The Opinion Makers?

master.national_newspapers_montageYesterday I blogged on the Sevco Rangers AGM, an event which has generated a multitude of headlines and caused swirls of outrage in some quarters.

The Sevco Rangers board has stayed in place, as many of us predicted that they would, and the “requisitioners” have been routed. I don’t think that’s too strong a word to use.

But there was another result from yesterday’s events, and it too bears thinking about, and it too bears a little scrutiny. Not only was yesterday a repudiation of Paul Murray, Malcolm Murray and the rest, but it was a staggering blow to the credibility of our media.

For the past few months now, Hell for the past few years, our media has tried to kid itself, and the rest of us, on that it still has relevance. We all know this to be largely ridiculous, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Celtic fans, Rangers fans, St Mirren fans, Dundee Utd fans or otherwise. The sporting press, in this fair land, is considered a joke by most supporters, and it’s not for nothing that this is the case.

They have done nothing to justify any other tag.

They still have the numbers on their side, of course. Over 200,000 still buy the Daily Record every single day, but few kid themselves on that the paper still has relevance as an “opinion maker”. This goes for politics as much as it does for football. Let’s not forget that The Record openly, and actively, campaigned to keep Section 28 and canvassed for Labour in the last two Scottish Parliament elections, and came up on the losing side each time.

In sporting terms, their failure has been just as stark, but for many people even more glaring.

Their support for the Craig Whyte regime is now the stuff of legend, and will go down in history as one of the most wrong-sided pieces of news coverage that has ever been committed to print. They repeated the mistake when they jumped onto the Charles Green bandwagon (late in the day it has to be said, but more on that later) and they have been tripping all over themselves ever since. They were utterly on the wrong side of supporter opinion, and the direction of the wind, on the issue of Sevco Rangers and which league they would start in … and for me, that was the first major indication that the tide had turned in favour of the bloggers.

The campaign to propel that club into the top league in this land was relentless. The intent behind it was obvious; to confront fans with a nightmarish vision of “life after Rangers” which would compel them to support the SPL and the SFA in finding the club a safe berth.

The Record, in particular, didn’t care that it was insulting its own readers, day in day out. One of their “journalists”, Craig Burley, wrote perhaps the most ill-judged opinion piece I have ever read in my life when, with the crucial clubs vote on whether Sevco Rangers would be admitted to the First Division just around the corner, he branded them “nonentities”, talked about “knuckle-draggers” in the boardrooms as well as the stands and called the clubs themselves “afterthoughts in the psyche of our national obsession.”

I don’t know if that lunatic ranting cost the “pro Sevco” lobby any votes – the SFA, SPL and SFL were more than capable of screwing that one up on their own – but I know it didn’t help. I know there were directors who read those words with anger, and equal contempt, and vowed to show just how relevant they actually were. It was a colossal mistake.

For all the readers the papers have, supporter opinion hardened as that campaign of smear and fear went on. By the time the vote was cast, the papers were scrambling to predict dire consequences for the game, none of which have come to pass. Their shabby attempts to bring public opinion to bear against the clubs voting “no” to the grubby deals were abject failures.

Rangers supporters, perhaps burned by the stories of Whyte as some kind of saviour with an unlimited cheque book, are united with Celtic fans on one subject only; the total irrelevance of these people when it comes to forming our views.

I know the media. I have my degree in media studies, and I understand how editors and financial directors at newspapers work hard on tailoring their publications to suit a certain demographic. The Celtic support, as a whole, first stopped buying the rags, en masse, over a decade ago with the Thugs & Thieves article. It was a watershed moment, one the Record in particular never recovered from, and it cost one editor his job.

With that in mind, The Record is clearly tailored to cater to, and for, a target audience outwith the Celtic support, and that is the fan base of Rangers. This is how you explain the clear bias in the coverage of both clubs which does exist, and has existed for a while.

Yet, Rangers fans, almost to a man, deplore The Record and its journalists. They do not trust a single one of them, holding almost all in nothing but contempt. The Rangers fans are smarter than The Record gives them credit for, although sometimes they are, like all of us, too easily swayed by emotional appeals instead of logic.

But they do not trust the paper at all.

Paul Murray, Malcolm Murray, Jim McColl and the rest ran one of the most relentless destabilisation campaigns that I have ever seen, and they were given carte blanche to do so on the back pages of the tabloids. They were giving almost unlimited access to the airwaves, on shows like Clyde Superscoreboard and others. The hacks made it abundantly clear who’s side they were on, and they spared Murray and Co the kind of tough questions that would have made an even greater joke of their cack-handed efforts to remove the Sevco Rangers board.

Every single day they printed another story, about how Murray and his guys had the “backing of the fans”, which was ridiculous when you consider that numerous Rangers fans sites conducted their own surveys of the support and found quite the opposite.

Right from the start, Murray and Co stood very little chance of succeeding here. They put forward no business plan. They were willing to part with no money. Yet not one single journalist, at any time, put the point to these so-called “business minds” that what they were trying to do was not going to wash. Are they really the only people in this who country who don’t know that to take over a business all you need to do is acquire its shares?

I have my own small digital publishing company, but I’m no business expert by any manner of means, and I probably knew that in my first year at high school. What business school did these people go to? One run by Del Trotter, of Nelson Mandela House, Peckham?

The media did the same thing the last time Paul Murray threw his hat in the ring, alongside Walter Smith, just days after Charles Green had bought the assets and owned the club. On that occasion, The Record’s “best man”, Keith Jackson, breathlessly told the TalkSport audience that within a few weeks fan power would rise against the new owners (who didn’t even have their feet under the table yet) and sweep them aside, and for a wee while they were campaigning alongside those men for just that. The Rangers fans refused to listen.

They bought season tickets. They supported their club, instead of rising up in rebellion. And then, as soon as Smith and Murray had walked off the stage, the hacks stopped asking questions about Green, swung into full on grovel mode and made him their poster boy.

Until the wheels came off. And they reverted to type.

They’re doing it already too, in getting behind the new Sevco Rangers CEO. Listening to Clyde last night was a surreal experience as they tried to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, in talking about what a coup it was to get someone of his calibre, as if it didn’t take much more than paying someone the going rate.

They are falling over themselves to talk about how this guy will bring success to the club “if he’s given the chance,” as if this man has a bag full of magic beans that he can turn into a money tree. The challenges facing the club would have been no different had Murray and his people taken over, but that inconvenient fact appears to have been forgotten.

I said in a previous piece for another site that the issue with Scottish football’s media might not even so much be one of incompetence (it clearly is a factor though) as it is with how small this country actually is.

This breeds incestuous relationships which dilute their ability to be objective, something the majority of we bloggers, who don’t hob-nob with the players and make the directors our mates, don’t have to worry about. We can stay above the fray.

Paul Murray, in particular, seems to have more friends in the press than is proper. Like McCoist and Smith, I have rarely seen this guy find himself on the end of a negative report, and for the life of me I cannot find a single thing he’s done that justifies the gushing praise they continue to heap on him, over and over again, as if he’s some kind of White Knight.

Once again, however, all the media support he could muster has failed to make him credible. The Rangers fans may be stuck with a board which is leading them inexorably to a brand new disaster, but they at least have enough savvy to reject outright the weasel words of a man who has risked nothing and spent nothing and has offered no concrete reason why he deserves their support.

Say what you will about Green, and the Easdales, and Craig Mather and Stockbridge. These guys own the assets, and control the club’s destiny, because they were willing to put their hands in their pockets to do so. That’s how it’s done in business. And say what you will about Craig Thomas Whyte; even he was willing to spend a quid to get the job done.

All the spin in the world will not change the facts.

Murray and his group have lost, because they weren’t credible contenders, and they had no credible plan for change.

The media which backed them has been repudiated along with them.

They are no longer the “opinion makers.”

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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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