IF nothing else, the headlining events of the past couple of weeks have neon-lighted Scottish football’s seemingly endless capacity for exhibiting a topsy-turvy sense of priorities.
Few other areas of human endeavour, if any, would devote a near-hysterical reaction to the comparatively meaningless and irrelevant findings of a disciplinary tribunal, while demonstrating apparent indifference to a circumstance of potentially volcanic consequences.
As always, the after-effect of the deliberations of the judicial panel which found oldco Rangers guilty of a breach of SPL and SFA regulations and fined them £250,000 would be shaped by expectation. It soon became evident that the preconception of the vast majority had been governed not by their paying proper attention to the possibilities, but by the misleading interpretations of the more alarmist sections of the media.
Anyone who took a sober, unpolluted view of the fact that no fewer than 18 possible “sentences” were available to Lord Nimmo Smith and his fellow judges would surely have concluded that the drastic stripping of league championships won during the period of Rangers’ offences under the excesses of the David Murray regime would be among the least likely to be imposed.
But broadcasters and newspapers homed in so relentlessly on what was merely one of so many options that it is not entirely surprising that large numbers of viewers, listeners and readers should have been persuaded that a guilty verdict would result automatically in the confiscation of titles. With the old company in liquidation and the financial penalty unlikely to be paid, the outcome, like that of the infamous “big” tax case with HMRC, has no bearing on the business of the re-born Rangers.
Followers of the Ibrox club should be emphatically more concerned with The Curious Affair Of The Boardroom Battle. This was an episode which flared threateningly and was doused with unseemly haste and concluded with extremely suspect bonhomie, all played out to a background of conspiratorial whispers.
It will be remembered that Charles Green, the chief executive, was reported to have told his co-directors that, if the chairman, Malcolm Murray, was not removed, he (Green) would quit. This was followed by what could reasonably be described as a smear campaign against Murray, with media outlets briefed that the chairman’s behaviour was unbecoming to the point of being the subject of complaints by two (unnamed) supporters.
Within 24 hours, however, the bulletin from Ibrox assured the world that all was well, there was not so much as a hint of acrimony among the directors and that Murray would remain in the chair. None of this made much sense - until, of course, it was learned that, far from a reconciliation of the factions in the boardroom, it was the intervention of concerned money men in the City of London which brought the cessation of hostilities.
It was also learned Rangers’ PR consultants, who had been active in trying to extinguish the fire in their own, singular way, were told by the suits in the City to (and I quote) “shut the f--k up”.
Green has been almost unnaturally quiet since the incident, not only failing to fulfil his promise to walk away if Murray stayed, but acting as though suddenly struck dumb. But it is very unlikely that the last has been heard of the unrest among the executives. The fact that investors had to flex their muscle to quell the squabbling, as well as the implied seriousness of Murray’s “personal” difficulties, suggests strongly that the protagonists are enduring, rather than enjoying, an uneasy peace.
The only member of the management team to have made mention of the animosity has been Ally McCoist, who was quick to assure anyone within earshot that neither he nor his players would be unsettled by any “speculation” about “rumours” of a boardroom split. This is about as surprising as the sunrise, since it is one of football’s inviolable truths that footballers are utterly indifferent to either the identity or the doings of board members.
Unless the directors’ actions impact directly on their welfare - either harmfully or with life-changing munificence (q.v. Murray, David, Sir) - players do not give a toss who owns or runs their club. Hearts players whose salaries have failed to reach their accounts in recent years, however, will have had consistent cause to curse the day Vladimir Romanov walked into Tynecastle.
There was an earlier time, too, when those who represented Celtic had to contend with a chairman, Bob Kelly, who actually picked the team. Former outstanding players such as Paddy Crerand have little difficulty in recalling the whimsy of Kelly, whose policy of constant interference was held to be the single most significant factor in what old-time Celtic supporters refer to as “the eleven barren years” between 1954 and 1965; the League Cup back then was not considered a major trophy, and even the 7-1 victory over Rangers in the 1957 final did not change that.
“You could tell the day before the match whether or not you were in the team,” says Crerand. “If you happened to pass Bob Kelly in a corridor at the ground and he said ‘hello’, that meant you were picked. If he walked past you without looking your way, you were dropped. And there was no chance of ever finding out why. He was a law unto himself, and who played and who was left out depended entirely on what kind of mood he was in.”
Since Sir Bob - in the 1969 New Year Honours, he was given the knighthood that should have gone to Jock Stein - was a fully paid-up member of the punters’ society, there was every chance that his disposition was dependent on the fate of his four-legged, rather than his two-legged, selections.