Over the last two weeks, as Scottish football’s media, and many of us, have been focused first on Celtic’s UEFA Champions League knock-out, and then the disastrous errors at Legia, followed by our reinstatement and then the appeal, crisis has come swirling up the Broomloan Road again, catching many people by surprise.
Not everyone though. Those of us who watch the goings on at that club with the fascination people once reserved for traveling freak shows have had a lot to ponder over.
No sooner had the full-time whistle blown at Ibrox at the weekend, consigning them to defeat in their first league game, but the Sevco websites went into meltdown with fans demanding the manager’s head. In the press conference after the match he attempted to lay the blame for an inept performance, and bizarre tactical decisions, at the feet of Charles Green, a suggestion that inspired the full fury of the club’s fans.
There is barely a Sevco fan anywhere who remains convinced that McCoist is the man to take them forward into their Brave New Dawn. They look at a league including Hibs, Hearts, Falkirk, Raith and others, full-time footballers as opposed to part-timers, and they are scared.
They know that a 35 year old Kenny Miller isn’t going to cover every blade of grass anymore. They know Boyd is not the kind of guy you want in the team on those days when you need every footballer to fight for every ball. They know the midfield is uninspiring, the defence is prone to basic errors and that players who haven’t been seriously tested for two years have gone backwards, and it terrifies them to think of what might be coming.
I don’t know how many thousands of words I’ve devoted to this subject, or how many have been given to it by other Celtic bloggers. Enough, definitely, to fill not only a book but a library of books.
We’ve covered this from every angle the media won’t. We’ve detailed facts, we’ve uncovered truth, we’ve even, on occasion, speculated and indulged in some guesswork, and our imaginations must be good cause we’ve been right as often as we’ve been wrong.
All of this we’ve detailed. All of it has been published online, where it can be found, and it can be read, by anyone who wants to know the truth.
Still, a lot of Sevco fans, and much of our sports media, exist in a state of denial, as if none of this information existed. They prefer not to listen. They prefer not to know.
The impulse is easy to understand, on a human level. There’s a scene in Eric L. Harry’s book Arc Light where an aircraft hanger full of soldiers get on their knees, and put their heads between them, and jam their eyes shut and stick their fingers in their ears as they wait for a missile to hit. It’s carrying a nuclear warhead, targeted on the runway outside. They huddle together and they brace themselves … knowing they’re already dead.
Yes, I understand the impulse alright. Close your eyes tight enough and cover your ears and you could probably make it through the first seconds of the end of the world without being “aware” of it.
Then reality hits home, and on comes the pain.
The pain is on its way for the Sevco supporters, and I can’t help think it’s so unnecessary.
In an earlier article I wondered why this club hadn’t eaten the bullet towards the end of last season. The opportunity was there.
The regulations in Scotland are lax enough that they’d still have won the title. It would have been farcical, but we’ve seen a particularly egregious example recently of how regulations can be that way, even when they are followed to the letter, which in Scotland they very rarely are.
A 25 point deduction would have hurt, but it would not have been a catastrophe. The bigger hits would have been psychological, and reputational. But they would have survived, and they would have been able to cut costs and move forward.
To have waited until the hammer was poised over them during the most important year in their short history was … folly. It was unpardonable, unfathomable folly, and when the rent comes due it will be off the scale. There is no way they’re going to make it until the season ends.
When the 120 Day Review was published, I wrote a long article about how optimistic some of its objectives were.
It is nice to have objectives. I published my third book on Kindle earlier this year, Twisted, and I’d like to think it’ll eventually sell 10,000 copies. But right now it’s barely cracked a hundred or so. The objective remains. I have no idea how I’m going to get there, and I’m well aware that it’s going to take a large slice of luck, but it’s all good. I know it can be done, cause I’m good at the fictional stuff, and I only need to be “discovered.”
Luck will not help Sevco Rangers. They set their sights way too high. The old adage that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp wasn’t an inducement to attempt the impossible. Their projections veered out of reality and into fantasy, and they didn’t even try to argue otherwise.
The review was little more than a series of half-formed hopes. They didn’t bother to provide any road-map to achieving them. That was the first big blinking warning light for their fans.
The roof has already come down on one of those assumptions in the last fortnight, the notion that they could go back to the City and raise the requisite monies to keep on the lights. Their shortfall in season tickets leaves them in acute danger, and the cash to repair the damage is not going to come from outsiders buying in with the promise of jam tomorrow. The City might have bitten once, but they’re watching chaos erupt at every level at Sevco, and they are leery of going anywhere near it.
A £10 million target has been chopped by more than half, to £4 million, this time on offer to “existing small shareholders”, i.e. the fans who have already been conned once. I read a post from an Ibrox bond holder recently, reeling in shock from receiving a letter saying his rights under it would no longer be upheld past this season. He says he won’t – that he can’t – renew. How many of their supporters can, or will? How many have bought season tickets? How many can they rely on to buy shares?
Even if the requisite number of willing fans can be met, it’s still not cut and dried. This has to be put to a vote at an AGM, and whatever scenario they pursue will involve some dilution of the holdings for everyone else. Approval for this is not a slam dunk.
It was into this vortex of doubt that Charles Green stepped a week ago, with a “plan” to bring in George Soros amongst others, a notion so howling at the moon ridiculous it would have been laughed out of the offices of Mad Magazine. Despite Green’s claim that Soros was game, it took less than 48 hours for this particular fiction to be shot to bits, a record even for him.
Despite the return of the clowns, last week still managed to generate a further frisson of excitement for their supporters when Keith Jackson got another “exclusive”, which suggested that Phil Nash had extended an olive branch to Dave King. Those who were taken in by this appear not to have noticed that it’s the third time this year that someone from the Sevco board has made such an offer.
The board and King have nothing to give each other. The existing power-brokers won’t relinquish control and King won’t put up his own money. It was nothing more than a piece of theater, a bit of PR.
It generated one day’s headlines but accomplished nothing. King didn’t even respond.
If Green’s consortium of billionaires isn’t going to fund it and if the South African tax cheat isn’t answering the phone, just what is the plan? How deep is the hole right now? £4 million, even if it can be raised, barely sounds like enough to keep water coming out of the taps, and we don’t know what condition the taps themselves are in. One hack wrote last week about Ibrox needing a lick of paint, and he was talking about a ground that’s just come out of hosting Commonwealth Games events, when it should have been at its shiny best.
If basic stuff like that isn’t being done, they are toast. God knows what problems lie behind the plastic sheeting and the cheap sheet-rock boards they’ve got stuck up all over the place, like a one day trade convention. There are rumours that major renovations are required, with estimates wildly varying between the mid hundreds of thousands, arcing up into the stratosphere of tens of millions. If it’s just the burst pipes they’ll be on the lower end of that scale, which will be difficult enough for the club to fix. If there really is asbestos leaking out of the walls and major structural damage to fix they might as well switch off the lights and shut the doors right now.
The infrastructure costs of running their club out of that ground are already monumental. One of their first problem with starting down the road of the Continuation Myth was it wouldn’t have stood up without everything being based at Ibrox and Murray Park, and we already know they can’t afford to do both. Even paying for one might prove beyond their means, and all of it before a penny is spent on what’s out on the pitch.
This week saw a series of transfer rumours concerning Lee Wallace, and nothing that’s happening at Ibrox should scare the Sevco fans more than what these stories reveal. The club has denied the offer was made, allegedly from Brighton, but there appears to be more to them than just conjecture. The bid is said to be in the region of £600,000. He is their best player.
Celtic has just sold their goalkeeper for £10,000,000 and there is a ready made replacement in the squad, and already in the team. Virgil Van Dijk could net us the same fee again. Add to that what we would get for Commons, for Johannsen, for Matthews, for Ambrose … I could go on and the mountain of money could pile up until it blocked out the Sun.
Sevco’s entire squad is probably not worth what we would get for the sale of one of our minor first team performers, and there is no money in the bank with which to bring better quality footballers in.
Our Champions League reprieve, if it ends in Group Stage qualification – indeed, the guarantee of European football until Christmas, come what may – will increase a financial gap which I already cannot imagine they’ll ever be able to bridge.
Those who have spent this week defending the strategy can point to that, at least, as the proof that we’re doing it right where it counts. I think we lack imagination in the big areas, that and ambition, and too many of us have allowed the state of the club playing out of Ibrox to spook us into inaction, but what we don’t lack is professionalism and financial muscle.
They have neither and over the long term that is going to make a huge, huge difference.
Much of their own “strategy” is predicated on European football, but first you need a squad capable of getting there, and second you need a squad capable of performing past one round. We’ve didn’t manage to get past two this time, on the park at least, and we have 100 times their resources.
It is all too easy to imagine Sevco getting into the Europa League early qualifiers only to find that teams from Scandinavia are a cut above what they expected, and being well beaten.
McCoist couldn’t win on that stage with a team full of highly paid stars. What chance does he have of working a miracle with a midfield featuring Ian Black and Kenny Miller, in his late thirties, still being asked to run like a guy half his age?
They only make real money if they progress in one of the two competitions, and if we’re being honest the big money, the kind that could fix some of their problems, is only available in one of them.
Every time I hear this line about how European football can save them, I want to laugh. Those trying to sell that as the answer to all their prayers ought to try selling ice to the Eskimos next. It’s an absolute fiction. They are a minimum of ten years away from being even remotely ready to play at Champions League group level, even if they could somehow get there.
Despite all this, the sheer impossibility of recovering the ground, the pressure on their board to come up with answers is only going to increase. The pressure on McCoist to get better results is only going to increase. They need stability, a period of calm, but in the growing darkness they will find only more trouble, more negative prospects, more pain.
Only one thing will help them; a huge influx of money. Vast sums of it, from someone who doesn’t expect, or want, to get it back. If such a person existed they wouldn’t have died in the first place.
Forget finding investors. Investment isn’t a word they understand at Ibrox. The money they’re trying to raise right now isn’t going to be used to grow the club. It’ll be used to keep the power on. The money they’re talking about raising won’t be pumped into infrastructure. It’ll be used in a one-off splurge to try and catch Celtic, and when it’s gone … they’re gone with it.
Anyone who wants to spend that kind money has to know it’s not going to be returned. Sevco is two a bit years old and already circling the drain. The minute money reaches the gravitational pull of the Ibrox black hole it disappears forever. All football clubs eat money like a swarm of termites. Sevco, like Rangers before it, has a ravenous appetite that no-one ever tried to wean them off.
There’s a scene in The Simpsons where Homer is sent to Hell. As a punishment, he’s strapped into a chair and a machine stuffs donuts into his mouth ten at a time. To the horror of Satan, Homer grows bigger and bigger and bigger, but he never stops eating, instead saying “More … More … More …” between mouthfuls. That’s how Sevco does spending, and all that gets bigger is the debt.
It was much the same at Rangers, and that, more than Craig Whyte, more than HMRC, more the Grand Conspiracy of the Unseen Fenian Hand, is what killed them.
Tonight they take on Falkirk, in a match that’s already being seen in some quarters as a “must win game.” The season is barely two weeks old, but if they lose the manager is in deep trouble. There are already rumblings of discontent in the boardroom, and the fans are ready to revolt.
The directors know what the fans do, of course, and what I predicted when Sevco started it’s long climb, that sooner or later they will be faced with an appalling choice over McCoist. If they continue with him they’re bust. He can’t operate on a shoestring and he has no idea how to develop young talent. He’s a graduate of the Walter Smith School of Big Spending, and that and Ugly Football is all he knows and its all he’s got in the locker.
Yet sack him and it will cost a cool million they cannot afford to spend. They’ll then have to find a new manager, who’s first act, if he has any sense at all, will be to look at the squad and start planning a clear-out. Where’s the money coming from to do it?
You cannot look at the situation they’ve found themselves in and be less than astounded, as well as amused. Theirs was to be the Great Adventure, climbing the leagues with a young, vibrant team that would play together for years and grow and evolve. They hoped that would give them the financial underpinning to spend big when they reached the SPL.
Instead, they are impoverished on and off the park. They have rejected youth in favour of tried and tested old warriors who are well past their best. Their top player is being touted for sale for a price Rangers would not have balked at spending on a third-rate bench warmer, and if he goes they can forget replacing him with anyone of comparable ability.
All they have to warm them in the night is the fantasy that someone, somewhere, will ride out of the swirling gloom on a white horse with a bag full of gold, and even this is a lose-and-die scenario with only a small probability of success.
Bruce Springsteen is perhaps the greatest storyteller-songwriter of the last 50 years, and the title song of his fourth album is one of the finest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It is a story of one man risking his life, the last thing he has left in the world, on one shot at glory, in a suicidal drag-race.
That’s Sevco in a nutshell.
They are about to disappear into the Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
Welcome to their season of blood, sweat and tears.
This is the Beginning of the End.
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