Well, Rangers are in a heap o’ trouble, and you can bet I had a right good gloat at that.
If I was a TV series I’d be The Love Gloat. If I was a gun killer I’d be Raoul Gloat. If I was a geographical location I’d be John O’Gloats. If I was a – you get the picture.
So I’ve been sharpening the pencil this week to have a right good stab into ailing Scottish football giants Rangers FC. I’m a Celtic fan, you see, so we have a deadly vendetta thing going on. Wait, that’s not right – we have a local derby thing going on. Or irresolvable political tensions. Or sectarianism, or God forbid, a sporting rivalry. Yeah, we don’t get on.
I do hate the team and much of what it stands for, well enough. I could take you through some stories of charming encounters I’ve had with our blue brethren, but I don’t want to bore you. And I’m sure they could just as easily point to abuse from Celtic fans in turn. “Whataboutery” is the nation’s second-favourite sport, after all.
I’ll state the case briefly. They have a lot of bigots among their fans, they embarrass Scotland on a regular basis and, in Sir David Murray, they had a chairman who represented just about everything I hate. Now, he superseded his physical disabilities to amass a great personal fortune, and, however grudgingly, I respect that. But the man couldn’t have been more obnoxious with it. A smug, monetarist, Thatcherite profiteering galoot, the man simply reeked of snobbery, hubris and cultural elitism. There’s lots to like about Rangers’ woes, and the great alarm bell it sounds for mindless capitalism (the club could serve as a metaphor for it), no doubt about that.
And yet… I’ve not long watched the Celts whup Hibs 5-0 at Easter Road, and it reminded me of something a writing colleague said, a valediction for the early 21st century. The match felt “like that horrible empty feeling you get when you complete a video game”. Even in the midst of success, with our rivals flat on the ground, never mind on their knees, it doesn’t feel right that we should waltz into Easter Road and take five off the Hibees. And how depressing to see those empty seats in Hibs’ stands.
The Celtic fans made great sport of the occasion, but the occasion was not great sport.
Two things to establish right away; I do not wish Rangers’ survival because, oh, what do the apologists say? “We need them to survive,” or, “without Rangers there’s no point”. Their financial woes are completely self-inflicted, and I’m amazed that Celtic are being put into the equation. We’re a well-run club. Eternal credit must go to Fergus McCann, who not only saved the club but ensured that we’d never have a megalomaniac in charge, like Sir David Murray. And credit to former chairman Brian Quinn, too – another man vilified for his “Biscuit Tin” mentality, but whose prudence has ensured we didn’t follow follow Rangers on the road to oblivion.
And secondly, I’m not echoing the usual “the Scottish league is rubbish” snarks, usually coming from English football fans, either. Scotland is a football-mad country, always has been, and although the quality has dipped in the past quarter century, it can rise again. The big joke on Twitter when Rangers’ 10-point penalty was announced was that they had fallen from second place to second place. But if you strip 10 points from the English Premier League’s second-placed club Man Utd, they’d only fall one place, and still have a good cushion between then and Arsenal.
Life without Rangers is a possibility. They have a massive tax case to come, and if they lose that and are liable for a £50m bill, the unthinkable could happen – a winding-up order at Ibrox. Only a decade ago, this was a club speaking of having three squads – one for the cups, one for the league, one for Europe. That famous quote – “For every fiver they spend, we spend a tenner.” Surely there must be Rangers fans out there who know, in their heart of hearts, the natural justice in such breathtaking arrogance being made a mockery of today.
Oh, how Sir David Murray coveted that European Cup. It was the one thing he couldn’t get his hands on – and he came horribly close in 1993. When is one star on a jersey worth more than five, Sir David? I think you know the answer full well.
Wonder what will happen to Kyle Lafferty’s neck should those titles you cheated your way towards be expunged?
Ah, but I’m falling into the trap here. Watching the match today, with the sinking still-winter sunlight filtering through the blinds, I got a chilly feeling. We shouldn’t be beating Hibs 5-0 away, even if they are bottom of the league and going nowhere fast. This wouldn’t have happened 25 years or so ago. We’d have gone to Easter Road and maybe lost. It wouldn’t have been a shock, of course. To win by the one goal would be considered a good result.
Nostalgia bomb: I can remember Hibs knocking us out of both cups, one season – maybe 1986? In the Skol/League Cup we drew 4-4 and they knocked us out on penalties. In the Scottish Cup they beat us 4-3. Neither result was a shock.
These tussles were common in Scottish football’s second great Golden Age: the early-mid 1980s. Pre-Souness, basically.
I started to fall in love with football in 1985 – properly in love, with that same intensity that the start of any other relationship has – with the 100th Scottish Cup final, Celtic v Dundee United at Hampden Park. Great bowl of a stadium, still mostly uncovered and unseated. Gigantic square goalposts with those lovely, deep curved stanchions you’d know anywhere (were Hampden’s the best, or Wembley’s?). Aberdeen had won the league on the last day, a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park clinching it from us. So the Cup was our last chance of a trophy (and our first since 1982), and it looked ropey for a while as United went 1-0 up through Stewart Beedie. The clock ticked on… And we came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to two magical goals. First Davie Provan – “Only twice before has a goal been scored direct from a free kick in the final of the Scottish Cup. Is this a piece of history… irrrrrissss!” And then, with five minutes left, Frank McGarvey’s moment of immortality, the ball flying in off his Frankenstein’s napper from Roy Aitken’s charging run and cross. Oh, happy days.
That was me, hooked. That sort of euphoria is right up there with crystal meth and full-fat heroin on the Not Even Once List. You never come back.
The following season, Celtic were league champions in another romantic victory, clinching the title on goal difference on the last day of the season at Love Street. Hearts were pipped at the post, having been the form team for much of the year. You can bet I had no sympathy for them at the time, but it was a harsh blow. If you look at the league tables, even allowing for two points for a win, both league championships in ’85 and ’86 were thrilling. In 1986, Hearts and Celtic finished level on points, but people forget Dundee United were only three points behind.
No-one knew it at the time, but this was the last time the league would be un-doped. Things changed that summer, with Rangers under new management, and Graeme Souness taking the manager’s chair at Ibrox, and… nothing being the same. Now came in the millionaires, the big salaries, spending what they couldn’t afford. Sky followed not too much later, and with it came the ruin of the English game.
Because don’t kid yourselves out there – the Premier League in England is just the Scottish league with fancier knickers. Success is bought and money is worshipped. How depressing to see billionaires waltz in and manipulate our national pastime as a vanity project, completely upsetting the applecart. I know more than one Man City fan who is loving the prospect of winning the league and rubbing the Reds’ faces in it… while at the same time appreciating that it’s a gigantic bloody fraud. Increasingly, the top leagues are concerned with money and power, not sport. I remember asking someone from Germany a few years ago if they supported a team; he told me that he hated football, as it had become an industry. He was right, but now it’s worse than an industry. It’s evil empire stuff. Real Madrid don’t buy people like David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo purely for football reasons. It’s big business. It’s ego. It’s three or four absolute monsters cruising past schools of minnows, swallowing them whole when they feel peckish. It’s ugly capitalism. If they win a bauble here and there, it’s not the bottom line. Power, influence and hegemony is. Barcelona remain a ray of light in that they have a hierarchy, some standards and a home-grown team, but that great side will dissolve, as they all must. And what then?
But there is another ray of light, and the death of Rangers can provide it. Their possible liquidation proves beyond doubt that no organisation is too big to fail. Nothing lasts forever folks, no empire stays standing. Even the mountains fall. And aside from the gloating of Celtic fans (and just about every non-Old Firm fan I know, by the way), it can be a good thing.
It may take a while, but with Rangers having to pay back what they owe (best case scenario) or going into liquidation and re-emerging as something new, Scottish football can flourish. The Doomsday scenario can re-set things.
And – I say this as a Celtic fan who has enjoyed our recent successes to the full – it’ll be good to see the Celts cut their cloth accordingly. To live within our means. To produce home-grown sides, like everyone else in the country. To turn the clock back to the 80s, when there was more competition, when our national side getting to the World Cup wasn’t a wistful, impossible dream.
To cut out this dread worship of money, and measuring quality by transfer fees and wages, by how much you spend in the transfer window.
It will take time – maybe years. It might take another couple of big teams going bust or getting in trouble. But I think our game can be resurrected. It’s been living beyond its means for a quarter of a century, and, karma being in action, it may take that long again. But it can happen. Look at Rangers; gaze upon proud Ozymandias. Just ten years ago, the arrogance, the smugness…. The elitism, the certainty that they’d keep on winning, that they could just grind their rivals into the dust.
They almost did it, too, in 1994, if a good man hadn’t stepped in and thousands of fans hadn’t manned the barricades. Fergus McCann should have a statue outside that stadium.
And just think what would happen if the Sky money suddenly vanished. If billionaires suddenly got themselves into professional darts or rugby… If live satellite football went the same way as movies, music and now books could be going.
Ie, available for free off the internet.
This is what I did today. Perhaps this is what made me feel bad. (Not the first time I’ve felt guilty after a wee surf to myself, to be sure). On a whim, I did a Google search for live Scottish football. Within two clicks, I had the game streamed live. That’s frightening. And fraudulent. And at the same time, it has the irresistible pull of the future to it, like the creeping interconnectivity we are starting to see online. The implications of easy-to-access pirated sports channels could be dire for commercial football.
But as a sport? It’ll go on. People will go on doing the right thing. Little boys and girls will always enjoy playing kick-the-ball. Our sports teams can keep good habits. Encouraging the young, becoming a local employer, the focus point of local pride and not just media-driven hatred and hysteria.
Ah yes, the media. Just when you thought an institutionally biased bunch of lickspittles could get no worse, there was Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland after the match on Saturday evening. Where Jim Traynor and Chick Young were a national disgrace, who were going out of their way to avoid criticising the former Rangers chairman, the man who ran up the debt in the first place. They said Craig Whyte was to blame, not Sir David Murray. This is Ministry of Truth-style denial on a quite breathtaking scale. Traynor’s an Airdrieonians fan, apparently… so why does he hold back from criticising Sir David Murray, the man who delivered the coldest dismissal to that team when they went out of business over a relatively small sum of money in 2000? He should be at Murray’s throat. It would only be natural.
Alan Pattullo, too, in The Scotsman (continuing its bizarre anti-Celtic stance), who has urged Celtic fans not to indulge in sanctimony – before doing exactly that, uttering some of the most laughably smug, obnoxious platitudes regarding Rangers’ fortitude and strength in the face of adversity.
Either these people simply don’t grasp the enormity of the hole Rangers find themselves in, or they are backing the man waiting to wheel himself back into the spotlight to save the rampant, ready, royal Rangers. Why are they so loyal to yesterday’s man, long past the end of Sir David Murray’s influence over Rangers?
Only they can know. Perhaps it’s love.
If Rangers’ Titanic impression is a fine metaphor for the failure of capitalist economics, then it has also helped expose a very disturbing tendency in the media. With the exception of one or two reporters such as Graeme Speirs, someone who has called it right regarding Rangers, their cowboy chairman and their more repellent traditions and its adherents, the national press and broadcasters have been given a bloody nose on this issue by the new media. Paul at Celtic Quick News, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain and the methodical Rangers Tax Case have, between them, broken stories on Rangers’ mismanagement that were better sourced and in many cases more accurately reported than the national news. Dishonesty among match officials was finally exposed through its efforts, apparent sectarianism was exposed among men at the very top, and they were right at the forefront as the whole rotten house of cards came down. Take a bow, lads.
Also, take a bow Neil Lennon. A man demonised as angry and mentally ill, assaulted in the street as well as at matches, threatened with death, sent parcel bombs and everything else… if this is revenge for that man for years of abuse, then who could deny him it?
Silly question. I know exactly who would deny him it. But there’s a man of immense strength and intellect, someone of character who took it, came back stronger, and is about to enjoy his reward. And those newspapermen and women who would demonise him and Celtic, who find it offensive that a football crowd has a laugh, but is less appalled when a man’s life is threatened… You get to watch. Enjoy that, won’t you?
Well done, Neil Lennon.
But, vindictiveness aside, hopefully the press can learn from what has happened here. Hopefully it can change its game, and survive by sticking to its duty: the truth.
(Audience erupts with laughter)
So don’t feel too bad, Rangers fans. Sure, you’ve got a lot of pain to come. It’s mostly self-inflicted, and you have had it coming for a long time. But there can be a fresh dawn. It may take a wee while. You could die out altogether… But don’t be afraid. You’re of too much value politically for that to happen. So you might even be a part of a bright future. We could even restructure the league system (as everyone and his dog knows would solve many problems in our game… everyone, that is, but Henry McLeish and his footballing think-tank). Two leagues, three at a push, but not four. Teams playing each other twice a season, not four times. Don’t deny the sense in this. The 10 or 12 team Premier League has only suited Celtic and Rangers. It certainly has money-wise.
If you Bears had to start again at the bottom, with no money but what your fans brought in, that could work out well for you. Back to the top within a couple of years. Those Glasgow derbies you’ll have missed will come back. Spread the wealth among smaller clubs. Don’t be greedy. You might even win a trophy within six… maybe seven years.
And this is a chance – a fat one – to remove the bigotry from the game, the anti-Catholic/Irish hatred that seeps from Ibrox’s stands, and was in such vast supply at the Kilmarnock game. Let the poison dissipate for one, two years, with the Old Firm games consigned to history… Let’s just see what happens. Let’s see if it stops.
It isn’t the end of the world! It’s just a game – our mothers were right.
Show some nerve, and things will be better for us all. Who knows – it might spread to other leagues, too, once the TV money bubble bursts.
Now, to dessert. Jelly and ice cream for me. And yourselves?