I can’t adequately express my dismay upon hearing of Paul McConville’s sudden death at the age of 47.
Paul was a brilliant and prolific blogger whose meticulous analysis of the legal complexities surrounding the collapse of Rangers FC is unequalled in the public domain. There is no better repository on the internet for consistently well-informed, clearly thought out, professional commentary on that subject’s legalities than scotslawthoughts.wordpress.com.
I hope that his site will remain online both as a fitting memorial to his peerless efforts and as an invaluable resource for further research.
But Paul was much, much more than a legal dude who wrote extremely long, informative posts which brought some clarity to complicated matters of Scots Law. He was an exceptionally warm and friendly person, unfailingly courteous and pleasant. I will always treasure the memory of the time that I spent in his delightful company as well as our numerous exchanges via blogs, tweets, emails, texts, phone calls,etc. He was invariably good-humoured, a splendid conversationalist on many subjects and a true gentleman.
Paul went out of his way on many occasions to offer free advice on legal matters to very many people who turned to him for help and the concern which he showed for them was genuine. If anyone needed help, he would do his best to supply it. But Paul himself knew what it was like to go through bad times. Some years ago, he suffered a serious bout of depression which took a heavy toll on his career and led to a professional rebuke. For the avoidance of doubt (as the Great Man himself was wont to say) it should be made absolutely clear that his integrity was never questioned in any way.
However, to his immense credit, Paul never shied away from his personal responsibility for his own mistakes. He sought no excuses. He took his medicine like a man and gradually restored his position through sheer hard work and dedicated professionalism. He gratefully and unhesitatingly acknowledged that he drew great strength in those challenging times from both his family and his personal religious faith.
Paul had great personal charm. He was self-effacing and truly modest in spite of his own considerable erudition and intelligence. He was the type of person who effortlessly made others feel that he was genuinely pleased to see them. He was also a very good listener. Even when Paul was unquestionably the smartest person in a group (which he frequently must have been!) he had a knack of making the others feel that what they had to say was more important than his own views.
He was generous with compliments but genuinely self-effacing when praise was returned. Nevertheless, I believe that he fully understood how worthwhile his blog was and he was more than entitled to be quietly proud of the impact that it made on so many people, including myself.
I will miss him greatly.
I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the McConville family at this dreadful time. They will be in my thoughts and prayers in the days ahead.
May God rest you, Paul.
I read an interesting paper recently by a group of psychology researchers who were investigating the influence of electromagnetic stimulation of parts of the brain in terms of how it affected the moral choices which people will make.
Two groups of people faced the same set of questions. One group was wired up to a machine which ran a small electromagnetic charge across the temperoparietal junction (TPJ) of the brain. The other group wasn’t.
An example of the types of moral judgements which the subjects were asked to make is as follows:
George is having a coffee at John’s house. George asks for sugar in his coffee. John has two similar jars in his cupboard. One contains sugar but it says POISON on the label; the other contains poison but the label says SUGAR.
John, knowing that the jars have the wrong labels, gives George a spoonful of poison from the SUGAR jar. George dies.
Did John deliberately poison George?
The group which was NOT being subjected to the electromagnetic stimulation (EMS) almost unanimously said yes.
Remarkably, there was a significantly high percentage of subjects in the other group which did not consider John to be guilty. Their reasoning was that John had taken the poison from the jar marked SUGAR and that was enough for them to believe he was off the hook.
In another example, John does NOT know that the labels have been switched. He believes he is putting sugar, not poison, into George’s coffee. George dies.
Group One (nonEMS) found him not guilty of premeditated murder. Most of Group Two found him guilty because George died.
In a third example, John thinks the labels have been switched, wants to poison George but inadvertently gives him a spoonful of sugar (believing it to be poison) and George finally gets a break, enjoys his coffee and goes off to watch the football.
By now, you’ll know what the groups’ verdicts are going to be. Group One condemned John for intending to poison George while a significant proportion of Group Two saw nothing wrong in what John did, simply because George survived.
There are numerous other variations of these experiments which all indicated the same confusion in moral judgement in subjects whose brains had been fogged by external stimuli such as electromagnetic charges. In all of them, the confusion arises from their inability to separate the facts of the matter from the intention of the agent. In moral judgements we regard somebody’s intentions as being the prime factor, regardless of whether they succeed in carrying out those intentions. In moral terms, attempted murder is just as serious as murder whereas being unwittingly involved in someone’s accidental death is not a criminal act at all. In assessing the guilt or innocence of an accused person, we need to establish if the accused had any motivation for causing or attempting to cause a death.
As an aside, the implications of this research are far-reaching and give rise to serious concerns about much of our Western lifestyle. We are surrounded by mobile phones, iPads and mp3 players (especially with headphones), digital televisions, wireless telephones, wi-fi computer connections, modems, so-called energy-saving light bulbs, microwave cookers, laptops and netbooks, transmission masts and numerous other appliances and devices, all of which emit electromagnetic radiation comparable to the EMS which was applied in the experiment. In the light of the experiment mentioned above, I find it to be inconceivable that our immersion in a veritable ocean of electromagnetic radiation is having no comparable effect. I also have information which indicates that a lot of research into these issues has been suppressed and marginalised. It’s not easy to adversely affect the corporate interest with hard, medical, scientific truth.
More generally, I’m struck by the fact that people can be so easily influenced to change their opinion of right and wrong by subtle environmental factors. You don’t necessarily need to have electrodes attached to your cranium in order to have your moral compass deflected off course. Fear of social unrest or other supposedly disruptive consequences may also affect someone’s idea of right and wrong. It’s very important to recognise that the members of Group Two who were making perverse judgements about John’s guilt or innocence genuinely believed in the value of their verdicts at the time. In their minds, it was clear that if George had survived, even though John had intended to poison him, then no condemnation of John’s character was warranted.
This experiment came to my mind when I read Lord Nimmo-Smith’s report of his inquiry into allegations that Rangers deliberately withheld and concealed parts of their arrangements to pay their playing staff. LNS at least managed to note that this was indeed what they had done. The registration conditions had not been met and Rangers had deliberately intended to keep part of their payment arrangements concealed. Those facts were recognised, hence the guilty verdict.
LNS then demonstrated his Group Two credentials by stating that Rangers had not gained or sought to gain a competitive, sporting advantage by deliberately and continuously breaking the registration rules. He ignored the obvious fact that Rangers intended to acquire a stronger playing squad by avoiding the taxes due on £47 million of salary. He ignored the significance of the fact that Rangers intended to dupe the tax authorities by disguising players’ remuneration as loans through an EBT scheme. Registering these payments with the SPL (and SFA) as they should have done would have blown Rangers chances of pretending to HMRC that monies paid to their employees via EBTs were entirely discretionary. And despite media misdirection and propaganda stating that Rangers had “won” their appeal to the FTT over HMRC assessments, LNS had the facts in front of him which stated clearly that the FTT had ruled – and Rangers had accepted – that the EBTs were indeed contractual salary arrangements in the case of at least five players.
Let’s recap that. LNS could see that Rangers paid players part of their salaries via EBTs. Those arrangements should have been part of the documentation submitted to the SPL as part of the player registration process. Rangers deliberately concealed that documentation. David Murray told the FTT , under oath, that Rangers used the EBTs to offer wage packages to better players whom they would not otherwise have been able to sign for the club. LNS concluded that Rangers, knowing full well that they were poisoning Scottish football regardless of what the label read, had not gained any sporting advantage from deliberately breaking the rules.
Rangers broke the rules. They knew they were breaking the rules. They were breaking the rules in order to sign better players than they could afford by keeping to the rules. They signed those better players and fielded them in hundreds of matches.
And LNS, relabelling the jar to suit, says that no competitive sporting advantage was gained.
That is his Group Two moment; George survived, no harm done, let’s move on.
Everything else proceeds from that viewpoint. Now that we’ve decided that John didn’t succeed in his attempt to poison George, we can indeed move on. We can move on to minimising John’s punishment. We might even avoid punishing John at all by dumping a fine onto hundreds of John’s long-suffering creditors. We can move on to finding somebody – anybody – whose interpretation of the penalty that should be imposed on a club which does not correctly register its players flies in the face of all reason, sense of fair play, precedent and practice.
Step forward Sandy Bryson, the man who decides which labels belong on which jars, regardless of their contents. Bryson, lest we forget, was the man who was in charge of registrations at the time of the scandal which led to Jim Farry’s disgrace and downfall over the SFA’s failure to allow Jorge Cadete’s registration with Celtic. Farry pulled the trigger but Bryson provided the gun, supplied the ammunition and pointed it towards the target. (By the by, let us also recall that James Traynor has never varied from his outspoken opinion that Farry was a magnificent administrator.) But the panel decided that Bryson was wearing the SUGAR label.
LNS and his fellow panel members decided that Bryson’s testimony was the be all and end all of interpretation of the SFA’s implementation of fair play. This was in spite of the fact that on the only occasion when his guidelines had been challenged in an independent judicial tribunal, the SFA’s case collapsed ignominiously before lunchtime on the first day of the hearing and the SFA immediately parted company with its long-serving Secretary. It was also in spite of the fact that Bryson’s advice to Celtic about FC Sion’s registration irregularities was that all was in order and nothing could be done; a perverse interpretation which was shot down in flames by UEFA who not only threw FC Sion out of Europe but also ordered the Swiss FA, on pain of being suspended from international competition, to retrospectively award victories to every one of Sion’s opponents in domestic league and cup fixtures in which improperly registered players had turned out for FC Sion. No matter; it says SUGAR on this jar of Bryson.
A credible witness? A man on whose testimony the learned panel should base their verdict? Only if your capacity for making moral judgement has been disrupted could you conclude an inquiry by ruling that no cheating had taken place and no unfair competitive or sporting advantage had been gained. Furthermore, why did the LNS panel take evidence from the SFA’s registration officer in the first place, given that the SFA was already standing by to hear any appeal? What sort of appeals body turns up at the initial hearing in order to give evidence in support of one of the parties and what kind of panel is so morally confused that it thinks such an intervention is okay? It is little surprise that this panel had such a complete unawareness of the principle of fair play.
Make no mistake about this. Scottish football has been run by Group Two members for a long time and continues to suffer for it. The poison in Scottish football’s coffee was put there deliberately, knowingly and with malign intent, regardless of what labels are on the jars. There is no excuse for asserting that the opinions of Group One and Group Two members have equal validity just because they may be sincerely held. They most certainly do not have equal validity.
It may well be the case from now on that football supporters in Group One decide that their only remaining option is to do without sugar or give up coffee altogether because they can recognise the futility of paying money into a sport which is being run along its present lines. It may well be the legacy of the LNS inquiry that George went home and decided not to bother watching the football after all.
I note a recurring theme in the argument against awarding stripped titles to the runner-up is fear of the consequences.
It was fear of the consequences of standing up to wrongdoing that got Scottish football into this almighty mess in the first place.
There is no question in my mind that if Rangers are found to have been fielding ineligible players, the results of their matches should be corrected to read as 0-3 defeats, in accordance with the rules. Consequently the final league standings in each of the seasons to which this applies should also be corrected to reveal who the true champions were, according to the rules.
This could scarcely be simpler.
Once the appropriate corrections have been made, the separate matter of what punishment should be meted out to the offending parties can finally be addressed.
I argue that nothing short of expulsion is appropriate. We are dealing with unprecedented levels of rule-breaking, probably in collusion with administrators at Hampden Park, incalculable damage to the reputation and development of Scottish football and, even now, chaos and turmoil which is destabilising the entire structure of the game.
But fear of the consequences appears to have induced a paralysis which is preventing the correct response from even being recognised, never mind being enacted.
A club which has been found guilty of consistently fielding ineligible players on a massive scale and, furthermore, actively concealed the paperwork which would have exposed the ineligibility is simply not fit to be a member of any organised league. Not is it fit to have SFA membership. Thus the record should clearly show that its punishment is either complete expulsion or a <em>sine die</em> suspension which will not be lifted until satisfactory restitution has been made for the damage suffered by other footballing parties.
If a future club wishes to trade as Rangers FC and portray itself as the continuation of the expelled Rangers FC, it must fulfil certain conditions.
Firstly, it must unequivocally recognise and accept that it is inheriting the culpability of the original Rangers FC for breaking football rules over many successive years.
Secondly, it will never make any claim to titles which have been stripped from it in accordance with the game’s rules nor will it ever dispute or question the justice of awarding those titles to any other club which did compete within the rules.
Thirdly, in recognition of the financial damage which original Rangers caused to its peers in the Scottish game, the new club which elects to trade as Rangers FC will forfeit a percentage of its future earnings and prize money for a period of time and at a level which is acceptable to all the clubs which it is found to have disadvantaged. If they can’t compete at the top level with what’s left in the coffers, too bad. Those are the consequences of cheating your way to glory.
Finally, if – and only if – these conditions are satisfied, then everyone else in Scottish football can agree to accept the new club as a continuation of the old Rangers, albeit with a break in its history from the time to which the suspension is backdated up until it resumes trading as a suitably penitent and chastised member club. It could then legitimately include its forty-odd titles in its honours roll while acknowledging a period of misconduct which is a stain on its history but which it also apologises for, condemns and undertakes never to repeat.
The consequences for Scottish football in this scenario would be that a line could finally be drawn under the entire episode. Honour would be restored all around and a fresh start would finally be possible.
I’m not holding my breath.
Here’s a link to a fine comment which was published on the Scottish Football Monitor* discussion forum this week.
Humble Pie’s post is a first class piece that highlights the cognitive dissonance in every department of our society.
The key recognition is that the bodies who take charge of almost every field – medicine, law, education, government, nutrition, banking, sport and many others – do the most damage to the supposed ends of these institutions. They are an enemy within, exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin. That is the context in which we must look at the running of the SFA and the major bodies which are affiliated to it.
It is not through accident or incompetence. Even when the general public is angry enough to mobilise itself into activism to demand change, the people in charge do not respond to the core demands for integrity and honour, Instead, they concentrate their efforts on finding a way to carry on running their shop as before but with a slightly different window display. I blogged earlier this week about how the American people brought about the fall of Richard Nixon only to see his appointed successor, Gerald Ford, abuse his executive authority to thwart the ends of justice by unilaterally pardoning Nixon. There are countless similar examples such as bankers who should be jailed for fraud being given obscene bonuses for bankrupting entire nations.
I have no doubt that there are many people at the SFA who will not hesitate to do something similar with Rangers if they get half a chance. They have numerous allies in the SPL and SFL who will do their bit as well if they can. That is why HP’s superb post should be circulated far and wide. The people running the game have done absolutely nothing to suggest for a moment that they can be trusted to do the right thing in this scandal. It is vital that they are not only kept under the closest scrutiny but also that the scrutiny is illuminated by the clear understanding of the dynamics at play. In that regard, Humble Pie’s post is as good a source of illumination as any. Please read it and share it as widely as possible.
The first thing we learn about playing football is that you have to keep your eye on the ball.
We have since learned that that applies equally to football administration and governance.
* The moderators of the Scottish Football Monitor have a tendency to delete posts which are not in tune with their site’s goals. This has an unfortunate consequence of rendering links to subsequent posts invalid. In case such a fate befalls Humble Pie’s post, I shall reproduce the full text of his comment here as a back up.
How Deep is the Rabbit Hole?
by Humble Pie
As we await the outcome of the Lord Nimmo Smith enquiry into breaches of SFA regulations on players registration by Rangers FC PLC (since renamed and placed into liquidation), I thought it worth taking time to consider the context in which this failure of governance has played out, or the ‘bigger picture’ if you will.
I don’t know about you but any childhood illusions that I may have had that ‘the authorities’ were there to ‘look after us’ has been well and truly shattered over the last two decades or more. In recent years almost all of our ‘most trusted’ institutions have been shown to wear no more than a wafer thin veneer of honesty and integrity. Break through that slim membrane of deceit and we are faced with the startling reality that self-serving corporate corruption is now absolutely endemic in our society.
The corporatisation of our civic life in particular has been imperceptibly slow and deliberate. While our little heads were filled with dreams of ‘change for the better’ with each new dawn and each new government, behind the scenes, men who care only for personal profit have been allowed to usurp our most coveted ideas of peace, justice, education, health, wealth and ultimately happiness. Almost all of the once venerated institutions that we entrusted with guardianship over our ‘public services’ have now been found to be morally bankrupt.
Successive governments have lied the people into wars of conquest, taking hundreds of thousands of innocent souls while our citizens slept on the streets and elected ministers claimed for second homes and £60 light bulbs.
The big banks gambled with our hard-earned money and lost the lot, then the government borrowed the same amount from the same banks (created out of thin air) and gave it back to them to gamble with some more.
The mainstream media continually distorts our view of the world and its people, distracts us with flashy advertising, sensationalist flannel, celebrity gossip and naked breasts, while fermenting discord and division among the citizenry and intruding on the lives of the innocent victims of crime.
The TV broadcasters have covered up the most heinous abuses against children perpetrated by their own staff, while we were busy being ‘programmed’ to become disengaged, disinterested and opinionated voyeurs of so called ‘reality shows’.
Hospitals now care more about bed space and cost benefit analyses than looking after the sick and the elderly, our nurses are overworked and undervalued while many doctors have become hopelessly corrupted by financial kickbacks from the pharmaceutical industry.
Education has again become more of a privilege than a right with the increased cost of hidden fees, accommodation, transport and the lack of any real, meaningful edification and purpose for our young people. Most of the good teachers have left what used to be a ‘vocation’, many of the rest are bored, disempowered and underpaid for the role with which we entrust them (developing the skills of our children).
The Police which used to provide the public with a ‘service’ has now become a ‘force’. No longer do we have policemen and policewomen, now we have ‘officers’. Each individual police force is now an separate corporate entity (look it up on Companies House) their officers obliged to generate income by issuing ever more fines and charges to balance their dwindling budgets.
So the question is, why should I expect football be any different?
Football is governed by a set of rules or customs, which serve to ensure fair competition, and allow consistent adjudication of the winner. These rules are encompassed by the principles of respect, fair play and sportsmanship and are agreed to by all participants….or so Sepp Blatter would have us believe.
During the last couple of years, particularly throughout the Rangers saga, I have become more and more disillusioned by the lack of morality and integrity that has been displayed by the Scottish football authorities. They have ignored their own rules when it suited them and applied them with full ferocity when it suited them. At times their obfuscation and outright hypocrisy has been breathtaking. Compare and contrast the SFA’s treatment of Spartans for accidently failing to put a date on a form twice, and the former Rangers, who deliberately withheld information from the SFA, failed to pay millions of pounds to their civic taxes nor their many creditors (football related and otherwise) and have brought the entire game into disrepute in this country on more than one occasion.
How can they possibly get away with it? I hear you ask.
That the SFA, the president of which is ‘heavily conflicted’ in the entire shenanigans, has fobbed this enquiry off to the SPL (who have no real jurisdiction over the breaking of SFA rules) who in turn fobbed it off the retired Lord Nimmo Smith’s ‘independent panel’ tell us what exactly? That they want justice to be done and to be seen to be done? Perhaps.
However, that the same SFA still fails to state categorically the status of the club called The Rangers currently plying their wares in SFL3, even though the answer to this simple question remains fundamental to the integrity of the sport and any hope of reconciliation among the now deeply divided supporters, doesn’t fill me with confidence in their governance of the game.
What do I expect to happen? Well my experience has taught me to expect the worst and to hope for the best. No doubt, whatever the outcome of this enquiry, that will not be the end of it. In my humble opinion, ‘interested parties’ will seek to make this a long drawn out affair (ain’t it always been so) with judgements and appeals, claim and counterclaim, appeals to the SPL, SFA, CoS, CAS, UEFA perhaps even finally ending up on Sepp Blatter’s Louis XIV style oak desk in Zurich. Where we can expect………………………..?
Michael Ellner noted, “Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom.”
Will we have to add ‘and the SFA destroyed Scottish football’?
I hope not but I am beginning to expect so.
Thirty-nine years ago time was running out for the thirty-seventh President of the United States of America. The perception was growing that Richard Nixon was in serious danger of being impeached and might even be removed from office before his presidency had run its course. Investigations into his part in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal were exposing the corruption that riddled his administration and as more and more damaging revelations continued to unfold, an unimaginable scenario was gradually turning into an inevitable reality.
It was becoming increasingly apparent that Auld Nick really was likely to get nailed, discredited and disgraced. The processes were gathering momentum, legal procedures were in motion, political resolve to remove him was strengthening and media which had previously supported him could no longer ignore the reality and scale of the crisis. Pro-Nixon apologists warned of dire consequences which the nation would inevitably suffer if it dared to bring the President to justice but they were misjudging the mood of a nation that had become increasingly sickened by what it was discovering about its government. The American people were not scared of facing up to the crisis, however unpleasant it was going to prove. They were determined to dig down all the way to the root of the problem in order to hold the guilty parties to account and also to send a clear, unequivocal message to future executives that a cynical betrayal of the standards expected of them would not be acceptable.
Nixon helpfully tried to reassure everyone and addressed the nation with a denial of any wrongdoing, introducing a legendary soundbite which spectacularly backfired. Overnight, “I am not a crook,” became a national joke which appeared on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, posters and bumper-stickers. By that time he was already sacrificing numerous key political allies, many of whom subsequently went to prison, and it was no longer preposterous to consider that Tricky Dicky himself might be sent down once he’d been brought down.
Finally, less than two years after winning re-election to the White House in one of the biggest landslides in American history, with impeachment now looming large on the horizon, Richard Milhous Nixon recognised that he no longer had sufficient political support in Congress to enable him to carry on effectively. He resigned and handed over the presidency to Vice-President Gerald Ford, who was sworn in within twenty-four hours. Although his resignation released him from the threat of impeachment, Nixon was now liable to face criminal charges from which he’d been immune while serving as the President.
Between 1974 and 1976, the government of the United States of America — the self-styled leader of the Free World and the greatest democracy in the history of the universe — was led by a head of state who was never elected to any office at the White House. He had become the Veep when the career of his predecessor, Spiro Agnew, crashed and burned in yet another scandal. Up to his ears in charges of fraud, bribery and tax evasion, Agnew cut a deal in which he resigned from the vice-presidency and pleaded No Contest to the charges in return for which he got to not go to jail. Nixon had a good feeling that Ford was the type of chap who might be able to bail him out if the worst came to the worst. Something of a Great Administrator who would never allow any matters of principle or integrity to stand in the way of his own personal advancement, Ford had served reliably and with complete discretion on the Warren Commission cover-up of the John F Kennedy hit. He had proven himself to be a man who could be depended upon to haul himself up the greasy pole by steadfastly not seeing the crime of the century even when it was presented to him in detail over the course of an entire year while he sat with one of its architects.
It should scarcely have been a surprise then when, within a month of becoming the unelected President of the U.S.A., Gerald Ford presented the man who gave him his job with a Get Out Of Jail Free card in the form of a “full, free and absolute pardon.” This instantly removed any possibility of Nixon being indicted for any criminal actions he had carried out when he’d occupied the White House.
The American public bitterly resented Ford’s flagrant insult to their decency and his shameless disregard for their sense of honour. They had endured years of humiliation and disgrace while exerting their best efforts to eradicate the sleazy culture of corruption in which their leaders were immersed. Now, at a stroke, every honourable judicial process, every honest endeavour to set the house in order had been contemptuously dismissed by a hopelessly compromised, spineless rogue, no better than the crooks who had preceded him. Ford’s Republican party was annihilated shortly afterwards in the mid-term elections and at the very first available opportunity, he himself was replaced by a peanut farmer.
But it mattered little to Ford. He had been appointed to the presidency to carry out one single task – to get his fellow crooks off the hook – and he accomplished that in jig time.
I can’t imagine why this widely known example of secretive, Establishment mutual back-scratching and gross abuse of power and position to thwart the pursuit of justice suddenly sprang into my mind. I had actually intended to write about what might happen should the SFA have to hear an appeal if Lord Nimmo Smith finds that Rangers were guilty of fielding improperly registered players for a period of many years during David Murray’s time in charge of the now extinct club. I’ve quite forgotten what I was going to say now.
Maybe next time.
A certain Rangers "blogger's" recent appearance on Newsnight was unmemorable except for the statement that "Rangers have been punished enough". Of course, Scottish football message boards exploded with laughter at this comment, and looking at opinion polls from around the SPL, the rest of Scottish society find it even more hysterical.
Lets look at the facts. Firstly, "Old" Rangers were docked 10 points for entering administration.
The League Cup semi-final against Danny Lennon’s spirited St. Mirren side ended with another Hampden let-down from a Celtic team which is getting to the stage where it can be relied upon to under-perform in do-or-die matches where victory is expected.
Last season’s League Cup Final was a fairly evenly contested game for the most part but Kilmarnock got the breakthrough and deserved to edge it in the end. But there’s no doubting that Celtic didn’t do themselves justice. The Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts was another occasion in which the Hoops looked as if they had forgotten how to do their jobs.
Ross County’s stunning upset at the same stage of the same tournament was well deserved on their part but it was a mystery that Celtic played so badly when they were in the middle of a superb winning streak in the league and should have had great confidence in their ability to overcome their First Division opponents.
This season, although Celtic eventually knocked Arbroath out of the Scottish Cup at the second time of asking, the performances in both matches belied the colossal gap in the status and resources of the two clubs.
Many supporters would add to this list a severe disappointment in the Highlands a couple of years ago when Celtic seemed to be strong favourites to win the SPL until they lost an away match in Inverness. We should bear in mind, in fairness to the Highlanders, that they have consistently presented a difficult challenge to every club that visits them and it was Celtic’s turn to be ambushed that night but the result was still a shock. Personally though, I strongly maintain that the fix was in that season to ensure that Murray’s fraudulent enterprise got first dibs at the Champions League booty. The refereeing in that particular match was McCurryesque. That was a big factor in the ultimate result, not only in that match but also in the final league standings.
But there is no denying that Celtic have regularly failed to show the hunger and will to win which the supporters are entitled to expect of the team. There can no longer be any doubt that this is true. I think it is highly significant that after the match Neil Lennon stated in an interview that some of the players were like spoilt children in the first half. That is a very strong – and not entirely inaccurate – criticism of the side’s thoroughly abject display but it is also very unusual for a manager to say such a thing in public. It makes me suspect that he has tired of regularly feeling duty bound to shield players from well deserved criticism in the wake of performances which are far short of what is rightly expected from them. However, I don’t think it addresses the core problem. More on that later.
As far as the league is concerned, there has been criticism of the fact that Celtic haven’t won as many points this season as they had at the same stage of the last title campaign. I couldn’t care less how many points Celtic accrue so long as we end up with more than anyone else. Celtic fans are well aware of the nine-in-a-row which Jock Stein’s sides achieved. I doubt if there’s one fan in a hundred who could say how many points Celtic won in each of those years.
When Wim Jansen’s team won the league title in 1998 with 74 points and stopped the nine-in-a-row achievement from being surpassed, I don’t remember a single Celtic supporter who grieved over the fact that Tommy Burns side had won more points in each of the previous two seasons while finishing second. (75 and 83, to save everybody looking it up.)
What matters is winning the title.
So I’m prepared to cut the team some slack in the league because, highly paid or otherwise, there is a limit to the amount of physical wear and tear which professional footballers can withstand over the course of a season. A successful quadruple campaign would require at least sixty-five games. The possibility of cup-tie replays and representative call-ups could easily take that total above seventy. It’s too much to expect any player to perform in every one of those games at the required standard so I’m glad that we have the opportunity to use squad rotation to rest players who need a break. The fact that several points may be dropped without fatally damaging the title quest is nothing but good news in my book.
But in one-off, knock-out cup-ties, there’s a different set of criteria altogether and I don’t think the players have developed the correct mentality for these competitions. This is underlined to a certain degree by the fact that Celtic very rarely win a match in which they’ve lost the first goal. Games can be lost on the way to winning league championships but not in the course of a triumphant cup campaign.
Recent Celtic teams have not shown that they have the ability to deal consistently with the pressure of playing in a match which they can’t afford to lose, most especially against opponents who set out to exploit that factor. There have been a few notable exceptions but Celtic’s best performances have generally come in games where they have felt that they have nothing to lose and lots to gain.
The current Celtic side has a number of good qualities but it only overcomes its numerous deficiencies when every player’s work rate, self-belief and resolve are at a very high level. It’s the players’ responsibility to ensure that they rise to that standard every time they are called upon to discharge their professional responsibilities. If they’re not self-motivated, they’re wasting everybody’s time.
The first-team coach can only encourage them and give them an opportunity to show that they are up to that challenge. If they don’t have the correct approach to their work, they need to look at themselves instead of hiding behind the management team. I expect that there are at least a dozen current Celtic players who are being honest with themselves tonight about why they froze this afternoon but they might not necessarily know how to find a solution.
It appears to me that the fear of losing to underdogs strongly inhibits the present side. Too many players tighten up and, as their performance consequently suffers, so the prospect of defeat further erodes their self-confidence and they enter into a negative feedback loop. Losing the first goal highly exacerbates the problem. The downward spiral continues as players begin to panic or show petulant signs of frustration. These responses in their turn further reinforce the sense of impending doom and self-doubt. Opponents sense this and are inspired to raise their own game still further, buoyed by the growing belief that they have the psychological upper hand. Meanwhile, baffled coaches watch from the technical area, trying to understand why under-performing players are behaving like “spoilt children” or why they don’t seem to have the same hunger as their opponents.
This is where I would have hoped and expected Jim McGuinness to earn his corn as part of Celtic’s coaching staff but I fear that his role is currently limited to working with youth players. I feel that Celtic would lose nothing by looking in the direction of professional advice from a successful sports psychologist to address some of the recurring issues that are afflicting the team. These regular pratfalls can no longer be dismissed as blips or off-days. They’re a direct result of well researched and fairly well understood mental processes and states of mind which need to be, and can be, adjusted with suitable programmes, specifically designed for each individual player.
Football is still years behind other sports in this field but Celtic could do a lot worse than to make room for a Head Teacher in the first-team coaching staff.
One of the challenges that Celtic face is that opponents in Scotland generally regard anything other than a sound thrashing at our hands as a good result.
A draw is excellent.
And actually beating Celtic is a significant career highlight for the majority of their players.
Even if Celtic give a team a right good horsing, the defeated outfit just shrug it off and refocus their attention on competing with their peers.
Their supporters are generally quite content to watch their players deploying whatever tactics might successfully deny the Celts a goal spree.
There’s very little pressure on those teams to do anything other than hold the fort.
That’s just the way it is.
By contrast, Celtic supporters – and particularly the younger ones who have no memory of watching truly rotten Celtic teams – seem to think that anything short of a convincing victory in almost every single domestic fixture is a completely unsatisfactory betrayal of Celtic’s traditional, glorious style.
But the reality is that although Celtic now have greater resources than any of their Scottish opponents, this does not mean that they can fill the side with geniuses and world-beaters who are entitled to overrun the puny resistance of unworthy opposition by dint of their immeasurable superiority and God-given gifts.
Celtic have played eight games this month.
Now that they’ve lost one of them to a well organised, hard working, reasonably competent side at their home stadium, there is a bizarre gnashing of teeth and rending of garments in some Celtic-supporting quarters as if it’s an outrageous injustice.
Hibs did to Celtic what the Hoops did to Barcelona.
They prevented theoretically superior opponents from playing to their strengths, pinched a lead and then defended it for all they were worth.
Inspired by the big occasion, Hibs found an energy level, a focus and a resolve which simply wasn’t there a few days ago when they lost to Ross County.
Indeed it doesn’t seem to have been there in any of their recent performances since they last raised the bar by knocking Hearts out of the Cup at the start of the month.
That was another big occasion for the Hibs players which seems to have brought out the best in them.
When Celtic play Hibs, they’re not really playing the same team that loses a string of league games to Ross County, Motherwell, ICT, Aberdeen and Dundee.
They’re playing a team which is as up for it as Celtic are against Benfica, Spartak Moscow or Barcelona.
And, just as Celtic have proved themselves to be able to stop those teams from playing at their best, so it is that the boot is on the other foot when they have to solve the problem of unlocking packed defences in Scotland.
On the day, Celtic’s success will depend upon the conversion rate of the chances they do manage to create.
Yesterday, they had a few chances and didn’t take them.In the Champions League, Celtic had an unusually high conversion rate and that carried them through to the last 16.
If they can somewhat improbably maintain that preposterously high rate, they might even yet get past Juventus (so long as the serial match-fixers from Turin miss their penalties).
But the odds on that happening in every match Celtic play are not good.
Ten years ago Celtic could regularly turn games like yesterday’s defeat around because the threat of top class talents such as Chris Sutton, Stilian Petrov, John Hartson and Lubomir Moravcik sooner or later created chances which the genius of Henrik Larsson would convert with exceptional regularity.
Hooper isn’t in Larsson’s class, Samaras isn’t as deadly as Hartson, Broon isn’t the player that Petrov was and no-one at Celtic Park now could lace Moravcik’s boots.
The money simply isn’t there to acquire ready-made players of that quality and, unlike some clubs, Celtic have no intention of exterminating themselves by spending money which they don’t have or by borrowing money which they can never pay back.
Celtic are competing against top-flight professional clubs who, rightly, are keen to test themselves against the best team in the country and one of the current European elite.
There are almost certainly going to be lots of days like yesterday when Celtic fire blanks.
But they’ll probably have far fewer of them than any other SPL club and so Celtic remain hot favourites to win the league.
That’s good enough for me.
It’s probably good enough for many of us who endured supporting Celtic during periods such as the trophy famine from 1989 until 1998.
The barren period was temporarily alleviated only by a solitary, scrappy Scottish Cup win against the now-defunct Airdrieonians FC in 1995.
The victory was celebrated as if we had won the European Cup again with the trophy being paraded through the streets from Hampden to Celtic Park.
That was a period when sometimes we couldn’t even qualify for Europe at any level, far less reach the last 16 of the top tournament while topping the league.
And whenever we did limp into one of the lower UEFA tournaments, we were almost invariably picked off in the early rounds by teams of journeymen who were still canny enough to pick off our naive, “entertaining”, cavalry charge mentality.
Neuchatel Xamax couldn’t believe their luck and had the tie wrapped up before the first leg even reached half-time.
Partizan Belgrade scored a last minute goal on the counter-attack to turn an impending defeat into victory while Celtic didn’t even have the savvy to run down the clock with a late substitution or take the ball into the corners while leading 6-5 on aggregate.
(To put Partizan’s quality in perspective it can be noted that they went on to lose both legs of their tie against Dinamo Bucharest who, in turn, lost home and away to Anderlecht who were then taken care of by Sampdoria.)
It took us decades to even start to learn how to play modern European football.
Now we are the Scottish Champions and we are likely to remain so for years.
We are going toe to toe with the very best teams in Europe and holding our own.
Many of the performances won’t be pleasing to the eye but I’ll happily settle for what we now have with no cheating Huns “competing” with us for the title and the occasional defeat at the hands of Hibs, Inverness or Kilmarnock while we eye up a possible place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Just over a year ago there was a stampede of panic merchants calling for Neil Lennon’s dismissal in the wake of a 3-3 draw with Kilmarnock.
The Armageddon scenario at that time was that we had fallen so far behind the Huns that the league was done and dusted.
It wasn’t just Jelavic who was stupid enough to make that claim.
They were quite a few Hoops followers queuing up on various Celtic forums to demand the manager’s head while lamenting that Craig Whyte’s All Stars had disappeared over the horizon towards the SPL title.
Thank God that the baleful Orc Effect didn’t drive us off the course that we’re still on.
And praise be to Hector that it’s no longer a factor at all.
We now have time to develop into a respectable European force without having to worry about the Tax-Dodgers capitalising on any of our domestic stumbles.
These are great days for Celtic supporters, even when the team isn’t yet constantly firing on all cylinders.
Even the bad times are good now.
Alex Thomson has returned to the scene of the crimes with some observations in a blogpost about Hunnish intimidation of those who wish to speak the truth about Scotland’s Shame.
I still have some reservations about Mr Thomson. Although his post is worth two cheers, I feel that he has once again stood in front of an open goal with the ball at his feet and somehow failed to score. I’ve posted the following reply to his article and I’m reproducing it here before it gets lost in the deluge of “whataboutery” that will shortly clog up his comments page:
Obviously, you’re writing this for a wider audience, Alex, but you’re not quite painting an accurate picture when you say that these matters pass without comment in Glasgow. There are plenty of us with a great deal to say but our points of view are suppressed or misrepresented by the mainstream media.
Thousands of pages of online research into shady dealings at Rangers get dismissed by Hugh Keevins of Radio Clyde as the inconsequential ravings of a shower of “internet bampots”.
Hundreds of thousands of Celtic supporters who have echoed every one of your points – and indeed have been saying them for decades before you took an interest in this scandal – were routinely accused of paranoia by the Scottish mainstream media and ignored by the UK networks.
Millions of hours of broadcasting will avoid any mention of the disease that infects a substantial part of the UK while at the same time no effort seems to be spared to bring us bad news from Middle East war zones, the American political arena or government corruption in some distant country.
The issue of corporate misgovernance is a vital one but the greatest misgovernance of all is the failure of news corporations to report accurately on what has being going on. The BBC is especially guilty because its own charter and mission statement unequivocally affirms its duty to “inform and educate” but no media outlet comes out of this mess with credit. There has been too little fair and impartial reporting on this; what little there has been has mostly been on the outside margins of the established media. While this is a welcome blog, it is nonetheless unlikely that its content will be featured on the Channel 4 television news tonight, once again leaving the inaccurate impression that nobody in Glasgow – or Scotland – is interested in making a comment on these scandals.
Take a look at your own blog roll, Alex; what other subject have you ever blogged about which has produced anything remotely close to the volume of comment which articles about corruption in Scottish football produce? Blogposts on the Rangers scandal do not pass without comment, either from Glasgow or elsewhere. During the close season, tens of thousands of Scottish football fans realised that the only way to make their views clear to their own club directors was by postponing the renewal of their season tickets until it was guaranteed that there would be no place in the SPL for the most corrupt club in the history of British football. That was a powerful and ultimately effective comment by supporters from Ayrshire to Aberdeen and yet the mainstream media has treated it as no more than an awkward interruption to its own determined agenda to misinform its audience.
The media – especially BBC Scotland – relentlessly recycled Neil Doncaster’s prophecies of doom about the prospect of a Hun-free SPL while giving short shrift to the huge volume of commentary from gleeful fans who, if given a voice, would have correctly pointed out that it was the best thing that could ever happen to Scottish football. Now that even Doncaster himself has been forced to concede that he was talking a pile of tripe, there is scarcely a comment from the same media on how utterly useless he clearly is.
There is no shortage of comment on the streets of Glasgow and the rest of Scotland about how utterly inappropriate it is that Campbell Ogilvie – deeply implicated in Rangers’ tax-scam – remains in position at the top of the SFA. But the silence is that of the media, not of the innumerable outspoken critics at ground level.
I could easily go on but the point is clear. There is no shortage of comment about Scotland’s Shame but decades of experience have shown us that there is an acute shortage of desire to reflect that commentary in the UK media as a whole and in the Scottish media in particular.
That is corporate misgovernance on a huge scale. It takes a certain type of courage to crouch in a bombshell crater, ducking out of the way of shrapnel while waiting for a quiet moment to file copy back to an editor. But, without being disrespectful, once you leave the battle arena, the threat is over and you can get on with your life.
It takes a very different – and far more demanding – type of courage for a mainstream journalist to do a piece to camera on location in Govan and resolve to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, with the support of his or her editors and publishers. But nothing short of that kind of determination to stand up to the bullies and their corrupt puppet-masters is required in order to confront the problem of corporate misgovernance in the media. Until programmes like Mark Daly’s excellent two documentaries on Rangers become the norm rather than the very rare exception, then the BBC, Channel 4, and every other media outlet, deserve the corporate misgovernance tag just as much as David Murray, Campbell Ogilvie, Martin Bain, Craig Whyte, Gordon Smith, George Peat, Dave King, Stewart Regan, Neil Doncaster or Gavin Masterton.
This has been a comment by one of those Glaswegians who reportedly watch corruption and criminality occur without comment. I’ll gladly amplify these comments if I’m ever allowed to do so on television but I won’t hold my breath while I’m waiting for the invitation.
The SFA are making it clear to one and all that their first priority is to save the myth of Rangers rather than look after Scottish football.
It has been obvious for some time now that neither the SFA nor the SPL has the slightest intention of doing the right thing except under the strongest compulsion from the vast majority of Scottish football supporters. Even then, the authorities waste no time in reverting to their corrupt ways as soon as they sense that the immediate pressure has relented.
Thus, in the last week, we have witnessed the absurd pantomime of negotiations about what level of punishment the disreputable Ibrox mob will deign to accept for the disgraceful conduct of their business over the last year. It is glaringly obvious that the perpetrators have no right to dictate what punishment they are prepared to accept. Any authority worthy of the name would simply dictate that Rangers, having been found guilty of the most serious charges in the history of Scottish football and having brought the game into disrepute on several different counts, must be suspended or expelled altogether. The judgement and sentence would be handed down and that would be that. But it doesn’t work that way when the Huns are involved.
Thugs such as McCoist, Brown and Jardine issue threats with impunity and the SFA and SPL cower in abject submission. Gangsters and mobsters operate from the Ibrox boardroom and bully the game’s administrators into inviting a fraudulent club to participate in a league to which it isn’t even entitled to apply for membership. Law enforcement officers are investigating several different suspect aspects of this stinking operation and will assuredly pounce sooner or later.
And all the while, the SFA pretends that it is somehow in the interests of Scotland and its national game that these crooks should be accommodated in the professional structure instead of run out of town faster than you can say “organised crime” or “international money-laundering syndicate.”
Obviously, the SFA thinks it can get away with this. That is in no small part due to the fact that it always has got away with it up until now. It has always managed to keep this sort of scandal in-house and under control, mainly because of a complete lack of transparency in its doings. It helped that it was never seriously challenged by an emasculated press corps whose loyalties have generally lain in the same place as those of Hampden high heid yins such as Campbell Ogilvie, Gordon Smith and George Peat.
And for as long as these crooks could keep everything in house, it has been a safe bet that nobody could ever stop the corruption of the national game. Politicians are a complete waste of time at best while UEFA and FIFA do not involve themselves in domestic matters.
McCoist is now arrogantly insisting that the football authorities abandon the investigation into the illegal payment schemes practised by Rangers over the course of many, many years. He is quite patently making this demand for no other reason than that he wants to hide the truth about the colossal number of games in which Rangers fielded players who were not properly registered to play. He has also stated in advance that he will not accept any talk of titles being stripped from the cheating Ibrox club. McCoist’s position is that there must be no transparency, no investigation, no punishment and he has previous form for inciting criminal action to intimidate those who wish to see the same rules apply to Rangers as would apply to any other club. Sadly, his thuggery has not been wholly unsuccessful so far, and the SFA has shown no indication that it is prepared to lay down the law lest it displeases the bombs and bullets brigade.
So it’s time to get the gloves off with these scummy crooks and bring the whole charade to a crashing halt. The Scottish game is heading for destruction one way or another if a criminal enterprise such as Sevco is going to continue to receive preferential treatment at the same time that rabble-rousers like McCoist can threaten the personal safety of anyone who stands between him and his demands. If the game is going to be destroyed, let it be for better reasons than for the sake of sustaining the fake prestige of a rotten institution.
Fortunately, there is a way to involve UEFA and FIFA. As a bonus, it may lead to the destruction of the SFA. If the decent clubs in Scotland start making their preparations now, they may be in a good position to form a new administrative body to take over the running of Scottish football when the SFA is expelled from world football.
Step forward Barry Ferguson, inductee of the Rangers Hall of Fame [sic] and formerly captain of his club and country. Ferguson had two spells at Ibrox and somewhere along the line he trousered two and half million tax-free pounds sterling through the EBT scam. Mark Daly reported that Ferguson’s extra contract with Rangers has been seen and confirmed by the BBC.
What a stroke of bad luck it would be for the SFA if Barry Ferguson had been selected to play for the Scotland international team in a World Cup qualifying tournament whilst being improperly registered. Alas! That seems to be exactly what has happened.
During the campaign to qualify for the 2006 Finals, Scotland drew four and won three of the ten matches. The only match which Ferguson did not play in was the very last group tie, a 3-0 away victory over Slovenia. In every other fixture, the improperly registered Rangers player was selected to represent Scotland in a competition played under FIFA auspices. Ten of Scotland’s 13 points were won by breaking the rules of the competition. Not only has the SFA accepted prize money which it wasn’t entitled to collect but Scotland’s seeding level since that tournament has been at a higher level than it ought to be because it is based on Scotland finishing in a false third position in the group rather than sixth and last where it ought to have been according to the rules.
The Scotland manager for all but the first three games of that campaign was Walter Smith, a man who knows more about EBTs than most. The president of the SFA was George Peat, its Treasurer was Campbell Ogilvie and the CEO was David Taylor (who is now the joint General Secretary of UEFA). If there are any journalists out there who know how to work a telephone, they could do us all a favour by asking any of these gentlemen for their comments on the matter of Scotland fielding ineligible players in FIFA competitions. Failing that, why not just go straight to FIFA and ask them if they approve?
(FIFA’s number is +41 (0)43 222 7777. I’d call them myself but I’m a bit low on credit, what with paying my taxes and stuff.
Arthur Numan, a Dutch international footballer, received over half a million pounds in sneaky pay from an EBT and Mark Daly of the BBC reports a positive sighting of the infamous “side letter” which confirms that this money was paid as wages to the player. McCoist doesn’t want the SFA or the SPL to investigate this. But Numan didn’t only play for Rangers at this time. He also played for the Netherlands. In international competitions under the auspices of both UEFA and FIFA.
For example, Numan was in the Dutch team that defeated Estonia 5-0 on the 5th of September 2001 in the Philips Stadium in Eindhoven during the qualifying tournament for the 2002 World Cup Finals. And just a few weeks later in Arnhem, Gelredome on the 6th of October, Arthur came on as a substitute for Mario Melchiot as the Netherlands defeated Andorra 4-0 in their next FIFA World Cup qualifying tie. He also played in Holland’s 2-2 draw with the Republic of Ireland.
Other contemporary Rangers players who featured on the official team-lines during that qualifying competition were EBT beneficiaries Ronald de Boer (£1,200,000 with a side letter), Fernando Ricksen (£684,225, side letter confirmed) and Bert Konterman (£300,000).
Hello again, FIFA. That’s seven points which Holland should not have kept just for Arthur Numan’s appearances alone. Numan, not being properly registered, was not entitled to play professional football at any level, far less as an internationalist in the most prestigious competition on the planet. The SFA, by failing in its own duties to ensure that players were properly registered, devalued the jewel in FIFA’s crown. Again, an enterprising journalist will already be reaching for the phone to ask the Dutch FA if they falsified their own bureaucratic submissions to FIFA or if they received inaccurate paperwork from their Scottish counterparts.
But member clubs of the SFA should not be waiting for any other party to investigate this. Between the SPL and the SFL, there are forty-one member clubs of the SFA who are entitled to demand of the executive, as a matter of the utmost urgency, an immediate answer to this question: have the SFA habitually deceived UEFA and FIFA with false registration documents to enable ineligible players to compete in major tournaments? With a new World Cup qualifying tournament about to start, it is a matter of vital importance that this question is cleared up immediately and if the SFA haven’t got the balls to do it then somebody should ask FIFA to intervene without a moment’s delay.
As for UEFA, we see exactly the same irregularities. Indeed, one side was a bad as the other in the play-off match between Scotland and the Netherlands for a place in the Euro 2004 Finals. Players with dual contracts at Rangers had featured throughout the campaign for both teams. While Rangers EBT beneficiary Dick Advocaat (£1,500,000) was selecting his fellow tax-scammers Fernando Ricksen and Ronald de Boer for the Dutch, the officials of the SFA were sitting in the directors’ box watching Barry Ferguson and Neil McCann (£500,000) turning out for the Scots. Just for good measure, while Holland were rattling in half-a-dozen goals against Scotland in one play-off, another Rangers dual contract holder was settling another play-off match with the only goals of the tie between Slovenia and Croatia. Dado Prso, armed with the side letter which the BBC has seen, took away £1,900,000 in tax-free sneaky pay.
Gloves off. It’s the SFA versus everybody who cares about football being played properly and according to the rules. The SFA have just about destroyed Scottish football. It’s time for Scottish football fans to call them on these matters and turn ourselves in to UEFA and FIFA. Call for the expulsion of the SFA from world football. Form a brand new association which places integrity at the centre of its constitution and let it invite applications from clubs which agree to be bound by the rules without question. Huns need not apply. Let the new Caledonian Soccerball Association (Featuring New, Improved Integrity) petition UEFA and FIFA for formal recognition in place of the disgraced, discredited SFA . Never again should we have to cringe with embarrassment or shake with fury at the sight of a thoroughly corrupt fraudster presiding over an association of cowards and cheats who negotiate with gangsters and neds about how to wreak further damage on our game.
Over to you, UEFA and FIFA. Get this investigated and when McCoist throws one of his hissy fits and threatens you with a mass mobilisation of the Larkhall Loyal, just tell him to do one. For once, the vast majority of football fans will be right behind you.