Today I fully expected to be writing something for the run-up to the Scotland game in Cardiff, but I made a promise to myself when I started this blog that it would focus on the wider issues facing our game, that I would reflect the mood and try and touch on what was making the headlines and prompting discussion.
Tough as it is, when I want to move on from it, there is still one story which drives all others before it, and that’s the continuing saga of Rangers.
Today is the day on which the liquidation of the oldco is formalised, and it raises a number of serious, and hard, questions, and I want to cover them, as well as some other stuff. But for now, let’s think about what today represents.
It’s the day on which a door closes on a part of Scottish football, a part which brings little credit to our national game. The dumping of over £100 million in toxic debts is the culmination of years of abuse, of years of shady practices, and it ends in one of the most disgraceful corporate scandals in the history of this county. In an earlier blog, I highlighted the human cost of these affairs, as it relates to monies withheld from the Treasury. I could have written, with equal parts anger and dismay, about the small businesses which suffered, the local traders who won’t get paid and the ordinary people left out of pocket. This is a Greek Tragedy.
I use that term very specifically, as I’ll explain shortly.
As heavy as today’s closing the book on Oldco Rangers is, it was never going to be the final word on this matter, or on this sordid affair. To be blunt, that could take years, and there is a growing likelihood that we will not know all the facts, or even a good percentage of them, before they see the light of day in a court of law. That is the measure of what we’re dealing with here. This is going to wind up in front of a judge, and possibly a jury.
Let’s talk then about the two diametrically opposed engines of a Greek Tragedy, the Dionysian and the Apollonian. The origin of the words themselves should tell those familiar with Greek mythology what each represents, but I’ll give you a brief recap.
Zeus, the ruler of the Olympians, had two sons, Dionysus and Apollo. Apollo was the God of the Sun, of order, of the arts, of creativity. Dionysus was the God of Wine, and his particular inspirations were in the areas of revelry, of enjoyment, of having a rare old time. These two very different characters, one motivated by intellect, the other by emotion, are the central planks of Greek Tragedy. It is easy to see which of the two has brought Rangers to this sorry pass.
Forget all the talk about a strategy that went wrong at Ibrox. The strategy was a surface thing only. The collapse of that club is a Dionysian tale if ever there was one. It was emotion, not intellect, which charted the course … with the horrendous results we all see today. The whole recent history of Rangers was a Dionysian construct, and the supporters in particular are 100% Dionysian in nature. Anyone who knows how to play them, who understands which buttons to push, can get any reaction they want, and, as someone who understands that clearly, I write this knowing full well it will annoy scores of them. Yet it’s true, and it never, ever changes.
For the sake of Rangers, and in a sense for Scottish football itself, the events which culminated, today, in the liquidation of the Oldco should have resulted in an Apollonian resurrection of this club, a realisation of everything that went wrong, something built, from that moment, on a rational, and sustainable, basis. In fact, when Charles Green’s takeover was complete, and he offered his apology for the club’s sins past, and that was echoed by the new chairman, Malcolm Murray, there was a moment when I thought that was exactly what they’d got. It would have been a great moment for the game here, a moment worthy of genuine celebration, had that been the case. Green, as an outsider, with none of the historical baggage, or background, in the cesspits of the West of Scotland, had a chance to transform the entire institution, and in doing so perform an enormous service to the whole of the Scottish game. I hoped it would be so.
But the nature of Rangers was never going to lend itself to that kind of change. No-one at Ibrox wanted to hear talk of healing, of atonement, of making amends, of reconstruction and of a long road back to the top. Study the language if you doubt it. Almost every phrase which has come to be connected with their present situation is a big Dionysian red flag. They are defiant, and proud. They don’t surrender, and they don’t do walking away. They are not seeking to build bridges but to build walls, with talk focussed on those who are arrayed against them, and endless monologues about conspiracy replacing more conciliatory discourse.
That talk has been replaced by the terminology of the vendetta; Green talks about never forgiving, or forgetting. He fosters resentment like a farmer planting the seeds of a future harvest, either ignorant of, or not caring about, the damage that will do to relations between his club and others, between the governing bodies, between individual clubs themselves and, most importantly, to the relations between the fans of his team and those of other sides. He feeds the lynch mob tendency, gives fuel to the paranoid fantasists and artlessly tends to the egos of the supremacists.
In this, he is aided and abetted by the manager, Ally McCoist, who understands very well this Dionysian mind-set, as he grew up bathed in the culture.
Furthermore, Green dictates terms, like a war leader, with demands for change and for respect, as if he had won every battle since taking over instead of beating a series of retreats. Listening to him lately, you forget he didn’t start out this way; when he made his apology to Scottish football shortly after taking over, he spoke about respecting other clubs feelings, and about why the general mood might be to impose the rules, rather than make an exception, and he understood this, he said, and was ready to live with whatever they eventually decided.
Am I suggesting that Green had positive motives at the start? I would not go as far as that. He has a reputation which was known well before he arrived in this city, with, amongst others, the fans of Sheffield United ready to testify about his way of doing business. He had a string of dissolutions and failed companies the equal of Craig Whyte, and the contemptuous way he spoke about the other interested parties, amongst them Rangers legend Walter Smith, and former director Paul Murray, was full of the arrogance we have lately come to recognise. He struck me then, as now, as a cowboy, interested in the quick buck, with no grand plan beyond that.
Yet, his early tenure could have offered optimism and hope, instead of bitterness, recrimination and a further lurch into the darkness. Oddly, Green is an Apollonian by nature. He likes order. He likes to do things in a very structured way. He is a typical “hard-nosed businessman”, interested only in the bottom line, and in getting things done.
When at Sheffield United, the source of much of the trouble was the open and straightforward way he did things. If there was division – and there was, lots of it – it is because he preferred to confront the fans with the necessity of change, with the sharp edged sword of truth. He told them to like or lump it, because he knew better, he said, and their opinions be damned.
He started out like a man fully prepared to do the same at Rangers, and he did not have to preside over a period that divided the game. In that I think his hand was forced. He surely would not have set out to do things this way. It’s all become a bit shambolic and haywire.
What went wrong? I think, for a start, the arrival on the scene of Smith, who’s takeover attempts were ill-judged and embarrassingly late in the day. Green’s dismissal of this consortium led to the insanely overblown attempted counter-revolution by John Brown, which, although it was a transparent nonsense, laughably executed, and vaguely sinister, had the crazy backing of perhaps the most Dionysian media in the world.
So it was that from almost the day he was in the door, Green was faced with the most reactionary elements of the club pressuring him, pushing him in a different direction from he intended. Green knows football fans, and the Rangers fans in particular are well known, with proclivities which are not exactly a secret. It is also clear that Green was, at an early stage, in touch with the PR firm Media House, and so he’d have known how “pliable” the Scottish press can be. With money invested in the club, either his or someone else’s, and a need to recoup it quickly, any campaign which sought to deprive the club of cash was highly dangerous to him.
And so he changed his tune. Talking rationally, about hard choices, trying to build bridges and open dialogue, was not what the fans wanted. John Brown was talking about enemies within, and enemies without, and the fans and press were lapping it up – Hugh Keevins in particular was keen to share his enthusiasm for Brown and his “style” – and Green didn’t need highly paid public relations advisors to tell him what he should do next. The second Brown’s voice dropped below a shriek, Green began to play to the gallery himself, and he’s not stopped since.
Now, with the share issue looming, he is making ever more grandiose statements, keeping the press writing war stories, and lowering the tone of debate. To the untrained eye, this is all a sop to keep his supporters interested in his “vision”, but there’s more going on. I look at Green these days, at the glint in his eye, and I see a man who can’t believe his luck.
His experience at Sheffield United would have prepared him for criticism and hard times. It would have given him the stomach for a fight, even if that fight was with his own fans. With his wide-boy mentality he would have been fully prepared for the hard-sell if that’s what it took. Indeed, he is rumoured to have told Brown that he could close the gates of Ibrox forever if he had a mind, and it seems clear he would have presented the fans with a straight choice between their club living and dying, and then told them the cost of saving it. Faced with that choice, I have little doubt Rangers fans would have come up with much of the cash required, and between them and those, like Smith, waiting in the wings, Green would have gotten the investors enough to walk away without a second thought or a backward glance. Indeed, his early statements make it abundantly clear that a sharp exit is exactly what he had in mind. There is no such talk now.
Yet the plan hasn’t changed. Only the means of accomplishing it have. Green has sussed that brutal truth is not needed here. He does not need to make friends amongst the other clubs. He does not have to deal respectfully with the authorities, or even need to be in the SPL, in order to make the club seem credible to outsiders.
Why should he, when he can rely on the “goodwill” of 30,000 supporters each week, and a media which laps up his every utterance, as they did with Whyte before him? These are all the “credibility” he needs.
The plan was never to attract outside investors. He knows the market – football as a whole – does not support that. There is no money to be made in the game any longer. Even those clubs which are “swimming in cash” are no longer rich. Indeed, many languish in debts which in another business would have pushed them to the wall in the way Rangers were. No, the plan was always to get the Rangers fans to buy him out, but whereas Green initially believed he could accomplish this by telling them it was invest or die, he has found out there’s an easier road.
Instead of assassins in the shadows, which he must have expected, many of the fans now form Green’s praetorian guard. To get them onside, all he needed was an understanding of the Dionysian nature of the Rangers support; the visceral, the emotional, the irrational. He spoke the language they wanted to hear, and regardless of whether he believes it or not, it’s worked out splendidly for him. He now has them amped up and hanging on his every word.
Sadly, for Charles Green, and tragically for the game here, it won’t be enough. In taking the low road he has abandoned his better judgement, and his own business instincts.
The plan he originally intended following, wholly Apollonian in concept, depended on the Dionysian characteristics of the Rangers support, but it was structured more rationally, and would have stood up to scrutiny, because at its core it would essentially have been true in its nature.
In embracing Dionysus, Green has abandoned common sense. In pitching to the gut reactions of the Rangers supporters, and the wishful thinking of a media which wants a return to the way things were before, he seems now to say whatever pops into his head. For a man supposed to be engaged in a serious endeavour, today’s statements, to an audience of business journalists, were without merit of any kind. His grasp on facts was virtually non-existent. His projections for Rangers’ earnings were pie-in-the-sky nonsense of the worst kind, as anyone with even the tiniest knowledge of football finance must have recognized in an instant.
He was patronising, insulting English Premiership clubs in a ludicrous, incontinent rant. He should be embarrassed that whilst sitting in front of financial experts he wrongly claimed Aston Villa earn £250 million annually – his quoted figures were £158 million out – but even worse, he then compounded his shame by contemptuously referring to the EPL club as “completely useless.” That comment is so crass, unprofessional and heedless his audience must have been appalled. A man in front of those writers should have been weighed down with facts. He should have been clear-headed and competent. Instead, he was scandalously unprepared, lax and pulling numbers out of thin air to support his increasingly ridiculous claims.
A brief flavour of them, just to offer a taste.
He stated that in the last eight years Rangers have spent £100 million on transfers, and brought in just £5 million. The first figure is nonsense, the second is either contemptible ignorance or something worse. One deal in the last 12 months – the sale of Nikica Jelavic to Everton – brought in more than that. Not knowing the big stuff is bad. Not knowing the basics, and his club’s transfer income in recent years is pretty basic, is unforgivable.
The man whose team has just been beaten by the bottom club in Scotland’s professional league structure then offered his prediction, apparently in all seriousness, that if the European leagues were restructured with the top 36 clubs playing in two top divisions, that his side would certainly be involved. Presumably Aston Villa, a former Champions Cup winner, won’t be.
Not content merely with insulting clubs in England, he then insulted every club in this country outside the SPL (and insulting them was not far from his mind, or tongue), when he talked about how the club assumed they would “meander back to the top division in Scotland …” This was shortly after he’d bizarrely claimed the club could make money by denying all access to the press, doing everything through the club’s own outlets, and, it must be presumed, charging fans for the privilege of knowing what’s going on with their team. This, by the way, was stated as his explicit intention.
This would be an unprecedented step, potentially breaching a number of commercial contracts, and risking the ire of the entire Scottish press corps. I look forward to seeing how they cover this particular claim in the next couple of days.
He talked about football coverage “migrating to the web”, using the example of Youview purchasing “just a few” Premiership matches for £738 million. Was he truly ignorant as to the details of that deal, which would be bad, or just gilding the lily and hoping no-one amongst his audience would have a grasp on them? Youview is a pay-per-view TV and online network being developed by BT Vision, as a rival to the virtual hegemony of Sky. Far from giving clubs greater flexibility, deals like this will tie them even more tightly to the big broadcasters. And how many matches are “just a few”?
Try a two-deal package of 38 games.
He talked about the “financial benefits” of Scottish football, offering, as his carrot, the “guarantee” of European football every year. He suggested that an investment of £50 million for this dubious advantage would not be too high a price to pay.
Even if this were true, and there are no numbers which come close to bearing it out, his own club is facing a guaranteed minimum of two more years where they won’t even be eligible to play at that level.
His turnover predictions were fanciful. He forecast £100 million annual income eventually, based on speculative nonsense like £5 – 10 million in rent from properties not yet built, or even planned; on merchandising reaching maximum earnings beyond those the club has ever had before; sponsorship worth as much as £40 million (where this came from I have no idea), and a leap in earnings once they are in Europe which would necessitate reaching the latter stages (the quarter finals at least) in the Champions League every single season.
Even his statements about the £20 million he’s seeking were bizarre, and contradictory. He talked about his “investors” getting 100% returns on their cash, which presumably would remove as much as £10 million from the pot, as well as putting some away for Ally McCoist and investing in infrastructure. His plans in that area involved building a bar.
“In Scotland you can’t get a drink unless you’re in a members club. We’ve got a club that costs you £700 a year for membership. I’ve got a stand behind the goal with nothing behind it – stick a bar in there, cost you £1m,” he said, in a bewildering statement. It is hard to know which part of it is the most mad; the notion of spending £1 million on starting a pub or the idea he has never been in a Weatherspoons.
What might be even more surprising, to Celtic and others, I would assume, is the notion that this amazing investment would earn the club £2 million in annual profits. One can only wonder, with horror, at the likely price of a pint.
Furthermore, every one of his financial projections depends on being in Scotland’s top division, and yet he has openly said he doesn’t want to take a place in it, even if his club were to secure it, if it exists in its present form.
Although it’s the foundation stone of his entire business plan, he appears to be making his club’s participation in that league conditional on a number of his demands being met – an instance of egotism I find hard to credit as rational.
None of this is even vaguely credible, yet it was all satisfyingly received by the Dionysian support who were similarly seduced last year by the Great Whyte Hype, and talk of £25 million “transfer war-chests” and “off the radar wealth.” An Apollonian support – one which would suspend its fondest dreams to look critically at this stuff – would not accept being spoon-fed ignorant nonsense like this. Rangers fan sites are almost orgasmic with joy.
Yet it is their money Green wants. No “institutional investor” – the stated target audience for today’s shambolic interview – would entertain this guy, based on this display.
Which serious corporate or personal portfolio manager would go back to a client and recommend this deal, based on a mass of disreputable garbage like this, even if the investment itself was not in an un-disclosed segment of a phoenix company, emerging from the ashes of a liquidation?
Green’s statements are crowd pleasers, intended for a very specific, and narrow, audience, but they do enormous damage to the credibility of the club itself, and with it the reputation of the Scottish game.
The potential damage, should Rangers again tumble into a nightmare of debts, administration and even another liquidation would be simply staggering.
They might bring about the very “financial Armageddon” which was predicted this summer. The overall standing of our game would certainly never recover from it.
Rangers fans have already seen their original shares wiped out. In spite of Green’s statements about the club living on, their claim to own part of it does not. I don’t know how they square that circle, and as it’s not my money I don’t particularly care, but they should definitely think on it, and examine the inconsistencies and outright falsehoods, in the statements above, before they give this man another penny of their cash. Frankly, he insults them with displays like that. He is banking not on their tendency towards gut reactions but on the notion they are simply incapable of thought. He is calling them stupid, and he is doing it quite blatantly.
They should seek clarification on exactly what they are being asked to buy, as well as details on exactly where the money will be going. If it’s for capital investment, in his talked about bars for instance, then all well and good. Capital investment is credible, and laudable, even if the numbers he’s quoting are on the preposterous side.
If it’s to go in a bank account for the manager to spend on more substandard players, at a future time, I would be concerned.
If it’s for “running costs”, for day to day stuff, then I would be deathly afraid, because the club is already perilously close to being skint.
Rangers fans need to start thinking clearly about where their club is heading. They need to put aside all the conspiracy nonsense, their superiority complex, and start looking at the big picture. They will not like what they see at first, but Pepto-Bismol doesn’t look particularly good and it works like a charm. There may not be a spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down either, but once the stuff starts to take effect they will feel a whole lot better. They have to start looking critically at what they read in the press, especially if it’s positive. The same media which cheered Craig Whyte to their front door is now behind the man who bought the club from him. Do they need reminding that these journalists also had a spell when they backed Walter Smith, and another where they were lining up behind John Brown? Was Green seen as credible then? These people also initially gave rave reviews to Bill Millar, and to the Asian consortium before him.
Who’s interests are they serving? We know Green is playing to the gallery, counting on ignorance to see him through. Some of our hacks have long played the same game, and at the Rangers fans expense. Their club would not be where it is today without writers, their papers, their radio shows and their contemptuous disregard for facts.
Experience has taught me to be suspicious when you hear just what you want to hear. How much longer can Rangers fans go on hoping everything will be alright, when the evidence to the contrary is as overwhelming as it is here?
They have to wake up sometime.
Doing that will involve a paradigm shift in their thinking. It will involve a suspension – perhaps even a rejection – of the Dionysian attitudes that have characterised the whole recent history of their club. I think that adjustment is probably far beyond them, and it’s not because they don’t have the intellect to grasp it but because there is a certain comfort in gut reactions, and in indulging in fantasy. There is a dark attraction to living in ignorance and hoping for the best, and over time retreating into that becomes a habit, and a habit as ingrained as this one is will be difficult, if not impossible, for the majority of them to break. It requires a full-scale cultural revolution in their ranks, and the idea will not find favour with enough of them to make it work.
Yet something has to give. Their club is only a few months old, and already there are strong rumours that it’s living on borrowed time. When Green is going to such extraordinary and desperate lengths to keep the fans onside, in order that they part with their cash, questions need to be asked about how bad things really are, and what the great urgency is to have this share issue right now.
This is a crucial juncture for them.
In Roman culture, there was no direct connection between their Apollo and the son of Zeus so beloved by the Greeks. It was the emperor Augustus who promoted Rome’s Apollonian tradition, but he had an ulterior motive in that he considered a special kinship existed between himself and the deity, and eventually claimed to be his son. This was a clear factor in strengthening Augustus’ power within Rome. In other words, it was an extremely clever strategy for maintaining control.
The Roman name for Dionysus is Bacchus. The temples built in his honour, and the celebrations in his name, as well as the cults which rose around it, were all about drinking, debauchery, free will, hedonism and abandon. They promoted the wildest orgies ever held. The Roman’s built temples to Bacchus as a way of raising morale amongst the people, and they were common constructions in times of social unrest or war. This too was, at first, a highly effective means of keeping control.
It took the Roman powers a while to realise that this was a mistake, that feeding the worst excesses of the mob was a bad idea, and that such unrestricted behaviour erodes order, and discipline. Eventually the Senate grew concerned enough to ban the Bacchanalia almost entirely, except where they were subject to very strict rules.
The lesson should not be lost on the followers of Scotland’s fallen football giants. Sooner or later, the party has to end and then it’s time to face reality.
This would be a good time for them to start.
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