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/