It has taken a year longer than predicted, but a critical appraisal of TRFC’s progress through the lower leagues must include recognition of the improvements on the playing field made under the new manager Mark Warburton. SFM usually precludes lengthy discussion on subjective issues like relative abilities of players and managers and referees, but on this subject, and by any objective standard, that is a given.
It is therefore right that he and his players should receive the congratulations of us all at SFM.
It has to be said that, despite the pitfalls, man-traps and honey-pots that remain to be successfully negotiated by the Rangers board, they have implemented their own stark version austerity, contrary to their rhetoric, whilst managing the expectations of their supporters. Perhaps some of what we have come to term “reasonable” Rangers fans would argue that the lack of humility still evident in the demeanour of the TRFC board is an essential part of managing those fans whilst imposing the austerity package on them.
Much like a political party conference, a football board has to play to it’s core support as well as the rest of the country.
How that will pan out is anybody’s guess, just like the random bagatelle that is the “TRFC in Court” saga.
There is also the existential problem to deal with. Many TRFC fans bought into the ‘same club’ myth at the outset, not because they actually believed it, but because it suited them, and because it served as an understandable GIRUY to the rest of us. With the passage of time, the suspension of disbelief, even in that constituency, is now complete and arguably irreversible. The problem for them is that the rest of have not subscribed to that rather bizarre set of contradictions. No other club has to have the “company that operates” prefix. Nor does any other club compel observers to skirt around the facts and search for a form of words acceptable to both sides of a mutually exclusive argument. In short, and existentially, the new Rangers don’t fit into the same kind of comfortable groove that other clubs do.
All of these problems for the new club, and many more, will exercise our minds to a greater or lesser extent moving forward, depending on how sensitive our outrage thresholds are to the various legal and Jungian issues. However we at SFM need to focus our sights on those whose maladministration of football gave rise to those problems in the first place – the SFA, SPFL, and by extension, the clubs – all of them.
Here are some facts;
- The SFA award clubs a licence to participate in UEFA competitions.
- The licence is only to be awarded if the applicant club has no unpaid tax debts.
- Both the club and the SFA have responsibility to notify UEFA of any debts (belt and braces routine in case the club ‘forgets’ to notify the SFA).
- In 2011, one club applied for and was awarded a UEFA licence.
- That club had accepted debts to HMRC – which were outstanding and overdue.
- These facts have been in the public domain since 2012,and were brought to the attention of ALL clubs in Scotland as well as the SFA.
- Nothing has been done by any club, or the SFA, to investigate the claim at #5
- SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan, when asked by an SFM member what he would do if these claims could be substantiated, said; “Nothing!”
- All clubs will be within a few weeks, issuing season ticket renewal forms.
The story contained in points 6 and 7 above is a lengthy and protracted one.
From sources inside two clubs I have been informed that the problem here is subversive and obsessive fans, who don’t represent the vast body of fans generally. On points 1-5, my sources refused to comment. Conversations with SFA officials and print journalists yield the same reaction, with the addition that it is “just Celtic fans obsessed with Rangers” making the claims.
The lesson, if there is one worthy of the name, is that the bearers of the message need to attacked, and the message itself ignored. We could speculate why that is, but that would be to fall into the trap, taking our eye off the ball.
Perhaps I am being naïve, but my inference is that the SFA and clubs have no intention of doing anything about what was at best incompetence on an unbelievable scale, or at worst corruption. A source at Celtic Park was complaining in victim-like fashion to SFM that many Celtic fans were threatening to close their season book accounts over this issue, and that Rangers might have 45,000 SBs next season whilst Celtic could be down to as low as 20,000.
It had never occurred to him that actually supporting an investigation into SFA malpractice would add another 10,000 to the SB takeup.
Overall, the clubs and the SFA want us to believe that an investigation into this licensing issue is a Celtic or Rangers thing. It is neither of those.
An investigation, even if finds that corruption or incompetence has taken place cannot harm Rangers – old or new. There are no titles to strip here. The licence has been used and thrown away, so it cannot be “un – awarded”.
The only people who have anything to lose out of this are those individuals who allowed it to happen – those who our clubs seem so keen to protect.
More importantly, an investigation may be the catalyst for changes in procedures at the SFA to ensure that rigorous accountability is enforced -accountability that the clubs are eager to avoid.
Are we wrong? I hope we are not foolish enough to imagine that everything we believe is set in stone. I am confident that we are correct in our assumptions and in our interpretation of the facts, but please, let’s hear the counter-argument. Thus far, not one word of rebuttal save the usual invective reserved for the messenger has been uttered.
So what do we do? For me it is simple. If we really love our sport, and do nothing, the sport is lost to us completely and irrevocably.
If our view that sporting integrity has been killed off by those in charge of the game is correct, we lose nothing by embarking on a season ticket boycott. However by doing so we may awaken those in charge to the realities of our power as fans and prioritise in their minds the need to listen to what we say.
My view? if they ignore us, they can take their industry that they pretend is sport, and put it somewhere away from my reach. I neither want it nor need it.
If enough of us feel the same way, we WILL get a clean game. If we are as few as the MSM claim we are, at least we will have freed ourselves from a bent one.
I won’t be buying any more season books until I see these issues addressed. It certainly is tough love, but it is the only way for me. And it is driven by love – a love of the game I spent decades supporting, thinking that on the whole it was played on a level playing field. Certainly not driven by a sneering disregard for truth and integrity and a worship of acquisition.
Maybe it’s not just the end of Rangers’ journey then. Certainly if it’s not the end of ours, we find ourselves at a crossroads. The fans, the clubs, and Rangers too. The decision we make over the next few months may determine the future of our clubs, our sport, our Saturday afternoons.
I can tell you this though. Even when the dark facts are laid before us starkly as this, and when football is at the mercy of those who really do hate sport for its own sake, it is worth mentioning the common thread of decency and purpose we have all shared here on SFM, the friendships we have forged, and the love of football we have demonstrated.