DCSIMG

Tom English: Rangers verdict set to unleash hell

Lord Nimmo Smith will deliver his Commission's report at noon. Picture: PA

Lord Nimmo Smith will deliver his Commission's report at noon. Picture: PA

  • by TOM ENGLISH
 

THIS is going to be another day spent fighting in the madhouse that is Scottish football or, more to the point, football involving the great sparring partners in the Glasgow bearpit, Celtic and Rangers.

When Lord Nimmo Smith announces the conclusions of the SPL Commission set up to investigate possible breaches of the league’s rule book during Rangers’ days of plenty, the hounds of hell are going to be unleashed one way or another.

If Rangers are cleared of any wrong-doing, the reaction from across the city will not only shake the ground under the feet of those miles away in Govan, the tremors will be felt Europe-wide, if not worldwide. Call it the Celtic Tsunami. There is only one thing as gruesomely awesome as a Celtic fan with a grievance and that is a Rangers fan with a grievance. And so if the verdict goes the other way then nobody is safe. Hurricane Ally won’t take long to crank up.

If Nimmo Smith, who really ought to get out of Dodge the second he puts the final full-stop on his report, produces a guilty verdict and therefore opens up a conversation about punishment and the possible stripping of titles then the response from Ibrox will be thermo- nuclear. Nobody should try and second-guess this thing. Many of us presumed that the Big Tax Case was going to be a resounding victory for HMRC and it proved to be anything but. It just shows that you cannot predict anything when lawyers (and accountants) are poring over case law and the minutiae of how it may be applied to the particular circumstances of Rangers.

On Twitter yesterday the drums were already beating. Some Celtic fans demanded to know what the verdict may be. Of course, the only answer they wanted to hear was that Rangers were guilty as sin and that all the trophies won while fielding players that were not properly registered with the footballing authorities would thereby be thrown into a ceremonial bonfire in George Square. Feelings are so entrenched that you couldn’t move one side or the other with a fleet of JCBs. Innocence here and guilt there. No grey area. No doubt.

This is a plaintive cry on the morning of a momentous decision. Nimmo Smith and his high-powered panel of eminent QCs had no agenda, no pre-ordained notion of the truth before they sat down and starting looking at this case. They are hugely respected legal minds and will have come to a dispassionate conclusion, whatever that conclusion that may be.

Is there any chance that their verdict will be accepted as the opinion of men who have no axe to grind? On one side, yes. The victorious side. On the other, no. Such is life in this claustrophobic environment. The losers today will seek to bury the credibility of the commission on the infantile grounds that they don’t agree with what they have found. Let’s call it The Hissy Fit response. We all know how this is going to go. The winner will gloat, the defeated will rant and those asking that the verdict be respected will be blown away in the crossfire.

Dons need to start easing Brown’s pain

AT THE risk of playing down the on-going and exhilarating success story that is Ross County, it’s hard to let the latest kick to the groin of Craig Brown go by without pondering his increasingly bewildered plight. It was no surprise that Derek Adams’ team beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Tuesday given that they had already played them twice this season and picked up four points. County were third in the SPL before last night’s games – and only on goals difference. The Dons meanwhile were ninth; four points behind County having played one game more.

Whither Aberdeen. Not for the first time in recent years we find ourselves talking about the Dons and slapstick and farce. If Shakespeare was around today he’d surely be hanging around Pittodrie penning a follow-up to The Comedy of Errors. It’s been 11 games since Aberdeen beat anybody other than Dundee, the whipping boys of the top flight. That’s a run that takes us back to before Christmas. It’ll be the second week of March before they get another chance, Motherwell up next at Pittodrie. Stuart McCall’s side will fancy their chances. How could they not?

At the centre of this maelstrom is Brown, a man who is as sound as the day is long and one that most people root for every week. It’s becoming painful now, though. Brown has been bemoaning his luck and, no doubt, Aberdeen have had some bad breaks of late. But a year of bad breaks? If you take it from February 2012 to February 2013, Aberdeen have played 52 games and have won only 15 of them. That’s a strike rate of 28 per cent. For a team with a reasonable set of players that’s not nearly good enough.

The way the SPL is working out, second place is still not beyond the realms for Aberdeen, but they’d want to start exploding into life pretty quickly. This job has eaten up some amount of managers in the past and it’s starting to take some bites out of Brown now as well. You hope he, and his team have it in them to bite back before it’s too late.

Ally’s songsheet idea has hit a bum note

ALLY McCoist gave credence to the notion that a “safe songsheet” could help stamp out the kind of sectarian chanting that disgraced Rangers at Berwick last Saturday afternoon.

That is to suggest that there is a level of confusion among a moronic section of the Rangers support, that what happened at the weekend was, in part, down to these supporters not knowing what is acceptable and what is not.

Imagine this scenario, then. The Berwick Massive are ­giving it large about Fenians and the Pope and the Famine and whatever the hell else they were singing about when one in their number cries halt.

“Lads, I’ve just consulted the safe songsheet and it looks like the Billy Boys is out of order.” To which the response would be: “Why do you think we’re singing it!”

The idea that these people need a list to tell them that singing of their hatred of Catholics is not something they should be doing is garbage.

They know it already. And they don’t care. There is no ambiguity here. Even the most dense among them will have known exactly what they were doing, so let’s not pretend that there is uncertainty in their ranks. This was wilful sectarianism.

Nothing else. And it has been recognised as such by the overwhelming majority of Rangers people, who, through social media, have lacerated these idiots.

Nobody, no matter how thick, needs a safe songsheet to realise that chanting hatred about somebody else’s religion is not allowed. In his reaction to Saturday, McCoist should never have gone down that road.

Early optimism from fans long gone as only Hibs show increase

Back in November we crunched some early-season numbers in a bid to figure out how SPL attendances were holding up against talk of Armageddon and a death, slow and lingering. It turned out that the numbers were pretty good. Of the ten relevant clubs – Ross County and Dundee didn’t figure since they were only promoted in the summer – seven were showing an increase in attendances with only Celtic, Hearts and St Mirren showing a fall. In such an horrendous economic climate, seven out of ten was a very encouraging number, even if some of the clubs were up only marginally. Being up at all was an achievement.

And now how do the numbers stack up? Well, you can wipe the seven for a start and replace it with a one. Only one club in the SPL has increased their crowds season-on-season, Hibs being the club in question. They’ve gone from an average of 9,728 in their first 13 home games of last season to an average of 10,692 this season. They’re up 9.9 per cent. That’s not to be sniffed at in this day and age.

The rest? Kilmarnock have lost 369 fans per home game and are down 7 per cent. That’s a huge disappointment given that Kenny Shiels has got them going well. Aberdeen are down 2.4 per cent, Dundee United down a trifling 0.57 per cent. Quite depressingly, in the best season of their young history, Inverness have lost just over 200 fans per home game and are down almost 5 per cent. Terry Butcher cannot do much more than he is doing. So much to be proud of up there and yet, in supporter numbers, they’re hitting a brick wall.

Celtic’s figures? The official ones tell us that their average gate this time last year was 49,471 and that it is now 45,669 – a fall of 3,802 fans per match or 7 per cent. That’s what they tell us. What they don’t tell us is if these figures accurately reflect the real attendances. Many doubt that they do. The likelihood is that Celtic’s SPL numbers are down considerably more than 7 per cent, the byproduct of not having Rangers around to make a contest of the championship. Celtic people say they don’t miss their old pals. But all those empty seats at Celtic Park tell a different story.

Hearts are down 1.6 per cent, the figure being so low only because the fans have rallied around a club in dire straits. Motherwell will have cause for frustration in that that their numbers show the greatest percentage fall – 13.8 per cent. For a team on a roll this is desperate stuff. They’ve lost 775 fans per game on average. That leaves St Johnstone, working hard to avoid dropping any more than the 102 fans they have lost since this time last season – they’re down 2.6 per cent – and St Mirren, another casualty having shed 321 fans every home game for a percentage drop of 6.7.

There are myriad reasons why the numbers are falling; ticketing prices, kick-off times, economic reality hitting the pocket of fans, a general air of despondency about the state of the game, the loss of the Rangers fixtures (although you could overstate how much that has hurt all teams bar Celtic who, clearly, are feeling Rangers’ absence). We could go on. There are two ways of looking at these figures. The Rangers way which will tell you that this is Armageddon approaching. Or the polar opposite view that says the league is thriving without Rangers. Neither is true. The reality is somewhere in the middle. Clubs are hurting but not dying. It’s all a frightful struggle, though.

 

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