Guest Post by James Forrest
Those who like to read the techno-thrillers of Tom Clancy will remember well the scene in The Sum of all Fears, when the nuclear bomb explodes in Denver, outside the stadium where the Super Bowl is being played. Clancy handles the moment in two very distinct chapters. The second is a vivid and frightening examination of the explosion’s terrible effects as they are felt, firstly in Denver and then experienced around the world.
Before that, he devotes an entire chapter to the mechanics of the explosion itself. Chapters like this are either what attract readers to Clancy in the first place or turn them off entirely. It is technical, it is complex, and the layman who reads it and fully understands it is indeed a massive geek. Of all the times he has loaded the reader with technical detail, this is probably when he risked most in terms of keeping you interested in the story. Yet it works. The chapter is not long, but nor is it short. And the events in it span not seconds but fractions of a second
It was in that chapter I first learned the term “shake”, so named for the old aphorism “a shake of a lamb’s tail”. A “shake” is a term used in nuclear physics. It represents ten nanoseconds. To grasp fully the size of that, consider that there are a billion nanoseconds in a second. The chemical process involved in a nuclear detonation involves a number of “shakes”, with a chain reaction usually completed in 50.
Clancy’s decision to devote an entire chapter of the book to a few nanoseconds came back to me over and over again during the weeks and months of the Rangers crisis. It became clear to me that, drawn out though the events following administration were, what we were seeing was not the effect of the explosion but the explosion itself. Those months were our nanoseconds. Every day, every revelation, every moment we thought was a separate event, was merely a peek inside the bomb case, at the chemical process of a chain reaction.
I would say the chain reaction was completed on the day HMRC announced they were refusing the CVA proposal. That was the detonation. It’s only now we’re witnessing the explosion, and its effects, and in my view we are still a long way from the end of that process. We have had the initial double flash thermal pulse and we’ve seen some EMP effects, but the real damage is still to come. The shock wave and the fireball have yet to spread, and their cumulative effects could yet annihilate Ibrox and extend as far as Hampden.
Am I making claims of “financial Armageddon”? No, I’m not. I never believed the collapse of Rangers would devastate Scottish football. I thought then, and now, that it was scaremongering nonsense to even suggest it. It didn’t matter to me whether the authorities were spreading those stories because of a deep-seated love of the Ibrox club, or because they had bonuses at stake, or out of their own internal, personal weaknesses. Those stories were inconsistent, based on worst case scenarios which were never likely to materialise, and insulting. The notion that the game in this country amounts to no more than one or two teams is offensive.
I love football. I always have. I’m a Celtic supporter, but my interests in the game extend far beyond my own club. At its best, football is a tremendous unifier of people, from those wonderful stories about Christmas Day in the trenches of World War I to the matches organised every year between Palestinian and Israeli children. The game has the potential for tremendous good. I am proud that my own club’s supporters have honoured the dead of Hillsborough and Ibrox. I am proud they unfurled a banner to the Benfica player Miklos Feher, and invaded Seville and showed that city how to party. I am proud of every moment when the supporters of a club applauded an injured player, or staged a silence to honour an official or competitor at another team. Although there are some who would use this sport in a divisive way, who would hijack it for their own ends, I believe this game can still be an inspiration, and find the best in all of us.
I think what happened during this summer, as the fans of every club in the land made their voices heard, was one of the greatest moments in Scottish football’s recent history. I believe it will have an impact far beyond one season. I think it was special.
My concern, as I’ve said, is that the appalling effects of the detonation at Ibrox are still to be fully realised. I am worried about the impact they could yet have on all of us.
Let me be quite specific about the two things that worry me most. They are to do with the decision to grant Sevco/Rangers a license to play in the Scottish Football League this year.
First, I believe the license was granted without sufficient guarantees being given by Charles Green and others that they would respect the decisions taken by the independent judiciary panel of the SPL in relation to EBTs, and secondly, I am concerned that not enough is known about Green and his financial backers, or plans for Rangers, for the authorities to be satisfied that the club is in good financial health. I don’t believe for one second anyone can allay my fears in these two areas. It is obvious to all that due diligence has not been done, and the entire situation at Rangers/Sevco is still shrouded in doubt, and that anything may yet happen.
The independent panel investigating dual contracts is going to have to make the most momentous decision in the history of the game in the UK. I do not believe what Rangers are accused of has any precedent. We are talking about a decade or more in which the results of every single match might be in doubt. Every single game. The rules were not written to envision such an appalling breach of faith. It would seem almost inevitable that stripping of titles will be the smallest of Charles Green and Ally McCoist’s concerns if this verdict goes against them.
Frankly, I don’t see an alternative to suspending Rangers membership of football in this country for at least two years, with points deductions and monetary fines to follow when the suspension period is done. This is not harsh; in fact it falls far short of the maximum penalty, which is expulsion from the game altogether, and as it is the authorities are going to have to do a damned good job of setting out the reasons why that ultimate sanction is not applied. It will not be enough to say it would damage the game in Scotland to wipe the club away. To allow a decade of malfeasance to pass without that ultimate sanction would create the perception that Rangers is above the law, and I cannot think of anything that would do the game more harm than for any club to be considered too big, or too important, to be subject to the regulations.
With their money on the table, I don’t see any way Charles Green and his cohorts will accept the judgement of the independent panel if it has an impact on their plans to recoup their investments. With the way he’s rallied the Rangers fans behind him recently, by essentially talking about a conspiracy against them, I don’t see how he convinces them to accept sanctions, even if he personally was inclined to do so. He has painted himself into a corner where now, if he wants his money at all, he has to fight, and keep on fighting. Without the written guarantee that the club would accept whatever the panel decides, without recourse to the law, I will be shocked if this matter doesn’t end up in the courts somewhere down the line, because I don’t think for one second he signed up to that particular demand.
I think the SFA backed down on this, the most fundamental matter of them all.
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.
At an early stage in the Rangers crisis, a couple of people told me they thought the club would not play football for at least a year. I told them of all the possible scenarios that was the most unlikely, because I honestly could see no way back for them once they had gone. There is no precedent I am aware of, anywhere, for a football club taking a “year out” only to return. Certainly, in the context of the Scottish game I didn’t see how it could be done without creating one almighty shambles, or by bending the rules until the elastic snapped.
Yet I’ve since become convinced that it was the correct course of action. The club calling itself Rangers FC is still in a state of flux. The issues still surrounding it are enormous and potentially devastating. There are any number of ways in which the entire edifice could utterly collapse. The liquidators and HMRC could yet challenge the takeover, or the coming share issue. Craig Whyte may yet emerge and take a claim to the courts. The share issue itself could be an utter failure, leaving the club unable to meet annual running costs. All of this, even without the vast effects of the EBT case, which has the potential to wash the whole club away.
Had Rangers been out of the game for a year, these issues could have been properly explored, dealt with and put behind them, and the game as whole.
Of course, it’s just possible that the worst is over. It’s possible that this particular nuclear detonation, like the one is The Sum of All Fears, is an enormous “fizzle”, that the appalling destruction unleashed will not be on the thermonuclear level which could obliterate our hopes of a fresh start, of forward motion for the whole game. It might be that everything at Ibrox is hunky-dory, that this, all I’ve written, is the product of a febrile imagination, on the same level as the financial Armageddon nonsense we spent the summer hearing about.
It may well be, but only if the people who’ve been right all along have suddenly gotten it wrong. The evidence all points to something big, and bad, coming this way.
The smart folks will be hunkering down in their shelters for a while yet.
James is a co-editor of the Famous Tartan Army Magazine, latest issue out 17th October (digital, and free), featuring women’s football