Tom English: Considering McCoist’s words on Black

Ally McCoist. Picture: SNS
Ally McCoist. Picture: SNS
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In the wake of their thumping victory over Airdrieonians on Friday night, Ally McCoist spoke about Ian Black and the great response he received from the visiting supporters at the Excelsior Stadium.

“I thought the Rangers fans, as they do, would support one of their own,” said McCoist. Black is up on 160 charges of breaching the SFA’s rules on gambling on matches. Of the 160 charges, three relate to gambling on his own team not to win. The allegation is that of the three, one of them relates to Black betting on Rangers not to win a game he apparently played in. To McCoist, Black is innocent until proven guilty and that’s absolutely correct. He remains “one of their own”. Fair enough.

Let’s talk now about the way the club handled the Fran Sandaza affair. Sandaza was guilty of nothing but naivety in taking a phone call from a hoaxer and divulging thoughts that he should have kept to himself. For this, he was immediately suspended pending an investigation by the club. A short while later, his contract was terminated. There was no allowance made for the fact that the guy doing the hoaxing was a repulsive individual who despises everything to do with Rangers. There was no rallying around the striker, no condemnation of the cruel trick that had been played on the player and certainly no talk of Sandaza being “one of their own”.

He was jettisoned on the pretence of disloyalty to his club when, in fact, the reality had an awful lot more to do with expedience than morality. Sandaza was on a big salary at Ibrox and had not been scoring a volume of goals that justified such a wage. The club saw their chance to move him off the wage bill and they took it. It was a grubby episode.

There are terrible contradictions in Black being clutched to the bosom of the club and Sandaza’s experience. But not just Sandaza. Charles Green disgraced himself when he made a racist remark about Imran Ahmad. He was not suspended pending an investigation. His comment made all of Scottish football cringe with embarrassment when he first came out with it and then cringe some more when he sought to defend it on television a few days later. Green was not suspended. The matter was looked into and his explanation was accepted by the Ibrox board. There seems to be a twisted morality at play at Rangers.

Whether Rangers should have suspended Black pending an investigation is a moot point, but what is surely indisputable is that they are applying one rule for Black, who McCoist values as a player, and another for Sandaza, who was dumped in a heartbeat. Had McCoist railed against phone hoaxers in the wake of the Sandaza business then he would have gained near-unanimous support from all of Scottish football, but he didn’t.

The Spaniard was left to twist in the wind for the crime of being duped by a guy who revels in his hatred for the club Sandaza played for. Black, meanwhile, is supported and cheered.

Given the myriad fires he has had to fight in his two years in charge of Rangers, you might have thought that McCoist would be well-schooled in the art of crisis management. With his team coming together at long last and his early results, and performances, in League One proving a world away in terms of energy, accuracy and ability to anything we saw last year in the Third Division, the Rangers manager needed the Ian Black affair like he needed a firm boot in the unmentionables, which is basically what this betting story amounts to for McCoist.

You can fully understand McCoist’s frustration at having his baby-steps of improvement on the field being compromised by another off-pitch drama, but his response to the charges levelled against his player was as theatrical as it was ridiculous. Appearing at his Thursday press conferences with rolled-up pieces of A4 paper supposedly with the names of “tens and tens and tens of footballing people” who have gambled on the game in this country, McCoist was in fighting form. Such was his ire that he missed the point entirely. Yes, footballers bet on football. And if that was the only accusation against Black then the story would be nowhere near as big as it is. The aspect that McCoist failed to see – or conveniently ignored – is the three charges of betting on his own team not to win. Everything else pretty much pales into insignificance.

One of those teams is, allegedly, Rangers. McCoist had nothing to say about the allegation that one of his players, who is richly rewarded, is up on a charge of betting on his team not to win a match, a match that it is believed he was playing in.

You didn’t expect McCoist to walk into the room on Thursday and slam his own player. Nothing has been proven. But, surely, he was honour-bound to talk about the big picture and the principle of any footballer backing against his own team-mates and how that is totally unacceptable. But he didn’t say any of that. He called for a summit to explain the betting rules when a summit is not required. The rules are so straightforward that a child of four could understand. You’re forbidden from gambling on any football anywhere in the world. That’s it. It’s not rocket science.

It doesn’t require people getting around the table and explaining it. It’s simple and any player or manager who says he didn’t know that gambling was banned is merely publicising their own ignorance.

Most players have a bet. That’s an argument we have heard constantly since Monday. It’s an argument that is undoubtedly true. But all of those players who have a bet run the risk of being reported to the SFA by the bookmakers they place the bet with, especially if they do it via the internet or over the phone.

They are at the mercy of the bookmakers keeping quiet. Most of the time the bookmakers do keep schtum, but that’s not to say that will always do so. Somebody, at some point, was going to get reported. Black is the one who has been singled out.

The point has to be stressed, though. If Black was only being charged with betting on other teams in other leagues in other countries then there would not be the same hubbub, regardless of the breaches of the SFA rulebook.

The three charges of betting against his own team are the critical ones and you have to think that McCoist knows exactly how serious those charges are, despite his bizarre grandstanding.