Things Fall Apart

stock-exchange-share-price-declining-133774452-924303I am a geek. Most people who know me are acutely aware of that fact.

I recently started publishing a couple of different magazines (you’ll have seen them at the bottom of these articles, and there are links to them on our home page), one of which is on cool TV shows, movies, video games and retro stuff.

I’ve written a few of the articles in it myself.

As a result, I get emails from people now recommending that I check out this movie, or that game, or some show on TV which might have escaped my notice.

I am grateful for all such emails, because with some of the best shows almost finished their run (Breaking Bad foremost amongst them), I am always looking for new ones to entertain me.

One of this blogs readers pushed me in the direction of a new one only last week, and I’ve yet to check it out, but I’m going to. It’s a sitcom called It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. I already love this show, although I’ve yet to watch a single episode. Reading my friend’s synopsis sold me.

The show is about an Irish bar where the owners are constantly at war to one-up each other and get ahead of the game. The bar doesn’t make money, and what little there is drives these people to do dreadful things to each other in pursuit of the bucks. Over time their egos start to come into play too, which heightens their efforts, and leads to often disastrous, and hilarious, results.

Does that remind you of anything going on at a certain Scottish football club? (Everything except the Irish bar bit, naturally.)

I read, with a great deal of interest and amusement, the latest musings by Chris Graham on The Rangers Standard blog last night. They were on Media House and their new contract with the club. I have to admit, when I heard about that appointment myself I flashed on the synopsis to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, because, frankly, it’s borderline schizophrenic, especially considering the “Rangers spokesman” and his “for the avoidance of doubt” statement last week.

So Graham had a wee rant about it. And I found it funny.

Before I delve into the muddy waters of Chris Graham’s mind, let me say something for the record; I am a huge admirer of The Rangers Standard blog and most of the people on it. Many of its writers are cerebral, intelligent, respectful of other people and under no illusions as to the depth of their club’s crisis. Their concern comes through loud and clear in their writing, which is most often clear and concise. Many of their conclusions have been right on the money.

These guys are the writers, and possibly even the leaders, their support, and the club, has been crying out for.

Chris, sadly, isn’t one of these people. He represents the old order, although he’s put a fresh face on it. Yet, it’s pretty evident to anyone who reads him, either on the blog or on social media, that he’s a self-promoting, backward looking bumbler, perhaps the only man in Scotland who’s put down his chips on every single group involved in the Rangers debacle, and been wrong every time. His penchant for switching sides is hilarious, like a guy betting on the stock market who changes his investment portfolio every time there’s a downward blip on one of his holdings.

I never cease to be amazed that of all the bloggers on that site he’s the one the BBC and other outlets turn to over and over again, when anyone who actually reads him or his “encounters” with the Twitterati can see he frequently becomes unglued, and is pretty hopeless in debate.

It’s almost as if the media wants to find the stereotypical Rangers fan who’s been wrong at every turn, so it can subject him, and the club, to further ridicule.

Chris is a big believer in the BBC conspiracy against his club.

Odd, then, that this particular facet of it should never have occurred to him, eah?

Anyway, Chris is one of a number of fans who still hasn’t grasped the truth yet. He ends his piece talking about the club facing an “uncertain future” if the boardroom battles don’t go the way he and the Jim McColl cheerleaders want.

He doesn’t grasp that the future will be uncertain either way; or rather, that the one certainty we can offer him is this;

The future is pain. That’s all it is.

That’s because what befell the club was not a result of dark forces marauding against them, or even solely the fault of Craig Whyte, but was down to something burned deeply into the modern DNA of the club.

He doesn’t understand fully yet, and is probably not capable of grasping this, that until the psychology of Rangers changes, the crises that are swirling around them like a tornado are going to hit them over and over again.

I said in my article The Facts of Life .. And Death that the club they knew is no more, regardless of whether they believe in the fabled “continuation of history” or not. I am not surprised some of them have still not grasped this fact. What surprises me is that no-one amongst their support has actually tried to articulate these cold facts for them.

I am well aware that myself and other bloggers perceived as being on “the Celtic side” are not liked by the Rangers fans. I understand it, and I accept it, because, let’s be blunt, although I refute utterly the infrequent accusations of being motivated by hate and bigotry and would challenge anyone to find a single statement I’ve made which supports them, I have, nevertheless, written some of these articles with a gleam of glee in my eye and my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

I have danced on the grave of a once proud institution, and had high times poking fun at the rogues gallery of crooks and charlatans who have gambolled up and down the famed marble staircase.

Yet I remain honestly confused by the myopia that says everything we’ve written has been put down to destabilise the club. Seriously? Had Rangers fans taken us seriously when we were pulling apart the Craig Whyte files, would they have let him lead their club to the abyss? When we did a similar hatchet job on Charles Green, exposing him as a liar and a charlatan after their money and with no interest whatsoever in anything else, Rangers fans clung to the transparent fantasy that he had “fallen in love” with the club, in spite of our frequent calls on them to ignore that kind of crap and focus on the many times he’d misled them instead.

You were forewarned and we are the ones who did the forewarning.

In another article, I talked about the way your friends don’t tell you what you need to hear, but would prefer to tell you what they think you want to hear. That way they avoid hurting your feelings and provoking arguments. Let me give you an analogy.

Imagine you meet a girl in the boozer one night, and she’s coming on to you pretty heavily. You take her home, and over the next few weeks you get to know her and you start to fall for her. Your mates smile and pat you on the back and they tell you how great she is. Then, one night when you’re out, a guy you’ve never liked and who has never liked you, comes over and tells you that your dream girl is actually having a rare old time behind your back. You don’t believe this for a minute, of course, because the source isn’t someone you get on with.

Before he leaves you to it, he says something truly shocking to you. He tells you that your mates all know this already, and that you should ask them. So you do … and one look at their faces tells you they did.

Now, I think, that analogy is a pretty decent one. For your mates read McCoist, Smith and others, who are well aware the club is on the verge of another nuclear event, and they don’t want to talk about it with you. In fact, your manager is out there still trying to spend money although the cupboard is almost bare. Why do you think he’s doing that? He’s putting his own self interest in front of that of your football club. He would assemble an 80 man squad if he thought it would distract you from his own weaknesses, and to Hell with what it does to Rangers.

McCoist is that rare breed of “mate” who won’t tell you that your girlfriend likes a bit of naughtiness on the side, because he’s hoping to get hold of her himself.

But in the main, these people don’t want to tell you because they don’t want to upset you. Your enemy doesn’t care about upsetting you. Perhaps he told you just to see the look on your face. Maybe he did it because he has some prior relationship with her, and wants to see her punished.

Maybe he did it because he’s one of those guys who honestly can’t stand to see another person made look like a mug. All these reasons are valid in their own way.

Why do you care anyway? Why is his motivation more important than what he’s trying to tell you? Why do you care what we were up to and why we did it? Ask yourself only if our information so far has been right. Then ask yourself what your supporters could have achieved, or prevented, had you acted on that information.

Would your life have been better, or worse?

In many ways, you did this stuff to yourselves. You were the architects of your own demise, and I know that’s not easy to hear. But it’s true nonetheless.

There is nothing hateful in what some of us have tried to do here, and even if there was, the information was still valid to you and you could have used it to make necessary changes at your club, and been better off for it. What do you imagine would have been the consequences of listening to us? If we were trying to destabilise your club, then pray tell, if you would, what our ultimate goal was? Because I’m finding it hard to think of a scenario more destructive to Rangers than the one that befell it because you put your fingers in your ears and went “nananana … not listening!”

The club died. How were we going to top that? What was the master plan we were following that would have damaged you beyond you winding up dead?

I’ll say it again; what killed Rangers, and what threatens the new club, is something contained in its modern DNA. Somewhere along the line, Rangers ceased to be a football club with its origins and roots in the working class of Scotland. It became an elitist institution, an arrogant one, one obsessed with its own place in the pantheon of society. These things made it insular and, eventually, friendless when the chips were down. But they didn’t kill it.

A lot of people would accuse Manchester United of the same thing. In Scotland many would suggest it also applies to Celtic.

No, what killed Rangers off was that, in addition to the above, the club also become intoxicated by the spending of money. Its own money. Sugar daddy money. The banks money. And finally, public money.

The club became short-sighted, focussed on headline chasing. Its fans saw the gravy train roll for so long they weren’t prepared for it when the wheels came off.

They still believe that something will happen to restore those days again.

It won’t happen. I said it before. Those days are gone. The club earns £20 million less than Celtic in a year when neither club qualifies for Europe. Celtic Park’s 10,000 extra seats might not be filled as often as they once were, but that is a formidable barrier to Rangers ever again achieving financial parity with their rivals.

What’s more, although I have slated the Celtic board of directors for not maximising our earnings from sources other than season tickets and TV money, there is little doubt that they have invested heavily in an infrastructure which does pay dividends. It has been time consuming, and it has been costly, but it exists.

The same applies to the footballing operation, where the scouting network is now so formidable clubs are alerted to new Celtic signings as soon as they are made. It doesn’t take long for the English clubs to start sending their scouts north, to watch our new players. Some of these clubs have made little investment in their own scouting networks, outside what they see in England. Robbed of the chance to find these players before they arrive at Parkhead, they’ve resorted to offering us huge sums of money once we’ve discovered them.

I may not like it. I may not think it’s fitting of our club … but by God it works.

To build something like that takes years. It takes money, and not just a piddling sum of money, something you can spend and never miss it. It takes millions, tens of millions, seeded and grown and nurtured. It is an on-going expense, and a huge one.

Rangers did not simply fall on hard times, and lose the bulk of their playing squad and suffer demotion to the bottom tier in the game. That is the myth. The reality is different, and it’s horrible, and it’s stark, and as brutal as winter snowstorms in Siberia.

Everything of value at Ibrox, everything David Murray had not already flogged off or auctioned out, in the pursuit of further spending, was wiped away with the liquidation. The club was butchered. Every commercial contract had to be renegotiated between the new owners and their “partners”.

Nothing survived the holocaust. The entire club was levelled.

The NewCo took over some player contracts, intellectual property and some buildings … and that was it. Everything else was gone. Some of the commercial partners stayed, but I’m sure on greatly reduced terms. The infrastructure was obliterated and needs to be built from scratch. There is no bank out there who will give them credit terms.

There is a finite sum of money to spend, and more requirements for it than we can even guess at. McCoist wants every penny of it out on the pitch, but that’s not where it’s going to be needed most.

Whoever takes over Rangers next will be faced with a Herculean task. The closest parallel I can think of is the one at Leeds United, who’s infrastructure was similarly destroyed, but without them being liquidated. The Leeds administration was one of the most brutal, and destructive, in the history of the game … an Armageddon event stopping just short of actual Armageddon. The club survived. Nothing of value in it did.

Leeds United were once an English footballing superpower, and they were on their way back to that status all over again when the crisis hit. That was over a decade ago, and they have flirted with death on several occasions since, selling the entire first time squad on more than one occasion to keep up with rising debts. The club has never recovered, despite being one of the perennial giants of the game down there. It might be years before they do. If they do

The Rangers share issue cash has been frittered away. Season ticket money is in, but how long can it last with McCoist trying to drive the squad to American football team proportions? When that money is gone and there is no way to pay the bills, friends and neighbours, the lights will go out and the phones will go off, and they won’t be able to water the pitch let alone stage football games.

And that is going to happen. Nothing is surer.

Leeds fans got used to their new reality much quicker than Rangers will. Both sides suffered the loss of an entire first team of players. Both rebuilt the squad quickly and at great expense. That drove Leeds to another administration and the loss of another team. When the crisis began they’d thought the sales of top players would be enough. It wasn’t. The training ground followed, and fans had to get used to that. They thought it would be enough. It wasn’t. When the stadium was sold they were told that was the final necessary evil, yet it wasn’t.

When Ken Bates took over the club fans screamed that he should get the cheque book out and start spending again. In a much publicised tirade against them, he called them “morons”, and although I don’t like Bates, I had to agree with him. What the Leeds fans wanted was a return to the madness. For the club to embrace the same policies that had put them in trouble.

At this juncture, let me point out that I’ve written three highly critical articles in recent weeks, levelling blame at the Celtic board for not reinvesting our transfer income in new players. So at the risk of sounding like a “moron”, let me clarify.

I am asking Celtic only to spend what they can afford, and I believe paying £5 million for a player who is scoring goals for fun in the Dutch league is a reasonable investment, especially if his goals get you into the Champions League, where his transfer fee will be repaid four or five times. Furthermore, I wasn’t necessarily even asking for that particular transfer. One name haunts me, and it has all summer, and will continue to haunt me for years if his career trajectory assumes the levels I believe it will. He’s Johnny Russell, who would have been a fantastic signing … and for a little over £1 million. I cannot believe he is not a Celtic player.

Nir Biton is a wonderful footballer, and would be a sensation in a Celtic shirt, and would cost a pittance. I believe if the reports about him are true that it would reflect magnificently on us if we could capture such a gifted player for such a small fee, and I would be thrilled at seeing him in the famous green and white hoops.

In short, no-one is asking for the club to spend tens of millions, to run up debts, to spend money we don’t have. I want them to show ambition. Imagination. I want something better than a Billy Sharp or a Kevin Doyle. It doesn’t have to break the bank.

Rangers fans expect the spending taps to be turned on again as soon as the club is “stable.” They don’t realise what Leeds fans have learned through bitter tears; that stability is still a long way away, that it’s going to take years to get there and that the playing squad, and on field ambitions, are going to have to suffer if the club is to survive let alone prosper.The pain is not yet over.

The real pain hasn’t even started yet.

Whoever buys Rangers is going to have to do one of three things, almost within an instant of taking over the club. They will have to put some of their own money into the club to meet running costs, accepting that they’re never going to see it again.

Those costs were sky high before McCoist started his Posh Spice spending spree, so God alone knows what they look like right now.

Failing that, the club will need to start a brand new share issue, diluting the value of the existing shareholders to the point their holdings become worthless. Do you see many of them agreeing to that? The Rangers fans included?

Even if they did, what then? Ask them to accept that and puts their hands in their pockets to do it all over again? I think not.

If neither of those things happens, there’s one option left; to start cutting and not stop until the situation is stable. That, as other Celtic bloggers have pointed out, will look like administration and feel like administration in everything but the sporting penalties, and those cuts will last for years. And years. And years.

Things Fall Apart, said William Butler Yeats. Sometimes overnight, but more often than not the cracks appear one at a time whilst you’re watching. It’s like the continuing wall of silence at the SFA and in the media over corruption allegations and questions over whether the oldco should have been given a European license a few years ago. This wall looks solid, but we’re going to keep hitting it with the hammer.

First come the small hairline cracks. Then come the big ones. And then chunks start falling out, and before long you’re through.

It’s only a matter of time. And pressure.

The time is running out at Ibrox. You can already see the fractures creeping up the edifice. Before you know it, the problems will start to mount up again. After a while they take on an amplifying effect, and what started with a snowball becomes an avalanche.

It’s the harsh truth no-one wants to tell. Chris Graham would rather focus on the civil war and the many groups who want their faces around their board room table, and the people outside the club who are trying to “destabilise it.”

Christ, I ask you; why would we bother, at this point? Right now the club is like a drunk man trying to walk on stilts. A gust of wind, or even a good fart, could bring the whole thing crashing down to Earth.

The boardroom battle is fun to watch. Popcorn and beer stuff if I ever I saw it. The ice cream and jelly stuff is what happens when the boardroom war is done. When one side is victorious and the other scuttles off to lick its wounds. That’s where the real entertainment is to be had.

The writing team of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia would consider this stuff comedy gold. They would mine it for every nugget they could find, and that’s a lot, especially when you consider such hilarities as the Charles Green Xmas message, the fund raising website which drew £20 million before they found out most of it was from Celtic fans assuming funny identities, or the mistaken email address that directed those wishing to pledge to the site of Custard The Clown.

In one sense, they’ve already tapped into a little of the talk from the Rangers boardroom. I’m told there’s a moment in a later episode where Danny DeVito’s character, Frank, goes back to a company he once founded, and pitches them a turnaround plan, in order that they avoid being swallowed up in a hostile takeover.

“If we’re gonna turn this company around,” he says, “we gotta start cutting the crust off this shit sandwich!”

There’s a man who knows what it’s going to take.

Rangers fans, take note.

That’s the voice of your future talking right there.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart

  • 27 August, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    To paraphrase one TV Series:

    Winter is coming. Again.

  • 27 August, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    I’ve enjoyed your recent posts. You’re absolutely right about the odious Chris Graham. His infantile twitter comments about Lennon (“popcorn teeth”) baiting of Celtic fans (“unwashed, Timmy etc) underlines how extraordinary it is that both the BBC and STV seem to think that this clearly bigoted individual is somehow suitable as a fan rep in TV discussions.

    You’ve nailed it with McCoist and Smith too. The Rangers fans somehow haven’t worked out that these guys are looking after
    themselves and that is the bottom line….

  • 27 August, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Paul, 100% right mate. The analogy stands up well.

    It’s not made terribly clear in the show, but in the books the Iron Throne is a difficult place to sit, full of barbs where the kings always end up cutting their hands and feet, and legs and arms. Jamie Lannister, in the book, describes how The Mad King was always bleeding from somewhere but still loved to be in the seat.

    You think Jim McColl and other serious businessmen are going to willingly put themselves down in the Ibrox chairman’s job, knowing what has to happen? For every cut they make at Rangers, they’ll suffer a fresh wound from the pressures of taking those decisions. They know it’s a poisoned chalice, and once they start sinking their own money in that is a bottomless pit, and it will never end. The pressure to keep on spending, or suffer the wrath of the hordes would be ridiculous.

    Sanity is going to be imposed on that place, at last. And they won’t like that one bit.

  • 28 August, 2013 at 12:09 am

    The absence of a better alternative is generally what keeps people from seeking one, as the cold realisation of finding there isn’t anything better is often harder to bare than the harsh reality of their current situation.

    Where are The Rangers’ men whose love of the club is as deep as their pockets. Men who have supported the club(s) all their lives and to which they have an affection far greater than to the money and vast wealth they either have, or have acquired. Men whose vision isn’t the short-sightedness for transparency in the boardroom – for that is merely a smokescreen to the real issues at the club. Men whose vision extends beyond the immediate ‘burn-and-crash’ philosophy. Men who can not only see a way through the current financial plight, but also have a clear plan on how to chart a course to a brighter, better future.

    In Celtic’s darkest hour (quite literally), we had such a man, when the wee man in a bunnet, one Fergus McCann, duly stepped forward. His was a very clear vision. A vision for which he was frequently lauded and derided, in almost equal measure – and that was just from the Celtic fans. Whatever opinion people may have had of him, there is no denying he delivered exactly what he promised and set out to do from the beginning. A better team that was again winning trophies. A better, modern stadium to be proud of. And fan ownership of the club with a share issue, which at the time, was the most successful of any football club, and was so oversubscribed a further issue was made a few months later to those who missed out on the initial one.

    What The Rangers would give now for their very own “Wee Man in a Bunnet”…if only they had anything left to give!

    As for the profligacy of Masterbuilder McCoist: I have my own theory. Whilst he may be building what appears to be a squad on a Herculean scale, they are free transfers and therefore have no capital outlay. The players will, however, have a value which could be realised at some point in the future to raise some funds, as and when needed. The when could be as early as the January transfer window, for instance. Around which time it is speculated current funds will have run dry. If this were a calculated back-up plan, it’s one that could be easily assisted by the skills, experience, and expertise of the current Chief Executive, Craig Mather. Mather has previously been described as a trader in sporting talent. An agent, to give it its nom de jour. McCoist-n-Mather: the dream team of buying and selling the footballing stars of the future. Accepted it’s pure speculation on my part, and highly unlikely to happen.

  • 28 August, 2013 at 12:12 am

    A typically brilliant response John, and I don’t think your scenario is as far from the truth as you might think.

    It’s clear that they’re going to need to start cutting round about that time, and what you just said makes perfect sense. This is why the press is already spinning the boy from Motherwell as the Next Big Thing … but how even they are going to drive clubs to pay big money for this guy when he’s playing part timers every week is beyond me. They’re not that good haha.

    But top post mate, and totally agree on Fergus.

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