The Killing Fields

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

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

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

It makes you wonder how hard people are trying.

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

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

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

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

Brendan has a very healthy self-regard.

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

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

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

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

It reads “Ambition Is Critical.”

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

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

They adopted it as the town’s moto.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is he here to rebuild his reputation?

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

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

There are simply no comparisons that come even close.

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

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

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

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

These are the killing fields.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Ibrox, the same pattern emerges.

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

Even the big names to take over there encountered disaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

None went on to “better things”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brendan Rodgers won’t accept that.

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

That quest was dealt a shocking blow last week.

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

Brendan Rodgers will not accept that.

He won’t tolerate having his hands tied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was, of course, no demotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we the only ones who care?

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

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

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

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The Long Dark Night Of Dodgy Dave King

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except for the consequences.

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

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

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

I also thought of Dave King and Sevco.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Last Days Of Peter Lawwell

Lawwell_3108913Way back in 2006, there were a lot of Labour MP’s who were, for one reason or another, struggling to accept what most people outside Westminster regarded as a simple fact, and which the country had reconciled itself to more or less completely; that at the top of the party, the two key architects of New Labour were openly at war with each other.

Everyone knew by then that the two men were somewhat at odds over a promise Blair had allegedly made to step down and hand over the reins. Some simply refused to understand just how deep the enmity was, or how out of control it had all gotten behind the scenes.

Blair and Brown had been at it for well over a decade by then. The fights over the succession had started, more or less, from the minute Labour won its second term in 2001, but their roots went all the way back to Blair’s ascension to the leadership after John Smith had died.

On 9 May that year, Gordon Brown himself torpedoed all pretensions those MP’s had left about the debate being conducted in a civil manner, with an attack on Blair that was so brazen and naked and public that it erased all doubt and opened up the enormity of the conflict to full public gaze.

Brown was appearing on GMTV, where he and his aides knew the question of the handover would certainly arise. He had already made several media appearances that week, and brushed off the question during all of them. He welcomed it on that occasion.

“There are problems that have got to be sorted out and they have got to be sorted out quickly,” Brown told his interrogator. “Tony has said he is going to do it in a stable and orderly way. That means he is going to be talking not just to me, but to senior colleagues about it. Remember when Mrs Thatcher left, it was unstable, it was disorderly and it was undignified.”

Senior Labour ministers, who had no idea it was coming, openly gasped when they heard that.

Those MP’s who’d been in doubt were shell-shocked that the Chancellor would so openly issue such a threat to his boss.

The reference to Thatcher and her being deposed by her own party was unmistakable, deliberate and amongst the most cold blooded things Brown ever did whilst serving in Blair’s government.

In spite of this, there was a core of truth in what Brown had said.

Leadership always comes at a price; if you hang around long enough people get tired of you, and then it ends in one of two ways. You can choose how you want to bow out or let others do it for you.

One of those paths can – and sometimes does – end in something like triumph, although that’s rarer than people think.

The other road is ignominious, humiliating and often shambolic.

A lot of those who’ve suffered that never get over it, professionally or otherwise.

The club across the city, and the fate of some of those who’ve worked there, provides many cases in point for those who want to look.

Last year, I wrote a scathing article on the Celtic strategy, in full knowledge that it would change precisely nothing.

I’ve written a similar piece in the last few weeks, again knowing that there was no possibility of it influencing events.

No-one involved with our club is minded to support a coup or a full-on Celts for Change style revolution and we all know it.

But I tell you … the people running our club would be complete mugs if they believed that what’s now is forever.

Times change, and people change with them.

Lawwell and his board follow supporter opinion closely, so they know what I do, even if the full implications haven’t sunk in yet; there are large sections of our support who have simply had it with the austerity agenda.

I use that phrase quite deliberately.

In my life, I’ve had two great passions; Celtic and left wing politics.

By that I used to mean the Labour Party, as almost everyone who reads this blog will undoubtedly be aware. The first comes with no qualifications; I am Celtic fan now and forever, until the day I die.

My party political loyalty was never as concrete, as I’m an ideologue rather than a tribalist.

I’ve left the Labour Party three times in my life, going back twice against my better judgement. What finally decided me, and caused me to quit for good, was a combination of things, but the stink of Iraq was fresh in the air and if there was a straw that broke the camel’s back then that was certainly it.

It had been clear to me for over a decade that the party took people like me for granted, that it rode roughshod over my wishes and aspirations and ignored me when it wasn’t asking for my vote.

Then, and only then, did it engage and it did that in the most appalling, arrogant fashion, not trying to make me an offer based on hope but on trying to scare me into the voting booth instead.

They assumed my loyalty and that of people around me. They never earned it.

It reeked, and I knew, as you sometimes instinctively do, that one day there would be an almighty backlash, one that would rock them to the foundations.

It came last September, of course, with the referendum campaign, but it didn’t manifest itself until this year, when the general election result in Scotland engulfed them like a tidal wave.

Even then, the party leadership in London didn’t understand the reasons for it, and seemed Hell bent not only on continuing the dreadful policies that contributed to that defeat but to actually accelerate them, dragging the political centre of gravity even further right.

The scale of their misjudgement can be most clearly seen in the spineless way they abstained on the welfare bill when the Tories put it before parliament just a few months ago.

The mood of the activist base, disillusioned already, looking at Scotland and seeing a political reawakening, an atmosphere of hope and engagement, erupted. The consequences of that are apparent in the scale of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election landslide; if you wanted a perfect metaphor for how swiftly events can overcome an institution you could not do better than to look at all that remains of “New Labour” … the organisation that once thought it would dominate UK politics for a whole generation.

Today, nothing but rubble remains of it.

The signs of its coming were everywhere, for those who cared to look. But our political class was too busy talking to itself and asking all the wrong questions, drawing whatever conclusions fitted into the view from the Westminster bubble.

I know a lot of Celtic supporters take a similar, narrow focus view on Lawwell and the strategy.

They’ve accepted, as any number of Labour MP’s accepted, austerity as a given, as merely a consequence of our circumstances and the economic climate. This “we play in Scotland, that’s our level” argument is used to justify lack of spending, lack of ambition and the way in which we’ve watched as the quality of the team has been eroded.

Ten years ago, our stated ambition – from Lawwell’s own lips – was to be “qualifying for the latter stages of the Champions League.”

Now, our ambition is to simply get to the Groups, and not even every single year.

He considers it a success if we achieve it three years out of five, a target we’re not even meeting at the current time.

We hear, constantly, that we can’t compete with England, as if anyone has ever asked us to.

There are even those who say that spending money doesn’t guarantee success; take a look, would you, at the last fifteen years as proof positive that this is garbage. Under Martin O’Neill we spent money, and we got to a European final. Under Gordon we started out spending money, and we got out of the group stages twice, meeting exactly the target Lawwell and others had said we should be striving for.

And the financial rewards of it were obvious; those were the years in which we hit our peak earnings, cracking the £70 million barrier … incredible for a Scottish club, and the result of showing ambition and playing in front of packed houses as a result.

The truth, the one some people struggle with for some reason – as it’s actually a very pleasant truth – is that when we’ve taken ourselves seriously as a major force, the rewards have followed.

It’s when we’ve taken our eyes off the prize that bad things happened.

My love affair with Lawwell ended with the Wilo Flood transfer window, and I’m happy for anyone who wants to trace my writings on the subject all the way back to that.

I thought we were told blatant untruths during that month, but it was certainly the moment the club stopped going the extra mile, the point we stopped trying to grow.

Amidst warning signs so stark that some of us were practically screaming from the side-lines about the need for a striker, the board refused to give Gordon Strachan the funds for one.

The result? Rangers came from behind to win the title.

And the next two after it.

Before that, I had been a huge supporter of Peter Lawwell and the strategy.

I wrote glowing things about him, and the way he had allowed Strachan to develop his squad at the same time as we posted profits.

Back then, I thought he walked on water.

I wrote a lengthy blog about this some time ago (A Pale Horse), where I tried to address some of the misunderstandings about the Lawwell era and where I changed my mind.

See, it didn’t start badly; it started phenomenally well.

So too did New Labour though.

In fact, those early triumphs are one of the reasons he remains in the good graces of a lot of Celtic fans today, in much the same way as a lot of the PLP self-define as members of the Church of the Third Way.

What they forget – what a lot of our supporters forget – is that the early reputations of both New Labour and Lawwell were a consequence of the very type of policies that they later ran, screaming, away from.

Strachan succeeded because he was allowed to develop a team, instead of developing players so we could sell them for profit.

The 1997 Labour manifesto, which so many members of the PLP who deribe Corbyn never tire of defending, the one that won a national landslide, was about as left wing as any Labour party document has ever been.

It committed the government to a national minimum wage, a windfall tax on privatised utilities, devolution for Scotland and a host of other things. It was what happened after they’d been elected – cutting benefits to single parents, university tuition fees, the private finance initiative, Iraq and a tumult of other betrayals – that started turning people off.

You can only continue spitting in the faces of your most loyal supporters for so long before they become cynical.

Then they become angry. Then you pay the price.

I ended A Pale Horse with a quote which originated with Oliver Cromwell, but is better known for being delivered by Leopold Amery MP, levelled at Neville Chamberlain, during the Commons debate which brought an end to his government and ushered in Winston Churchill at the height of the Phony War of 1939 – 40.

“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

In my view, it’s time for Lawwell’s departure from his role at Celtic Park.

As long as he’s there the strategy will be continued, and if changing it means that he’s got to go then hey, “farewell and good luck to you”.

If he does it whilst Celtic are still on top in Scotland he’s got a fair chance of being warmly regarded, well remembered and finding another post at another club if he wants to continue climbing football’s ladder.

But he ought to heed the lessons of history, and the consequences of hanging around too long, because there’s a flip side to that coin.

The policy he’s presided over has led to a disastrous decline in the standards of our squad, it has resulted in attendances dropping like a stone and it has sown deep distrust amongst the fans, who see too little action inside and outside our club, and a creeping suspicion that he’s not exactly sad to see a team calling itself Rangers inching its way towards the SPL.

He and some of his cohort seem to believe this will be greeted with great relief and enthusiasm by the vast majority of the Celtic support.

This misjudges the mood every bit as much as Labour’s MP’s did when they abstained on the welfare bill shortly before Jeremy Corbyn rocketed into the lead in the leadership election.

What most Celtic fans feel about this prospect is nausea and revulsion, and the club would be making an epochal mistake to think otherwise.

The vast majority of us aren’t looking forward to that with any enthusiasm at all.

We have no wish to be force fed all that “greatest derby in the world” cobblers, made one half of a twisted commercially driven “rivalry”, fused into the wreckage of that cobbled together zombie club, led as it is by Mr Resurrection Man himself, a convicted tax cheat who Lawwell and the SPL board ought never to have allowed near the running of a major Scottish football club.

If Peter Lawwell goes in good time, and the strategy with him, his reputation will be largely intact. People will look back, and those who choose to remember the positives will have them to hold onto and the black spots in between can be conveniently ignored.

Otherwise not a single Celtic supporter will remember him with other than disgust and contempt.

He will turn himself if not into Celtic’s Craig Whyte then certainly into its Charles Green … a CEO who presided over a financial calamity, to the detriment of any good he might have initially done.

I suspect he’s already used up as much luck as he’s going to get.

The future of our club, and how he’s considered, almost pivoted completely on the night of 11 October 2011, when we were 3-0 down at Rugby Park.

Neil Lennon was considering his future at that point, and had we lost that game it’s not unreasonable to suppose that he would have walked.

Rangers had a 10 point lead going into that one, and although they also drew that night we would have suffered a major psychological trauma from which it’s difficult to believe we’d have recovered.

Rangers had won three titles in a row. Had that night ended differently the road to a fourth would have been wide open, and although they were to self-detonate in spectacular fashion just four months hence we’d have been dealing with the reality of that evening as it presented itself at the time, without the benefit of foresight.

Lennon’s departure would have made him the third manager to go in just four years.

Lawwell, who had already apologised to the fans for the disastrous appointment of Tony Mowbray, would have been under the kind of pressure to follow him out the door that people just don’t survive.

What’s more, based on the three years prior to that night it’s not unreasonable to suggest that had Rangers not gone into a tailspin and been liquidated that under the confines of the present strategy we would probably not be trying for five in a row.

Don’t forget that when the chips were down in the aftermath of Mowbray’s departure, Celtic’s solution was to hand the job to an untested coach with all the attendent risks that presents.

Don’t kid yourself that Lennon’s appointment fitted into some grand plan … it was an enormous risk, taken in desperation, as a cheap and easy option, to buy time and stave off difficult questions.

In short, they were making it up as they went along.

The alibi people offer Lawwell is that we can’t be expected to compete in Europe. That will get him only so far, because he’s only allowed that because we’re the biggest club in Scotland at the moment … and that has as much to do with the collapse of Rangers as any great genius of his. Stop denying this, people, it’s a stone cold fact and the sooner we face it the better.

Woe betide him – and those making his case – if the day comes around whilst he’s in post when we are no longer that.

We all know that shouldn’t even be remotely worrying us for at least the next five to ten years. The Promised Land of ten in a row should be well within our reach. We should be out of sight, ahead of everyone else by light years, and cruising towards it.

And we’re not. Nowhere near it.

Complacency is part of what’s going to end our ambition of reaching that milestone, but complacency isn’t what I’m accusing him and the board of, because this isn’t taking your eye off the ball … we are where the strategy has put us, and the strategy is going to continue.

This is gross mismanagement of the football club.

The result on Saturday spurred me on to write this piece, but it had existed in embryonic form for longer than just the last fortnight.

I’ve been arguing for a while that Peter Lawwell’s best days at this club are far behind him and that the only way is down.

Corbyn’s victory, in the face of a quite extraordinary media campaign and in opposition to so many hysterical voices within the ranks of his own parliamentary party, simply gave me the theme.

Times change. Circumstances change. And people change with them.

It took Labour a catastrophic defeat in Scotland before they even started to think about altering their politics and their knee jerk reaction was to veer further to the right. Internally, the PLP would actually still be struggling with those lessons today, but then Corbyn came along and made their naval gazing redundant anyway.

But it happened, in no small part, because they took our votes for granted.

They assumed them rather than earned them.

They believed that all you had to do in Scotland was stick a red rosette on someone and they would waltz into office.

One look at the Celtic FC website today should tell you all you need to know about how the club is handling our European defeat and yesterday’s reversal against ten men; of the articles that went up in the last 24 hours, almost all were concerned with money, with asking the fans to spend it, without giving them one good reason why they should.

They take the fans for granted.

They assume the loyalty of the supporters without doing anything to earn it.

I wrote a year ago on this site about the need for the club to give us a vision. Lawwell sat in front of CelticTV and answered a bunch of softball questions lobbed at him by one of his own employees and then tried to pass that off – with the help of a compliant media who were only too happy to eat succulent lamb from Celtic’s table in the absence of one at Ibrox – as offering that to those of us who’d dared ask.

I wrote a similar editorial a week or so ago, after Malmo, and what we got were some second hand comments about the board having faith in the manager. It no longer looks like complacency as much as it seems like contempt.

But you don’t have to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.

Our club is heading backwards, where signing SPL and even Scottish Championship players is becoming the norm. Aberdeen have their best chance in a generation to catch us in the league, and if it’s not them then it could easily be someone else.

If a genuine challenger should emerge – and all it will take is a Scottish team with a good enough squad to edge in front of all their competitors – and we slip even a little … everything comes crashing down.

Can you imagine the reaction when we next lose the league flag?

On a long enough timeline, it’ll certainly happen … but it ought not to be for many, many, many years to come.

If Peter Lawwell is still in office when it does, and that looks more possible with every passing day … meltdown.

A few short months after Brown had dragged the political corpse of Margaret Thatcher across the floor of GMTV, and pushed it into the face of Tony Blair, the two men finally agreed on the handover of power. To get there, Brown had orchestrated an open rebellion within the PLP, in an effort to push the takeover forward. It hadn’t been an empty threat.

One of Blair’s senior aides in Downing Street mourned the way in which matters had resolved themselves, telling Andrew Rawnsley of The Guardian, “Prime Ministers never get their departures right, do they?”

Peter Lawwell may be a mere CEO, but in this he still has the power to make the right call.

If he cares, at all, about Celtic and about saving his own reputation, then I’d suggest he thinks very strongly about what to do next.

He can leave on his own, or wait for the turning of the tide … and it’s coming.

You cannot watch what we’re becoming and seriously doubt it.

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A Thousand Cuts

razors_t658Earlier I read a blog that Phil posted, a blog which made me smile because, if true, it joined a lot of dots and answered a lot of questions.

Before I get to that, let me tell you a story.

Bear with me here. This is important.

Way back in the annals of time, I read an article written by a famous British writer and journalist who had gone to some far-off country in the Africa’s to cover a revolution.

The government forces were stronger, by far, than the insurgents. They had the numbers and they had the cities and they had the money.

Yet everywhere the journalist went, he found ministers, soldiers and other high ranking officials in morbid terror.

Furthermore, no-one would tell him why.

Finally he was told to report to a senior intelligence official, who took him for a drive.

They headed out of the city, and towards the open country.

Finally, the car stopped on a plain and the official asked him to observe something.

Looking through the binoculars he saw a group of lionesses pull down a cape buffalo. It was an impressive sight, but not nearly as impressive as what happened next. The lionesses were attacked by a small group of hyena.

Their physical presence was nowhere that of the big cats, but they were nimble, cheeky, coming in from all sides, nipping at the larger, more powerful animals and then retreating swiftly, barking their odd little bark.

The lionesses tried to hold on to their kill, but in the end it did no good. The smaller, quicker hyenas ended up with it all.

The intelligence officer turned to the journalist, and he told him that the rebels would win because their tactics were better.

Their skill was in hitting, running, hiding, regrouping and then coming back to strike again.

The rebels did win. They overthrew their government within a year.

The full details escape me, but that’s not the point. They did it by inflicting the Death of a Thousand Cuts.

The strategy is as old as war itself.

Over the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve thought about that story and the Thousand Cuts, and I am certain that I’ve mentioned it before, if not the specific story with which I associate it.

The Death of Thousand Cuts started as a method of torture in Imperial China, where they called in Lingchi.

We’re witnessing it happeneing at Ibrox right now.

Before that, let’s talk about tactics. The hyenas and the rebels knew tactics.

Tactics are necessary to win battles.

Strategy wins wars. It’s not about individual engagements but where they fit into the bigger picture.

The rebels clearly knew strategy too.

I have no doubt that Mike Ashley is a master of it.

He’s a self made billionaire who made his money selling trainers. How is that even possible?

Lesser men can barely run a single sports shop. He knows how to do “big think” like few others.

Those in our media and in the Sevco support who think King has beaten Ashley because he’s blungeoned his way to the Blue Room are missing the point. Ashley’s silence is ominous, because it’s the silence of a man who’s already thought this through and already has all the pieces on his side of the board arrayed just as he wants them. This game is already over.

Early in 2010, I wrote an article called The End Of Rangers? in which I pondered the previous year’s accounts from Murray International. Looking at them, I knew the club was doomed because the financial crisis had stripped away his ability to keep them running.

I wanted to see them collapse, and vanish for good.

In February 2012 they did.

A lot of people refuse to believe they died, but that’s less important than what has happened to the NewCo that rose in their place. They started from the bottom, with nothing. They have squandered the opportunity history afforded them to be more. Now they’re spending a second season in the second tier, having suffered a calamitous last 12 months.

We thought we’d spent the last three years watching the Death of a Thousand Cuts, and indeed that club has been bled almost white, but it’s the position Ashley has them in now that will make them scream both long and loud.

He is the true master of the ancient Chinese form of terror.

In his blog, Phil has charted the latest revelations from King’s meeting in London with the Sports Direct supremo.

This is the most important of the pieces he’s written on it, because it appears to have cracked opened the door of secrecy that the Sports Direct lawyers tried to close last week.

When I heard that their lawyers were seeking an injunction against the club I simply couldn’t believe it.

What was in those contracts that could be so bad that it requires an impenetrable legal veil, and the services of five lawyers?

More to the point, what was worse than the stuff that had already leaked out, the stuff that was already in the public domain?

The legal case was brought about because The Daily Record had printed details of the seven year rolling contract … a staggering and shocking obstacle to the club sorting things out without spending an enormous sum of money.

Now we know, or at least we have a hint.

Earlier in the year, The Union of Fans raised a little Hell with a claim that their scrutiny of the club’s accounts revealed that they were paying a hugely inflated price for buying in merchandising stock. I found that amazing, and hard to believe, especially the contention that in some cases they were being charged more for the stuff than the recommended retail value of the goods.

“No way,” I remember thinking.

Now it looks to me as if they were right on the money, although whether they understood the implications of it is up for debate.

This isn’t usually how football clubs and retail outlets do business.

But Sevco have an exclusive retail deal with Sports Direct and its Ashley’s company which sets the terms of that deal.

Incredibly, they seem to have written a phenomenally damaging clause into that agreement, one that was clearly intended to negate last year’s shirt sales boycott, and one which renders the “don’t buy merchandise” campaign which the supporters groups have just announced not only irrelevant but potentially dangerous to the club itself …

In short, Sports Direct are now billing Sevco for unsold jerseys … and according to Phil they are charging scalpers prices – nearly the full retail price – for the transaction.

This seems incredible on the surface of it, almost too crazy to accept at face value, but it ties in to what the Union of Fans claim to have found.

It makes good commercial sense to Sports Direct too because the current version of the deal was negotiated at a time when the club was being sniped at from King and others and they would have wanted to protect any investment they made, in particular as they were the only retail outlet available to stock what the club was selling.

It explains the need for that heavy handed legal team last week, to stop the full details getting out.

It explains that unusual mention of replica shirt sales in not only Sevco’s pre-EGM announcement (the one where King claimed they once sold 500,000 strips) but also Sports Direct’s reply, where they specifically told the club that it would make more money if it ordered less strips.

Because, of course, the number of unsold shirts shouldn’t affect the club at all … that should only affect the retail outlets selling them.

It doesn’t really matter what the mechanism for this is, whether it’s, as Phil says, literally billing the club the retail value of every shirt they have sitting in a Sports Direct warehouse or whether they have a “minimum profit” figure that has to be met, or Sevco themselves make up the difference … this is an extraordinary and deadly way for these arrangements to be structured.

It really is a long, slow bleeding out of Sevco.

Today the club’s fans are being asked to part with their money for season tickets on the premise that this is a Brave New Dawn, with new signings and a management team heading in a fresh, exciting direction.

Forget for a minute that what we’ve seen so far is the worst kind of “Sky Sports Scouting”, all “known qualities” rather than something more radical … that, in itself, is a kind of stability and I understand what the appeal in it must be.

But the biggest events to happen at Ibrox in the coming season are going to be those which happen off the pitch.

Dave King’s campaign of destabilisation worked wonders, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It weakened the club to the point of near death, but the unintended consequence was that the board of the time was forced to go to the only man who could save them, the man who King and others had made into the symbol of The Enemy, even as he still possessed the power to change the terms of every deal he had with them.

And so, at some point, he did just that, knowing that the “long game” was the important one, knowing that King might win the early battles and that he would probably get to sit on the throne.

Ashley knew it would be the most Pyrrhic victory since Pearl Harbour.

He must have smiled to realise what it meant for King to take over and realise the scale of Sports Direct’s true hold over the club, one that remains absolutely unbreakeable to the present day.

Now the aptly named South African has found himself the monarch of a shattered, indebted, and indentured empire, one that still totters on the brink, like some medieval Prince who thought he’d inherited a kingdom but found instead a volcano of jealousy, greed, ambition, bloodshed and murder, and he charged with putting the lid on it.

In short, this won’t end well.

If he doesn’t already understand it, he’s very soon going to have a deep appreciation for what that means, and for what Shakespeare meant when, in Henry IV he wrote “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbour attacks, a lot of the Japanese generals celebrated what, at the time, appeared to be a stunning win, much like King basked in the glory on the pitch at Ibrox in front of a fawning media.

But the general’s euphoria covered a multitude of serious errors by their naval counterparts, including the astonishing mistakes that left the carriers relatively undamaged, and the supply stores, especially the oil tanks, and the repair facilities, largely intact.

One of the admiral’s knew there were even greater implications, and at the end of the film Tora Tora Tora is a famously bastardised version of Yamamoto’s “sleeping enemy” quote.

The historical version isn’t nearly as sexy, so it’s the fictional one I’ll use.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

That’s pretty close to the mark.\

King’s victory has come at a tremendous price. He’s made a deadly enemy out of a man who now considers bleeding this club out “just business” and is no mood to renegotiate his sweet, sweet deal because The Peepil ain’t happy.

But it’s another of Yamamoto’s (actual, historical) quotes which I like best, which fits more closely with what I’m trying to say, and should fill the Sevco fans with dread.

“I can run wild for six months,” he said in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbour assault. “After that, I have no expectation of success.”

The Sevco fans are having a wee moment in the sun today, but all too soon the dark clouds are going to roll in, because this party has to be paid for, one way or another … and unless King has grown altruistic in his old age, or Park is feeling especially generous, what they manage to bag from season ticket sales will very soon be gone.

And that’s when the fun really starts and the chickens come home to roost.

Ashley has made sure he can’t lose either way, and the boycott will not touch his profits.

What it will do is plunge the club deeper into debt.

You could not make this up, and on a day when the Sevco fans are gloating over Danny Wilson and the phantom “snub” to Celtic, I wonder just what it is they think they have to celebrate. This is the calm before the storm.

They sang songs on the deck of the Titanic too, you know.

The band simply provided the background noise.

It was the punters who were standing watching the lifeboats sail away, not realising there weren’t enough for everyone, who’s music filled the air that night.

Even as the ship was going down.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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