The Dirty War: An Inside Look At The Battle For Scottish Football Fans Hearts And Minds.

One of the finest moments in cinema comes in a quiet office scene, where three brothers and a couple of their friends are sitting around discussing a difficult problem, one with no easy solution. The youngest man in the room is the quietest, the one who doesn’t really belong there; the others are all hard men, shaped by their outlooks and experiences to view the world in a certain way. They don’t realise that “the kid” has absorbed it all, over years of watching and listening, that he’s more like his father than any of them imagines.

He is the one who offers a solution to their problem; to murder a police captain, in a public place.

And even more horrifying, he will do the deed personally.

They are shocked; but his older brother starts to laugh.

Does he think this is some kind of absurd joke? No, he has another theory. The kid, Michael Corleone, who was assaulted by the police captain whilst visiting his father in hospital – the legendry Don Corleone, gangland lord and recent target of an assassination – is “taking it very personally.”

Michael becomes simultaneously like and unlike his father in that moment; a man of utter reasonableness, but capable of extraordinary viciousness. It is all the more terrifying because what he says next is so perfectly lucid and rational, grounded in common sense, if you accept their circumstances. He outlines a scenario where the killing could be justified to the PR and press people they know, on the basis that the cop was dirty.

That way, not only can be the deed be done, but they might even make hay out of it.

“It isn’t personal, Sonny,” he tells his older brother. “It’s strictly business.”

From that point on, Michael is the heir apparent, a man who can order violence, even carry it out, because he can rationalise the most hideous act. He can balance the scales in his own mind, and come to a justification without the slightest regret or remorse.

Over the course of that film and the next we see the dark side over and over again, until by the end of the second it’s all that’s left. The third movie is about a man trying to live with what he’s done and escape from the dreadful consequences of his choices, which he believes are past due.

If you’ve ever heard Francis Ford Coppola or Mario Puzo discuss those films and the character of Michael Corleone, you’ll know that they crafted his story to mirror the corruption of America. The full horror of the idea that inflicting enormous suffering on the world around you not because you are evil but in the name of pure business, of getting ahead and staying ahead of your competitors by whatever means necessary, was just starting to sink in.

Nowadays, it’s just another part of the “acceptable face of capitalism.” There is no altruism anymore. Everybody’s out for themselves. Right?

It’s not quite as simple as that, but it’s the general rule things follow.

Try to remember that, and Michael Corleone, as you continue to read. This is an article that’s been long in the making, but only recent events made me want to write it. I can’t promise you that you’ll like what’s in here, but it’s important that you know it. Because there’s a war on. A war for hearts and minds, and the colours of the uniforms really don’t matter. Games are being played behind the scenes. You’re being manipulated, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. Sometimes by people who know exactly what they are doing. Sometimes by people without a clue … except that it’s not really them doing the manipulating but those behind them.

And remember; this is not personal. It’s strictly business.

Let me ask you a question before we get started; when was the last time you saw a Daily Record or Sun exclusive where one of the papers had beaten the other to a story and was slapping them publicly in the face with that fact?

If you’re struggling to remember, there’s a good reason why. It’s been a long time since something like that took place. And there’s a very simple explanation why the various strands of the print media are no longer engaged in a race to the big stories, and refrain from openly mocking one another when one succeeds and one fails.

It’s because they’re no longer the biggest problem the others have. There’s a new player on the field, or a new series of players, and they command enough attention and are siphoning off enough advertising wonga that it’s starting to become a threat. A very serious threat, an existential one; one that could sweep them into the dustbin of history.

I’m talking about us, of course, the bloggers.

The Sun and The Record are little islands under siege, and when you are in such dire straits you don’t go looking for enemies. Indeed, you can set aside your differences and work in a common cause. That common cause is nothing short of survival.

If you’ve been following Scottish football writing at all – and all of you have, of course, it’s become as much a part of your daily routine as a shower in the morning – you’ll know there is a gaping hole where real journalism used to be.

The press was once good at holding people to account; now the offices are full of box checkers and cut and paste artists.

Scotland is a small country, but even here the famous political maxim about the hungry animal that was the press held true for a long time; either you feed the beast or the beast feeds on you. If you were in an industry that the media constantly scrutinises, like politics or football here, then it was in your best interests to throw it some scraps, to keep it fed, because the alternative was that idle hands would do the Devil’s work.

But somewhere along the line, the people in those industries realised something that fundamentally changed the game. They realised that the media here had become dependent on those scraps. Something had happened to the journalistic class. Its members were no longer hungry, no longer curious, no longer nosing around and putting in a shift. Years of being fed from the hand had made them docile, fat and slovenly.

So they did what smart people in those circumstances always do.

They played a little game of divide and rule. They would handpick specific people, the right sort, pliable, grasping, those who wanted to rise or who simply desired a fatter expenses account, and they started giving those people little bits of information here and there, but crucially it was not news.

It was gossip. Innuendo. And eventually, it was spin.

See, these people realised that if the media had grown weak enough to believe it needed them more than they needed it that they would use that to push agendas and twist its purpose to suit their own. Those who were brazen enough did it openly, using their tame journalists to push whatever lines they wanted out there.

Those with more nefarious purposes, or those who wanted to do spin at arm’s length went down another route and started employing aggressive PR firms and it wasn’t very long before they became the favoured conduits of information back and forth. They were perfectly suited to the task and could be relied upon to give the media a friendly steer in whatever direction their own anonymous paymasters deemed appropriate.

None of this is new information. It’s just what happened.

Scotland’s small size, and the nature of the media’s relationship with politics and celebrity and sport – incestuous if we’re being generous – altered the role the press plays in our national life and in turn it created monsters. It created people and organisations with no loyalty except to themselves. They became practiced in the art of promoting favoured causes and if they had to they were perfectly willing to wreck lives and reputations into the bargain.

Nothing personal, you understand. Strictly business.

Last week, someone on the CelticBlog Facebook page drew my attention to the increasingly personal nature of the attacks the blogger Johnjames is firing at Phil Mac Giolla Bháin . There was a time when Phil was getting a lot of praise on that site, and overnight it changed. The guy who was talking to me wondered what had happened, and what possible motive there could be for it. It piqued my curiosity for a number of reasons, but the main one was that I’d already noticed it and it had got me thinking of some of the stuff that’s been said about the CelticBlog and some of the other advertiser-led sites in certain circles.

And I realised that there was a window here into a hitherto unexplored area; how the war for hearts and minds, and to form opinions, has moved from the straight press to the blogosphere, and that interests me for more than just personal reasons; it’s an insight into where we all might be headed, and who might be pushing us there.

To understand it properly, you have to understand that this stuff has been going on for years, and that attempts to discredit and smear certain bloggers and writers is not new to this moment in time. Phil, in particular, has been a target of innuendo for nearly a decade and whilst some of it is strictly amateur hour, some is clearly of a more sophisticated nature.

Phil is important to this discussion; indeed, you can’t have the discussion without him. He’s one of the people who inspired me to start blogging in the first place.

I first came across his work back in January 2009, when, out of nowhere, an article of his shattered the collective consensus that you did not write a bad word about David Murray. His article, The Fall Of The House Of Murray, was astonishing.

It was clearly written by someone who knew his business, someone who could marry research to insight, and convey clearly his extrapolations on where it all might be headed, and although this article didn’t appear in a Scottish paper it did reach a print audience in Ireland and elsewhere.

And of course, most importantly, it found its way online.

That article laid out in detail the impact the banking crisis was having on Murray’s business empire around the world. It pointed out that Murray’s alleged “net worth” was partly wound up in debt, and partly an accumulation of assets he owned. It was largely, then, based on steel reserves and real estate holdings which, on paper, were worth fortunes but which, in practice, might as well be worth nothing at all.

What made the article so insightful was that it put a highly complex issue in simple layman’s terms; the example it used was of a corner shop filled with stock. A normal asset evaluation of the worth of that shop would include all the stock in it, but if no-one came to the shop to spend money it would quickly go out of business and when the stock was finally sold it would be in a liquidation sale at a fraction of its paper “worth.”

Steel prices around the world had already plummeted. Murray’s unsold stocks were depreciating in value every single day, and any effort to sell them on the open market would have collapsed prices even further. Likewise, his real estate holdings were losing value rapidly and there was no guarantee that they could ever be sold for what he paid for them far less what years of market inflation had “valued” them at before the crash came.

Worse still, the whole business empire had been built on easy credit terms and those had come to a shuddering halt. Banks at the time were barely lending to each other. A handful had already been part nationalised. The party was almost over.

And that, said Phil, would certainly, inevitably, impact on Rangers.

From the moment I read that article, I knew they were finished and that it was just a matter of time. It was to be another year at least before we learned of the devastating Big Tax Case – a story Phil himself broke in the national press – but already it seemed clear to me that Murray had built Rangers on bank debt and when that was no longer available the cost base was so high that they were done.

I was new blogging at that time, and not at all sure what I wanted to write about, but when I read that article it clicked into place. I wrote my first major article for E-Tims, called The End Of Rangers? To the best of my knowledge, there were only a handful of us, including Phil, myself and Paul Brennan, who were looking at Rangers and their financial position and taking into account what was going on elsewhere in the Murray empire.

I got a lot of good responses on the back of that, but also the first inkling that there was a section of society out there that was viscerally opposed to hearing this stuff. The stick I got was nothing compared to what Paul and Phil were putting up with. That, as far as I’m aware, is when the first campaign against Phil took shape, with some very unhappy people at Ibrox.

At the time, and for the whole of Murray’s stay at Ibrox, the club was represented by what then was the leading PR firm in Scotland, Media House. The head honcho there was a fellow called Jack Irvine, and he was surprised to find such a negative article about his key client in the press. Feelers went out, and the word came back; Phil was a card-carrying NUJ member with a background in the Republican press. That gave Irvine something to work with.

But astonishingly, for him, he found that Phil was actually a guy held in high regard by most of his media peers. A quick smear job wasn’t going to work. The best thing was to hope that Phil’s interest in the subject was fleeting and that he found something better to do with his time than dig into the unfolding horror story at “Scotland’s second biggest institution after the church,” as Murray, at the peak of arrogance, had once called it.

He wasn’t to get that lucky. Phil started to drip-feed stories into the press about how bad things were at the Ibrox club. He started, very quietly, to cultivate sources. And at around that time a number of Celtic-minded publications found themselves suddenly very well informed about the background of this writer, and a few even wrote highly critical pieces about him, casting doubt on his Republican bona fides.

None of it had the first thing to do with his journalism, of course. That was unimpeachable. It was a character assassination, pure and simple.

The method of those in power has long been set down for dealing with such busy little people; if you can’t counter the message, shoot the messenger. The art of playing the man not the ball was not born in Scotland, but it was perfected here. The Jack Irvine’s of this world have been doing it all their professional lives.

It’s business, not personal. Try to hold that thought.

Everyone who follows these events will know what happened next; Phil blew the lid off the big tax case, and after that nothing was the same again. A short time later he exposed the Hugh Dallas sectarian email and it was clear that he was capable of making trouble for more than just those at Ibrox.

If Scottish football was a can of worms, it was Phil who prised off the lid. Not only had he had become a significant thorn in the side of those at the Ibrox club, but the SFA were feeling the pinch and the pressure on him started to ramp up.

At around this time a handful of prominent Rangers bloggers appeared and some of them were also of a mind that Murray was dragging their club down. Two of the most brilliant were Bill McMurdo Jnr and his co-writer Ninjaman. Their message was not exactly universally popular amongst their own supporters … to say they were soon taking flak is an understatement.

Who was leading this pressure?

In some cases, the profile these guys were getting amongst their own supporters, their growing followings, produced jealousy in that constituency as much as respect. That’s natural across my lifetime, and we in Scotland have a peculiar fascination with tearing down those who do well and start to build a name; it’s a nasty little national trait we can’t seem to shake.

But these guys were being attacked in ways which went above and beyond some posts on the forums. Some of the attacks on them were highly detailed, a level above what the usual guys who man those sites is capable of. They were written in a style that came over as almost amateurish, but they weren’t. They were professional hatchet jobs, pitched at just the right level and to the right sort of readers, those who make a lot of noise.

When Phil published Downfall The Sun was getting ready to serialise it; all of a sudden they were no longer doing so, and they published an editorial attacking a writer whose work had inspired them to get the wallets out. The campaign against Phil in that case was very clearly organised by someone with real weight, and an in depth knowledge of the press.

The late Paul McConville took The Sun to task over their behavior, in a private correspondence via the toothless Press Complaints Commission. The paper backtracked furiously, but the damage to Phil’s reputation was done as they tried to cover their cowardice with an ever-changing story.

The PCC was closed in 2014, generally regarded as a failure and on the side of editors.

A similar thing happened when the CQN boys tried to post an ad about Resolution 12 in several of our national papers. These people never turn down advertising income … but in that case they did, although their own lawyers had cleared the piece.

With Downfall, the ferocious campaign against those who had written testimonials for and about the book, and the vicious and poisonous war which raged against them, and in particular Angela Haggerty who had edited it, was fearsome and had its roots in that media torching.

These things are not unrelated.

People were being threatened, even hurt.

The attacks were not limited to just trash talk in the press and online.

Phil had written a book about a football club that collapsed; he hadn’t broken a story that brought down a government or inspired a revolution against a despotic regime. Those kind of books do not usually provoke such venom.

But Scotland is different, and its media is different.

For all the people behind this would tell themselves it was business, not personal, there was clearly a personal element to it. In another mob movie, the kingpin John Gotti is out with his number two man Sammy Gravano; when Gravano gets up to leave (he’s off to kill his brother in law) Gotti asks him if it’s business or pleasure; “What’s the difference?” Sammy asks him with a smile.

Am I suggesting that PR companies and their lickspittles in the press caused that violence?

They did not will it, but they created the conditions in which it was allowed to happen. The minute a national newspaper called Phil a bigot it gave every maniac a license to consider him a legitimate target, and they acted accordingly.

At the same time, CQN was growing in stature and beginning to develop a good relationship with the club. That link was exploited, mercilessly, by people who said the blog was simply a tool of the board and that its posters slotted neatly into a certain mould; the shareholding, prawn sandwich brigade, guys not really connected to the wider Celtic support. Numerous anonymous posters popped up on the site to flail the consensus that the club was well run. When a newspaper printed details of Peter Lawwell’s heated driveway, that leaped onto social media and has been used as the stick to beat him ever since. I know because I’ve used it myself.

No-one stopped to ask whose damned business it was what the man spent his money on. No-one bothered to wonder who put that information in the public domain in the first place, but we can all take a guess as to why. In politics they call it a wedge issue, and it was less vicious than some of what they could have written.

But that’s the point; It was business, not personal and Lawwell himself knows that.

The media and the PR companies have a history of finding wedge issues to turn the fans against the bloggers and even their own clubs. It’s as simple as that.

And the blade cuts both ways of course; what has the last five years been but the steady use of the blogs to shake the confidence of the Sevco fans in their own managers, directors, players and even each other? Some of the blogs have waged constant war on them over that time; I write one of them. To combat that someone, somewhere, used the word “obsessed” and it, too, leaped onto social media. It is quite possibly the laziest, most intellectually stunted comeback of all time … but it is effective in shutting down discussions their directors would rather people didn’t have.

The war for hearts and minds has entered a new phase now and part of it is that the bloggers are being turned on each other. I found this out myself a short time ago when it was alleged on some of the Celtic pages on Facebook that The CelticBlog and others which carry the same advertising are somehow in league with the Devil; apparently some of the ads on the site don’t tick all the right political boxes. Apparently the ad agency has “an agenda.”

It’s rank nonsense of course, but I thought I better make sure of that. So I emailed the guys from the agency with a series of questions, all of which were answered to my complete satisfaction, not that I needed the answers to know who I’m dealing with; I have a good personal relationship with those guys as well as a business one, and the most important thing about them is that they do not in any way influence what I write and publish.

You know how many people in the mainstream media would kill for that relationship? I’ll tell you how many; all of them. The ad guys don’t care what I write; they leave me to it. They allow me to get on with doing what I do and because they are so hands-off that gives me the opportunity to dig into whatever stories I want and explore them however I like.

Which, I hope, all of you see as a benefit.

Now I have no idea what prompted this attack; was it based on something someone had heard somewhere and simply believed? Or was it motivated by something else? There’s some good old fashioned rivalry between some of the blogs, of course, but that stuff has never bothered me.

I don’t get on with every other Celtic blogger – in fact I have issues with quite a few of them – but the work they do is tremendously important, and I promote the best of them wherever I can. We have a duty to the wider support to do that for each other.

Yet it raised an issue in my mind; the battle for the hearts and minds of the blogger audiences is well and truly underway now. The mainstream press is losing its ability to shape opinion, and it’s important to the shadowy PR people behind the scenes in Scottish football that the bloggers don’t shape it in a way that genuinely changes things.

Don’t think for one minute that the governing bodies aren’t playing this game too; this is the reason Doncaster has been so open with meeting the bloggers from various sites. It’s the reason Celtic has reached out to its own blogging community. Everyone knows, to quote Tony Blair, “that the kaleidoscope has been shaken and the pieces are in flux” and believe me, these people want to grab the chance to shape the picture before those pieces settle.

Sevco is better at this than Celtic, by the way, or perhaps it’s simply a case of having more to hide and therefore needing more control. Whereas Celtic cultivates good relations with its bloggers a handful of the most influential blogs over there have actually been seized by those promoting the current board’s agenda. A number of others hold out, and are pushing more and more against the tide, but there I think they’ll have their day.

The King plan has failed. His control will ebb away as that becomes clear, and those blogs and writers under his wing will have to more and more fight to justify their spurious claims. The battle for hearts and minds in Sevconia is going to be fearsome.

The bloggers have become a significant threat to the established football order in Scotland; we might well be unique in this country in that it’s small enough to give us real weight, or it might just be that the ructions of the past few years have inspired more interest in them than there is in England and elsewhere.

This is the one country where the actual way the game is run, and exploring the media which covers it, has formed as much a part of the blogger’s agenda as the activities of their own clubs, and that might have been ignored by those in authority had 2012 not proved decisively that we had the ability to move the agenda when acting in a common cause. The book by Phil was only one part of it; Paul Larkin produced his own storming account of these times, The Asterisk Years, which also spawned an outstanding documentary. Other books will undoubtedly follow, and the SFA will not escape full scrutiny for its own part of it all.

Behind the scenes those who have been hiding there all along will continue to do their worst, to make sure that our influence is as limited as it can be. Part of that is the old divide and rule concept, which is why a guy like Phil suddenly finds himself under attack from a blogger who, up until very recently, was highly complementary of him.

Johnjames is a guy who divides opinion.

For me, he has occasionally dazzled with his access to good information and he has that rare ability to take a highly complex situation and boil it down in simple language; Phil has the same skill. When the guy is on his game and writing about Scottish football he is a must-read. When he veers into certain other areas he sounds like a conspiracy theorist par excellence; that’s not a deal breaker in itself, many of us do when we talk about the game here! But when he segues into personal attacks on other bloggers, like the excellent guys at the Scottish Football Monitor and Phil himself I roll my eyes.

Some think he’s taken umbrage to a casual reference on Phil’s blog to the “heroically anonymous and bravely concealed.”

That barb was targeted not at him but at posters on Phil’s own site who were posting during the Craig Whyte trial; this was a crime, for which Phil might well have been held accountable, as it was on his blog. But it raises another wider point, that about anonymity.

Phil, myself, Paul Brennan, Paul Larkin, Joe McHugh, Angela Haggerty and a good few others do this in public, under our own names.

There are compelling reasons why RTC kept his identity secret. He was in possession of seriously sensitive information and there might have been tough questions about how he came into possession of it, as well as providing a trail of breadcrumbs to his sources.

Other bloggers do it because they want to do what they do without fanfare or relative fame.

Those who claim to do it because they’ve had “death threats” … it’s curious that none of the rest of us feel the need to.

There are pressures that go with doing this job … but I’ve never felt my life was in danger, and I live right here, in Glasgow, in the centre of the storm.

Anonymity will always raise questions in people’s minds, and whilst everyone has a right to post under their own name or not, I think someone’s decision to act anonymously becomes open to question the moment they start, themselves, to make it part of the conversation.

Phil did not mean him … but it would have been a wholly legitimate issue to raise if he had.

For that, the guy gets a barrage of insults and digs?

I don’t know whose interests or agenda that stuff serves, but it’s not the greater good of the game here and worse, I don’t think it suits Johnjames’ own interests either because it turns people off who might otherwise be big supporters. And I wonder if this is partly down to his choice of friends, and quite obviously the source of some of his best information; the aforementioned Jack Irvine, formerly of Media House and the old Ibrox board’s notorious mouthpiece.

Irvine has never liked Phil, or some of the other guys out there.

Indeed, Phil ended up mentioned in the famous Charlotte Fakeovers documentation, where Irvine told an Ibrox director that they had to “get this guy.” One of the people they used to use for that purpose was a Rangers blogger you all might have heard of; David Leggat, a former tabloid journalist with a literal rap sheet … he was convicted of common assault for a quite deplorable incident involving a concierge.

You can understand the level of the people we’re dealing with by understanding Leggat. His NUJ membership came to an end somewhat ingloriously; he wrote highly inflammatory, stuff about Phil and another journalist, Brian McNally. They believed the stuff in question veered into anti-Irish racism and opened an official “grievance” proceeding against him. They were later joined in that by Alex Thomson of Channel 4, who Leggat had gone even further with.

Leggat resigned from the NUJ the day before his case opened; it’s as sure a way of pleading “no contest” as you’re ever likely to see.

Leggat was originally Dave King’s first choice for the PR job at Ibrox, until someone with more sense, and who realised how unpalatable that particular idea was, warned him against it. Nobody talked him out of giving Sevco blogger and religious bigot Chris Graham a seat on the board; believe me there was much sniggering in their own support, as well as in ours, when his cushy seat was whipped out from under him before the day was out.

Amazing that the media which regards Phil as some kind of bigot continued to use Graham as a mouthpiece for Sevco’s fans for weeks afterwards.

Jack Irvine’s last official role at Ibrox was as a PR spinner for the Easdale’s; some speculate that he still plays this role, and it’s instructive to think on that because the quality of some of Johnjames stuff from the environs of Ibrox suggests a very good source.

Let me say this too; there is nothing inherently wrong with that site using information supplied to them by that guy, for the purposes of destabilising the King regime and whilst Johnjames has never confirmed that Irvine is the conduit for some of the info on the site it doesn’t take a genius to work it out, with the number of times Irvine’s name is invoked on it.

Understanding this link is important for two reasons; it lets you gauge the quality of the information and it allows you to understand the wider context in which it’s made public. Based on the source, the info itself is almost certainly of a high quality, but the temptation to publish it has to be weighed against the importance of the information itself.

A good rule of thumb is that the more potentially explosive a story is the more it needs to be checked and rechecked and checked again.

One of the biggest articles this site ever published emerged in part from the Charlotte Fakeovers documents; it was the story of how Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan sold out Scottish football over the TV deal. That was so enormous and game-changing that the person who put me onto it told me that where possible I should find public information that supported everything he gave me and I was able to do that except in one instance where the quality of the info was so good that I wanted it nailed shut and wasn’t able to accomplish that; as a consequence, one of the binding facts was left out of that story altogether.

The danger with relying on “informed sources” is that every now and again those sources have their own agenda, wholly separate to that of your readership. I think I know exactly why every person who’s given me information has done so. Their agendas – and some had very clear agendas – were up front, and if there were hidden motives I am comfortable that the readers weren’t misled or given the wrong impression. The mistakes on my blogs have been mine alone.

Rivalry between the blogs is no bad thing either. Phil has excellent sources and Johnjames has excellent sources; if those sources are competing against each other to hand their writers the best scoop then that, ultimately, might prove to be a good thing for all of us. Likewise, the Scottish Football Monitor, because of its non-partisan nature has cultivated sources at various clubs and is probably still the most influential of all of the blogs because of it.

They, too, have been targeted by smears in cyberspace and elsewhere and not all of those smears have come from blogging rivals. As the newspapers become less relevant the battle for hearts and minds will more and more come to be waged on the blogs and often against those who run them. PR firms are only a part of it. There are other ways of separating the bloggers from one another and turning them against their own readers.

Johnjames isn’t the first blogger to be steered in the direction of attacking Phil and others; I know of another blogger who once considered Phil a friend, and then attacked him in a lengthy article, allegedly after Jack Irvine gave him a nudge in that direction.

There were insinuations at the time that Irvine dangled a media job in front of him; that’s another well-trodden path, another tactic that comes into play.

I’ve had semi-private overtures from one newspaper who’s name I won’t mention to write something for them. There was never an actual proper discussion about it, because I didn’t want it to go that far. With the ad guys happy with what I do, the truth is that even if I was so inclined, the mainstream media can’t offer me a better gig than the one I already have and I have no wish whatsoever to become the sort of guy who gets his face on the telly whenever a Celtic story is in the press. What right do I have to do so anyway? I speak for myself. I would never claim to be talking on behalf of the wider Celtic support.

I know guys who do that; my good friend Iain Emerson of Famous Tartan Army Magazine maintains a healthy scepticism about the media and the governing bodies, but he has a good relationship with both and frequently appears on Sky Sports News and elsewhere in the run up to major international games. He is comfortable with that, and with being a minor celebrity. He can also claim, very credibly, to speak for a large part of the Scotland support.

The Daily Record has a sometimes Celtic blogger; I actually usually enjoy the guy’s work as it goes against much of their editorial line.

But that’s a bone thrown in our direction to get a few extra readers. There are a handful of people in Celtic cyberspace – you’ll know them because they are the only ones who defend the mainstream press against the rest of us – who clearly do want MSM careers and are willing to do whatever it takes for them, but the vast majority of our fans would regard any connection with the Fourth Estate as tainted.

Sevco bloggers have leaped into media jobs at The Record with carefree abandon. There are three of them who regularly write for that paper, and much of their own support is aghast at that because they quite clearly represent the editorial line of the day, which means they represent the interests of whoever’s hand is holding Keith Jackson’s strings at any given time.

They are distrusted, no matter how much inflammatory nonsense they write about other clubs, because even the wider Sevco support is fully aware that’s a convenient cover for how little real scrutiny they give to their own.

All of this is a matter of credibility, and that’s why this article is important and why I felt I had to write it. The bloggers have earned their stripes. We are taken seriously, not just amongst the support but amongst those who wish our club harm. And some of those people are paid to combat our desire to get to the bottom of things. Their job is to keep those things hidden, and there’s no better way to do it than to attack us directly.

If Phil’s credibility is impeached, with what he’s accomplished, with the trail he’s blazed and the huge stories he’s broken, then any one of us could be next.

Attempts against mine have already been made, and my continuing issues with Facebook bans are well known to anyone who follows the blog’s group there; someone sure as Hell doesn’t like what I have to say. Attacks on CQN have become so common they are pretty much ignored now on the site by everyone who matters, and they’ve gone from strength to strength.

As far as reach into the club goes it probably has more weight than any other Celtic site … something that has been of great benefit to its readers but which continues to be used as a bludgeon against them.

Agendas are being played out. Some are personal, some are purely business. Some are a combination of both, people settling old scores and grudges, doing the job they’re paid to, but with a smile on their face.

There are a handful of us who are lucky enough to be able to do this for a living, and that we can gives us some immunity from appeals to our financial well-being. We make money and so the feel of the greasy coin of the mainstream media isn’t one we need or want in our pockets.

No-one’s going to try to buy us, so the attacks on us are less subtle.

Some folk have all their credibility wrapped up in being anti-media. The press isn’t going to have much luck tempting those folk; they’d find their influence reduced to zero overnight. They, too, can be attacked in a more open fashion.

All of us are used as conduits for information, much of which is tied to agendas that have nothing to do with the issues at hand. I have knowingly published information that was designed to slam home a message or deliver a hammer blow against someone else; the info was solid and newsworthy and important to the wider debates in our game and thus I didn’t particularly care what it accomplished for the person who gave it to me.

On other occasions, the people who’ve given me info were quite upfront about how it should be presented; when I wrote about Sevco’s “minor boardroom changes” earlier in the year I was told that I ought to be clear about how those “minor” structural adjustments were being viewed by those at the heart of them; it led to widespread disillusionment and anger, and many believed it would end in disaster. It’s hard to argue; two separate boards, the “football board” on which Robertson and now Allen serve, is wholly subservient to the one above it; no wonder nothing gets done when the actual professionals are being over-ruled by amateurs.

Those changes have led, directly, to where Sevco finds itself right now, with no manager seven weeks after Pedro was sacked.

But no source will ever get me to attack a fellow Celtic blogger. No source will convince me to play divide and conquer. I can spot a wedge issue a mile away; I have a background in political activism after all, and I’ve seen my share of campaigns designed around them.

When Sevco published their statement the other night, the one attacking McInnes, the entire blogosphere was united in criticising its petty, spiteful tone.

It would be sad if all our endeavours of the past few years were in vain because some of us had been reduced to the same sort of vindictiveness against one another. It would be worse than sad, it would be tragic, if we allowed the same people who brought our game to this sorry state to turn us against each other.

These people are out there, and their game is clear.

We represent the single biggest threat to the media-PR hegemony which has locked our sport into this spiral of scandal. With men like King at the helm at Ibrox, with people like Regan and Doncaster clinging on for dear life at the SFA, with guys like Dickson still climbing the ladder, with Kris Boyd and an assortment of placemen in the media, with Traynor and Irvine still out there, fighting a furious war against the new opinion makers and each other, the stakes could not be higher.

I want to see us working together.

Some people will strive to make sure we don’t.

I do not want those people to win.

To that end, I would urge people that whenever you read an attack of one of us – or before you write one – focus on what that attack accomplishes. If it’s an effort to divide our forces, then it doesn’t accomplish anything positive for our side and people are fully entitled to wonder which other agenda is being pursued.

If it’s to settle a personal grudge, then people will legitimately want to consider the nature of the writer. But these things are so rarely personal … behind all of them, there’s nearly always someone holding the strings.

Remember, it’s strictly business.

And we know what the “business” is.

It’s Scottish football’s business as usual.

James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

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