The Crumbling State Of Sevco Threatens Our National Game

26783406.jpg.galleryOne of the ways in which I like to relax is to immerse myself in computer games. I don’t play the sort most people would associate with de-stressing though. I enjoy war games, the more complex the better. For that, nothing beats the Total War series.

The most misunderstood of these games is Empire, which is a sprawling epic set in or around the Napoleonic Wars. What made that era perfect for a wargame was that it was, historically, locked in almost constant conflict. Diplomacy in that age mostly involved getting out of the way of the guns, and the reasons why countries went to war were myriad.

It was a dangerous time right across the world.

Hindsight means we can look back at that era and spot all the places along the path to the wars which redrew the map. Yet even then it must have been obvious which countries were to be watched, which were to be viewed as potential threats. Empire lets you do that too. A country with a weak government, a history of treachery, and expansionist ideology and which is short on key resources is one you have to be wary of. If you’re one its neighbours and you’re not locked in a formal military or diplomatic alliance then start arming up.

We have one of those in the vicinity; not a rogue nation, but a rogue football club and the things that happen there have a tendency to cast a dark shadow far beyond the environs of Ibrox. This organisation still has the ability to self-detonate, and because our governing bodies haven’t taken the precautions that would limit the damage to the club itself any scenario in which they explode could still take much of the national sport with it.

Sevco really does resemble a rogue state, you know.

They have a weak government, run by a guy so thin skinned he makes Donald Trump look like a model of composure. Their history of backstabbing, concealment, dodgy deeds and bending rules goes back beyond the current incarnation and deep into that of the club who’s identity they’ve assumed. Their ideology is, in many ways, aggressively expansionist. They believe they are the biggest club in the land and they seek to be taken seriously as a continental player too. In spite of that their economic situation is not only dire, it’s desperate.

It is run by unscrupulous leaders who pander to the worst elements of the populace. It also operates largely unscrutinised by the media, and if it was a country it would be one of those Security Council members who can do as they please without incurring sanctions. When Rangers collapsed in 2012 people talked about how they’d been punished; in point of fact, they never actually were. What happened to them was simply the inevitable consequences of administration, and then liquidation. They were never actually held accountable for the various corrupt practices that got them there, and it’s that that still rankles many today.

Officialdom is either terrified of the Ibrox operation or broadly in sympathy with it. That’s one of the things that worries us the most. There are lots of rumours swirling around about the club and it’s future. Some are more than just speculation, some are grounded in hard fact and they are of grave concern to an awful lot of people. But the chances of anything ever being done to get to the bottom of them are virtually zero. A media blackout of anything negative is guaranteed over there; that’s what gave men like Murray, Whyte, Green and King license to do whatever they pleased.

So let’s analyse the situation over there, not as Celtic supporters looking to get a good laugh – although we can do that too – but as dispassionate outsiders.

First, is the club is in financial danger?

For me, yes, I absolutely do believe that it is.

Do we believe the governing bodies and the media are aware of that?

I don’t see how they cannot be. The facts are freely available. The club makes losses year on year and they’ve recently embarked upon a quite crazy transfer spree which although it hasn’t involved spending big on fees has increased the wage bill massively. This kind of spending is wholly unsustainable for a club which, even at the height of its power, never made the kind of money Celtic consistently has. When your running costs are nearly £20 million before you pay a footballer or coach and that’s barely met by what’s coming in via season tickets you simply can’t afford to go out and sign nine players and give others huge wage increases.

But that’s exactly what they’ve done.

They will burn through the season ticket cash insanely quickly, and then the real fun starts when they’ve got to find more.

As I pointed out over on The CelticBlog last week, we’re fortunate that the SPFL elections have given us – albeit narrowly – a board where the majority is in favour of sporting integrity. It’s this organisation that will be responsible for deciding where any Rangers III ended up. Stewart Robertson shamefully finding his way onto the SFA Professional Game board confronts us with another scenario entirely; it’s entirely possible that the SFA would bend over backwards for the NewCo even to the extent where they tried to force the league body’s hand.

Do I think that could happen?

Sadly, I have to conclude that yes, it could happen and probably would happen. When all you have to go on are the lessons of the past, well we can look back four years and see what they did last time. One would imagine they’d view this situation as even more desperate and fraught with dangers than that one was. Because there are issues here above and beyond any that a club at Ibrox has faced before.

There is a very real threat to even the existence of a club calling itself Rangers.

We’re in truly uncharted territory here.

Just the other day I was listening to an ancient Radio Scotland debate, the one where Chick Young and the idiotic Jim Traynor went toe-to-toe over whether or not Alastair Johnson had nodded his head to confirm that Rangers could go bust if the Big Tax Case went against them. It’s beyond dispute that Johnson and the board were fully aware of the likelihood of that and he didn’t need to inform anyone of that fact. But it caused quite the flare up between the two hacks, because back then none of them could grasp the size of the thing in their hands. They still can’t, which is why so many still cling to the Survival Lie like a comfort blanket.

The Tax Case was the sort of crisis that could have closed their doors, and everyone knew it. I once thought that the collapse of David Murray’s companies could have done the same.

Craig Whyte ran up £20 million worth of bad debts, with a huge sum owed to HMRC. They refused the CVA because of non-payment of PAYE; don’t let anyone kid you that the Big Tax Case is what shut Rangers down. It wasn’t part of the equation. HMRC folded that bill into the final sums which were handed to the liquidators, but with the case still pending at the time it was a phantom issue.

Rangers was closed because of those Craig Whyte debts, but even with the Big Tax Case folded in as long as the assets were available in a liquidation sale there was always going to be a club at the end of it, whatever it called itself, just so long as the debts weren’t part of the package.

Those assets were always tremendously undervalued, or at least that was the perception most people had about them. But what if we were wrong? What if the asset valuation was actually right on? There were no debts, sure, but perhaps those assets came with their own, hidden, liabilities? Recent evidence suggests that they did.

Imagine that Sevco, in its present incarnation, was presented with a bill they simply didn’t have the money to pay? They’d go into administration, right? Easy. Whoever the creditors were they’d get pennies in the pound and the debts would vanish. Correct, but what if that bill couldn’t simply be set aside? What if even a third version of Rangers was impossible without it being paid?

There are some bills which wouldn’t be so easy to dodge, such as one for essential stadium repairs. If such a bill ran into eight digits it would be one that administration, even liquidation, would not be able to erase. That’s as bad as it gets.

If Sevco were unable to get Ibrox up to speed, and were rendered incapable of using the ground, where exactly would that leave them? Season tickets would be rendered worthless overnight. Even if they moved to Hampden on a temporary basis – and the SFA would bend over backwards to let them do that – the impact on their supporters would be considerable.

The impact on their finances would be absolutely catastrophic.

The club has just been granted a new safety certificate for the ground. Even the release of that information is suspect, the manner of it and the tone. Yet this news would appear – on the surface of it – to close the story down completely, but like much else it’s nowhere near as simple as that. Glasgow City Council, unprompted, appeared to confirm that there were problems with the matter. They said there was a delay in giving it to them, and that this was the result of a clerical error. That news has been greeted with frank disbelief in many quarters, especially amongst those of us who know there are issues over there which are in dire need of fixing.

I said in a recent article over on The CelticBlog that if a certificate were granted and something went wrong that a lot of people – the club included – would be in the most serious trouble imaginable. There are some suggestions that the certificate has been granted without a proper investigation taking place; a lot of people do not think it remotely likely that the council would take such a glib attitude towards safety at a public venue; that ignores past precedent, financial concerns and that famous old ugly issue of politics.

Do I believe that a safety certificate might have been granted on a nod and a wink? I am not saying that’s what’s been done, but I sadly can’t conclude that it’s impossible or even unlikely, although I wish to God that it was.

For one thing, Sevco’s board would launch their own legal action against the council, for plunging them into financial chaos. That’s why even shutting the ground whilst a full health and safety investigation takes place hasn’t even been considered. That, in itself, would create enormous problems for the club with a new season about to start. A long term closure, enforced by the HSE, would spark a court battle that could expose the council to serious financial risks. For that reason alone it’s not as simple as it probably should be.

But there’s a much more serious issue at stake.

If Ibrox is closed on the evidence of the council, for a series of expensive repairs, Sevco would collapse like a house of cards. In those circumstances it is highly unlikely that the ground would ever be opened again. The effects of that would be enormous, for the local area, for Scottish football, for the council itself. Its officials would be blamed for closing the doors on the club, however unfair that assertion might be, and with elections coming next year that would hammer the final nail into the coffins of the Labour administration.

The dominos do not stop falling in a scenario like that.

But nor do they stop falling in a scenario where someone is hurt, or God forbid killed, in an incident where a structural flaw results in an accident. Then both club and council would be exposed to searing criminal and civil consequences who’s certain, and inevitable, ending would be to wipe Sevco away. That couldn’t fail to have the direst effects on the whole of Scottish football, our own club included, whether we like it or not.

When Rangers was on the edge last time, it was the so-called leaders of our game who talked it into the shredder.

They crushed its commercial viability, collapsing the value of every sponsorship deal we were likely to get and they would have cast sporting integrity itself aside if they thought they could have gotten away with it. God alone knows what they would do faced with a scenario where the Ibrox club looked like it could vanish forever.

When people ask me why I constantly write about Sevco, why I focus such attention on them, why I waste my time on it, the answer is patently obvious. It’s because of stuff like this. The potential for that club going nuclear remains. That creates dangers for every other club in Scotland. The SFA knows there are financial difficulties over there, but they’ve not insured the sport against that, perhaps because they are unable to believe it could all happen again.

It could. It might. The risks are real.

The one thing at Ibrox you can be absolutely assured of is you can’t predict what will happen there. Trouble can come right out of a clear blue sky. The next twelve months could be as momentous as anything we’ve seen in the last four years.

Be ready for anything.

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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Scottish Football: Living In Ignoreland

indexIn 1992, REM released Automatic For The People, one of the greatest albums ever. One of the tracks on that album became a hit although it was never properly released as a single.

It was written in response to the Iran-Contra scandal, and its roots in 1979, and the election of Republican candidates for years after it.

Its target, in part, was the American media who had turned the hostage crisis of that year into a referendum on Jimmy Carter. This cost him the 1980 election. They then soft pedalled on how the Reagan administration dealt with it, which allowed his team to get through his re-election campaign in 1984 without ever having explained what was going on (they were trading military hardware for the hostages; literally buying them back with heavy duty weapon systems) then almost completely ignored Bush’s role in what became a monumental scandal although he’d been director of the CIA. This led to his own election in 1988.

Michael Stipe called the song Ignoreland.

It’s probably the most fitting metaphor for Scotland, as represented by the Fourth Estate, which I’ve ever come across.

Let me tell you, before I get to the point, just how little faith I have in our media to properly execute its responsibilities and do the job it’s meant for.

I started writing this article on Thursday night, after The Tax Justice Network, through their ancillary organisation The Offshore Game published their astounding report into the SFA and the way they dealt with Rangers. They didn’t quite call the SFA corrupt, but they didn’t stop far short of it. What they did say is that there are serious questions over the ability of the organisation to act impartially.

For those unfamiliar with the kind of nuance that’s prevalent in these kind of documents, this is a polite way of saying the people running our national sport are about one step shy of deserving to be paraded through the streets to the stocks.

It is a devastating judgement.

I had fully intended to do a long piece on that and publish it the following day. When the following day came I had a million other things to do, but at the back of my mind I kept thinking this had to be written, that the report had to be explored properly and stripped down for the layperson or those who didn’t have time to go through it line by line.

But by Friday night I’d concluded that there was simply no hurry.

In fact, I actually thought the article would have greater weight if I left it until after the league title had been wrapped up.

By that point I had moved on from where I was writing only about the report itself and decided what this piece had to be was an assault on the media.

I was so confident that the press would continue to ignore that report that I actually laid everything aside over the weekend and took Saturday and Sunday off.

I mean, it’s only the most damning report an outside agency has ever written about the game here … what were the chances of the press picking it up and running with it?

None whatsoever, of course.

It wasn’t that I took a calculated risk that the story would still be waiting for me today; I knew for a fact it would.

Isn’t that damning?

Isn’t that a greater statement about these people and how useless and corrupt and gutless they are than any words in this article ever could be? I felt confident enough that our media would not touch this that I left it for four full days, knowing that I could come back to it and write it and that it would be even more potent because of that.

People probably know I have a certain contempt for our press.

I can’t put it more bluntly than this: if you are a Scottish sports reporter and you’re not all over this story then you, my friend, are a fraud. Pure and simple. You’re a thief because you’re taking money under false pretences. You are conning your bosses and you’re conning the readers. Stop pretending that a NUJ card makes you a journalist.

You are the furthest thing from it.

Yet I know the press is perfectly capable of working away when it wants to.

Why just last week I read a story that was actually researched. It was on Celtic players and their salaries. It ran on the website of a national title. It listed the wages of every player at our club. The trouble was, the writer had taken them from Football Manager.

Nevertheless, as unprofessional and ludicrous as that was, it must have required some work; booting up the game, selecting Celtic, checking every individual player. Sniggering at Efe Ambrose allegedly on £7000 a week. Writing it all down. Uploading it.

Effort. Graft. Of a sort.

The media is also capable of writing controversial stuff that offends large numbers of people, like last week’s story about a Hillsborough campaigner who was encouraged to say disparaging things about our club.

That was nothing other than a smear job against Celtic, and it backfired spectacularly and resulted in an apology. Yet it proved that these people aren’t afraid of taking on power when they want to, even if this time they were crushed like a worm.

How does a story as weak and pitiful as the first, and one as basically reeking as the second, make it past editors and end up published when the biggest football story in the country – maybe the biggest ever – can be ignored for days, and would, without articles like this from the bloggers, actually never see the light of day beyond the initial report?

Where is the professional pride in our newsrooms when the whole of the Scottish football public knows they’re simply hoping this will go away?

There was a time when people got into their profession for more than just a fat expense account and a chance to hob-nob with the beautiful people, or the Scottish celebrity equivalent thereof. These people have disgraced it. Eventually, they’re going to kill it.

What a legacy to leave behind you. The people who killed newspapers in Scotland. The people who destroyed the reputations of once great titles. The people who obliterated their own industry because they couldn’t stay one step ahead of people like me; folk who do this from their bedrooms and spare rooms and don’t make a fraction of a journalist’s wage.

Let me break it down, real quick.

An organisation which has enormous credibility in the twin spheres of politics and economics, which wrote one of the most quoted and re-published articles on tax avoidance in the history of journalism, which made international headlines and affected public policy making in a big way, published, through its offshoot a story on how the SFA had been lied to, and how its officers had lied in turn, over issues affecting Rangers Football Club. This article stated that the Lord Nimmo Smith verdict stinks to high heaven, and can no longer be left as the final word on title stripping. It made it clear that the Resolution 12 boys don’t have a case as much as they have an iron clad slam-dunker of one. It called into question the SFA’s ability to govern the game in a fair and impartial way. It said that what these issues require is a fully independent public inquiry with the power to make recommendations for sweeping changes in the sport.

They called the former head of the SFA, Campbell Ogilvie, an out and out liar. They accused Stewart Regan of presiding over a shambles and knowingly allowing corrupting – and possibly even criminal – behaviours to be swept under the carpet, or was complicit in that himself. It says there are serious doubts as to whether the SFA is even capable of reforming itself, so deeply embedded in the structure of that organisation are these underhanded and cynical methods of dealing with issues. They are to do with Rangers, yes, but Rangers was never the target of our interest – as much as their stupider fans might have thought otherwise.

This was always about football governance, or lack thereof.

This report says football governance in Scotland is a misnomer. It’s a contradiction in terms. It is non-existent. It says the people running our sport either haven’t got a clue or are bent beyond redeeming and need, instead, to be swept away.

The Offshore Game’s original article on overseas ownership of football clubs in the UK created a surge of news stories and articles poring over every detail. It wasn’t a national story; it was a national event.

Every newspaper in Britain ran a piece on it. They update what they call The Offshore League Table every single year; Celtic is 8th on it, because Dermot Desmond holds his shares in our club through an offshore trust called Line Nominees.

The larger organisation which runs The Offshore Game site, the Tax Justice Network’s 2012 story on offshore banking beat the Panama Papers on the subject by four years, and was an international news story of epic scale and consequence.

Everyone was quoting it, from The Wall Street Journal to The Sunday Times, who had to rewrite their Rich List for the following year in one big hurry.

And irony of ironies, in the aftermath of the Panama Papers, another report from the Tax Justice Network is a main story on the websites of every credible news title from The Guardian to The Independent even as I sit here and write these words.

These people redefine the word “credible” as it’s used in the context of the issues we’re talking about. This is the equivalent of Holy Writ. It’s impartial, written by people with no axe to grind at all. It’s professionally sourced and presented. Every named person was contacted for a reaction quote (and every one refused) beforehand. Every assertion is backed by facts. This is a brick bunker of an article, unimpeachable in every way.

Yet it remains wholly untouched by the media which allegedly writes about issues affecting our game. This investigation into the SFA may well prove to be the least reported on document the Tax Justice Network has ever commissioned.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing, of course. It’s the same old picture. The same feeble attitude, gutless, heartless or clueless, I’ve stopped caring now. I’ve even stopped caring whether it’s the hacks themselves or their editors who stop this stuff getting a proper airing.

Journalists would once have resigned over being told to ignore an obvious news story like this. They’d have been asking their bosses who benefited from silence, whether there was an agenda.

They would threaten to take the thing to another publication.

But no publication wants a piece of this. Why?

Cause it’s not news? Are you joking?

This is the textbook definition of a news story. An independent agency has slammed a public body in a damming report, claiming that it’s incapable of impartiality and ought to be reviewed by outsiders because it can’t be trusted to reform itself?

In which parallel universe is that not news?

I can only call these people gutless frauds so many times before it all becomes just words. I know they don’t care about it, because they think theirs is the final word. They have no concept of what the historical verdict will say any more than Sevco fans do. Their supporters think because the corrupt football association that runs our game “recognises” the history and didn’t strip the titles that this is how it’s going to be, forever.

But every one of those titles will forever have an asterix beside it, because there is a permanent record of what these people did and what the governing body allowed them to do, and we’re writing that permanent record right now.

When the books are written about this period in Scottish football – and I’m more and more sure that I’ll personally write one of them – they will end up as part of the permanent record of this moment and what was happening in it, and in that record the media’s silence will be logged for posterity and future generations can draw their own conclusions from it.

When media students ask why the Scottish sporting press contracted and died, and in a few short years was supplanted by the bloggers and the citizen journalists those books and these blogs will be the permanent record, and their disgrace will be known to all.

The press can’t escape that judgement. They can’t run from that verdict. History will devour their reputations and make a mockery of everything they think they’ve achieved. If titles aren’t stripped they’ll be forever tainted. Because the real truth will be on the record, and it will be all the more illuminating because it wasn’t put there by the mainstream press.

It’s never been more important for those of us in the blogosphere to keep on doing what we do, because this is a sterling example of how little our media can be relied on, and I actually write that with great sadness and regret because until we have the reach the mainstream press does we’ll never be able to affect the kind of change they can.

I do believe that if the media was willing to write about these matters honestly and faithfully that Scottish football would change, and it would change for the better. The people running our game in this disastrous fashion can only do so because of a complete lack of oversight and the kid gloves treatment they get from the people in the newsrooms.

Even when Mike Ashley Holdings obtained the full details of the SFA’s decision over Dave King recently, that story was spun to do the minimum damage to the men at Hampden. Indeed, it was spun as a victory for the SFA and King, when actually Ashley got exactly what he wanted, a full and frank explanation, and the documentary proof of the SFA’s ludicrous decision making process. His demand for “full disclosure” – that the SFA should make this stuff public – was ignored, even when he pointed out that fans deserved the answers.

These people don’t believe we deserve answers, and the problem doesn’t just lie with the media or the governing bodies. It lies with the clubs too, and even with some of the fans. There are too many people, even those who take an interest in these affairs, who think stuff like Resolution 12 is the peculiar fixation of Celtic fans only, without seeing that it has a wider impact, even if you discount how it affected other clubs and their finances.

This is about naked corruption, and that shouldn’t be left to Celtic supporters to fight alone. There are a lot of people who wail about Scottish football and the issues in it who are all too quick to put Celtic in the same box as Rangers, although the proofs that the game here has been bent for just one club are piled high like snowdrifts on all sides of them.

An independent report has borne out two of the central allegations Celtic fans have made in the last few years. It’s now an established fact that lies were told, rules subverted, other clubs disenfranchised. Why are we still pretending these issues only matter to Celtic fans? Why do so many people still seem to believe these aren’t problems for their own teams too?

It’s been proved, conclusively, that Rangers got a European license in contravention of the rules; would Aberdeen have got one? Or Hearts? It wouldn’t have mattered if these clubs had been facing a dire financial situation, as Rangers was at the time. The SFA would have given them nothing. Why aren’t their shareholders asking for a full investigation into this?

Motherwell were denied European income as a consequence of the SFA’s action. Where are their shareholders on this issue? Why aren’t they asking the same questions as Celtic’s are? How much money was taken from them? They followed the rules. Their fans, players and management team did nothing wrong. They didn’t deserve to be penalised for playing it straight.

But how much do they care? How much have they done to bring the truth to light?

The media aren’t the only ones in Scotland living in Ignoreland. Much as Stipes’ seething commentary wasn’t only directed at the media and the Republican Party it was a pointed dig at the voting public too. There are no secrets anymore and there never were.

Ignoreland is a safe place to live, even a happy place.

Where do you think the saying “Ignorance is bliss” comes from? How do you think it came into vogue in the first place? Knowledge is power, but it’s also responsibility and for a long time now a lot of people have been hiding away from both.

There have been opportunities to change the game in the last three or four years. Even the SPL’s disgraceful 11-1 voting system would not have been a meaningful barrier to change, with Rangers out of the picture, had fans been lobbying their own clubs to do what was right. Financial Fair Play would be a reality already if shareholders at other teams pressed the people in their boardrooms to put it on the agenda.

To some, these campaigns look like Celtic fan driven vendettas. The media has had no problem painting them as such. But an independent report from a well-respected and highly influential think-tank has said everything we’re concerned about is valid, which means it’s no longer just our issue but one that belongs to the whole of the sport.

The media is going to ignore this, and I’m past trying to shame them into doing what’s right. They’re beyond shaming. They’re beyond reach of anyone who actually cares about our sport.

The game needs leadership and as we know it’s not going to come from those who’re supposed to deliver it, who do you reckon that leaves?

It leaves the fans themselves. And don’t worry Aberdeen fans and Hibs fans and Dundee Utd fans and those of our clubs who’ll say that Celtic is one of the obstacles to change; a lot of us sussed that a long time ago, and we’re working on setting that right. Do the same at your clubs and don’t spend so long worrying about ours.

Your CEO has the same vote Celtic’s does and if you get your club on board with reform it really won’t matter if we fail to do the same with ours. The numbers will be there. The change will come because it has to. Because it’s time.

Michael Stipe was one pissed off guy in 1992, and he said so in his song.

“TV tells a million lies. The paper’s terrified to report anything that isn’t handed on a presidential spoon. I’m just profoundly frustrated by all this. So, f@@@ you, man.”

Sound familiar? Yeah, doesn’t it?

REM’s angry song ends up on a bum note though, with what sounds like an admission of defeat.

“I know that this is vitriol. No solution, spleen-venting. But I feel better having screamed. Don’t you?”

We’ve been screaming a long time now. Feel better yet?

No, me neither. Nobody listens in Ignoreland.

When the world turns to crap you’ve got two choices; get comfortable living in it or pick up a shovel. I’m sick of living in this. How do you feel about it? You wanna keep screaming, or you wanna get busy with a flat headed implement?

This article has been amended. In the original I said it was Kilmarnock who had suffered because of the granting of a European license to Rangers. Actually, back then, before they made the Scottish Cup runners up ineligible, it would have been Motherwell who were due to compete in Europe had the proper procedures been followed. Thanks to Matt Leslie and a couple of others for that correction.

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The Storm Before The Calm

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Death_of_Caesar_-_Walters_37884On 15 March 44BC a group of Roman senators, believing they were striking a blow for freedom, ambushed and murdered one of the most important men in history, Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator, general, politician and statesman.

They had expected the acclaim of the masses. They had killed a tyrant after all.

Instead of celebrations, they were greeted with sullen silence. Caesar’s closest friend, Marc Anthony, capitalised on that. He negotiated a sham peace, and then at the funeral gave an oration that sparked a riot. The assassins fled, for their own safety.

Within two years, everyone involved in the plot to kill Caesar was dead.

The seeds of their stunning downfall had been sown in the act itself. They never stood a chance.

First, the plan had left Anthony alive when the smart thing to do would have been to kill him, and second, and more important, they had reckoned without Caesar, who had chosen his successor with the greatest care.

It was his nephew Octavian, then just 18.

Octavian had all the political skills of Caesar. Although not as fine a general, he was more ruthless than his uncle. Whereas Caesar had spared the lives of many of his political rivals, Octavian executed everyone who wasn’t firmly fixed in his own camp.

Gaius Octavian became Augustus. He transitioned the Roman Republic out of existence, and became the first Emperor, in the ultimate irony as it was the Republic that Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins had killed Caesar to maintain.

Caesar’s assassins would never have killed him had they an inkling of the skills young Octavian possessed, and they would certainly have balked at the act had they known that for years it was the dictator himself who was the key restraining influence on Marc Anthony, who would have had many of them executed far in advance of that deadly day.

The fate of those men is history’s great cautionary tale, but it’s not the only one.

It’s dangerous to carry out an assassination if you’re unsure of what might follow it, and you should never assume you know what that will be.

I think often of the Rangers fans who danced and celebrated Inverness’ stunning victory over Celtic in the Scottish Cup back in August 2000, which led to the sacking of John Barnes.

Had they known what would follow that night I doubt they’d have partied so long or so hard.

Likewise, I know of no Celtic fan who was happy on the day that McCoist fell, or on the day Sevco decided Stuart McCall would not lead them into a full season. We never wanted those men gone; we liked them just fine right where they were.

I know that some of the Sevco fans who danced in the stands at Hampden on Sunday last week did so with a heavy heart; they never wanted to see Ronny Deila fall. Celtic winning the double would have appeased enough supporters, maybe, that the board would have risked keeping him in place for another year. That would have suited Sevco just fine.

As it is, Deila is packing his bags.

Without knowing who’s coming in, it’s hard to say what Celtic will look like this time next year, but one thing is for sure; we’ll be better off for it.

As if watching Deila fall wasn’t bad enough for them, their victory may just have shaken up more than just the dugout.

If it has, then it’s truly been a  Pyrrhic win because the last thing their fans wanted to see was a fundamental shift in the approach at Celtic Park.

Yet to outsiders it still looks like Celtic is in meltdown. The fans are staying away. The board is unpopular and teetering on the brink of crisis. Many of the players are a waste of a jersey. The manager is shockingly inept, with woeful tactics.

And yet … it’s impossible not to see this as the storm before the calm.

And at the end of the storm is a golden sky.

Because Celtic is changing.

This is what change looks like.

It’s painful and it’s dramatic and it’s often scary when you’re in the midst of it.

Even as our slumbering club comes fully awake for the first time maybe in years the club across the city is celebrating victory before the war’s even won … and you know something? I think they’re going to get the biggest shock since Cassius and Brutus stood watching Marc Anthony give the most inflammatory funeral speech of all time.

For one thing, they’re not as good as that media would have you believe. The league table never lies, they say; well try this for size. After the same number of games as Celtic this season they’re not much better off, points wise, than we are. The difference is that we’ve not been playing second tier, even amatuer, teams all season.

The media which lauds them, and the fans who follow them blindly, are labouring under an enormous – and dangerous – misconception, that just because Celtic is stagnant and vulnerable looking that we are somehow as weak as they are.

It’s not true.

Our club is immeasurably stronger than theirs is.

They are mistaking weak leadership for a flaw in the system itself. No such flaw exists. Leadership aside, Celtic is a machine. It’s been running on 20% power, and some have taken that to be the maximum it’s capable of.

This is foolish in the extreme.

The resources at our disposal absolutely dwarf what they can bring to bear.

Our financial position is rock solid. With the right man in the manager’s office and the right strategy behind him we are capable of burying any threat they, or anyone else, is likely to pose.

This is all about the fundamentals, and when you break down the facts and the figures we are in front of them by every accepted standard. We appear less than we are at the moment; a consequence of that appalling management.

Get that part of it right … and this isn’t even a contest.

Let’s take but one example; the stadium.

Our stadium has a higher capacity than Ibrox, and this haunted David Murray all the way through his last years at Rangers. Those 10,000 extra seats represent more than just bragging rights. As Fergus understood full well when he laid the plans for Celtic Park, they confer a huge financial advantage upon us if we can fill them.

With a plan in place to restore us to our rightful status, and the supporters on board with that and returning in numbers, those seats allow us to open up a gap King and his cronies simply cannot bridge, no matter what they do.

Their club is still six years from a favourable merchandising deal.

They are at least ten away from being able to navigate beyond the earliest rounds in Europe, should they ever manage to get there. Without real European income, their chances of catching a Celtic side that has that advantage are somewhere between slim and none. To open up that gap, we have to do our own part but even that isn’t as difficult as some would have you believe.

I would suggest that a better manager than Deila would, with the players to hand, have gotten us past Maribor and Malmo and possibly even Legia Warsaw. Those who say our chances of qualifying are getting worse by the year are looking at the world through blue tinted glasses. We had the measure of these clubs. Our squad is better than theirs. Managerial failings are what made the difference.

Even without Champions League qualification next season, however, there should be no question of us failing to reach the Europa League groups at the very least and this, in itself, will put us on another financial plane entirely unless Warburton – completely untested at that level and with a second tier squad of players – was able to achieve the same; unlikely if we’re being generous.

It’s been five years since Rangers was washed away in the aftermath of Craig Whyte’s disastrous reign, but what Whyte did was simply acknowledge the truth that still dare not speak its name; Rangers was a financial basket case.

What we think of as that club’s strength and power was built on sand.

Stripped of the bank funding that allowed their glory years, they fell into complete ruin and then oblivion.

Whatever the club playing out of Ibrox might call itself, no matter what history it might shamelessly and fraudulently claim, the similarity ends with blue jerseys and the logo on them.

I cannot accentuate this point enough, and yet I’ve had to over and over again.

The Rangers we knew never really existed; it was smoke and mirrors, a shadow on the wall. They were never a financial superpower, merely a club whose owner was hyped up and feted by a bank that was out of control in an era when reckless spending seemed almost virtuous. Without the criminal indulgence of Masterton and Cummings there’d have been no nine in a row, no Gazza, no Laudrup.

On its own, Rangers could never have bought these players, and these before EBT’s gave them another advantage they wouldn’t otherwise have had and which is denied to them today.

When Murray and his flexible friend were no longer on hand, that club was only heading one way;

“Express elevator to Hell … going down.”

Without a sugar daddy in charge, this was inevitable and if Sevco is ever to scale those heights it’s going to take another one to get them there.

And those are in short supply.

In the meantime, as King goes cap in hand to his fellow directors and Paul Murray pulls up the sofa cushions looking for loose change, over at Celtic Park, a long dormant engine is growling back into life. The gears may need a little grease and some of the spark plugs might need replacing, but this machine is essentially sound and when it gets rolling it will be a ten ton tank next to their refurbished Vauxhall Velox. Oh they can pretty up theirs as they like, but when the time comes we’re going to drive our war machine right over it.

But first, a period of turmoil when to the outside world it will look like we’re mired in crisis.

To Brutus and Cassius, Marc Anthony’s political manoeuvring must have looked a little like that, like the scrambling of a desperate man, determined to hang on to what little he had left in the world.

They were wrong, as so many of those looking at Celtic are wrong.

They ought not to feel bad when the reversal of all they thought they knew finally comes about. The historical tendency of those who win a major victory is to believe it’s the same as winning the war.

One of the most potent examples was on 7 December, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, achieving as they saw it the conditions that would allow them dominion over the Pacific.

One senior admiral knew it was not so, and although there’s no evidence he used the words which are often ascribed to him, Yamamoto’s foreboding proved warranted. “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Sevco fans, take note.

Celtic is awake. You’re the ones who did it.

Enjoy your moment.

For you, this is the calm before the storm.

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Coffee’s For Closers

A-1Alec Baldwin has probably never had a finer seven minutes on screen than those he gets in the magnificent David Mamet film Glengarry Glen Ross.

His character, Blake, was not in the Pulitzer Prize winning stage version of the story; Mamet added him later, and Baldwin was cast knowing he’d only be in the film for one scene.

When he read the script, he didn’t hesitate to accept the role.

His little cameo towers over the whole film and haunts the other characters, the “deadbeat” sales force who chase the “good leads” at Rio Rancho Properties, a real estate office where desperation fogs the air like the steam that rises from the pavements outside at night.

None of the three men forced to sit through his speech that night is a natural “closer”. Whatever skills they once posssessed are gone. None are now capable of making a high pressure sale, getting some poor sap to “sign on the line which is dotted.”

They are losers, all bit Ricky Roma, played by Al Pacino, who is riding high and therefore doesn’t need to there, sat at the “sales conference” where Blake gives them the most de-motivational motivating speech that’s ever been put on film.

“Your names Levine?” he asks Jack Lemon, with the deepest contempt.

“You call yourself a salesman, you sonofabitch?”

Shelly “The Machine” Levine looks back in shock. He was once the “top name on the board” and is now a man almost weighed down by a “streak” of constant failure, of doors closed in his face, of telephone hang-ups, of a daily grind of humiliation. He was standing with a mug in his hand, waiting to fill it, when Blake singled him out for the first battering.

“Put that coffee DOWN!” Blake shouts from across the room. “Coffee’s for closers only.”

Blake isn’t kidding around.

He’s been “sent downtown from Mitch and Murray”, the big bosses, on what he says, without a trace of irony, is “a mission of mercy” to give these guys the news; “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest,” he says. “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Wanna see second prize?” he asks, brandishing a set of steak knives, which seems like a lousy substitute for a car until he tells them what’s next.

“Third prize is you’re fired,” he says, looking venomously at the three men – two of whom will be “hitting the bricks” at the end of the month – and asks them, “You get the picture? You laughing now?”

No-one is, and thinking about the scene neither am I.

At its blackest moment, he’s sitting across the desk from Moss, played by a waspish Ed Harris, who at first thinks he can meet Blake’s aggression and contempt with his own. But Blake isn’t in the least bit intimidated by this joker.

He takes off his watch and brandishes it in Moss’s face.

“This watch cost more than your car,” he tells him. “I made $970,000 last year. How much did you make? See, pal, that’s who I am … and you’re nothing.” As Moss’ expression changes to betray his own stark self-loathing Blake hammers it home to him. “Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? @@@@ you! Go home and play with your kids! You wanna work here? Close!

Which brings me to the point of the piece.

Yesterday, Celtic scraped through a disturbingly difficult 90 minutes at home against Partick Thistle, a game we’d have dropped points in but for Leigh Griffiths, who’s become an indispensable part of our team in a way no player has probably since Larsson.

I find it alarming that we’ve become so reliant on one player.

We’ve got the biggest wage budget in Scottish football, and without Griffiths God knows what state our season would be in. To say he got the manager out of jail yesterday is to put it mildly. One Celtic site says a lot of our bloggers would have been tearing up their match reports when he stuck that ball into the net; mine didn’t change one word.

I lost faith in Ronny Deila months ago. A late goal from a player who was thrown into the mix because the manager didn’t have any other card in the deck, any other plan, has done nothing whatsoever to restore it.

I don’t know if it can be restored any longer.

We were awful yesterday. The playing style is awful. The tactical system is awful. The manager’s refusal to change it is awful. The mounting sense of dread many of us get watching this team play, knowing Champions League qualifiers will expose our weaknesses more horribly than SPL teams are capable of – as has been the case in the past two years – is awful.

The eternal optimists – or those who just can’t bring themselves to think, let alone acknowledge, that there might be something wrong at Celtic Park – have wondered aloud if this isn’t the moment that “sparks” the team.

I don’t know whether to laugh at the sentiment or cry about it. I don’t know where such hope comes from; it’s the very definition of having faith – “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”

I’m pretty angry today, I was even angrier yesterday, and that’s make me quite snappy when it comes to this subject, and in that I’ve probably said things I shouldn’t have said – and didn’t even mean – in public, and in private.

But this is what comes from frustration and the realisation that things aren’t going to change in a hurry, that for this to be over, barring the miracle we all hope for but in which I simply don’t believe, something awful, something irrevocable, something disastrous, will have to come to pass.

And right now, it feels like all we’re doing is marking time towards that, and it’s like waiting to be shot.

One guy on my Facebook page – Peter Murray, thanks mate – cut to the heart, this morning, of why days like this are so rough and why, invariably, they see us arguing with, and falling out with, each other, which is the very last thing we should be doing.

“This is like a loving family watching someone they all love dying in front of their eyes,” he said, and whether you think that’s overdone or not, you can’t argue with the next bit. “We all care about what happens to them but end up arguing amongst ourselves about the best way to help them.”

And that’s the crux of it, right there.

None of us wants to see things get worse. We’re all trying to analyse this thing and find answers, all of us, that is, but for that small and shrinking number who refuse even to accept that there’s anything wrong.

But you know what? Families always have those folk too.

In time, even they won’t be able to deny what’s in front of their eyes.

There are some amongst us who, whether they believe in Ronny or not, honestly think he is the best manager we’re likely to get at the present time. The question as to who we’d replace him with haunts them, even more than the bad performances do. Their fear over there is so consuming that it’s paralysed them into apathy.

I think they’re woefully underestimating our pull, but I don’t doubt that their belief is genuine.

At the same time, others think we would attract David Moyes or someone else, but those guys would want money, or full autonomy to run things, neither of which they are likely to get, and I’m not sure where those folk get their own eternal optimism from.

The stuff that’s wrong at Celtic Park doesn’t begin, or end, at the manager’s office.

We can change the guy in that room – and in my opinion we should, we must – but his replacement would probably be another punt, another shot in the dark, exposing us to even greater uncertainty.

Deila is not the only person at Celtic Park in whom I have no faith.

But for him I do at least have some sympathy.

In my brutally honest opinion he is shockingly out of his depth, in a job that is now threatening to overwhelm him, and he’s been the architect of much of his own trouble with an inflexibility that would be understandable in a guy who was sweeping all before him aside but seems here either to be the height of arrogance or the complete absence of a Plan B.

But not all of this is his fault.

I have some sympathy with what he’s had to put up with up since he planted his flag on Scottish soil. Much of it has been unbelievable and even hateful. The media, right from the start, were outrageous and determined to sink him, and their own arrogance and dismissal of his achievements in Norway were typically petty, small-minded and, in many cases, simply anti-Celtic.

We could appoint Guardiola and many of these people would find a reason to sneer.

This is why I understand, above all, the enormous reluctance amongst our support to even seem like we’re throwing our manager to the wolves and giving his critics a warm body to dance around.

But I’m not interested in what the media writes and I never have been. The day we let something they print or say or even don’t print or say get in the way of what’s best for our club is a bad one indeed.

It pays, at a time like this, to be able to detach yourself from the screaming and analyse things dispassionately.

And on that basis, his jacket’s on a shoogly peg and it ought to be.

Yesterday, a lot of people took serious umbridge to some of the commentary on our match, particularly that of Pat Bonner. In their haste to simply dismiss anything the media had to say about Ronny on the basis that it’s all negative anyway, they slammed our former keeper for the simple act of telling the unpalatable truth. We were rank yesterday. The criticism was deserved.

We’re not tossing our manager to the snarling pack by acknowledging that.

These people aren’t always wrong. I would rather they covered us honestly, as Bonner did yesterday, than have a host of ex-Celt’s lining up to tell us transparent bullshit about everything at the club being just tickety-boo.

Another club’s supporters swallow a constant diet of that, and it hasn’t done them the slightest good.

We took a risk on Ronny Deila, and I supported that risk.

I didn’t start out opposed to Ronny but neither am I a bandwagon jumper.

Time, performances, the stuff I can see, eroded my confidence, especially over the last eight or so months.

What do I think of Ronny Deila on a personal level?

He seems, from a distance, to be a Good Man.

Even the media hacks who’ve spent the year baiting him agree that he’s a Nice Person and pleasant to be around.

Yet when it comes to what’s best for Celtic, I don’t care about any of that.

Because coffee’s for closers, and I want to win, every week.

Beyond that, I want us to be more than a provincial Scottish club with a once proud name.

I want to see signs of life, that we’re moving in the right direction, that we’re still committed not just to football success but to winning it the right way, and what I’ve watched lately would get a game stopped in a public park.

This is business, not personal.

Football management is a tough environment, where sometimes nice guys finish last.

Ruthlessness is sometimes part of the job description and I think he lacks the killer instinct as much as the requisite tactical skills.

My disquiet on that front preceded my doubts about his ability in the dugout.

I knew from the start that this guy was going to be under intense media pressure, and that some would look at his record and conclude that he was a “yes man” hired because he wouldn’t rock the boat.

I knew there would need to be an early show of strength.

Yet there, at his first press conference, he was embarrassed and upstaged by the chief executive in a moment that still boils my blood today, when John Collins was forced on him in front of the whole of the Scottish media.

I wrote an article about that at the time, and I didn’t hide my fury or my belief that accepting this would be a mistake and one that would hamstring our coach right out of the starting gate. I feel unhappily vindicated.

Rumours continue to circulate about the negative impact Collins has on the dressing room. I have no way of knowing if these reports are true, but they are the sort that have swirled around him for years and which haunted him at Hibs and Livingston.

In short, I don’t think the manager operates in harmonious circumstances, and I don’t think he ever really has.

He was denied his own people and perhaps there’s a little bunker mentality set in with him now.

I wouldn’t hold that against him at all.

But my sympathy doesn’t extend very far.

I think of his last two press conferences and I shake my head in disbelief at his lack of concern over what we’re watching right now. For him to have said, after the Hearts game in which I thought we struggled, that he had his “old team” back again, and to have watched yesterday’s all too predictable horror show and then heard him express his delight … something just doesn’t compute. It’s just wrong.

I cannot conceive of this man taking us into next season’s Champions League qualifiers.

Our performances in Europe since he took over have been beyond bad, and he’s not exactly put teams out against the best clubs in Europe. One shining moment – against Milan – does not cover a record of disaster and disgrace, and that’s how I think it’s been.

Disastrous and disgraceful.

He’s a nice guy, but so what?

Good father? Then he should go home and play with his kids.

If he wants to work at Celtic Park his team has to close.

They have to start burying teams week in week out, first to demonstrate to all comers that we’re the biggest and best side in this country bar none, and not simply one that relies on having no competition.

Progress in Europe is beyond him.

If he takes us into the Champions League next season that will be an unacceptable risk from our club for which more than one person would have to pay with his job.

I love our club too much to keep these views to myself, much as a lot of folk wish I would.

A few weeks ago, Jonathon Wilson, from The Guardian, wrote a magnificent piece on Jose Mourinho, and in it he mentioned the “three year cycle” which claims so many managerial scalps, and which has haunted the Portuguese boss on the only two occasions in his career when he has stayed at a team beyond two seasons.

The theory, proposed by the Hungarian coach, Béla Guttmann, who managed Benfica to two European Cups, is that “the third season is fatal.” By then, a manager’s tactics are known to his opponents and his style of play is easily exploited.

Few coaches, a very few, buck the trend and even at Celtic we can see Martin O’Neill’s failure to win three in a row and the way Gordon Strachan very nearly didn’t, taking his third season to the final day.

Deila’s team selections and tactics are already being found wanting, and we’re midway through season two.

The best does not look as if it’s in front of us.

If Ronny Deila isn’t willing to change the way his team plays, and we don’t see some improvement on the park – and one that isn’t simply a “one game wonder”, forgotten the next week in a return to lethargic, geriatric football – then, to quote Blake in that searing seven minutes of screen time, I don’t care how nice a guy he is, Ronny can “hit the bricks pal, and beat it … because you are going OUT!”

This is no time for cheap sentimentality.

The longer it takes for change to happen at Parkhead the more days like these we’re going to go through.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already fed up with it.

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Apocalypse Soon

_76287225_ronny_deila3On Saturday I saw things in the Celtic team with the potential to haunt me from now until the Champions League qualifiers next season.

Callum McGregor in the holding midfield role. Nadir Ciftci finishing the match playing behind a grossly unfit Carlton Cole. Scott Allan brought on as a substitute and stuck out wide left.

Blame the players for the defeat if you must, but I’m moved to wonder if they can really be held accountable for such a shambolic and structurally incoherent set of choices.

There is a sterling moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent movie Apocalypse Now where Cpt Willard has reached the jungle compound of the renegade colonel Walter Kurtz and he’s seen for himself why the orders from on high are to “terminate his command” with “extreme prejudice.”

Amidst piles of dead bodies, and heads mounted on sticks, in sight of a former photojournalist who’s time with the colonel has turned him into a babbling loon, Willard comes face to face with the man he’s travelled up a dirty river and through nine circles of Hell to find, a man he’s been sent to kill because his “methods have become unsound.”

“Well,” Kurtz asks him. “Have my methods become unsound?”

Willard’s eyes have the haunted look of someone who’s seen much more than he ever wanted or could have conceived in his darkest nightmare.

“I don’t see any method at all,” Willard says.

And that’s how I feel now, watching Ronny Deila’s Celtic.

If there was a plan, there’s no longer any trace of it. Hidden amidst the chaos, we thought there was some underlying order, some sign that this is all leading somewhere better than the destination we can most clearly see in our own minds.

There had to be, right?

Well, no.

I’ve stopped looking now, and a lot of folk have. It’s fruitless. We’re searching for Cibola, one of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. If it exists we’ll be enriched beyond our wildest dreams, but in our hearts we know it’s a fool’s errand we’re on.

We’re chasing a phantom.

It’s time to come back to reality.

Today I feel a little bit like somebody who’s bought an expensive ornament and turned it over to find a sticker on the bottom saying “Trotters Independent Traders”. We got a bum deal here. It wasn’t a con exactly … but it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.

Where is the attacking football? Where is the high pressing game? Where is the flowing passing and movement off the ball? All these things were promised, and I don’t feel let down as much as I feel betrayed. I’ve broken up with girlfriends for less. I’ve nursed a grievance against Peter Lawwell for years over a single misleading statement, and yes, it was a big one … but still.

I don’t believe any longer in what Ronny and those who’d defend him are selling.

I don’t believe there will be jam tomorrow or any other day.

All that’s in our future with this guy at the helm is a diet of gruel.

Some stale bread and water if we’re very lucky indeed.

This is an unfolding tragedy, and somebody at our club needs to show the requisite leadership before it turns into a disaster.

There are those amongst our support who still cling to hope of a treble, but in 18 league games we’ve already failed to win five this season and we’ve been utterly humiliated in European football.

It will take one bad day – and even when we’ve won this season we’ve often not looked terribly convincing – and that’ll be the end of that particular ambition.

Besides, the truth – and it’s one some in our support find increasingly hard to face – is that being only marginally better than the teams we play here in Scotland week in week out is nothing to boast about. Our current malaise ought to be a source of shame, that and the news that we’ve recently dropped a mind-numbing 25 places in the European rankings, to sit at 75th.

It’s where we belong right now.

The unveiling of a statue to Billy McNeil ought to have made Saturday an occasion to savour, one that evoked memories of our heyday as the biggest club in Europe. Instead, we looked bereft and more like the team that played in the latter days of the old board.

We are staggeringly bad right now, and the supporters haven’t missed that fact.

Our recent record at Celtic Park, two wins in the last eight games, is deplorable and when we’ve not been playing football here in Scotland the gap between us and even second rate continental teams has looked vast.

I harbour no hope at all for next year’s Champions League qualifiers … if we manage to reach them that is.

Because this is getting worse, not better.

I spend a lot of time on this site writing about the shambles at Sevco, and when the full-time whistle went at Celtic Park on Saturday I briefly turned my attention to what was happening at Easter Road fully expecting Warburton’s team to have escaped a full-on calamity by the skin of their teeth.

Imagine my reaction as Hibs won the game late, to plunge the Ibrox operation into its own deepening morass.

And then something dawned on me.

The Sevco supporters would have taken no satisfaction from our own defeat.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

As sick as their fans must have been at the Edinburgh club’s late winner, it’s nothing compared to how scunnered they must feel every waking minute of every single day at the opportunity they’ve squandered.

If their club had been born anew, instead of clinging to a corpse, they could have been in front of us already.

Because we’re going backward and we are there for the taking right now, and they know it and they’re stuck in the mud at just the moment when they might have been there to punish us.

Last season’s calamitous failures over there are all the worse for them in light of where we presently find ourselves.

If they weren’t in such disarray they might very well fancy their chances of catching us before too long.

What their fans can see, clearly, is their historical opportunity being pissed away, because this can’t go on forever; Celtic can’t remain in such dysfunction in perpetuity.

But that knife cuts both ways.

At some point, you think, Sevco simply has to find stability and the right combination of elements that turns them into a functioning unit. Our own window to vanish over the horizon is closing rapidly, as league reconstruction becomes the cause célèbre amongst the mainstream hacks, with Matthew Lindsay in The Herald the latest to bang that drum with a piece today that’s about as unhinged as anything you’ll read this side of the asylum bars.

They increasingly look like a club that is going to depend on some official fix to get into the top flight, and that is embarrassing for everyone connected with the Ibrox side, but for the moment I am holding back on the gloating because we’re no great shakes at the present time either.

Instead of moving so far ahead of them that they can’t see us any longer we’re suddenly looking very vulnerable to any club that can put together a sustained run.

Simply put, this is becoming a race to see which of the Glasgow clubs gets its act together first, with Aberdeen already waiting in the wings and fully capable of their own smash and grab act.

For Deila to write them off so blithely at the weekend … shocking.

Our manager is developing a profoundly arrogant streak which I do not like and which I do not think is fitting of a man who’s embroiled in such uncertainty.

The amateur statisticians have had a field day in the last few weeks telling us that Ronny’s record stands up alongside that of anyone we’ve had in the manager’s office in recent years.

Fine, bravo, well done to the Norwegian boss, and well done to those who’re today lambasting many of our fans for saying the club has gone backwards.

You are watching a different team to me.

Because things are not good at Celtic Park right now, and you can see it in the team’s performances and in our ridiculous playing system.

Futhermore, things just don’t feel right at the moment, do they?

There’s a creeping sense that we’re watching something profoundly horrible beginning to unfold. It might not be Apocalypse Now, but every passing day increases the sense that it’s Apocalypse Soon.

Had Motherwell converted their chances at the weekend, Ronny would have packed up his pencils already. It’s inconcievable that he could have survived a hammering at home from such a poor team.

But it’s coming. It’s in the wind.

There’s no evidence that things are getting better; indeed, all there is suggests a football club going the other way. We’re regressing to the point where a lot of our fans are trying to rationalise the abject humiliation of finishing bottom of a Europa League group without a win.

Last season we reached the last 32 of that competition.

You see the direction of travel?

I’ll give you a clue; it ain’t forward.

For the record, if you’re asking me, that group table, on its own, ought to be the catalyst for a change of management at Celtic Park.

If we truly value what’s left of our dwindling European reputation then we’ll act in defence of that, because this guy can’t take us into another continental campaign. His failures – and those above him; they don’t get out of this without criticism, no way in Hell – have already cost us an estimated £30 million in lost revenue … and the damage financially is nothing compared to that done to our name.

How much worse do you want it to get, Celtic?

A loss of £45 million?

Dropping to 100th in the rankings?

Failing to make the groups of even the second tier European tournament?

People are saying “give Ronny the money in January to sign his players and then judge him on how well they do.”

Really? And should we not bother to judge his performance in that area thus far?

Because this will be his fourth transfer window as boss.

And what does the picture look like?

We’ve made baffling choices, like signing Cole when we play every week with a single striker, like signing Scott Allan when the central midfield area is already full and yet somehow leaves us so short we’re sticking a winger into a holding role … this is indefensible stuff.

Managers are sacked for choices like these.

Including 6 loanees, he’s brought 19 players to the club.

Of the 13 permanent signings how many have been huge successes?

How much flair and imagination was there?

He’s signed three of them from Dundee Utd, one from Hibs, one from Derry City, one from Inverness (albeit we’ve not seen him in the Hoops), two un-attached free transfers, one from Dinamo Zagreb, two Reserves of Manchester, a reserve goalkeeper and Stefan Scepovic.

Where’s he again?

This is what our much vaunted network of contacts in the game has produced for us in this guy’s time in charge.

Three transfer windows right out of a first time Football Manager player’s handbook.

The days of Sky Sports Scouting were bad enough; who knew we’d wind up doing the BT Sport Scotland equivalent of it?

Today there’s talk that we’re looking at a £2 million rated midfielder.

From Walsall.

Because that’s just what we need at the present time, right?

In spite of over a dozen signings thus far, gaping holes exist all over the squad, in particular a chronic lack of half decent wide players. It says a lot for how dysfunctional things are at the moment that Scott Allan was left on the bench to accommodate one of them playing in a holding midfield role and that when he was finally brought on he was played … out wide.

How do you even begin to defend that?

The whole case against Ronny Deila as Celtic boss was on the teamsheet at the weekend before the game even kicked off.

I’m not in favour of letting this guy sign one more footballer. Not with that record.

What’s next? Let him sign wingers and then play them as central defenders?

It’s over. I’ve had it.

I’m sick and tired looking for positives here, and I can’t take any comfort from a one point lead in the SPL with a game in hand or being in a League Cup semi-final anymore.

We are dreadful to watch and just falling over the finish line because we don’t have a sustained challenge just isn’t going to cut it.

I’m fed up looking for order amidst the chaos and whilst my fellow Celtic fans are welcome to continue looking for the method in the madness right now I don’t see any method at all … and Ronny Deila has to carry the can for that.

But not alone.

A serious challenger to our hegemony is going to emerge in Scotland, and probably not on the long timeline many appear to think.

We’re awful damned lucky one hasn’t done so before now.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)

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La Liga Looks Abroad to Improve Popularity

Madrid2-Milan0_20101019_224210A few weeks ago, news reports suggested that Celtic and Dundee were in talks to play an SPL match in the United States. The news went down well with many fans, but the governing bodies appeared not to be interested in it, or in supporting it.

But it was thinking outside the box, and that’s ever more necessary as cash continues to flow into the Premiership, sucking the life out of other leagues.

You’d often be forgiven for thinking Scotland is the only country affected by the huge financial power of the EPL. In fact, Europe’s top leagues are suffering too.

With the latest land rush for the English Premier League broadcast rights, there is more money in the sport than ever before and the other domestic leagues of Europe are searching for a way to replicate England’s success, lest they be left behind.

Spain’s La Liga is looking to turn itself around through international expansion and a revamped system of negotiating its own TV rights.

The EPL has been in the process of selling the overseas broadcast rights for the sport from 2016 to 2019 and the rights are estimated at greater than £3 billion worldwide, which evens out to more than £1 billion a year.

This is more than double what the Spanish league sees for its own rights.

No one questions the history and legacy of the Spanish La Liga but let’s be honest with ourselves, how often do you really think about the Spanish league if Barcelona and Real Madrid aren’t playing?

This lack of interest beyond the league’s four big teams has some worried that the Premier League could become to football what the NBA has become for basketball in the world.

It could lead to a league that snatches up all the top talent and leaves the rest of the leagues to languish with lower-quality players.

“We run the risk of having the Premier League become the NBA of football in the next five years, with the rest of European leagues turning into secondary tournaments,” La Liga president Javier Tebas said in an interview.

“We all know that every talented basketball player discovered anywhere in the world ends up going to the NBA, and if the European football industry and the Spanish football industry don’t react, we will also be losing talented football players.”

Despite boasting arguably the two best players in the world, La Liga still finds itself standing in the shadow of the world-renowned Premier League.

While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can draw crowds, too often the league is seeing its most promising players lured to England by promises of fame and fortune. Nicolas Otamendi, one of the league’s most exciting young defenders, was snatched away from Sevilla by Manchester City over the summer transfer window.

And with the exception of big spenders like Real Madrid and its Galacticos, the transfer of talent between the two leagues often seems to be a one way street.

In an effort to increase its cultural clout in the world market, La Liga has learned that to be successful abroad, the league needs to be attractive and desirable as a whole product. In the States, the NFL has done an exceptional job of this with its annual games held in England that are widely attended regardless of the quality of the teams involved.

“We’re not here to see Detroit, we’re not here to see Kansas,” an NFL fan told Bleacher Report; “we’re here to see the NFL.”

This is the kind of thinking that led to the proposals to play an SPL game abroad, an idea that has been discussed in England as well. This concept works for other sports. It’s a matter of time before it is tried in football.

In the meantime, even the Spanish game is not immune to the pinch, and getting fans to invest in the product and the sport itself, as opposed to just one team, will be crucial to the continued success of La Liga.

They’re set to face Arsenal next week, in Champions League action, where they’re favoured to continue their international success against the team. That being said, the Gunners should give the Blaugrana a run for their money, as they’re having one of their best Premier League seasons in the past decade. If they can translate that success to the Champions League, it could be anyone’s match.

The financial issues that have long haunted the Spanish league are much to blame for many of its current problems. La Liga hopes to alleviate some of these through a more egalitarian distribution of broadcasting revenues and providing smaller clubs with a bigger share of the pie. The idea is that by giving mid-table clubs the capital needed to retain players, Spain can create a more enticing product that can eventually compete with the Premier League in popularity on the world stage. We can only hope that the Spanish league can figure itself out because better football is something everyone can get behind.

We can only hope that the Spanish league can figure itself out because better football is something everyone can get behind, and if they get the model right it might even be one that can be copied by other leagues, including the one in Scotland.

Owen Gordon is a freelance writer and passionate football fan based out of London. In his downtime, he enjoys running, cooking, and making his way through his Netflix queue.

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

craig-whyte-691403225(This is Part 2 of a lengthy article for this site and another one on the saga that saw Rangers fall into administration and liquidation, and how they and the governing bodies almost wrecked our national sport. Originally intended to be in two parts, this has grown to the point where it has to be considered a four-part piece with the rest soon to follow.

The last section charted the story of how Rangers was built on bank debt and tax evasion, how the party ended in 2008 and of how the club was allowed to get away with it all because it had friends in the governing bodies and the media.

This part tells the incredible story of the reign of Craig Thomas Whyte, and about how that same media exalted him without cause, how the governing bodies conspired with him without shame and how a handful of bloggers and serious mainstream media journalists investigated him without fear or favour.)

Part Seven: The Start Of The Whytewash ….

The high point of Craig Whyte’s time at Rangers came only 10 days after he took over the club, when they won their 54th, and final Scottish Premier League title. They were still betting everything on European football income, and winning the SPL had given them a potential path back to the riches of the UEFA Champions League.

Walter Smith, the manager, was due to leave at the end of that season and in a press conference after the match he told the waiting journalists that Whyte would have to deliver big money to “continue the success” at the club.

At that point, they had a squad of highly paid footballers, and operating expenses of over £40 million a year. The financial crisis was receding, but people were still feeling the pinch.

Smith’s statement was the purest sign you could get that the “Murray Way” of doing things at Ibrox was still very much part of the club’s DNA, and why not? Rangers hadn’t had to live within its means for nearly 30 years.

Three days later, Whyte told the media that the new boss, Ally McCoist, would get the money that he needed. It was a foolish promise to make when you considered that with Lloyds now gone they had no credit line from a bank and that the directors would be forced to personally carry any shortfall in funds.

But that kind of talk was needed to sell season tickets, and between those and European football income it might well have be enough to see them through the following campaign.

Just six days after making that promise, nine days after they won the title and only nineteen after he had secured control, the bloodbath started. Alastair Johnston and Paul Murray were kicked off the board. The chief executive, Martin Bain, and the Finance Director, Donald McIntyre, were suspended. Whyte’s gunsights were also trained on those who were left.

Their time would come. He could afford to wait.

In June, Bain announced that he was going to sue the club for breach of contract. When his case finally arrived at the courts, in September that year, Rangers were already reeling from one hammer blow after another.

The summer transfer business wasn’t what Rangers fans had been hoping for; there were no multi-million pound signings, but seven players were brought to the club for £4 million. There were a rash of outgoings, as several out of contract players weren’t offered new deals.

None of it significantly weakened the playing squad; in fact, the Scottish media, and the Rangers management team, were delighted with the business, and big things were predicted for the season.

On 26 July, Malmo travelled to Ibrox for the first leg of their key Champions League qualifying match. Rangers lost 1-0. A week later, on 3 August, they exited that competition after an ill-tempered 1-1 draw away from home. It was a disaster. Champions League revenues vastly outstripped those in the UEFA Cup, and the club needed them to stay afloat.

On 25 August even that was no longer there for them, when a 1-1 draw at NK Maribor, after a 2-1 defeat at home, saw them crash out of Europe for the second time in a month.

The hole this left in the balance sheet was enormous, somewhere between £10 million and £15 million. When their accounts came out later that year, they showed a profit of a mere £76,000 for the previous year.

European income had been keeping on the lights, quite literally, leaving the club just one season from disaster.

That season had arrived, and in the interim, player salaries had increased as all the top stars were offered new deals, and new players were purchased.

Things were bad, they shortly got worse.

The following month, when he appeared in front of the judge, in his case against the club and Whyte, Martin Bain’s lawyer told the court he believed the club was in serious financial trouble and would run out of capital by the end of the season. The judge believed him. He froze £500,000 in assets, in anticipation of a future court date.

Bain and the judge were right to be worried.

A lot of stuff about the club’s financial positon was already seeping into the public domain, in no small part because of more trouble with the taxman …

Part Eight: The Taxman Cometh …

On 10 August 2011, an astonishing thing happened at Ibrox. Sherriff officers came to the stadium, to serve paperwork on the club in relation to the Discounted Options Scheme, the Wee Tax Case, as it was known. An online journalist, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain – who, in fact, had been the man who brought the story of HMRC’s Big Tax Case demand to the attention of the world – had written a story earlier that week saying they were due; the club denied it and, as usual, the media ran with the denials and poured scorn on the idea.

The following day they all ran with the “exclusive” story, of course.

The sheriff officers’ visit was a crucial moment in this saga; it was the moment when things that had been going on behind the scenes momentarily came to light, like the tip of an iceberg, visible above the waves but hiding much more. The importance of it was not confined to the Whyte regime; it’s a moment that still scares the SFA.

The taxman had been investigating goings on at Ibrox for four years at this point, and whilst they believed that EBT’s per se were a form of tax evasion and were pursuing this vigorously, they already had precedent for saying that the Discounted Options Scheme was.

Discounted Options Schemes had been made illegal in 2003, and in November 2010, HMRC had won a landmark battle in the Aberdeen Asset Management case where they tried to apply retroactive punishment on that very point.

They presented Rangers with a bill for the Discounted Options Scheme almost immediately, but the club rejected the initial settlement offer. When HMRC had asked if side contracts existed, the club had flatly denied it.

By February 2011 HMRC knew that was a lie.

On 11 February, HMRC sent a letter to the club laying out a new payment demand, having revised their claim of November, adding interest and updating the claim to backdate it to a time they hadn’t even been aware of it at first.

HMRC’s communique also revealed their knowledge of the side letters.

The letter did not dwell on the matter, but reminded Rangers that they had previously denied this.

HMRC’s letter made it clear that it had been taken into account.

Rangers’ own legal adviser, Andrew Thornhill QC, read that letter and sent one to the club shortly afterwards, in which his advice was clear; plead no contest to the DOS EBT and pay the tab. He was particularly concerned with those side letters and that HMRC had discovered them; he knew that taking it to a tribunal would have been a losing battle where the club’s malfeasance would have been put out there for everyone to see.

Rangers decided to pay. They arranged a meeting with HMRC for March, where the two parties hashed it all out. We know this because the bill appeared in their April accounts, informing the wider world of its existence for the first time.

On 6 May, Craig Whyte took over the club. The bill was still outstanding at that point. On 10 May, Whyte told the Rangers fans that there was no tax bill outstanding; he admitted they were appealing the Big Tax Case, but didn’t mention the payable due on the Discounted Options Scheme.

Yet the very next day another meeting took place between Rangers representatives and the taxman. HMRC made it clear that the bill was due, immediately, pointing out that they had the power to levy further penalties and costs on the club if it didn’t follow at once.

They sent a further letter, to that effect, to the Ibrox club on 20 May, which was to be their final warning before additional action was taken.

That bill was due. That bill was unpaid, and that had been the status of it since the club’s own lawyer had said they should find the money and get it sorted out.

On 2 June, the sheriff officers served notice on Rangers for the first time. No-one knew about it, and the event went unreported, or even speculated on. It was to be two more months before the more famous visit by the taxman’s hard guys was reported in the press, and this one with pictures which made it undeniable to even the most hardened cynic or faithful supporter.

Pressures were mounting up on Rangers and on the shoulders of the Motherwell Born Billionaire. The club was embroiled in chaos. Board members had been purged. They had exited Europe, twice, in quick succession and now bailiffs had visited the ground.

The bill was still unpaid on 2 September. The taxman sent Whyte and the club a demand for payment which brooked no compromise. At the same time, a firm of lawyers had submitted a demand for £35,000 which was still unpaid, and they were taking the matter to the courts to get their own money, as fears that the club could go bust were growing inside Ibrox and elsewhere across Scottish football.

By the time Martin Bain and his lawyer got in front of a judge on 14 September things were already bad and getting worse. The court froze £500,000, money the club simply didn’t have. The judge accepted that there was a “real risk” of them going bust. A month after that, Donald McIntyre, their former finance director, put in a claim for £300,000.

Just six days after McIntyre made his move, on 20 October, the real crash came.

Part Nine: Vindication For The Bampots

At some point over the preceding months, a group of online bloggers and commentators had started to play an actual role in these events. The most famous of them was, and remains, an anonymous fellow who goes by the name The Rangers Tax Case. His blog was the first reference point for all of us who wanted an education in these affairs, and a place where the issues around them could be discussed and dissected.

There has probably never been a more important website in the history of Scottish football. It was where the information on Whyte was slowly, but surely, amassed and exchanged and it was the focal point for some of the campaigns that followed. But above all that, it was the first source of information we had on the scale of what Rangers had done.

RTC, as the site became known, went on to scoop the Orwell Prize for investigative journalism; it was an honour that belonged not only to the sites anonymous founder but to everyone involved in it, everyone who dug out a piece of information or uncovered a trail of breadcrumbs. You had to follow the work these guys were doing to fully get it, but it was, and remains, an extraordinary collective achievement, one that changed the game here forever.

I got involved in commentating on this saga at around about this time, working on a magazine with the team at another famous blog, Celtic Quick News. The magazine’s first issue came out in August 2011, so we were literally on hand to chart the course of the Craig Whyte disaster and all that came after it. Looking back on early issues now, and in the online debates that were going on, it’s incredible to me how far ahead of the media curve we actually were.

Yet for all that, we were disparaged by those same tired hacks.

They even invented a name for us, one we took and pinned on as a badge of honour and which we still wear today; the Internet Bampots.

Yet for that, for all the tremendous work these two sites and others were doing, the whole thing might have stayed an internet joke until the hammer came down in February 2012 had it not been for two brilliant investigative journalists in the mainstream press, Alex Thomson of Channel 4 and BBC Scotland’s Mark Daly.

These guys were on the ball. They brought the story to the attention of a wider audience. They put it on television, and that took it off the net forever. The Scottish mainstream press never admitted that we got this so right and they so wrong, but we’re not so leery of giving credit where it’s due. These two men uncovered much we hadn’t, and they published stuff the Internet Bampots would not have been able to. Without Daly and Thomson so much that was secret might have stayed that way for a long, long time. These guys, literally, shattered the can of worms.

On 18 October, the club made a twin announcement. First, John Grieg and John McLelland, two of the remaining directors on the Ibrox board, resigned, claiming they’d been isolated and marginalised in the boardroom. That was bad enough for Rangers fans to take, but the second announcement was a warning shot across everyone’s bow.

The club announced that it had broken off all relations with the BBC over a documentary that was due to air later that week. This was to be the first time, but not the last, that the club and the national broadcaster would come into conflict.

Two days later, on 20 October, Scotland found out why as the BBC broadcast a stunning documentary; Rangers – The Inside Story, fronted by the brilliant, and soon to be legendry, Mark Daly, a man who later went on to blow the lid off the biggest scandal in athletics.

It was the mainstream media’s first look at the hitherto untold (in their case) tale of Craig Thomas Whyte, and it laid out the story of the man who had taken over, and his early business history.

Whyte was not a billionaire, of course, and even the hacks had long since stopped referring to him as one. It was revealed later that the “Motherwell Born Billionaire” stories had originated with a PR firm who simply gave the Scottish hacks their instructions on what to say when people asked just how much money Whyte actually had.

The show blew the last remaining holes in his credibility, and theirs.

Rangers – The Inside Story was a startling journalistic achievement, for which Daly and his bosses ought to be proud; amongst the allegations it aired were claims that Whyte had been struck off as a director, in 2000, for a period of seven years; that investigators believed he had fraudulently run at least one company, Re-Tex Plastics, from behind the scenes during that time; that the company had been involved in a phony share issue and a tax fraud and that, furthermore, Whyte had even appointed a phantom firm of auditors to do its books!

The Internet Bampots had not found this stuff, but it had fully vindicated our view, held from the start, that Whyte was the dodgiest of dodgy geezers and not someone you’d want within 100 miles of any football club with which you had the slightest interest.

The documentary not only uncovered Whyte’s business history, but the rogues gallery with whom he’d been surrounding himself for years, including a convicted fraudster named Kevin Sykes. The program quoted Sykes during a 2001 courtroom appearance, where he laid out the Whyte MO for posterity. It’s worth pondering for a moment.

“What Whyte will do is buy a stake in a failing UK business, and it will be up to me, then, to assist him in restructuring the business, to be blunt, to be able to leave the unsecured creditors behind. Legally, of course.”

You could not have a wished for a more cogent, coherent, summation of what was about to happen at Ibrox over the next few months.

Whyte was no longer working alongside Sykes, at least as far as anyone’s been able to find out, but he was busying away behind the scenes, nonetheless. He knew, by this point, what the club’s financial situation was like, and he had a fair idea what to do next.

Because Whyte had already had some of the key meetings.

He had already started the ball rolling for what would happen on 14 February 2012.

Those meetings had, in no small part, already laid down the groundwork for the administration, and possible liquidation, of Rangers.

And the people who’d been at them?

The unlikeliest folk imaginable.

Or, at least, they would have been, anywhere but Scotland.

Part Ten: Saviours In The Shadows

Whatever his specific plans for Rangers had been at the start, Craig Whyte had known from the moment the full time whistle blew in the Europa League tie with Maribor that the club was heading for administration, and possibly worse.

Whether or not he’d taken the decision to start with-holding tax revenues at that point is irrelevant; he must have realised that was the logical route of travel. There was little point in paying some bills but not others, and he’d clearly already concluded that, in keeping with his previous strategies, that anything kept from the creditors now would be kept from them for good.

It was the business he was in. He’d been doing it for years.

Yet Whyte was in a slightly unusual position when it came to Rangers. This was not a private company one could simply wipe out and walk away from. This was a massive football club, with massive exposure and media interest, one which David Murray had once described, with typical hubris, as “the second biggest institution in Scotland after the church”.

In order to douse what he knew would be a firestorm Whyte needed friends, people who could help him smooth the path towards his eventual destination, and he needed guarantees that the club itself could emerge on the other side of it.

He reached out to the only people who could give those to him; to the governing bodies.

This is where the Rangers situation, already a scandal involving the club, the bank, Murray and a cast of characters out of a Hollywood movie widened to become one that involved the SFA and the SPL, and became of grave concern to everyone who cares about the game.

In early October, Whyte flew to London and met with two men, Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping, of the Scottish Premier League. By his account, he told those men, at that meeting, that the club was in a dire financial position and that administration was near certain. In addition to that, he says he told them that the issues they faced were so tough that getting a CVA was “unlikely.”

Whyte has a difficult relationship with the truth, but there’s no reason not to believe this version of events. Indeed, emails followed confirming that these discussions had been had, emails in which the SPL CEO suggested that Whyte share with them a “road map” spelling out exactly what he’d do and how the governing bodies should respond.

This document already existed, dated 5 October.

It had been put together by a company called MCR. The code-name for the plan was Project Charlotte.

On 31 October, eleven days after the BBC had stripped Whyte in front of the nation, revealing his background, his business record and his modus operandi, as stated by his long-term business associate, and convicted fraudster Kevin Sykes, the SPL held a meeting to discuss the future of their television deal with Sky.

Neil Doncaster went to that meeting knowing that a plan virtually identical to what Sykes had alleged in court was already underway at Rangers. He knew it would involve debt dumping. He knew it would leave the tax payers millions of pounds out of pocket. He knew too that there were probably some football clubs who would suffer.

He did not share that information with the SPL board.

At that point, the Sky TV deal had three years left to run, but the SPL had an “opt out” option for the following year, and the meeting was to consider whether or not that option should be exercised in light of proposals which had been brought forward for a TV company owned by the league itself. Named Fans TV, it would have ended, once and for all, Scottish football’s dependence on the crumbs from Sky’s table.

The architect of the plan was Hibs chairman Rob Petrie.

At the 31 October meeting, it was decided to put off a decision until 21 November. Petrie and others left believing they had a chance to make the Fans TV case, and further work was done to make sure all the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed.

At some time over the next few days Doncaster got his board together and told them something – we’ve never been able to fully establish what – that provoked fury around the table, and questions about what Doncaster had known, and when.

In addition, it killed the possibility of Fans TV stone dead.

Insiders spoke later of being told about a developing “situation within Scottish football” that would have left the SPL dangerously exposed. Doncaster urged the board to adopt a proposed extension to the Sky TV deal “without delay.”

Why did he do that?

The deal had three years left to run at that point.

What was the urgency?

Why was it necessary to re-negotiate an agreement which was iron clad?

What we know, for sure, is that the revised television deal, which was signed and sealed in short order, committed Sky to a further two years of Scottish football. By the end of the contract the full package would have been worth £80 million.

By this point, the SFA would have been in the know about coming events at Rangers, as Whyte’s roadmap required them to give guidance and support on the mooted “transfer of membership”, as well as information on the legal position of a NewCo.

It helped that the traffic of employees between the governing bodies and the club was working both ways at the time.

In June that year, Whyte had appointed a new CEO at Ibrox. It was Gordon Smith, who had resigned from his post at the SFA just a few weeks before, citing “family reasons”, just as the EBT story had broke.

Smith had departed with the praise of his former bosses, and Rangers manager Walter Smith, ringing in his ears, in spite of a tenure weighted down with gaffes and PR disasters, the last of which was a public spat with Livingston FC who claimed he’d gone around the ordinary procedures to discipline one of their players for diving.

His appointment at Ibrox certainly couldn’t have hurt a club that needed official sanction, and assistance, for its more secretive plans and schemes.

But in November 2011, public disclosure of those was still a ways off.

In the meantime, something else had been going on in the background.

At the meeting on 21 November, the SPL agreed to renew the Sky deal after the member clubs were finally informed of some of what was brewing at Rangers.

Ewing Grahame, a journalist on the The Telegraph, had a meeting with Neil Doncaster on the day the SPL signed the agreement.

In the article he published afterwards, he made a striking claim.

“The Old Firm remain the biggest draw for broadcasters,” he wrote, “and one of the conditions attached to the new document was that the Glasgow giants will continue to play each other four times in the league.”

In case anyone was in doubt as to this being the big story, Grahame’s article was headlined “Recession-beating five-year TV deal binds Celtic and Rangers to SPL.”

Yet in the piece, Doncaster claimed this had been a standard part of Sky’s TV deals “for years.”

Still, Grahame wrote about it as if it was new information.

Indeed, Doncaster’s claim seems ludicrous in light of what the public facts were then.

First, the clause would have been pointless.

Neither club had ever been remotely in danger of relegation. Neither could leave the Scottish league, even if there was somewhere to go, without a lengthy notice period and financial reparations, and the only way both would ever have done so was with the connivance, and probably at the behest, of television itself.

Some have suggested it was a clause to block league reconstruction proposals, the kind that would have expanded Scotland’s top flight and eliminated the prospect of the “four Old Firm games.”

This is nonsense too.

No TV company would ever have inserted itself into the game’s politics in such a manner, and clubs wouldn’t have stood for it.

Anyway, league reconstruction had been mooted literally dozens of times in the years of Sky’s Scottish football involvement, from 2002 onward. At no point was the issue of how it would affect television contracts ever raised in that time.

Besides, as many have pointed out since, the only conceivable circumstances in which this scenario might have occurred would have been Celtic or Rangers having a disastrous year and falling out of the top six; with the SPL’s odd structure, that possibility would have seen them play each other three times and not four.

But for a TV company to withhold cash on that basis would have been a serious risk to sporting integrity which no sane person would ever have allowed in a contract.

There has also long been some doubt about exactly how the clause was worded.

In Grahame’s article, he drew attention to the possibility that it might “save Rangers” in the event they entered administration and faced relegation or demotion from the top flight. Some have suggested that the clause didn’t mention “four Old Firm games” at all; that it was specifically concerned with “circumstances where either Celtic or Rangers were not in the league.”

If that’s the case, how did Sky come to the conclusion that this was likely? Rumours of administration were one thing … but at that point few people thought the club itself was in serious jeapordy. Only a handful of people knew better.

It so happened that Neil Doncaster was one of them.

Whatever the truth, this clause, which appeared to have come out of nowhere, was to prove crucial to the events which followed, and cast serious doubt on the real motives of the men running the league.

That was for the future.

The Big Tax case First Tier Tribunal had kicked off on 7 November, and the club and Murray sent their legal representatives into action. On 30 November, the club published accounts for the last time.

They weren’t properly audited, and never would be. They revealed a miniscule operating profit for the previous year of just £76,000. You didn’t have to be a maths genius to work out that between bills coming due, no European football, a raft of legal expenses and other things going on that the club was in serious peril, and that the cash would soon run out.

A day later, Whyte confirmed that he’d received a directorship ban from the courts.

In the background, the SPL and the SFA were still in talks with him over how best to handle the upcoming carnage at the club; now he’d confirmed the basis of the BBC documentary that had accused him of concealment and even fraud.

The governing body asked for more information.

In the meantime they continued to assist him as he plotted the wholescale dumping of the club’s growing debts.

Based on the announcement itself, they could have opened immediate proceedings against him, on the basis that he had not disclosed this before and was clearly not a “fit and proper person” to hold a position of responsibility at a Scottish football club, but they didn’t.

To do so would have exposed the club, immediately, to the full horrors of administration, without someone at the helm who was willing to go through that, and then beyond, to what would inevitably follow.

So Whyte had to be left in charge, with no official interference, to finish the job, or at least put the restoration of the Ibrox operation on the rails … and it didn’t matter what happened to the creditors, or indeed the game itself, in the meantime.

Up until that point, it was the single most damaging period in the history of Scottish football and one of the most disgraceful series of events in the history of professional sport on this island, and that was based only on what was in the public domain.

One issue that was already raising its head, and scaring the SFA press office stupid, concerned the Wee Tax Case, and the moment when it “crystallised”.

If anyone was in any doubt about the willingness of the governing body to assist the Whyte regime at Ibrox, they only had to look back on the earliest days of it, when a seemingly routine decision was made in relation to club licensing, one that, had it gone the other way, would have doomed Whyte before he started.

That decision still haunts the SFA today.

Part Eleven: Out On License

In October 2013, Celtic shareholders put a remarkable item on the agenda for discussion at the club’s AGM, which was due to take place on 15 November. The board sent an immediate letter out, asking the fans not to support this item, and gave no further comment.

The press interpreted that as the board wanting the issue buried; in fact, they opened up a line of dialogue with the supporters behind the scenes. On the morning of the AGM those who proposed the motion withdrew it from the agenda, after talks with club officials. The matter had not been kicked into the long grass; in fact, it was, and still is, very much on their minds.

The matter was adjourned. The club and the fans kept talking.

The motion was entitled Resolution 12.

Such an innocuous name for something so potentially devastating.

At its heart was a simple, but deadly, question;

On what grounds exactly were Rangers Football Club allowed an SFA license to play European football in the 2011-12 season?

The resolution asked that the club clarify this, not with the SFA but with UEFA, and urged Celtic to support a UEFA led inquiry into not only this affair but the way the governing body had dealt with the whole Rangers situation from the granting of that license until the liquidation in 2012.

The question as to Rangers’ European license had first come to light when the sheriff officers visited Ibrox in August 2011, to serve HMRC’s notice on the club in regards to the Wee Tax Case.

SFA regulations specifically forbid the granting of such a license when the club in question has a “tax liability payable” to Revenue and Customs.

As we’ve already established, this bill was the very definition of that; it was due by summer 2011 and it had been for months.

The club’s own legal advice was that it should be paid.

During those summer months, the SFA was involved in its annual audit of Scotland’s clubs in preparation for the coming season. The relevant paperwork, and all the club declarations, had to be in place by the end of May.

The existence of the Discounted Options Scheme was not a secret any longer. It had been in the public domain from April that year, when Rangers themselves published it in their annual accounts.

The SFA could not have been unaware of its existence.

The license was allowed, provisionally, at least, but by the end of June 2011 they had to meet UEFA’s own deadline and criteria, and at that point the SFA had an obligation to clarify this matter once and for by talking to the club, and if necessary HMRC, and inform UEFA of what they had found.

Again, this clearly hadn’t been done.

Calls to Rangers saw the whole thing put in a holding pattern; the club apparently told the governing body they were “in talks” with HMRC on the matter. A single call to the tax authorities would have clarified what that meant.

Whyte was stalling, and as we’ve seen from his history it was probably on his mind the whole time that he could let this one lie.

As we know, the bill was still unpaid in September that year when HMRC issued its “final warning” on the matter, and it remains unpaid to this day.

As with many other things it was folded into the carnage of the administration and what came afterwards.

By mid-September numerous football websites were already clamouring for the answers the Celtic fans would formally apply for in November 2013. Leading the way was the RTC site, CQN and Scotzine, an all-purpose site on the Scottish game.

By December, Stewart Regan, the Chief Executive of the SFA since Gordon Smith resigned, was forced to talk to the fans about the issue. His answers, given on Twitter, were vague, even contradictory.

He claimed at one point the bill had not come due at the point when the licensing decision was made, using the later oft-quoted phrase “crystallised” to describe the process.

He had his facts badly wrong.

That bill was due from 20 May, at the latest, and by mid June it had certainly become overdue as defined in UEFA FFP articles.

He seemed rattled.

He had reason to be, although none of us knew what they were until November 2013.

The truth is that Celtic’s board had been concerned about this issue going all to way back to the awarding of the license itself, and before the sheriff officers came calling at Ibrox.

They had queried the European license themselves, and received what they regarded as highly unsatisfactory answers.

Following that visit, they sought further clarity and, again, were unimpressed by what they’d heard.

They had never quite given up on the issue, or on others they believed were peripheral to it, and this was why they’d agreed to keep the lines of communication open with the supporter’s who’d raised Resolution 12.

As has clearly been demonstrated already, Rangers was a club floating on an ocean of debt at the time, and even though the bank were no longer holding anything over them anyone who could read a finance statement knew they faced a huge hole in the balance sheet without European football income.

In light of what happened later, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine the SFA denying them an avenue to money which was quite literally keeping on the lights, no matter what the club had done.

Yet had the SFA acted when they should have, and demanded that Rangers settle this bill immediately or accept the revocation of their European license, Whyte would have been faced with coming clean about his plans sooner, or finding the money to pay up.

They either abrogated their responsibility to check out the true status of that bill or they waved the European license through regardless; either way, it was another scandal in a growing series of them.

The ultimate irony of this, of course, is that it was all for naught anyway.

The Promised Land of Champions League income was never to be realised. Ally McCoist’s later maligned managerial incompetence took care of that, and they exited the elite competition against Malmo before Maribor turfed them out of Europe entirely.

It was to become a feature in everything that came to pass; the governing bodies would bend over backwards, even breaking their own rules, to assure the Ibrox operation as smooth as a passage as was possible, and here, as with later, it didn’t help them a bit.

Part Twelve: The Final Mile

On the night of 15 October 2011, the day after Donald McIntyre appeared in court to seize £350,000 of Rangers’ assets, and five days before Mark Daly stunned Scotland with his seismic documentary on Whyte, one of those football matches that, in hindsight, changes the course of the future took place at Rugby Park.

Whilst things off the field were, by now, spiralling out of Craig Whyte’s control things on the pitch had been better than anyone could have dreamed and Celtic appeared to have collapsed completely.

The Parkhead club went into that game ten points behind the Ibrox club, and badly in need of a lift.

Before half time, it all looked over … the league challenge, and the reign of the manager, Neil Lennon.

Kilmarnock had run riot.

The score was 3-0 to the home side.

All of us watching remembered what had happened to Tony Mowbray, caught in a similar storm, on 24 March 2010 when his Celtic team was destroyed 4-0 at Love Street against St Mirren.

He lasted less than 24 hours, being relieved of his duties and Lennon put in charge on the following day.

The second half transformation was extraordinary, made all the more so by an atmosphere in the ground that was electrifying from the moment the teams came out of the tunnel for the 45 minutes. The Celtic fans have rarely given such passionate, vocal, unequivocal backing as they did that night, and it lifted everyone out in the pitch in a club jersey.

The team rallied. They clawed back the deficit and might even have won the game.

They dropped points, but that night Rangers did too and the equation hadn’t changed. But something had. Although Celtic dropped two more points before that month ended, in a match against Hibs, increasing the gap at the top to 12, and pushing us into third, albeit with Celtic having a game in hand, something had irrevocably shifted in the dressing room and out on the park.

From that point on in the league, Celtic barely looked back.

Every match in November was met, and matched. Lennon’s boys were storming just as Rangers began stumbling. As off-field chaos continued to mount, McCoist’s team began reverting to type and blowing it in their own definite style.

Off the pitch, things continued to get worse.

Eight days after Whyte had confirmed to the world that he had, indeed, been banned as a director the club was rocked by yet another financial blow, this time delivered by Celtic themselves.

The clubs were due to meet, at Celtic Park, on 28 December, and it was custom and practice for the away side to receive its tickets and pay for them later. Celtic had been following events at Ibrox closely, more closely than most were aware, and weren’t about to join what was already known to be a rapidly expanding creditors list.

According to the Scottish media, who covered the story with typical hyperbole, on 9 December Celtic asked for the full balance – £350,000 – upfront, or the tickets would be placed on public sale to their own supporters.

Whyte found the cash from somewhere and the tab was duly paid.

Months later, with Rangers circling the drain, the same media shrieked that the Parkhead club was refusing to pay for its own match tickets up front. With their usual lack of grace and respect for the tension of the times they even accused Celtic of putting jobs at risk whilst the club was in the process of an administration.

Celtic refused to comment on such hysterical claims, and three weeks later, with the game out of the way, they paid the cash in full. At the time, they briefed that they were reluctant to part with cash, in advance, for a match that might not take place, and in the circumstances of that time, that position had seemed like nothing but good common sense.

A day after that story broke, Rangers settled with Donald McIntyre out of court.

The details of the final settlement were never published, but it couldn’t have been cheap.

By the time the match at Celtic Park came around everyone at Rangers knew the New Year was going to bring nothing but misery.

They went into the match with their lead at the top of the table reduced to a single point.

In the 56th minute of the match, Charlie Mulgrew whipped a corner into the box. Kirk Broadfoot, the Rangers defender, was the nearest to the ball but Joe Ledley, the Welsh midfielder, was more determined to get there, and he rose above him and nodded it home.

Parkhead erupted.

Celtic had been 15 points behind in early November, and even with two games in hand the psychological advantage Rangers had enjoyed was enormous.

By full time, Celtic were on top of the table.

Ally McCoist and his players were shattered, and in truth they never really recovered.

The whole club was on the brink.

2012 opened with another hammer blow, the news that the club had been banned from the Stock Exchange for not having a set of audited accounts in by the years end. This was, technically, another breach of SFA regulations but again, nothing was done, probably because the governing bodies already knew how this particular story would end.

The Tax Case tribunal, which had paused during the Holiday Season resumed on the 16th. It finished two days later, and the judges retired to ponder the issues and render a verdict.

It wouldn’t come for an age, and in the meantime things ran their course.

On 20 January, Andrew Ellis was appointed to the Rangers board. He had been involved with Whyte in the takeover, and would later tell another BBC documentary he had personally introduced Whyte to David Murray after the Motherwell Born Billionaire had sold him on his vision for the club by giving him the name of a mystery man who wanted to invest.

The man was none other than Prince Albert of Monaco, a man Whyte said he “saw every week.”

He just never elaborated, and Ellis never asked him to.

By then, time was quickly running out.

On 31 January, the intrepid Scottish media, shocked into life by the news that Whyte wasn’t what he’d seemed, and no longer able to rely on PR releases to guide them through the maze, actually ran a major story in the case.

The Daily Record told the country how Craig Whyte had sold four years of future season ticket revenues to a company called Ticketus, in order to obtain the cash that had let him pay off Lloyds Bank in the deal which saw him get control of the club.

Keith Jackson shamelessly claimed this as an exclusive, and he has got a lot of mileage out of it since. Indeed, whenever the mainstream press wants to defend its shattered reputation, this is one of the stories they point to.

In truth, the story itself was months old. Jackson had written a version of it in June 2011, but Whyte had brought in lawyers and successfully spooked The Record into blocking it.

Yet even then, the story wasn’t as “exclusive” as he’d claimed.

In fact, the Ticketus story was broken by the bloggers.

The Rangers Tax Case site and the Celtic fans forum Kerrydale Street were foremost amongst them. The Companies House document from which The Record got their story had already been published on both of those sites, and all the pieces put together, a fortnight before.

The Internet Bampots had made all the crucial connections, with some even scrutinising previous Ticketus deals for clues.

On 6 June, a full week before Jackson’s “exclusive” first ran, one of the KDS posters wrote, with remarkable prescience, “I reckon the probable solution to this is the most obvious. It’s season tickets we’re talking about here. Who gives out loans against future season ticket revenue? Ticketus. How much is involved here? Roughly £52million. What were the total sums pledged by Whyte for his takeover over four years? Roughly £52million. So what’s happened here? Whyte has pledged future Rangers season ticket cash to pay for his takeover.”

The numbers may have been off, but the guy had it right on the nose.

The story hitting the tabloids was, however, a minor turning point.

Rangers’ fans, for a long time asleep at the wheel, finally woke up to the reality of the position, on the same day the club sold its star striker Nikica Jelavic to Everton, for £7 million.

Five days later they crashed out of the Scottish Cup, at a half empty Ibrox, against Dundee Utd.

A day after that, the BBC’s Mark Daly struck again when he revealed that Whyte may have lied in testimony he gave to a Glasgow court.

The allegation centred on a civil case dating back to December where he’d appeared in connection with an unpaid debt to a firm that had done building work at Castle Grant, his lavish country home.

During his testimony the prosecution asked him about his seven year directorship ban. Whyte said he couldn’t remember what it had been for. When asked if it related to his treatment of creditors, Whyte had denied it.

Those records were gone, or so he’d believed.

Actually, Daly had obtained them and within them was a damning paragraph from the judge in his case.

Only one figure connected with this whole saga would ever be subject to such withering criticism from a judicial bench, although time may change that.

“The assets of the company were put out of the reach of the creditors … the degree of recklessness shows Mr Whyte is thoroughly unfit to be a director.”

Whether he’d committed perjury or not, it was another warning to the SFA about the kind of man they were already tucked up in bed with.

The time for robust action, to save the game from further embarrassment, ought to have been there, and then.

The decision to continue dialogue, to wait for Whyte to send them further information, could only have been made by an association that wanted him in place until certain other conditions had been met.

No-one inside or outside Ibrox would have blinked had they convened a hearing that very day and kicked him out of Scottish football at once. That would have left the club rudderless, going into administration without a man at the helm who’d been over the ground before.

Project Charlotte was, to their eyes, the only route through for Rangers.

So, again, they did nothing at all.

The SFA would finally declare Craig Thomas Whyte “unfit and improper” on 23 April 2012.

By then, a lot of things happened that didn’t have to.

On 13 February Rangers announced that they’d enter administration the following day.

For the supporters on both sides of the Glasgow divide Valentine’s Day would never be the same again.

(This site relies on the support of its readers. If you like what you read and are able, you can make a donation at the link below. If everyone who read On Fields of Green did that it would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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No Justice, No Moving On

59cf4bcc9d0a97e18a1085deeb864589Tonight, as I write this, the world of athletics is in uproar over the behaviour of the Russian team in the 2012 Olympics.

It looks certain that Russia will be banned from competing in international competition and that their athletes will face their own sanctions in due course.

These will probably include the removal of all the medals they won during that competition.

Much of the evidence that there was specific wrong-doing has been destroyed. This won’t matter, and is pretty much what guarantees the harshest measures.

The entire national athletics structure appears to have been involved in the offences and that means everyone will suffer the consequences. Consequences are important. When cheating is discovered in professional sport they tend to be rather draconian.

The stripping of titles isn’t unusual. It’s par for the course.

Everyone in Scottish football knows what Rangers did and that it was cheating.

A lot of smoke is being blown to distract people from that simple fact, but it’s undisputable just the same.

Note that no-one is suggesting that what the club did wasn’t wrong. Everyone accepts that. What their defenders are doing instead is trying to square the circle by suggesting that other clubs have done similar stuff. They’re saying that other clubs have spent money they didn’t necessarily have. And they’re suggesting we “just move on.”

Scottish football’s “leaders” – and I say that word with the maximum irony – would do well not to underestimate how angry people are over this.

The incumbents at Hampden, at the SFA and the SPFL, are gutless to their core.

King, as we all know, ought never to have been in a position of football responsibility again in Scotland after his own role in this scandal, to say nothing of his criminal conviction for tax fraud in South Africa, but because our game here is run by little men without a shred of backbone he’s chairman of the club they would have you believe is the same one that caused all this chaos in the first place.

The folk who were at Rangers are now three years past the point where they ought to have atoned, and been punished, for this stuff.

I’ve already laid out the ways in which what Rangers did was a crime against society, and not just against sport, but HMRC took care of that by consigning the club to the graveyard. The SFA has never lived up to its own responsibilities in this case, and it’s imperative that they are now forced to own that failure and act.

The thing is, very few people in Scottish football trust them when it comes to that. We can all too easily imagine a scenario where the SFA or whoever sets up another Lord Nimmo Smith panel, giving it instructions to tread softly and not upset people too much, out of a combination of fear or whatever. Stewart Regan and his “social unrest” comments spring all too readily to mind.

If we’re to truly get to the bottom of this cesspit, this matter needs a public enquiry of the sort not seen in football before. Other sports have them. Athletics is heading for a major one, in the aftermath of the damning report on Russia.

The people in charge of the IAAF have been complacent for a long time, but they’re wide awake now and focussing not only on the integrity of their own competitions but on the reputation of competitive sport as a whole.

In an editorial for The Guardian last night, the journalist Owen Gibson quoted Dick Pound, the boss of Wada, the athletics agency responsible for catching doping, who said “The public is going to move towards the view that all sport is corrupt and that certainly affects the credibility of sport.”

He’s right.

Mark Daly, the man who broke apart the EBT story, did the same with athletics, which led in no small way to the current crisis there. He is one of a handful of world class journalists – and how proud we should be of him – who’s got the intelligence and guts to go after stories like this.

What he found out – that doping for sport, and faking a blood test, is astonishingly simple – has haunted that game ever since, but other games were reeling before this.

Cycling had been devastated by Lance Armstrong. Bloodgate had taken its toll on rugby. Horseracing has been stalked by a variety of allegations. So too has cricket and golf. Even the Paralympics hasn’t been free of this; the 2000 Games saw Spain accused of having won a basketball gold medal in the intellectual disability section, without any of their players actually suffering from one.

In the US, the “biogenesis scandal” saw more than a dozen professional baseball players indicted and suspended for doping.

There have been scandals in American football and hockey.

We know football isn’t clean.

Even if the world governing body was not descending into total chaos under FBI and Justice Department subpoenas there have been scandals in Germany, Brazil, Italy, Turkey and elsewhere.

Associations across the globe have found evidence of corruption at every level.

In Spain just last month, an assistant referee ran to the police, he claims, after his bosses began pressuring him to give decisions in favour of Real Madrid in the coming El Classico match.

In England, they’ve already had the first trial sending people to jail for match fixing in relation to betting syndicates, a subject I’ve written about before.

Scottish football’s scandal eclipses them all.

EBT use itself lasted ten years and the crisis that grew out of it has lasted another four. Rangers went into liquidation more than three years ago, and the governing bodies have mishandled every moment since.

Keith Jackson has said the EBT affair had “scarred the game” here, perhaps in the hope the rest of us will forget that it was the behaviour of one club that caused all this. Yet in one sense he was correct; that event has had serious repercussions and shattered the faith the fans have in the governing bodies, and that has scarred the sport.

We don’t trust these people, and why should we?

The SFA’s own head of registrations, in one of the most perverse moments in this ghastly state of affairs, testified to Lord Nimmo Smith that the player registrations which were with-held from the governing body did not constitute a breach of the rules because no-one knew about them at the time.

This is not just the smoking gun proving the governing bodies are in this up to their necks; this is the smoking ruin of sporting integrity with the Ibrox flag planted on top of it, and messers Doncaster, Ogilvie and Regan posing before it for a photo.

It’s a bit like saying a crime isn’t a crime if no-one actually knows it’s been committed, and that once people find out that it has been it shouldn’t be investigated as one because … no-one knew at the time.

It’s still mind-bending, two years after the fact and that he was allowed to get away with that is almost unbelievable.

The problem he and others have got is that the crime is now public knowledge and the notion that those responsible should get away with what they spent a decade doing is rightly seen as unacceptable.

An “internal inquiry” isn’t going to do it either.

All of this has to be handed over to serious people who can do a serious investigation.

Frankly, I don’t know why UEFA isn’t involved in this. Those footballers played in European games and that has badly compromised their competitions as well as those here in Scotland. All it will take – and I’m shocked it’s not happened already – is for one of the clubs who played Rangers on the continent to complain … and we’re in new territory.

This whole thing reeks, everything about it, from the day the EBT case was uncovered all the way through Whyte and Green and into the disgraced King being given a seat on the board with the SFA seal of approval.

There’s no way in Hell the people who presided over this can be expected to deal with it, honourably, as we go forward.

Who knew what, where and when?

Who got paid and how much?

These are the questions that we most often ask in relation to the EBT drama.

But there are other questions, other things that don’t make sense in all this, potential scandals waiting to be uncovered, and not just the secret list of EBT recipients who’s names were never published, and are known to the BBC and other outlets … but, yes, that too …

Who was on that list? How big is this thing?

Most importantly, these were payments for ‘services rendered’ … and one of the most interesting questions is what, in some cases, did those ‘services’ involve?

There’s barely one of us who isn’t aware, for example, that Graeme Souness got an EBT ten years after leaving Ibrox.

Ten years, friends. That’s not something that can be easily explained away.

What was this cash for?

The name of this scam, after all, was the Employee Benefit Trust … so in exactly what capacity was Souness still employed by Rangers and Murray?

He was at Blackburn from 2000-2004.

In January 2000, Rangers signed Tugay Kerimoğlu.

The following year he went to Rovers in a deal that reunited him with a manager he’d played for in Turkey. That deal appears kosher, but questions have long surrounded what happened three years later, when Souness was in his first season at Newcastle.

Jean Alain Boumsong, a player the Ibrox club signed as an out-of-contract freebie, was at Rangers for less than six month before Souness took him to his new club, paying £8 million for his services.

That transfer was later part of the Stevens Inquiry into bungs and backhanders in transfer deals, with the sting in the tail being that part of that was a raid on Ibrox and the confiscating of computers, and it was on these that the EBT use became known to HMRC.

So, we know what the Geordie side got for their money … and it wasn’t very much.

Boumsong was a dreadful signing for them, playing 40 odd games before they sold him for less than half of what they paid.

What we don’t know for sure is what Rangers got for their cash.

We know too that a number of people who are now journalists got EBT’s.

We don’t know how many did because the full list isn’t known.

Martin Bain got one whilst he was on the Rangers board, but he was also on the SPL Board of Directors at the same time.

That’s a post, similar to that held by Peter Lawwell at the moment, where you’re obliged to act in the best interests of the sport.

Yet he would have known league rules were being breached all the while.

Andrew Dickson, who was at Ibrox at the time, was elected to the SFA Congress this very year … an outrage considering what we know to have been going on whilst he was a club employee, responsible for “Football Adminstration” during the period when the dual contracts were being hidden away from the very body which he now sits on.

How do we know this? We know it because the SFA told us, in their investigation into Craig Whyte, who Dickson had testified to the governing body as being a “fit and proper person.”

He was also the recipient of an EBT, one worth £33,000.

You literally could not make this stuff up.

And then there’s Campbell Ogilvie himself, who left Rangers in 2005, receiving an EBT as a “golden handshake” after departing for Hearts. He was already the SFA treasurer, and two years later he was association Vice President.

Apart from having received a payment from the Ibrox club after he’d left he also held shares in Rangers, whilst at Tynecastle … a clear violation of the regulations he was supposed to enforce.

He knew all of it, along with Dickson and Bain, about the legal advice and the side letters and the non-disclosure and the illegality of the Discounted Options Scheme.

They had to, otherwise you have to surmise that they were absolutely, perhaps even criminally, negligent in their duties.

Their EBT payments compromise all of them in terms of their positions on those boards, and it’s astonishing that Dickson is at the SFA right now with all this swirling around him, but that Ogilvie received part of his after his employment at Ibrox is far worse, and makes me wonder just what that payment represented.

One thing is for sure; he looked the other way on these issues all the way through his tenure at the SFA, and he was still working on the club’s behalf right up to the moment Nimmo Smith gave his verdict in the last so-called “independent inquiry” we had, the one where the frame of reference was all decided in advance by organisations with everything to lose.

A lot of folk in our media have already been caught out as implicated in this.

Billy Dodds had one, Neil McCann had one and so did Stephen Thompson.

Those guys all won medals at the club during the EBT years and their views are still sought today in various media outlets. All are hopelessly compromised, as are the newsrooms in which they’ve spent their time, filled as they’ll be with their mates.

In addition, although he wasn’t at the club itself, Souness frequently appears on Sky Sports as a pundit, although he’s never asked about goings on at Ibrox. He doesn’t need to be. Off-camera, I’m sure he’s pushing the Victim Myth like crack cocaine.

No wonder the media narrative is that title stripping isn’t required, or even wanted.

A lot of former Celtic players have already been lined up to say they’re against it, or so it’s being spun. In fact, many have been asked if they would like the retroactive awarding of titles, which isn’t the same thing, and very few footballers would ever want that.

The campaign being waged on the other side is sneaky, and those behind it are those with far too much to lose to allow an inquiry that’s fully independent of the sport. But that’s what necessary, because the EBT scandal is bigger than it looks and it’s led to other scandals, some of which have the potential to do even more damage.

This thing began with off-the-books payments and concealed contracts but it didn’t end there, of course.

The real scandals came later.

First, the “conflicted” SFA President and the corrupted media, some of whom were in receipt of those payments, fought to see that ten years of cheating went unpunished when Rangers was liquidated and Sevco was born, giving the new owners guarantees of immunity before a shred of evidence had even been heard in the case.

They think we’ve forgotten this, about the secret memo that gave Charles Green his “no title stripping” assurances.

He’s now headed for a courtroom as the people who allowed him to get control pretend none of this is their doing.

They are in this up to their necks.

That’s why what happens next shouldn’t – indeed can’t – be dictated by them.

When these affairs came to light the natural inclination these people had was to sweep it under the carpet.

When it wouldn’t stay there they lied to us all about seeking justice, and gave the offenders a free pass.

An official at the SFA went in front of a tribunal and excused cheating on an industrial scale on the grounds we didn’t know it was cheating at the time.

They did no due diligence on Green.

When evidence of his links to Whyte emerged they let the club investigate itself.

They watched as a share issue was launched on decidedly dicey foundations and then rubber stamped two people who didn’t meet the Fit and Proper Person criteria as it’s laid down in the rules – their own set of rules, which have been used to punish other clubs for offences not even remotely this severe.

We have criminal cases pending.

The tax scam itself has been deemed illegal.

King himself is a convicted crook, running a Scottish club, the same one making threatening noises about not accepting further sanctions, when they haven’t even accepted responsibility for the pathetically ineffectual ones that were imposed on them three years ago.

Our entire national sport is mired in an enormous scandal that would be game-changing in any other national association in Europe.

Yet many of the guilty men still hold office.

In light of all this, a landscape of destruction stretching out for miles, we’re being told to “move on.”

Anybody arguing that needs therapy.

The game needs cleansing from top to bottom, and no-one involved in these affairs should be near its fresh start, which is the bare minimum that’s required before we can even start thinking about putting this in the past.

Dismay was yesterday’s emotion.

Disbelief stopped applying many, many moons ago.

What’s replacing all of that is anger, the anger of fans who’ve had to watch this unfolding, ever evolving shambles for near on three years, which gets worse the deeper into it we go.

I’m not approaching this as a Celtic fan.

I’m approaching it as an outraged football fan who’s more and more convinced that we’re watching something that’s not actually a competitive sport at all.

My girlfriend is a wrestling fan, a staged “sport” which is an interesting spectacle but can’t in any way, shape or form be viewed as a serious undertaking.

If we want to package football in this country on that basis, then great, but let’s acknowledge that fact.

Hibs haven’t won a Scottish Cup since 1902?

Well, wouldn’t that make a wonderful “story”? Let’s fix that for them next year, yeah?

The SPL’s become a one horse race?

Let’s make sure we throw it for Aberdeen, just to create a romantic “narrative.”

Let’s create rivalries between players, between managers, between officials and even fans.

Let’s artificially create heroes and villains, let’s have nothing that’s real.

Let’s remove sporting integrity from the field entirely.

See how many fans go to see it.

I said three years ago, when the initial moves to put Sevco in the SPL were being made, that we’d reached a turning point for our sport.

The fans saved the integrity of the game by lobbying their clubs.

This crisis will require them to do it again, to see that ten years of cheating and all that’s come since doesn’t go unpunished.

I do not trust our governing bodies to do this right.

The inquiry, when it happens, has to be wholly independent with the power to call witnesses and make them answer questions.

This isn’t a joke; the illegal activities of Rangers Football Club cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds and there are a thousand unanswered questions about where the money went, and why.

At the end of all of it, justice has to be done and it has to be seen to be done so that our national sport can begin to recover and heal.

That means title stripping.

That means heads must roll.

That means a complete hollowing out of the structures at the SFA and the SPFL and the creation of robust, and meaningful, regulations to assure none of this can happen again.

Then, and only then, can we finally “move on.”

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An Open Letter To Adrian Durham

Ad angryAaaaah, Adrian ….

I really used to love TalkSport you know.

I remember Christmas 2002, when I was stuck in student digs over the holiday period with a new computer, Command & Conquer Generals and TalkSport.

Everyone else on my floor had gone home for a fortnight. I was there on my jack jones, but I enjoyed much of that time.

The show has gone downhill since then, with people like yourself trying to carve themselves out celebrity careers.

We had our own Shock Jock up here for a wee while – Scotty McClue he called himself, the on-air persona of a guy named Colin Lamont. The difference is that his IQ is off the scale and he’s got a real devotion to creative endeavours.

A lot of his stuff was said to make a point.

Not sure I can say the same about you.

You come across as a troll mate.

Indeed, The Guardian called you exactly that once upon a time, after one of your self-aggrandising rants.

Do you believe half of what you say?

Like when you said Italy didn’t deserve their four World Cups and that the Arsenal team that finished a league season unbeaten was over-rated?

Man oh man, those aren’t opinions as much as attention seeking squealing.

That’s just if you ask me, of course.

Everyone’s entitled to their view.

You probably know why I’m writing this, coming, as it does, from what’s percieved to be a Celtic blog.

This won’t be the first time you’ve sparked a response from Celtic fans; on this you are, at least, consistent.

You’ve been talking utter pish about this club for a long time.

You’ve also talked some amount of garbage about the one across the city, and that’s where you and I are going to have a wee falling out, I think.

Because as smart as you are – as you clearly are – you’re also institutionally stupid to be stepping into the minefield you just did, writing the arrant nonsense that is running in Britain’s Favourite Brand of Toilet Paper today.

The thing is, normally I wouldn’t care what you wrote or said or where you chose to say it, because it’s pretty clear many of your “views” are so ridiculous they can’t be more than ratings chasing guff, and that’s alright as far as it goes.

But it’s not something I particularly want to listen to, so I don’t.

As a consequence, I’m not phoning your show and giving it even one hit.

I’m not posting this where the article was run, doing your paymasters a service they don’t deserve for commissioning this crap.

I’m putting it here, where I’m sure it’ll find its way to you somehow … you can give me the hits, and let our guys post replies that don’t line your pocket.

I’m not out to make a name though, or create controversy.

I just want to set you, and the record, straight and tackle not only some of the more fanciful (i.e. ludicrous) parts of what you wrote … but to correct the more dangerous bits.

Oh yes, dangerous bits.

See, nothing better demonstrates how stupid this intervention was than the way in which it promotes certain myths that Scottish football is better off without.

There’s just no way I was letting you away with that.

Let’s start from the top shall we?

First, you’ve mentioned how “embarrassing” it was for us to crash out of the Champions League before the Groups.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me who thinks that a guy who’s bread and butter job is commenting on the most over-hyped league in the world talking about European football embarrassment is a bit rich.

Two EPL clubs, for all that hype, for all that wealth, for all the spending, are already out of Europe altogether.

The ease with which the top clubs are routinely beaten by the Barcelona’s, Real Madrid’s and Bayern Munich’s of this world should shock you and be cause for taking stock. Instead, you’re writing about the SPL.

The record of the Premiership collective last season was horrific … just horrific when you consider the status of that league.

For all the dough sloshing around, for all the over-paid foreign players (oh yes, the one profession where all of England is united in embracing the immigrant) those clubs can field … they’re just not at the races.

We’re a Scottish club, with a Scottish club’s budget.

Where should we be aiming to get? Quarter finals? The semis? Please ….

That said, I won’t hide behind that.

We were well capable of beating Malmo and we should have done.

We’re a better team than Malmo.

But there are things going on at Celtic right now which few of us are qualified to properly understand, not being there on a daily basis.

Is it a problem with the manager and his tactics?

Maybe, yes.

Is it an issue with just not having the right type of players to fit into his system?

That could be it too.

But stop kidding yourself on that you can jolt us with your inspired realisation that we’re not a Champions League team right now.

Most of us sussed that out a while back.

I smiled reading those lines just the same, because in them you wistfully (sarcastically) looked back on our Champions League run of just three years ago, as many of us do.

You have rightly called it a memorable and wonderful night, but if you were there on that evening you must have been eating a whole cement mixer of humble pie (I’ve had to do it myself during the last few weeks) as Tony Watt put the ball in the back of the net.

Cause only a year before you’d said Neil Lennon was a failure.

Yeah … it’s those “expert opinions” that keep the punters coming back for more.

Your next assertion is completely facetious.

That somehow our decline as a club is due to the absence of a great domestic rival.

That’s one of the areas where I’m having trouble with your content, although you do get partial points for stating (at that point) what happened to that rival … “sunk into liquidation before resurfacing in the Third Division.”

(I hear that you actually changed the article to read that, having previously wrote that they had been “demoted.” Someone, it seems, has already been setting you straight on the facts.)

So liquidation, yes, but I’ll correct you on the “resurfacing” bit.

That still sort of suggests that it was the same entity which appeared overnight like a particularly virulent form of the runs.

It wasn’t.

Here in Scotland neutrals call them Sevco; the name under which the new club was formed.

If you’re going to wrie about this stuff it’s best to have your facts right.

You then describe our policy as being about “weakening the other Scottish sides” to assure our claim on the SPL title.

First up, what would it matter if we hadn’t?

What if we’d left Mackay Steven, Armstrong, Christie and others with their respective clubs?

Would they have suddenly attainted superpower status and pushed us all the way?

You said only one club was “capable” of doing that … and it wasn’t one from the north of Scotland or the East coast.

So, I’m a little baffled as to what you’re suggesting.

If these clubs were already much weaker than ours, it seems a bizarre strategy to spend our resources just to weaken them further.

Is that the business we’re in?

Playing schoolyard games?

Should big clubs no longer sign domestic based players?

Is it an embarrassment when clubs in your own league do the same thing?

Maybe you missed Chelsea’s summer pursuit of John Stones. Or the way Man City splashed out on Raheem Sterling from Liverpool. Or Manchester United going and getting Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton. These signings make three of the top four stronger at the expense of other clubs in England. Do you think that was the over-riding factor in those deals?

Does that make the EPL an embarrasment?

Your point is sheer nonsense.

You then launch into a gushing praise of Sevco and their new manager.

Dear oh dear, what were you drinking when you wrote this?

You do realise that their great start to the season – the one the media up here is hyping like it’s Arsenal on their famous unbeaten run (the one you don’t rate) … was achieved by a team playing part-time players for the most part?

A team with a wage budget some 20 times bigger than any other side in the league?

Your praise of James Tavernier as a “sensationally good player” is hilarious as it only makes sense to those who’re unaware that he’s had eight clubs in four years and is plying in his trade now in a league which is even less prestigious, or likely to produce an European class team, than the one the first half of your article makes out to be a joke.

The Ibrox club is only doing this year what a club with those resources should have been doing from the start.

This is all very nice, as far it goes … but it doesn’t go very far.

You mentioned their “winning mentality”, which again I find kind of unusual in an article which is hypercritical of a perceived failure at Celtic Park.

Do you know what our record is this season?

In terms of matches played, and wins?

We’ve lost once … to Malmo.

We’ve drawn two fixtures, including one of our European ties.

We’ve won the rest.

Five wins in the league. Four in Europe, for nine in total, against full time teams, with resources and means.

But I guess there’s no “winning mentality” to be had in doing that.

That was where your article lurched from being slightly daft to be plain barmy.

It’s the next bit that prompted me to write this article.

“Celtic will face a Rangers side with momentum, angry and fired up for revenge for what that club and its fans have been through …”

First, let’s get this straight; what that club has “been through” is purely a consequence of stupidity.

That of its own supporters in believing a rogues gallery of people taking them for a ride – in spite of warnings from a whole lot of websites and blogs, including this one; check the archives if you think I’m kidding – and third rate hacks like you, writing baseless, fantasy-land nonsense about how the future was going to be glorious and bright.

Maybe I’ve read this wrong, but having started out with the truth about their liquidation you seem awfully close to embracing the paranoid “Victim Myth” that is so prevalent amongst their supporters, and which even now won’t let them enjoy the sunshine of the present day but has them thinking about crap like “revenge.”

Revenge for exactly what?

Your radio station seems awfully keen to embrace the nut-job reality presented it, and your listeners, by hacks like Keith Jackson, who I’ve heard on there pushing this nonsense like a drug.

Some of you ought to know better than to listen to a discredited joke like him, but clearly there’s something slipping past you, so I’ll fill you in.

If you think the standard of our football is bad up here, you ought to take a moment and check out the standard of the journalism. It makes you and the other contributors at The Mail like look Woodward and Bernstein.

It was this media, asleep at the wheel or too craven or in the pockets of the Ibrox club to speak out, who sold the fans on “Motherwell born billionaire” (a quote from Mr Jackson himself) Craig Whyte when he bought Rangers from then owner David Murray for £1.

A quid Adrian.

For “the second biggest Scottish institution after the church.”

(Murray’s own words that time, which no-one in our media even thought to argue with.)

Money that if you dropped it you wouldn’t even bother to bend down to pick it up again.

That club was so scandalously run and financially doped to the gills that it had, effectively, been cheating the rest of Scottish football for years, buying players it couldn’t afford due to the largesse of a bank that nearly collapsed entirely and is still the subject of one of the largest corporate fraud investigations ever launched in the UK.

Although their squad was made up of expensive footballers, in August 2011, shortly after you’d criticised Neil Lennon for failure (at a time, when our rival club was alive and well and we had the challenger you claim is necessary to give our success validity; in retrospect you just sound like a guy who doesn’t like Celtic very much) they were beaten twice in successive European competitions – ironically by Malmo first, and then by Maribor.

With no bank funding to bail them out, and no sugar daddy to take them forward, they collapsed because of their rampant debts and shortly thereafter they were gone.

No-one harassed them to the grave.

No-one was vindictive or punitive.

HMRC refused a CVA because of outstanding tax bills and a pending legal case (as is their stated policy, and which only came as a seismic shock to Rangers supporters because the media had spent months telling the fans that it wouldn’t happen) and when no-one came forward to take on the debts and assume responsibility for saving them liquidation followed.

As it had at Gretna, at Airdrie and at a host of other clubs around the world.

Sevco, which arose from the wreckage, a new entity entirely and which had to be granted a temporary SFA license to play its first game (unparalleled before or since) then made a cheeky effort to assume Rangers’ former place in the top flight, and for a while the authorities had been willing to go right along with that until supporters lobbied their clubs for fairness and sporting integrity to have its day.

In short, Sevco started life where all new clubs do – at the bottom – and even then the rules were actually bent in their favour as the whole club licensing and membership application process was turned upside down to get them into the league setup as fast as possible.

What the Victim Myth does is promotes an unhealthy concept, one of some great crime against Rangers and its fans.

It never happened.

I call it a myth because it has gained some kind of following, and people believe it.

But in point of fact, what we’re dealing with, what we’re really dealing with here, is a media and PR firm inspired lie, designed to give the new club some historical and psychological grounding with mug punters who would only buy season tickets if they believed they were following the same team.

We call that The Survival Myth and with The Victim Myth it makes a noxious combination which has the potential to do enormous harm to the Scottish game, above and beyond that which its governing bodies and the press actually did in 2012 when they tried to put Sevco in the top flight.

You know something about Lennon, I’d presume. You know what he went through up here.

You know there’s a lunatic element on the margins that thrives on this victimhood crap.

And you’re giving them legitimacy.

Will you take responsibility if they act on that?

I suspect not.

Like the hacks up here who do the same, I have a sneaky feeling that down deep you’re actually gutless.

You’re all too ready to stir the soup but you’d run – not walk – away from pot the second it started to bubble.

I expect this from the Scottish press, which has its own historical leanings and other reasons for wanting to push these ideas.

But from a journalist based down south, this reeks of laziness and bad research, that and listening to all the wrong people.

Some of us do know the limitations of the current Celtic side, and the running of the club, and we’ve been writing about it and not just in relation to one bad result.

Some of us know what actually went on at Ibrox, and were trying to warn our rival fans – yes, warn them, as odd as that might sound to you – about the people they and the hacks were embracing as saviours long before the wheels fell off for them.

Some of us do care about Scottish football, and see it as more than just a two club game and don’t particularly relish the prospect of seeing a duopoly again.

Furthermore, and I speak for a lot of fans here, I think that you and Jackson and the rest sound like arrogant arses when you blithely dismiss Aberdeen, Dundee Utd, Hearts and others from having any say in whether or not that will establish itself.

What you characterise as a “worthless” three years has seen St Johnstone and Inverness both win the Scottish Cup. It has seen St Mirren and Aberdeen triumph in the League Cup. Aberdeen and Motherwell had finished in the top three twice apiece, and St Johnstone and Inverness once each. Attendances have gone up at almost every top flight club.

Tell their supporters that the last three years have been “worthless.”

You really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

Finally, you’ve suggested that Celtic fans be somehow worried about the makeshift sides of Championship players and loanees which is currently beating part time teams in Scotland’s second tier.

Believe me when I say we’re not.

We’re more aware than you clearly are about the underlying flaws in the Ibrox superstructure.

Some of us have spent years looking into this.

We also know that Chairman Dave – Dodgy Dave King – doesn’t have the wealth to back up his grandiose claims, those on which you and others are basing this notion of them as a superpower.

Rangers was a club built on debt. That’s all.

Today banks and investors are much less tolerant of throwing good money after bad.

Why do you think my own club hasn’t come close to breaking its own transfer record – of £6 million – since we signed Chris Sutton fifteen years ago?  Whatever else I might say about them, our board has some appreciation for how insane it would be to chase unicorns, and without that kind of spending Sevco is going to find us awfully hard to catch,

Maybe you know all of this. Maybe your article is just click-bait.

Or maybe you really are as ill-informed and stupid as it appears to suggest.

Either way, the radio is probably the best place for you.

I would say stick to what you’re good at … although it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember just what that is.

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The Giggle Factor

sky_cameras_1291526aThere are times when I wonder how many Sevco fans get scared when they read what’s on this website.

For sure there are times when almost all of them get angry.

There are articles when I know that some of them must do both.

That a lot of them read this site is not in dispute.

Some of them do it for the same reason I used to read Richard Littlejohn. He pissed me off, and on certain days I went there out of a desire to be offended.

This is a bizarre, but undeniable, human trait.

We like to rant and we like to moan and we like to indulge people who make us do both.

Others do it because they know I tell them the truth.

They might not like it, but we all need to confront things we don’t like, inconvenient facts and such like.

I welcome those people.

First group and second.

The last article I posted was about King’s statement regarding Rangers fans “outspending Celtic supporters”, where I crunched the numbers and presented the facts.

I know that cheesed a lot of their fans off royally.

It also un-nerved some of their supporters, those who listened to King’s glib and shameless nonsense, heard his exortation to go out and spend like Posh Spice on speed and probably thought it was going to be simple to do … not knowing how great the gap was.

And that gap is huge. Celtic fans have outspent theirs for 13 of the last 15 years … and not by small amounts either.

I understand why reality and facts might have bothered them somewhat.

Yesterday I read a very amusing article on one of their sites where someone had gone out and diligently researched the TV viewing figures for Scottish teams.

The piece was constructed to present Sevco as Scottish football’s biggest television draw.

Now I’m not saying that article was written in response to mine, but it seems like something that might have been provoked by the discussion, a wee bit of alternative point scoring.

If it is, then it’s a poor one.

Now, before I continue, I’ll tell you that I am not here to find fault with the hard numbers although I suspect they are slanted slightly.

The bottom line is that I am willing to accept the premise that for the year in question Sevco were Scotland’s most watched football club, at least as far as the television audience goes.

Furthermore, they probably have been for the last couple of years.

Oh those numbers are clearly hiding a lot of stuff, like when the games were played and what was being broadcast on the other channels – the kind of things that can wildly skew the figures one way or another – but I trust them as far as they go.

There’s just one teensy-weensy hair in the soup if you’re a Sevconian.

They’re missing the reason so many people were watching.

I know that matters to them. Because otherwise, what’s the point in the article?

What those numbers represent, to me, is that a lot of us (and yes, I include myself) tuned in to watch their games for a right good laugh.

I call it The Giggle Factor.

Now I know that advertisers don’t care about that, but Sevco aren’t paid by the viewer and so neither do I.

The TV cash is spread through all the clubs; they get no special privileges just because I’m tuning in.

Sevco fans will holler that we are obsessed.

Regular readers to this blog know how hilarious I find that particular comeback; it’s a bit like being mauled by a new-born.

But no matter. I am neither here to argue their logic or indulge in their superiority fantasies.

I am simply here to clarify the position.

I’ve tuned in to watch a number of their games over the last couple of years and I know Aberdeen fans who did and Hibs fans who did and Motherwell fans who did.

I know supporters from every club in Scotland just about … and a lot of them watched Sevco these last couple of years who had never watched Rangers in their lives. Celtic fans have been tuning in in great numbers.

We did this because at times it was too funny not to.

For who can forget the pathetic flailing of Black in midfield, or the sight of Ally doing his nut on the side-lines, in the midst of his imitation of a football manager?

Who can forget the songs of praise from the Sevco support, drawing at home with the likes of Alloa, and making it clear to the board, the manager, and the players how appreciated their efforts were?

Football in this country can be such serious stuff at times.

A lot of us watched Sevco for the sheer humour of it, for the way their matches nearly always generated a right good laugh.

Let’s face it, for a club that’s spent the last three years in the lower leagues they don’t half take themselves seriously.

Even the notion that they are Scotland’s most watched club is said with a sense of pride that is wholly misplaced when one places it in context.

It’s up there with those “biggest ever attendance at a fourth tier match on a Wednesday night when a crisp packet hit the referee in the 21st minute” boasts you used to get from them.

It’s a pointless boast; a bit like winning those “coveted” Scotland’s Best Sports Journalist awards.

In the real world, it means precisely nothing.

In the same way that Keith Jackson ain’t ever gonna work at The Guardian, good TV figures don’t make Sevco an SPL class club and nor do they plug the hole in the balance sheet.

It’s “we are the peepil” all over again; the supremacist chant of working class guys without an arse in their trousers.

I don’t usually praise the SFL, but I do have to express my gratitude to them for fully funding this live comedy routine for the last few years.

Some of it has been funny enough to make my sides hurt, and I think a lot of Scottish football fans would agree with me.

What’s equally funny are the numbers of Sevco fans who have been absolutely swept away in the enthusiasm of the Warburton debut, their 6-2 monstering of Hibs who came out of the traps looking the better team and finished the game looking like the shell-shocked veterans of Bastogne.

Some of the more excitable Sevconian’s have labelled it a “world class” performance.

Well, I watched the game, hoping for an early season fit of the giggles, and that’s not quite how I would have described it.

It was a match characterised by shocking defensive errors and Stubbs’ failure to get to grips with the opposition’s tactics.

This is not a one-off, either.

I knew McCall’s Sevco team would beat them at the first time of asking last season even before the match kicked off, when McCall went five across the middle and Stubbs refused to alter his tactics accordingly.

I like Stubbs but something tells me he’s not going to last the season.

The result should be seen in the context of a shambolic defence, chronic tactical decisions and a club who’s preparations had been upset by the public pursuit of their best player.

The Ibrox horde are loving it, loving it, loving it … they really do believe they are on their way to challenging Celtic.

Fools.

How many more lessons in humility do they need before they understand that everything has changed?

Pride comes before a fall, or so the proverb says.

It’s one that’s been proved at Ibrox over and over again.

Of course, the euphoria of a single result, and the continuing fantasy that they are still a massive club – and the article on their TV audience is just one manifestation of that, as are these “world class performance” comments – all serve as suitable distractions from the main event, which is the King boardroom’s struggle to find the external funding they require to get through the season.

The laughter hasn’t stopped on this side of the city.

I will continue to chronicle their every failure to bring in the money.

I will continue to laugh as every bubble inflates and bursts.

And I will continue to watch Sevco matches as long as there is a chance of seeing them humbled and humiliated.

If they ever get their act together, I will stop watching.

Because I don’t want to see that.

It lacks the Giggle Factor.

Which brings me to my final point.

Sevco fans tend not to bother overmuch with Celtic games.

How does that song go again?

“Same old Celtic. Always winning.”

If they were the biggest club in the land, unchallenged, unrivaled, untouchable by our team … well, I wouldn’t want to see it either.

They can’t stomach how big that gap between us is.

They certaintly don’t want to watch it.

I can’t hold that against them.

Sevco fans; in your quest to stay relevant … well this was a poor one.

You really must do better.

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A Dream Of Spring

23D6311700000578-2868269-The_club_announced_midway_through_the_second_half_that_28_137_fa-a-1_1418209180528“I see a propensity for obesity. Poverty. A yen for fairy tales. Folks puttin’ what few bucks they do have into a little wicker basket being passed around. I think it’s safe to say nobody here’s gonna be splitting the atom.” – Rust Cohle, True Detective.

There are times when I think Scottish football is like a dark, manic fairground, a forecourt for the mad and the bad.

Not always. Just at times.

Mostly I feel like that in relation to one club, of course, and we all know which one that is.

I always enjoy writing about whatever shambles is unfolding over there, and it’s usually right to because more often than not whatever they are engaged in has knock-on effects on the rest of the game.

This makes it news, and as we can’t rely on our media to accurately reflect that it’s important that the bloggers continue to be on hand to do it for them.

Their fans don’t see it that way, of course.

They have a word for us; obsessed.

They tell us (but mostly each other) that all this attention makes them important. Special. “It’s all about the Rangers”, as they often put it, as though anyone obsesses over the dead except those lost in mourning, mediums and exorcists.

The truth, as I never tire of reminding them, is that since time immemorial the freak show has drawn a crowd, as has the Circus Fat Man and those talking pets you sometimes see on the more bizarre “reality” television shows.

The car crash draws an audience, always, and there are funerals that have been better attended than some football matches in this country.

The fascination may be of the morbid variety, it is certainly of the gleeful one, but this does not impart greatness or special status on those being observed, like gibbering lunatics seen through the bars of a secure unit. This audience is motivated by a different human emotion.

The desire to mock. To gloat.

To whisper “there but for the grace of God …”

This is why I am so looking forward to the close season.

As everyone knows, Sevco won the first leg of their first playoff match at the weekend and the newspapers are falling over themselves in the aftermath of the match.

What I find odd is the nature of the coverage; they aren’t talking the club’s chances up. Indeed, over at The Daily Record they are doing their utmost to talk it down.

They are, as I said in my piece over on The Celtic Blog, preparing to fail.

To do so, they’ve had to argue that it would be in the club’s best interests for this failure to happen. It’s a little like the guy in command of The Titanic telling the passengers that the ship sinking is a good thing.

It is the rationale of the Damned, to give comfort to those facing an eternity of trying to eat at the dinner table with the world’s longest spoon.

I find this bizarre, because deep down they all know what a calamity it would be for the club to be stuck down there for another year.

If they are, one would imagine it means Hearts and Hibs will have gone up, unless Motherwell survive.

Regardless, no-one should reckon it will be a simple matter to escape from that league. It won’t be. If they don’t go up this year there’s a chance of them staying there, like Leeds, for years unless saved by league reconstruction or some other official fix.

(Don’t rule that out of course. If they are struggling mid-way through next season you will read editorials beyond counting saying that the good of Scottish football depends on it.)

You only have to look at the rebuilding job that’s required over there – on and off the pitch – to see the outlines of the next crisis looming out of the fog in front of them.

Their club has struggled in the second tier with a hugely expensive squad of players, and all but a few of them are out of contract in just a few weeks, leaving their board with a huge series of decisions to make.

Do they renew the contracts of the bulk of the squad that has blown it – in spectacular fashion – , or do they press ahead with a suicidal policy of letting a dozen elapse and go with starting again from scratch?

I wouldn’t fancy either scenario if I was in their shoes.

For a start, either will require money, and not a little bit of it either.

Dave King has been in power (if not in office, but Mike Ashley has proved numerous times than one does not necessarily depend on the other) for months now, and neither the fans nor the media (nor the rest of us, and some of us have been waiting patiently) has seen even the slightest evidence that there is a plan for the future.

That’s being blamed on the SFA, of course, who, if you believe the media, are suddenly blocking the smooth transition.

That they are pushing that line – which they know is a lie, which we know is a lie and which, furthermore, they know we know they know is a lie (confused? Me too) – insults the intelligence of not only Celtic fans but the Sevco supporters who very soon will be asked to put their hands in their pockets and find the money for season tickets.

Some of them will anyway.

Some of them will do it because they’ve done it so long it’s become a habit that they can’t break.

Others, those I was thinking of very specifically when I opened this piece with the quote at the top of the page, will do it because, frankly, they are either too psychologically invested in this “We are the Peepil” nonsense or they are too dumb to realise that the world around them has undergone a very radical re-alignment in recent years.

They bought into what King was selling enough to starve their own club. That ousted the previous board of directors, to allow King and his people in the door. They read transparent fiction about transfer war chests and accept it as fact.

When this season started they somehow convinced themselves that Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd had improved with age.

They filled themselves with confidence over Steven Smith and Ricky Forster, in contrast to what they already knew about those players.

They allowed themselves to be lulled by media nonsense about going through the season unbeaten and winning a domestic trophy.

More than anything, they’ve tried to convince us all of how Scottish football still needs that. Indeed, many of them will tell you it depends on them.

They have talked in awed tones about what a great experience The Journey has been for them, how it has opened their eyes to how much the rest of the game hates them, and is jealous of them, and kidded themselves they are still a top club.

The trophy haul suggests otherwise; two lower league titles in three years, with a third place finish the best they could manage in this one.

No cups, not even the one for lower league teams, where their record of failure is astounding and hilarious in equal measure.

Yet arrogance still burns in them, this notion the game owes them something. Their club lies in rubble around them, and their supporters representatives have spent the last few months trying (unsuccessfully) to have a prospective parliamentary candidate de-selected (he won too, in a landslide) and attempted to have a word banned.

They’ve also pressed ahead with embarrassing efforts to have Celtic re-investigated in the pitiful “state aid” case, making much of a government agency taking their dossier seriously, in ignorance of the fact that they’re legally obliged to do so.

The chances of it going anywhere? Absolutely zero.

These people are barking. It’s no wonder King thinks he can offer them nothing and still get them to dip into their pockets.

In a sense then the hacks are partly right; this is a club which is miles from being ready for Premier League football. There are problems at every level, from the shareholders organisations to the team on the park.

Everything about this is amateurish.

If, by some chance, they made it to the SPL the results would be abject humiliation on a weekly basis, and regular chances for their lunatic fringe to embarrass them on a bigger stage.

Who else truly believes that a club that finishes third in the second tier is ready to challenge anyone in the top flight?

Yet if they are to develop any kind of financial base (stop laughing) they need to give their fans more than just trips to Alloa next year. They can’t contemplate season ticket price rises far less share issues whilst they languish in such company.

King and his people will have bet their entire revolution on reaching the SPL, which is why McCall was brought in to get them there.

This close season, without a World Cup or a European Championship to entertain us, looked like being boring, but it is good to know that we will have something to look forward to, as Sevco lurches from drama to crisis, squandering what season ticket money they’ve brought in on un-scouted dreck.

Every agent who’s player can’t find a club will be on the phone to them saying, “I’ve got just the guy for you!”

But they can’t afford high salaries.

They can’t afford transfer fees.

Even if they bring in the kind of money they’ve talked about (a number that’s been going down as the list of stuff they need to spend it on goes up) they have a club to rebuild and that club is bigger than just the playing squad.

The season ticket forms are all ready to go out.

Their fans are being asked to buy into uncertainty. Their club that is little more than a shambling wreck. Doubt still surrounds their future, more doubt than ever before.

Crisis is never far away.

Imagine trying to sell this to those with little money?

It helps if you have a media trying to fill their heads with fantasy.

So out goes the message that everything will work out. Because it’s all about the Rangers. Because they are the Peepil. Because that’s how it’s always been,

So, how many people do I think will display this “yen for fairytales” and put their money in the wee wicker basket?

Oh, if I was a betting man I’d say thirty thousand or so.

Because you can fool some of the Peepil all of the time.

More misery lies ahead for them. For the rest of us?

A dream of spring, a summer of fun and a season of laughs.

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A Happy Ending?

_70455063_dave_king_indexWell we are three years on from when Craig Thomas Whyte finally stopped trying to push against the tide, and consigned Rangers to administration.

In that time, we’ve seen Scottish football almost torn apart, only to come together again.

We’ve seen the claims about Armageddon exposed as the lies they were, and, of course, we’ve watched as the Ibrox NewCo has squandered the historical opportunity it had to climb through the ranks on the back of youth, good football and fiscal probity.

The strategy which got them here might well be studied one day, as the sterling example of how to destroy a football club. It defies belief that the prospects of then have resulted in what we see now, with the newco circling the drain only three years after their emergence from the shambolic wreck of Rangers FC.

Last Sunday, against Raith Rovers, they exited their third, and final, domestic cup competition of the season, and their second in a week, with a performance as abject as it was predictable.

The most notable moment in the game, for many, came when Kris Boyd ambled onto the pitch. His lack of fitness, and his general demeanour, were astonishing indictments not only of the people who sanctioned his signing and salary, but of everyone involved in training at Murray Park.

Boyd did not look like a footballer, in any way, shape or form. He looked like a supporter who had been pulled from the stand in a moment of funk and handed a jersey for the night.

Nothing I witnessed in the match came close to the surreal quality of a moment shortly after he came on where he was effortlessly outpaced by a Rovers player who barely broke a sweat.

How can McCoist and his backroom team have allowed a professional athlete to get in such a state? Coupled with Miller’s lack of pace and inability to pose even the most basic threat to the Rovers defence, as well as the uncontrolled aggression of McCulloch, it became clear to me in that moment just how serious the failures are at every level across the city.

Three years on, nothing over there works as it should. Everything is out of whack, from training to player recruitment; from commercial contracts to the submitting of accounts and official returns. It is all up in the air.

Is there a more poorly run club in the UK right now? It is hard to think of one.

At every stage in this process, we’ve been hearing about how the Real Rangers Men can solve all these problems, that they, and they alone, can rescue the club. This ignores not only the evidence of the recent past – in that many of these people helped destroy the OldCo – but it does not take into account either present circumstances or the likely direction of the tides.

Let’s look at Dave King, as he’s the guy most people think is on the verge of taking over this shambles.

King’s entire strategy appears based on three huge assumptions, none of which, in my view, are solid foundations on which a new club can be built.

The first of these is that simply by walking in the door, he will unify the supporters and get them buying season tickets again. This may not be quite the sure thing he appears to think. For a start, a lot of the supporters understand what our intrepid hacks have been singularly unwilling to say; that much of their current financial woes can be lifted and laid squarely at King’s own door.

This is a guy who has been working, tirelessly, to destabilise the club for the last two years or more, and so when he claims that his foretelling of financial disaster was right on the money he neglects to say – and the press neglects to write – that he is partially responsible for the downturn which sent the club running to the ever-open arms of Mike Ashley.

A lot of their supporters are fully aware of this, which is one of the reasons why the “season ticket fund” scheme he and Richard Gough had wanted to pioneer never got off the ground. A lot of them don’t trust King either, and realise that the excuses he made for failing to scrutinise the goings on under first Murray and then Whyte simply do not add up.

Furthermore, they listen to a man who talks about “openness and transparency” on one hand, but on the other has spent considerable time at his press conferences thus far engaging in a quite flagrant, and easily knocked down, rewriting of his own personal history and his tax disputes in South Africa.

All of this rests uneasily with the section of their support who smart at being hoodwinked already, and whose eyes are now wide open to any grandiose claims.

Secondly, a lot of King’s “business plan” seems predicated on the supporters picking up a big chunk of the change.

This assertion seems based on the above notion, but actually goes even deeper than that and assumes that those fans who are on side will dig into their wallets for the umpteenth time and purchase shares in some future new share offering. This is to say nothing for the idea that King will be able to find “investors” willing to fund a new Ibrox pipe dream.

The idea that the fans will be willing – or even able – to pay for everything King appears to want seems optimistic at best. On top of a second share issue in three years, he’s also going to be asking them to pay higher prices for season tickets, and in greater numbers than they have in a while.

He is betting on putting a team on the park that they want to watch. I genuinely believe that, off field runctions or not, Ibrox would be three quarters full most weeks if the club was actually moving in the right direction on the pitch and competing for honours. King’s insurgency has destabilised things, for sure, and exacerbated every negative, but he would be wrong to think that’s the only reason for the number of empty seats at games.

He will have to find the money for a winning team … and fast. Or those empty seats are going to become the norm.

King says he will invest up to £30 million of his own cash … but the caveat is that he will only invest whatever the fans and others do … and then he’ll match that pound for pound, which suggests to me that raising the kind of money he’s talking about is an improbability at best, one which casts significant doubt on everything he and his colleagues are talking about doing.

Third, and most important, King and the others seem blithely overconfident about what the response of other clubs, and the governing bodies, will be.

Let’s take the response of the clubs first.

The whole of King’s plan is predicated on his side quickly being in a position to challenge Celtic for the top spot in the SPL.

He doesn’t say it, but there is an assumption contained in his assertions that is breathtakingly arrogant. He appears to believe that the difficulty will lie in usurping the Champions; he seems to think – and he’s not alone, a lot of the club’s supporters, and a lot of people in the media evidently feel the same way – that the other teams will be conquered as a matter of course.

This is, of course, sheer nonsense.

Take Dundee Utd. A lot of commentators, and indeed a lot of fans, including those at the club itself, see the sales of Gary Mackay Steven and Stuart Armstrong to Celtic and suspect that the level of their ambition has been reached with the occasional European spot and making a run at the cup competitions once in a while. I think they are wrong, because I think their club statement, which explained the thinking behind it, was correct to point to the investments in the squad they have made, investments which take them in an exciting new direction.

Dundee Utd are astonishingly well run, and they have a youth system that is envy of every club in the land, and I include Celtic in that statement. It speaks volumes that three of the best young players to emerge from this country in the last five years – Ryan Gauld, Johnny Russell (yes, I think he’s a wonderful footballer) and Stuart Armstrong – have come through their ranks. At the same time, they’ve nurtured the already wonderful talents of Gary Mackay Steven and produced the fantastic Ryan Dow, who I reckon is the Next Big Thing.

Aberdeen have done sterling work in a similar vein, producing, amongst others, Ryan Jack, and they have used the window to add to an already very good football squad. In Derek McInnes they have a manager I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the time, but I respect completely in terms of what he’s accomplished and is still putting together. He is definitely one to watch, and I hope he’s at the Dons for many years to come, all the better to finish the job he’s started there.

These clubs, as well as the Edinburgh teams – who, themselves, are building attractive, entertaining, and winning, football sides which I am sure will do very well in the SPL – Motherwell, Inverness, St Johnstone, St Mirren, Hamilton … these teams aren’t simply going to lie down. All will fight for their positions, all of them will sign good players and many now have the money to retain the talents already at their clubs on top of this.

These clubs are more than capable of not only challenging, but beating, King’s team even as it continues to grow (if it does). The fans will have to be patient – very patient – if they are to even take second place … and I wonder how much patience they have left.

I know a lot of people at Ibrox harboured fantasies of their club reaching an SPL that was bereft, impoverished and shattered, buying into the Armageddon Myth as they bought into the Survival Myth and the Victim Myth after that, but Armageddon didn’t happen and one of the reasons they are struggling to reach the top flight this year is that neither Hearts nor Hibs imploded in the way many had predicted, and extremely well run clubs like Falkirk and, in particular, Queen of the South, are battling for that one play-off spot, and all these sides are better organised on and off the pitch than the one set up by Charles Green.

King and his people will have to build a football club whilst, around them, the people in charge of other sides, established sides, will simply be getting on with the day to day business of running theirs.

Finally, some of those people – like Steven Thompson and Rob Petrie – are in senior positions with the governing bodies, and must surely be aware that it’s in their interests, as well as the wider interests of Scottish football, to introduce some kind of binding framework on financial fair play, so that King and his people don’t simply run up huge debts chasing the dream, and put us right back where we were three years ago, with the whole of the game on the edge of the abyss out of a need to make sure there is a club called Rangers playing in it.

In the end, I believe those kind of regulations will benefit the sport here.

It will keep people like King from repeating the mistakes of old, as much as they might like to.

That will be necessary. Already, Paul Murray is telling the fans how the club “might have to overspend” to rebuild the squad; a statement that should scare the life out of the supporters, who are going to be asked to fund that peculiar, but typically “Rangers” insanity.

They will realise, of course, that spending money on the squad is only the start. The wages for players will add to the costs, and on top of that is finding a new manager, rebuilding the scouting network, improving the quality of the training, fixing what’s wrong with the stadium … there is no end in sight to how much this is all going to cost.

Asking “investors” to back such a scheme will be difficult at best.

There can be little doubt now that this is a club which has learned no lessons from the past, and seems hell bent on repeating every mistake. King’s approach to this whole affair has reeked of the kind of hubris that helped them to this sorry place, coupled with a reckless disregard for what he professes to love that played its own part in propelling them into this financial nightmare, which he seeks to exploit.

There is an easier way, of course, which is to accept that the present structure of the club is far too expensive to maintain, even without adding significant costs to it. That would require a change of ideology – and an acceptance of a changed identity – which I suspect you will find little, or no, support for amongst the Ibrox supporters.

I believe King and his people will win the EGM, but I don’t think it will be the end of the ructions at that club, but instead will usher in a brand new series of them.

Furthermore, I don’t think he, or the other members of his consortium, have anywhere near the kind of disposable wealth needed to turn the Ibrox operation around. Oh King himself might have the cash needed to fund a temporary splurge, but he’s not indicated any more willingness to do it than Ashley.

Besides, as I’ve said before, that “temporary splurge” will drive overall costs through the roof, and that will wreck any so-called business plan they have.

Then there’s Ashley, but that’s a whole article on its own ….

Of course, the PR war is already over. The Ibrox board has even taken steps to ban The Daily Record from the ground, in a move that has further split the support. For myself, I understand exactly why they did it, and I don’t, for one minute, accept the Record’s spiteful assertion that the club has “shot itself in the foot” with the decision.

The paper picked its side in this fight long ago, and the board knows nothing they can do will win over a sports department that has sided with King in anticipation of a return to “business as usual”. When the chance of getting a fair shake has gone, what else are they supposed to do? All this talk of trying to erode the hacks “freedom of speech” is ridiculous, even if they took such a concept seriously in the first place.

All the incumbent board has done is tell them they can no longer launch their attacks from the club’s own front room, and this is a perfectly valid course of action as far as I’m concerned. The paper has not made any effort to present things in a balanced way, and that’s not going to change. This is an act of self-defence, and ought to be seen in that light.

When the EGM comes – if it does; there are some problems with the venue at the time of writing and as this series of events have more twists and turns than a rollercoaster I wouldn’t rule anything in or out until it’s past history – it will be heralded as a new beginning for the club.

That it will close one chapter and open another is not in dispute.

But if I were a Sevco supporter, I wouldn’t be betting big on a happy ending just yet.

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The Need For Competition?

IMG_2620Thank God for Al Qaeda.

Praise Jesus for 9/11 and for Islamic fundamentalism.

Thank the Lord for the more hardcore followers of Allah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I thought, “Eah? No it doesn’t!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The argument makes no sense whatsoever.

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

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

Nonsense. The worst kind of nonsense. Dangerous nonsense.

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

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

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

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

What is this “competition” people are talking about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competition? My arse.

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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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