In 1994, shortly after John Smith died, Gordon Brown was still observing a period of mourning when Tony Blair began rushing around colleagues canvassing support for his leadership bid. Brown had assumed the title would pass to him, and he acted as if it was a foregone conclusion. Blair was the one willing to go out there and grab it, and he did.
Brown nursed that grievance for the rest of his political career, all the way up to the day he left Downing Street. He became Labour leader and Prime Minister in the end, but only when it was too late to matter.
In between times, he waged a vicious, unrelenting war against his former friend and partner in the New Labour Project.
To some of Brown’s adoring supporters amongst the Labour ranks, it appeared that Brown might chart a completely different course when he finally had the power in hands. They were shocked when they discovered quickly upon his getting it that he’d arrived in office with nothing new to offer.
His time there was characterised, chiefly, by the same sense of indecision and hesitation Blair accused him of showing first when Neil Kinnock resigned as Labour leader and then in the days after John Smith died. Brown was not naturally decisive.
“He studies all the options and he agonises over them, hoping things will just get better. When they don’t he asks for another set of options,” said one civil servant.
Indecision can be a terrible thing. The higher the stakes, the more some become prone to it. In Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina, the state FEMA office was stacked high, as every FEMA office in the country was at that time, with political cronies of George W. Bush, men who’d never prepared for a crisis because they’d been complacent, thinking one could never happen on their watch. They played the odds and when it came they were hopeless, staggeringly, diabolically, criminally unprepared and unsure of what to do. The effects were catastrophic.
Brown’s other sin was presumption, growing out of complacency. That afflicts many of Scotland’s football fans, and those inside the clubs. A large number of Celtic fans are locked tight in it right now, repeating “faithful through and through” over and over again as if it’s a magic spell, believing perhaps that the name Celtic itself is a talisman against all evil that might come to pass.
The club is engulfed in self-doubt, recrimination and rising fury. Peter Lawwell’s interview on CelticTV revealed the extent of the shocking blinkered thinking of an increasingly myopic board of directors, utterly divorced from the views of the support, who they look upon as spoiled children who don’t really understand how the world works.
Some Celtic fans accept this view, because to challenge it would be to admit the club has enormous structural and leadership problems that need to be addressed.
They are not the first football supporters in Scotland who thought their club was too big to be swallowed up by crisis.
There is no chance of Celtic being liquidated, of course, but there is historical precedent for once great institutions being reduced to irrelevance in a series of short, sharp shocks. The Chinese called it The Death of a Thousand Cuts. Sevco fans are already familiar with the concept.
Celtic’s on and off-field travails have been centre stage in my thinking over the last few weeks, but drama is never far away at Ibrox, and what we have over there at the moment is the high water mark (so far) of a crisis that’s been bubbling away for nearly two years.
The wolves are at the door. They’ve been coming for a long time.
The kind of indecision that wracked Gordon Brown, and the same sense of helplessness, staring at the options and hoping they suddenly change, is endemic at Ibrox. Short-termism has replaced any notion of setting strategic goals. They are drifting, like a ship without a captain, straight for the rocks and one godawful mess.
What has happened at Sevco in the past 24 hours has been greeted as a shock in some quarters of the media, and the reaction amongst a lot of their supporters has been disbelief. Why? This website and others have been predicting this for well over a year. We saw it coming a country mile away.
The hard facts do not lie. Sevco Rangers is a club that has learned no lessons from the liquidation of its predecessor. Their apologists blame HMRC and the banks for financial calamities they brought upon themselves and are doing all over again.
Now they are forced to go to the stock market in an emergency fund raising scheme for £4 million. The money is not for infrastructure investment or anything that will generate a return. It’s for keeping on the lights. It’s for paying basic bills.
That is disastrous, and it ought not to have happened in the first place.
What the Hell did they think they were doing these past two years? They have the second most expensive playing squad in the whole of the country, the second highest running costs and the most expensive management team, and last year they were playing in the game’s third tier.
This £4 million is not going to be enough. They will need another major cash injection before the year’s end, and without it they will not be able to complete the league campaign.
Take note of what I’ve just written there. They will not be able to complete their fixtures. Forget a quick administration, and in and out that happens quickly and doesn’t impact on their squad. This will be like Chernobyl.
The SFA and the SPFL, indeed the whole of the Scottish game, will be plunged into another existential crisis from which it may not emerge, because the club out of Ibrox does not want to live within its means and accept that they are a penniless NewCo and not the Rangers of old.
That this crisis was coming has been a self-evident fact since at least the midway point of season before last. At some stage, perhaps before this season began, the governing bodies should have sought assurances from Sevco that they had the cash at hand to get through the league campaign, and they should have asked for proof of that, and some kind of financial underwriting as a guarantee.
As per usual nobody at either of these organisations bothered to get it. For the record, an SFA licence is dependent on being able to give such guarantees, and early yesterday Sevco effectively told the world it no longer can.
Our governing bodies have been utterly silent on this issue, of course. They too are looking at the list of options, and wishing the whole thing would just go away. Not a chance in Hell.
You hear that? The howling is right outside the window. That other sound is claws scratching the paintwork off the front of the door.
I repeat, none of what is happening right now is unexpected. The club would have needed external funding even if they’d gotten rid of every season ticket they had on sale. Their business plan is a running joke. Their entire club teeters on the brink and with it the Scottish game, and that game has already suffered tremendous blows to its credibility and standing, some of them inflicted on it by my own club and it’s failures in Europe.
We don’t yet have sponsors for major tournaments and the manner in which the SPFL in particular runs its affairs makes it difficult to envision them getting a good deal anytime soon. This is what happens when the people running the show spent an entire summer telling the world that the game was on the brink of Armageddon, talking its value down to nothing.
No-one has yet paid for that with his job, a scandal that won’t go away.
But Sevco Rangers is a bomb waiting to go off. If they enter administration this season – as looks as near certain as anything can be – and they suffer the 25 point penalty that is the dramatic, ironic, consequence of the “Survival Myth” their entire “business plan”, such as it is, will be obliterated completely.
Early in their “journey through the leagues” McCoist convinced them to bet everything on back to back promotions and if it all goes nuclear, they can kiss their club goodbye.
It’s worth taking a deep breath and looking at it all, with detachment.
Four million just to get through the next few months. Another ten million just to get through the rest of the season. And after that? What about next year? A rise in the price of season tickets, and then what? That will barely raise the £4 million they are going to the City for here, and McCoist will want “money to compete”, his own salary will return to its contractual level and all this without his regular quota of jam donuts.
How does next season pay for itself when they’ll have an increased wage bill and the higher running costs of playing in a better league? Top tier prize money is paltry. TV money will be on a par with what they’re getting now … and Europe is not so much a distant dream as a fantasy.
Are they going to go the stock exchange again? And again? And again?
How many times can you issue new shares? How many times can you rattle the old tin cup?
They talk about needing “major investment.” Investors get something back. What they mean is they need major charity. They need external funding from a rich benefactor or sugar daddy, cause sure as Hell there ain’t no bank that will touch them, and those sort of generous individuals are in short supply around these parts.
At their present spending levels – their present levels, not next year’s which will be higher in the unlikely event they make the SPL – they will require a minimum of £30 million over the next five years just to keep things ticking along. No investment in players, or the scouting network or in building the brand. No major stadium repairs or adornments. No spending to increase or improve existing streams of revenue.
£30 million, on top of season tickets, TV money and prize money just to stand still.
Where’s it coming from? Do they even have the foggiest idea? The remotest clue?
Keep on looking at those options guys. Those hard numbers only change in one direction from here on in.
Some say they are pinning their hopes on Europe, and when those people have really been hitting the glue they talk wistfully, as if high, about the Champions League Group Stages. Where’s the money coming from to even attempt qualification to that?
Celtic are ten years ahead of Sevco on the park, and yet many of our supporters agree that this is as impoverished a Celtic team as we’ve seen in a while. With a wage bill three or four times higher than theirs, and better players in every position, we were trounced by Legia and beaten with some ease by Maribor. If we are not equipped for that level, how much spending do you think it will take to get them to a standard where they can realise even the group stages of the Europa League?
The all transforming power of European football is a mirage where they are concerned, a trick of the light.
Something dramatic will need to happen for that club to survive long term. Short term, they are already headed for a crash. Administration 2 is on the cards and now certainly unavoidable. On the longer timeline, their survival options have narrowed to just two.
One of them is inevitable, and it may even take some dread combination of both. Sooner or later the cutting has to start, with the management structure first and then the team on the park. If that level of downsizing doesn’t plug the gaps you’re looking at an asset sale to survive, and at that point it’s Goodnight Vienna, and they are the new Leeds.
Inside Ibrox, for every day since the 120 Day Review came out, the board of directors has sat around the table and gone over the same set of figures, and stared at the same crummy choices. Their hesitation, their indecisiveness, their waiting around for things to magically improve on their own, their hoping for a better set of options … all of that has run its course.
If not a savage series of cuts, there is only one thing left on the table, and it’s the least palatable of all their potential courses of action. Their failure to act before now has reduced them to the point where they are facing the very thing they most wanted to avoid.
Because the other thing that can save them is for the fans to realise that, ultimately, if they want to be like Rangers from the Grand Old Days of Yore the money to finance that is going to have to come out of their own pockets. Tens of millions of it, over years, money they just don’t have.
That is not a message any of them wants to hear, because an entire generation of them knows nothing else but someone financing their success, whether it’s gullible businessmen, egomaniacs feeding their own hubris or, ultimately, the taxpaying public.
There is no appetite amongst them for making their club self-financing, as was demonstrated clearly with the latest Union of Fans statement, which amounted to little more than a demand that the club tell them who was going to foot the bill for the Great Recovery.
This is one of the reasons Dave King, who was willing to risk prison before he would let the South African government take more of his money than he wanted to give, will never seriously get involved with them, and that goes double for a guy like Mike Ashley who probably still has the first quid he ever made.
This has obviously been discussed inside the club, at the upper levels, because McCoist was either incensed or so scared by what he was told that he spat the dummy spectacularly out of the pram at yesterday’s press conference when he was asked about it. His reaction reeked of his typical petulance, but there was an undercurrent of fear which everyone watching could see.
He hears that howling. He knows what it means.
The SFA and the SPFL better batten down the hatches. Celtic’s own business plan needs to change too, because if Sevco makes the SPL and manages to mount a challenge because we’ve gone even further backwards no safe seat interview with softball questions will save certain people from the kind of scrutiny that will end careers. We’ve given too many people in our club a free ride for far too long. Faithful through and through is not a suicide pact, and there has to be some sign of life there soon, or people are going to be very pissed off.
At Ibrox, however, the wolves are at the door, at last. We’ve been hearing their howling in the distance for a while now, and finally they’ve come right into the garden.
£4 million will not get rid of them. It will fill their bellies for a short time, but their growling will be a constant as the days and the weeks and the months go on. Their howling will be louder than any inside the stadium has ever heard it before, sending constant chills up the backs of McCoist and Durrant, who will be in constant fear for their jobs. They know sharp teeth and claws will be frighteningly close at hand.
There is not enough in the larder to feed the wolves, and keep them outside indefinitely though.
When they get hungry enough they’re going come through the windows and break down the door.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
There’s a bad moon on the rise.
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