On the afternoon of 20 April 1945, the high command of Nazi Germany threw a party to celebrate the 56th birthday of Adolf Hitler. Eva Braun played hostess that day, leading the chorus of singing and revelry, which quickly degenerated into a drunken frenzy. The birthday boy himself didn’t attend the party. He had other things on his mind.
The Russians had just broken through the last defences on their way to Berlin. Eva Braun’s garish do was the final fling, the last hurrah. It was held in the Führerbunker, the last redoubt for the party faithful, those who wanted to be beside the Great Leader until the end.
During the celebrations, a Russian shell landed inside the grounds, a wall collapsed and the party was abandoned. Everyone found his or her own little corner in which to get pissed, and thus they commemorated the end of the empire.
Any illusions they had about the mental state of the man they’d followed into the abyss were shattered the follow day when he presided over a military conference where the only genius he was able to muster was in issuing impossible orders to phantom units and placing his faith in a miracle.
A day later, during another military meeting, when he was told his favourite general, Steiner, had opted not to risk his largely un-armed troops in a suicide mission, Hitler flew into a petulant rage, conceded the loss of the war, blaming the generals and the German people, and announced he would commit suicide.
The most brutal, unflinching and realistic picture we have of these scenes is the one put on film by Oliver Hirschbiegel, in the outstanding, harrowing, multi-award winning movie Downfall, where Bruno Ganz captures every erratic gesture and moment with an almost eerie talent.
Some of us know the scene best from the dozens of parodies available on YouTube, many of them featuring the last days of a certain football club from Glasgow.
This is not for nothing. Yet, I always felt that, as funny as those parodies are, the Fall of the House of Murray was not really analogous, because it lacked that desperate, angry, backs-to-the-wall quality captured so brilliantly in that film. Murray’s escape from the cataclysm that was to befall Rangers was more akin to what happened at Dunkirk. He made it across the water, averted a calamity on his watch and even today there are some in the media content to point the finger only at Craig Whyte, ignoring the havoc Murray brought down on his club.
Dunkirk was a miracle only in that the British Expeditionary Force survived it. In truth, the series of events in which it was a part ended in a crushing military defeat which, but for a brilliant serious of improvisations, and some bad strategy in Berlin, would have been an unimaginable disaster instead.
History has not forgotten that, but most historians looking back at the events, tend to spin it the other way, and that’s perfectly valid. Some Scottish football historians will, doubtless, try to do the same when they look back on David Murray’s reign, but their “work” will be negated slightly, as they’re not the only ones who’ll be writing about that period.
No, I think the parodies to come, those which lay out the collapse of Project Sevco, will be much more savvy, more on the button, reflecting an event every bit as chaotic and surreal as the last days of the Third Reich must have been. We’re living through our own little bit of history here, and only by stepping back from it can we appreciate it fully.
Let me offer you this analogy as an example; a guy walks across his living room, with his classical music on in the background. He has a glass of sherry in one hand, and he stands at the window, looking out into unbelievable chaos. People are running hither and thither, frantic, out of their minds. Some are pointing at him, shouting, gesturing wildly. They look insane from his vantage point, amidst his soothing sounds, warmth and the comfort of a stiff drink.
Yet step outside into the chaos, and look again. There is a crazy man, standing in the window sipping on an alcoholic beverage, whilst, above him, the house is on fire, and it’s about to collapse …
The view from the inside and the view from the outside are two very different things.
What we’re seeing at Ibrox right now really is The Last Hurrah. There’s nowhere else for the club to go in its current form. Cloned from the carcass of Rangers Football Club Limited, the NewCo is doomed to repeat its fate, to go down into administration and probably worse.
They could have allowed what was dead to stay that way, and start afresh. Instead, they rescued the corpse from the graveside, sat it down on mother’s favourite chair, pulled on her clobber and began talking in her voice. This would have been unhealthy in itself, but when all the old baggage was carried over intact, that was a recipe for disaster. Mother liked killing young girls. Rangers liked spending money like Victoria Beckham on uppers.
The mind-set came over with the club colours, and that’s the problem. Because although a NewCo to everyone else, they remained Rangers in the eyes of the fans, and no amount of logic or reason could make them see different. Instead, we who point it out are labelled haters and obsessives, when all we are trying to do is make people realise that the illusion that a corpse is still living is not a good thing, or a scenario which usually has a happy ending.
I have examined this thing from every conceivable angle, trying to see what the Blue Knights see, or what the current Rangers board does. I can find no logic in either group. Both appear to be making promises they can’t keep, both appear to be hell-bent on a course of action that sees real spending ramped up, when they can barely keep the lights on right now. The Rangers fans are being force fed a diet of garbage, urged to support one side or another when, in truth, neither side has a clue how to dig their way out of the hole the club is sinking into.
In recent days, the Murray group has tried to gets its excuses in early, just in case, by some quirk of fate, they do end up with their hands on the controls. I remain convinced that this is the last thing these people really want. It seems clear to me they’ll posture and preen and wait for the train wreck to happen on someone else’s watch, and then hope to “rescue” the club from the aftermath, where they will be lauded as heroes, briefly, before the bloodletting starts.
In that scenario, they have the perfect alibi. “Who, me guv? I was standing right over there when it happened. Witnessed the lot, but could do nothing about it.” If they somehow found themselves in control of this mess, I think it would scare the Hell out of them.
Yesterday seems to confirm that view, in that they were talking about how all will be rosy in the garden if they take over – but only depending on the size of the mess they find when they get there. This is laughable, but not in a way that will split anyone’s sides. We all know there is a disaster of Chernobyl proportions bubbling away inside Ibrox. It’s not exactly a secret.
What Paul Murray will find, if he winds up in the boardroom, is what Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws found when he walked into the office that had belonged to Liam Byrne; an almost gleeful note telling him that “all the money is gone!” Perhaps with a wee smiley face drawn on it. Perhaps not. Either way, his own smile will be wiped off his face pretty damn quickly.
The media is pretty good at skirting its own responsibilities, but as we all well know they are in this up to their necks. They have avoided asking hard questions, to any of the disparate groups who hover around the club right now like vultures circling a battlefield. Some of the pressmen have picked one side in the coming boardroom battle, some have chosen the other.
The Daily Record’s stance is a particularly egregious example of journalism at its worst here, with daily briefings from the Murray group finding their way onto the back page where the hacks slap on the gloss to make them read less like what they are; glorified press releases. Yet can they possibly be read as anything else? They are pure spin, what Denzel Washington, in Training Day, described as “99% bullshit.” That no-one even questions some of the more bizarre assertions in them is, frankly, astonishing to me, and I suspect to many of you.
Where is the business plan? What is the strategy? We keep hearing about these “Rangers minded investors” who want to put their money in, if the club is being well run. This appears to be accepted, without question, by the Record and other papers. Yet there are obvious questions which do arise from this claim, and other claims.
Paul Murray has been on the Rangers board before, and these people were not on hand to pour in the money. Nor were they around when his colleague Malcolm Murray was chairman. They were entirely absent when the club was up for sale for a quid, and they did not turn up to save the club when Craig Whyte plunged it into the darkness of administration, and then liquidation. They were not there to rival Charles Green, and they singularly failed to snap up the shares during the recent share issue. These people have passed on every “opportunity” to get involved so far.
Yet at every stage, in every above instance, we were told these people not only did exist, but were waiting in the wings to take things forward. The same story, repeated over and over again, the same pig in a poke, sold to fans who wanted to believe.
The myth of the cabal of multi-millionaire Rangers men just dying to drop their cash into Project Good Money After Bad has been exposed as such again and again and again. These people do not exist. Rangers “global appeal” is an obvious fraud, designed to fool only those who lack the wit, or the motivation, to peer behind the curtain.
Rangers is not a club with international appeal. Malcolm Murray can talk all he wants about all those ex-pat Scot’s scattered across the world, but the number who feel an “emotional attachment” to Ibrox is marginal to say the very least.
Let’s put it this way; there are between six and eight million people scattered across the face of the Earth at the present time who define themselves as Scottish. Those who claim an ancestral connection with the country is perhaps as high as forty million. There are four million people in this fair land who self-define as Scots.
Rangers directors and wannabe directors, Malcolm Murray amongst them, talk about the club being the best supported in the whole country. That may or may not be accurate, but even if true that, my friends, is as far as it goes I’m afraid. The best supported club, perhaps. But this is still a club the vast, vast majority of people in this country has no affection for, and that is an undeniable, and unalterable, fact. Most people don’t care for them one way or another. Many actively, and vocally, loathe them. One suspects that view is echoed across the planet.
Yet Murray and others talk about the “Scot’s diaspora” as if each and every one of them was born with the club in his or her blood. It’s not true, and it’s been ruthlessly exposed as not true over and over again. The evidence is overwhelming.
For one thing, this is a club that self-defines as British first. They wear it as a badge of honour. Their version of Scotland is one that exists beneath the Union Jack, and in the last couple of years especially a growing number of their fans has embraced that and begun to express a real, genuine and worrying hatred for the country of their own birth. How does that usually play with proud Scot’s across the world who prefer to fly The Saltire?
Yet even if I am wrong (and I’m not, as history has shown) these people are not talked about simply as “wealthy Rangers fans willing to sink their money into Ally’s dream of hearing Champions League music at Ibrox again.” They are referred to as “investors”.
Investors is a curious word to use in the manner in which these people do. Investors generally put their money into something because they believe they can make a profit. That’s how these people became wealthy in the first place, and the media loves to remind us that men like Jim McColl, like Brian Kennedy, like Dave King, didn’t get wealthy by being stupid.
Yet, no less a figure than Walter Smith, a man who’s every utterance is accepted by our media as Holy Writ, has summed up the attitude which has ported over from OldCo to NewCo when he said that “the financial bit of Rangers Football Club and common sense don’t often go together.”
For “not often” read never. Because even now, as Murray and others draw on the danger of another administration event as a weapon in the boardroom battle, the manager, utterly divorced it seems from reality, is talking to the press about who he’d like to sign next, and they, of course, are happily indulging him. What’s worse is that Murray and his acolytes are already making promises to McCoist that he will have the funds to “rebuild the team to challenge Celtic.”
Eah? Where’s the cash coming from to do this? Oh yes, of course, from the “Rangers minded investors.” Who may, or may not, exist, but who haven’t put in any money yet. And what Murray and his people are making abundantly clear is that if these people do exist, and this time they do decide to pony up the cash it won’t be spent on infrastructure. It’ll be squandered on inflated transfer fees and player’s salaries in pursuit of short term success.
Which smart businessman, in his right mind, is seriously going to “invest” in that? You may as well, as Dermott Desmond has said, take your money to the back garden and set light to it.
Smith is correct, of course. In the same series of press interviews he actually said “There is no common business sense. Yes, there is money going out, it’s a fact. But what do you do?”
A normal person might, maybe, you know, start making cuts …
The cuts are coming. If common sense was applied at Ibrox, now, the present squad would be dismantled in January. In the fullness of time it will have to be, if the club is to survive.
The present orgy of spending at Ibrox, one million pounds being lost every month, is the last big party before the lights go out. The shells are falling all around the place, but for the moment the revelry goes on. The fans are rejoicing at the sight of professional players being paid exorbitant sums of money – their money, money the club needs – racking up cricket scores against part timers who most weeks train by dribbling around paint tins. They talk, with apparent pride, about breaking their club wins record, as if history will record the “achievement” of doing it in these circumstances as though it wasn’t a hopeless mismatch.
In the meantime, their supporters websites focus much of their energy outward, obsessing on barmy conspiracy theories about land purchases and banks giving loss making loans to us because of a complex web of political ties to our boardroom. It is crazy stuff, a comfort blanket against the darkness about to descend over their own fragile institution, and it has their attention focussed somewhere else even whilst the short con morphs into the long con.
History records that Nero built a vast, walled palace for himself in the fire gutted ashes of Rome, and Scottish football history will record that Charles Green and Brian Stockbridge have moved into their own mansions in the last calendar year, even as Craig Whyte alternates between the castle he owned pre-Rangers and the luxury of Monaco, with the money he made during his all-too-brief sojourn in the Ibrox chairman’s job. Walter Smith has done alright here, and added to his pension fund and Ally McCoist continues to be the highest paid manager in the land. Their tier three team is costing them top division cash, without the luxury of the infrastructure that can support it, and all the while the PR firms, the lawyers and the assorted hangers on are shaving away everything they can, knowing full well that the clock is tick-tick-ticking away.
NewCo Rangers is holed below the waterline. Time is all they have left. All the other options have been exhausted. Those with the lifeboats are going to do just fine. Everyone else is going down with the ship. But hey, that’s nineteen wins on the bounce now, and another “world record” on the horizon, if you buy into the hype.
Watching Downfall, and Hitler moving his phantom armies around the map, gives me a weird sense of deja-vu. I’ve seen this movie before … but I can’t think of where …
There are echoes elsewhere too. In Edgar Allan Poe’s wonderful, dark masterpiece, The Masque of the Red Death, a group of well-to-do nobles, led by the aptly named Prospero, throw a party in his palatial home, whilst outside the titular disease sweeps through the population. The masked ball is hedonism at its most acute, not unlike Eva’s final fling for the man who had plunged Europe into the darkness of war. The seven rooms of this palace are adorned in different colours, and every hour, on the hour, the clocks chime and the party stops until they fall silent again.
Into this opulence comes a surreal masked figure, dressed like a victim of the disease. Prospero pursues him from room to room, and finally catches up to him. When the masked figure turns to face him he drops dead and the other guests react in horror and stab at the masked man, only to find that all they’ve stabbed is an empty costume, and then they too all begin to die …
The party’s almost over inside Ibrox Stadium. No matter who is in charge, no matter what charms and hexes they wear, or bring with them, nothing can shield that club from what’s coming.
“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
Enjoy the party, enjoy the “record breaking run”, enjoy the positive press and the talk of a bright future … but prepare to embrace the horror.
This is The Last Hurrah.
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