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.
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.