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.


Celtic Fans Know The Difference Between Bigotry And Political Expression

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

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

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

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

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

How could I have?

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

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

I get tired of trying to educate people on this.

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

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

Let’s separate the fact from the fiction here.

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

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

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

Listen to them if you don’t believe me.

It’s a collection of words with no coherence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key term is “Orange”.

Not Protestant.

There is no sectarian connotation to that chant.

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

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

I once answered thus;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because there is none.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Republican movement now plays an active part in government.

The ANC is the South African government.

The difference is, they were never fighting the British.

You get the point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not true.

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

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

Except those which suit them, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celtic is not an overtly political club.

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

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

I sympathise with them, to a degree.

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

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

This isn’t about flares and smoke bombs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(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.)


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

JS31156726Stewart Regan. Dear oh dear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, whatever you say Stewart.

Except … no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save time on the disciplinary hearings.

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

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

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

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

Uh-uh. Not a chance in Hell.

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

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

We may as well shut the stadium right now.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This isn’t leadership; it’s deflection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m past caring what choices they make.

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

Stewart Regan, leading reform?

Don’t make me laugh.

His real motivations are more transparent than he thinks.

(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.)


A Very Scottish Scandal: How Rangers Almost Wrecked Scottish Football – Part One

ogilvie1This article is the first part of a piece I’m writing for another site I’ve just taken over, one about football in England and across Europe.

I thought it was time we moved the Rangers-Sevco debate outside Scotland, to an audience beyond our borders, perhaps in the hope of interesting the London based media in this sordid, and unbelievable tale …

To do so, it’s necessary to tell it all, exactly as it happened, without inference or bias, as a straightforward presentation of facts. That way we can give investigators their framework.

It is going to be long, easily the longest piece I’ve ever published. It’s also complicated, as the situation has been, and continues to be.

Of course, it was always my intention to publish it here as well.

It’s still being written, but it was getting too long to post as a single article, so I’m splitting it.

Part 2 will be up in the next day or two.

In the meantime, this is the backstory of the scandal that almost destroyed Scottish football.

Part One: The Introduction

Football in England is in good shape. Or bad shape. Or improving. Or getting worse.

Depending on who you are talking to, it’s all of these things and it’s none of them.

From up here in Scotland it looks pretty healthy to me, without necessarily being on a par with how things are in, for example, Germany.

But the game is in safe hands.

You only to have look at the way the FA has dealt with club owners who’ve tried to take the piss to see that.

The folk running football in England get it.

When the game down there suffered the match-fixing/betting scandal in 2013, that sent a number of people to jail, the National Crime Agency was widely praised for their role in it, but in my view the Football Association deserved enormous credit too.

Football didn’t try to cover this up.

The FA co-operated in full. Nothing was with-held and nothing was swept under the carpet.

I envy you guys leadership like that. Up here, we have none.

I’m going to tell you all the story of a cancer eating Scottish football from the inside.

I’m a Celtic blogger, and I’m telling you that upfront because this involves my club’s biggest rivals, and I want it to be clear what my background is before you carry on reading a word.

Everything I’m about to write is the truth.

All of the facts are verifiable and easy to confirm.

Fans in England have maybe heard some of the story, but I’m willing to bet the version of it you’ve been reading or hearing about isn’t exactly … complete.

There are reasons for that.

For one thing, the story isn’t complete yet and it might not be for a long, long time.

It’s also complicated, with roots going back more than fifteen years, involving a Who’s Who of characters right out of a James Bond film.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not.

It takes place across four continents, with scenes set in South African mansions, waterfront properties in Monaco, expensive London hotels and grubby back door boozers in Belfast.

It’s a sexy story, involving politicians, dodgy bank officials, money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and a host of other offences, and I can’t even write down all the gory details because some of them are currently the province of the courts.

But it’s also about failures of governance, a compliant and even complicit media, and corrupt practices which are widely known about up here but haven’t yet been accounted for.

It’s about a decade of cheating, and about the concerted efforts of a group of people to make sure that no-one was punished for it.

They first tried to ignore it, then tried to excuse it, then tried to buy off their critics with promises to tackle it before they made it 100 times worse.

It’s the biggest scandal in the history of sport on this island.

It’s torn Scottish football apart, but could yet turn out to be the thing that saves it.

Part Two: 2007 – The Origins Of A Scandal

This story properly begins in 2007, with a police raid on Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, the home of my club’s biggest rivals, Rangers. The purpose of the raid was to obtain information, on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, to aid in their investigations of football corruption, involving backhanders in transfer deals and the tapping of players.

Amongst the evidence collected were computers and financial records.

One of the deals they were looking at involved the sale, by Rangers, to Newcastle United of the French defender Jean Alain Boumsong, for £8 million, a transfer that was somewhat unusual as he’d only been at Ibrox for six months, after arriving on a free.

The Newcastle manager was, of course, former Rangers boss Graeme Souness.

He wasn’t charged with anything, and in a later stage of the inquiry was cleared in relation to the matters at hand. Rangers itself wasn’t implicated in the scandal.

But there was a nasty sting in the tail for the club.

On the computers, and in the club’s books, there were details of dozens of payments made to footballers and club employees – and some ex-employees, as we’ll discuss – totalling tens of millions of pounds, payments which seemed unusual. The Met passed them on to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, who examined them and concluded that they were part of a tax evasion policy the world has come to know as an EBT – an Employee Benefit Trust.

HMRC began an investigation.

It was a bad time for the Treasury, with the first ripples of the coming global financial storm already tingling the antennae of certain economists and politicians, amongst them Vince Cable who was trying to warn his parliamentary colleagues that a catastrophe was just around the corner. They largely ignored him, as a lot of those in the Square Mile ignored their own Cassandra’s.

Reality can be ignored. For a while. Then it comes crashing through the walls.

The tsunami struck less than year later, and Gordon Brown’s government was engulfed as they tried to keep the rising waters from sinking the UK economy.

Alastair Darling, Brown’s Chancellor, was soon having round the clock meetings at Threadneelde Street and the Treasury with bank officials who started out claiming their institutions were sound but eventually were forced to admit this wasn’t true, and that they badly needed government help.

One of the last banks in the UK to admit they had a problem was one of the flagship enterprises Brown and others had been so proud of, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS), which had once been a sleepy, down home conservative high street institution but which over time had turned its backroom into a speculators casino.

At a dinner party, at the height of the crisis, Brown spoke privately with the head of another of Britain’s leading banking companies, Lloyds TSB, which had successfully evaded trouble by staying out of the dicier activities going on in the Square Mile, to find out if they’d be interested in taking over HBOS on the cheap.

In order to smooth the path for the deal, Brown agreed that the merger would be exempted from the UK’s competition regulations.

In one of the worst failures of due diligence in financial history, and with politicians breathing down their necks, determined to avoid a crash, Lloyds completed the deal in jig time, only to discover something appalling; HBOS was sitting on a £10 billion hole.

The big bosses at Lloyds slammed the brakes on at once, as they started to go through the disaster zone with a fine toothed comb.

Of particular interest to them were the goings on of a handful of directors, including Peter Cummings and his predecessor, a guy called Gavin Masterton.

I could write a book on these two, and in years to come others will definitely do so. Their story fits into the picture here and a bigger picture besides, which overlaps with this one. I’m not going into the full scale of it – most if has no bearing on this – but the part that does has to be laid out properly and understood, in order to comprehend how big this is.

Here’s a little history lesson, before we go on.

Part Three: David Murray & The Bank That Couldn’t Say No

Back in the 90’s Gavin Masterton was one of the most powerful individuals in Scottish football, although only a handful of people knew that at the time. His department at what was then the Bank of Scotland had on its books the debts of almost all the Premier League clubs, including Celtic’s.

In fact, in 1994, Masterton’s department came within 24 hours of closing Celtic down over a debt of £5.25 million, cash the old board couldn’t repay.

The club was saved by a Canadian supporter named Fergus McCann, who along with a group of likeminded individuals effectively put up the collateral for that debt and then paid it off entirely. According to McCann, who took over the running of the club, he and his board approached the bank 10 months later, to find out on what terms they’d be granted a loan facility.

The bank offered them £2.5 million, fully securitised, which McCann and his people regarded as an insult. They ended the club’s relationship with Bank of Scotland there and then, and he retained deep distrust of them until the day he stepped down from his role.

As a gauge of how ridiculous the bank’s offer had been, McCann later told a newspaper that shortly afterwards the club was able to obtain a £10 million loan on very favourable terms from the Co-Op bank in Manchester.

Celtic’s issues with the bank were in sharp contrast to the relationship Masterton had with the owner of Rangers, David Murray.

At that time, and for years afterwards, Murray was regarded as a true example of Scottish entrepreneurial genius. He seemed to have a flair for making money, and for courting publicity. Indeed, there’s much in his personal story that should earn him high praise. He prevailed through astonishing adversity in his early career, even coping with the loss of his legs in a car accident, to rise to become one of the shining lights of Thatcher-era business.

He took over Rangers in 1988, and immediately set about transforming the club into the biggest football operation in Scotland. First, he completed the re-development of Ibrox, turning into an all seater stadium the envy of almost every club in Britain. And, at a time when English clubs were banned from Europe, they spent lavishly on bringing the likes of Woods and Butcher and Steven to Scotland in big money deals.

But Fergus McCann and the new Celtic board were about to change the game entirely. They had arrived with a momentous business plan, one which the Canadian set about with aplomb, rebuilding the dilapidated Celtic Park into one of the biggest and best club stadiums on this island – crucially, with 10,000 more seats than at Ibrox.

After nearly a decade of being the biggest club in the land, Rangers saw their hold broken as Celtic stopped them from beating their own club record of nine in a row, on the last day of a breathless season in 1998. It had taken Fergus and his people just three years to rebuild the club into something the fans could again be proud of.

What happened next was staggering, and laden with consequences.

Murray threw more money at his team than had ever been seen in Scottish football. The knock on effects are still difficult to quantify; it ushered in an era of rising transfer fees and over the top spending at many other clubs … and to the crippling debts that came later.

Within a year, the Ibrox debt had swollen to £50 million, as Murray, with typical bombast, told a media that lapped up his every word, that “for every fiver Celtic spend we will spend a ten.”

In point of fact, he exceeded that by quite some way. The spending gap was actually far higher – a ratio of three or four to one, and was actually completely unsustainable.

Everyone assumed – because the media dared not ask – that Murray himself was footing the bill for this outrageous cash splurge. What nobody knew, until much later, was that a good deal of the money to fund these signings had come from the very same bank, and the very same people, that had almost closed Celtic down just a few years before.

In 2001, The Bank of Scotland had merged with Halifax to become HBOS, and Masterton had handed over responsibility to Peter Cummings, his protégé, who had been at his side through much of the insanity of the previous few years.

Over the next 12 months, the debt at Rangers climbed even higher until it topped £80 million. Again, the real facts were largely hidden out of sight, but we know now that in 1999 the bank had taken part ownership of Rangers during “corporate restructuring” at MIH, the umbrella organisation owned by David Murray, and which controlled 85% of the club. The banks £20 million “investment” in MIH entitled them to 12 million shares in that company and a holding in Rangers itself.

On the surface, everything looked calm. But HBOS and Murray were hiding a devastating secret, one which would be uncovered in due course. The Murray “success story” was being funded by bank loans. In 2001, they borrowed £50 million, on extremely good terms, and their exposure only increased in the years that followed.

In 2004, Murray “personally” underwrote a share issue to remove £50 million of the debt burden from the club. The papers lauded him for this largesse, but in actual fact, with the help of the bank and some clever accounting, the debt was simply transferred to another section of MIH.

By 2006, two years before the financial crash, the newly named Murray Group owed the Bank of Scotland £209 million. A year later, the debt stood at £290 million.

When Lloyds took over in 2008, they uncovered the truth, not just about the £10 billion hole but that HBOS had been effectively trading whilst insolvent, and had received a $12.5 billion emergency loan from the US Federal Reserve on the night of the takeover, and a £24.5 billion loan from the Bank of England at Threadneedle Street shortly thereafter.

Lloyds officials started to dig. They soon found out where the money had gone.

Masterton, Cummings and friends had been having a rare old time, lending money at ludicrously generous rates to their pals in business, much of it in Scotland, of whom Murray, through the ownership of Rangers, was the most high profile here.

These loans were generally acknowledged to be ridiculous, but as long as the companies they were investing in seemed solvent – and in Murray’s case high real estate prices, including Ibrox, which he had valued at nearly twice its land worth, were making it seem that way – they were able to keep a lid on the pressure cooker and the lending went on.

The HBOS affair was so toxic – and it wasn’t limited to Scotland – that it became the subject of a major criminal fraud investigation called Operation Hornet. I’ll skip the details of that, as it doesn’t apply to this story, but one fact ought to make the eyes of any reader bulge. A report commissioned by Lloyds Banking Group at the time estimated that fully 69% – worth a mind-bending £80 billion – of the money Cummings and his department lent during its roller coaster existence, fell outside of what the more conservative bank called its “risk appetite.”

The damage had been done. Saddled with this enormous hole in the balance sheet, Lloyds Banking Group – who had hitherto avoided being dragged into the swamp of the financial crash – became one of the organisations part-nationalised by the government in 2009, who took 43.3% of its shares in exchange for a bailout package.

As a consequence, most of the debts from that era were written off, at the taxpayers’ expense. Murray, and Rangers, as it turned out, were quite literally funded from the public purse.

We didn’t know the half of it.

Even as Lloyds was trying to get its house in order, turning off the lending taps and asking the recipients of HBOS loans to see the colour of their money, and as a consequence bringing Rangers into line with the rest of Scottish football, at last, in terms of spending only what they earned, the club was hit with a sledgehammer.

The 2007 investigation into the Jean Alain Boumsong transfer had provided HMRC with evidence of wholescale tax fraud at the club, and in 2010 they sent their tax bill to Ibrox, amounting to a demand for repayment of £40 million plus fines.

When the story broke it send shockwaves through Scotland. A tax bill that size, with HMRC insisting on payment on demand, was capable of wiping out any club overnight. Rangers were appealing it, so it wasn’t imminently due, but that was of little consolation to Murray who, with the bank breathing down his own neck, was no longer able to support the club as lavishly as he had with the use of his flexible friend and an unlimited line of credit.

He put Rangers up for sale, and waited for the offers to flood in.

A few people expressed interest. One was a hard-line Unionist MP, who never made it clear where he was getting the cash to buy a football club. Another was a Russian oligarch who turned out to be a vicious gangster. The News of the World ran an editorial saying Rangers fans were open to anyone, that they didn’t care where the money came from, or who the owners were, as long as the club was able to compete with Celtic.

Financial analysts and people within the club pleaded with Murray to start setting cash aside to indemnify them against a negative outcome in what became known as the Big Tax Case, but he wouldn’t hear of it. The club was still spending every penny that came in the door, as fast as it did, and in order to maintain the liquidity of his corporate empire Lloyds were still allowing him huge overdraft facilities. That allowed a certain leeway.

But the spectre of EBT use hung over the club like a killing weight. To understand how this happened you have to go back to 1999.

Part Four: Ten Years Of EBT’s

Celtic, under Fergus McCann, had just completed the shimmering new Celtic Park and Fergus had announced his departure, as per his “five year plan.”

In that time he had turned around the club, making them financially self-sustainable with the second biggest season ticket base in the UK after Manchester United. Furthermore, with 10,000 seats more than Ibrox the new ground was capable of giving the club a long-term financial advantage, provided both sides were run on a similar basis.

But of course, they weren’t and Murray was chasing more than just Scottish glory. He saw European success as a primary goal too, and that needed to be funded and even with the Bank of Scotland loaning him staggering sums he was looking at other measures.

As Fergus was preparing to exit Celtic Park, Murray told one of his media acolytes that “whoever takes over Celtic next had better have the deepest pockets imaginable.”

To be sure his were deeper still, in 1999 he and the Rangers board set up what became known as the Discounted Options Scheme, what we now refer to as “the wee tax case.” This was a highly complicated way of paying players huge lump sums on top of their salaries, so as to defeat the taxman. It was the dodgiest of dodgy schemes, like EBT’s now absolutely illegal, but at the time … well, borderline, if run right.

The scheme was opened by a Rangers director named Campbell Ogilvie, a man who was to play a huge, and important, role in what was to come. Over the four years of its existence, the Discounted Options Scheme provided remuneration packages for some of the most high-profile players in the club’s recent history, including Ronald DeBoer and Tore Andre Flo.

Part of the trouble, for Murray and his club, was that Celtic were undergoing a remarkable transformation in the early part of the new millennium. Martin O’Neill had arrived as manager and the club was on a sound financial footing, allowing him access to funds no boss at the club had ever been given before. He signed top players, like Chris Sutton, Alan Thompson and Neil Lennon, to augment the talents already at Parkhead, including Lubo Moravcik, Johan Mjallby, Stilian Petrov and, of course, the majestic Henrik Larsson.

In his first year at the club, 2001, O’Neill won the domestic treble.

Murray and the Rangers board then embarked on a level of spending hitherto unseen in football here. Their relationship with the Bank of Scotland was at its zenith, as Masterton made way for Cummings, but even that wasn’t enough. Murray slapped down the gauntlet with his notorious “for every fiver” speech and the crazy days began.

The £12 million purchase of Tore Andre Flo, a Scottish record to this day, sums up the insanity of it all. The deal made no financial sense, because it was designed to rub Celtic’s face in Rangers’ financial muscle, doubling, as promised, the £6 million we had splashed out on Sutton. The media loved it, not wondering where the cash was coming from.

The same year, Murray International opened up the Employee Benefit Trust’s at Ibrox, with the aim of paying players above and beyond their declared earnings.

The man who set up the scheme for them was a lawyer and financial whiz-kid named Paul Baxendale Walker, a colourful character with his finger in many pies, including writing, acting and TV production. He later became a writer, director and star in pornographic movies owned by one of his companies.

At the time, the only people he was interested in shafting were those at HMRC.

Over the next ten years, Rangers paid players an estimated £48 million over and above their declared salaries, through a scheme which was setup to look like it provided “soft loans” to those who applied for them. In fact, these payments were negotiated with the footballers in advance of them signing for the club, and as players and agents don’t trust handshake agreements or directors keeping their word, many of them asked for, and were given, “side contracts” to that effect.

These contracts were to pose problems when HMRC stumbled on the scheme. By their very nature, those contracts turned those “loans” into salary perks, making them taxable. Rangers knew that at the time, and so they were determined to keep them secret from all but those who were working inside the club itself.

So those contracts were stuck in a file cabinet and never declared, either to the tax authorities or to the relevant football governing bodies, whose regulations are pretty clear on the point that all paperwork relating to such matters as salary and remuneration should be presented to them post haste as part of their general licensing criteria.

In other words, without those contracts players were not properly registered.

But of course, Rangers didn’t worry about that.

They had friends in high places.

Part Five: Succulent Lamb & Friends In High Places

From 1989 until 1998, Rangers won nine league titles in a row, all of them with Murray at the helm. During that time, and with help from the bank, he filled the club with phenomenally talented, and hugely expensive, players like Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne. He also courted the media as no other football chairman ever had before.

O’Neill’s success at Celtic, and the new direction of the club, was the first serious challenge to their hegemony in that decade, at least as far as what happened on the pitch went. Off the field, Murray and Rangers’ position was pretty much untouchable for years.

During the glory days, he and Rangers were not so much Scotland’s football superpower as they were a hyperpower, and this extended into the way they were treated by the media and in the influence they held within the governing bodies.

How much influence did they have? Well, by 2007 a former Rangers player ran the Players Union, another was CEO of the SFA, a former director was the Vice President there and others sat on the boards of the Premier League and other agencies of the national association … all at the same time. No other club had so many of its officials and former employees so deeply embedded in the footballing power structure.

And this had huge consequences for the game.

Before the recent scandals, the biggest crisis in our sport had been sparked by the SFA’s failure to properly register a Celtic signing, the Portuguese striker Jorge Cadete, at a crucial stage of the league campaign in 1995-96. The deal had been done just prior to the transfer deadline, but someone inside Hampden didn’t put through the paperwork.

The player missed important games including that year’s Scottish Cup semi-final match against Rangers, which the club lost 2-1. Did it also cost Celtic the league? That’s a difficult question to answer, because he missed four matches, three of which ended in draws. The following year he scored 33 times in 44 games, but then Celtic didn’t win the title that season either.

You could debate that issue all day and all night, but what was important was that McCann was incensed and believed the failure to push through the registration had been deliberate. He focussed his anger in on two men in particular; the SFA chief executive, Jim Farry, and the association’s head of registrations, Sandy Bryson.

He took the matter to the courts, and in the case that followed, Farry destroyed his career with his own words. The SFA relieved him of his duties after Celtic won at the hearing.

Afterwards, McCann told the Scottish media, “I’m not claiming there was malice but there was intent. There was a failure on his part despite the advice of FIFA and Celtic. This is a matter that goes beyond Celtic Football Club, it’s a question of somebody who has failed to follow the rules of football.”

Sandy Bryson remained in his post, and the club settled for the CEO’s head on a spike.

Years later, Scottish football would have ample cause to regret that.

In 1998, with Rangers chasing ten titles in a row, David Murray sat down with a number of senior journalists at the Scottish dailies. One of them, Jim Traynor, wrote a remarkable account of one of the most famous interviews of that era.

The published piece that followed under Traynor’s name ranks as one of the most obsequious ever penned by a supposedly serious reporter. It gave Scottish football a catch-all phrase for the hacks who fluttered around the Rangers chairman, and the stuff that they gushed out onto the page.

We now call such stories “succulent lamb journalism.”

The relevant part of the text reads as follows;

If the past 10 years have taught Murray, who is one of Britain’s wealthiest individuals, anything it is how to win and he believes Rangers will continue to grow and prosper.

“I look upon these last 10 years as a having been a great era, but it is over and Rangers are about to head on into a new era,” he said over a glass of the finest red.

He was about to take in another mouthful of the most succulent lamb – anyone who knows Murray shouldn’t be surprised to learn he is a full-blooded, unashamed red meat eater – when he put down his knife and fork.

It was like a statement of intent and looking directly across the table to make sure I hadn’t yet succumbed to the wine, he said:

“Bring on the next 10 years, there’s more to come for Rangers. Understand that I care passionately about what I’m doing with Rangers and believe that in 10 years’ time we will still be setting the pace. Too many of us have put too much into this club and we won’t let someone come along and take it all away. What I’m saying here is that no matter who buys Celtic from Fergus, they will need to have the deepest of pockets imaginable.”

Speaking, years later, to Channel 4’s crack investigator Alex Thomson, when he embarked on his own coverage of the Rangers administration and liquidation crisis, the veteran journalist Graham Spiers, who was at that famous meeting, spoke about it and the wider atmosphere that pervaded Scottish football reporting at the time.

“Succulent lamb journalism means a culture – and I hold my hand up here too – a culture of sycophantic, unquestioning, puff journalism that went on around Rangers generally and Sir David Murray particularly … Look, you are making a pact with the devil if you like. You get thrown the best scraps. You get something for the back page or whatever. But there’s a tacit deal. You don’t dig too deep. You don’t cause any trouble.”

And that was the way of it, for over ten years. Every one of Murray’s pronouncements was treated as gospel. Even the sheer flight of fancy, in 2008, whilst the financial crisis was gathering pace and his bankers were working round to the clock to stave off disaster, that £280 million was about to spent on Ibrox, making it “the first stadium in Britain to have a retractable roof and a hovering pitch”, was printed and praised without serious questions being asked.

By then, the fans of other Scottish clubs were already calling him David “Moonbeams” Murray after another of his notorious public pronouncements, in 2006, where he’d used the colourful phrase to predict that another era of untrammelled success was just around the corner.

Even when the media had a profound duty to criticise the club, they didn’t do it. For over 70 years, Rangers had operated a sectarian signing policy excluding Catholic players. Murray had shattered that, and signed a number of them, but a section of the support remained wedded to the old times, and in 2007 they were the subject of a UEFA investigation for discriminatory songs at a match in Villarreal. The SFA ignored it, refusing to take any responsibility for what went on inside their own grounds. The response of Scotland’s media was even more astonishing.

First, they tried to paint the issue as being one involving a small number of fans, which clearly it wasn’t as anyone who’d ever been to Ibrox could attest. Then, after a steer from a PR firm with links to the Ibrox club, they tried to drag Celtic into the mire, accusing UEFA of ignoring that club’s fans and their singing about the Irish wars of independence.

Finally, with pressure from Ibrox to close the debate down, some of the media outlets started to question exactly what the Rangers fans had done wrong.

This was too much for some of them to swallow, and even the aforementioned Jim Traynor was past the point of trying to make excuses. In a memorable, and explosive, debate on Radio Scotland with one of his fellow pundits, the journalist, agent and former Rangers player Gordon Smith, who was one of the men pushing this line, Traynor exploded.

“Tell me, Gordon,” he asked, “which part of fuck the Pope do you not find sectarian?”

Smith had no answer for that one, and he stuttered and stammered through an attempted justification for his view. It didn’t wash, and everyone who heard him that day knew it. What few were aware of at the time was that he’d been asked to write a chapter in a book about the club, and he duly did so, in which he accused Scottish football, and its governing agencies, of having an “agenda” against them, a quite laughable assertion.

A few months later, with the resignation of the SFA chief executive David Taylor, the SFA placed an advert in the national press asking for applications to fill the post.

The man who ran the interview process was SFA President George Peat, who a year later would be instrumental in pressuring the SPL to extend the league campaign, for the second time, to accommodate Rangers quest to win the UEFA Cup, and who offered to suspend the showpiece event of the SFA’s season, the Scottish Cup Final, in which the club was taking part, without bothering to consult either his board or Queen of the South, the other finalists.

His most valued colleague during that time was the SFA’s Vice President, former Rangers director Campbell Ogilvie, who had been so active in the creation of EBT’s.

They had a list of criteria which was very detailed and specific, yet when the new CEO was unveiled to the media he ticked precisely none of those boxes.

You’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say next.

Yes, it was Gordon Smith himself.

Of course, none of this was of the slightest concern to the ranks of the Scottish press, who let’s Smith’s scandalous appointment pass without critical comment of any kind.

He resigned the post in April 2010, the very month in which the story about HMRC’s tax demand broke. He cited “family reasons.”

No-one bothered to ask if there was more to it than that.

Probably, that wasn’t considered “real news.”

Part Six: The Motherwell Born Billionaire

By 2010, the Lloyds Banking Group were done with Rangers, and wanted out.

They were so determined to get spending at Ibrox under control they’d placed one of their key point-men, Donald Muir, on the club’s board of directors and with other officials in place at Murray’s other companies a period of cost-cutting was finally getting underway.

Time was running out for the steel magnate, and the bank’s patience was almost at an end. They knew full well the consequences for the whole Murray empire if HMRC’s tax case verdict went against them, and anyway, they were equally sick of the sight of the man who, in 2007, had received a knighthood for “services to business in Scotland.”

He had been searching for a buyer for nearly three years, and had vowed to the club’s supporters that he would only give up control when the “right person” came along, someone with the means to take Rangers forward, someone who would “protect it” as he had.

After Russian mobsters and Unionist MP’s had failed to make their bids, and after a national newspaper had told the world that Rangers fans would accept anyone as long as that person made big promises about spending money, it was perhaps only natural that they’d attract the attention of a man like Craig Thomas Whyte.

He emerged as if from a clear blue sky with headlines screaming the unbelievable news to the world. The Daily Record was the lead-off hitter, telling its readers, on 18 November 2010, “Billionaire Scot Set To Buy Rangers For £30 million.”

As the deal neared completion, the fever inside the newsrooms spiked. Other news outlets rushed to hail the man Record “journalist” Keith Jackson had hailed the “Motherwell born billionaire” with “off the radar wealth.”

Murray’s Moonbeams were replaced by fantasies that the Rangers manager Walter Smith would be handed a “Whyte Knight Warchest” to spark a new series of big money signings.

It’s impossible to over-state how ridiculous some of this coverage was. The reports that Whyte was a billionaire were easy enough to confirm. Every year The Sunday Times extensively trawls tax returns and other financial records in the public domain to compile the definitive guide to the wealthiest people in the country – the annual Rich List. To be on it is considered the ultimate badge of honour, and Whyte had actually featured years before, earning a place on the Young Rich List when he was in his early 20’s, with an estimated wealth of around £20 million.

That year, The Rich List was so extensive that those at the bottom had wealth in the low tens of millions, similar to what his net worth had once been. He didn’t even scrape into this level, and so a lot of us knew early on that he had no “off the radar wealth” and we asked ourselves a couple of simple questions; what else were those big bold headlines hiding, and what else were our fearless crusading journalists equally unaware of?

The answer, as it turned out, was a lot.

With issues relating to the takeover, and what happened afterwards, in the legal system at the moment I’m limited in what I can write about the multi-faceted background and business history of Craig Whyte, but even the earliest, and most basic, enquiries revealed a string of failed companies and contradictions to the media narrative.

To use but one example, The Record had reported that the takeover was being plotted from Whyte’s “bases” in Glasgow and the Virgin Islands. Internet sleuths soon tracked down the registered addresses from which the bid was being run.

One was an office in Glasgow City Centre.

It was visited by an online blogger, who took photographs of a single locked room with grilles on the windows and nothing in it but a single filing cabinet, gathering dust.

The photograph another online investigator published, of Whyte’s Virgin Islands “headquarters”, was equally stunning.

It was a portacabin, in the middle of a field, surrounded by cows. That picture later appeared on the front page of The Daily Record’s sister publication, The Sunday Mail, months after the fact, when the war-chests hadn’t been delivered and everyone was asking questions.

Well before the takeover was completed there was ample information in the public domain to scotch Whyte’s credentials as a very wealthy man. His chequered business history was being discussed openly on the internet, on various Scottish football blogs. There was plenty of serious doubt about his ability to finance the club in the event that something went wrong, and it was generally known that bank was no longer prepared to.

From his “home base” in Monaco, Whyte appeared to be making ever more grandiose promises, issuing statements through a PR firm every other day, which the media was printing without doing any research. Part of the problem was the timeframe.

Rangers’ fans wanted signings made in the January window, and as that deadline came, and went, they wondered where the man with the money was.

The media, still being fed nonsense and still lapping it all up, claimed Whyte had made Murray an offer of £28 million to buy him out, but that it had been vetoed by Lloyds, who wanted the club’s debt erased before they would agree to a sale. As it turned out this, as with most other assertions in the press at the time, was nonsense. The bank hadn’t vetoed anything; what they had done was ask for certain guarantees that they’d be paid back.

The takeover was finally completed on 6 May 2011, and the first seismic shock, which ought to have given the Rangers fans pause was the purchase price; for all the talk of multi-million pound deals their club, stadium, players, history and all changed hands for £1.

Part of the SFA’s licensing regulations, on fit and proper individuals, requires the club itself to certify that its leaders are sound individuals with no blemish on their characters. It is a ludicrous policy, relying on self-policing and dishonest or disreputable individuals confessing that upon taking over and submitting their paperwork.

Whyte was hiding more than just his business history; he had also been banned from being a director at one point. His submission to the SFA included none of this information. They could have done their own digging, but they didn’t bother.

But what few people outside Ibrox were aware of was that certain directors at the club had been suspicious of Whyte from the first, perhaps alerted, in part, by the work being done by online journalists and bloggers. There was a Takeover Panel within the club to scrutinise potential candidates for ownership.

When they met the “Motherwell born billionaire” they were unimpressed by his “plans.” They then hired a private investigator to look into him, and he presented a report before the takeover was signed and sealed. That report found things that even the internet bloggers hadn’t. Did they include his directorship ban? Unknown. But the people on that panel shelved the report once he was in the boardroom. They didn’t share it with the SFA, as they had a duty to.

Boy oh boy, how they were to regret that.

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Guilt By Association? Did The SFA Help Perpetrate A Fraud?

20205757.JPG-pwrt3Over the last week, I’ve written various pieces in relation to arrests concerning the establishment of Sevco, with the emphasis on looking at how it affects their club, but there’s a bigger issue, by far, that no-one seems to want to touch.

Back in 2012, when the NewCo was being established, there was concern on some of the blogs, this one included, that proper due diligence hadn’t been done by the game’s governing bodies.

Over the course of the next 12 months, that concern grew.

The gravest concerns we had revolved around – and continues to revolve around – the notorious Five Way Agreement and the way it is structured, as well as the people who actually signed it and were party to its creation.

This website has already described that as the most dangerous document in the history of Scottish football, and a phalanx of other sites have been clamouring for its full publication since then.

A version of it has already been leaked online, and distributed widely.

It is a document that has no parallel in our sport.

Nothing like it had been commissioned before or since.

It is, it will remain, wholly unique.

What we had is a group of senior officials in our game sitting down with people who weren’t even football administrators – Duff & Phelps, let’s not forget, were parties to this – as well as the owners of the new club, to bend regulations and ignore others in order to get them a berth in the Scottish football league structure, at a time when that was up in the air.

Back in November last year, this site published an article called Five Way To Hell. We asked a simple, but deadly, question, one the media has still not taken up, as we’d hoped, nearly 10 months later.

Was the SFA, inadvertently or not, party to a fraud?

Let’s be clear; I am neither accussing them of that or even saying that a fraud has been committed.

But these events are subject to legal action, and are going to court. I won’t discuss those events or those who were involved for that very reason.

I am simply asking that if the defendents are found guilty, and those charges proven, was the SFA a party, willingly or not, knowingly or not, to a crime?

And if the answer to this is yes, what might be the consequences for our national sport?

The Five Way Agreement bears the stamp of Duff & Phelps and that of the company calling itself Sevco Scotland Limited.

It seems clear – and it was being debated, openly, even at the time, most notably by the late Paul McConville – that this should have been questioned by those running our game.

The legal agreement to purchase the assets of the club was agreed in a different company name; that of Sevco 5088.

It has been alleged, openly and freely, by people associated with this takeover that those assets ended up in Sevco Scotland Ltd by less than exemplary means.

That’s me being diplomatic, and staying within the confines of legal allowance … but Charles Green himself told a national newspaper that, in fact, he had established Sevco Scotland Ltd as a vehicle by which he could “dupe” Craig Whyte and others.

That’s a matter of public record.

What some of us were asking – and still are – is what steps the SFA took at the time, or has taken since, to establish whether or not they are partly culpable if it turns out that Whyte and Worthington have a legitimate claim here?

A new wave of arrests has been made in connection with this, including that of Green himself.

Imran Ahmad is refusing to set foot in the UK until all this is resolved, fearing the legal consequences if he does.

Whyte himself has been huckled, and was subject to the full lynch mob treatment after being charged.

In spite of people hoping it had gone away this story has exploded all over again as any sensible person could have predicted well in advance.

It’s not going away.

I disagree with almost every single statement that comes out of the Rangers Supporters Trust, but they were 100% right when they said the SFA failed in its responsibilities to football when it allowed men such as Green and Whyte to take positions at Ibrox.

Regardless of the outcome in this case, those men were grossly unfit to have a role in running football here.

In my personal view the SFA exacerbated that failure this year in allowing Dave King on the board.

I’m not even going to dwell on the obvious – that the RST would have reacted with typical hysteria had the SFA board actually done what they’re now suggesting they should have.

The principle remains correct.

It was a failure of football governance and a staggering one at that.

What in God’s name were the SFA and the SPL legal teams doing?

If a blogger like Paul was asking questions, why the Hell were none of them doing the same?

How hard was it to ask for proper clarity on the issues, and to enquire just why the purchase agreement hadn’t been adhered to?

It’s not like it’s a small thing; this was a legally binding piece of paper, directing the disposal of assets in a company liquidated for non-payment of tax and other debts. This was serious business, being conducted in full public view … and the whole lot of it ended up transferred to another company entirely, and in circumstances that are going to be the subject of court proceedings.

The cavalier way in which these people went about this is disgraceful.

None of these issues is new.

No new facts have emerged here.

None of this has been raised just in the last four weeks.

I’m not inventing things or discussing the case itself … there were issues which were being raised at the time which the SFA and others had a duty to get to the bottom of, and it seems they never even bothered to try.

Those of us who’ve followed this have long suspected that the governing bodies were so concerned with getting a club calling itself Rangers into the league structure that they overlooked a lot of things they ought to have been on top of.

They allowed themselves to be rushed, to be bullied, to be so intimidated by threats that the takeover might collapse that they simply let Green and others run over them with a tank.

There’s ample evidence for that, such as the memo that guaranteed no title stripping and the way in which the Sevco “transfer ban” allowed the loophole which saw eight players come into the club during a period when they weren’t supposed to have been able to add to the squad.

The granting of a temporary SFA license before a lot of these issues had been resolved was, in my view, absolutely gutless and a devastating strategic error which put the Sevco owners in the driving seat in terms of any future negotiations.

From that moment on, any threat to prevent the club from playing games unless it agreed to a raft of conditions was as empty as a Dave King promise and everyone involved knew it well.

The people running the game in Scotland have given up any pretence of corporate responsibility in recent years.

That Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan remain in post three years after the scandalous summer of 2012 is an outrage for which all of our clubs are, in part, accountable, and Celtic as much as, if not more, than others.

Celtic’s Peter Lawwell, after all, is the one who continued to lend legitimacy to Neil Doncaster far beyond the point where it made any sense at all to do so. Doncaster is a busted flush, widely regarded as a joke by every supporter of every club in the game. Quite why anyone would wish him to remain in his current role is a mystery only those involved can clear up.

Neither he, nor Stewart Regan, two men who between them publicly declared our national sport worthless without Rangers in it, should be anywhere near Scottish football.

It’s instructive too that Alan McRae, elected SFA President on 9 June this year – months ago – has yet to offer any vision, any blueprint, any guidance or leadership on these or other issues in that time.

If there’s change in the air, there’s scant evidence of it.

We really do tolerate an appallingly dearth of ambition or imagination in the way football is run here in Scotland, and we’ve allowed glaring holes in the regulations to be exploited without even bothering to close them and assuring it can’t happen again.

The decision to grant Fit & Proper Person status to King and Murray, when both were on the board of a liquidated club and the chairman has a string of fraud convictions, was not only weak but dangerous as it proves the authorities have learned precisely nothing from the Whyte and Green cases.

That these things have all gone on at one particular club – the one they told us was “too big to fail” – makes it all the worse, because there’s no disincentive for anyone at the club to take a position there with less than honourable intentions.

Nobody should be under any illusions about the competence, or lack thereof, of those who run football in Scotland.

This isn’t even a debating issue any longer.

To call them useless would be to give them more credit than they deserve, but with these arrests we’re in uncharted waters.

There is surely not a single person in our game who was not fully aware that questions existed in relation to thse matter at the time – as Paul McConville had documented extensively – and certainly no-one in the slightest doubt t after November last year.

These assets were sold dirt-cheap, as has been acknowledged everywhere.

The creditors of OldCo Rangers will probably receive pennies in the pound if they are very, very lucky.

This was an unpardonable series of events, and it was the responsibility of the SFA and the other governing agencies to assure that following Whyte’s running of the club that everything in the aftermath was above board.

All this self regulation stuff is cobblers.

They allowed Sevco Rangers to investigate itself over some of these issues, and that particular scandal tells you just how rotten they know this situation actually is, where they couldn’t afford full and independent scrutiny of any aspect of it.

But now these matters are heading for a courtroom, and don’t be surprised if there are shocking revelations along the way, especially where Whyte is concerned, with his penchant for keeping meticulous records of conversations, including on tape.

The Five Way Agreement is just one aspect of all this that those at the top of our sport thought – hoped – would forever remain a secret, buried from view. Now even they have to conclude that there is not the remotest possibility of that happening.

It’s all going to come out.

We are going to get answers, one way or another.

And when they come heads are going to roll, and that’s the very best people can hope for.

My last article on this site suggested that Peter Lawwell of Celtic consider his position at the club and how he wants to be remembered by history. I said it’s not too late for him to save his reputation.

I think the reputations of the people involved in this scandal are beyond saving.

What they have to worry about now is their freedom.

A lot of people in Scottish football must have serious trouble sleeping at the moment.

If so, then good.

That, at least, is a measure of justice for sins past because a lot of them are guilty, even if it is only by association.

A more definitive form of justice might just be on its way, and in a court of law instead of the one of public opinion.

A verdict there has consequences for us all.

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No Resolution

_68112347_campbell_ogilviePower corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. – Lord Acton.

Last week, Celtic cyberspace was buzzing with two stories; the first was about the Josh Meekings case and the other was about the continuing saga of Resolution 12.

That Resolution 12 is still alive at all is a miracle, owing everything to a group of Celtic supporters who simply will not give up.

Those guys – Auldheid, Canamalar, Morrissey, BRTH and others – have carried this matter forward for years. Their efforts in the name of getting to the truth, to getting justice for our club, have been nothing short of heroic.

It was first put to the Celtic AGM nearly three years ago, and when the fans were asked to withdraw the motion they were told that the club knew their concerns and shared them.

They were told that Celtic would look into matters independently and they would get back to the requisitioners on the issue.

Those guys agreed to do that, knowing there would be a backlash, and there was.

A lot of Celtic fans scoffed at the notion of our club wanting to keep this going.

The guys behind Resolution 12 have been pilloried by a great many on their own side.

I understand – in part – why this happened.

Celtic does its business in private, not public, and that can often give the impression that nothing is happening.

They respect certain unwritten rules of the game here, and they have a policy that they don’t comment on certain issues until things have run their course.

As a consequence, people have been saying that the club has been dragging its feet on this. Or worse, that the fans who put the motion on the table and then withdrew it at the board’s urging were duped.

Now, we may be on the verge of getting some measure of justice as reports suggest the issue is now with UEFA after Celtic sent them a dossier.

At the same time, we’re told that Celtic has sent another to the SFA, requesting that certain issues are clarified and that certain questions are answered.

If true then Celtic are to be commended for not letting this matter quietly die.

They could have. A lot of issues from the post-liquidation Rangers period apper to have been dropped.

But Resolution 12 lives on, as it should, because aside from the damage this affair inflicted on sporting integrity it potentially cost Celitc millions of pounds, and the board had a duty to its shareholders to see it was investigated.

Yet as glad as I am about this, there are some who will say it’s come about too late.

The hour at which this matter will finally be decided comes as one of the guilty men – perhaps the guiltiest man of all – prepares to swan off into the sunset, pension intact, reputation intact, legacy assured.

The media will eulogise and laud the “achievements” of Campbell Ogilvie. They might even talk to you about “integrity”, but those of us who’ve invested time and study in these matters know that few men in the recent history of the Scottish game have done more to damage it than he has.

In my view he stands, alongside the disgraced Jim Farry, as one of the most corrupt leaders the game in Scotland has ever had.

At the end of this month he walks away.

As things presently stand he leaves without a stain on his character, at least as far as the history books go. Indeed, the SFA nominated him for a post at UEFA and he almost found himself there, alongside his other disgraced buddy, Hugh Dallas, who one can only assume was given a reference by the governing body although he’d been sacked for a sectarian offence.

Ogilvie taking up a seat alongside him would have been the grossest insult to Celtic fans for quite some time.

All this makes me angry, as it should make every football fan angry.

Yet this isn’t over by a long way. Resolution 12 may yet destroy all that.

That is necessary for the good of this sport.

Celtic may finally be vindicated over Resolution 12, but the greater series of offences against the sport will go unresolved unless his part in it all is fully brought into public focus and he is stripped of any legitimacy he currently holds.

Graham Spiers is but one journalist who will resist any effort to scrutinise this man properly and bring his story full circle. He once described Ogilvie as “one of the most decent men you could ever meet”, and I suspect it wasn’t to get free match tickets for Hampden.

Spiers and others actually do believe this.

I wonder if they are just ignorant of the facts, or if they’re letting their personal views influence their ability to be objective.

Either way, their narrative will not reflect the facts.

That quote comes from an interview he did with Ogilvie for an article in 2013, where he cited Lord Nimmo Smith’s decision to criticise the Rangers board that implemented the EBT scheme. Instead of taking that to its logical, and correct, conclusion Spiers talked about how the former Ibrox director was a man of “integrity” and never questioned the SFA head when he denied playing a part in running the tax scam.

“The EBTs were set up around 2001 at Rangers and I’ve never hidden from the fact that I was then a director at the club,” Ogilvie said in that piece. That statement says a lot about how he views himself; here he is trying to make a virtue out of being upfront about something that is in the public domain anyway, and which he couldn’t slither out of if he tried.

It’s what he says next that blows the mind.

“I didn’t get involved in the financial management of the club in that context. That’s not an excuse – that’s just a fact. I ceased being Rangers’ secretary in 2002 and I ceased being involved in the football admin at Rangers in 2002.”

Of course, we now know that which he then stated as “a fact” is a barefaced lie. So, too, is his contention that his EBT was “to do with me leaving the club in 2005.” Historical research proves both these things to be absolutely false.

Not content with spinning a blatant untruth, he goes even further, and tries to palm all this off as being someone else’s responsibility, choosing to blame his fellow directors, and even accountants and lawyers.

“Maybe as a director I should have asked more questions about it – I accept that now – but when things are signed off by legal people, by accountants, I tended to accept it,” he told Spiers. “I’m not saying the EBTs were illegal. But, knowing all the hassle that they caused, with hindsight, if I could go back, I wouldn’t go down that road.”

Even if we take his word for all of that – ignoring the evidence we know is to hand – what he has just said there makes him grossly unsuitable for the position he went on to hold, the one he holds today, that of President of the Scottish Football Association.

This is a man who’s best defence of that time – indeed his only defence – is that he didn’t know what was happening, that he never asked, that he neglected even his most basic – and legal – duties as a director.

And, of course, the truth is even more damning.

See, Spiers and others don’t like to go here, but Ogilvie admits to having known about EBT’s.

He admits to having been the link man between the club and the governing bodies for several years after the schemes were set up.

Yet despite a raft of regulations Ogilvie knew full well about (and he should have been sacked if he didn’t) those contracts were never declared to the SFA, as his Head of Registrations, Sandy Bryson, later admitted.

In fact, Bryson’s testimony ought to have seen Ogilvie walk the plank anyway, because although his bizarre assertion that the EBT second contracts did not render those players invalid – because no-one knew about them at the time; all that ultimately prevented title stripping on a grand scale – it also puts it on the record that the man at the helm of our association not only knew of their existence but knew that they were being concealed.

I mean, he was treasurer of the SFA whilst on the Ibrox board at the time when EBT’s were a regular part of the club’s wage structure.

He knew they existed, as he admits himself.

He would have known whether the SFA was in possession of them.

He has no defence, and the only one he can attempt is to plead utter ignorance and, as noted, that should have disqualified him from holding any job in football again.

Quite how anyone can support him I simply do not know.

None of this has ever been disputed. It’s just not discussed at all.

The media silence on it is deafening.

I find all this particularly amusing in the week where Gordon Waddell has suggested that Peter Lawwell’s position at the SFA is compromised by his wanting to do the best by Celtic. It is ludicrous, and scandalous, that the same journalists engaging in that line of attack against the Parkhead CEO are notoriously silent on the issues surrounding the SFA President.

They are shameless. The way they target one man whilst protecting the other reveals a naked bias that makes them impossible to take seriously as journalists.

But of course there are too many facts in the public domain for their view on this to prevail over everyone who watches the Scottish game.

Resolution 12 is what damns Ogilvie.

That Rangers was given a license to compete in European football in the 2011/12 season when they had a “tax liability payable” is an outrage which ought never to be forgotten. This referred not to the Big Tax Case, but to the Discounted Options Scheme, the Wee Tax Case, which, at the time, had not formed part of the larger investigation.

The Discounted Options Scheme was, and remains, so toxic that the SFA and SPL made sure it did not form part of the Lord Nimmo Smith case, because it is almost the textbook definition of “the smoking gun”, damning everyone who knew about it.

That senior members of the SFA, including Ogilvie himself, did, and that they also knew full well how dangerous it was is not in dispute either.

For one thing, Ogilvie and Stewart Regan sat down to dinner with a senior Rangers executive in December of that year to discuss spin control on this very issue. They knew this was going to explode, and that meeting was called so they might come up with ideas about how best to defuse the bomb they knew was primed underneath them.

The club certainly knew that license should never have been granted, because HMRC sent the final demand for payment to the club, prior to legal proceedings beginning, in February that year and Rangers’ own lawyer, Andrew Thornhill QC, was left in absolutely no doubt that the legal position regarding the Discounted Options Scheme could not be defended.

Less than one month later, he sent the club a letter outlining his views on this.

The crucial paragraph of the legal advice he offered reads thus:

“The scheme was carried out in a way which suggests that arguing the case would be an uphill task. However, the deciding factor in favour of settling the matter is the existence of side letters in two instances demonstrating that there was a true intention of putting cash into the hands of players as part of their remuneration package. It does not help either that the existence of these letters has been denied or not revealed by the club.”

Ogilvie took the SFA President’s office in June 2011, just two months after HMRC’s final demand, and less than one month before the final SFA decision on the license was granted.

The SFA’s licensing committee, which made that decision, included Andrew Dickson, then Rangers’ head of football administration. The media which has spent the last week castigating Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell appears not to think that was a conflict of interest.

And who is the man who actually initiated this particular tax avoidance scheme at Ibrox?

Well there’s an answer to that too, because despite his denials that he ever played any part in the EBT affair at Rangers, it was Campbell Ogilvie himself who signed the first piece of paper relating to the Discounted Options Scheme.

He was, in fact, the first “shareholder” in the sub-company at Rangers which was running the entire scam.

The irony of all this, of course, is that the club was roundly humiliated when it entered the European arena that year, being knocked out of both continental competitions within a month.

Yet what is equally clear, from what happened next, is that things at Rangers were so perilous that the absence of European football income utterly destroyed Craig Whyte’s business plan, forcing him to stop paying the bills and leading to the ruination of the club.

In short, those inside Ibrox knew how vital European football was to them.

There is little doubt they informed the SFA of the likely consequences of denying them a license and that this played a major part in the decision to grant them one. Regulations be damned. Sporting integrity didn’t even come into it.

Other clubs would have been forced to sell players and try and get their finances under control. Because it was Rangers, and because they had friends in high places, the regulations were ignored and the law itself was bent to the snapping point.

Those people helped to steer Lord Nimmo Smith away from examining the issue and they have been scrambling to clean up the mess ever since.

But Resolution 12 now looms in front of them, like a mugger in alleyway.

Ogilvie has presided over an association that has allowed things to spiral so far out of control at Rangers, and then at Sevco, that it quite literally boggles the mind, but they are far from his only sins.

The SFA President is the walking epitome of the aphorism that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This is the man whose organisation has just sat in judgement of Livingston over “undue influence”, almost crushing them under a sweeping array of punishments because a director of that club held shares in another.

The slap on the wrist Mike Ashley received was a joke next to what’s happened to the Championship team, but it’s no less appalling than when you consider that in the time he was at the SFA he, himself, was knowingly in violation of the same rules.

He held shares in Rangers whilst as a director of Hearts.

He eventually transferred those to the control of his wife, apparently not realising – or more likely just not giving a damn – that this, too, clearly breaches the regulations.

At the same time, because of his position at Ibrox, he would certainly have known that the Airdrie chairman and President of the Scottish Football League, Jim Ballantyne, was a Rangers shareholder and the same applied to Donald Findlay, the chairman at Cowdenbeath.

Of course, these men might well argue that they had no “undue influence” over matters at Ibrox, but in the context of the time that, too, is plainly not the case.

When this was first revealed, at the moment Sevco was still trying to claw its way into the top flight, Ballantyne appeared at a fund-raiser for the club, at Linfield in Belfast, wearing a Rangers Fighting Fund badge on his lapel.

Not only was he serving in those other positions at the time, but he was on the board of the SFA, along with Campbell Ogilvie himself.

In the wake of a public outcry over his appearance at this game, he announced that his club would play no part in the vote to grant Sevco a place in the Championship. Yet even that was not an acknowledgement that his position was untenable in light of his open support for a club not his own.

In the end, his club didn’t vote because they would have been a direct beneficiary of a decision to make Sevco start in the bottom tier.

Ballantyne remains on the SFA Professional Game Board to this day.

Neither he, nor his club, have ever been the subject to disciplinary action for his dual shareholding, nor has Findlay at Cowdenbeath, and of course Ogilvie himself has never been asked the serious questions about his and his wife’s shareholding in Rangers that ought to have been levelled at him when he took up a senior position at Tynecastle.

Rangers – Sevco certainly was certainly never likely to pay a price for these activities, although they opened up the potential of one club and people associated with it wielding enormous influence at the SFA and the Scottish Football League.

Ogilvie is, at best, an unbelievable hypocrite.

At worst, he is the embodiment of the SFA’s long history of bent practices and looking the other way.

He exemplifies what happens when someone is allowed to escape the scrutiny that should automatically go to someone in a position of authority and responsibility. In effect, he has spent the latter part of his career deciding what regulations apply to him and the club where he earned his stripes.

The end of his tenure ought to have been forced on him at least three years ago. That it wasn’t will remain one of the great scandals in the history of our sport and if Resolution 12 explodes – and it has the potential to be thermonuclear – it will haunt the SFA for years to come.

When Ogilvie departs, and the post is up for grabs, it must be hoped that someone with more integrity takes over in his absence. The end of the old “SFA blazer” era is long, long overdue. Light has to be allowed to flood into the dark corners.

I have real hope that this organisation can yet be reformed, and made serve the game as a whole.

But Ogilvie, himself, must not be allowed to swan off into the sunset with a hundred unanswered questions about his tenure remaining.

He must not be granted the media send-off which is almost certain, and which he does not deserve.

Justice is still undone.

It will remain like that until Campbell Ogilvie joins Jim Farry in the SFA Hall of Shame.

Celtic can bring to light the scandal of the UEFA License in 2011-12, but until this man is called out for what he is, and his reputation is in shreds much like the SFA Constitution he leaves behind him, there will remain no resolution.

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The Coming Decision

stewart-regan_2277088bScottish football is approaching yet another crossroads.

You can already tell that’s it going to be even more contentious than the last one.

You cannot have watched Sevco recently and not realise they are floundering on the pitch as much as they are off it. How bad are things in both theatres?

One word. Alloa. The performance was shambolic, but more shambolic by far is the unseemly scrambling that’s gone on in the aftermath.

The fact McCoist has not already paid for that debacle with his job is revealing, for it’s hard to believe any other manager in this country would have survived being nine points behind in the league as well as a reversal like that.

So a complete mess, on all fronts, as you’re all doubtless aware.

The board is at war with the fans. They want rid of the manager, but have no money to sack him. He knows he’s not wanted by either the supporters or his bosses, and he knows he’s in over his head.

He also knows the longer he stays the more his reputation swirls down the drain. But he’s arrogant and selfish, and he likes the money and knows there’ll be nothing like it again.

They’re all stuck with each other, and as the ship heads towards the rocks we’re going to see all aboard begin to gouge one another’s eyes out.

None of that is the story. Oh I’ll cover every blood stained detail of it, but it won’t be the really important thing. The really important part will be the campaign to save them, in which the media will play its role, and in which the governing bodies will do their bit.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because the campaign is already getting geared up. You can see it in the growing number of articles which remind us “how much our game needs them”. You can hear it in Hugh Keevins’ voice when he utters nonsense like “Scottish football cannot afford for them not to be in the SPL.”

Mark my words, the last time we were facing this issue, well it was cake compared to how tough this one will be. When this happened before, Rangers was already dead. Sevco had been born, and was already pretending to be the same club.

When the vote had to be taken, it was about where the club would play. If the roof collapses completely this time, the actual existence of a club calling itself Rangers may depend on how it goes … or so they’ll tell us anyway.

If they do, it will be a lie. But I still expect them to chance their arm.

The vote, of course, will be on what we can do to help save Sevco and, as they will not tire of telling us, how in doing it we can save ourselves.

It could come down to league reconstruction. It might be a vote to let the next NewCo stay put in the Championship, instead of starting from the bottom. It might be amnesty. It might letting them go straight to the SPL by right. Anything is possible in the game here.

What I know – what we all know – is that it’s coming.

The first moves have already been made.

For starters, did you know that it’s the SPFL board who will decide whether a second NewCo starts at the bottom or not? Do you realise that? That they got so spooked last time that they actually changed the rules, and took this decision out of the hands of the clubs? There’s no way in Hell they are putting their trust in the members this time.

If we’re not watching, and putting the pressure on, this matter will be decided in a stinking backroom deal that will reek the house out.

We better have our arguments lined up in advance, because they’ve already got theirs in play. The first is the Victim Myth, the notion that the club itself did nothing wrong, that it has been used and abused by Bad People, that all its wealth has been looted.

Let’s try, for a wee second, to imagine the world these people live in where they think you can separate the club from the people who run it.

It’s a little like trying to separate the club from the business that runs it, but let’s not forget that they think they have actually done that successfully.

It makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?

It confuses you no less than when you consider that this is precisely the system the SFA allows. They make the clubs responsible for proper disclosure, with the understanding that if they are caught lying or bucking the system that they’ll get punished.

The punishments are pitiful. They didn’t even accept a motion that clubs who go into administration face automatic relegation. The one measure that would actually have done some good, have made some impact, have given clubs an incentive to get their act together … and it was voted down. And what excuse did they offer?

It would be too complicated to enforce it. No joke, that’s what they said.

What happens, they asked, when a club has already been promoted? Does it get relegated instead? What happens when a club has already been relegated? Do we relegate them twice?

These are the two allegedly complex questions which buried automatic relegation, the only effective punishment on the table.

Am I the only one who thinks they both speak for themselves? A club that enters administration after winning promotion doesn’t win promotion. A club that’s already been relegated and then goes into administration … well, that club has serious problems and they’re probably not going to get out of them any time soon. A transfer embargo and a points deduction for the following season will do just fine.

There you go. Easy. But apparently too difficult for the governing bodies.

This rule change was voted down at a point where only one club looked in imminent danger of running into the brick wall. We know who that club is. They are still the only club rolling towards that particular disaster.

I absolutely believe the people who took this decision had one eye on Sevco’s dire financial situation, and so we’ve already seen one major decision on imposing financial sanity on our game fumbled because of how it will affect that club.

Be under no illusions; if they believe a deal can be stitched up they’ll try it, and they won’t care what the fans think because they won’t give us a chance to put our views out there.

They would turn Scottish football into a rigged game, and we know that because they would have done it the last time. They have no shame about it.

What’s worse is they still believe that was the right decision, and to top it off they are perfectly willing to point to their own commercial failures, their own rank incompetence – like being unable to find sponsors for our major tournaments – as proof that they were correct.

Amazing, isn’t it? Barry Hearn’s feet hadn’t even crossed the Hampden threshold to the outside world the other day but the spin had started. The product was impossible to sell without Sevco in the top flight. That was the excuse.

None of our hacks thought to ask if the product became impossible to sell the second they, and the governing bodies, got together in an orgy of self-destructive briefing two years ago, to tell the whole world that our game was worthless without the Ibrox monstrosity in it.

They are the ones who spent an entire summer telling the world – with a megaphone – that Scottish football is no more than a two team game, without which it’s a backwater.

Heads should have rolled. Barry Hearn was right on that one. None did, and so the very same people who lacked the imagination, and the balls, to act appropriately then are still in office today, and they see the vindication of their own idiocy in their continuing failures since.

Only Scottish football would tolerate this. We aren’t a backwater, but by God do we act like it sometimes because somewhere a whole region of villages are missing their idiots, and we have the media and the football associations to prove it.

So we have the commercial damage that has already been wrought on the SPFL as a business. We have the Ibrox fans and the Victim Myth. Tied to this we have this notion of trying to separate what the board does from the club it governs.

We have no actual rule on relegation after administration, so no worries there, and we have left it up to the SPFL board to decide what to do with a NewCo. Add to this the complication (one the SFA most assuredly brought on themselves) regarding Ashley and we have one almighty mess.

Let me give you the outlines of what a god-forsaken shambles this is, and why the stakes are so high for the people at Ibrox.

Imagine the Good Ship Sevco goes down. Imagine for a moment Ashley says “no more funding this mess in its current form. Let it crash.”

Now, Ashley can’t take over the club. He’s out. Because if he does he first has to get rid of a club that plays in the EPL and makes him tens of millions, and gives him the global audience he won’t get at Ibrox if he runs the club for 100 years.

If he wanted to take over – a big if, he’s not an idiot – the SFA would simply have to turn him down because of dual ownership rules.

Or they could acquiese. Hell, why not? Why not start work on creating the next big confrontation, the next big crisis, right from the start?

Because, of course, the “change in the corporate structure” would assure that, as far as UEFA was concerned, Rangers Version III would be banned from Europe for a further three years anyway … so no problems with Newcastle there, but at the same time, there goes the business plan.

Dave King would be unable to come in, not that he’s shown any real willingness to anyway. The SFA regulations are clear, and he’s in violation of at least two of them. He can’t be a director after one incarnation of the club has already detonated on his watch, and he can’t be a director because he has a criminal conviction – for fraud nonetheless – on his record in the last ten years.

The same clause will bar all the current directors. And everyone who served on the old Rangers board. So none of them will be involved with the new company either.

Apart from the fact that there should be mass resignations at the SFA and the SPFL, after letting two clubs out of the same stadium go down in three years despite a mountain of publicly available information that could have prevented it (as could the application of the goddamned rules as they are written down), there would be no way around making sure that whoever bought the assets for the next adventure had a rock solid business plan based on spending matching earnings.

So bang goes Walter and any of the other “Rangers men” who think the answer is to come in and spend money (other people’s money) chasing dreams. They should be told to go away, lie down in a cold, dark room and come back when they are making sense.

So once you’ve removed from the list of prospective owners all those who had a hand in this disaster and everyone who wants to run it based on the Walter Smith Big Book of Football Business, once your governing bodies have decided, at the third time of asking (hey! Maybe a little late, but welcome to the party) to do actual due diligence instead of leaving it up to crooks to reveal what they are to your oversight board, what’s left?

Well, sadly, for the supporters of the club that would have just died, for the SFA governors and especially for the media, that leaves only business people. Real business people. The kind who see the club as an enterprise from which they can make money, if it’s run right.

Provided these people can be found – and don’t count on it – what does that mean?

That means a low cost base. That means putting trophies and success on the pitch aside for a while, until the balance sheet can justify an increase in the football budget. During the first three years there will be no European football, whether the club is in the SPL or not, so you can forget any kind of proper funds being available for the manager to spend.

Forget banks doing business with them. Pretending to be a continuation of a continuation makes them the dodgiest bet of all dodgy bets for people who lend money. HMRC would be perfectly entitled to worry too, and they’d be justified in asking them for advances on taxes, as they often do with phoenix companies.

As for going to the City for investment later on; forget it. That well is poisoned now and forevermore for football clubs hailing from this fair land, so whoever was running this ship of fools would need to be clear that only direct income would be available for living the dream.

Unless Sevco can find cash in the mattress, or Mike Ashley decides, for the first time in his life, to throw good money after bad, then the chances of all this coming to pass are about 75-25, which is a higher probability that I would have assigned to Craig Whyte’s actions leading to the liquidation last time.

This is not a club heading for administration, a short-sharp-shock and then the out the other side. This is a company that’s going to the wall. It has no leadership, no business plan, expenses through the roof and no visible means of raising money.

Administration itself would come with a 25 point penalty (how’s that for “this is the same club” lads and lassies?), which condemns the club to at least another year in the second tier, and would surely see their squad stripped to the point where a challenge next season is improbable at best.

In short; they are almost certainly screwed.

Once you accept that – and you pretty much have to – you need to start thinking about what comes next and what the governing bodies might do to prevent it.

The clock is ticking, and the other side already has its arguments lined up in a row.

In my view, it’s time we started to do the same.

The lobbying of clubs has to start at once. Celtic is already on the record as being opposed to the restructuring of the leagues, and that is a welcome announcement, but as this article shows is not the only issue here.

NewCo II or Rangers III or whatever else it’s being called must not be allowed to take the place of Sevco in the league.

The relegation regulation was not voted through … but in the end we’re not talking about a relegation anyway. We’re talking, again, about a brand new club, and that’s too big a decision to be left to the SPFL board, with commercial interests coming first.

None of us wants to spend another summer on this. We didn’t want it last time. Yet, the grotesque mismanagement of our game, and the reckless, uncontrolled behaviour of the Ibrox club, has brought us here once more.

Despite the Armageddon prophesies, and the catastrophic talking down of our sport, with all the commercial consequences that came with it, the game here has survived and some of our clubs are thriving as never before.

Financial Fair Play regulations are said to be on their way.

Sanity is being restored, slowly but surely.

The wrong decision here will not only undo everything good, but it will obliterate trust between fans, their clubs, the governing bodies … the whole bit.

Scottish football would not survive that, and I simply do not trust these people to do it right.

The future of our sport is, once again, in the hands of the fans.

Get ready for this. It’s coming.

Same Rules Apply?

imagesImagine you’re a footballer who goes down in the box under a 50/50 challenge. The referee takes one look at the incident and decides you took a dive.

You get booked, and that’s the end of the story. There’s no appeal here. The decision of the ref is final.

Okay, so rewind and look at the same incident again. Only this time, the ref thinks it was a penalty and he gives it.

Whether someone scores or not is irrelevant, because it’s what happens next that gets your hackles raised.

Someone in the media sees the incident a different way from the referee. They raise a little Hell and all of a sudden you are invited to a disciplinary panel to defend yourself against allegations of diving.

The panel reviews the incident again, but like the pundit they disagree with the referees decision. They decide you were simulating – diving to use the parlance of our time. You wind up with a ban despite your protestations.

Now, there’s no evidence against you except a piece of television footage that is inconclusive. The referee, who was on the scene during the game, gave a penalty because he thought you were tackled unfairly.

Tough though, because a pundit started squealing, a review panel was convened and now you are branded a cheat and missing games.

I, personally, think the system reeks. It relies not simply on subjective evaluations of incidents (and we all know how good the SFA is at those, right?) but in some cases it appears to depend on an ability to read minds. How can you really know what a player intended? Do they strap him to a lie detector? Do they bring out the sodium pentothal?

I thought the Boerrigter case was scandalous. Tonight, as Kris Boyd is found “not proven” for violent conduct, I marvel at the double standards we still see in our game.

It’s another case of one rule for an Ibrox player and another for everyone else. TV footage has now been cast into doubt, or rendered useless unless, by some miracle, you can prove intent by it.

Whilst that creates a fairer, and more balanced system in our game (at least in my view), this would only be so if I thought for one minute we’d see more cases end in players being cleared.

Not only will we not see that, but the actual open nature of the verdict here is what really stinks. We all saw the footage of what Boyd did here. There was no way they could bring in a “no case to answer” verdict in this case.

Instead they went with the next best thing, a verdict that shouldn’t apply in football at all. In doing so, they’ve resurrected nasty past precedents and are storing up trouble for a case that’s about to be heard.

I am shocked that no-one at the SFA realises this.

These people are incompetent beyond belief.

This decision was clearly taken to benefit McCoist and his team at a time when they are struggling – although I don’t know why they’ve bothered, as Boyd has been only slightly better than useless- and it is tempting to look at the wider context, and how many of these bizarre decisions go against Celtic or for the benefit of whichever entity is playing out of Ibrox, but actually it’s worse because it goes beyond that into the general contempt for the rules that I’ve spoken about before.

There can’t be another football association anywhere which allows so many grey areas in its regulations. A not proven verdict for violent conduct? Are you serious? Where the Hell did that come from? Why even bother to bring him before the committee at all?

Boyd was issued with a “Note of Complaint” and offered a ban. Someone, somewhere, watched the video footage and decided there was a case to answer. I watched it myself. Boyd clearly pushes his head into the other player’s face. Where’s the “reasonable doubt?”

Here’s the rub. We know the SFA makes these decisions on a subjective basis. They always have, and like I said, I think the system of doing so stinks to high heaven. In that regard, I think the Boyd decision would have been perfectly valid if it had ended in a straight “no case to answer.”

Oh that verdict would have caused the phone lines to meltdown and the Twittersphere to convulse with rage, but it would have been a change that was not entirely unwelcome.

The idea of the disciplinary board basing its decisions strictly on what it can prove, rather than on what its officials “infer” from their interpretation of events, is not wholly a bad idea.

But not proven … oh boy, does that store up some serious issues for the future.

By the way, it’s not the first time this verdict has been used in a case involving Sevco Rangers. Charles Green was found “not proven” when he questioned the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry before it had even sat. I mean, we at least waited until after it had delivered its shocking verdict before doing the same. Craig Whyte was also given a “not proven” on one of the cases he had in front of the beaks.

Why is such an open-ended verdict on the statue books at all? Is it there for wiggle room? it’s simply embarrassing.

Precisely how does the SFA ever hope to win a disciplinary case again now that they’ve made it clear that TV evidence isn’t to be wholly relied on? Was the Boerrigter case anything other than a witch-hunt, in light of this? How did they “prove” intent in that case?

If every case now has to be judged on the “facts” – and those “facts” are nearly always in dispute – how the Hell are they ever going to get another result? This is an unbelievable reversal for them, especially as not one single new fact was introduced in this case to mitigate what we all saw on TV.

If this is the end of the “mind reading” I’ll applaud it, but I can’t shake the suspicion that this won’t be the case. Whatever inspired today’s committee to look at the TV pictures of Boyd pushing his head into another man’s face and decide it was not convincing enough to merit a guilty verdict, it’s hard to believe we’ll see this kind of “logic” applied often.

This is why people don’t trust the association. This lack of consistency.

But there’s something else that troubles me more.

Alexander Tonev is due to go in front of the SFA panel shortly, and I have thought since I first read the details in his case that is almost inconceivable that he will be subject to a disciplinary action. What they have in that case is hearsay and nothing more. There’s not even TV evidence to reinterpret, only one witness who says he heard something and a bunch of others who he told he heard something.

This isn’t violent conduct or going down for a penalty. This is much more serious than that. To label a man a racist on the basis of what’s been presented in this case would be deadly ground for the association to tread.

The decision today was wrong for any number of reasons, and it is baffling, because we’ve come to expect the SFA to act as judge, jury executioner and interpret facts as it sees fit, deciding on guilt or innocence on the basis of what they have to hand.

But this was neither of those things. Not proven is a bastard verdict, as it is in law, used here for no reason I can fathom except to create a world of trouble for the future.

See, I’ve mentioned the Tonev case very specifically here, because the not proven verdict is, and always has been, a double edged sword. It does not carry the punishment of a guilty finding, which is all that matters if you’re trying to do is avoid a ban … but neither does it clear you, which matters very much if you are being called a bigot and accused of something as reprehensible as racially abusing another player.

That’s the kind of “reasonable doubt” that follows you around forever, and it will create enormous problems if we put, on Scottish football’s statue book, a case where such a doubt can stop you getting banned but still destroy your reputation.

This isn’t a James Forrest flight of fancy either. This has happened before.

Back in 2006, a Spartans player alleged racial abuse from a player at Whitehill Welfare. The case went before the SFA, who delivered exactly the verdict they have in this case. Both clubs, and both players, were furious.

Piara Powar of Kick of It Out was clearly worried by the verdict. “The SFA has not dealt with this in the right way. I don’t see why the SFA would not give this a fair hearing and adjudicate one way or the other.”

The player who made the allegation, Dan Gerrard, was scathing when he spoke to the press about the decision, a decision on which there was no appeal.

“It is laughable, incomprehensible, that it could fail in such an open-and-shut case,” he said of the disciplinary board. “I shudder to think of how it would deal with a more contentious one.”

We may well be about to find out, and eight years on from that verdict it is simply ludicrous that the SFA has not eliminated the possibility for such a perverse outcome from their rules and regulations.

I hope Tonev is cleared, as he should be with no evidence to support a disciplinary. But I fear that instead of that he’ll be put in this horrendous, grey area and that will follow him around for the rest of his football career.

The governors of our game never look that far ahead. In their rush to do a turn for “Coisty” and keep the Ibrox “recovery” on the rails, they have resurrected a clause with the potential to do serious damage to other players and clubs.

Shame on them for their lack of foresight, and the trouble it might yet cause. Shame on them for not removing this ridiculous rule from the statute books. Tonight they’ve once again made a mockery of all sense of justice in our national sport.

We expect nothing less from these clowns.

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You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two

moody460So, the Sevco Rangers £4 million share issue was a “success” was it? That’s what they’re calling it anyway, the club and some of the media.

I daresay it might even look like one, inside the walls of Ibrox.

Maybe it was, in the same way, I imagine, that some of Epirus’ generals must have thought they’d done alright at the Battles of Heraclea and Asculum.

Their leader, Pyrrhus, knew better, telling one of his more switched on officers that “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”

On the surface of it, one would think it’s not been altogether bad for them. They’ve raised some money, they’ve kept on the lights, and they’ve got enough to lumber onwards to the end of October and maybe into November and December.

But without a massive influx of cash, this club is going to sink like a stone, and please note; that is millions just to get through the season, to continue to shamble through the wilderness like a George Romero zombie. That’s the best they’re going to get, and they need to adjust to that.

They need to stop thinking about being competitive. They need to focus only on survival. Selling them on that is hard, a little like trying to sell a fat guy on pizza flavour Rivita instead of the 12 inch stuffed crust Meat Ultimo.

McCoist has tried it, though not very hard. (Selling them on austerity. Not the Rivita.) He might have wailed like a big wean about not being able to sign a new starting eleven every year, but he knows the days of Laudrup’s and Gazza’s are over forever.

He’s a curious fellow, is McCoist. He preaches this mantra of “we don’t do walking away” when the club is at its lowest ebb and now that they’re a couple of seasons at most from the top flight he’s singing a song about the clock running down on him at Ibrox.

This surprises me for a number of reasons. He knows he has a cast-iron contract, and that no-one can fire him without handing him a chunk of change. He’s watertight, especially with the club in dire straits. They can’t afford to get rid of him.

Granted, he’s no longer a young man, but unless a Greggs diet stops him in his tracks he’s got years to go in the game, and if he wants it, I suspect that he can get through much of it sitting in the dug-out at Ibrox unless there’s a dramatic change of the tide.

I find it equally curious that he’s talking about this at a time when he’s “invested” what he calls a “right few quid” in shares.

This piqued my interest. Yesterday, when I was reading that, I found myself humming a song. When I realised I was doing it I found it amusing, because it’s from the movie Oliver, and I made it the title of this piece because it seems so right on the nose.

“in this life, one thing counts … in the bank, large amounts … I’m afraid these don’t grow on trees … you have to pick a pocket or two.”

So whose pockets were picked to get Sevco Rangers through the next few months?

McCoist “invests” in new shares as the club scrapes across the line, and in the same week he starts talking about how a time will come when he’ll get sick of the pressure he’s under and head for the hills. Am I the only one joining the dots?

It may just be that I’m reading the landscape wrong. But, for just a minute, put yourself in the shoes of those on the Sevco board of directors who know what has to be done.

The club is in a bad spot and it’s in that position partly because it has a top heavy management structure, a tendency to live beyond its means and a team that’s far too expensive. There are people on the board who are behind the man in the manager’s office on these issues and are highly resistant to the idea of making cut-backs. They want to protect the brand, by making it look as if the old Rangers is still alive and well.

So what do you do if you’re on the other side, the sensible side?

Well, what you can do is approach the manager and lay it all out for him. Even after some of the key players have put down a few quid to try and get the share issue to succeed, because otherwise they are writing off their investments up until now … well, you’re still coming up short of the percentage required by the Stock Exchange to make it legitimate.

Without hitting that mark, the shares can’t be traded and the club will not be able to pay its bills for the coming months.

So you tell McCoist what that means. It means administration. Ta-ta to some of his co-workers in the management team. His playing squad will have to let go five, six, more, first team stars in order to start breaking even. It means the training ground is up for auction, and if you’re really in the mood to confront him with Armageddon you tell him that his own salary will need to be cut and, in the final extremis, the stadium might need to be sold in a lease-back deal.

You present all this to him as fait accompli.

There’s nothing else for it, you tell him. Except …

I suspect – I am not stating this for a fact, mind, I am just saying I suspect it and I think it’s possible – that McCoist has been told if he made up the shortfall there would be no need for any of those things. That it would buy the club time, which would give them a fighting chance.

It would also have been possible to sell him on the idea by reminding him that at 20p each the shares were grossly under-valued compared to what the fans paid. It’s entirely possible that McCoist could come out of this with a tidy profit.

Nevertheless, it looks, to me, as if it was McCoist’s money that got them across the finish line. That it was his pockets the directors picked to give them a chance of seeing them through to the AGM.

How does he feel about that? How would you feel? I think it’s probably the reason he’s been greeting about the pressure and talking about packing up his tent and heading for pastures new.

In the meantime, there are no real answers here to the wider problems which confront them. Having paid off Imran Ahmed with cash they didn’t have, rather than risk a court date later, they’ve diluted a pot of money that wasn’t strong to begin with.

The more you examine them, the more you realise they are a club living on borrowed time.

The shambles involving the Malaysians has, again, demonstrated this organisations total lack of credibility in The City. Even if Sevco Rangers itself was not a black hole for cash, even if there was some profit to be made in seeing them “restored”, it will never be realised now. They’re talking about going to institutional investors for £10 million on the back of what we’ve seen this week?

There’s more chance of Alex Salmond being elected the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

In the places where it counts, in the boardrooms and investment houses, the horrendous image of one of their club directors, a guy who’s done time, a guy with a fraud conviction, sitting down for lunch with a guy on Interpol’s Most Wanted List is going to haunt them for years and years to come. No investor will touch them. No bank will lend them money.

The man the media and much of their support is similarly relying on is, himself, a fraudster and a crook, a man who bought off the South African government because the alternative is jail.

They are about as credible an investment as a “Dry Clean Only” raincoat. They are finished.

Today the price of a Sevco share has fallen to 19p. A box of Freddo Bars is worth more than a Sevco share certificate.

This really is an institution on hard, hard times.

Crisis swirls around them like a storm that won’t quit. The vultures are circling, and for the first time since all this began Ally is talking about walking away.

Can you read the writing on the wall?

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Flying The Flag

celtic-green-brigades-pal-flagThis article was originally intended to be about the transfer window, but I wasn’t looking forward to writing it as it left me decidedly underwhelmed, in spite of Celtic signing the strikers we’ve been crying out for. It feels like too little, too late.

(Especially as one of the deals is hanging in the balance. I don’t even want to go there.)

I am glad I found something else to write about, but I’ll tell you something; I’m sitting here, right now, and I am absolutely furious about what that something is.

UEFA has decided to warn two Scottish clubs over the conduct of their fans, the clubs being Celtic and St Johnstone, because their supporters had Palestinian flags at recent European games.

This, says UEFA, is a breach of their articles on political expression.

I am staggered by this notion, and I hope to God that neither club stands for it. Not only is it a nonsensical position for UEFA to take, but it is hypocritical and itself politically weighted. It defies belief that they would actually argue such a thing, and it will be an immoral disgrace if the clubs simply roll over and accept it.

Palestinian flags have long flown at Celtic Park. It is an expression of solidarity with an oppressed people, and an expression of support for the cause of establishing a fully-fledged Palestinian state, a cause supported right across the world. It is not anti-Israeli and it is not a flag of war. Indeed, in 2012 the United Nations granted Palestine the status of an observer state. This is one step away from giving them full recognition as an autonomous nation. It is the same status as is held by the Holy See and it was the legal position of Switzerland until 2002.

Is UEFA saying it would not recognise the Vatican City State flag as that of a nation state, but would consider it a “political statement”?

UEFA is based in Switzerland, where it presumably flies its national flag. Did it refuse to do that before 2002? Because surely that would have been a political statement too, right?

I’ll go even further. In 1999, the European Union itself recognised the right to a Palestinian state, in the Berlin Declaration. Palestine is a signatory to a number of international treaties, including the Convention on War, the Geneva Convention and the Vienna Conventions on Treaties and Diplomatic Relations. The nation state is recognised by 134 United Nations members.

The Celtic and St Johnstone fans were not holding up a political banner. The clubs have been prosecuted because their supporters held up a national flag, one that is recognised by almost every country on Earth, the European Union and the United Nations.

Furthermore, Palestine is a recognised nation in football too. They are member of the Asian Football Confederation and are recognised by FIFA.

There are no words for the contempt I feel for this decision.

According to reports, UEFA deem the flag a political symbol because of the on-going struggle in the Middle East, and it’s this notion I find most offensive.

Because how can they deem a national flag a political symbol, unless they themselves are viewing it through the prism of political ideology? There are only a few countries which do not recognise it as the flag of a nation state. The UK is one. America is another, and, of course, so is Israel. UEFA’s refusal to recognise the flag, even as the European Community does, is a blatantly political statement and a blatant taking of sides in the conflict.

No-one would ,or should, suggest that Israeli clubs do not fly their own national flag. Yet they are on the other side of this conflict. To label one side in a certain way and not the other is, itself, a profoundly political decision. It stinks to high heaven that they reckon they can do this kind of thing with impunity, as if the contradiction is not obvious to any right thinking person.

The Green Brigade were sanctioned last year for their Wallace and Bobby Sands banner shortly before UEFA ordered every club in every member nation to observe a minute of silence to remember the life of the great Nelson Mandela. People within the Celtic support were asking how one could be alright and not the other. They pointed to the similarities between these three men and this was further borne out when Sands’ contemporary Gerry Adams was chosen by the Mandela family as part of his funeral guard of honour.

UEFA ties itself in knots when it does this stuff and it doesn’t even appear to realise it.

The promotion of anti-racist organisations is a profoundly political statement. Their awareness campaigns on homophobia are political statements. I agree with them on these particular political issues, but that’s not the point.

They allow Scotland, England and Wales, as well as the north of Ireland, to compete in their competitions as separate states, although all are members of a single political, social and economic union. This is a political decision, and it could be argued that at the moment Scotland fans have less actual right to fly the Saltire at football than to fly the Palestinian flag, as the nation state of Scotland doesn’t presently exist on the world stage, at any level, far less that for which Palestine has recognition.

Where does UEFA get off here? Are the SFA really going to stand for this? Are the two clubs going to let this pass? This impacts especially heavily on Celtic, as we’ve had a pull for political expression before and with our fans propensity for flying the flag it may well not be our last warning in this regard. In fact, it almost certainly won’t be.

Peter Lawwell has a seat on the SFA board. This would be a good time to put it to use, to stand up for both of our clubs and their supporters. UEFA ought to be made explain this one, publicly, to argue the reasons why they deem a national flag as something else and this verdict, which I predict will become a notorious one, reversed.

We should be using social media to promote the hypocrisy of this to other clubs and their fans. We should get the idea of flying that flag out there, and get it to go viral. Widespread condemnation and public opinion should be brought to bear on this issue.

I hope to God we don’t remain silent here. This one has to be challenged. Peter Lawwell gets a hard time on this blog, but he will go up in my estimation enormously if he takes this one on, on behalf of the two clubs and their fans.

This can’t be allowed to stand.

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Warsaw The Fuss About?

33As players, fans, the manager and – most especially – the club secretary of Legia Warsaw wake up this morning, with their club still frozen in shock, one thought may console them: it could have been a lot worse.

Legia’s administrative error in bringing on a player who was suspended, thus costing them victory at Murrayfield against Celtic and so leading to their exit from the Champions League qualifiers, is doubtless painful. However, if Bartosz Bereszynski had not played against Celtic, he would still have been suspended for the first of the final qualifying round games, meaning they could feasibly have qualified for the actual Champions League and then had their results changed.

Celtic’s Champions League return and reprieve is as bizarre as it is embarrassing. The club were well beaten by Legia and really don’t deserve to be in with a chance of making the group stages. However the rules are clear, and this really isn’t about Celtic or the Poles.

The Champions League – as we are constantly told – is a multi-million pound tournament. Entry guarantees participants huge sums of money and, as such, there is huge competition to get there. The fact is that UEFA need to have rules that are black-and-white, and not open to interpretation or challenge, for fear that they would end up in court.

The idea that Celtic should decline to take the spot is noble, but utterly wrong, as is this “request” that we should agree to some sort of play-off game. Celtic’s refusal to compete would open them up to UEFA sanctions including suspension from European competition. UEFA cannot have a pick-or-mix set of rules for fear that in future this ambiguity will lead them to legal defeats from aggrieved clubs.

In the case of this issue, the rules are clear. Legia fielded a suspended player and as a result they forfeited that game 3-0. This is exactly what the rules demand and follows the precedent set too. There have been some claims that UEFA have previously only issued fines in these circumstances, but that misunderstands different rules.

The case that has mainly been cited is that of Debrecen. In 2010 the Hungarian side played Bulgarians Litex Lovech in the Europa League. Whilst winning 4-1, Debrecen brought on a player for only a few minutes who was not registered (and thus ineligible) for that game. When the mistake came to light, Debrecen were fined rather than forfeiting the game, on the grounds that it made no material impact on the game’s outcome.

As much as it is technical difference, this is not the case with Celtic and Legia. Wrongly playing an ineligible player (someone who is otherwise free to play if registered) is not the same as playing someone who is suspended and thus excluded from the competition. The relevant rules are below:

Article 21 – Forfeit

• If a match cannot take place or cannot be played in full, the member association or club responsible forfeits the match.

• A match is declared forfeit if a player who has been suspended following a
disciplinary decision participates in the match.

• A match may be declared forfeit if a player who is ineligible under the regulations of the competition concerned participates in the match, as long as the opposing team files a protest.

• The consequences of a match being declared forfeit are as follows: a) the team forfeiting the match is deemed to have lost 3-0 (5-0 in futsal competitions), unless the actual result is less favourable to the member association or club at fault, in which case that result stands.

Bullet point 2 is the relevant section here; Legia played a suspended player, they thus forfeit the game 3-0.

Bullet point 3 is the section that relates to the Debrecen match and in any case requires Celtic to lodge a protest which apparently they did not do. It was the UEFA delegate at the game who noticed the problem and thereafter a UEFA/Legia dispute; Celtic were nothing to do with the decision, even if they ultimately became beneficiaries.

This is worth noting, and reminding people of. Celtic played no part and this, and rightly continue to play no part in it. This decision was for UEFA alone, and is perfectly in keeping with their regulations.

The problem is that because the Debrecen and Legia instances are similar – a player who shouldn’t have played did – it leads to complaints about fairness. It is rather like saying that Criminal A steals something and gets 6 months in prison whilst Criminal B steals something and only gets 3 months, which seems unjust. However closer inspection reveals that Criminal A was a burglar who entered someone’s home whilst Criminal B took something from a shop. Just because two things can be summarised the same way doesn’t mean to say they are the same thing.

Legia are now in the process of appealing the decision but, quite simply, they have no chance of success, if only for the huge knock-on consequences this would have. Reinstating Legia to the Champions League would surely result in the entire Champions League and Europe League draws having to be redone.

This is because Celtic and Legia’s position in the respective draws was not the same; for instance, Legia were not seeded in the Champions League whereas Celtic were. If Legia were to go back in it would mean they had a better draw than would otherwise have been the case, and another side (Bulgarians Ludogorets Razgrad) could demand they get a fairer draw.

So a strange if potentially hugely beneficial series of events for Celtic. But as with Legia, things could always be much worse. Whilst this certainly presents an opportunity, it may not be a positive one. After all, how many sides can say they have been knocked out of the Champions |League qualifiers twice in the same season?

Celtic were woeful in both games against Legia. Repeating those performances against FC Maribor may result in a similar outcome, though presumably without the ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card this time. Celtic need to invest in players, especially with the departure of Fraser Forster freeing up funds. Even if the team is good enough to beat Maribor, they are some distance from being Champions League standard.

Happiness (and some muted embarrassment) is presumably the dominant emotion at Celtic Park today. Celtic now have to make sure that, like Legia, things aren’t about to get a lot worse.

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a3ec11124431369ee03e3de27c482b46The title of this particular piece is taken from one of my favourite television shows, The West Wing. In this particular episode the President and his staff have just beaten back an attempt to stiff them over a banking lobby bill, to which someone has attached a rider.

Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, an honourable idealist in a White House full of them, a man who got into politics to do good and accomplish things, succeeds in winning his political battles on this occasion, but the manner of the victory –and the opposition to it having manifest itself inside the Democratic Party  – leaves him deeply uncomfortable.

As the President is going back to his personal quarters that night, Josh calls to him before he goes in. “We talk about enemies more than we used to,” he says. “I just wanted to say that.”

The President looks at him, and nods, and it is clear that he too is saddened at the way in which idealism and the desire to be part of a high-minded and serious debate have met the inevitable brick wall of political reality, forcing them into a series of battles.

On the day I launched On Fields of Green I swore this would not become a website where people would trade barbs at each other, where the debate would be high-minded and conducted with honour. I wanted that debate here, between people from every corner of football in this country, where they could come and make their voices heard.

Since we launched, we’ve published over 130 articles, and we’ve had a dozen writers, but in almost every case, bar an exceptional few, those writers have almost always written about the Glasgow clubs, the one that plays out of Celtic Park and the one that plays out of Ibrox. I regret that, because it was not what I wanted from this site when I started it.

Yet it had a certain inevitability about it too. My own idealism didn’t take long to crash into the real world. Our second article was an expose about the true cost to the tax payer of the Rangers administration and liquidation process. Those numbers were based on the total debts which sunk the club, and so some will contend that they are no longer valid, but I would disagree.

That was the article which set the tone for this site, for what it has become, and although I regret that we veered so sharply down the road, I am content with where we are.

I still don’t regard this site as a Celtic site, and I never have. I write about my own club on these pages, and I make it very clear where my heart lies, yet my criticisms of Celtic are as sharp as some of those I level at the shambles across the city, and with good reason. When the club lets itself down then it deserves criticism. I am not interested in currying favour with anyone, have no hidden agendas or angles to work and no insider access to protect. It affords me a certain freedom to write what I want and the necessary distance to remain objective.

I still regard this as a Scottish football fans site, about issues affecting the whole game, and even when I have written about the situations at Ibrox and Celtic Park I hope I have been able to keep one eye, always, on how those matters affect the bigger picture.

Yet, here too we talk about enemies more than we used to.

Last week, on Twitter, I got into it with a Sevco Rangers fan, as I sometimes do, and I was accused, as were a couple of others, of “harbouring hate” for their club. It forced me to consider, and not for the first time, exactly what my own personal relationship with the club playing out of Ibrox is, and about wider “enemies” within the Scottish game.

The accusation of “harbouring hate” would not normally stand up on its own, but in this case it came with an almost credible caveat. I was given a motive for my hate, in the form of a tweet where Rangers trophy haul was published.

I have never cared how many trophies the old Rangers won.

For ten years at least, as I was growing up, they had no competition worthy of the name, and yet in one of those seasons Aberdeen took them to the last game and should have taken a title from them. I never cared about a “world record” of league titles either. This is Scotland, and I have known since I was a teenager that the authorities here went out of their way to help the club increase that count.

I have never been jealous of it. It has been a target to beat, and to beat fair and square. I consider at least five of the titles as tainted by cheating, and it has never made a difference to me at all whether the club dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s and beat HMRC or not. I didn’t even care when the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry gave its perverse decision.

I have never given a damn whether what Rangers did was legal. They had good lawyers and clever accountants so maybe it was … but it makes no difference. Legal doesn’t mean right. OJ Simpson was found Not Guilty, but we all know what the sonofabitch did.

Rangers bought a competitive advantage with money they didn’t have and that made them cheats, pure and simple. I make no bones about this.

Much of the “history” they talk about is tainted. The rest of it is a shadow on the wall.

They are no more entitled to claim it than they are to claim our European Champions Cup.

The history does animate some of us, but not for the reasons they think.

There are only two reasons to specifically target the history. First is the notion that such a thing can be passed between corporate entities like a piece of office furniture. It’s nonsensical. If it can be bought, can it also be sold? Who can purchase it? You? Me? Can another club?

How long would Rangers continue to be the “world’s most successful football team” if history was something you could purchase and swap around like a bubble-gum trading card?

It takes only a second of logical, rational, thought to realise how stupid the idea is.

It’s also offensive though. Sevco Rangers very existence is a reminder of the vast and terrible financial calamity they inflicted on Scotland. When the old club died it left behind colossal debts to the taxpayer and to local businesses up and down the land. The club which won that world record title haul left a toxic legacy behind when it departed this world, and it is appalling that anyone would seek to claim that the good bits can be ported over leaving the rest of us holding nothing but the dreck. It is a shameful suggestion.

I started this site because I care about Scottish football, and not just one or two teams in it. I believe the game is far healthier than some of those who are responsible for administering it would care to admit. I blame them for much of what has gone wrong, and is still wrong, with the Scottish footballing landscape as it stands right now.

The failure to find sponsors for major competitions is the direct result of our “leaders” going around the television studios three years ago and telling everyone who would listen that without a team called Rangers playing in the top flight the game here was worthless. That damns them to this day, those moral cowards who could not find it in themselves to do what had to be done and would have cast the integrity which is essential to sport over the side in their quest to buy themselves an easy life, and to give Sevco Rangers a soft landing their disgraceful behaviour did not merit.

In the end, they tried to bully and bribe clubs and when those efforts failed they, once again, announced to anyone who would listen that the game they were supposed to administer was on the edge of the abyss. They were lucky – damned lucky – the TV companies didn’t walk away entirely. Not since Gerald Ratner pissed all over his own merchandise to the national press have people responsible for the commercial side of a business been so shockingly negative about its prospects. That, on its own, ought to have seen Regan and Doncaster run out of town on a rail.

All this is to say nothing of Campbell Oglivie, who’s position at the head of the SFA remains a blight on the national game every bit as filthy as that of Sepp Blatter in the transcontinental organisation that dwarves our own. How dare our “leaders” moralise about his behaviour when the man at the helm of their own organisation is so clearly unfit for office? This too is the same association which sent the disgraced Hugh Dallas to UEFA with their full endorsement although they’d fired him. They have no shame, any of them, and some of us will not rest until they’re rooted out.

We do talk about enemies a lot here. We talk about them because these people, those who ran Rangers like a casino using other people’s money, those currently running Sevco Rangers like a crime family, those who cling to that club like leeches because it panders to their sectarian bigotry, the people in charge of our game who allowed this, and are still allowing it, the incompetents, the corrupt, those who are too lacking in backbone to be allowed near real power … these are our enemies, the enemies of the whole game, because they are hazardous to its health.

This website will celebrate its second anniversary in October this year. I am humbled by the support it’s been given in the short time since it was set up, and especially in the last few months, with some of you making donations to let us keep it going, and getting better. I am working away in the background on a couple of things that will help this site realise its full potential and, hopefully, turn it into the one I wanted it to be when I set it up.

Every one of you has been incredible thus far. You, too, genuinely love the game.

Every time someone has tweeted an article, or commented on one, every time someone has sent an email link to a person they know, every person who has taken the time to email me personally, to wish me well, even those who have got in touch to call me a complete muppet … all of it has been vital in pushing me on. All of it has helped us grow this thing to the point where we can consider what to do with it next.

Whatever changes there are, whatever way this project expands, one thing is going to remain constant, above all else.

We’re going to keep on talking about enemies, for as long as we have them. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are inside Ibrox or Hampden. Whether they are in the newspaper offices or spreading lies and half-truths on the radio. I don’t care what colours they wear or what flag they wrap themselves in. As long as they exist, we will poke them with a stick.

If some people don’t like that, tough. The rest of us don’t like you any better.

Some of us love this game enough to fight for it, and everything up until now will seem like a brief skirmish when Chernobyl FC across town goes critical again. The blame for that will extend, like a radioactive cloud, right across the game and beyond and the fallout will be truly terrible.

In this life, when everything around you turns to shit you have two options open to you.

You can choose to try and get comfortable, or you can pick up a shovel.

Final thanks go to all of you who put on the Internet Bampots tag, with pride. They thought it would shame us. We knew it was a badge of honour and that’s how we wear it.

Keep on digging, brothers and sisters.

Love and respect to you all.

(Remember, On Fields of Green needs your support if we’re to grow. You can make a donation at the link, which is either at the top of the page or the bottom, depending on the smart gadget you’re using! Everyone who does so will get something back … we’re working on it at the moment!)

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Respect For The Law?

_53295183_sfa_vt2_640Two interesting stories have piqued my curiosity today. One is that Dave King has set up a wee business to collect the season tickets of the Sevco Rangers fans.

The other is that Kilmarnock are going to be the subject of an investigation for a forged signature on a document, rendering one of their players ineligible.

I find both fascinating, and the irony is not lost on me, or anyone else I’d expect. It was the French philosopher Pascal who wrote that “law without force is impotent”, but how are we to reconcile one with the other on a day like today?

With the King situation, we see no force or effect. The man pled guilty to tax evasion on a grand scale, and only then to avoid a trial that would have seen him not only convicted of that but possibly also for crimes ranging from forgery to bribery. These things should carry an automatic directorship ban here in the UK, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped him.

Unless the authorities step in and tells King this is a non-starting event, how are we supposed to take their regulations seriously? Sevco Rangers already has a long history of ignoring them, and this alone makes credibility hard to sustain.

That aside, let’s go over, again, the reason he’s setting up this company in the first place. King wants to use it as the vehicle for the fans to place their season ticket money, instead of putting it into the club.

I’ve already described this as madness, suicidal madness at that, especially when the club has explicitly spelled out the consequences, by putting a “going concern” clause in their accounts, but it appears to phase neither King nor some of the “supporters.”

The organisation standing behind King, the Union of Fans, released a statement last night outlining what they “expect” from the 120 day review, and making it clear that their demand for security over the club’s real estate assets is still the central plank of their platform.

They might as well have demanded proof of Santa Claus, because the chances of them getting that and the chances of them getting what they want here are about roughly the same.

They are also demanding that the 120 day review spells out where “£30 – £50 million in investment” is coming from, something which indicates that a profound break with reality has occurred somewhere here. Let’s, just for a moment, dwell on this point, and try to imagine the circumstances of the next Sevco Rangers share issue.

The “investors” thus far have seen the value of their shares drop like a stone. The principal shareholders who own the majority of the club have yet to make a penny from it, in two years, and are now in fact carrying £16 million in debt. (Probably higher now.)

There is a concerted campaign of destabilisation going on right now, with customers being asked not to give them any more money. The attitude of the media is febrile, veering sharply from wild acclaim one day to bitter, outraged criticism the next.

A large and vocal section of the customer base is unhinged, and led by institutionally stupid people who have backed – and then turned on – every director the club has had in the last 36 months, and some of them are inclined towards intimidation to get what they want. To give you an analogy for what we’re talking about here, think of the kids from Children of the Corn protesting against not getting what they want for Xmas.

Add to this mix of the mad and the bad the highest paid person in the company, and the snarling, spitting, angry, aggressive public face of every decision, who won’t back his employers in a crisis if he thinks it will damage his “standing with the troops” – the self same barking dogs described above – and who, incidentally, can’t do his own job unless he’s outspending every one of his prospective rivals by a ratio on the order of 10 to 1.

Now that’s the company you are being asked to invest £30 – £50 million in, part of a plan presided over by a convicted tax cheat who spent time in prison, and eyed from the outside by a guy who paid £40 million to avoid an 82 year prison sentence of his own. How much you invest is up to you, but you should know that three things will apply.

1) You will never see a return on any of it. Not one penny. The guys who came before you are carrying debt. Buy enough of the company and you’ll be expected to do the same.

2) That the bulk of the money raised will be spent on transfer fees and wages for footballers. None of it will be invested in infrastructure with the aim of generating more income.

3) That the over-riding principle objective of said company is not “turning a profit” or “paying a dividend” or “guaranteeing a return for investment” but the vague and very un-business-like concept of “challenging Celtic.”

Today Sandy Easdale has spoken to the BBC in the starkest terms yet about the situation facing the club. He’s told the fans to show their loyalty, and there is the veiled threat that they would “not survive” what he’s termed a “second administration.”

Obviously I take issue with him, as they didn’t actually “survive” the first, but his point is clear nonetheless. If the NewCo falls into a black hole like the OldCo it is difficult to imagine them climbing out.

One source inside Ibrox has gone even further and told the BBC “the club is on life support.” It will not take much before those in charge decide to pull the plug. This is the very real danger facing them, and the awful choice that confronts the supporters.

Easdale, apparently speaking for the board, says “At the end of the day, the club is at a crossroads at the moment … It can either go forward with a … long-term view, steady as she goes, or be pulled apart in other directions …” There are some, including some of their “fans” who seem set on doing just that. Easdale is telling the rest of the fans to be wary.

The other option, of course, is to believe in Dave King, should the authorities decide that he is fit to run a company. The SFA will also have to decide that, and we know how seriously they take their own regulations. Which brings me to the second story of the day.

Kilmarnock are in trouble, it seems, over an ineligible player. There is talk of draconian punishment, but I very much doubt that will happen. During the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry, Sandy Bryson, the SFA Registrations Officer, gave his own, rather unusual, interpretation of the rule book when it comes to player registration. Put in its most simple form, he said that a registration is valid until it is found to be invalid, and that if all parties were acting in good faith then there should be no punishment.

Now, applied to the Kilmarnock case it seems like a nonsense. This was a forged signature, after all, and this should, therefore, be beyond question.

Yet, the OldCo Rangers case didn’t simply involve side contracts but a policy of concealment, of disinformation, of cover-up, of obfuscation, of outright denial and lies. There’s not really much grey area there either, and no question at all of all the parties acting “In good faith.” OldCo Rangers was quite clear in what it was doing when it hid details of player remuneration from the authorities, and it did so again during the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry itself, when it concealed the full details of the Discounted Options Scheme.

The result of all this is precisely what worried many of us in the wake of Bryson’s testimony to Lord Nimmo Smith; that it has created an appalling precedent, one with the potential to unleash all manner of chaos on our national sport.

That he was allowed to get up there and use this explanation as a cover for what Rangers did was an outrage, and it was a matter of time before the chickens came home to roost and made a mockery out of his bizarre claims.

It would be one thing if that’s all it did, but this shoddy series of events has, additionally, made a mockery of our whole national sport. It is proof – not that we required any more – that the people running our game are out of step with its needs, utterly untrustworthy, out of their depth and incapable of doing the right thing. They all ought to be rooted out.

So, hammer Kilmarnock and justice will have been served. Yet that will make the enormous injustice of the Lord Nimmo Smith verdict all the more obvious and scandalous. Let Kilmarnock slip off the hook, because of that diabolical precedent, and you further enshrine it for the future and Scottish football will reap the whirlwind in due course.

What horrified some of us at the time was just this. When you bend, break, remake, ignore, deny and selectively apply the regulations which are supposed to bind everyone, and you do this, initially, for the benefit of one club you are not simply legislating for their cheating but you are unleashing forces you cannot control, and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Had Hearts been refused a CVA they’d have died and probably “resurrected” again as a NewCo, allowing Scottish football’s clubs the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card forevermore.

It is bad enough that on the day Sevco Rangers steps out onto a pitch in European football they will do it with the SFA referring to them as if they were not doing so for the first time. It is inconceivable that UEFA would ever dare endorse this position, because it would take the Scottish FA’s ridiculous decision making continental and bring a world of trouble down on their heads.

This is what happens when laws are ignored, when rules are bent, when the regulations are flexible.

This is how Scottish football got into such a mess. We are only just emerging from the darkness. Today’s double whammy shows us, again, that the spiralling crisis at Ibrox yet has the potential to drag the rest of us down with them.

Be warned friends, and be alert. It’s not over by a long way.

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The Changing Of The Guard

turnbullhuttonNo sooner had On Fields of Green run our last piece, on the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry and the way in which it had been undermined and then misled, but the Sunday papers were running with a major story on the SPFL and their efforts to trump the SFA on a number of issues.

I was in the process of posting the Nimmo Smith piece when someone sent me a copy of the back page of the following days Mail. It was several more hours before I could actually scrutinise the full text, and so I didn’t offer any amendment to the piece I was about to publish, but even reading the bullet points I knew that this was good news.

It looks as if the SFA have already caved on some of the more important issues, but more vitally these resolutions have answered a number of questions about exactly how we got to this stage in the first place. Campbell Ogilvie’s re-election now makes more sense for a start, as it appears there were very specific criteria required before someone was “eligible” to stand. Those requirements are now being changed, and that’s overdue. Frankly, they reeked.

Ogilvie was elected because SFA regulations made it nearly impossible to stand someone against him. The entire system has been rigged like this for years, which is precisely how we’ve had people like Peat rising to become heads in the game, although they had no discernible skills, and that, in turn, leads to appointments such as Gordon Smith.

Ogilvie, however, is the worst, as compromised as he is by what happened at Ibrox on his watch, and by the way he has behaved during the last couple of years. The organisation that let Sevco Rangers investigate itself is so unfit for purpose you wonder how it has lasted this long.

I had to set aside the Sunday Mail story when I read it, because it was full of the usual speculative trash. It was, in fact, a demolition job, spun to read as if this was a coup so the SPFL could get its hands on the SFA pot of gold. My contempt for our sports media is nearly limitless at this point, because even a cursory read of these proposals made it clear they were not a money grab but an effort to bring accountability – real accountability – to the organisation.

Yet Gordon Waddell and the Mail were leading the charge in the other direction, branding the SPFL as obsessed only with their own power and greed. This was, without a doubt, the spin whoever leaked these papers wanted to read, and in Waddell they had a useful idiot to write it just so. He did not apply one bit of real scrutiny to the plans. He did not make the slightest effort to see them in a different light. He painted them as a disaster, and his paper termed them a shabby effort at money grubbing, missing the real intent completely.

They continue to amaze me with how out of step they are with what supporters really want. Their cack-handed efforts to influence events in recent years have shown how powerless they really are. Fans no longer believe them. Clubs no longer care what they write.

Today’s announcement that two of the proposals have been taken on board – the changes to how election for the President and Vice President positions are run, as well as the addition of two club members to the Professional Game Board – is a huge step towards what we’ve been asking for, and I don’t think I’m alone in welcoming them.

We will never again have the embarrassing spectacle of someone like Ogilvie being elected unopposed. I suspect he’ll decide to step down at the end of this term, because he has no chance of being re-elected once this goes through. The clubs are taking control, and when you look at how they all fought for the integrity of the sport two years ago, I welcome it wholeheartedly. The more say men like Turnbull Hutton have in the running of the sport the better.

This isn’t to say Ogilvie should be allowed to simply slink off into the sunset with a fat pension pot. This man owes Scottish football an apology for what’s happened here, and it will be abhorrent to every football fan if he is allowed to retire with his reputation intact. History will judge him far more harshly than his blazer wearing pals, or those he still has in the media offices up and down the land, but I’d rather we didn’t have to wait 10 years for the narrative to reflect the scale of what this man was involved in, and what he allowed to take place.

It’s on that note that I come to the final piece of breaking news, that there’s a proposal on the table for a new series of regulations on licensing and club membership. To say this is a welcome development is an understatement. It comes in the same week as Sevco Rangers are due to publish the already derided 120 day review, which many in the media and in their support have hailed as if will be some kind of watershed moment. It won’t be. There will be nothing in that review we don’t already know, and as awful a picture as it will paint, there is no way it will be spun as such.

A decision has been taken inside Ibrox that they will gamely soldier on, and get through this season. The objective is to bag enough cash from season ticket sales that they can stagger through the early part of the next before they reach another crisis point. At that juncture, they will initiate a new share issue or find a way of raising some short term cash to stumble on to the next fork in the road. I see no evidence that it’ll end well, or go well. The crash will come.

Speaking as someone with a sadists satisfaction at the current flailing around of the Ibrox club, I could not be more happy with that proposition. The club entering administration once this season ends is the best Celtic fans like me could ever have hoped for.

It ensures that the carnage comes when it will be most harmful, in a league where the club is facing a significant test already, and not a collection of part time footballers who, with respect to them, don’t have the ability or the fitness levels to properly compete with professionals. Some of them have given McCoist’s team a real fright this year too, which speaks volumes about how chronically unprepared for Championship football the Ibrox club, and its manager, are.

I’ve said in other pieces I can’t understand why, with all the drama swirling around Ibrox, they don’t just enter administration right now and have done with it. The 25 points they’d be deducted would not materially influence their position. They would still get promoted, and they would have a summer to restructure and rebuild. As they’re facing a point of crisis next season anyway the chances are good that they’ll be spending an extended period in the lower leagues … this way the pain would be limited and the trauma ultimately lessened.

As a Celtic fan, I would rather it came at the most inconvenient time for the club. I want them to get through the season without taking the hit. Yet, I have another reason for not wanting to see it happen before this one ends, and it’s a more over-riding one than that I’ll get greater satisfaction if it comes somewhere farther down the line.

The spectacle of a club winning a title and then entering administration, taking a massive points deduction and it not affecting their promotion … that would be a scandal at a time when Scottish football is starting to get itself together. It would, in many ways, be a fitting bookend to the current administrative joke, but it would make our game a laughing stock. Sevco Rangers would have spent its way to the edge but enough that it was beyond the consequences of doing so.

The proposed changes on licensing and membership would have prevented the shameful saga I recounted in A Window On A Scandal, and which I explored in part in my last piece. Yet there are still shocking loopholes in our regulations, including those on “fit and proper person” status and those on club financing. Dave King’s ridiculous statements about how he wants to “invest” £50 million in Sevco Rangers, to give them a short-term steroid hit, are a demonstration of what football is up against. It doesn’t matter that these plans are unrealisable nonsense; they are dangerous to the sport, and they are blatantly unfair to those teams willing to live within their means.

For years, English football has been the perfect model for how not to do things. Prices are rising to ridiculous levels. Wages are shockingly, incomprehensibly high. Transfer fees long since passed the point of sanity. Yet, a steady realisation has been dawning as to the damage this is doing to clubs and to the game itself. Changes have been brought in.

Every league below the EPL has adopted its own version of UEFA’s “financial fair play” regulations. Limits have been put on what clubs can spend, depending on their income in years past. This is the future of football if football is to have a future. Over the next decade I think we might see something we’ve not seen before … player salaries starting to come down. A normalisation of transfer fees. A realisation about how out of control it’s all become.

Scottish football must look at financial fair play for our own leagues. The SPFL should require it as part of the new licensing requirements. Clubs can’t be allowed to spend more than they earn. Teams should be required to break even over a three, four or five year period. There should be strict – and severe – punishments for clubs who fail to meet the criteria.

Well run clubs have no reason to fear such a system. It would empower those teams which are currently living within their means and doing their business in a professional, and sustainable, fashion. Clubs would no longer be able to behave recklessly. They would no longer be able to endanger the integrity of the sport and we would avoid the shameful scrambling in the dirt of recent years. Our national sport would be healthier overnight.

The SPFL has to be commended for putting forward these changes. They represent the first effort at tackling the SFA’s old boys network in years, and it’s to be hoped they are merely the outriders of even bigger changes to come. This is what the supporters have been waiting for since the calamitous and destructive events of two years ago.

The clubs are taking control of the agenda, and as the fans are making their own voices heard within the clubs it means we’re now pushing things too.

Democracy is coming to a football ground near you. Blazers, be warned.

Change is on its way.

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