I was never a horticulturalist though, having started too late in the gig to do an apprenticeship.
Nevertheless, the experience was enjoyable and I learned a thing or two, and not just about growing flowers.
There are any number of aphorisms that come to mind when I think about those days, and the present day, and the adventures of Sevco.
Mostly, I’m interested in Ally McCoist and his “gardening leave”, a peculiar phrase and one that does no justice to what’s really going on.
For a start, I don’t think you’ll find him raking leaves in the rain anytime soon, which I’ve had the distinct displeasure of doing and which is far and away the worst job I’ve ever had.
When you think of horticulture you think of people planting seeds, trying to grow something. McCoist has no history of that, and his club tends to prefer shooting up with steroids to careful, steady, cultivation and the natural process.
If Ally is to be found in the garden at all during the next 18 months, it’ll be sitting with a beer, soaking up the rays, as opposed to digging or mowing. He can afford to take it easy, with his salary of £750,000 now secure … not a bad return for a guy who’ll be doing nothing at all.
Still, a lot of the Sevco fans still love him. Others have forgiven him, as if he’s finally departed, having put Sevco first. What a master of the game this boy is. A career in politics would have suited him just fine. He’s done quite a number on the club and its supporters here.
To make something grow, one of the surest strategies is the liberal application of manure. Ally and his cohorts in the media have laid it on so thick these past few weeks that it’s a wonder the whole of Ibrox isn’t choking on the fumes.
On some of the Sevco sites, they are praising him for having gone. They are praising the board for having acted resolutely and sent him packing. Neither of those things is true, of course. In fact, the timing is extremely convenient, as it spared him, and them, the embarrassment of his having to show up at the AGM, where he might have said or done anything.
Mark my words, these guys wanted Ally out of the road, and Ally, who had spent the last couple of days manoeuvring so he didn’t have to attend, was just as happy not to be there. He is too conscious of his own self-image, and he would have been in real danger of saying more than was healthy for the continuation of his pay cheques. He didn’t want to rock the boat, and his employers was just as happy to let him off.
Having followed the events closely, and viewed the footage afterwards, he was well out of it. The sound of booing, jeering and shouting was what greeted the board, and based on reports and transcripts from the meeting it left the chairman, David Somers, in no mood to be nice.
He was sarcastic, cutting, impatient and contemptuous. Not for nothing was the laughably cheap looking gazebo positioned out of reach of the fans, who the club stuck in the away end for good measure, in case any of them didn’t get the subliminal hints about just how they’re viewed by the people running the show over there now.
Somers tried to ignore some of the questions too, although the fans did their best to keep him on track. At one point he expressed his frustration by telling the assorted gathering that as chairman of the club he would do things at the meeting the way he wanted to, heckling his hecklers with the line “when you are chairman of Rangers you can run things your way.”
He then went on to say that he had come to respect the faceless men behind Blue Pitch and Margarita because “they are quiet shareholders who don’t make a fuss.”
Somers is clearly familiar with another famous aphorism, right out of the bottom of the garden, the one about boards treating football fans like mushrooms.
When it came to the finer points of how they are going to handle the huge mess at Ibrox he decided to feed them shit, and keep them in the dark.
It’s difficult not to feel a grudging respect for a guy as brazen as this, and although the performance was anything but polished, it was a lot more respectable than that of fans hero John Brown, who’s incontinent rant wouldn’t have been out of place following last orders in a dingy backstreet pub with sawdust and sick on the floor.
As I said, in a previous piece, quoting a great line from the movies, “When your saviours look like this, you know you done stepped in it one time too many.”
The club, like those mushrooms, is in a dank and smelly place right now, and the blame stretches out in so many directions it’s no longer clear where the board’s responsibility starts and where the fans responsibility ends.
Before the meeting had even started yesterday, Somers had insulted his supporters by telling them that in his opinion much of the club’s problems could be laid directly at their door. Indeed, no sooner had the AGM broken up but fans were turning on the shareholders present for blowing an opportunity to conduct a forensic examination of the board, instead getting carried away by anger and acting like spoiled kids who don’t get enough jelly and ice cream.
It’s difficult not to conclude that Somers has a point. These fans have sleepwalked into disaster, ignoring a multitude of evidence and a cacophony of warnings that it was all going to end in tears.
Mushrooms aren’t the only thing you find at the bottom of the garden.
Some people think you find fairies there as well, and it’s been clear for quite some time now that Sevco’s fans really do believe that a sprinkling of magic dust will clear up all their worries, that someone will come along, cast a spell and all their problems will vanish.
Deep down many of them realise that this is madness, but they continue to push the drug anyway.
Ashley’s man on the board, Derek Llambias, had no good news for the supporters yesterday. Ally’s problems might be over with, but for this guy the fun has only just started. He’s barely got his feet under the table, and he’s managing a full blown crisis.
He, and Somers, took one key decision yesterday; they decided to be honest about that. They may not have gone into detail, or given the fans many answers, but they did at least give them a little more truth, a little harder truth, than they are used to.
The future is not flowers and a bumper crop. It’s cutting back, the pruning of all the thorny problems which blight them, the pulling up of the weeds which are strangling the club, little by little.
Ashley and his people are now in total control, and they will remain that way unless the SFA finally shows some steel and puts the businessman back in his box.
Don’t count on that happening.
Somers started the ball rolling yesterday, in light of today’s informal sit-down between the Association and the club, by saying that an “anti-Rangers sentiment” pervades the game, even going as high as the governing bodies.
These are the kind of comments for which he should be taken to task. Casting doubts on the intellect of Sevco shareholders baying at him like a mob is one thing. Trying to stir that old familiar soup of “everyone hates us”, and stoking the Victim Myth, should be an actionable offence.
We all know what it was, of course.
It was a little bit of playing to the gallery, a very unsubtle effort at getting the fans onside prior to yesterday’s showdown, but it was so crude and unsophisticated, and transparent, that even the Sevco horde, who normally would have applauded such sentiments like seals, pretty much ignored it.
That’s not to say the rest of Scottish football should.
Sevco’s supporters can continue to believe in the transformative power of beanstalk beans all they like … but between Somers and his board trying to pressure the SFA, and the media showing its usual Ibrox myopia, there’s already a dangerous undercurrent being fuelled here.
None of these people are unfamiliar with another gardening aphorism. Plant enough seeds and some of them will grow.
And what a dark harvest they are risking here.
Somers led off, and where he did The Daily Record was only too happy to follow, with a headline today about how a board including “Celtic’s Peter Lawwell” will decide whether or not Mike Ashley will be “permitted” to save the Ibrox club.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out the strategy behind such a move. First, it puts pressure on Lawwell and Celtic. The Parkhead CEO has already told our own AGM that the club is careful what it says in public because they are ever conscious of the threat to its employees, and The Daily Record and its unscrupulous sports team knows this full well.
The objective is clear; to make Celtic, and other clubs, seem as though they are partly responsible for any coming collapse of Sevco. It is the Victim Myth elevated to High Art, to make the whole of Scottish football culpable for the Ibrox shambles.
It is an astonishingly blatant piece of corruption of fact and logic, one that doesn’t stand up to even the most cursory investigation, but it’s not designed to appeal to intelligence or reason, but to the incipient paranoia and hatred bubbling away in some sections of an Ibrox support that’s already furious and looking for someone to blame.
The dangers of this are colossal. It is an act of gross irresponsibility which the media doesn’t even pretend is anything else. These people should be ashamed of themselves for playing these kind of games.
There’s a clear path through the weeds here, but no-one seems to want to face it. Dual ownership regulations exist in Scotland, and in Europe, for a good reason and it is simply madness to ignore them or bend them to suit one club.
Every other side in this land has to abide by the rules. None are protected from their own misfortunes in the way Sevco is, and Rangers was. The club that is “too big to fail” has demonstrated, time and again, that it’s too stupid to stand on its own too feet and the SFA has consistently tried to shield them from their own excesses … and way too long.
To the media, and to sections of the Sevco support, our quaint little regulations exist for the smaller clubs only.
To the rest of us, sporting integrity is paramount, otherwise we’re watching a rigged game. Some could argue that we spent too many years doing that, but the SFA, in a bid to keep the Green takeover on track, legitimised those years despite evidence of rule-breaking on a hitherto unseen, and still unbelievable, scale.
But things are supposed to have changed. Some version of Financial Fair Play is said to be on its way to the game here, and with that a tightening of the rules across the board, especially those which govern fit and proper persons and ownership of clubs.
It would be an outrage to start that new era blatantly ignoring the fundamentals it is to be built on.
Ashley’s intentions are still unclear to most, but a persistent fantasy – perhaps the result of growing and smoking too much of a certain weed – continues to permeate all rational discussion; that he has grand plans for the club, to take them to “the next level”.
Some people clearly need reminding of the facts.
Ashley owns a Premiership club, with all the global reach that provides. The notion that he needs a club playing Champions League football to realise the full potential of Sports Direct is a nonsense. In a previous article, I speculated on why Ashley didn’t just become an affiliate advertising partner of the Champions League, but the costs of that would be prohibitive.
Yet there’s a good reason why this is the case. During Champions League matches, advertising is only permitted for those specific brands. Not one single Sports Direct ad board would be allowed inside the ground on a Champions League night, so the great global exposure – as if he didn’t already get it from owning an EPL side – would not be forethcoming anyway.
The only advertising Ashley would get would be on the jerseys themselves, and, if we’re going to take an extreme scenario, he could simply offer Celtic, or any of a host of other clubs who frequently play in the tournament, a better shirt sponsorship deal than they presently get … and that would be cheaper, annually, than carrying huge losses at Ibrox, and for the same overall effect.
Ashley knows all this, and if he was watching yesterday he will have seen the shocking ingratitude of the Sevco fans. It is worth remembering too that the baying mob who turned up at the AGM are not just any supporters; they are the shareholders of the club, those the rest of the fans look to for leadership and guidance, and their behaviour, like drunk yobs in a strip joint, was deplorable.
This isn’t the first time these people have behaved like loons these past few weeks. Their intervention in the issue of Ann Budge’s comments on Celtic’s fans at Tynecastle was scandalous and hate-filled, not simply condemning a small group of people for something that may or may not have happened the way one newspaper says but going out of its way to slander the whole of the Celtic support and the club itself.
These people are not fit to represent anyone, and many of their own fans were embarrased by their yobbish antics yesterday.
If the man from Newcastle has any brains, he will cut loose of it all, and if the SFA has an ounce of self-respect or consideration for the betterment of the game they will do him, the game here, and Sevco itself, a massive favour and tell him he’s got as much control as they’re willing to let him get.
The question as to whether – and why – he wants more shares is a mystery in itself, and the only people who are suggesting he might are the media hacks who got it wrong when they said he would be investing big last time.
In point of fact, there’s no material gain for him in taking his shareholding beyond the current level, which is why I’ll believe it when I see it. It suits his purposes better to give the club the £8 million in loans, with Ibrox and Murray Park as his security.
It makes him far and away the largest creditor in an administration.
The idea that he can spend the kind of money he has to in order to make Sevco competitive on that level – the club that in three attempts could not win Scottish football’s third tier trophy – and eventually realise vast profits is ridiculous.
The idea that he should be allowed to, if willing – that the club should be able to live off the tit of yet another sugar daddy – is offensive, and returns us to a footballing environment where those clubs that are willing to live within their means are disenfranchised and cheated. It won’t happen. I don’t believe he is a stupid man, and he’d have to be to fund that … but that the SFA should blindly ignore the possibility of it is not acceptable either.
Scottish football needs the club in the top flight and therefore we need to accept the unacceptable, or so claim our media and the so-called heads of the sport here. The idea is disgusting for the implications contained in it and the damage it does to the integrity of the game, and it is not supported by the slightest shred of actual evidence.
When Sevco was told to start at the bottom, we heard predictions of a dozen clubs going under. In the three years since, only two clubs have come close to calamity; Hearts and Sevco itself. Whereas the Ibrox NewCo has spent itself back to the edge of the abyss, the club from Edinburgh has played it straight, and smart, and are the better for it.
The rest of Scottish football – thriving as never before, with clubs paying off their debts and the trophies being spread out amongst the teams like few other times in living memory – is now being asked, again, to bend its will to the one club that is unable or unwilling to get its own house in order, and its own garden looking trim.
When does the rest of the game stop paying for their mistakes, greed and ego?
Ally, at least, is clear of all this chaos. He sits at home now, on his elevated salary, seeing out the remainder of his contract, knowing that at the end of it he is no longer bound by silence. His grasp of tactics is pretty good, but his understanding of strategy is badly flawed.
By the time his gardening leave ends, there might be nothing left to speak up for.
The £750,000 he’s chosen to take out of a dying club will certainly play a part if they are consigned to the grave. In those circumstances, he can tend it as much as he likes and lay fresh flowers every single day, but people will remember the role he played in bringing it down.
He and the others within the walls who object to the term “green fingers” might be happier with that than references to sticky ones, but that’s how they’ll be remembered nonetheless.
Regardless, this show now moves to the SFA, where we’ll find out how serious they are about the application of the rules.
They say you reap what you sow, and the forest of thorns that grew out of their last mistake has to be cut down to size.
They dare not make the same mistake twice.
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