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.