was play a couple of friendly matches.

In Gordon Strachan’s first season the media had his career ended, and him sacked, after two games in charge; the Nightmare in Bratislava and the Motherwell match that followed.

Along the way we had the Fergus “Dictator” headlines, “The Worst Thing To Hit Hiroshima Since The Atom Bomb” (Wim Jansen’s welcome to Scotland), we endured “Dr Who?” (Who turned out not only to be a highly accomplished man, but a fantastic scout with an eye for a player few others could match), we raged through “Thugs & Thieves” and a hundred other negative headlines.

And over at Ibrox, oh how they laughed.

They laughed and they believed every word that flowed out of the hacks wormy mouths.

They bought into fantasies of super-casinos and stadiums with sliding roofs.

And why not? They had an egomaniac in charge who could not stomach having the second biggest and best stadium in the land and wanted to one up it. He talked of spending tenners for our fivers, of making Rangers a global brand, of leaving us behind, of having one team to dominate Scotland and another to challenge in Europe, and, of course, the press lapped it all up.

See, fans at other clubs in Scotland just do not get this.

You think you had to endure years of two team dominance?

For nine of those years it was almost one team dominance, and for years beyond count the media that focusses so much on those two teams was only really interested in one, and because that was their core readership they slammed the other – and that was my team, Celtic – every chance they got.

You think you were hurting?

You were only ignored. They didn’t ignore us. They scourged us, whether we deserved it or not.

And worse than that; they laughed at us. They laughed at us, my friends. Imagine that.

Try as you might, you really have no concept of how bad that was. You had to be on the inside of it to fully understand it, to understand what it was like being second best to the club Murray ruled.

He treated you and your clubs with disregard.

He treated us with contempt, and nothing is worse.

Those captured by the Romans know the difference. Gorbachev probably knew it on stage that day.

In 2008, I wrote a piece called The End of Rangers?, at a time when their published accounts showed a shattering series of losses at Murray International Holdings.

I argued, in that piece, that if Murray International was no longer able to pay the bills that the crash would be horrendous.

When Craig Whyte said, in The Sun yesterday, that Rangers was bankrupt before he turned up on the scene, that was met with howls of outrage from Sevco fans who simply could not accept the obvious truth of that statement.

It is an incontrovertible fact nonetheless.

In my article, I talked about the possibilities for Rangers should they end up destitute and having to play by the same rules as everyone else. I predicted that there would always be a version of Rangers playing in Scotland, but I tantalised myself and the readers with the following passage:

(And I promise you; this has not been altered. It is precisely as I wrote it then, and precisely as I republished it on this site at the link above.)

“A penniless, powerless Rangers, on the very fringes of the game, or hampered so terribly that they fell, Leeds like, into the lower reaches, would be a source of amusement to me and I suspect to a good many others. Who would not salivate with unrestrained pleasure at seeing them humbled by the likes of Alloa in cup competition? Who amongst our number would not be overcome with excitement, or nearly paralysed by joy, on the day that they were relegated from the SPL for the first time?”

On the day I wrote it, that was my perfect vision of what the future might hold, and looking at it today I smile not only at how prescient it was, even right down to the name of the club who just inflicted their latest cup defeat, but of how magnificently realised that dream has turned out to be.

For me, Friday was the pinnacle of our justice for all the sins past.

It was the apex of every single one of our revenge fantasies; a skint, desperate, clock-watching lower league club from Ibrox, its support fragmented, divided and bitter, already nine points behind the league leaders, being humbled by Queen of the South, on a day when their manager tried to quit and couldn’t, ending with him on the radio sounding like a guy who’d completely lost his marbles.

That days later the club is no closer to even figuring out the future of its manager is a measure of how devastated the institution they call Rangers now is.

I think of what they are now, and I hear, perversely, Bryan Cranston reading the words of Percy Bysse Sherry’s magnificent poem about a traveller in the desert who comes across the shattered statue of a once mighty king, a smashed monument still bearing an inscription on its broken base that reads:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

And how do those “works” look to the traveller?

“Nothing beside remains / Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

That’s Sevco, itself all that remains of the club they once called Rangers.

The wreck of a statue commissioned by a megalomaniac at the height of his power, sitting now, broken, amidst a desert.

Its fans have taken a while to realise it, but many now realise that their looking to the past in anticipation of future glories is nothing more than sifting through sand.

Yet some of them still believe they can be saved, that the wreckage can still be restored to its pomp and glory, but their attitude reminds me of a story Ronald Reagan used to tell, about a boy whose father took him into the garden on the morning of his birthday and presented him with a pile of horseshit.

Instead of despairing, the kid grabbed a shovel and began to dig, saying “There must be a pony in here!”

That kind of optimism is cute … but sooner or later reality bites.

I am not usually the sort who likes to gloat, although, as I’ve said above I do believe it’s in our DNA. Yet I cannot help but laugh at the chaos that swirls around this arrogant, elitist football club which fancied itself as a social and cultural institution that was “too big to fail.”

There are some Celtic fans, you know, who have watched The Journey (oh what fun it’s been!) and still think that because Sevco exists at all that “Rangers won.”

I wonder how they can be so foolish.

In an article for this site, I talked about how empires fall.

For a while, after the collapse, many of them rally again and even try to be a version of what they once were – Rome, splitting into the Western and Eastern empires; the Soviet Union, re-emerging as the Commonwealth of Independent States – but they never again scale the heights, and their re-alignment is a temporary state of affairs which soon succumbs to the inevitable.

Truthfully, historical precedent is not on the Ibrox club’s side.

Leeds United, a football club just as big as Rangers was, began its collapse in 2001, finally entering formal administration in 2003. It’s been eleven years since then, and they haven’t recovered yet, going through cycles of crisis and mediocrity over a decade now, with no end in sight.

They play in English football, where there’s money aplenty. They command attendances every bit as good as those at Ibrox. They are not just a city club but a regional one and yet they are lucky to have survived at all, and they’re still going nowhere fast.

Not only did Rangers collapse, and die, but the NewCo inherited a squad that was a shadow of the one they once boasted. Their credit rating was obliterated. Their credibility was crushed.

Of all the players who have signed for Sevco, is there one who didn’t go there for the money or because they were Rangers fans who wanted to live the dream? None of them was attracted to the club for its name … those days are over.

Now, what’s left struggles to keep on the lights, unable even to sack a failed manager, a club in complete free-fall and whose fans still can’t see the bottom.

People still talk about an Ibrox club in the SPL being necessary to provide us with “a challenge”, but if you watched them on Friday night, and followed that calamitous day as it unfolded, you’ll realise how silly that notion is.

If a challenge to Celtic is to emerge in the next five years, it will have to come from the north of Scotland or from Edinburgh, and that, to me, would be welcome and a return to Scottish football at its best.

But that is for some other time.

For right now, I can say with a smile that every torment I suffered as a Celtic fan growing up was exorcised on Friday, as the scale of Sevco’s utter, utter shambles reached its nadir.

Nothing in the 2 year history of this Frankenstein organisation – and nothing in the history of the club whose identity it assumed – comes even close to the sight of Ally McCoist trying to convince the interviewer on BT Sport that he was committed to the job he’d tried to quit, after his side had suffered a catastrophic defeat at Queen of the South.

Their fans still recoil in horror from such results. The media still refers to them as shocks. But time, and circumstances, have begun the long, slow task of normalising those events. Eventually, if the club itself survives, they will generate no headlines.

For this is the club they call Rangers now.

An enfeebled mess, struggling for its very survival. It is the epitome of every football fans wish fulfilment for their deadliest rivals; not a wipe-out, not the spectacular collapse I had once hoped for, but the long, slow bleeding out I only dared to dream of.

The Death of a Thousand Cuts.

History records that following the Battle of Actium, in which Octavian’s navies routed those of Mark Antony and Cleopatra that the armies of Egypt deserted their masters and joined with Rome.

Following this news, the former Roman general and consul, and the woman who had believed herself a Queen to rival all others, locked themselves in the Palace of Alexandria to await the end.

Antony knew well the Roman custom of the Triumph, and he and his bride chose death rather than suffer the shame and indignity of being paraded through the city he had once ruled, as a captive, for the amusement of his great rival and the mob.

Sevco fans had their chance to avoid that fate. They chose not to take it.

Our laughter as they flail in the blood and the mud is the price they pay for that.

And the paying – and our laughter – will be going on for a long time still to come.

Tonight, spare a thought for every single Rangers fan who lorded it over you in the dark days of our past … and smile.

This is what it looks like on the other side.

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29 comments on “Reality Bites
  1. Hi james, its been a while sibce I posted on here, I can’t disagree with your sentiments although you do waffle on a bit lol

  2. A fine article indeed.I lived through the years of the Kelly crew when we were lucky to beat Partick at celtic park and often didnt and all made much worse by the shining citadel of moonbeams over the river that commanded the news agenda and made Celtic look decidedly inferior in every respect.I remember the cracked crests,the hearse outside CP and the general media gloating at out problems.I also remember the opprobium levelled at Fergus even before the takeover which signalled a real sense of unease among the billys and their fans in the media that here was a real rebirth for Timmy.Of course the Celtic board didnt help matters-cambuslang anyone?Gefinor?Ohh bhoy!What makes,for me at least,the present situation re Sevco so much more delicious is the disarray in the media.Desperate for a return to the days of yore every reverse is desperately spun to somehow appear like progress.Balloons.Like it.
    As you say James, Leeds are the template here.Once a giant of the English game they now reside,a la Spinal Tap,in the “where are they now?” file.If Sevco survive I doubt they will be so anonymous but they will certainly not be competitive and I think this is gradually sinking in to some of the support.(“Huns?-can I call them that?I,m doing it.)Interestingly,in all this mess,I think we owe a debt of gratitude to dear old chuckles green.This creation of his is so dysfunctional from the start and hamstrung by his busines dealings it would take very large amounts of wonga to resolve and……….even then……….:-)

    Yes,Schandenfreude on an “off the radar” scale is sweet indeed and it has some way to run yet 🙂

  3. Superb James, as always.

    You have captured the essence of how we were treated by the MSM Scotland.

    They treated us with absolute and utter disdain.Their contempt was and remains base and it continues to this day.

    Our fifth estate is mired in cowardness, mediocrity and bias.

    Victori spolia.

  4. This well articulated piece, bar the reference to Gorby, is exactly my experiences/thoughts. To say I am enjoying this period is an understatement. It’s like watching a great TV show then being unable to wait for the next installment. Splendid

  5. You could have added Julius Caesar’s comment (according to Shakespeare—” The breaking of so great a thing should make
    A greater crack”
    Of course that was only one man and woman, Antony and Cleopatra.
    This is a whole feckin’ club.

  6. Right on the money James. Coming from a small hun infested village in South Ayrshire, I endured the gloating of the masses for years – no pun intended. Revenge is sweet. The fact that they brought it all on themselves makes it sweeter still.

  7. Interesting article and you are right when you say that other clubs’ fans don’t get it. How can we “get it” when everything you write is about how you feel as a Celtic fan? Fifty years supporting Hibs might help give you a different perspective…….

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