Celtic Fans Crowdfunded Newspaper Ad On SFA Scandals Is Paid For And Ready To Go

stack-newspaper-pile-croppedBefore we go any further, let me apologise to all of you who were trying to access the site, and this article, before now. Although I should be used to all manner of mendacity and hassle by this point I’m clearly still a babe in the woods.

This evening, after I published this article, this site was subjected to what I can only describe as a “brute force” assault.

First it was a Denial of Service attack and then it was straightforward hacking job, which took down this article and infected the rest of the site with God knows what.

This was a pretty bad evening, and costly too. I won’t go into details. It’ll depress me. But you know something? If they’re screwing with you to this degree you’re doing something right.

Anyway, congratulations to the guys over on CQN, and to the Celtic Family as a whole, for another outstanding achievement.

Today, Winning Captains has announced that the costs of two full page advertisements – one in the Swiss press and one in The Guardian – are now paid for and booked, and good to go for next week.

The Guardian ad will bring the Celtic fan led reform campaigns to the attention of an English based audience and seek to spark interest in the cause in the wider media.

As the ad before last season’s League Cup semi-final got people outside Scotland to look at the Survival Myth, this ad will get the media down south focussed on the way the one up here ignores major issues and the SFA continues to be run by people who think they should be immune from scrutiny.

This is a landmark moment; mark my words, it will have an effect.

The ad in the Swiss press is even more important, of course, because it’s the moment we put this issue in front of the eyes of UEFA.

We can write all the letters to these guys that we want, but nothing we do in that regard will have an ounce of the impact taking out an ad in a newspaper right on their doorstep will have. It’s an incredibly ambitious move.

And it’s a game changer.

In addition to all this, the guys behind this campaign are pushing out the boat one last time, to run a third ad in a Scottish newspaper at a later date.

I can’t overstate how important this development is.

I’d urge anyone who’s able to support them to do so by visiting the following link:

Crowdfunding Campaign

I’ll tell you why this is an amazing achievement.

Celtic fans, and a small but important number of those at other clubs have gone to incredible lengths to bring these matters to light. The whole of Scottish football was hurt by what Rangers did, but it was a small handful of supporters who took the lead in driving reform.

This isn’t to say the majority of fans at other clubs didn’t get involved.

When the moves were afoot to parachute the NewCo into the SPL they rallied as we did and lobbied like mad to prevent it.

But it was mostly Celtic fans who pushed hardest and longest to make sure nothing like this could happen again. With a small handful of fans from other clubs, it was Celtic supporters who laid the foundation stones for sites like The Scottish Football Monitor, which sought and still seeks to engage all supporters, everywhere.

Because of that, there’s a perception amongst many that this remains a “Celtic fan led” campaign and whilst not entirely untrue efforts like this wouldn’t be possible without a greater hunger amongst football fans to see real transparency in our sport.

We should all take heart from the way this war is being waged.

Because when you consider what it must cost to place an in just one newspaper you have to be awed at the commitment from our supporters towards making it happen in two, and actually pushing further for three.

I know, from personal experience, how fantastic that commitment is; this site only continues at all (and some big stuff is coming on it soon!) because of donations and the other support that it gets.

It’s humbling to get that support, but I’ve ceased being surprised by it because our fans (and others) are remarkable in that they don’t just talk a good game … they put their money where their mouths are. They are willing to fund challenges to the status quo. They are willing to push agendas, even when it means dipping into their wallets.

I find this incredible, and what it portends for the future can’t be doubted.

If it comes to the crunch, fans will fund legal challenges to the SFA if that’s what it takes to get justice. It’s a long game we’re playing here, and as we’ve all seen getting the results won’t happen overnight – it never does – but I’ve never stopped believing that it will happen.

Take pride in this development, friends, because this is a big one.

Now I’m going to tell you why these ads are necessary; why, in fact, they are vital to the campaign and why they should be given every support, not only financially.

I’ve been doing this now for five years nearly, and there are guys out there who’ve been doing it even longer. There have been books about this, documentaries, and a small handful of journalists have tried to get it into the mainstream.

None of it has crystallised thinking as it should have.

One day I’m going to write a ball-buster of a book about this period, and I know others will do the same, and they might impact the debate in their own way, as these blogs might grow their readerships to the point where Celtic fans don’t bother with the mainstream press at all … but until we get to that point the papers will always have longer reach than we do.

We’ve worked an absolute miracle so far, all of us, together, in transforming the way the debate over football governance in this country is conducted. There was a time when the SFA would never have had to face scrutiny like this, and the idea, five years ago, that we would be able to hound the CEO of the association into answering his critics would have seemed preposterous.

Guys like Tom English can talk the most lamentable bullshit all day, every day, about “flaws” in the Offshore Game report without once pointing out what a single one of them is, but these people can no longer close off the debate completely by doing that.

Our quest for the big three – governance, accountability and oversight – has been unrelenting.

The impact we’ve had so far has been immense.

But it’s not enough.

This is still, primarily, an internet campaign and these ads are a monumentally important step towards changing that, and taking us into a brand new phase.

When you think about what people like Matt McGlone were able to achieve many years ago, getting Celtic fans interested in taking control of our club, it’s extraordinary to imagine that they did it before this great engine of information was invented.

We can learn huge lessons from what they did and how it was done, because the online game isn’t the only one we can play.

This is a move towards a different way of fighting this battle, and if there’s anyone left in the media in this country (and this move absolutely disgraces them; Celtic fans actually paying to put in their papers what they don’t have the balls to write themselves. Try hiding behind “legalities” now you gutless worms) or amongst the governing bodies who has the slightest doubt about our intent and determination this should erase them once and for all.

We are here to stay, and we’re going to hold you to account no matter what.

None of these issues is going away, no matter how much they wish they would.

We will get the reforms we want. We will get the justice we demand. Because we have all the time and the will in the world, and eventually we’ll bring this wall down, whether it’s by chipping away one piece of stone at a time or finally driving a wrecking ball through it.

Those on the other side better brace themselves either way.

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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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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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.

A Fool & His Money

twenty-pound-notes-007Okay … we’re going to talk about money and how the foolish are parted from it.

(A cagey proposition for someone who has a Donate button on the bottom of his website and basically scrapes out a living as a writer!)

There are three reasons why I think this is an important topic for this piece.

First, it’s that annual time of digging deep for football fans – the renewal of season tickets, the buying of jerseys, the booking of trips and, for some, even eyes on distant horizons as clubs prepare for European football.

Second, it’s the transfer window and there’s always a lot of money being squandered during that.

Look down south at England, where Daryl Murphy – a player who barely functioned in a Celtic shirt and who is in his thirties now – might be leaving Ipswich for a reputed £4 million plus.

In the meantime, Raheem Sterling, a guy few had heard of until a couple of years ago, is engineering himself this summer’s big move to Man City, for over £45 million.

Third and finally, I’m moved to write this because of a tweet from Graham Spiers, who has bet one of his colleagues an unknown sum of money that Sevco will win the SPL by 2020.

Five years from now. Just in time to stop Celtic’s ten in a row.

This one amuses me. I’ll get to it in due course.

Football is about money, and it’s about finding more and more ways to get that money out of our pockets and into those of the players and the sponsors and the advertisers.

Getting the cash out of your pockets and into theirs requires a lot of work, but it has to be worth the effort because the game itself is booming like never before, especially south of the border where the insanity of the transfer window grows more unbelievable – and loathsome – every single year.

This year’s will be particularly gruesome, with the aforementioned Sterling setting the general tone for what will be an avalanche of spending as we near the end of it and the closure of the window.

Here, in Scotland, Celtic has just bought Nadir Ciftci for a mere £1.5 million, and unless we’re going to pull something major out of the hat that will be our striker signed for the Champions League.

It almost seems like a sick joke, considering the above.

The club, in the meantime, markets itself as a European giant, surrounding the stadium with images of the great and the good.

Will Ciftci have his image alongside them one day?

I’d say it was doubtful, except that there’s a guy up there called Larsson, who cost us £600,000.

Still, one suspects that all these two players will have in common will be the number 7 shirt, which Celtic has seen fit to award to a player for the first time in years.

Since the King of Kings left the most famous football shirt of them all has been worn by six different players; Zurawski, McDonald, Juninho, Keane, Ljundberg and Miku.

None came close to living up to his legend; indeed the latter two were simply wastes of a jersey and Juninho may be the biggest disappointment of my time as a Celtic fan.

It was Cyndi Lauper who sang “Money Changes Everything”, and with so much of it flowing into the coffers of English clubs it was gratifying to hear Ciftci talk about how he’d turned down a move there to play at Celtic Park.

All in all I’m not deliriously happy about this window, but I’m content.

Content because we have a settled side to which we’ve added some players.

Big Nadir will give us something different up front. He looked very comfortable against Sociedad but time will tell if he’s got what we need, but he’s got a physical presence and he’s not shy about putting it about, and when you look at the money English clubs are spending you can’t help but think less useful players will be costing clubs down there fortunes.

Does having the money necessarily mean you should spend in? In England, apparently yes.

All things considered, you’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Across Glasgow, things are hilariously disjointed and lack of cash is at the root of it.

They lost 11 players during the close season and have signed just four.

The chairman, our old friend King, spoke at length about building an SPL quality side, but there are no signs at all that he’s serious about that or even knows where to start.

The excuses have started instead.

Now it’s “oh but we don’t have a scouting system in place” as if anyone who’s ever played Football Manager doesn’t know where to start looking.

Warburton must have watched thousands of footballers in his time in the Championship and during his much heralded world tour of the clubs.

Is he saying John Eustace and Rob Kiernan are the cream of the global game?

Their recent signing, Wes Foderingham, their second choice goalie, was signed from Swindon after a career trawling England’s lower leagues at clubs such as Bromley, Boreham Wood and Histon.

If this is the best their management team can come up with then they need a hell of a lot more than a new scouting system.

Of course, this is all about money and not so much about the scouting.

The purpose of the scouting network, as they see it, is to do what Celtic do – sign players on the cheap who they can later sell on for a huge profit.

There’s just one wee fly in the ointment; what we do costs millions.

The infrastructure itself is expensive and complex and it took us years to build.

They don’t have the money.

They sure as Hell don’t have the years.

Without even an auditor they can’t get a NOMAD.

Without a NOMAD there will be no Stock Market listing, even if other issues can be overcome.

Without a Stock Market listing their hope of raising money via a share issue looks dead in the water, and even if they somehow had all these things the issuing of shares depends on a boardroom vote they might not even win.

It is chaotic. It is shambolic.

And yet a lot of their fans have bought into it all.

There’s nothing more amazing to me than the continuing dumbness of the Sevco supporters.

King and his board have been in place now for four months – the EGM was in March – and they have yet to keep a single promise to the supporters. This website had major fun with Graham Wallace and the 120 Day Review, but at least he produced something, some kind of wishy-washy list of objectives and a proper timetable.

It was laughable how little there was to it … but where is King’s version?

They’ve had three major “acts” thus far; to secure a new nominated advisor after the one they’d threatened to sack resigned in the wake of their victory.

They’ve failed. The media’s given them a free pass on it. Fair enough.

Then they had to replace Kenny McDowell with Stuart McCall (which worked out well, eah?).

Finally they had to appoint a new manager, and they went out and brought in a 52 year old from Brentford, with a whole 18 months experience and who’s never worked under the kind of scrutiny he’s about to be subjected to … not to mention the loving embrace of the fans, who aren’t exactly known for tolerance, patience or even rationality at times.

This won’t end well.

The players he’s buying in don’t seem good enough to take the team forward and the idea of relying on kids … well watch as that one is tested to destruction pretty rapidly. A team full of young players, with all the immense expectation and pressure that will swirl around that club like a tornado … careers have been ruined on less.

Which brings me nicely to Graham Spiers, who is watching this unfolding shambles like the rest of us, but still thinks the tailspin Sevco is in can be reversed, and that they will be at the top of Scottish football in five years.

He has bet a colleague to that effect.

From where I’m sitting he’s just kissed off some readies.

He has no basis for his belief at all, except the club that plays out of Ibrox wears the name Rangers.

How can an otherwise intelligent man be so daft?

I know too what his rationale is.

That sooner or later someone has to turn the club around, because they are “too big” to forever languish like this.

Tell that to Leeds fans, who probably thought the same.

Money makes the world go round, and Sevco has none of it.

You might be able to part fans from their cold hard cash by promising moonbeams, and you might even get some Scottish hacks to part company with theirs, as Spiers will certainly have to do … but trying to get hard-nosed businessmen to do it is a different ballgame entirely.

No-one ever became rich by being a fool.

Indeed, many of them got rich on the back of that old adage that there’s “one born every minute.”

To run losses on the order that would be required to make Sevco champions in five years would mean some Abramovich type holding onto chits in the tens of millions.

Spiers and others still believe they are out there; the Real Rangers Men with oodles of cash, just dying to chase the dream.

Barking mad.

Those people do not exist.

If they did they’d be here already, they’d never have allowed the club to fall into such ruination and shame.

King claims they were waiting on the right board of directors

Well, Hell, it’s been four months now, of his lot, and there’s no sign of them yet.

If Sevco fans are waiting on these people they will wait a long time.

Because if these people do exist they’ve sat on their hands for years.

They watched the club they loved die and saw its reanimated corpse broken like a Walking Dead extra.

What, exactly, was the moment at which they were going to step in and save the day?

Graham Spiers knows all this.

He knows this talk of Real Rangers Men with bags full of money is a demented Louden Tavern Friday Night Fantasy.

Yet he’s clearly unable to get past the idea that the club in question is skint and going nowhere.

I have one question for him, and I do ask it with all respect since he’s willing to do what King so far hasn’t and put his money where his mouth is;

Where’s the cash to rebuild them coming from, Graham?

This is the question every journalist should be asking, and which none are.

Where’s the money coming from?

If we accept that the King consortium isn’t going to fund this out of their own pockets – and they’ve said as much; the South African is on the record as saying he will put in money which matches outside investment pound for pound, which has netted the sum total of nil and doesn’t look like resulting in an influx of big bucks any time soon – then where?

If we accept that the Real Rangers Men with billions in the banks aren’t there … then where?

You’re talking about expanding every single facet of the club, increasing running costs three or four times.

King even talked about quadrupling the wage budget not long ago before he realised that talking in abstract numbers is one thing but someone has to write the cheques in real life.

Getting people to invest in Scottish football is a non-starting event, so you can forget the City of London coming in this time to snap up shares, especially when they look at the shambolic state of the club and its history of fan revolts, boycotts, boardroom strife and the media savaging of anyone who doesn’t know all the words of The Sash My Father Wore.

If I were a money man, who wanted to put cash into football and live the dream … Hell, there’s a country just south of me where you can find many a team on its arse.

I’d buy one of them.

Sink my fortune into reaching the EPL, and then going for the tens of millions which are available there.

Why in God’s name would I choose Ibrox?

Where’s my profit coming from?

Where’s the money in it?

No less a Real Rangers Man than Walter Smith said “The Rangers Way” is always to be in debt.

Think it through.

Champions League income, even if you got there, is worth an additional £20 million per season at most.

But to get there you’d need to be spending five times what you are now, easily, and they are making a loss even on their modest outgoings at present.

Do the maths. This is not complicated stuff.

So, profit aside, what’s the purpose of this “investment”?

Stroking my ego?

There are easier ways to feed the beast.

Cause what’s the End Game?

A statue outside, that pigeons can crap on and drunks can piss up the side of?

A stand named after me?

Why would I want that, when I can donate my wedge to a hospital instead, saving people’s lives, and one day, in the distant future, have my grandchildren proudly stand outside the James Forrest Wing?

There are better ways of leaving a monument behind you than being the guy who “saved” Sevco for The Peepil.

So come on, sell it to me, Graham.

Tell it to me like you picture it in your own head, because you clearly do believe there’s a turnaround coming, and that hard cash is going to flow in their direction sometime soon.

So tell me how they’ll do it.

Sell it to me.

Imagine I’ve got the readies and that I’m not a Celtic fan who’s enjoying this whole thing.

Sell me on the idea.

Without a chance of turning a profit, what’s the “unique selling point”?

The annual Poppy Day “celebrations?”

Or maybe the Linfield friendly, marching bands and all?

Jesus wept … I mean really?

Sevco, for all it thinks in global terms, is a provincial West of Scotland football club with a small following in the North of Ireland because of their “cultural” embrace of all that ‘flegger’ crap.

They have already spent three years in the lower leagues, and this will be number four.

So even if you’re talking about “the brand”, and even if that brand were not tainted and stained with sectarianism and supremacy and backward ideas … they’ve spent an awful lot of time out of the light, a lot of time without their “brand” being seen by a global audience, a lot of time on the side-lines watching the big boys.

All this is to say that there is next to no chance of “institutional investment” this time around.

Charles Green managed it, or so it seemed, but we now know that he raised the money selling the bulk of his shares to his mates and all manner of dodgy individuals who used their voting influence and their appointed representatives to make some rather sweet deals and siphon off as much of the cash as they could reasonably get away with.

There is no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

Indeed, the rainbow itself is a 3D art job on the side of a brick wall.

This club isn’t going to “recover” in the way Graham Spiers and others use the word in ten years, far less five.

What will happen – eventually – is that the reality of their position will sink in and the club will undergo a dramatic realignment in structure and expectations, engaging, at last, with the truth.

They will stop kidding themselves that what was Rangers still exists or can ever exist again.

That name, on its own, will not make them challengers far less champions.

But the name is all they have left.

That’s nowhere near enough, and the day they accept that is the day all this stops hurting.

Then, and only then, can the real healing begin.

In the meantime, those running the cash registers at Ibrox are marketing “the name” for all they are worth.

And a lot of people who should know better are still buying into it.

There’s one born every minute right enough …

(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 just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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A Strategic Approach: Why Celtic Have To Get It Right This Year

maxresdefaultYesterday Celtic were drawn against the Icelandic champions FC Stjarnan, in the first of the three ties we will have to navigate if we want a place in the Group Stages of the Champions League.

Last season, with a new manager at the helm and a nice style of play to get used to, there was always the danger that things would not work out, that these were tests too great, that the wheels would come off the wagon.

What none of us could have expected was the pitiful way in which our board responded to the challenge, and in particular to the second opportunity which was presented to us when the Polish champions, Legia Warsaw, were correctly disqualified from the competition.

It was appalling, and no two ways about it.

In fact, if we’re being honest the last two Champions League qualification campaigns have been equally shocking.

Neil Lennon must have known the gig was up in his final season, when he saw the side weakened three times in a row before major games.

No manager would have stood for that for very long, and it was an insult to expect him to.

I knew he would leave when the board did that. When they made it clear that there would be no continuity, no attempt to build and develop a squad, no sign even that the money he raised from player sales would be reinvested in the team.

Ronny Deila arrived here seeing the Celtic job as a major step up in his career.

But this guy has grown in the job, and the better he does the more he will insist on doing things his way.

He, too, will see the writing on the wall before long, and if it continues to look like this, he too will walk.

Ronny Deila can be forgiven for what happened last season in Europe; not the defeats, but his failure to fight for the sort of players he knew were needed to take the team forward.

He has to show the strength this time, the self-regard to get what he wants and what the team needs, and the board has to learn – and they have to learn fast, because, it seems to me, that they haven’t learned so far -that in the absence of a domestic challenge (and we don’t look likely to get one of those for years) that the only thing that will make fans buy season tickets in large numbers are signs of life in Europe.

The deterioration in the attendances at Celtic Park has been blamed on a lot of things; the recession, the absence of competition, the club’s “political stance” and a general dissatisfaction with their perceived lack of real action on the Rangers-Sevco shenanigans amongst other things.

But at the root at much of it is something the fans believe in implicitly; a distinct lack of imagination and ambition at the club.

I hate writing these articles you know.

This message – that we don’t get everything right – is one few people on our side of the fence want to hear, but they are even more necessary than the Sevco pieces this site puts up, because it’s hypocritical to highlight the failings of that club without acknowledging our own.

It’s also dangerous, because like with politics when you make those at the top immune to criticism you foster arrogance, you let things stagnate and you make it impossible to fix (or even acknowledge) mistakes.

Remember, Sevco didn’t hit the rocks and shatter overnight; it drifted towards those rocks for years before it ran against them.

That is what happens when fans stop asking hard questions, when they cease to take an interest in the direction of their club and place unlimited faith in those running it.

At Celtic we’re better than that. Smarter than that.

Now, it has to be said before I go on that I am not knocking The Strategy; not all of it anyway.

But whereas some people may want to rewrite history on, for example, the Temu Pukki signing, there were those of us who, at the time, expressed serious disquiet about us going for a player without a proven goal scoring record when a proven goal scorer is what we were crying out for.

The same applied to Amido Balde, and these two have cost somewhere in the region of £3 million for no discernible return … which is the consequence of “experimental” signings or “projects” or whatever you want to call them.

Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet, and go for quality.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the modern transfer market is insane, and the cost of players is sky high. No-one expects us to compete in that market, but it says a lot that this club has spent £6 million or thereabouts on players three times; Sutton, Hartson and Lennon.

They all played in the same team and that team reached a UEFA Cup Final.

The last of them, John Hartson, was signed in 2001.

That’s fourteen years ago now and we have never come even remotely close to matching that signing in terms of cold hard cash since.

So even as costs have gone up in football, across the boards, including what fans have to pay for tickets, and whilst revenues have continued to increase from Champions League income and other areas, we’ve actually gone backwards and stopped even trying.

I am not advocating spending £10 million on a footballer. When Rangers spent that kind of money on Flo it was clearly sheer insanity.

But to haggle over a £4.5 million deal for Alfred Finnbogason was lunacy, and to have left a proven finisher like Aron Jóhannsson at AZ when £3 million would have sealed the deal is just a nonsense.

Those players would have excited the fans.

They would have got the blood pumping.

And in cash terms, for the fees, they would have cost only marginally more than the disastrous Balde and Pukki, who were stupid signings and proved it, when they couldn’t even manage to score goals in the SPL.

So no more experiments. No more “projects.”

Quality, proven goalscorers are what we need from now on.

And the need for it is as pressing as ever before.

The top drawer finisher we were looking for is still not in the Celtic squad. The board did a wonderful job in securing Guidetti on loan; the deal didn’t work out the way we wanted it, but it was the right move at the time.

His leaving his left a hole in the squad which someone needs to fill, and I’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we fill it.

Stefan Scepovic, by the way, does not represent a risk at all. He is a good player and will do a good job in the Celtic shirt and everyone knows how I feel about Leigh Griffiths; he will score goals in Scotland for fun.

It’s Europe I worry about.

Because neither player has thus far proved they are out of that top drawer, although I have a sneaking feeling that Griffiths could score anywhere.

Until he demonstrates that, he’s not the high calibre we are looking for and have been for quite some time now.

We also need at least one more central defender because if something should happen to Van Dijk (like getting sold) or Boyata then we’re desperately short in a crucial area of the team.

That might stand up reasonably well in Scotland, but in Europe we’ll be in big bother.

None of this is exactly new information.

We knew we’d be losing Denayer, so we brought in young Boyata.

But we also knew we’d be losing Guidetti and we all suspect that we stand to lose Big Virgil as well.

Nobody is suggesting that we spend crazy money on signings, but the fans need a reason to believe we’ll settle for more than just being in the Champions League draw this time around, and no-one ought to be fobbed off with John Kennedy rolling out pre-determined lines about Armstrong and Mackay Steven being “this season’s” signings who were brought in early.

That’s not going to cut it at all, I’m afraid.

In the final analysis, no-one is asking us to compete with Man City or Chelsea or sides from the big leagues.

Because it was a team from Poland who knocked us out at the second hurdle last year, and when we were allowed back in it was a team from Slovenia who finished the job.

The year before that, we got the fright of our lives against a team from Kazakhstan.

Let’s not kid ourselves that our failures have been simple matters of economics and our inability to compete with the top sides.

We didn’t compete with sides who we ought to have been miles in front of, and the reasons for that were obvious beforehand.

Let me repeat; Neil Lennon had to navigate three rounds of Champions League football in his final season with a weaker side in every round than he had the round before. That’s just scandalous.

Last season Ronny Deila had to attempt the same with a makeshift team bolstered by loanees.

That’s simply unacceptable. That’s failure at every level.

Last year there was an alibi, however weak, for what transpired.

This year … there will be no excuses.

The Strategy needs to deliver this time.

Lawwell and the rest have to prove that we’re about more than just money in the bank.

Robert Browning’s famous poem about ambition says that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?

Is the height of ours really only to hear the Champions League music?

We used to be so much more than that.

It’s time for us to be that again.

(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 just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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The Need For Competition?

IMG_2620Thank God for Al Qaeda.

Praise Jesus for 9/11 and for Islamic fundamentalism.

Thank the Lord for the more hardcore followers of Allah.

What would we have done without those guys? What would we have done without the War on Terror? How would this country have coped?

The British defence industry would have been on its arse without their holy war. It would have cost us billions in exports, and tens of thousands of jobs and we’d have had a deeper recession.

And what would our poor downtrodden intelligence agencies have done with their time? They couldn’t have given everyone the gig listening to Prince William doing Kate?

Oh yeah, things would have been picking up now, with the Big Russian Bear starting to growl all over again, but what about these last ten years? We’d have had soldiers with nobody to fight. We’d have had tanks sitting in laagers, running their engines.

We’d have had warehouses full of missiles and no-one to use them on. How could we have justified ordering more?

Without the modern day Axis of Evil you get the feeling that the Scottish independence referendum might not have gone off so peacefully. For all we know, tanks would have rolled into Berwick. Special Forces troops might have swept into Edinburgh and grabbed the First Minister. They might even have pulled a Castro on us, and released all the Scottish prisoners from their jails on the condition they all moved back home.

They might have sent Cilla Black up here, to dictate terms of surrender. They might have even have threatened us with John Barrowman. To keep. With the tanks on our border, how could we have said no?

They may even – if they were really feeling cruel – have blockaded the port of Stranraer.

How would football fans have got over to watch our games?

You might not realise it, but our economic prosperity depends on our military having healthy competition. Had we not found some new enemies we’d have had to invent them.

Too much? That’s a measure of the utter, utter, utter bollocks I’ve been listening to tonight. You have to go to extremes to top it.

Yes, I am ranting. Rambling. Raving. It’s because I am fed up hearing guff. Gallons of it are frequently poured onto us, and most ridiculous of all is this “competition” crap.

See, this is what happens when I put on Radio Clyde to amuse myself as I work. I end up like this; going off my nut at the insanity. At men paid fortunes to reveal their own ignorance.

I don’t mind that usually, but these guys call themselves experts and they are condescending arses to anyone who comes on and challenges their sheer stupidity.

The above analogy doesn’t really stack up. Except that the argument that we should put up with something harmful and destructive because it has some minor, positive, effect on us (defence jobs. It’s not like these people could be retasked to making typewriters, after all) … it is the stuff of sheer lunacy.

The analogy isn’t meant to be a good one. It’s a way of my letting off some steam. It’s a way of venting. Otherwise I’d crack up.

I really ought to stop listening to this mind-numbing nonsense.

In a sense though, it’s brought me to a point I’ve been wanting to make for a wee while; I want to tackle this garbage about “competition.” I want to put it to bed.

What brought this on was a Sevconian phoning Clyde and talking about how the club needs to be playing in the SPL next season. Keevins, who is just about the stupidest man making a living in the media in the whole of the country, piped up with the following;

“The whole of Scottish football needs Rangers in the SPL next season …”

And I thought, “Eah? No it doesn’t!”

I’m sick hearing it. There is no truth in it whatsoever. There’s not even any truth in the notion that Sevco needs to be in the top division. Their ridiculous so-called business plan depends on it, but that business plan is a joke that belongs in the bin. It depends on the club maintaining its current level of spending, and that level of spending is a nonsense.

If they were willing to make the appropriate cuts, they’d stand a chance of surviving it. Instead, they’d rather plan for an eventuality that might never come to pass, one that looks increasingly unlikely, if we’re being completely honest.

Let’s continue being honest. All this “the game needs Rangers” rot is about money, and nothing more. It assumes that there will suddenly be more interest, and more money, in the game if that team is playing in the top flight.

Tell me something. Tell me why that should be the case?

Subtract Celtic from the equation for the moment, this notion that more Celtic fans would go to games if there was a genuine competition. Take that out of the considerations for the moment, because all that one does is get in the way of the really important stuff.

Attendances at most of the clubs are up. Barry Hearn can talk all he likes about a single match, and the media can blow his comments up to charity cheque size all they want, but he knows the sum total of nil about the game here and can keep his condescending remarks.

He sells out individual events. Novelty events. Some of the blogs run nights out, and they invariably sell through the roof. Should these guys be running football clubs?

Hearn doesn’t have the responsibility of running a 365 day operation in a country where the average punter no longer has the cash he or she once did, and it’s bad enough our so-called “sports journalists” talking the game down without letting some loud-mouth who probably doesn’t know a football from an Easter Egg tell us where we’re failing.

We needed Barry Hearn to tell us that Regan and Doncaster should be sacked for our top league not having a sponsor? For appalling governance? This website and others have been screaming it from the rooftops for near on three years.

It’s not breaking news, and the fact Keevins and others are calling his speech an “eye opener” demonstrates how long they’ve been walking about with them jammed shut.

The reason attendances are up at most clubs is simple; each of those clubs now has a better chance of getting into Europe and of getting to the finals of top competitions than they would if the steroid pumped Ibrox OldCo was still crashing around like a bull in a china shop.

No-one can tell me why Aberdeen fans would be more likely to come to matches if Sevco were in the top division. Explain it to me. They might get two more full houses, but they would not be more likely to buy season tickets. Nor would the fans of Dundee United. Nor would the supporters of Motherwell or St Johnstone.

The argument makes no sense whatsoever.

“It is important for competition,” people have argued. We’ll get to that in more detail in a moment, but for now let’s think on this:

This concept of “competition” would only matter to the fans of two clubs … for the rest it transforms football into a duopoly again, and how in God’s name does that inspire people to watch the game once more? Are these people suggesting these fans would rather watch their team fight for third place than they would watch them fight for second?

Nonsense. The worst kind of nonsense. Dangerous nonsense.

Scottish football almost collapsed into the abyss because of this destructive idea that we need a football club that believes rules are for other people, that thinks spending money is its right, that can’t get its act together or its house in order. Every club in this land would have ended up paying the bill for their decades of mis-management and greed … until the fans said “Hey, not in this lifetime …” and called their clubs to order.

It’s bad enough that the tax payers had to pick up the tab.

The Frankenstein’s Football Club that emerged from that period has made every horrendous mistake, and shown every bit as much arrogance, as the one that died. It is an insult to every club that lives within its means to suggest our game depends on them.

Even if it wasn’t an offensive notion, it’s a stupid one.

What is this “competition” people are talking about?

This too is insulting. It’s just assumed that their footballing joke would be better than every other club in the league but Celtic. It’s groundless, but they talk about it as if it’s a fact, as if it makes perfect sense … just … because.

This club in whom the media puts so much store is like a drunk man trying to walk in a straight line.

In case it escaped Keevins’ attention, they were knocked out of the third tier cup tournament this midweek, after being two goals to the good with 18 minutes of the game to go against a part-time team.

They are dreadful. Kilmarnock and others might bottle out of single matches at Ibrox, but once teams get the measure of how bad they really are then beatings will be a weekly occurrence. They will provide no competition worthy of the name. They will provide comedy. They will provide laughs. But that is not a good enough reason for wanting them in the league.

Some people – including Celtic fans – have said things aren’t the same without them. Of course not; things are infinitely better. The game here is healthier without the grotesque spectacle of the Celtic – Rangers game, and the top division is better without that club.

If fans want competition, they are watching the wrong sport right now, and besides … what is this crap about competition anyway?

I exile myself from Celtic Park because I won’t fund a ludicrously flawed strategy, and the bonus payments to a certain individual. On the day he packs up his pencils I’ll be back, and I’ll never miss a game. I will do that unless rules are bent to accommodate the Sevconian horde. If that happens I won’t be back at another football match in Scotland as long as I live, unless my club opposes it to the last drop of blood and then leaves the game here behind as a remedy.

This notion of “competition” has no relevance for me and I cannot even kid on I get it. I want my team to win every match, to beat every opponent, and the problems I have with the current squad is not that it has no effective rival but that it’s not winning resoundingly or comfortably enough.

Right now, we get “competition” on a game by game basis, and I don’t like it one bit.

I don’t want competition of the kind they are talking about.

Nail biting finishes? Title races that go right to the wire? Why, in God’s name, would I want that?

I have never sat down at the start of a league campaign and said “I hope we win this on the final day, with a last minute goal.” I want to win it with weeks to spare. With a record breaking goal haul. With our keeper scooping the shut out record. With a clean sweep of the awards, although I am realistic about that and never expect the sportswriters to swallow their bias and vote for Celtic employees.

“There needs to be a bit of interest in the league,” someone said to me recently. Like what? Right now we’re struggling to beat teams like Thistle. How much more interesting do people want it? Losing those games? We’re top of the league for the first time since the season began, and you know what? People were moaning and wanting the manager sacked before this run started.

Why? Because we might not win the title by double figures.

Make your minds up people. I can be that guy, because I won’t be satisfied unless we do, and I never am, but some of you are the same people talking this “we need competition” guff.

If the game needs the Ibrox club “for competition” and people are alright with that, and agree with it, and support it, then why don’t we campaign for giving them ten points of a start? Or getting the league to pick up the tab for the signings?

If it’s “competition” these people want, does it really matter how we get it? Or who we get it from? Can’t we just give Aberdeen these things, and create a new main rival? You see how ludcirous the argument is?

One club – and only one – gains anything from this “the top flight needs Rangers” garbage. It’s the one playing at Ibrox.

I would love to see other teams stronger, and challenging. As long as they weren’t too strong, and challenging too much. But it would have to happen on merit. And within the rules. From clubs which live within their means … or we’re creating nothing more than a rigged game.

It’s Friday night, friends, and I shouldn’t be hammering the keyboard because of something Hugh Keevins spewed out in his usual numb fashion. You’d think I’d be immune to this kind of stuff by now … yet here we are.

Some things though … well, they just won’t keep until Monday.

Enjoy your weekend brothers and sisters. Here’s to destroying Motherwell at home.

Competition? My arse.

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Indefencible

1519816_w2Last night, when the full time whistle blew at Celtic Park and we assumed the historical mantle of being the first team who crashed out of the UEFA Champions League twice in the space of a month, first one round and then the other, I switched the channel over and my horror was complete.

Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United had just been trounced 4-0 at MK Dons. He had fielded a B-Team, yes, but the result is a shocker in anyone’s book, the kind of result that has inquests going on, the kind that has occasionally sparked sackings.

I knew then that nothing would change because of the inept, shameful display I’d just witnessed. I knew then that some of our fellow fans would find succour in the Manchester United result. That they’d say “there’s a world class coach, with world class players, who’s had a hundred million to spend and who’s suffered a shocking start to the season. What chance do we have with a relative unknown, operating in the confines of the SPL?”

Oh yes, it was all too clear to me in that moment. Some people will grab those excuses like a comfort blanket.

Whatever made them sleep well last night.

And you know what? It’s cobblers.

Last night, as with Warsaw before, we saw the inevitable result of a team going backwards, a team regressing at a rapid rate. Two years ago we qualified from a Champions League group including Barcelona and Benfica. The team which did that was quickly dismantled. Very little of the money was put back into the side. Our club is either a colossal waster of money, on a Sevconian scale, for which someone has to be answerable, or we are sitting on a mountain of it, for reasons passing all understanding, whilst the team rots. We were given a staggering reprieve in the biggest competition in football, after a trouncing at the first hurdle. Result? We sold our goalkeeper in an eight figure deal and spent nothing. A failed gamble, or a sign that the people inside our club just don’t give a damn what we think?

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

If, as some say, this is a transitional season then it’s hardly our first for a while. Why? We’re on our fourth manager in the last six years. Two walked, one was sacked and the latest is already under pressure, having been given no money whatsoever to spend so far – a major contributing factor in that we have crashed out of this competition twice against second rate teams. Because of this, we have no more continuity on the touchline than we do out on the pitch, and so the club Is never stable for very long. We veer in and out of anarchic close seasons. Is this part of the strategy, or can we no longer retain good people?

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

Our scouting system seems to have failed more often than it has succeeded. Even then, transfer negotiations take longer with Celtic than just about any other club out there. Today we’re told our latest striking target is considering his options in light of last night’s result. Had we signed him before the tie – making him eligible for it – one can’t help but wonder whether we’d still be in the tournament. But we waited until the tie was at the half-way stages and got the deal only half done. If it collapses now, who do we blame? Is it the player’s fault that the deal stalled? Shouldn’t we have pursued other options who would have given us a quicker answer? Or did we approach it, half-assed, and thought we could meander over the line? Shameful whatever way you dress it up. Small time thinking.

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

The wage cap means that even when we do find good players we are often unable to sign them once their terms are on the table. The end result of this is that we start with a list of 100 targets, of whom we can sign perhaps 10. Of that 10 we pursue only those who fit a certain age bracket, so they have a re-sale value if it turns out they are any good. This is how a list that starts with Alfred Finnbogasson is narrowed to the signing of Temo Pukki. Now, whether the mistakes lie with the scouts themselves, for even identifying Pukki in the first place, or with the strategy that binds us to these kind of signings, our squad is packed with second rate dross, and so it doesn’t matter. The end result is the same.

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job.

We are told, constantly, that football is now a business. That our club has to be run like one. Last night cost us £15 million and upwards. The only way to recoup that money is to sell first team assets, further weakening the team. How many fans will buy tickets to watch an even more depleted Celtic team play in the second tier European tournament? The business model has just taken a very major hit. In any other corporate field someone would carry the can for such a shocking overnight loss. Either the manager is out of his depth or he’s working with tools that are completely unsuited to the job at hand, tools no-one could work with.

Either way, it ought to cost someone his job. Otherwise we’re rewarding failure.

The failures at Celtic Park are systemic. They are the direct result of a strategy that has failed, a strategy that was always going to fail, and the people responsible for that are still in post, and they lack the dignity and class to accept that and move voluntarily.

I am sick of it. I am sitting here right now boiling with frustration and anger at the way a very good, very promising, Celtic side of only two years ago has been reduced to the shambles of last night and I no longer believe there is any question that Neil Lennon walked away from a job he loved because he knew this strategy was hanging him – hanging the whole club –out to dry.

A lot of people don’t believe I have the right to talk this way because I am no longer a visitor to Celtic Park. I stopped funding the strategy a while back, and I’m not returning until the people responsible for it are gone.

This isn’t about backing the team either. I owe no loyalty at all to mercenary players who talked last night and today about their “devastation” at not making the Champions League groups, but who’s regrets are tempered by wages in excess of their abilities and who’s contribution to the disaster was evident for all to see. Many of them don’t have the heart to be Celtic players and would never play in the team again if many of us had our way. Their selections, like that of Charlie Mulgrew, are an aberration.

Because of this, I owe no loyalty to a manager who I’ve said I think is a good appointment but who’s alibi of not getting any of the tools for the job is likewise tempered by baffling decision making and reversals of himself which are already awakening serious doubts in even those of us who supported the choice.

To play an untested young central defender in the away tie but not deem him experienced enough for the home game is indefencible.

To leave Kris Commons out of the away tie for tactical reasons makes sense. To leave him out at home is indefencible.

To call Leigh Griffiths the best striker at the club and not have him feature at all is ridiculous, and to play Anthony Stokes up front, on his own, when he hasn’t scored a European goal in 17 months is indefencible.

The manager has nowhere to hide after those decisions. As poor as our squad might be, those look like the choices of a man who contradicts himself at every turn, or who’s mind can be changed for him, as it clearly was over the signing of players on loan.

The time has come to ask ourselves what we love about Celtic, and what we’re willing to do for it. I voted with my feet, never thinking it would do the slightest good, but unable to be a hypocrite who pays his money and knows full well it’s wasted.

I love Celtic, the institution. I love Celtic, the idea. I love Celtic, the Family. What happens on the pitch has always been secondary to my pride at being part of everything else Celtic is. But even that is being eaten away.

We have people inside our club who could not even reach a temporary accommodation with some of our most passionate supporters for a match when we needed every voice in the house to be raised high. When even something as simple as this cannot be handled right, or won’t be handled right, perhaps because some inside Celtic want these guys gone then something stinks.

I’ll make a prediction right now; the Green Brigade will be at Celtic Park long after Peter Lawwell has packed up his pencils.

We have people inside our club, founded for charitable purposes, who wouldn’t pay the living wage to our employees last year, although I’m willing to bet they’ll agree at this AGM as part of a charm offensive to win back disgruntled fans. It will benefit those who earn it, and I’ll be pleased for them, but it’s too little too late to start pretending to care.

We have people on the board of Celtic who should never be allowed near the building. Right-wing reactionaries who have taken part in Tory government attacks on our poor, our vulnerable, our sick and our young.

Lord Iain Livingstone, you stink out Celtic Park. Go now, and whoever’s idea it was (Iain Bankier, reputed Rangers fan, now our chairman, who has made a “positive contribution” which, as far as I can see is the sum total of nil) should be following you out the door.

Does anyone think the storm clouds over our club are not the direct consequence of having such soulless men on our board? That their one dimensional view of a world of consumers and customers, those who can afford to pay and those who can’t, the “deserving and undeserving poor” isn’t part of the reason we’re mired in mediocrity, swimming in a Nile of trouble at the present time? You think their social and political outlook isn’t changing the very nature of what our club is meant to be? We’ve become a football club that runs a business for gods sake.

You’re deluding yourself to believe otherwise, and if this “business” decides it doesn’t want “customers” who buck the system and ask too many questions or examine too closely or see too clearly or communicate what they think … well, that’s how it’ll be.

Next season, when they’re trying to sell season tickets at inflated prices on the back of games against Sevco, will you hold your nose? Will you close your eyes, swallow your doubts, and pay your money down?

We have an absentee majority shareholder, who would do us all a big favour if he sold to someone who wanted to play a more hands on role, who wanted Roy Keane for the manager’s job but didn’t even have the ability to force through the decision, not that it would have made a blind bit of difference anyway. Keane too would have had to work in a straightjacket.

This Family is being eroded, with those of us who are unhappy being labelled huns and wreckers and those who’ve opted to vote with their feet being told we’re unwelcome anyway and not to come back. There are many amongst the Celtic support who think it’s a more noble act to keep on attending Celtic Park than it is to stay away and that anyone who does otherwise is a lesser individual.

I feel bad for them more than angry, because they are the real victims of this appalling corporate multifaceted failure. It’s their loyalty the strategy depends on. They are its lifeblood, sustaining it when the more circumspect won’t.

I wish I could tell those guys everything will be fine, that our club is on the right track, that their loyalty and their faith will be rewarded. But I can’t. I won’t. They are being told enough lies as it is. They are being led along by too many people already.

It’s not alright. It won’t all be fine. We’re going backwards at an alarming rate, and a few signings will no longer steady the ship or fix this overnight.

Heads are going to have to roll, and from the very top, where the strategy was born.

Nothing else will heal these wounds or change this downward spiral.

It’s nearly time to make your choice. How much do you love Celtic? What are you prepared to do in the struggle for its soul?

(On Fields of Green badly needs your support as we enter our own transitional period. If you can make a donation, we’d appreciate it. You can do so with the Donate button at the top or the bottom of whatever device you’re using. Every support we get is massively helpful.)

The Gathering Dark

Desktop-Wallpapers-931Over the last two weeks, as Scottish football’s media, and many of us, have been focused first on Celtic’s UEFA Champions League knock-out, and then the disastrous errors at Legia, followed by our reinstatement and then the appeal, crisis has come swirling up the Broomloan Road again, catching many people by surprise.

Not everyone though. Those of us who watch the goings on at that club with the fascination people once reserved for traveling freak shows have had a lot to ponder over.

No sooner had the full-time whistle blown at Ibrox at the weekend, consigning them to defeat in their first league game, but the Sevco websites went into meltdown with fans demanding the manager’s head. In the press conference after the match he attempted to lay the blame for an inept performance, and bizarre tactical decisions, at the feet of Charles Green, a suggestion that inspired the full fury of the club’s fans.

There is barely a Sevco fan anywhere who remains convinced that McCoist is the man to take them forward into their Brave New Dawn. They look at a league including Hibs, Hearts, Falkirk, Raith and others, full-time footballers as opposed to part-timers, and they are scared.

They know that a 35 year old Kenny Miller isn’t going to cover every blade of grass anymore. They know Boyd is not the kind of guy you want in the team on those days when you need every footballer to fight for every ball. They know the midfield is uninspiring, the defence is prone to basic errors and that players who haven’t been seriously tested for two years have gone backwards, and it terrifies them to think of what might be coming.

I don’t know how many thousands of words I’ve devoted to this subject, or how many have been given to it by other Celtic bloggers. Enough, definitely, to fill not only a book but a library of books.

We’ve covered this from every angle the media won’t. We’ve detailed facts, we’ve uncovered truth, we’ve even, on occasion, speculated and indulged in some guesswork, and our imaginations must be good cause we’ve been right as often as we’ve been wrong.

All of this we’ve detailed. All of it has been published online, where it can be found, and it can be read, by anyone who wants to know the truth.

Still, a lot of Sevco fans, and much of our sports media, exist in a state of denial, as if none of this information existed. They prefer not to listen. They prefer not to know.

The impulse is easy to understand, on a human level. There’s a scene in Eric L. Harry’s book Arc Light where an aircraft hanger full of soldiers get on their knees, and put their heads between them, and jam their eyes shut and stick their fingers in their ears as they wait for a missile to hit. It’s carrying a nuclear warhead, targeted on the runway outside. They huddle together and they brace themselves … knowing they’re already dead.

Yes, I understand the impulse alright. Close your eyes tight enough and cover your ears and you could probably make it through the first seconds of the end of the world without being “aware” of it.

Then reality hits home, and on comes the pain.

The pain is on its way for the Sevco supporters, and I can’t help think it’s so unnecessary.

In an earlier article I wondered why this club hadn’t eaten the bullet towards the end of last season. The opportunity was there.

The regulations in Scotland are lax enough that they’d still have won the title. It would have been farcical, but we’ve seen a particularly egregious example recently of how regulations can be that way, even when they are followed to the letter, which in Scotland they very rarely are.

A 25 point deduction would have hurt, but it would not have been a catastrophe. The bigger hits would have been psychological, and reputational. But they would have survived, and they would have been able to cut costs and move forward.

To have waited until the hammer was poised over them during the most important year in their short history was … folly. It was unpardonable, unfathomable folly, and when the rent comes due it will be off the scale. There is no way they’re going to make it until the season ends.

When the 120 Day Review was published, I wrote a long article about how optimistic some of its objectives were.

It is nice to have objectives. I published my third book on Kindle earlier this year, Twisted, and I’d like to think it’ll eventually sell 10,000 copies. But right now it’s barely cracked a hundred or so. The objective remains. I have no idea how I’m going to get there, and I’m well aware that it’s going to take a large slice of luck, but it’s all good. I know it can be done, cause I’m good at the fictional stuff, and I only need to be “discovered.”

Luck will not help Sevco Rangers. They set their sights way too high. The old adage that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp wasn’t an inducement to attempt the impossible. Their projections veered out of reality and into fantasy, and they didn’t even try to argue otherwise.

The review was little more than a series of half-formed hopes. They didn’t bother to provide any road-map to achieving them. That was the first big blinking warning light for their fans.

The roof has already come down on one of those assumptions in the last fortnight, the notion that they could go back to the City and raise the requisite monies to keep on the lights. Their shortfall in season tickets leaves them in acute danger, and the cash to repair the damage is not going to come from outsiders buying in with the promise of jam tomorrow. The City might have bitten once, but they’re watching chaos erupt at every level at Sevco, and they are leery of going anywhere near it.

A £10 million target has been chopped by more than half, to £4 million, this time on offer to “existing small shareholders”, i.e. the fans who have already been conned once. I read a post from an Ibrox bond holder recently, reeling in shock from receiving a letter saying his rights under it would no longer be upheld past this season. He says he won’t – that he can’t – renew. How many of their supporters can, or will? How many have bought season tickets? How many can they rely on to buy shares?

Even if the requisite number of willing fans can be met, it’s still not cut and dried. This has to be put to a vote at an AGM, and whatever scenario they pursue will involve some dilution of the holdings for everyone else. Approval for this is not a slam dunk.

It was into this vortex of doubt that Charles Green stepped a week ago, with a “plan” to bring in George Soros amongst others, a notion so howling at the moon ridiculous it would have been laughed out of the offices of Mad Magazine. Despite Green’s claim that Soros was game, it took less than 48 hours for this particular fiction to be shot to bits, a record even for him.

Despite the return of the clowns, last week still managed to generate a further frisson of excitement for their supporters when Keith Jackson got another “exclusive”, which suggested that Phil Nash had extended an olive branch to Dave King. Those who were taken in by this appear not to have noticed that it’s the third time this year that someone from the Sevco board has made such an offer.

The board and King have nothing to give each other. The existing power-brokers won’t relinquish control and King won’t put up his own money. It was nothing more than a piece of theater, a bit of PR.

It generated one day’s headlines but accomplished nothing. King didn’t even respond.

If Green’s consortium of billionaires isn’t going to fund it and if the South African tax cheat isn’t answering the phone, just what is the plan? How deep is the hole right now? £4 million, even if it can be raised, barely sounds like enough to keep water coming out of the taps, and we don’t know what condition the taps themselves are in. One hack wrote last week about Ibrox needing a lick of paint, and he was talking about a ground that’s just come out of hosting Commonwealth Games events, when it should have been at its shiny best.

If basic stuff like that isn’t being done, they are toast. God knows what problems lie behind the plastic sheeting and the cheap sheet-rock boards they’ve got stuck up all over the place, like a one day trade convention. There are rumours that major renovations are required, with estimates wildly varying between the mid hundreds of thousands, arcing up into the stratosphere of tens of millions. If it’s just the burst pipes they’ll be on the lower end of that scale, which will be difficult enough for the club to fix. If there really is asbestos leaking out of the walls and major structural damage to fix they might as well switch off the lights and shut the doors right now.

The infrastructure costs of running their club out of that ground are already monumental. One of their first problem with starting down the road of the Continuation Myth was it wouldn’t have stood up without everything being based at Ibrox and Murray Park, and we already know they can’t afford to do both. Even paying for one might prove beyond their means, and all of it before a penny is spent on what’s out on the pitch.

This week saw a series of transfer rumours concerning Lee Wallace, and nothing that’s happening at Ibrox should scare the Sevco fans more than what these stories reveal. The club has denied the offer was made, allegedly from Brighton, but there appears to be more to them than just conjecture. The bid is said to be in the region of £600,000. He is their best player.

Celtic has just sold their goalkeeper for £10,000,000 and there is a ready made replacement in the squad, and already in the team. Virgil Van Dijk could net us the same fee again. Add to that what we would get for Commons, for Johannsen, for Matthews, for Ambrose … I could go on and the mountain of money could pile up until it blocked out the Sun.

Sevco’s entire squad is probably not worth what we would get for the sale of one of our minor first team performers, and there is no money in the bank with which to bring better quality footballers in.

Our Champions League reprieve, if it ends in Group Stage qualification – indeed, the guarantee of European football until Christmas, come what may – will increase a financial gap which I already cannot imagine they’ll ever be able to bridge.

Those who have spent this week defending the strategy can point to that, at least, as the proof that we’re doing it right where it counts. I think we lack imagination in the big areas, that and ambition, and too many of us have allowed the state of the club playing out of Ibrox to spook us into inaction, but what we don’t lack is professionalism and financial muscle.

They have neither and over the long term that is going to make a huge, huge difference.

Much of their own “strategy” is predicated on European football, but first you need a squad capable of getting there, and second you need a squad capable of performing past one round. We’ve didn’t manage to get past two this time, on the park at least, and we have 100 times their resources.

It is all too easy to imagine Sevco getting into the Europa League early qualifiers only to find that teams from Scandinavia are a cut above what they expected, and being well beaten.

McCoist couldn’t win on that stage with a team full of highly paid stars. What chance does he have of working a miracle with a midfield featuring Ian Black and Kenny Miller, in his late thirties, still being asked to run like a guy half his age?

They only make real money if they progress in one of the two competitions, and if we’re being honest the big money, the kind that could fix some of their problems, is only available in one of them.

Every time I hear this line about how European football can save them, I want to laugh. Those trying to sell that as the answer to all their prayers ought to try selling ice to the Eskimos next. It’s an absolute fiction. They are a minimum of ten years away from being even remotely ready to play at Champions League group level, even if they could somehow get there.

Despite all this, the sheer impossibility of recovering the ground, the pressure on their board to come up with answers is only going to increase. The pressure on McCoist to get better results is only going to increase. They need stability, a period of calm, but in the growing darkness they will find only more trouble, more negative prospects, more pain.

Only one thing will help them; a huge influx of money. Vast sums of it, from someone who doesn’t expect, or want, to get it back. If such a person existed they wouldn’t have died in the first place.

Forget finding investors. Investment isn’t a word they understand at Ibrox. The money they’re trying to raise right now isn’t going to be used to grow the club. It’ll be used to keep the power on. The money they’re talking about raising won’t be pumped into infrastructure. It’ll be used in a one-off splurge to try and catch Celtic, and when it’s gone … they’re gone with it.

Anyone who wants to spend that kind money has to know it’s not going to be returned. Sevco is two a bit years old and already circling the drain. The minute money reaches the gravitational pull of the Ibrox black hole it disappears forever. All football clubs eat money like a swarm of termites. Sevco, like Rangers before it, has a ravenous appetite that no-one ever tried to wean them off.

There’s a scene in The Simpsons where Homer is sent to Hell. As a punishment, he’s strapped into a chair and a machine stuffs donuts into his mouth ten at a time. To the horror of Satan, Homer grows bigger and bigger and bigger, but he never stops eating, instead saying “More … More … More …” between mouthfuls. That’s how Sevco does spending, and all that gets bigger is the debt.

It was much the same at Rangers, and that, more than Craig Whyte, more than HMRC, more the Grand Conspiracy of the Unseen Fenian Hand, is what killed them.

Tonight they take on Falkirk, in a match that’s already being seen in some quarters as a “must win game.” The season is barely two weeks old, but if they lose the manager is in deep trouble. There are already rumblings of discontent in the boardroom, and the fans are ready to revolt.

The directors know what the fans do, of course, and what I predicted when Sevco started it’s long climb, that sooner or later they will be faced with an appalling choice over McCoist. If they continue with him they’re bust. He can’t operate on a shoestring and he has no idea how to develop young talent. He’s a graduate of the Walter Smith School of Big Spending, and that and Ugly Football is all he knows and its all he’s got in the locker.

Yet sack him and it will cost a cool million they cannot afford to spend. They’ll then have to find a new manager, who’s first act, if he has any sense at all, will be to look at the squad and start planning a clear-out. Where’s the money coming from to do it?

You cannot look at the situation they’ve found themselves in and be less than astounded, as well as amused. Theirs was to be the Great Adventure, climbing the leagues with a young, vibrant team that would play together for years and grow and evolve. They hoped that would give them the financial underpinning to spend big when they reached the SPL.

Instead, they are impoverished on and off the park. They have rejected youth in favour of tried and tested old warriors who are well past their best. Their top player is being touted for sale for a price Rangers would not have balked at spending on a third-rate bench warmer, and if he goes they can forget replacing him with anyone of comparable ability.

All they have to warm them in the night is the fantasy that someone, somewhere, will ride out of the swirling gloom on a white horse with a bag full of gold, and even this is a lose-and-die scenario with only a small probability of success.

Bruce Springsteen is perhaps the greatest storyteller-songwriter of the last 50 years, and the title song of his fourth album is one of the finest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It is a story of one man risking his life, the last thing he has left in the world, on one shot at glory, in a suicidal drag-race.

That’s Sevco in a nutshell.

They are about to disappear into the Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

Welcome to their season of blood, sweat and tears.

This is the Beginning of the End.

(On Fields of Green badly needs your support as we enter our own transitional period. If you can make a donation, we’d appreciate it. You can do so with the Donate button at the top or the bottom of whatever device you’re using. Every support we get is massively helpful.)

Downsizing

Mikael-Lustig-left-gets-away-from-Ajaxs-Thulani-SereroFew people know this, but the notable American car companies of General Motors (and before that Buick) owe their existence to an emigrant Scot, David Dunbar Buick.

As well as being one of the largest car companies in the USA, General Motors has a small claim to fame in the linguistic world because in the 1970s (so the story goes) they were the first to coin the phrase ‘downsizing’.

At the time, downsizing meant to build smaller vehicles that were still effective, although later the phrase has come to have negative connotations with companies laying off workers. After watching Celtic against Legia Warsaw in Poland, it’s fitting that downsizing has a Scottish origin.

Shortly after the game, three separate, entirely unconnected friends, sent me texts where they describe how Celtic have been ‘downsized’ (using that specific word) in recent years, both in terms of playing staff and overall ambitions.

There are numerous reasons put forward why this is. Some blame an overall lack of quality in Scotland, others the gulf in TV money between smaller European leagues and the ‘big boys’ whilst some even point to the absence of Rangers in the Scottish top flight.

Regardless of what the reason is, the general decline of the club’s ambitions in the past decade is undeniable. Ten years ago was the season that would end with ‘Black Sunday’ at Motherwell, however the squad still included players such as Stilian Petrov, Chris Sutton, Paul Lambert, Alan Thompson, Joos Valgaeren, John Hartson and Craig Bellamy. We could even afford the luxury of signing an underperforming World Cup winner, Juninho.

Fast forward to the present day and the contrast in squads is resounding. Even allowing for injuries, last week’s starting XI with players such as Ambrose, Mulgrew, Berget and Pukki simply does not compare to the past choices.

Therefore if we accept that the squad and ambitions have declined – whatever the reasons for this – it really leads to one of two conclusions for the future; an acceptance of where we are or a complete upheaval involving where and how Celtic play football.

Before deciding which option is best, or even attainable, it is worth considering where we are, in terms of football finance and European football. The accountancy firm Deloitte produce a regular report examining money in football.

The latest report, covering 2012-2013 shows that when it comes to reported revenue, Celtic don’t even come close to the top 40 in the world (39 of which are in Europe). Real Madrid are top, with £519 million, and even the ‘bottom’ team in the top 40, Marseille earned just over £104 million.

Compare this to Celtic’s most recent financial results. On February 2014 it was announced that the club’s income for 2013 was £45 million, down from £50 million the previous year. Or to put it another way, in 2013 Celtic made less money than Chelsea did simply for selling David Luiz.

In all the top 39 teams financially in Europe are found in England (8), Italy (6), Germany (5), Spain (4), France and Turkey (2) and one each from the Netherlands and Portugal. To some extent the recent success of Spain and Germany at Champions League level proves that money isn’t everything, but it clearly goes a long way to help.

These financial figures play out when looking at European success. The past ten Champions League titles have gone to Spain (4), England (3), Italy (2) and Germany (1). Even the Europa League shows that money talks: the last ten winners are from Spain (5), Russia (2) and one each from England, Ukraine and Portugal. The only difference here compared with the top 40 rich list is the Russian and Ukrainian teams, and the massive external investment there has been well documented.

It’s not just winning the competitions where the gulf shows. In the past three seasons combined the only countries that have had more than one appearance in the last 16 of the Champions League are Spain (9), Germany (9), England (8), Italy (6), France (4), Russia (3) and Turkey and Portugal (both 2). Again a glance at the Financial Top 40 suggest a reason for this.

So, what way forward, and those future options? In terms of competing at a top level, it’s hard to see how it will happen without a substantial change in European football or a major investment in the club, which is hugely unlikely.

Financially the club is nowhere near winning the Champions League. Even the last 16 would be something of a miracle this season. However a glance at the Europa League (which we’re not even guaranteed to qualify for) is not much better.

As long as Celtic are playing in Scotland (with or without Rangers, their presence in the top flight would make only a marginal financial difference), little is likely to change from where we currently are. The club should continue to dominate the league at least, but not a huge amount else. If simple acceptance of the status quo is the choice, then all well and good. But clearly this is not what most people want to happen.

In this regard, the truly radical action would be to work on a different distribution of funds or competition structure within Scottish football. If Celtic are not going to significantly challenge in Europe, then perhaps the only way to generate competition is to do so at home. Of course this possibly further reduces the chances of then catching up in Europe (although some would argue it could enhance it if the Scottish game as a whole became more attractive).

Alternatively, it takes us back to the idea of one day leaving Scottish football, or somehow being part of a larger European set up. This is the only way Celtic might attract sufficient extra funding as to be able to offer a greater challenge to those at football’s financial top table. But this is unlikely too.

Quite simply, we are not needed, any more than other historically important clubs such as Ajax. The Champions League – and crucially the top domestic leagues – continue to attract more and more revenue from TV and advertisers, meaning UEFA have no reason to make changes. The same goes for moving to England.

Of course, none of this excuses last week’s performance, or the general underinvestment in the team in recent years. If the board are waiting for massive European changes or Financial Fair Play to have a resounding effect, they either know a very tightly held secret, or are miles from reality. That, or they believe Ronny Deila is going to have an incredible impact.

This is obviously not the most upbeat message, but then the facts don’t allow that. The victory against Barcelona two seasons ago was a resounding example of what can be achieved. But it was also a stark reminder of where the club and fans’ ambitions lie; beating a team in a one-off game, miles from actual overall success.

David Dunbar Buick, for all his early success, ultimately ended in disappointment and near poverty. After his death it was noted that he had “sipped from the cup of greatness, and then spilled what it had.” The danger for Celtic is that, in Europe at least, the same can increasingly be said for us.

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Expectation Management

416319714I’m writing this a mere 30 minutes after watching a truly shambolic performance from Celtic in the Champions League, a performance that is being widely gloated over by Sevconian’s and pored over and scrutinised by everyone who follows Celtic. Within minutes of the final whistle, this website had received an email, which I posted as a comment, which is available to view at the end of the last article, from one of our rival fans. I had expected it.

When I read it I smiled, and I posted it, and I thought “Enjoy your moment.”

This website has never pissed about when it came to writing about Celtic. Not for our writers the old tea and biscuits in the boardroom. We are not in the business of spinning for the strategy, and we’re not going to start now. There are people inside Celtic Park who ought not to be there, people who don’t belong anywhere near a club like ours, and whose presence keeps a number of supporters – and I include myself amongst them – from going to watch the team every week.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again; I am not funding this. I am not funding a business plan that tells us how special we are as a support, and how big we are as a club, and then treats us like mugs and worse, and results in humiliating nights like tonight. We will not be a genuinely big club until we start acting like one, and it’s been a long time since we did.

Other folk can do expectation management. It’s not our damned job and it never will be, and I don’t care how many apologists come out of the wood-work to tell me that this is like something the Daily Record might have written. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and there were times when the criticism we got as a club, for our lack of ambition and bottle, was right on the money.

I am sorry if that doesn’t sit well with people. Well mediocrity doesn’t sit right with me. Shameful displays like what I just witnessed don’t sit right with me. If there is one duty for anyone in this game, above and beyond all others, it’s that we tell the truth, no matter how many people we upset, no matter where they come from or who they are.

At around this time last season, I wrote a piece on the night that FC Shakhter Karagandy beat us 2-0 in the final qualifying round for this competition. That night, and that result, should have been a watershed one for Celtic fans, with us having completed an almost mind-bending downsizing shortly before the game began, when we sold Kelvin Wilson, the manager’s first choice central defender, having already sold Hooper before the previous tie and Wanyama before the first round. The spine of our team, all gone and none replaced.

I have never seen anything like it in all my time watching Celtic.

That evening should have been the moment a lot of people woke up and understood that our club was heading backwards. Judgement was postponed, when it should have been delivered there and then. In the return leg, Celtic won 3-0, courtesy of a last minute goal. We bought Nir Biton and Pukki, and we were told that all of our questions had been answered, and those who had defended the strategy were even louder and bolder than usual.

In truth we’d been damned lucky, and I knew it and most of us did.

But the debate was shelved. The discussion was never had. During the season that followed we won the title, but at times the football was chronic. We were knocked out of both cup competitions in a manner that could best be described as embarrassing, and in the Champions League the credibility we had worked for years to earn was ruined, utterly, in staggeringly inept displays, culminating in a humiliating evening in Spain, and a bottom place finish in our group.

Still, the strategy’s defenders were out in force when we posted profits for the season and still won the league. They pointed to signings made, and some measure of success delivered, and they said “everything will be alright.” In the meantime, Peter Lawwell climbed the ranks of the SFA, working to “improve Scottish football” at a time when the business plan he’d “masterminded” at Celtic Park had regressed to the point where the team was funding the business rather than the business funding the team. Today he was re-elected to the SFA board.

His supporters must be very proud.

To be honest, I’m sick writing about this guy in the same way I’m sick writing for the “benefit” of those Sevco fans who can’t face the truth about their team. A lot of Celtic supporters really don’t want to face the facts about some of the people running ours, those like Desmond who are willing to live with mediocrity, or the Zionist Conservative peer Livingstone, a man of such disrepute and loathsome politics that he shouldn’t be within a hundred miles of a club that was founded to feed the poor. How in God’s name can we square the circle as a club which promotes charitable purposes and who’s supporters are active in food bank campaigns and other activities, but appoint to the board a man so egregiously unfit as this?

The kind of club that doesn’t pay its workers a living wage … and we look at Sevco and point the finger about their lack of scruples and moral purpose. Where is our own?

Yes, I am tired of repeating the same things over and over again in relation to what “the strategy” has done to us, but it is people’s refusal to get it that forces me to do it.

Peter Lawwell’s job as CEO is to deliver on the business side of the club. Yet if you subtract “player trading” from the equation, revenue and turnover are down. Is this because of the economic downturn? Yes, but only partly, because although season ticket prices have fallen, this is a marketing decision forced on the club by necessity, the result of falling attendances. Cup tickets have never been pricier. The Champions League package last season was extortionate. The club now brings us three new strips per year, every year, like clockwork, and there is more merchandise out there than there has ever been before.

Yet turnover continues to fall. The business has not grown in North America like it was supposed to and the success of the Far East strategy can be measured by the fact that from the moment Ki Sung Yeung left it was abandoned entirely. We have an international commercial development manager who is earning big bucks and delivering exactly what?

The failures of the whole commercial department, with Lawwell at the helm, have resulted in the perverse situation where the business no longer funds the football department, but the football department funds itself, and in turn funds the business. Here, at Celtic Park, the tail wags the dog. Lawwell and his people congratulate themselves on their “success” in posting profits, but the credit belongs to the scouts who find players, the coaches who train them and the manager who nurtures them and develops them into stars. Then Lawwell sells them.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again; his job is to support the manager and the team, and find the resources to strengthen and improve the playing squad. That is the traditional role of the Chief Executive at a football club. Somebody, somewhere, decided that Peter Lawwell’s role should be larger than that, and in some ways more akin to that of a Director of Football.

Other writers might claim different, but no-one is going to convince me that this guy has not pushed players out the door who our managers have wanted to keep. Equally, no-one is going to convince me that he and others at the club have not occasionally brought in players our managers did not want, as well as deciding not to pursue, with all vigour, a number of those our managers did.

Neil Lennon left in the summer, as everyone knows, and I said at the time I would save an article about his possible reasons for another day. We know that he didn’t walk out of Celtic Park and into another job, just as we know that he didn’t leave to get away from management for a while, as was evidenced in his statement about wanting to get right back into the game as quickly as he could.

I left the idea of writing that article for two reasons. First, I was never particularly happy with Neil Lennon having got the manager’s job in the first place. I thought, then and now, that appointing a rookie as our first team coach was just plain wrong and that the job was bigger than him. I’ve said it from Day 1 and I’ve been taking stick for it just as long.

Off the field, he showed the most extraordinary fortitude as a man, making him a hero of mine now and forever more, but I disagreed with much of what he did in the dugout, and I was not disappointed to see him go. In the end, I thought his leaving was the best thing for Celtic, and, most importantly, getting away from Glasgow was the best thing for Neil Lennon and his family.

The second reason was that I believe in the new manager, that his appointment is a step forward and that he has the potential to be a huge success and I did not want to start his tenure at our club with a negative piece suggesting the previous boss left because of interference from above.

Those alert readers, and frequent visitors to this site, will, of course, be aware that no sooner had I made that decision but I was writing an article which warned Ronny Deila against people at our club who might be seeking to do exactly that. What inspired that piece was Peter Lawwell’s “suggestion” that Deila should appoint someone who “understands the Scottish game” as his assistant, something I found to be scandalous and a blatant piece of sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.

I did not understand then, or now, why it was deemed necessary to bring in someone with “local knowledge”, as if the ball is a different shape, or the goals have different dimensions here in Scotland than elsewhere. It reeked, then and now, of interference and suggested that there were some residual doubts about the appointment itself.

Since then, of course, the club has appointed John Collins assistant and brought in a player, in Craig Gordon, who the manager knew nothing about beforehand, in a deal which had been set up before he was approached about taking the job.

Then the man who promised a fresh start to every player had to explain why he shipped out Tony Watt after only a few weeks, and it seems he never got a look at Denny Johnstone, who’s leaving the club was a decision taken before he arrived, but never scrutinised. The same, of course, can be said about Samaras, who Lennon had wanted to keep but someone else at the club didn’t, perhaps the same someone who appears to have decided not to talk to Kris Commons about a new deal yet.

Added to that, circumstances have seen Deila reverse himself on two issues of huge importance. The first was when he said Charlie Mulgrew was a central defender and would play there (the rewards of that “local knowledge” paid off in the second half tonight, didn’t they?) only to be forced, by an injury to Scott Brown and the complete lack of urgency to bring in a replacement, to change his mind completely.

IT’s the second instance which should worry us most though. Deila explicitly ruled out signing loan players only to do just that. I cannot even begin to comprehend the disconnect between the rightness of his initial position and the one he took, apparently in panic, earlier this week and which he compounded tonight when a player the rest of the team had worked with for only a few days, and who’s contract with us is good only until January, started a Champions League match of enormous importance. Something about the whole thing stinks.

Do I still have faith in this guy? Yes, I certainly do. If he’s allowed to keep the players he wants and build the team he wants then I’m extremely confident that he will be a phenomenal success. Anyone who expected me to be calling for his head after one defeat ought to be sorely disappointed. He has to learn fast, and he has to show some steel in his team selections. Captain or not, Charlie Mulgrew had a disastrous night tonight and should have been subbed at half time, and the decision to leave him on was astonishing and had catastrophic consequences.

That kind of myopia will get him sacked if he lets it take hold.

I still believe we’ve got the right guy, that this is the man to take us forward. I have faith in that.

I have no faith in those above him at Celtic Park, and where there are grave doubts I have them in relation to the level of support he’ll get commensurate to that which he needs to do this job right. I think his hands are already tied, and if he stands for it he’s making a rod for his own back because it’s his career that’s on the line if everything goes wrong, and that result tonight is a clear sign that all is not well with this squad.

This is another watershed night, the kind that demands answers to all those questions some of us were asking ourselves after the failure in Ukraine last year. Then, the board’s luck held and that debate was postponed, but we got what our lack of ambition merited in the group stages and many of us feared a night like this one was in the offing with three qualifying ties to play.

Tonight all the chickens came home to roost. We are probably out, and facing Europa League football, and the board will indulge in expectation management to sell us on the “need” for further downsizing, to further protect the integrity of the balance sheet. Such is life when the football department funds the business instead of the other way around.

I will not blame the manager or the little time he’s spent in the job for what we saw this evening, because it’s an alibi the people above him simply don’t deserve and it’s an excuse I’ll not permit anyone to make on their behalf. The inadequacies in our squad are clear to us all, and Neil Lennon would have suffered a similar result tonight with those players at his disposal, and I believe that 100%. There is only so much you can blame the manager for.

We went into this match tonight with the same squad who were slaughtered in last year’s Champions League, and the manager was aware enough of their limitations that he backtracked on his own stated intentions, to bring in a player whose qualities he did know on a short term loan, and threw him right into the team. That speaks volumes, as does playing Mulgrew in midfield because of the injury to Brown and being forced, because there was no other central defender on the bench, to move him from there when Ambrose was sent off.

That we have showed such a staggering lack of ambition, and foresight, on the back of huge profits, leaves those above this guy with nowhere to hide and no excuses to make.

The constant scrutiny some people give to Sevco and the goings-on over there have allowed their eyes to drift from glaring issues facing us within our own club. I have tried to keep my eyes on Celtic as much as Sevco Rangers, and I have written about those issues with the same unflinching eye and honesty, and I will continue to do so, but I fear the same result.

The board has managed the expectations of some of our fans all too well. They have bought into the narrative of “too small and too poor to compete”, from the same people who’s entire commercial department constantly bombards us with messages about how great a club we are and about how ambitious we are and how forward thinking, all the better to get their hands on our money.

Shortly before I started writing this, and just after the final whistle, I got an email from Celtic, asking me if I wanted to buy a season ticket. I am glad there was no scope for sending a reply as I might have found myself in violation of several communications laws.

Sad to say, this is not uncommon for Celtic and mediocrity is a state many of our supporters all too readily accept, and they are willing to pay premium prices for it at that.

Tonight’s performance is what comes of expectation management. Some are already shrugging it off as if a shambolic display like that is acceptable, as if it’s nothing to panic about.

These folk are always very open to “settling for”, as in “this team isn’t ready, I will settle for a Europa League run and a domestic treble.”

The problem with that is that this becomes “Oh, the Europa League was a disaster, I will settle for the treble”, which becomes “oh we’re out of one cup. I’ll settle for the league and the other.” This becomes settling for last season all over again, winning the title whilst dismantling the core of the team, but with “signs of progress” only they can see.

I’m fed up with nights like tonight.

It’s time we took a long, hard look at where we’re heading as a football club, and as much as some people might not like the result of that I am determined that over the next couple of months, on this website, we’re going to do exactly that … regardless of the outcome next week.

This is a watershed result. It can’t be dismissed as a one off.

Some of us can read the writing on the wall.

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Is McCann Really The Man?

_953651_fergusmccann300Everyone and their granny has spent the last week lavishing praise on, generally fawning over, and paying tribute to good ol’ Fergus McCann for not only rescuing Celtic from near death but instilling financial prudence into Celtic’s work ethic off the field.

Even Dermot Desmond. Yes, the man of few words has also said his piece this week. You could probably count on one hand the number of public statements Desmond has made in the last 20 years.

Despite shying from publicity and more often than not taking a vow of slience, the Irishman has received far less praise for putting far more money into Celtic than McCann. When will we be marking his 20th Anniversary?

I don’s subscribe to the hero-worshipping of McCann (despite sharing a surname).

Am I grateful that he spearheaded the team that saved Celtic? Of course. Only an idiot would think otherwise.

But McCann also walked away with something estimated to be in the region of £40m. For five years work. 15 years ago. Imagine what value that would be now? Did he deserve the pay-out? Maybe, but let’s not be kidded here – he was a shrewd businessman who saw an opportunity. I find it preposterous than an already wealthy man took that amount of money with him. Worst still, he’s a Celtic fan like you and I.

Figures banded about at the time said he’d invested £9m of his own cash and got five times the return.

Some say, it was £1m of his own dough, with £8m borrowed. A high risk strategy or a cunning plan by a clever, feisty businessman?

When I learned, at the time, of the sum he set off into the sun with I can’t say I was too pleased. I’m still not. If he had doubled or trebled it, fair play. But he pocketed five times this. There was no parting financial gift. If it were me, I would have donated money back to help with the team – the core of the club.

How often have you dreamed of winning the Lotto? How big was the win? When Colin and Christine Weir of Largs won £161m my first thought was – “I’d give Celtic £50m for the transfer market”. Of course, that’s after I’d sorted my family out and bought an Island.

That sum is off the scale in terms of what we, as ordinary people, could fully understand.

£45m fifteen years ago is unimaginable wealth to the ordinary guy in the street. Even nowadays it’s a ridiculous amount of money. And let’s not forget – McCann had made his fortunes elsewhere. Why, as a Celtic fan, would you not give a good wedge to the club you love? I’d happily donate £15m to help the cause, unless you think £30m wouldn’t see you through to the next pay day?

I am by no means ungrateful for what McCann did but the lavishing of praise doesn’t impress me. I totally get how near Celtic was to going out of business. I can remember the caring attitude towards me by Rangers fans at the time. There was a lot of hugging and counselling from them – it was almost becoming an obsession. (I’ll now take my embedded tongue out of my cheek).

He also introduced “Bhoys Against Bigotry” which to me was the prelude to The Offensive Behaviour Act. He set out to sanitise Celtic Park and that’s one thing I believe he succeeded at. Every one of the 53,000 sat in fear of being banned from Paradise for having a sly fag, smelling of drink and of course, using any form of sectarian words. The police then were heavy-handed and some of the Celtic support, most of whom were plucked from the middle-classes, turned into snitches. The cultured has changed. It’s gone.

McCann sought to turn Celtic Park into your typical American baseball arena. He wanted it filled with families chewing gum, sipping Coke and munching hot dogs. The working class man was confined to the skelf-ridden bleachers.

What I found ironic at the time was that Celtic had launched an anti-sectarian initiative when most of it’s fans come from Irish Catholic backgrounds and had been subject to the very thing they were to campaign against.

To be fair Celtic has done extremely well and will continue to do well because of financial prudence. Sometimes, I just wish they would loosen the purse strings. Give us a marquee signing; speculate to accumulate. Take a risk for God’s sake. But they won’t. McCann’s aim was to ingrain this in Celtic from the day the he took over to the day he left, and his legacy continues.

I applaud Fergus for what he did at the time and that’s not lost on me but spare me the the razzamatazz and the cheerleading.

There are others more deserving of it. Like the fans who really did save Celtic, and build the stadium.

Our monument is what we leave to our children and their children. It’s all we ever cared about.

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