Saturday, 4 April 2015

Crash and Burn


Crash and Burn
Like many Celtic fans I enjoy a good read about the club and the many issues which surround it. The internet has been very liberating and democratising in that context as it has given a platform and a voice to many ordinary Celts who reflect on all things Celtic on a variety of sites. For the more mature Celtic fan, who traditionally relied on the mainstream media or the rather bland Celtic View for information, the new technological advances have been a breath of fresh air. When one considers that Facebook was launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006, it really must be astonishing to the younger generation, so enmeshed in the web, to imagine that a mere 20 years ago all of this was the stuff of science fiction. Of course all is not rosy in the cyber world as the internet has also allowed some more unsavoury sorts to vent their bile to a wider audience but intelligent people soon sort the wheat from the chaff and figure out who talks sense.

Consider the role the internet played in discussing the looming financial crisis at Rangers in the years before their demise. Sites such as Phil McGiollabhain, Rangers Tax Case and Thoughts on Scots Law were well ahead of the mainstream media in warning of the consequences of the fiscal madness going on at Ibrox and the likely outcome. Such sites were branded the domain of ‘Internet Bampots’ who clearly had an agenda. If they did have an agenda, it was to seek the truth as the MSM were clearly failing to pursue the developing crisis at Ibrox with any vigour. It wasn’t that some of them didn’t know what was going on rather many chose to ignore it in the ‘succulent lamb’ atmosphere of the time. You simply didn’t write negative stories about Rangers lightly in those days as Mr Murray would soon cut off the supply of pro Rangers ‘scoops’ which filled the tabloids at the time. From Superstar signings and the Super-Casino to Hover pitches and master plans to dominate Europe, we were fed a diet of utter tripe and only the financial crisis in 2008 when the banks started asking for their money back did the whole edifice begin to crumble. Only then did we see that the whole Rangers Empire was built on a bubble of unsustainable debt and bluster. After the arrogance and hubris of the Murray years came an inescapable nemesis in the shape of an utterly humiliating liquidation. Of course the media had no choice but to go with the story once it was staring them in the face but few will forget their dereliction of duty as the Ibrox edifice began to totter. It was as if they thought Rangers, the establishment club controlled by a ‘financial wizard’ was too big to fail. History has demonstrated that it wasn’t and the reverberations of the collapse of Rangers are still being heard.

Many clued up Celtic supporters led the way in exposing the goings on at Ibrox. I recently read Stephen O’Donnell’s book ‘Scotball’ which cleverly uses the character of media savvy ‘Peter Fitzpatrick’ to explore not just the world of Scottish Football but also the wider webs of media manipulation which snare the unwary. O’Donnell’s character ‘Fitzy’ could be a cipher for any one of us who wants to get at the truth. Fitzy returns from living abroad to find Scotland in a fevered state with the independence referendum imminent. He also encounters the turbulent aftermath of the death of Rangers FC and the media inconsistencies which surround it. He gets a break and hosts a topical football discussion show and in this section of the book he cleverly demonstrates the inconsistencies, agendas and lies surrounding the demise of Rangers FC. In return his bosses make it clear that he must tow the party line or face the consequences.

O’Donnell’s book is not simply another sneering dig at Rangers FC, although it does satirise and expose the manipulation of the media by vested interests. The allusions are clear when he talks of ‘Radio Kelvin’ or Specific ‘Quay’ but crucially his main character ‘Fitzy’ is given scope to be intelligent and enquiring. He says at one point… “I’m aware that it’s all too easy for someone in my position to fall into the trap of the lazy-minded, who’s thinking on any relevant subject amounts to little more than Celtic good, Rangers bad.” The book doesn’t fall into that trap and is both very readable and plausible. In some sense it may have been born out of frustration at the lamentable levels investigative journalism has fallen too in Scotland. This after all is the land where a sports ‘journalist’ once said that investigating Rangers financial affairs was ‘above my pay grade.’ The biggest story in the history of Scottish football and he couldn’t be bothered to lift a phone and get some advice on the goings on at Ibrox?

Stephen O’Donnell’s book is a well written exploration of the media culture surrounding aspects of Scottish football. It may well be a work of fiction but there can be truths in parables and O’Donnell asks us all to think for ourselves and not be led by media agendas. Such books allied to the many intelligent voices on the internet, has enabled a more balanced debate about what is happening in our national game. The new breed of Celtic oriented authors and bloggers have in the main done an excellent job in keeping the support informed and entertained. They also provoke thought and raise awareness of many important issues affecting Celtic and the support. We may not always be unanimous in our opinions but at least we now have forums to discuss them out-with the control of a largely discredited sports media in Scotland.

One section of ‘Scotball’ which had me nodding in agreement centered on Dougie Donnelly exhorting all of Scotland’s football fans to get behind Rangers in a Champions League Qualifying game, ‘Fitzy’ listens as his rather drunk friend Melly outlines why he could never lend his support to Rangers…

‘I’m no fuckin cheerin they cunts on, no matter who it is they’re playing!’ It pains me to admit it but strip away the drunken overstatement and partisan prejudices in Melly’s assertions then broadly speaking I must agree with much of what he’s saying. Which I suppose is a fairly damning indictment in itself on just what a low ebb Donnelly and many of his colleagues in the mainstream media have come to…and if Rangers lack of success on the European front has an added effect of putting a check on their recklessness and overweening arrogance then that might be an added benefit for the Scottish game as well. Who knows it might even persuade the media to start taking their responsibilities more seriously and adopt a more even handed approach on issues such as impartiality, although I’ll not be holding my breath on that score.’

History will look at the early years of Scottish Football in the new millennium and come to the conclusion that most clubs realized the ‘borrow and spend’ model was unsustainable. That one club failed to see this and continued on a reckless course until it crashed and burned will also be judged as no one’s fault but their own. No doubt those intelligent and courageous authors and bloggers who exposed the sham will continue to be branded ‘obsessed’ or ‘Bampots’ by those too thick to get the point. The whole narrative wasn’t about kicking Rangers, it was about  attempting to lift the lid on some very murky goings on and the dereliction of duty by some who had forgotten the meaning and function of real Journalism.

 You can purchase Stephen O'Donnell's thought provoking book here...



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