I like to read, a lot. It’s an essential part of trying to be a writer. I have, at times, pondered what makes true literature, and how that is judged. Every once in a while I read something that sings to me, and leaves me in no doubt that it qualifies as such. Nathanial Hawthorne’s magnum opus, The Scarlett Letter, is a work of literary beauty, but it’s a tough read, a deep, allegorical book, and so I’ve only ever worked my way through it once in my life.
There’s a quote in that book that has become quite famous in its own right. In the book it signifies inner guilt and turmoil, but it is often misunderstood as a condemnation of hypocrisy. In either case, I think it encapsulates Ally McCoist beautifully.
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
Ally McCoist has many faces. One wag suggested to me yesterday he has as many as he has chins. I laughed. I’m not joking though when I say he’s multi-faced. And you know, friends and readers? I don’t particularly like any of them, and I never have.
For years we’ve heard how this guy is the perfect gentleman. How he’s engaging and witty company. I paid little heed to it, mostly because those who were trying to sell us this image are people who couldn’t spot bad character in a maximum security prison. Take Hugh Keevins, a man who thinks John Brown’s rejection of anything green is a symbol of strong convictions instead of just all enveloping bigotry. He has been Ally’s “mate” for years, and has never seen anything wrong in admitting he’s unable to be objective as a result. A man as egregiously unqualified as Keevins in establishing a man’s bona fides is not to be trusted.
I hear a lot about how Ally carried the coffin of Tommy Burns, and how this makes him a good man. Tommy Burns was a good man. That’s why there was a line of people the length of Argyle Street willing to pay tribute to him. It says nothing about the character of McCoist. If the Sevco Rangers man were suddenly found to be an international people smuggler, would that devalue the character of the man he helped to bury? Of course it wouldn’t. Spare me that waffle.
Throughout the years of hearing about Nice Guy Ally, I’ve tried to remind myself that he is one of the foremost defenders of “the culture of Rangers”, and he speaks about this in a way that doesn’t really leave much room for doubt as to what he means. I think of the nights he’s spent in clubs and pubs up and down the land, “up to the knees in fenian blood”, without uttering a word of criticism and I think of the kind of guy who can smile and joke and laugh his way through an evening with his celebrity pals and then embrace “We are the Peepil” and that ideology with the same smile.
I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all, and I’ve never liked him as a result.
I don’t care what his media pals say about him. Most of them are contemptible hypocrites for the way they’ve slated those supporters of all clubs – Rangers fans included – who have bitter, bigoted, small-minded opinions, without once having uttered a word to their celebrity mates who made careers out of sharing those values and ideas. Keep your pious moralising, unless you’re going to direct it at everyone who deserves it, and to Hell with who doesn’t want to talk to you again.
Lately, Ally’s public face had undergone a stunning transformation. When he was appointed manager at Ibrox, he was still the golden boy for many, a guy who was “too nice” for a top job. I actually heard that nonsense more than once. Too nice. Jesus wept. What an alibi they were setting up for this guy, before he’d even started on his downslope to failure. Then there were those who set up the battle between him and Neil Lennon as a clash of “Scotland’s two young up and coming managers.”
Lennon was certainly young to be a manager at the time. His playing career was barely over. McCoist, on the other hand, was nearing fifty. I remember the day he was formally appointed, when the media was still in the early glow of their love affair with the newly crowned King of the Marble Staircase. I went through every manager in England’s top flight, and found not one of them who’s managerial career had started after his mid-forties had receded into the distance. Most of them had at least five years managerial experience at that age, some of them much, much more, and those without that experience were at least five to ten years younger.
He was 48 when he took the Rangers job, and this change in his public persona started almost at once, with his famous spitting the dummy over a BBC report which seemed to suggest he didn’t take sectarianism seriously. The BBC later apologised for editing the report in a way which made it look like he smiled after a certain question was asked. I found the whole episode extraordinary, in that the BBC never actually put him on the spot, that the questions he was asked were mostly soft-ball stuff. There were harder questions he could have got.
See, for years Ally wasn’t the guy the press was content to tell us about. The second he was put front and centre, and made the star of the whole show and not just one player in a team, the minute his views became synonymous with the club, the moment he was made to speak for himself instead of hiding behind PR people, or resting up in the soft seat on A Question of Sport, when he was finally put under real pressure, the man the buck stopped at, the smile fell away and the snarl came out.
Now, I have pondered whether or not, initially, this was a response to those perceptions that he was a nice guy, actually, and perhaps might get walked all over. Then I realised it doesn’t really matter because Hawthorne was right. When you start wearing two faces, one in public and one in private, you start to forget which is the real one after a wee while.
If the snarling, spitting, arrogant, self-absorbed, dangerous idiot we’ve come to recognise so well over the past couple of years wasn’t the real Ally McCoist – and remember, I’ve never been convinced by the “Cheeky Chappie” bit – then I would suggest he long since became exactly that. You listen to him these days and you detect no false note.
This is the real man. Petty, spiteful, vindictive, aggressive and reckless. The man who’s snide barbs have become wearisome and indefensible even to his media mates. I heard about his Dundee Utd comments today and I shook my head. I’ve stopped wondering when someone is going to get a grip on this guy. It’s like waiting for The Rapture. Only the truly divorced from reality believe it’ll ever happen. McCoist can say what he wants, and the press will give him the same easy ride they always have. He’s one of them. He’s a mate.
So his part in the Shame Game, where it was his behaviour that provoked Lennon let’s not forget, has been airbrushed out of history. His demand for the names of a committee whose identities he already knew, and the disgusting way that incident led to their public evisceration and the threats and hassle they had to endure, is something we don’t talk about. His rousing of the mob was not confined to that one incident either.
More, even when he waved a sheaf of papers on which he claimed were the names of people in the game who were breaking one of the biggest rules of them all – actually betting on the outcome of matches – he was exempt from the kind of grilling those comments should have assured. Let’s not forget, he wasn’t just talking about players. He mentioned “officials” too, and there is not one journalist on a single national newspaper or radio station or TV show who even though it was worth asking him if he meant club officials or match officials.
This guy made a public allegation that officials might be betting on games … and he was never taken to task for it or asked to clarify the remarks. Shameful. No other manager would have gotten away with that. Had Neil Lennon done it he would have been mercilessly hounded, by the SFA as well as the press, until he either told all or retracted the statement.
I consider it one of the lowest points for sports journalism in this country in the past two decades, and that is saying something when you consider “succulent lamb”, floating pitches, casinos and “Motherwell born billionaires”, and this is to say nothing about the stone silence out of Hampden, for which heads ought to have rolled long ago.
His taking sides in the boardroom wars inside Ibrox is something for his own bosses to consider, but it says a lot about the moral character of the man that he constantly plays to the gallery instead of showing loyalty to those who’re paying his wages. He thinks the support of the fans makes him unsackable, and he knows the media will back him regardless, but I think he strays awfully close to over-playing a bad hand at times. He was 17 minutes away from the sack against Albion Rovers, and only a staggeringly bad refereeing decision kept him in a job.
Today his barbed comments about Dundee United fans are being lapped up by a gullible support who’ve forgotten McCoist’s enormous role in the crisis that has enveloped Ibrox for the past four years now. Had he been able to get past two European opponents his side were expected to trounce Craig Whyte’s business plan would not have collapsed at the speed it did, and with it the whole club. The trail of destruction can be traced right to his door … but it’s another one of those things we never really talk about. The press certainly never mentions it.
His comments come at a time when Stephen Thompson believes his safety cannot be guaranteed inside Ibrox unless he’s with his own fans. The SFA has turned a Scottish Cup semi-final into a home game for Sevco Rangers, and they can attempt to obfuscate and dress it up as much as they like, but United are right to be angry, and concerned at the way the SFA decided to handle the affair, and as usual, right on cue, McCoist has popped up to give the soup a right good stir.
If the Tannadice club ever needed the proper motivation to go to Ibrox and win, and win big, then they’ve been given it in the last 36 hours. No neutral will be standing on the side-lines hoping they do otherwise, except perhaps the fans of Aberdeen, who will probably quite fancy their chances if they find themselves at Celtic Park on cup final day.
In the meantime, McCoist will continue to skulk around the press rooms giving us the benefit of his wisdom and mixing it where he can. The media, which is supposed to act without fear or favour, will keep on watching, and occasionally breaking into applause.
The dark part of the Sevco Rangers manager’s character has been seen though. Few can doubt that if it wasn’t already there, in embryonic form all this time, that it has now consumed him entirely. The Cheeky Chappie is no more.
In his place is a man who’s many faces have one common feature.
They all show his ugly side.
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