Comment: Outrage over Lawwell remark misplaced

CONSIDERING the lengthy series of misfortunes that have befallen The Rangers International Football Club plc since its incorporation just a year ago, its skeleton board of directors (a mere threesome before two recent additions) appears to have a rather skewed sense of what constitutes a priority.

Peter Lawwell. Picture: SNS

Warnings of impending financial calamity, voiced by their own former chief executive, Craig Mather, to a fans’ group, the shying from involvement by another would-be redeemer, Dave King, and a looming, eventful and potentially harmful annual meeting of shareholders would all appear to this observer to be of much more concern than a brief comment made by the chief executive of Celtic.

In the land of the blue and the green, of course, there is no such thing as a throwaway line; at least, not until it has been chewed and spat out with wildly varying degrees of amusement and contempt, depending on the hue of the spectacles through which the “taster” views the world.

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In the present climate at Ibrox, a fevered reaction among the club’s more hysterical followers to Peter Lawell’s response to a question from the floor during Celtic’s AGM could hardly be considered a surprise. Nor could the decision by the directors to make an official complaint in writing to the SFA over Lawwell, even if their action would strike anyone with a grown-up’s fully matured brain as laughable.

Those board members, after all, have been pre-occupied in recent times with the urgent need to insinuate themselves into the favour of anxious supporters who have been demonstrating an unambiguous hostility towards their style of corporate governance. Somebody must have persuaded them that “retaliating” against Lawwell would have the effect of a clarion call to the troops, although it would seem to any disinterested party to be a dangerously unreliable basis on which to presume the arrival of reinforcements on the eve of battle.

But the Rangers directors (and the fans) at least find themselves in fraught circumstances and, therefore, vulnerable to making errors of judgment. This is an understandable and entirely forgivable difficulty not shared by professional commentators. The most risible aspect of the entire Lawwell episode has been the moral outrage in certain areas of the media by some who should know at least the value of bringing proper consideration to an issue, as opposed to the impulsive reaction of a child too immature to recognise the difference between free-flowing emotion and rational thought.

The stampede to accuse the Celtic executive of “incendiary” and appallingly undignified behaviour made a telling contrast with the years of snide, sarcastic remarks directed at the Parkhead club by the former Rangers’ chairman, David Murray, and generally reported without a vestige of criticism. This obsequiousness was, of course, representative of the widespread media fawning afforded to Murray even as he drove Rangers towards financial devastation.

It was suggested in one piece that, had any other chief executive made Lawwell’s remark, it would have been immediately followed by a notice of complaint from Vincent Lunny, the Scottish FA’s compliance officer. This prompts the question: on what grounds?

When Lawwell was asked by a Celtic shareholder why the media continued to refer to Rangers, a club he insisted had been liquidated, the chief exec replied that “Rory Bremner can pretend to be Tony Blair”. No court in the land could prosecute a case in which an allegedly offensive – and punishable – comment made not a single mention of the party supposedly slandered.

Anyone interested in the business may construe Lawwell’s words as their prejudices dictate; the SFA, in the shape of Lunny, must construe them according to the rules. It is no surprise there will be no summons issued to Lawwell; not because of any special treatment, but because there is no case to answer.

Resisting Bangura could have paid staff a living wage

In A business in which hypocrisy has been playing a blinder for over 100 years, few people, if any, would be shocked to discover that Celtic, the self-proclaimed, all-inclusive champion of the poor and downtrodden, currently employ 178 workers who are paid less than the rate prescribed by government as “a living wage”.

This should not be confused with the minimum wage, a considerably lower hourly remuneration, and a legal obligation imposed on all employers. If Peter Lawwell should have been discomfited by any issue to emerge from his club’s annual meeting, it should have been by the protest from Jeanette Findlay, chair of the Celtic Trust, over his board’s rejection of a motion to make the club a living-wage employer.

The argument by the Celtic chairman, Ian Bankier, that most of the lower-paid were match-day casual labour and, therefore, supplementing their income from their primary work, was a feeble attempt at a defence which simply body-swerved the moral point at the core of Findlay’s passionate protest. It is that, to comply with the club’s supposedly traditional rectitude, no employee, in any capacity, should earn less than the living wage. Clearly not given to pussyfooting, she referred to the board’s decision as “one that shames you and shames us”.

Bankier gathered no support, either, from revealing that adopting Resolution 11 would cost £500,000 a year. In today’s market, that sum would not buy a bad player. In this light, Neil Lennon could restore the directors to righteousness.

The manager could strike a deal with the board whereby, when he feels the once-a-year urge to sign a Mo Bangura, he could instruct the directors instead to lodge the fee (£2.2 million) and the player’s earnings for the term of the contract (about the same again) with the wages department, assuring the full workforce of their due for the next eight years.