Scottish Football: An Honest Game, Honestly Governed?

A Guest Blog by Auldheid for TSFM

Honesty requires both transparency and accountability. In pursuit of honest, transparent and accountable governance of Scottish football, and only that objective, the following letter, with attachments, has been sent to SPFL lawyers, CEO and SPFL Board Members.

An honest game free from deception is what football supporters of all clubs want. It is the action the letter and attachments prompt that will tell us if there is any intention of providing it.

It is a response on behalf of readers here on TSFM, but the sentiment which underpins it is almost universally held amongst fans of all clubs.  Importantly it is a response directly to all clubs, especially those with a SPFL Board member, that will make the clubs and the football authorities aware just how seriously supporters take the restoration of trust in an honest game, honestly governed.

The annexes to the letter contain information which may be published at a later date. We thought it appropriate to first await any response from any of the recipients.

Please also draw this to the attention of friends who are not internet using supporters and love their football and their club.

Auldheid

__________________________________________________________________

Harper MacLeod
The Ca’d’oro
45 Gordon Street
Glasgow
G1 3PE
19 Feb 2014
Copy sent to SPFL CEO and Board Members *
Dear Mr McKenzie
We the contributors to The Scottish Football Monitoring web site write to you in your capacity as the legal adviser employed by Harper MacLeod to assist the Scottish Premier League (now the Scottish Professional Football League) to gather evidence and investigate the matter of incorrect player registrations involving concealed side letters and employee benefit trusts as defined in the eventual Lord Nimmo Smith Commission.
We note from the then SPL announcement that set up an enquiry that the initial date range to be covered was from the inception of the SPL in July 1998, but that was changed to 23 November 2000 because, according to our understanding, that is the date of the first side letter supplied by Rangers Administrators Duff and Phelps. It is also our understanding that the SPL asked for all documentation relating to side letters as well as the letters themselves.
It is a matter of public record that Rangers Administrators failed to supply the SPL all relevant documentation. Indeed the seriousness of not complying with SPL requests was the subject of an admonition of Rangers/Duff and Phelps from Lord Nimmo Smith under Issue 4 of his Commission.
Quite how serious that failure to comply or concealment was in terms of misleading the Commission and so Lord Nimmo Smith can now be assessed from the information contained at Annexes 1 to 10 attached.
We think that as legal advisers to the SPL (now the SPFL) you have a responsibility to make them aware that their Commission was misled by the concealment of documents starting on 3 September 1999, and signed by current SFA President Campbell Ogilvie, whose silence on the ebt matters referred to in the attached annexes* is questionable at the very least.
This letter but not attachments is being posted on The Scottish Football Monitor web site as this is matter for all of Scottish football and support for the issue being pursued to establish the truth can be gauged by responses from supporters from all Scottish clubs once the letter has been published there.
A copy of this letter with Annexes has also been sent to the SPFL CEO and members of the SPFL Board.
Acknowledgement of receipt and reply can be sent by e mail to:
(Address supplied)
Yours in sport

On behalf of The Scottish Football Monitor contributors and readers. http://www.tsfm.org.uk/
Addressees copied in
Neil Doncaster CEO
The Scottish Professional Football League
Hampden Park
Glasgow G42 9DE
Eric Riley (Celtic),
The Celtic Football Club
Celtic Park
Glasgow G40 3RE

Stephen Thompson (Dundee United),
Tannadice Park,
Tannadice Street,
Dundee, DD3 7JW
Duncan Fraser (Aberdeen);
Aberdeen Football Club plc
Pittodrie Stadium
Pittodrie Street
Aberdeen AB24 5QH
Les Gray (Hamilton),
Hamilton Academical FC
New Douglas Park
Hamilton
ML3 0FT
Mike Mulraney (Alloa)
Alloa Athletic FC
Clackmannan Road
Recreation Park
Alloa FK10 1RY
Bill Darroch (Stenhousemuir).
Stenhousemuir F.C.
Ochilview Park
Gladstone Road
Stenhousemuir
Falkirk
FK5 4QL

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The Existence of Laws

A Blog by James Forrest for TSFM

I am a socialist, and as a socialist I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. Some people find that hard to believe when they read the stuff I write.

I published my first novel recently, on politics and the corrupting nature of it, and it is a deeply cynical book, a book where no-one has clean hands come the end. What has surprised some of those who’ve read it is that I didn’t focus on the lies and smears of the right, but the hypocrisy and deceit of those who claim to be of the left.

Corruption, you see, doesn’t respect political boundaries or points of view. It’s like rainwater. It finds every crack, and gets in there.

My political beliefs revolve around two apparently paradoxical elements; the belief in the inherent decency of people and the need for a strong, and powerful, state. I believe the second underpins the first, and this brings me into conflict with a lot of people, some on the left and some on the right. Too many people see the state as inherently evil, as something that interferes too much in the lives of ordinary people. As something suffocating.

Yet the state exists to protect us. It exists to provide a safety net. It exists to regulate and to oversee. If the state is made up of bad people, if the gears of society are captured by those with malicious or selfish intent, the results are obvious; war, corruption, chaos.

The vast majority of our problems in the modern age can be neatly summed up in two lines from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”, which I used to open my novel. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

We live in a time when those who are protecting their own interests have assumed such power that they’ve cowed the rest of us. They have become a law unto themselves. They have changed the nature of the game, because they have sapped our will to the extent some barely put up a fight anymore. The weak get weaker, and the strong use their strength to crush the rest even more. It is a vicious struggle, a downward spiral.

Society is held together not only by the endeavour and common interests of its citizens but by a collection of laws. We elect the people who make those laws. They do so in our name, and we can remove that right every four years. That is a powerful thing, and we do not appreciate it enough. The present corruption exists because we allow it to exist.

The people around me continue to puzzle over my uncommon interest in the affairs of a football club on the west of Glasgow. My own club plays in the east end. I tell those who ask that my primary interest in the goings-on at the club calling itself Rangers is no longer about football; how could it be, after all? With promotion this year they are still a full two divisions below us, emasculated, skint, weak and unstable. If we were fortunate enough to draw them in cup competition the match would be over, as a tie, by the halfway point … in the first half.

In footballing terms they are an utter irrelevance.

Rangers is more than a football club to me. They are a symbol. Their unfolding calamity is an on-going outrage. What is happening there, what is being allowed to happen, is an offense to decency. It is a stain on the face of our country.

In short, it is a scandal. It is a scandal without parallel in sport.

Yet it’s not just a sports story either. If it was, I might not be so focussed on it. What is happening at Rangers is a colossal failure of governance. It is a damning indictment against the very people who are supposed to oversee our game. It is a disgraceful abrogation of responsibility from those at the top, those who claim to be “running things.”

If this is not a failure of governance it is a result of corruption at the heart of our national sport. It says they are bought and paid for, and I will say no such thing here.

So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. We’ll say instead that what they are is weak, indecisive, inept and disconnected from reality.

It reminds me of our political class, which has become insular and ignorant about what the public wants, and what it needs. It’s not a wonder parties like UKIP can achieve national vote shares of 25% at local elections. Nigel Farage strikes me as a dog-whistle politician, the kind who knows how to appeal to a select group of voters. He is little different to Charles Green, the man who beguiled Rangers fans into handing over large amounts of money, because he was “standing up for the club.” It is easy to do what he did, easy to do what Farage is doing.

Real leadership requires toughness. Say what you like about the Tories, but they have that in spades. Yeats was right about the worst being full of passionate intensity. Green was. Farage is. Cameron and Osborne personify it in their political outlook.

It is easy to be cowed by blunt force politics, and by “tough talking Yorkshire men” and venomous speeches about “strivers and skivers.” The politics of divide and conquer is the oldest form of politics there is, and it’s no surprise to see it practiced by some of the vested interests in the game here in Scotland. Yet, lest we forget … something significant happened last year. The maligned and the ignored, the weak and the voiceless found something they never realised they had. They discovered that, in a very real sense, the power was in their hands.

Last year, the fans rose up when the governing bodies and the media went all-out to save Rangers from the self-inflicted wounds caused by a decade of cheating, malpractice and ineptitude. I have no problem calling that what it was.

What happened at Rangers seemed incredible, but it was all too predictable, and some of us had been talking about it for years before it hit. The Association seemed caught in the headlights but it would amaze me if they really were as insular and ignorant as they appeared. They must have known how bad the outlook was for Rangers. They just chose to ignore it.

They were aided and abetted by a thoroughly disreputable media, a collection of cowards and compromisers, charlatans and frauds, masquerading as journalists, but who long ago laid aside any claim to be bold investigators and settled for commenting on events as they unfolded. More often than not, with their ill-informed opinions, sometimes due to weaknesses in intellect and others wilfully ignorant, they failed even in that.

Entire newspapers became PR machines for crooks and swindlers. They aided in the scam because they didn’t do their jobs, some because they were lazy, some because they were incompetent and others because they wanted a seat at the table and were willing to sacrifice whatever integrity they once had in exchange for one.

That all of this was embraced by the Rangers fans is amazing to me. They trusted when they should have been asking questions. They closed their eyes, covered their ears and sang their battle tunes at the top of their voices so they wouldn’t have to hear anything they didn’t like. As incredible as I found it then, and still find it now – and now, even more so, when they have already seen the results of it once – I find it pathetic too, and I do feel pity for some of them.

A lot of these people are genuine football fans, and nothing more. They have no interest in the phony narrow nationalism, or the over-blown religion, or the notion of supremacy which manifested itself in a ludicrous statement from McCoist when interviewed recently on Sky.

Some of the Rangers fans look at their team of duds, kids and journeymen, they look at a boardroom of cowards and crooks, they look at a failing manager in his first (and last) job in the game and at a dark future and are not in the least bit impressed by, or interested in, the chest-out arrogance espoused in those ridiculous words “we are the people.” They know full well that their present crisis was made by men like McCoist, and they understand that pretentious posturing is not an act born of strength, but a scrambling around in the gutter, and a symptom of weakness.

They understand their position, and they hate it. And because they care about Rangers, because they value the club, because they cherish those things that made it a great Scottish institution, they want that back. They understand that before the Union Jack waving, Sash singing, poppy wearing, Nazi saluting, Orange element became the public face of their support Rangers meant something else, and that, above all things, is what pains them the most.

People do not hate Rangers. When the country appeared to turn its back last year, they were turning the back on favouritism and the bending of rules. Yet it would be a lie to say that there is not an element of dislike in the gleeful mockery of many rival fans.

But they don’t hate Rangers either. They hate the version of it around which a certain section of the support continues to dance. They hate the version which hates, and so too do many, many, many Rangers supporters, and they definitely deserve better.

David Murray chose not to openly challenge that version. Indeed, he encouraged certain strands of it to flourish and grow, with his “Britishness Days” and his effort to turn the club into the “team that supports the troops.” Other clubs have done as much, if not more, for the British Army than the one that plays out of Ibrox. Other clubs have given more money. Other clubs have lent their support to those on the front lines. They just chose to do it with respect, and with class, and with dignity. They chose to do it in private, understanding that there eventually comes a tipping point between looking after the ends of the soldiers and using them to promote your own.

The army has not battened on to Rangers. Rangers has battened on to them, and although it is unclear when an altruistic motive became darker, what started out as a gesture of solidarity is now used to entrench division and promote a notion of superiority.

Craig Whyte took over from Murray and immediately understood the lure of the “dog whistle.” He knew too that the media would accept whatever he told them, without question, and as he spoke up for “Rangers traditions” he made sure the lunatic fringe was well onside. He met face to face with the hard-core extremists in the support first and made them his praetorian guard. They spoke up for him until the day the club entered administration.

So, whereas Murray pandered to them and Whyte used them to further his own ends, it was only a matter of time before someone suggested to Charles Green that he could use the same tactics to win over the support. He went even further and blatantly promoted and encouraged this mind-set, and stoked the hate and nonsense to frightening new heights. The same people who cheered Whyte to the rafters jumped on board the Big Blue Bus and the results are clear.

Through all of it, the ordinary Rangers fan has seen his club buffered against the rocks, battered, broken, smashed to smithereens and sunk. Now there’s a big hole in the side of the lifeboat, and they are terrified that further tragedies await.

They are right to be concerned. Much of the media is still not telling them what they need to know. The people in charge of their club – the owners who have lied, the former hack who covered up the truth about Whyte and now acts as a mouthpiece for Green, the “club legends” who are content to sup with the devil and take his greasy coin when they should be standing toe-to-toe with the fans – are trying to silence those members of the press who do have facts to present.

How many times now have media outlets been banned from Ibrox for daring to report the truth? The manager who demanded the names of a committee last year defends those inside the walls who are desperate to keep secret the things that are going on. He is either an unprincipled coward, or he is, himself, bought and paid for. The fans suffer for it.

The “inconvenient truth” is still being kept from them, and this denies them any chance to play an active role in their club. Indeed, it is all too possible that they’ve passed a point of no return, and that their club is heading for a new liquidation event and it can no longer be stopped.

In either case, their power has been eroded to the point at which they must feel they have nothing left to do but stand back and watch what happens next.

They are wrong. I am a socialist. I believe in the inherent good of people. I think the ordinary decent Rangers fans are the only people left who can save their club … and the means by which they will do it is as simple as it could be.

They must stand up for “big government.” They must embrace the need for a “strong state.” They must lobby the SFA, and they must trust the SFA and they must get the SFA to follow its own rules and thereby save them from any further harm.

There is a tendency amongst some Celtic fans to see our governing bodies as pro-Rangers. If it is true then those running our game are ruining Scottish football without benefiting the thing they love more. The incalculable harm that has been done to Rangers in the last 20 some months is a direct result of the subservient media and the willingness of the football authorities to be “deaf, dumb and blind.” Those who believe this has actually helped the Ibrox club have not been paying attention in class. It has irrevocably scarred them, and it may yet have played a hand in destroying them once and for all, as a force if not as a club entirely.

For years, the SFA sat and did nothing as a club in their association operated a sectarian signing policy. They did nothing whilst the fans sang sectarian songs. In their failure to act they strengthened those elements of the Rangers support, instead of isolating, alienating and eventually helping to eliminate those who saw that club as a totem pole of division and hate. Their failure over EBT’s, and their lack of scrutiny, led to one of the greatest scandals in the history of sport, and I say that with no equivocation at all. The testimony of their registrations officer in the Lord Nimmo Smith investigation was a disgrace and in years to come it will rank as one of the most disreputable and damaging moments in the association’s history.

The most egregious failures of all were the failures in the so-called “fit and proper person” tests, which allowed first Whyte and then Charles Green to assume controlling positions at Ibrox. They will pass the buck and say the responsibility lies with the club itself, in much the same way as they are content to let the club investigate itself at the present time, but any neutral who looks at this stance knows it is unprincipled and spineless. It’s like letting the defence set the terms at a trial. It is foxes investigating the chicken coop.

It is a blueprint for corruption, and a recipe for disaster.

It is now too late for the SFA to declare Green “unfit”, as it was too late when they finally slapped that title on Craig Whyte. He and his allies own Rangers, and they control its destiny. They can push the club to the wall if they choose, in the final extremity, if that gets them what they want. The time for changing that is past. The damage has already been done. The barbarians are not at the gates. They are inside the walls, and sacking the city.

The SFA will be forced to punish Rangers for the sins of the owners, for the second time in as many years, and whilst it is right that the club face up to that, all the better to send a message to other clubs and other owners, the SFA cannot be allowed to slither off the hook here as though this was none of their doing. Green will skip off into the sunset. Craig Whyte has yet to pay his fine. These people never cared about Scottish football and they don’t care now.

The SFA are supposed to. Our governing body is supposed to govern, for the good of the whole game, and not as a support system for a single club. What they have allowed to happen on their watch is absolutely shameful and if the people responsible were men at all, with any sense of accountability, they would resign en masse.

They can pretend ignorance, but only the truly ignorant would accept that. Craig Whyte was not inside Ibrox a week before RTC and other sites were dismantling his entire business history, with some of the people here doing the work the SFA would not. Whyte himself claims to have made the governing bodies aware of the scale of what was facing the club, and they did nothing at all. Heads should have rolled a year ago.

In October of last year, on this very site, I posted an article in which I wrote:

“Which isn’t to say the due diligence matter isn’t worrying, because, of course, it is. Again, no-one is going to convince me that the SFA has conducted proper due diligence on Charles Green and his backers. No-one will convince me they are satisfied that this club is in safe hands, and that the game in this country will not be rocked by a further implosion at Ibrox. They failed to properly investigate Craig Whyte, because of lax regulations requiring disclosure from the club itself, regulations which are just a joke, but they can be forgiven for that as the press was talking sheer nonsense about him having billions at his disposal, and a lot of people (but not everyone!) were either convinced or wanted to be convinced by him.

To have witnessed what Whyte did, to have witnessed the Duff & Phelps “process” of finding a buyer, and having Green essentially emerge from nowhere, with a hundred unanswered questions as to his background and financing, for the SFA to have given this guy the go ahead, only for it to blow up in their faces later, would annihilate the credibility of the governing body and necessitate resignations at every level. There would be no hiding place.”

There are times when it is fun to be right, but this is not one of them. It is dispiriting and disquieting to have been so on the nose. It scares the Hell out of me, as someone who loves football in this country, to have seen this matter clearly when the people running our game apparently either did not or chose to ignore very real, very obvious, concerns. The Internet Bampots had no special insight or access to information that was denied those at the SFA. We just weren’t prepared to ignore it and pretend that it wasn’t there. There was too much at stake.

I have become convinced that things will never change until the Rangers supporters join us in demanding the full and unabridged truth here. They need to come out from under the bed, and confront their fears. They need to be willing to take the consequences, so that their club can emerge clean from this, and start again, with all this behind them.

And it can all happen with one simple thing. The application of the rules.

The existence of laws comes down to a simple principle; they protect society from those elements within it who are interested only in their own selfish ends. We may cry out at those rules and regulations we see as “restrictive”, but the law was not made to restrict our freedoms but to protect them. Had the SFA years ago acted against Rangers sectarian signing policy, and the songs from the stands, the club would not have mutated to the point where there was no help on hand when they needed it the most. Let’s not kid ourselves about this; Whyte and Green were only able to grab control because the club itself has a dreadful image which put off respectable and responsible buyers. The SFA could have helped change that perception years ago and did nothing.

The SFA could have conducted its own investigation into who Craig Whyte was. They could have asked David Murray for full disclosure when he was running up £80 million of debt, a sum of money that is beyond belief for a single club in a small provincial backwater league. Had they had the guts to do that the club would never have spent itself into oblivion and forced the hand of Lloyds, which led indirectly to their ignominious end.

The SFA could have fully investigated Charles Green and the means by which he took control, instead of rushing through a license. His emergence at the last minute was transparently suspicious and designed to force them into a quick decision, but they did not have to bow to that pressure by making one, without being in possession of the facts, as it is now 100% clear they were not.

Had they asked for every document, had they insisted on legal affidavits and personal securities from investors (and this would have been perfectly legitimate and is common place in other licensing areas) none of this would have come to pass. After Craig Whyte they had a moral responsibility to the rest of the game to get this one right and their failure is without parallel in the history of Scottish football.

As the club hurtles towards a new abyss, names are cropping up which should send a shudder down the spines of every honest, genuine supporter of not only Rangers but every team in the land. The SFA claims that a strong Rangers is essential for the sake of Scottish football, but they have been extraordinarily lax in protecting that club, and therefore the game, from destructive elements. Craig Whyte and Charles Green had dubious personal histories, and the acquisition of the club itself was mired in controversy and scandal. Yet it was allowed.

Neither Green nor Whyte were known to have operated outside the law, yet neither was worthy of trust or stood up to scrutiny. Neither man should ever have been granted the status as fit and proper persons to assume a role in our national sport, and if it is true of them what can we say about the three men who are, presently, being touted as the Great White Hopes for a bright, new Rangers future; Dave King and the Easdale brothers?

King recently cut a deal with the South African government over an on-going dispute over taxes. In other words, he pled guilty and accepted the central plank of their argument; that for years he was engaged in wilfully with-holding vast revenues from their Treasury. The media does not like to put it like that, and the SFA seems willing to ignore it utterly, and this would be scandalous enough. But it does not stop there. HRMC rules – as well as the SFA’s own governance documents – actually bar him from serving on the board of the new club.

Last but not least, aside from being an admitted tax cheat, King is also awaiting trial in South Africa, having been indicted for corruption, forgery and fraud – 300 charges in total. Yet as recently as last week, we were told that the Association was willing to look at him and consider representations from his lawyers. This is almost beyond belief.

If Dave King’s position is untenable, and he is yet to be convicted of a crime, what can we say about the position of the Easdale’s? One of the two brothers, Sandy, has already served jail time. He is a convicted criminal, a fraudster nonetheless, who’s “victim” was the same Treasury who are appealing one case involving the old club and liquidated it entirely over another. This is precisely the kind of “businessman” the fit and proper person test was supposed to weed out, and if the SFA holds its nose here the reek will stink out the halls at Hampden for decades. If King or the Easdale’s are judged fit and proper, then who exactly is the test for? What exactly do you have to do to fail it? How do we explain the existence of laws, when these are not applied?

Pascal says “Law without force is impotent.” The SFA’s weakness has allowed one version of Rangers to destroy itself, and has allowed an existential risk to another. If the next power at Rangers resides in South Africa or Greenock I can say with some certainty that the Association is engaged in an even more dangerous roll of the dice, because the surfacing of fresh scandal will be an ever present risk, and will be of the sort no-one will survive.

The damage to Scottish football will take years to heal. The Scottish game has been through enough trauma. It does not need more. It barely survived the last calamity to hit Rangers. The rest of us should not be forced to pay the price of the next one.

The greater damage will be done to Rangers itself. If the Green crisis ends in another collapse – as it well might; another administration event is a certainty, and another liquidation is a much more likely prospect than it was before 14 February 2012 – the club will once again have to start from the bottom, and this time the reputational damage will be impossible to repair. The club faces internal strife, sporting sanctions, and criminal investigations. The last takeover might be declared a fraud. the Whyte takeover will almost certainly be. The share issue might be invalid, as well as criminal, and the people involved may well end up in jail. Lawsuits could follow from investors, there could be as yet unknown consequences from the Upper Tier Tax Tribunal (thank you Brogan Rogan for pointing out what those might be) and a host of other issues.

Rangers fans must be the loudest voices here. How do you want the world to view your club in years to come? Do you want one to be proud of, or one forever associated with the shame and disgrace of these days gone by? The one which bailed out on its tax obligations. The one with supporters who disgrace your very name. The one which allowed Whyte and Green to take you to the cleaners and send you to the wall. The one which handed over control to one convicted criminal and another awaiting trial. Do you want to be reborn clean, or mired in the muck?

David Murray destroyed your financial stability. He made it so no bank would issue you a line of credit and no investor of note wanted to buy. Craig Whyte liquidated you. Charles Green has cast the future of the Newco into doubt and acted in a manner which has annihilated your credibility with the financial markets for decades to come.

Between these three men, they have taken everything from you, and the press and the people who run the game here, as well as some of your own blindly ignorant fans, have allowed them to do all this and more. Now they conspire to hand the keys to Ibrox to other men of questionable character, who will wreck further havoc on the reputation of the club.

The Scottish Football Association has damaged the game it was supposed to protect, but above all else their greatest failure of governance was a failure to protect one of its biggest clubs from its own excesses and those of its owners.

Rangers fans, the SFA have betrayed your trust, more than the trust of any other club. What you must insist on now is full disclosure and transparency from the powers that be in Hampden. The SFA has to end the charade of allowing your club to handle this in-house. They must hand everything over to an outside agency – whether a legal one, or a footballing body like UEFA – and they must demand co-operation and answers, and threaten to withhold the license if they don’t get them.

You must not be afraid of that. You must embrace it. The men with their hands on the gears at Ibrox are motivated by money, and nothing more. If the license is withdrawn their “investments” are worthless. They cannot risk that.

You must demand that the rules on fit and proper persons are applied, and where necessary even made stronger, to prevent your club falling into unclean hands. You must demand that they protect your reputation from further damage, by getting this all out there and acting accordingly, even if that means your club does not play football for at least a year.

You must be willing to suck it all up, knowing that what will emerge is a Rangers which has been cleansed and moves forward with honour, and dignity, led by custodians who treasure it rather than those who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

The Rangers Standard has recently emerged as a genuine voice for those in your support who are sick and tired of what Rangers has become, and want it restored to something that is worthy of the love and respect in which you hold it. On that website, there are discussions about the kind of club you seek to be and about whether the institution of Rangers is about more than just football.

If that’s how you feel about it then you know it is about more than how many titles the club can claim, about more than just results on the park, about more than just the game. Rangers, like Celtic, is an idea. It has to be something you are proud of.

I am a socialist, but one with a fevered imagination and a tendency to write very dark things. This piece won’t have been good reading for some of you (perhaps all of you haha!) but I think there’s more hope in here than in other things I’ve written.

In spite of everything that’s come to pass, I still believe. I believe in Scottish football. I believe in our system of football governance, even if those who are working in it are failing on some level.

In society, as much as we strain against them, laws exist for our protection. To fail to enforce them is to leave us at the mercy of those elements who would do us harm. The rules of football ensure the protection of all clubs, not just a few.

The failure to enforce the rules has never had graver consequences than here in Scotland.  The irony is that bending and breaking them has hurt the one club those violations were designed to help. It cannot be allowed to happen again.

The rules must be applied without fear or favour.

The best must find their conviction, and their passionate intensity once more.

James is a co-editor of the On Fields of Green Blog http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com/

Fair Play at FIFA?

The following post comes about as a result of the research and work put in by Auldheid.

He has drafted the submission to FIFA detailed below after closely looking at their rules, and taking on board the points contained in the Glasnost “Golden Rule” blog. TSFM has attached the blog’s name to the report since the overwhelming – but not unanimous – view of our readership is that the SFA and the SPL have again gotten themselves into an almighty and embarrassingly amateur fankle over this issue.

We believe that tens of thousands of football fans will be lost to the game if the outcome of the LNS enquiry is not perceived to be commensurate with the scope and extent of the rule breaking that LNS found had taken place. In view of this, we believe that we have to do what we can to explore all possibilities for justice for those who love the game so much and yet are utterly disillusioned by recent events.

LNS is not being questioned here. He has found that RFC were guilty as charged by the SPL.

What is being questioned is the SFA’s crucial – and seemingly conflicted  – role in the LNS enquiry, as is the effectiveness of LNS’s recommended sanction as either a deterrent or an upholder of sporting integrity.

It came to our notice last week that FIFA have created a web site at

https://www.bkms-system.net/bkwebanon/report/clientInfo?cin=6fifa61&language=eng

that tells us that FIFA have implemented a regulatory framework which is intended to ensure that all statutory rules, rules of conduct and internal guidelines of FIFA are respected and complied with.

In support of that regulatory framework FIFA have set up the above site as a reporting mechanism by means of which inappropriate behaviour and infringements of the pertinent regulations may be reported.

FIFA say that their jurisdiction encompasses misconduct that (1) relates to match manipulation; (2) occurs in or affects more than one confederation, so that it cannot adequately be addressed by a single confederation; or (3) would ordinarily be addressed by a confederation or association, but, under the particular facts at issue, has not been or is unlikely to be dealt with appropriately at that level.

Discussions arising from the previous blog on TSFM, “Gilt Edged Justice”, which was published after Lord Nimmo Smith (LNS) ruled on the registration of Rangers players who had contractual side letters that were not disclosed to the SFA as part of their registration, suggest that there may be possible unfortunate consequences for football arising from the evidence presented by the SFA to the LNS enquiry that informed its findings on registration and consequent eligibility. There is also a question of the propriety of the SFA providing evidence on an issue which could have had a negative impact on them had it been found that they had failed to carrying out their registration duties with due rigour over a period of ten years when the existence of EBTs was known to officials within the SFA.

On the basis that the LNS findings require that registration rules be clarified by FIFA and rewritten globally if necessary to remove any ambiguity and under clause 3 above, this appears to be an issue that the FIFA should examine and that the SFA cannot address.

The following report has therefore been submitted by TSFM on behalf of its readers to FIFA drawing on the content and debate following the “Gilt Edged Justice” blog in respect of the possible footballing consequences of the LNS enquiry.

The hope is that by speaking for so many supporters, FIFA will give the TSFM submission some weight, but individuals are free of course to make their own points in their own way.  We await acknowledgement of the submission.

The report Submitted to FIFA is as follows;

This report was prepared on behalf of the 10,000-strong readership of The Scottish Football Monitor at http://scottishfootballmonitor.wordpress.com/
It is our belief that FIFA general rules of conduct were breached by the SFA and their employees in both creating and then advising The Lord Nimmo Smith (LNS) enquiry into the non disclosure of full payment information to the Scottish Football Association (SFA) by Rangers F.C during a period of player registration over 10 years from 2000.

We believe that although the issue has been addressed by the SFA the particular facts at issue suggest that it has not been dealt with appropriately and we therefore ask FIFA to investigate. The facts at issue are that the process and advice given failed to uphold sporting integrity, and that a conflict of interest was at play.

We believe the advice provided and the enquiry set up, where SFA both advised and is the appellant body, breaches not only the integrity the registration rules were intended to uphold, but also totally undermines the integrity of the SFA in breach of General Conduct rules 1, 2 and 4. (See below.)

1.  Firstly we believe that the advice supplied to LNS that an incorrectly registered player was eligible to play as long as the registration was accepted by the SFA however unwittingly, undermines the intent of the SPL/SFA rules on player registration and so undermines the integrity of football in three ways.

• It incentivises clubs to apply for a player to be registered even if they know that the conditions of registration are not satisfied, in the hope that the application will somehow ‘slip through the net’ and be granted anyway (in which case it will be valid until revoked).

• A club which discovers that it has made an error in its application is incentivized to say nothing and to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ – because it would be in a better position by not confessing its mistake.

• And most importantly, it incentivises fraud.  By deliberately concealing relevant information, a club can ensure that a player who does not satisfy the registration conditions is treated as being eligible – and therefore allowed to play – for as long as a period as possible (potentially his entire spell with the club). Then, if the club is no longer around when the deception is finally discovered, imposing meaningful sanctions may be impossible.

2.   Secondly we believe the process followed was inappropriate due to a Conflict of Interest. Had the LNS enquiry not ruled on the basis of advice supplied by The SFA, they and those persons advising the LNS enquiry, could have been subjected to censure and the SFA to potential compensation claims had LNS found that the players were indeed ineligible to play and results then been annulled as was SFA practice when an ineligible player played.

3.  Finally we contend that a law should not be applied according to its literal meaning if to do so would lead to an absurdity or a manifest injustice or in this case loss of football integrity.
See http://glasnostandapairofstrikers.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/gilt-edged-justice/

4. We therefore ask FIFA to investigate both the process used and advice given to Lord Nimmo Smith to satisfy themselves that FIFA’s intentions with regard to upholding the integrity of football under FIFA rules have not been seriously damaged by the LNS findings and also to reassure Scottish football supporters that the integrity of our game has not been sacrificed by the very authority in whose care it has been placed to promote the short term cause of commercialism to the games long term detriment.

General Rules of Conduct (These are taken from the FIFA web site itself and can be found as part of completing the submission process)

1. Persons bound by this Code are expected to be aware of the importance of their duties and concomitant obligations and responsibilities.

2. Persons bound by this Code are obliged to respect all applicable laws and regulations as well as FIFA’s regulatory framework to the extent applicable to them.

3. N/A

4. Persons bound by this Code may not abuse their position in any way, especially to take advantage of their position for private aims or gains.

Everything Has Changed

The recent revelations of a potential winding up order being served on Rangers Newco certainly does have a sense of “deja vu all over again” for the average reader of this blog.

It reminds me of an episode of the excellent Western series Alias Smith & Jones. The episode was called The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit. In the story, the eponymous anti-heroes were being tracked by a particularly dogged group of law-men whom they just couldn’t shake off – and they spent the entire episode trying to do just that. In a famous quote, Thaddeus Jones, worn out from running, says to Joshua Smith, “We’ve got to get out of this business!”

The SFM has been trying since its inception to widen the scope and remit of the discussion and debate on the blog. Unsuccessfully. Like the posse that wouldn’t quit, Rangers are refusing to go away as a story. With the latest revelations, I confided in my fellow mods that perhaps we too should get out of this business. I suspect that, even if we did, this story would doggedly trail our paths until it wears us all down.

The fact that the latest episode of the Rangers saga has sparked off debate on this blog may even confirm the notion subscribed to by Rangers fans that TSFM is obsessed with their club. However even they must agree that the situation with regard to Rangers would be of interest to anyone with a stake in Scottish Football; and that they themselves must be concerned by the pattern of events which started over a decade ago and saw the old club fall into decline on a trajectory which ended in liquidation.

But let me enter into a wee discussion which doesn’t merely trot out the notion of damage done to others or sins against the greater good, but which enters the realm of the damage done to one of the great institutions of world sport, Rangers themselves.

David Murray was regarded by Rangers fans as a hero. His bluster, hubris and (as some see it) arrogant contempt for his competitors afforded him a status as a champion of the cause as long as it was underpinned by on-field success.

The huge pot of goodwill he possessed was filled and topped-up by a dripping tap of GIRUY-ness for many years beyond the loss of total ascendency that his spending (in pursuit of European success) had achieved, and only began to bottom out around the time the club was sold to Craig Whyte.  In retrospect, it can be seen that the damage that was done to the club’s reputation by the Murray ethos (not so much a Rangers ethos as a Thatcherite one) and reckless financial practice is now well known.

Notwithstanding the massive blemish on its character due to its employment policies, the (pre-Murray) Rangers ethos portrayed a particularly Scottish, perhaps even Presbyterian stoicism. It was that of a conservative, establishment orientated, God-fearing and law-abiding institution that played by the rules. It was of a club that would pay its dues, applied thrift and honesty in its business dealings, and was first to congratulate rivals on successes (witness the quiet dignity of John Lawrence at the foot of the aircraft steps with an outstretched hand to Bob Kelly when Celtic returned from Lisbon).

If Murray had dug a hole for that Rangers, Craig Whyte set himself up to fill it in. No neo-bourgeois shirking of responsibilities and duty to the public for him; his signature was more pre-war ghetto, hiding behind the couch until the rent man moved along to the next door. Whyte just didn’t pay any bills and with-held money that was due to be passed along to the treasury to fund the ever more diminished public purse. Where Murray’s Rangers had been regarded by the establishment and others as merely distasteful, Whyte’s was now regarded as a circus act, and almost every day of his tenure brought more bizarre and ridiculous news which had Rangers fans cringing, the rest laughing up their sleeve, and Bill Struth birling in his grave.

The pattern was now developing in plain sight. Murray promised Rangers fans he would only sell to someone who could take the club on, but he sold it – for a pound – to a guy whose reputation did not survive the most cursory of inspection. Whyte protested that season tickets had not been sold in advance, that he used his own money to buy the club. Both complete fabrications. Yet until the very end of Whyte’s time with the club, he, like Murray still, was regarded as hero by a fan-base which badly wanted to believe that the approaching car-crash could be avoided.

Enter Charles Green. Having been bitten twice already, the fans’ first instincts were to be suspicious of his motives. Yet in one of history’s greatest ironic turnarounds, he saw off the challenge of real Rangers-minded folk (like John Brown and Paul Murray) and their warnings, and by appealing to what many regard as the baser instincts of the fan-base became the third hero to emerge in the boardroom in as many years. The irony of course is that Green himself shouldn’t really pass any kind of Rangers sniff-test; personal, sporting, business or cultural; and yet there he is the spokesman for 140 years of the aspirations of a quarter of the country’s fans.

To be fair though, what else could Rangers fans do? Green had managed (and shame on the administration process and football authorities for this) to pick up the assets of the club for less (nett) than Craig Whyte and still maintained a presence in the major leagues.

If they hadn’t backed him only the certainty of doom lay before them. It was Green’s way or the highway in other words – and speaking of words, his sounded mighty fine. But do the real Rangers minded people really buy into it all?

First consider McCoist. I do not challenge his credentials as a Rangers minded man, and his compelling need to be an effective if often ineloquent spokesman for the fans. However, according to James Traynor (who was then acting as an unofficial PR advisor to the Rangers manager), McCoist was ready to walk in July (no pun intended) because he did not trust Green. The story was deliberately leaked, to undermine Green, by both Traynor and McCoist. McCoist also refused for a long period of time to endorse the uptake of season books by Rangers fans, even went as far as to say he couldn’t recommend it.

So what changed? Was it a Damascene conversion to the ways of Green, or was it the 250,000 shares in the new venture that he acquired. Nothing improper or unethical – but is it idealism? Is it fighting for the cause?

Now think Traynor. I realise that can be unpleasant, but bear with me.

Firstly, when he wrote that story on McCoist’s resignation, (and later backed it up on radio claiming he had spoken to Ally before printing the story), he was helping McCoist to twist Green’s arm a little. Now, and I’m guessing that Charles didn’t take this view when he saw the story in question, Green thinks that Traynor is a “media visionary”?

Traynor also very publicly, in a Daily Record leader, took the “New Club line” and was simultaneously contemptuous of Green.

What happened to change both their minds about each other? Could it have been (for Green) the PR success of having JT on board and close enough to control, and (for Traynor) an escape route for a man who had lost the battle with own internal social media demons?

Or, given both McCoist’s and Traynor’s past allegiance to David Murray, is it something else altogether?

Whatever it is, both Traynor and McCoist have started to sing from a totally different hymn sheet to Charles Green since the winding up order story became public. McCoist’s expert étude in equivocation at last Friday’s press conference would have had the Porter in Macbeth slamming down the portcullis (now there’s an irony). He carefully distanced himself from his chairman and ensured that his hands are clean. Traynor has been telling one story, “we have an agreement on the bill”, and Green another, “we are not paying it”.

And what of Walter Smith? At first, very anti-Charles Green, he even talked about Green’s “new club”. Then a period of silence followed by his being co-opted to the board and a “same club” statement. Now in the face of the damaging WUP story, more silence. Hardly a stamp of approval on Green’s credentials is it?

Rangers fans would be right to be suspicious of any non-Rangers people extrapolating from this story to their own version of Armageddon, but shouldn’t they also reserve some of that scepticism for Green and Traynor (neither are Rangers men, and both with only a financial interest in the club) when they say “all is well” whilst the real Rangers man (McCoist) is only willing to say “as far as I have been told everything is well”

As a Celtic fan, it may be a fair charge to say that I don’t have Rangers best interests at heart, but I do not wish for their extinction, nor do I believe that one should ignore a quarter of the potential audience for our national game. Never thought I’d hear myself say this, but apart from one (admittedly mightily significant) character defect, I can look at the Rangers of Struth and Simon, Gillick and Morton, Henderson and Baxter, and Waddell and Lawrence (and God help me even Jock Wallace) with fondness and a degree of nostalgia.

I suspect most Rangers fans are deeply unhappy about how profoundly their club has changed. To be fair, my own club no longer enchants me in the manner of old. As sport has undergone globalisation, everything has changed. Our relationship to our clubs has altered, the business models have shifted, and the aspirations of clubs is different from that of a generation ago. It has turned most football clubs into different propositions from the institutions people of my generation grew up supporting, but Rangers are virtually unrecognisable.

The challenge right now for Rangers fans is this. How much more damage will be done to the club’s legacy before this saga comes to an end?

And by then will it be too late to do anything about it?

Most people on this blog know my views about the name of Green’s club. I really don’t give a damn because for me it is not important. I do know, like Craig Whyte said, that in the fullness of time there will be a team called Rangers, playing football in a blue strip at Ibrox, and in the top division in the country.

I understand that this may be controversial to many of our contributors, but I hope that this incarnation of Rangers is closer to that of Lawrence and Simon than to Murray and Souness.

A Question of Trust (Updated)

by Auldheid for the Scottish Football Monitor

On these pages at least there is a mounting lack of trust that the Scottish Football Association can or will govern our game in a fair and honest manner that recognises the principle of sporting integrity as paramount.

This mistrust is equalled only by the frustration at being unable to do anything to change the attitude and action of those at the SFA (and Leagues) responsible for that governance, a frustration compounded by the reluctance of the mainstream media to focus on the very issues of trust and integrity that concern us.

Back in early 2010 Celtic supporters represented by the Celtic Trust, various Association groups and individuals felt the same frustration and found a way to make their voices heard at the SFA – by using their club as a channel of communication to articulate their concerns.

A resolution was agreed and passed to Celtic to convey to the SFA and it was heeded by the club. There is no reason in why a similar conduit cannot be used by supporters groups of all clubs.

The enormity of the task, to get the majority of trusts and associations of all clubs to support this approach and give it sufficient weight, should not be underestimated, but in the interests of amplifying our voice, it is worth the effort.

Based on that 2010 experience, and on the discussion that has taken place on TSFM we have arrived at a (now amended) resolution below under the auspices of TSFM and which has been sent to all representative club supporters groups.

We believe one of the reasons the SFA and SPL were able to mislead (or simply fail to provide leadership) was because of the lack of clarity surrounding who should take provide that leadership and what principles should have been paramount.

The SFA were as tied to the commercial impact of Rangers demise as the SPL and indeed had to be reminded by the supporters of the importance of that sporting integrity. In the aftermath of the Rangers implosion, both the SFA and Leagues on the face of it appear still too commercially oriented to act in a way that balances commercialism and sporting principles.

We have attempted to address this in the resolution below. It also contains additional points raised already on TSFM and elsewhere. It is designed to assist in the widening of accountability in the sport.

We are not wed to the draft or the language. It is there to be revised but we hope it contains enough food for thought to be acceptable to the supporters groups and the clubs.

As recently as today, the SFA has published a Fans Charter. We welcome this development, and although it does not address our specific concerns with respect to governance it is a step in the right direction (http://www.fanscharter.com/).

Some of the principles published are;

  • Challenge is to make a National Fans Charter known, accepted and influential
  • Getting fan involvement in drafting charter important to acceptance,  influence and growing awareness.

We think our resolution is an even bigger step in the direction of those principles.


DRAFT Proposal for Representative Supporter Groups e.g. Trusts or Associations to send to their club to convey to the SFA/SPL/SFL Boards.

We [Insert Association/Trust name here] and in association with fans’ groups of other clubs, ask [Insert Club name here] to convey the following to the Scottish Football Association, SPL and SFL on our behalf.

1         We believe that the commercial viability of Scottish football at the professional level depends absolutely on the belief by supporters that sporting integrity is at the heart of all competition, and that those governing them and the rules by which they exercise governance, must hold sporting integrity as paramount above ALL other concerns. This belief can be summed up in the one word “trust” Without trust in those responsible for governing Scottish Football, commercial viability will suffer, to eventual ruin of our game.

2         There is a perception (accompanied by some dismay and anger) among football supporters throughout Scotland that those who were charged with upholding the rules of the SFA and SPL/SFL, only did so partially – and even then only because of the threat of supporter action if they did not.
3         There appears to be no distinction or order of hierarchy between those governing the game (the SFA) for whom we believe preservation of sporting integrity should be the prime purpose, and the leagues (SPL/SFL) for whom commercial aspects are (understandably) uppermost. As a result sporting integrity lost its primacy and it was left to supporters to insist on it.

4         Consequently many Scottish football supporters have lost confidence that the Scottish Football Association will fulfil their purpose of safeguarding the sport. Indeed their silence following the revelation of a 5 way agreement last summer on the future of the liquidated Glasgow Rangers has exacerbated this loss of confidence in the SFA’s ability to administer professional football in Scotland in a manner that reflects their duty of care to all aspects of the game and everyone who takes part in it.

5         Decisions and deals have been taken by the SFA, SPL, and SFL without any public scrutiny. The operations and decisions of those bodies lack transparency and they are not accountable in any recognisable form to the football supporters throughout the land, without whom there is no professional association.


6         In our view this loss of trust can only begin to be restored by the SFA publically committing  itself to:

(i)                  The production of an unequivocal “mission” statement of purpose/intent which will state (in whatever form they may exist) that maintaining sporting integrity is and will always be their prime goal. The statement will also describe how they intend to ensure this principle is followed in their interactions with Leagues and Clubs, particularly when commercial decisions that might undermine sporting integrity are implemented by the Leagues. (e.g. In the case of TV contracts, sponsorship or any significant league reconstruction).

(ii)                Further: in recognition of the inability of some individuals to provide leadership during the past year simply because of conflicts of interest, take steps to remove any such conflict, and in doing so enable the organisation and its office bearers to function unhindered.

(iii)               In the interests of transparency, publish the “five point agreement” that allowed The Rangers entry into SFL and SFA, provide a supporting rationale for entering into the agreement, and confirm that the terms have been or are being complied with.

Along with other trust restoring measures (see attached Annex) these steps should mark the end of the continuing lack of trust in the authorities.

7.         We appreciate that it may be the start of next season before there is any visible evidence of our concerns being addressed although the statement of purpose/intent by the SFA (i) and action at (ii) can be readily put in place – would be a welcome early development.

8.         All club’s supporters groups will be watching closely for signs of progress before advising our members and our other supporters if we feel the necessary trust restoring steps are being taken and advise that they can purchase their season books for 2013/14 knowing that sporting integrity is once more absolutely paramount in Scottish football to the betterment of our game.

Signed __________________________ on behalf of

[Insert supporter trust/association name here]

Date ______________

Annex to resolution.

The following is a list of other measures that the SFA should take in order to satisfy supporters that they should be entrusted with the job of governing Scottish football.

  1. To increase transparency and accountability in a meaningful way – possibly via creation of an active supporter’s liaison group drawn from representative supporter groups of each club. Its remit, using an agreed consultative mechanism to generate dialogue, to hear supporters’ concerns and consider them before key decisions are made. In an industry that is totally interdependent it is folly to exclude a major stakeholder from key decision making.
  2. A tightening of and an annual and independent audit of the process for granting UEFA Club (FFP) and National Club licensing reporting to the representative supporter liaison group as well as other SFA members to ensure all clubs are living within their means.
  3. Introduction of a rule requiring all Scottish football club directors to declare any financial interest/shareholding in any club other than their own and to rule that disposition of those shares/interest should be a part of a fit and proper assessment of a person’s qualification to hold office at an association club.
  4. A feasibility review of Scottish refereeing to assess the potential for creating a professional service that the SFA provide to the leagues by recruiting and training referees, but where the leagues monitor and reward consistently good performances to an agreed standard. Given the sums dependent on referee decisions, the current system must change for everyone’s sake including the referees.
  5. A full explanation about the circumstances (including dates) surrounding the award of a UEFA Club licence to Rangers in spring/summer of 2011 when there was unpaid social tax that prime facie did not meet the conditions for deeming the granting of a licence acceptable under the UEFA FFP rules on unpaid tax (the wee tax bill).

The [Insert Club Name here] Trust/Supporters Association asks [Insert Club Name here] to convey our concerns above with their provenance to the appropriate authorities as they see fit viz:

    • Football Authority in Scotland (The SFA)
    • Europe (UEFA)
    • Scottish Government (on the issue of accountability to supporters and       proper checks and balance governance.)

2012 in review

We thought it would be good to show the audience we have had over the last few months, and to say thanks to all those who have helped to make this a thriving community in the short time we have been on the go.

A Happy New year to all from everyone at TSFM.

 

______________________________________________________________

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 3,500,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 64 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

The Dismal Art of Whataboutery

by Stuart Cosgrove for the Scottish Football Monitor

In the early years of the new millennium, ‘The Battle of the Saints’ was a First Division encounter. Both St Mirren and St Johnstone had been relegated and were among the favourites to return to the spiritually suffocating SPL. Winning the First Division title was a mixed blessing. It provided a football moment that old firm fans could only dream of – an open-top bus round. But victory meant you were back in the SPL, a league that had been shaped for the benefit of the two big clubs.

Television revenues were skewed, there were no play-offs, only one team could be relegated and the voting structures would bring shame to a tin-pot dictatorship. It was a league you could never realistically win and so never fully enjoy. I remember being in the ‘Wee Barrel’ a traditional football boozer near St Mirren’s old Love Street stadium. It was soon after the St Johnstone drug scandal.   On 5th January 2001, George O’Boyle and his teammate Kevin Thomas had been sacked following allegations that they had used illegal recreational drugs. They had allegedly been caught taking an “unidentified white powder” at the club’s injured players Christmas Party at That Bar in Perth. The drugs scandal undermined St Johnstone’s much peddled identity as a local family club. A bitter industrial dispute unfolded and widespread dressing-room unrest. The team’s form catastrophically dipped. Inevitably, St Mirren fans were delighted to play host to such a “scandalised” and “drug-addled” club. Football fans relish the misfortune of others with almost satanic glee. So the Buddies cheered sarcastically when any Perth fans went into the Wee Barrel’s less than salubrious pub toilet. They made pantomime sniffing noises interjected with animal impersonations and at times it sounded like a famer’s convention had turned into a massive cocaine bender. I vividly remember that one St Johnstone fan became so enraged that he blurted out the unforgettable phrase ‘Aye but what about Barry Lavety?’ Further back in 1995 the St Mirren striker Lavety had been arrested for using the then ‘designer drug’ ecstasy making him the first footballer of the acid-house generation. In this short, pithy response outside a toilet door in the Wee Barrel, all the gut instincts of football spectatorship came to the surface and all the components of what was later to become known as ‘whataboutery’ were laid bare.

Whataboutery pre-dates the internet but it has been kindled by it. The web has transformed the way we talk and think about football. Suddenly and profoundly new forums for discussing the game quickly followed. Facebook was launched two years later in 2004, Twitter joined the social media firmament in 2006 and by 2012 and Scottish football’s summer of discontent the micro-blogging platform had 500 million active users. The rise of social media invoked an ‘epistemological break’ with previous eras of spectatorship and with other forms of media and communication. For the first time ever, fans had a way of instantly communicating, of answering back and disagreeing with each other in real-time. Whataboutery is a dismal art that can be defined by three often sub-conscious characteristics – a refusal to engage with the question at hand; an attempt to deflect the discussion on to others and a failure to engage with the morality of the subject.

Go on any web forum today and you will find many debates are pock-marked with whataboutery. The financial meltdown of Rangers is the most recent and most virulent example. What about Hearts they owe the taxman? What about Dundee they’ve gone bust twice? What about Leeds, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth? Sadly, the misdemeanours of others is an unstable platform on which to mount a moral defence and celebrating victory in a tax tribunal about complex offshore loan-trusts does not magically airbrush away tax-debt involving VAT and PAYE. Nor does whatboutery explain why already rich footballers should enjoy the moral right to hide behind complex off shore tax schemes, irrespective of their legality.   Every football fan at some time in their life has felt a deep primal urge to defend their club. We are emotionally instinctive creatures and quick to play the martyr. But however passionate you are about football – and I would count myself as ‘combustible’ – being loyal to your club does not permit disloyalty or contempt for the institutions of a fair society.

Not surprisingly, the origins of the term whatboutery can be traced back to the sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland. Last year I met the journalist and blogger, Mick Fealty who is one of the driving forces behind the blog forum Slugger O’Toole, a site that has bravely tried to provide a platform for localism and for non-sectarian political discourse in Northern Ireland. It is often cited as the place where the term whataboutery was invented. Taking its lead from Slugger, the online dictionary wikitionary defines whataboutery as “responding to criticism by accusing one’s opponent of similar or worse faults.” Recently, at the height of rioting in Belfast in the aftermath of Belfast city council’s policy shift on flying the union flag, a major local newspaper the Belfast Telegraph said in a trenchant editorial – “For everyone who cares about democracy; who wants an end to sectarian posing and mind games; an end to mindless thuggery; an end to immature reactions to complicated issues; an end to whataboutery ….” An end to sectarian posing and mind games – how refreshing would that be? The recent case of Anthony Stokes is a case in point. Most fans would concede that Stokes is a fool to have associated himself with the Real IRA and criminal elements within the Dublin republican scene. But some fans – believing they were supporting their club and its Irish origins – are hard-wired to romanticism and a re-hashed history. Nothing that Stokes has done is either romantic or historic – it is grubby and pathetic. Nor is deflection acceptable either. Yes of course Andy Goram has associated with some fairly disagreeable characters but that does not absolve Stokes of responsibility. Celtic manager Neil Lennon has been unambiguous about that. Stokes is on a final warning and rightly so. Whataboutery is the glue of entrenched opinion. It cultivates extremes rather than subtleties, and favours glib comment over deeper dialogue.  That is why TSFM should always be vigilant about the forum slipping into whatabouterty.

It seems almost banal to say it, but you can be a supporter without being a supplicant.   You can be Rangers daft without endorsing morally bereft tax loopholes, you can want Neil Lennon to enjoy a life free from intimidation without defending complicated film investment schemes; you can relish a goal by Garry O’ Connor without admiring his self-defeating lifestyle,  you can be a big Jambo but still expect staff to be paid on time, you can be a Red Ultra without having to urinate on videos of Gazza and  you can soak up the atmosphere in the Dundee Derry, without cushioning its sectarian associations. And, yes I do know that there was once a dairy behind the goal at the Derry End – but when fights erupted in the 1970s, it wasn’t lactic pasteurisation they were fighting about.

Football fans can be emotionally passionate yet hold on to moral values.  We can be vocal without being vacuous. We can be diehard fans without being robotic ideologues for our club.  Many of us have found ourselves tied in knots trying to defend our clubs and in some cases defend the indefensible. The roll-call of whatboutery in Scottish football would shame a mature society. There’s defective flat-screen televisions in Manchester; hearses at Celtic Park; programme notes at Montrose; unidentified white powder; porn peddlers in the 1980s, Joanna Lumley’s love-life, urinal-videos in Aberdeen; Leigh Griffith’s unique contribution to fatherhood; Hugh Dallas’s emails; Maurice Edu’s car and Lee Wallace’s air-rifle. They are surreal and seemingly endless.

As new technologies surround us daily, whataboutery has gone digital and online disputes are now frequently backed up by a stream of phone-footage, rogue tweets, photo-shopped imagery  and spectacularly desperate analogies.  We live in the white-heat of social media where whataboutery goes on ad nauseum and in perpetuity. It is the dismal art of the web and a habit we have to overcome if Scottish football is ever to find a settled democracy. The financial collapse of Rangers has brought us to a cross roads. Unless there is some kind of rapprochement and an ‘appliance of compliance’, then whataboutery will last for many more decades to come.  Whataboutery is a defence mechanism which allows fans and the clubs they support to avoid moral responsibility. But it need not be like that. In February 2007, Scottish football was given a simple lesson in how the game could be run if we could look forward. It was a cold and wet night at Fir Park during a midweek Scottish cup tie. St Johnstone’s Jason Scotland was unexpectedly targeted by a small band of racist Motherwell fans. By most reasonable accounts of the events, a gang of right-wing casuals taunted the player with monkey chants. Season tickets were not valid and many fans were not in their regular seats. But within a few minutes, groups of decent Motherwell fans turned on the racists, shouted them down and alerted the police.

Online there was a brief and half-hearted flurry of whataboutery. Some denied it had happened, others said that Jason Scotland was “playing the race card” and a small vocal minority argued it was Airdrie fans. This is an unfamiliar twist on an age old deflection. Blaming phantom support from elsewhere is quite common in Scottish football, although it is usually the demonology of Chelsea, Millwall or England fans that are cast as the mysterious villains.

Whatever the motives of those that posted their defence of Motherwell, the whataboutery was short-lived and brought to a shuddering halt by a simple, prompt and unambiguous apology. In an official club statement, Chairman John Boyle said: “These people should never show their faces at Fir Park again and they have no place in football,” adding “We are utterly appalled by this behaviour by a small group of people who have tarnished the name of our club. We are writing to Jason Scotland and St Johnstone today to apologise for this disgusting behaviour which is totally alien to all of us.”

Motherwell had scripted a blue-print for change. Rather than deflect attention elsewhere or dispute the minutiae of events, clubs, fans and officials have to become “better at being wrong.”  When there is a clear injustice, evidence of wrong-doing or powerful proof that mistakes have been made, then it is no longer acceptable to hide from the moral consequences. Apologise and pay the price. That applies equally to all of us and there is no hierarchy of importance. No special cases. The SPL may have a history of gifting privileges but common decency does not.

Stuart Cosgrove

Stuart Cosgrove is a St Johnstone fan. He was previously Media Editor of the NME and is now Director of Creative Diversity at Channel 4, where he recently managed coverage of the Paralympics, London 2012. At the weekend he presents the BBC Scotland football show ‘Off the Ball’ with Tam Cowan. This is the second of a trilogy of blogs he has agreed to write for TSFM. The first was about the era of Armageddon. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The Real Battle Begins?

The increasing attacks on social media by the main stream press, fuelled in some respect by David Murray’s vague threats of litigation against bloggers, has brought into sharp focus the challenges facing the Blogosphere. It also brings into even sharper focus the prescience of Stuart Cosgrove’s assertion that this summer’s ‘epistemological break’  had begun to marginalize the Scottish sporting wing of the MSM.

The reality of that assertion is embedded in the misreporting of the FTT decision as a victory for RFC, falsely alleging that those who operated the EBT scheme had been exonerated, that RFC had ‘done nothing wrong’, and consequently accusing ‘vindictive anti-Rangers bloggers’ of playing a part in the downfall of that once great Scottish institution. It is also evident in Tom English’s rather bitter and one-dimensional anti-RTC polemic today in the Scotland on Sunday. Had it been entitled “Self Preservation”, it may have rung a few more truth bells.

I am not of the belief that the MSM is an instinctively pro-Rangers estate, but I do think that their reportage of the FTT is more geared towards discrediting the newly emergent forces in the social media area than it is towards rehabilitating the public image of RFC or David Murray.

However despite the contempt in which many people here hold the MSM and Murray, English does have a point that we would be foolish to ignore. No-one can deny that we do have a duty to ensure that we are responsible in how we present ourselves to the public. Now that our (and others’) success as a real and creative alternative has spurred the MSM into action, we are subject to greater scrutiny than at any time in the past. Our view is that we have to be pro-actively engaged in setting a standard for ourselves that is above those that the MSM have set for themselves.

We have on TSFM an audience exponentially greater than the number of posts. That presents us with a great opportunity to get our message across, but it also burdens us with an increased responsibility not to fall into the trap which has besought the Succulent Lamb Brigade.

We are a very different animal from RTC. RTC him or herself had information and insight to bring to the table that the administrators of this site do not. The founder and former admin of TSFM had the idea that the talent available from posters on the RTC – not just RTC himself – should continue to have a forum in a post-RTC world, and that those talents could be used to challenge the myths regularly represented as facts by lazy journalists in the MSM.

We have at our disposal on this blog forensic analysis of legal, media and corporate matters. We have an abundance of creative minds, all passionate about the game of football AS WELL AS a partisan love for their chosen club. With all that talent and expertise, we can make an impact on the agenda by challenging the misinformation and substandard journalism of the MSM, and our finest moments are when we do that. We lose authority and influence when the debate is impeded by bald accusation or innuendo backed up with little more than an historical view of our country.

Our biggest impact (and largest audience) is to be found when when our experts have collectively torn apart those myths presented as truths by the MSM, and when we have asked the questions that the MSM either can’t or won’t ask or answer. Those are the things that have driven the traffic to this site, and many of the emails we get congratulate us on that.

Our credibility plummets though when we go down the partisan path. We also get literally hundreds of emails from fans who ask that we cut down on the comments of those who are merely venting outrage at how they see the game being mismanaged (mainly so they can access the important stuff more quickly), and from fans who are just fed up with the constant name-calling – almost exclusively aimed at Ally McCoist and other Rangers figures.

If we claim to be an intellectual and journalistic rung or two above the likes of the Red Tops (not to mention to be decent and respectful of others), we need to refrain from the name calling and accusatory culture. We can ask questions, put items for debate on the public agenda, point out apparent irregularities and anomalies. In rushing to judgement of others from the comfort of the glow of our own laptop screens, we are guilty of the same lazy journalism we see in others. Name calling (all good fun of course on a fan site) is just a lazy thought process and as English says, comes across as “nasty”.

We never saw RTC as a fan-site. The original administrator of this blog never saw TSFM as one either, and nor do we. In order to succeed properly, we need sensible fans of ALL clubs to be comfortable and feel secure in our midst. Of course we are not breaking any laws, but can anyone honestly say that we have evolved into a welcoming place for Rangers fans?

TSFM is not about hounding any one club out of existence or into shame or infamy. In the Rangers saga we have sought to ensure that the football authorities play fair with everyone and stick to their own rules. One well kent RTC contributor, and no friend of Rangers, often said that if the FTT found in favour of Rangers we should move along and accept it. Well they did find in favour of Rangers in the majority of cases. That may not suit many of us, but we are the Scottish Football Monitor, not a Judicial Watchdog. We can say why we disagree with the decision, but criticism of the process through which the decision was arrived at is beyond our purview.

Since the accusation is often made in the MSM, we should state, unequivocally and unreservedly, that we are NOT anti-Rangers. Their fans face the same issues as the rest of us and they are welcome here. We are however, equally unequivocally against the gravy train journalism of the Scottish Football Wing of the MSM (with one or two honourable exceptions).

If the Anti-Blogateers in the press are correct, the popularity of the TSFM will recede as the Rangers Tax case reverts to the back pages before disappearing for good. However I do not believe that they are correct. I don’t believe that Scottish football fans are only motivated by either hatred – or even dislike – of one club. I believe we are more concerned with the game itself than the pot-stirrers in the MSM would have us believe, because we understand the interdependence of football clubs.

But we also understand that the people who run football clubs do not always run their clubs for the benefit of the fans. In the business world, that may not be out of the ordinary, since businesses are run for the benefit of shareholders.
However football reserves for itself a special place in the hearts of people in this country. If the people who run football clubs want to retain that favourable status, they have to be accountable to the fans.

The difficulty in holding them to account though, is that the cosy relationship cultivated between club directors, managers and players and the press renders the access to information a closed shop, and the information itself is heavily filtered and spun.

As long as we keep asking questions in response to the fruit of that cosy relationship, we will be providing people with an alternative angle and viewpoint, allowing them to come to their own conclusions, and not the one the MSM post-presser huddle delivers to us wrapped up in a bow.

For the SFM specifically, we believe that to have any influence, we need to enable the expertise at our disposal to flourish. It is also vital to our project that Rangers fans are included in our dialogue. We just can’t call ourselves the Scottish Football Monitor if they are largely excluded from participation because they feel they are being treated disrespectfully.

We can’t tolerate the accusations and name calling. We need to stick to what we have done best; factual analysis, conjecture based on known facts and on-line discourse leading to searching questions being asked.

One of the things we are looking at for the near future is to set up some kind of formal and transparent channel of communication between the SFM and the football authorities. Being truly representative of fans will make that easier to achieve.

The MSM will continue to attack the social media outlets. In one way you can understand it. Their jobs are at stake. The business model of the print media in particular has changed massively over the last five years, manifesting itself mainly in increasingly under-resourced newsrooms. Consequently it is besought by increasingly unreliable and under-researched journalism, even to the point where much of it is no longer journalism at all.

By comparison the Blogosphere has access to greater human and time resources, is able to react to unfolding events in real time, and crucially (because it has been eschewed instead of embraced by print media proprietors) has been occupied by ordinary folk with little or no vested interest.

We are still in position to provide a service in our small niche of the on-line world. We have rights to publish and speak freely about our passion, but we also have to live up to the attendant responsibilities, and thus the appeal for discretion on posting comments.

Where Tom English got it completely wrong (in the uniquely ironic way the MSM have about them), is that his industry has mistaken the rights others have earned for them as entitlement, and ignored almost completely the responsibility they had to act on behalf of those who pay their wages.

Why the Beast of Armageddon Failed to Show?

A Blog for Scottish Football Monitor by Stuart Cosgrove

At the height of summer of discontent I was asked to contribute to a BBC radio show with Jim Traynor and Jim Spence. ‘Armageddon’ had just been pronounced and if the media were to be believed Scotland was about to freeze over in a new ice-age: only a cold darkness lay ahead.

To get the radio-show off to a healthy and pretentious start I began by saying that Scottish football was experiencing an “epistemological break”. It was an in-joke with Jim Spence, who I have known since we were both teenage ‘suedeheads.’ I was a mouthy young St Johnstone fan and Jim was an Arabian sand-dancer. But even in those distant days, we shared a mutual distrust of the ‘old firm’ and in our separate ways wanted a better future for our clubs. We both grew up to become products of the fanzine era, Jim as a writer for Dundee United’s ‘The Final Hurdle’ and me as a staff writer for the NME. Without ever having to say it, we had both engaged in a guerrilla-war against what Aberdeen’s Willie Miller once characterised as “West Coast Bias”.

The term ‘epistemological break’ was shamelessly borrowed from French Marxist philosophy. It means a fundamental change in the way we construct and receive knowledge and although I used it on air as a wind-up to test Spencey’s significantly less-reliable Dundee schooling, deep down I meant it.

Social Media has proved to be one of the greatest disruptions in the history of the football supporter – greater than the brake clubs of the 19th century, the football specials on the 1970s; or the fanzine movement of the post-punk era. The pace of change in the way we send, receive and interrogate information has been so dynamic that it has wrong-footed administrators, asset strippers and sports journalists, alike. No matter who you support we are living through media history.

2012 had just witnessed an unprecedented summer of sport. The Olympics provided a snapshot of how sudden and pervasive the shift to social media has become. Over 40% of UK adults claim to have posted comments on websites, blogs or social networking about the Olympics and in younger age-groups that figure tips conclusively to a majority – 61% of 16-24’s posted Olympic comments. Think about that figure for a moment. Well over half of the young people in the UK are now participants in social media and pass comment on sport. The genie is out of the bottle and it will never be forced back. That is the main reason that Armageddon never happened: we no longer live in an age where the media can guarantee our compliance.

On the first day of the 2012-13-season, Rangers were in the deep throes of administration and facing certain liquidation. With no accounts to meet the criteria for SPL membership, one among a body of rules which the old Rangers had themselves been an architect of, the new Rangers could not be granted entry without a wholesale abandonment of the rules. It was not to be.

St Johnstone launched their new season at Tynecastle so I travelled with misplaced hope. We were soundly beaten 2-0 and both Hearts goals were entirely merited. On the day, I did a quick if unscientific survey of two supporters’ buses – the Barossa Saints Club, a more traditional lads-bus and the ‘208 Ladies’ a predominantly female and family-friendly bus. On both buses, over 75% of fans had mobile phones with 3G internet access and the majority of them posted updates or pictures before, during or after the match. They mostly posted via micro-blogging sites such as Facebook or Twitter, many commenting on the game, their day-out and the surroundings. Most were speaking to friends or rival fans. Some were publishing pictures and updating forums or blogs. And when he second a decisive goal went in some were undoubtedly taking stick from Gort, Webby DFC and DeeForLife, the pseudonyms of prominent Dundee fans, who as the newly promoted ‘Club 12’ were suddenly and very temporarily above St Johnstone in the SPL.

By my rough calculations, well over half the St Johnstone support was web-connected. I have no reason to think the Hearts supporters were any different. This small experiment reflects an unprecedented shift in the balance of communication in Scottish football and in the truest sense it is an ‘epistemological break’ with past forms of spectatorship. Social media has been widely misrepresented by old-style radio ‘phone-ins’ and by journalism’s ancien regime. The presumption is that people who are connected to the web are at home, in dingy rooms where they foam at the mouth frustrated by loneliness and mental illness. The term ‘internet bampots’ (coined by Hugh Keevins) and ‘keyboard warriors’ (Gordon Strachan) speaks to a world that is fearful of the web, irked by alternative opinions, and the threat that the new media poses to the traditional exchange of knowledge.

It further assumes that opinion from social networks is naïve, ill-informed, or unreasonable. Whilst some of this may be true, mostly it is not. No one would dispute that there are small enclaves of truly despicable people using social networks and comment sites, but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the multitude of fans who simply want to talk about their team and share their dreams and memories.

Social media is porous. By that I mean it has cracks, lacunae and fissures. This inevitably means that information leaks out. It can be shared, released and in some cases becomes so energetic it becomes a virus. It is no longer possible to ‘keep secrets’, to withhold information and to allow indiscretions to pass unnoticed. Newspapers have been caught in a whirlwind of change where views can be instantly challenged, authority quickly questioned and pronouncements easily disproved. Many papers – almost all in decline – have been forced to close down their comments forums. Undoubtedly some of that is due to breaches of the rules, the cost of moderation, and the rise in awareness of hate crimes. But another significant factor is that ordinary fans were consistently challenging the opinions and ‘facts’ that newspapers published.

Talking down to fans no longer works and we now have evidence – Armageddon did not happen. The beast that was supposed to devour us all was a toothless fantasy. In the more abrasive language of the terraces – Armageddon shat-it and didn’t turn up.

In one respect the myth of Armageddon was an entirely predictable one. Tabloid newspapers make money from scaring people – health scares, prisoners on the run, fear of terrorism, anxiety about young people, and most recently ‘fear’ of Scottish independence is their stock in trade. Almost every major subject is raised as a spectre to be fearful of. Most newspapers were desperate to ‘save Rangers’ since they themselves feared the consequences of losing even more readership. It was easier to argue that a hideous financial catastrophe would befall Scottish football unless Rangers were fast-tracked back into the SPL. Newspapers found common cause with frightened administrators who could not imagine a world without Rangers, either.

So we were invited to endorse one of the greatest circumlocutions of all time – unless you save a club that has crashed leaving millions of pounds of debt, the game is financially doomed. You would struggle to encounter this bizarre logic in any other walk of life. Unless Rick Astley brings out a new album music will die. That is what they once argued and many still do. That is how desperately illogical the leadership in Scottish football had become.

Armageddon was a tissue of inaccuracies from the outset. It tried to script a disaster-movie of chaotic failure and financial disaster and at the very moment when senior administrators should have been fighting for the livelihood of the league, they were briefing against their own business.

Armageddon was a big inarticulate beast but it faced a mightier opponent – facts. One by one the clubs published their annual accounts. Although this was against the backdrop of a double-dip recession and fiercely difficult economic circumstances it was not all doom and gloom. The arrival of Club 12 (Dundee) meant higher crowds and the potential for increased income at Aberdeen, Dundee United and St Johnstone. To this day, this simple fact remains unfathomable to many people in the Glasgow-dominated media. The arrival of Ross County meant an exciting new top-tier local derby for Inverness Caley Thistle and a breath of fresh air for the SPL. St Johnstone insisted on the first ever SPL meeting outside Glasgow to reflect the new northern and eastern geo-politics of the Scottish game.

European football meant new income streams for Motherwell. Of course times were tight, football is never free from the ravages of the economy and some clubs predictably showed trading losses. But the underlying reasons were always idiosyncratic and inconsistent never consistent across the board. Inverness had an unprecedented spate of injuries and over-shot their budgets for healthcare and so published a loss £378,000.

Meanwhile Dundee United published healthy accounts having sold David Goodwillie to Blackburn. Celtic reached the Champion’s League group stages with all the new wealth it will bequeath. St Johnstone – led by the ultra-cautious Brown family – had already cut the cost of their squad, bidding farewell to the most expensive players Francisco Sandaza and Lee Croft. The club also benefited from compensation for their departed manager, Derek McInnes and player-coach, Jody Morris. Paradoxically, Bristol City had proven to be more important to the club’s income than Rangers. Again this was not part of the script and proved unfathomable (or more accurately irrelevant) to most in the Glasgow media.

Hearts failed to pay players on time due to serious restraints on squad costs and internal debt. They were duly punished for their repeated misdemeanours. Motherwell and St Mirren despite the economic challenges were navigating different concepts of fan ownership. By November most clubs – with the exception of Celtic – were showing increased SPL attendance on the previous season. Far from the scorched earth failure that we were told was inevitable what has emerged is a more complex eco-system of financial management, in which local dynamics and a more mature cost-efficient reality was being put in place.

It may well be that Armageddon was the last desperate caricature of a form of media that was already in terminal decline. Flash back to 1967 when Scottish football had a so-called ‘golden age’. There was European success, we tamed England at Wembley and names like Law and Baxter brightened dark nights. Back then access to knowledge was a very narrow funnel. Only a small cadre of privileged journalists had access to the managers and players, and so fans waited dutifully for the Daily Record to arrive at their door to tell them what was happening. That system of ‘elite access to knowledge’ was in its last decadent throes nearly thirty years later, when David Murray would dispense wisdom to his favoured journalists. We now know they drank fine wine and ate succulent lamb in Jersey and the most loyal attended Murray’s 50th birthday party at Gleneagles. One journalist was so proud of his invite he danced round the editorial office mocking those who had not been invited. This was the early height of the Rangers EBT era but it is now clear that difficult questions went unasked by either journalists or by football administrators.

Although it may not suit the narrative of this particular blog my first realisation that David Murray’s empire was living on leveraged debt was from a small cadre of Rangers fans. It was around the early years of the Rangers Supporter’s Trust (RST) and they were determined to shake more democracy from the Ibrox boardroom. Whilst real fans of the club argued from the outside, the press took Murray at his loquacious word. He was in many respects their benefactor, their visionary – their moonbeam.

By the 1990s onwards, football journalism had ritualised and festered around the inner sanctums at Ibrox. This was an era where relevance meant being invited to a ‘presser’ at Murray Park, having Ally’s mobile or playing golf with ‘Juke Box,’ ‘Durranty’ or ‘Smudger’. Many journalists, showing a compliant lack of self-awareness, would use these nicknames as if conveyed closeness, familiarity or friendship. It is desperately sad that careers have been built on such paltry notions of access and such demeaning obsequiousness.

Around this period I had become a freelance radio-presenter and was presenting Off the Ball with my friend Tam Cowan, a Motherwell fan. We both wanted to fashion a show which saw football not trough its familiar narratives, but through the lens of the ‘diddy’ teams, a term so demeaning that we tried to reclaim it. Refusing to peddle the inevitability of ‘old firm’ power we sensed that journalistic compliance at Ibrox was now so ingrained that it was ripe for satirising. This was the main reason that Off the Ball branded itself as ‘petty and ill-informed.’ It was a self-mocking antidote to those journalists that could ‘exclusively reveal’ breaking stories from ‘impeccable sources,’ which usually meant they had heard it on the golf-course, from Walter, a man who needed no surname.

Many fans are astonished when I tell them how the journalism of this era actually functioned. On Champions League nights, journalists from opposing papers gathered together to agree what to write. Circulation was in decline, money was tight, agency copy was on the increase and foreign trips were under-scrutiny. No one dared miss the ‘big story’. So sports journalists who commonly boasted about their toughness and who ‘feared no one’ were often so fearful of returning home having missed an angle, that they agreed by consensus to run with variations of the same story. Celtic fans may wish to recoil at the image – but journalists would go into a ‘huddle’ at the end of a press-conference to agree the favoured line.

So the summer of 2012 witnessed an ‘epistemological break’ in how knowledge and information was exchanged. But let me go further and taunt Jim Spence one more time. It was the summer we also witnessed an ‘amygdala-crisis’ exposing the way the media works in Scotland. Amygdala is the nuclei in the brain that manages our tolerance for risk and is the key that often unlocks creative thinking. Many people in relatively high places in the media – a creative industry – demonstrated that they could not conceive of change, nor could they imagine what football would look like if Rangers were not playing in the SPL. They not only resisted change but lacked the imagination to think beyond it. A common language began to emerge that tried to ward off risk and an almost a childlike fear of the dark. ‘Scottish football needs a strong Rangers,’ ‘But there will no competition’; ‘other clubs will suffer’; ‘Draw a line in the sand’; ‘It was one man – Craig Whyte’, ‘They’ve been punished enough’ and of course, the daddy of them all – ‘Armageddon.’

The biggest single barrier to change was the lingering and outmoded notion that Rangers subsidised Scottish football. As a supporter of a club that had spent seven economically stable years in a league that Rangers have never played in made me deeply suspicious and I was in the words of the we-forums ‘seething’ that St Johnstone were portrayed as somehow ‘dependent’ on a club that was already fatefully insolvent. Because so little is known about the experience of the fans of smaller clubs, they are often misrepresented. For seven years my friends and I, travelled home and away in the First Division, often narrowly missing out on promotion as rival clubs like Gretna, Dundee and Livingston all used money they did not have to ‘buy’ success. It remains an incontrovertible fact that St Johnstone FC has been among the most consistent victims of fiscal misdemeanour in Scottish football. That is the irreducible issue. Several clubs have very real reasons to loathe financial mismanagement, rogue-trading and those that gain unfair advantage on the back of unserviceable debt.

Social media has allowed these smaller incremental versions of history to be told when the established media had no interest in telling them. Blogs can dig deeper than the back pages ever can and fans are now more likely to meet on Facebook than on a supporter’s bus. Many players now bypass the press completely and tweet directly with fans. Rio Ferdinand’s recent attack on racism in English football has been conducted entirely via social media, over the heads of the press. In the Rangers Tax Case context, restricted documents are regularly shared online, where they can be analysed and torn apart. Those with specialist skills such as insolvency, tax expertise or accountancy can lend their skills to a web forum and can therefore dispute official versions of events.

Not all social media is good. Open-access has meant a disproportionate rise in victim culture. The ‘easily-offended’ prowl every corner of the web desperate to find a morsel that will upset them but that is a small price to pay for greater transparency and even the most ardent bore is no excuse for limiting the free exchange of information.

We have witnessed a summer of seismic change. A discredited era that largely relied on ‘elite access to knowledge’ has all but passed away and information, however complex or seemingly unpalatable, can no longer be withheld from fans. The days of being ‘dooped’ are over.

It has been a privilege to participate in the summer of discontent and I yearn for even greater change to come. Bring it on.

Stuart Cosgrove
Stuart Cosgrove is a St Johnstone fan. He was previously Media Editor of the NME and is now Director of Creative Diversity at Channel 4, where he recently managed coverage of the Paralympics, London 2012. At the weekend he presents the BBC Scotland football show ‘Off the Ball’ with Tam Cowan. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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