The Killing Fields

JS90873954So yesterday the registration deadline for the third round of Champions League qualifiers came and went without our club bothering to make a signing. Just how big a problem is that?

Well, in the first leg of the last round we played Efe Ambrose at central defence, with the predictable results. Such was the magnitude of that disaster – our worst result in our history – that we dropped him entirely from the second leg and played three at the back with our young full-back Keiran Tierney deputising for the night as a centre back instead.

Brendan Rodgers knows we have problems in that area. He has asked the board repeatedly, publicly and privately, for the signings he needs. One of the names he and his assistant have trailed over the weeks has been Shane Duffy. Today we discovered that the club is yet to make a formal bid for the Blackburn Rovers defender.

It makes you wonder how hard people are trying.

This is a perilous place for our club to be. Brendan Rodgers is the huge managerial appointment the Celtic supporters wanted. His is the name we craved. But we didn’t get this guy off the slag-heap. He wasn’t waiting around for our call, and willing to go anywhere. The chances are very good that if this guy hadn’t been appointed at Celtic Park that he would have been unveiled as the England boss this very week. Forget Allardyce and others; England’s FA would have passed over these second raters for Brendan in an instant. That’s how good a boss we’re talking about.

There’s a caricature of Brendan in some parts of the English media, that he’s vain and ego-driven. They point to frivolous stuff like his having his teeth done and hair fixed and the diets he went on. They point to his good looking young fiancé, who he proposed to just after formalising his divorce from his ex. In short, they think he’s a bit of a Jack the Lad.

As far as Celtic fans are concerned, all of it is nonsense because it has nothing to do with his ability as a boss.

Yet there’s undoubtedly truth to a lot of it anyway, and that does give us some insight which might be important.

Brendan has a very healthy self-regard.

He likes the limelight and he likes to be seen to be doing well.

This is not a negative. This is a guy who won’t settle for second place, or for failure. That’s why we appointed him.

It’s also why we will struggle to hang onto him if the board of directors continues to fail him when it matters.

There’s a moment at the start of the fantastic 1997 movie Twin Town where two corrupt cops are having a discussion about a piece of corporate art, etched into the stonework outside Swansea Train Station.

It reads “Ambition Is Critical.”

As they discuss the meaning, the older of the two men claims that it’s a response to an alleged Dylan Thomas quote, that Swansea is “the graveyard of ambition.”

A local poet wrote the three word answer to that. He worked for the council.

They adopted it as the town’s moto.

I always laugh at that scene, especially Dougray Scott and his assertion that it’s a dreadful slogan. His own three word take on Swansea a “Pretty Shitty City” at least rhymes.

He is scornful of the notion that anything, far less ambition, can thrive in such a place.

Ambition is critical though, and if someone had inscribed those words on the stairs at Celtic Park I think most of us would get the point at once. What I’m not sure of is that everyone who stepped over them on the way into work in the morning would.

Ironically enough, Brendan made his name in Swansea and it wasn’t the graveyard of his ambitions at all.

It was the proving ground for them. It was his performance there that took him to Anfield, and made him a contender. It was the place where he showed the world what he could do, where he’d have first come to the attention of Celtic.

He arrives at our club via a sojourn at Liverpool, where things went spectacularly right and then horribly wrong.

Is he here to rebuild his reputation?

No, I wouldn’t go that far. He says Celtic is a natural fit for him, and I agree. We are still a massive club, with huge pull for the right man, someone who “gets it”, someone who understands.

I was furious last week when, in the aftermath of the Red Imps result, Brendan Rodgers offered his glib, unconcerned response to the club’s stunning defeat. The result was easily the worst over 90 minutes in our history; some have argued that, but none has been able to find another occasion where we lost a competitive game to such a side.

There are simply no comparisons that come even close.

In my heart of hearts I know Brendan was angered by that result, and that his comments in public hid a deep frustration in private. He knows how that result makes our club, and him, look in the eyes of the world.

He’s not the kind of man to take that lightly.

He’ll know something else; he’ll know that good managers have come to Scotland before and died on their arses.

Some say Scottish football is the graveyard of ambition; it’s not.

These are the killing fields.

It’s not widely talked about, but Scottish football hasn’t just stalled careers. It has wrecked them. For such a small place, such a little corner of the footballing universe, this place has a helluva reputation for ruining folk, and Glasgow in particular.

Look back over the recent history of football in this city.

There are a parade of names who have come here, and then gone bust.

At Celtic, John Barnes career was obliterated before it had properly begun. He didn’t manage at another club for nine years, when he went to Tranmere, who sacked him after just eleven games.

Kenny Dalglish, who was a hero in English football, especially at Liverpool and Blackburn, wilted under the pressure of trying to steer the team after Barnes was fired. He won a League Cup but it was nowhere near enough. The Celtic board’s decision not to give him a permanent crack at the job was vindicated when they appointed Martin O’Neill instead.

It would be almost a decade before Dalglish returned to management, for a brief spell as caretaker boss at Anfield.

On its own, success in Scotland doesn’t guarantee the kind of advancement one might expect either, but failure here, even perceived failure, can undo good work that might otherwise count in your favour.

Martin O’Neill had a right to think he would have been a contender at any top club in England when he got Celtic to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville, but when he left the club the league title resided at Ibrox and that must have been a bad sign for some down south.

He ended up at Villa, then at Sunderland, instead of one of the clubs he craved.

The same could be said of Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon, good men both, one of whom got us out of two Champions League groups in a row and the other who masterminded a win against Barcelona. Gordon left Celtic having lost a league title. Neil left after a Champions League group stage car-crash, but one no-one could blame him for. Nevertheless, only Bolton offered him a job.

At Ibrox, the same pattern emerges.

Alex McLeish became Scotland manager after leaving there but his managerial career petered out with moves to Birmingham, Villa, Forest and finally a move abroad, where he took over at Genk. He was in Egypt managing a club at the turn of this year, but they sacked him after just a few months in the job.

Even the big names to take over there encountered disaster.

Dick Advocaat left Ibrox to take on the Dutch national team, and ended up at Zenit St Petersburg with all their money, yet it could be argued that his career ran onto the rocks in this city when Rangers dispensed with his services after Martin O’Neill proved he had the mastery as Celtic stormed to two titles on the bounce.

Advocaat arrived at Ibrox with a huge reputation. He could have ended up anywhere, at a top European club, but this country exposed his limitations with a brutality that must have taken him by surprise.

The same thing happened to Paul LeGuen and in even less time; his was a glittering CV which less than a year here absolutely shredded. He was never to recover the ground he lost in that 12 months. He went to Paris St Germain from Ibrox, before money transformed that club completely. They were 17th on the day he was appointed; no other club in France would touch him.

What I’m trying to say here is that no-one should be under the misconception that Scottish football is some kind of soft option or doss. None of the guys named above left on a high, save maybe for Lenny. Even Gordon and Martin left after surrendering league titles.

Ronny Deila is an exceptional case because he actually lost his job despite winning the title.

But none of these guys was head-hunted by a bigger team.

None went on to “better things”.

Failure here is like a near-death experience and these are the guys (Barnes excepted) who got out without being absolutely humiliated.

Tony Mowbray had his reputation as a title winning boss at West Brom to fall back on, but his time at Celtic Park had made him toxic to most clubs in England; ironically, he replaced Gordon Strachan at Middlesbrough shortly after Celtic let him go.

Which is to say nothing for Ally McCoist, whose failures at Sevco were about as colossal as one could ever hope to see.

I predicted in 2012 that he would never manage a top flight team again and I see nothing at all to suggest I was mistaken then or now. Indeed, he may never manage in football again; that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Brendan Rodgers doesn’t see Celtic as a “stepping stone” but that doesn’t mean he’d be willing leave our club with his reputation in the toilet. The current squad isn’t good enough; he knows it and the more dreadful events of last season have left us in no doubt about it. If we needed further evidence of it we got it last week. This is a side that more and more resembles one needing radical surgery. Sticking plaster solutions just aren’t going to cut it and we’ve got big problems ahead unless we refresh it with some new blood.

If Brendan Rodgers thinks he needs certain players to take the Celtic team forward I know for sure that he will fight for them; he has to. Never before in our history has second place been worth less to us, never in our history has it been so absolutely unacceptable, and if that’s the case for the fans it’ll be even more so for a manager who does think a lot of himself and who might still fancy managing at the highest level if and when he leaves Celtic Park.

Hell will be paid for failure, and not just in the manager’s office, but it’s the manager who will pay the highest price and it’s to be wondered if his career would recover from it. His days of managing top clubs would certainly be at an end.

Brendan Rodgers won’t accept that.

He knows, furthermore, that only a quantifiable success in Europe will keep his career from ending as those others did.

That quest was dealt a shocking blow last week.

With Astana next up, there clear potential for something just as bad.

Brendan Rodgers will not accept that.

He won’t tolerate having his hands tied.

This guy has a deep affinity for Celtic, but I absolutely believe he would be willing to walk away and scorch the Earth behind him if he thought his own reputation was being damaged by working here with no backing. He won’t do it right away, of course, but he’ll already be angry and concerned and if, in Astana next week, Champions League horror follows on top of last week’s Champions League horror, when all the signs were there, when the need for at least one signing who could play in the team was acture, I think he’d have valid concerns and be harbouring serious doubts about the commitment of those above him to make good on their own “ambition.”

This is a man who will not quietly fall on the killing fields.

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Sky Sports Scotland Insults Scottish Football With Talk Of Rangers’ “Demotion”

3Gduepif0T1UGY8H4yMDoxOjBzMTtyGkSky Sports Scotland has had a bad reputation for a while now. This section of the broadcasting monolith has an almost pathological fixation with what’s going on at Sevco, sometimes to the detriment of the rest of the sport.

Regular viewers can pick their own examples, but the ones that come most to mind for me and for others are Jim White’s fawning over Charles Green in his “deathbed confession”, his lickspittle interview in South Africa with Dodgy Dave King and Charles Patterson and Luke Shanley spending so much time standing outside Ibrox and Murray Park that they might as well have opened a special Sevco broadcasting unit and put beds in there for them.

Today Sky Sports Scotland hit a new low, when they decided to open their coverage for the season at Ibrox, and to include in the press release a scandalous statement about how the club was “demoted” for “financial irregularities.”

I agree with the second bit, in a conceptual sense.

It is as close to suggesting that what happened to Rangers was an act of fraud as they think they can get away with, although it hasn’t stopped myself and others from calling it exactly that, and in those very words. It was an act of fraud, as Sevco’s continuing to trade without the funds to complete a season is.

But Sevco is a new club, which started at the bottom as every new club should.

Sky’s press release insults every Scottish football fan, including a large number of their own subscribers. They may as well have slapped a advert for Android boxes on the bottom of the piece, as that’s exactly how many people will choose to “enjoy” their coverage from now on. This is one of many reasons why people would rather buy dodgy gear than give money to people who’s penchant for slabbering on Sevco is known and who’s relationship with the truth appears fleeting at best.

There was, of course, no demotion.

It’s one of the most absurd statements I’ve seen published on their website in many moons. It’s a concept so discredited you barely see it anywhere except on the more lunatic Sevco fan forums and blogs. There, I don’t mind it. Demented people believe in crazy things. I resent seeing it where people might take it seriously, where it might promote a distorted image of our game.

This isn’t even pandering; it’s flat out lying.

There are people who ask when Scottish football is going to “get past this” stuff. There’s no getting past this until people are honest about exactly what’s taken place here. A lot of us would be happy to move on, but this constant bullshitting isn’t going to be allowed to stand and it isn’t just Celtic supporters who are furious about this garbage.

None of this does them any favours. None of this does Sevco any favours. That club is stuck in the mud by a blind refusal to accept its actual status; not that of a giant in the game but that of a perennial struggler, skint and powerless but still with friends where they think they can have an influence. The longer they cling to this illusion of superiority and supremacy – the very last trait they should have ported over from DeadCo – the tougher ahead the road will be.

Celtic is moving forward with purpose, with a brilliant new manager and what look to be exciting signing targets. Yet Sky has decided we’re the sideshow, that the curtain raiser for the new season shouldn’t be the champions against the team that finished third, but a newly promoted club which has spent the summer scrambling around the bargain basement of free transfers and has-beens whilst its manager sulked on the other side of the Atlantic.

Such are the priorities of the broadcaster. Such is the way it views the Scottish game, and all this feeds into the demented egos of fans who simply have not adjusted to the reality of their actual position. That reality is coming soon, and it’s going to hurt a lot. Many of us are looking forward to seeing how fact and fantasy collide.

Sky clearly isn’t interesting in facts. They would rather live with, and in, the fantasy and the growing contempt in which the media is held in Scotland and beyond only grows greater with every single instance of something like this.

The truth is known to everyone. It was an article of faith before Charles Green scooped up the assets of the dead club that failing to get a CVA meant death. There was no demotion here. I cannot say that often enough, and it makes those who push this line look utterly ridiculous. Still, they continue to push it like a drug and those addicted to this WATP crap lap it up like Pavlov’s slabbering dogs. It defies belief, but it will no longer go unchallenged.

Are the Internet Bampots the only people in this damned country who are prepared to speak the truth on this issue?

Are we the only ones who care?

Sooner or later, the narrative is going to be scrubbed clean of all these lies.

There are those in a position to do it, and it becomes increasingly difficult to understand their reluctance to.

At a time when the mainstream media can’t even be trusted to cover the biggest sports story in the history of this island sites like this one are more important than ever. If you are able to, and you want to help real Scottish football journalism, and not the sort you get in the tabloids, you can make a donation by clicking the link below.

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The Long Dark Night Of Dodgy Dave King

Dave-King-XXX-high-resThis has been a long few days of late nights and all-day back and forth on social media. The EU referendum produced a shock result, but it was nothing on the chaos and the mayhem that’s followed since it was announced in the early hours of Friday.

A Prime Minister has gone. Labour’s leader hangs on by a thread; at the time of writing this over a dozen members of his shadow cabinet had resigned in an attempt to provoke a coup. EU leaders are terrified of their own people demanding similar plebiscites. Scottish independence seems like it’s a matter of time away. The pound has plummeted in value. A recession looms. Indeed, our economy has been degraded by a number of ratings agencies.

Not even half a week has elapsed, and the stage is piled with corpses.

In the midst of it all stand the men who organised this “victory” – for such is the way they refer to it. Yet amidst their finest moment few can muster a smile. Only Nigel Farage – who conceded, unconceded, reconceded and then unconceded again – seems pleased with it.

One could be forgiven for forming the distinct impression that this is neither what these people expected nor even wanted; when Johnson and Gove – arguably the greatest “winners” in all this – appeared before the media on the day after the vote they were not just subdued, they looked positively shell-shocked.

They and their cronies are already back-tracking on everything.

Except for the consequences.

They, and the rest of us, are stuck with those.

In the immediate aftermath, David Cameron resigned. In doing so, he threw the enormous economic, social and constitutional mess into their laps and they did not look like men who welcomed that responsibility.

They are not the first men to secure a triumph and then find the cost of it was too great to bear; I have, on occasion, mentioned Pyrrhus of Epirus on this site. He won a great success against the Romans but realised that it had cost him the better part of his army, and history is full of examples like it. The phenomenon even has a name; it’s called a Pyric victory, after the Greek general himself, and I thought of it watching Gove and Johnson on Friday.

I also thought of Dave King and Sevco.

In the aftermath of the Celtic v Sevco cup semi-final, I wrote an article on this site called The Storm Before The Calm. In it, I suggested that what our club had needed most was a day of reckoning, because it would inevitably lead to better times. I suggested that for the more cerebral Sevconites it was a battle they didn’t really want to win, because they knew what the consequences of it would be; confronted with that day of reckoning, Celtic would move forward and rediscover our purpose. In the weeks that followed we did exactly that.

In the aftermath of the Rodgers appointment and their defeat in the cup final I wrote an article for the CelticBlog where I asked who really won that semi-final. A lot of Sevco fans told me they did, but those who realised I was asking a deeper question decided to abuse me instead. That reaction was sparked by their very rational fears and the realisation that it was a legitimate enquiry. Their penalty kicks victory gave them one day in the sun, but that’s all they got. Celtic was reinvigorated and transformed. They stumble on in worse shape than before.

The Good Ship Sevco continues to drift towards the rocks of financial crisis. At the helm is a man who, like Johnson and Gove, has been cornered by his own lies, and now faces the prospect of making good on promises he had no business making and no idea how to keep. He will now have to live with the consequences of the reality which has caught up to him and exposed him as a fraud. Dave King should have stayed on the side-lines. Instead he secured a victory in a war he should never have fought and now wishes he’d never won.

Making big promises is easy to do. I was in politics long enough to know that. I saw many people who couldn’t help themselves, knowing it would get them a bump in popularity. Many had the luxury of knowing they could do so with impunity because they would never be near a position where they might have to keep them. Others seemed, to me, to be reckless almost beyond belief. Their pledges might well have to be kept, and some of these people had not the first clue how to take word and make it form. They were gambling that either they’d not win or that the people who cast the votes would quickly forget all that was sworn to them.

It was Rod Stewart’s narrator who lamented “I was only joking my dear” in the famous song, but at least he had the decency to admit what he’d done and besides, he had the wine to blame it on. When you make a promise you can’t keep it’s bad enough. To make those you had no intention of even trying to keep is far, far worse.

From the minute Dave King took over at Sevco this site and others were telling the fans not to believe a word that came out of his mouth. People always focus on the judge who called him a “glib and shameless liar” but I’ve long believed it’s other parts of that withering verdict which should have been focussing fans minds instead;

“As his evidence progressed it became clear that he has no respect for the truth and does not hesitate to lie, or at least misrepresent the facts, if he thinks it will be to his advantage … There can be little doubt that on most occasions Mr King lied, as he knew the correct facts and obviously decided to misrepresent these facts … he is a mendacious witness whose evidence should not be accepted on any issue unless it is support by documents and other objective evidence.”

So what’s a Dave King promise worth? Ask Mark Warburton. He came to Ibrox believing in big transfer war chests and the notion that he was joining a massive club. Within a year he’s been dissuaded enough of the idea of this as a project with a future to have already considered his position. He vanished entirely for nearly two months in the aftermath of the cup final in which, like in the semi, he named only five subs in an effort to focus the attention of the media and the fans on the threadbare nature of his squad.

That squad has barely moved forward. Oh a handful of players have been signed, but an equal number have left, and although more signings are supposed to be on the way we would do well to look at those the club has already brought in to gauge their likely worthiness. As before, I am grateful to the blogger Johnjames for his research on this; it was eye-opening and any Sevco fan not paying attention needs to wise up fast.

Josh Windass and Matt Crooks are being signed from Accrington Stanley for a combined total of £60,000. That’s £60,000 more than they’ve ever been sold for in their careers thus far. Windass, who the media hilariously claimed had been “attracting Arsenal” was playing for the mighty Harrogate Railway FC until Accrington took him on a free in 2013. Crooks has been on loan at Halifax, Hartlepool and the footballing dynasty at Radcliffe Borough.

Last year, Clint Hill, who’s 38, didn’t make the QPR squad in 24 of their games. He was on the bench, and never got on the park, in another 9. You might be forgiven for wondering if he’s injury prone, but in fact he’s fitter than some at Ibrox.

The same can’t be said of Jordan Rossiter, the Liverpool youth player, who’s made only five first team appearances for the club in two years. Last season he was a reserve player who injury derailed for 17 out of 22 Under 21 games. He is said to have serious underlying fitness issues, which would be tragic for a player so young and disastrous for the club which has signed him.

Matt Gilks, a 34 year old goalkeeper, has arrived from Burnley. He featured once last season, in the League Cup. He replaced the younger, better, Cammy Bell who has left for Dundee Utd.

They’ve signed Joey Barton, at 34, a guy who’s a walking liability with a Twitter feed that’s a recipe for disaster and a list of criminal offences matched, at Ibrox, only by Dave King himself. This guy is a time bomb waiting to blow. The irony is that he’s not a bad player, although nowhere near as good as he seems to believe himself.

And what of Niko Kranjcar, the Croatian “genius” who somehow didn’t manage to get into their European Championship squad, despite being the best footballer never to play in Scotland since Mario Jardel? Well, it’s not for nothing that Johnjames has called him the “9 minute Galactico” as that’s precisely how much game time he got last season at Dynamo Kiev. He went to the US after their season was done, and played 7 games.

This is the “standard” they are going for. Don’t let anyone kid you that this is a squad that can challenge Hearts and Aberdeen, far less Celtic. The total outlay is that £60,000 for the Accrington Stanley players, and they had to be forced to meet that commitment.

The website transfermarkt.com – not a definitive source because they traditionally underestimate what clubs are willing to pay for players, but one that has been praised by the Centre for Economic Performance – rates the Celtic squad’s total value to be £39.9 million. The second most valuable squad in the league is rated as that of Aberdeen, at £6.73 million, followed by Hearts £6.19 million, St Johnstone £5.66 million and Ross County £4.67 million.

Sevco’s squad is rated as worth a little more than that, at £4.9 million. For all the talk about them being the “second biggest club in the country” their team is rated as worth less than the Dundee Utd side that was relegated last year, which was valued at £5.08 million.

This is most definitely not what was promised to their fans when King took over.

The £30 million war-chests have never come to pass. The over-investment has never been forthcoming. This club might be charging big money for season tickets, yet its playing staff was recruited right out of the cheap seats. Yet in spite of this, the club remains a loss making company with no clear path towards raising the sort of funds that will enable them to be more.

Sevco is a financial basket case. Before Rangers was liquidated they had sold off or shut down every major revenue creation stream. The merchandising deal that they are so concerned with was the spiritual successor to Rangers one with JJB that was ridiculous in itself. That club tried making its own shirts. They tried entering into a TV partnership with STV, which followed on from their disastrous decision to do the famous NTL deal. None of this worked, but flogged valuable commercial assets for a pittance.

Now even the infrastructure which enabled them is gone. In his Q&A series with the fans, he’s admitted that the task of rebuilding that will cost a fortune and take years. He has neither the time nor the money to pull that off. The rewards for playing in the SPFL top flight aren’t lucrative enough to justify all the excitement over reaching it.

Only playing in Europe could bail them out of this, and anyone who thinks that squad would get past even meagre opposition needs a reality check. King says he’d spend to ensure it, but that puts us back on the carnival ride of lies again.

How many times has this site written about King’s financial predicament? Even if he had the money some have suggested, the South African government would make it difficult verging on impossible to remove it from the country by legal means. If he wants to play Russian roulette with their regulators he can do so, of course, but history suggests he’ll get caught.

All football is run on money these days. When you have costs which top £1 million a month before you even pay a football player you need to be bringing in a steady stream of it just to keep up. King could have made this work, but it would have involved being honest with people and that’s simply not within his DNA.

Like Gove and Johnson, King has played a good game of bluff and bullshit up until now, but as they both found out last Friday morning there comes a time when your distorted version of reality comes into contact with people holding notebooks who remember the promises. More important even than them, so do those you made those promises to and who gave you their trust on the back of them. For the Brexiters the full weight of their unwanted and unforeseen victory is now pressing down on them. For King, a season looms under circumstances he would never have wanted. He needed to raise expectations to sell tickets and with the media machine pumping out the propaganda those expectations are now sky high and wildly unrealistic.

King knows that; more to the point, so does his manager.

The new season looms in front of these people like a dark road with no clear destination at the end of it.

To paraphrase Harry Truman, King is the only person in the history of Scottish football in charge of a major club to talk out of both sides of his mouth and to tell the truth out of neither.

Sooner or later, that catches up to you, and sometimes when you least expect it.

At a time when the mainstream media can’t even be trusted to cover the biggest sports story in the history of this island sites like this one are more important than ever. If you are able to, and you want to help real Scottish football journalism, and not the sort you get in the tabloids, you can make a donation by clicking the link below.

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