FRIENDS, family and colleagues gathered in Bishopbriggs and then Uddingston yesterday to say a fond farewell to Glenn Gibbons, The Scotsman’s former chief football writer, who died on Monday aged 69.
Glenn’s professional career spanned five decades, starting with DC Thomson before he worked with distinction for the Scottish Daily Mail, the Observer, the Guardian and Daily Telegraph. He joined The Scotsman full-time in 1999 and ‘retired’ in 2009, continuing to write a weekly column for the title until earlier this year. His work was bold, insightful, thought-provoking and always meticulously considered.
Today we bring you a selection of his finest work during that time: an interview with Rangers director Hugh Adam which, long before it happened, predicted the financial abyss the club faced; a hard-hitting critique of John Barnes’ faltering performance in charge of Celtic; and his follow-up article to the 2002 Champions League final after he had been enchanted by the wondrous skill of Zinedine Zidane at Hampden.
2 February 2002: ‘Hugh Adam shakes Ibrox pillars with warning of bankruptcy’
THERE are licensed premises in Glasgow where the regular patrons will consider the recent deeds and utterances of the former Rangers director, Hugh Adam, to be nothing less than acts of treason.
This should be regarded as a natural, almost understandable, reaction from immovably devoted supporters of the Ibrox club to the decision by Adam to unload his 59,000 shares in Rangers on the basis that they were heading towards worthlessness, thanks to the unsatisfactory business methods of the chairman, David Murray.
Almost certainly viewed as an even more heinous offence would be Adam’s claim that Celtic are run much more competently and that investment in the Parkhead club would be a much sounder proposition for anyone wishing to purchase shares in a football institution.
It would be tempting for many to dismiss Adam’s action as merely a gratuitous attack on Murray by a disillusioned, 76-year-old ex-employee carrying a grudge. But Adam has been a candid critic of the way Rangers have operated for years, ever willing to voice his unease – indeed, his incomprehension – at losses he has always insisted were unsustainable.
He also has impressive credentials, having been chairman and managing director of Rangers Development and Rangers Pools since 1971, raising the millions which built the modern Ibrox. Adam’s efforts brought the club around £18million, about £60m at today’s values.
To say that his final severance with Ibrox, after three separate terms as a director amounting to about 15 years of service, was done in a fury would be inaccurate, but in conversation this week it became evident that his decision is underpinned by unmistakable disgust.
Not given to sensationalism, this essentially conservative disciple of prudent forward planning and low-risk business principles did, however, cause something of a shock by observing almost matter-of-factly that, if Rangers continue on their present track, their ultimate destination will be bankruptcy.
“That’s the logical conclusion to a strategy that incurs serious loss year on year,” said Adam. “In the past five years – and it’s all there in the last annual report – Rangers have lost £80m.
“Now, the banks are well known for being a bit more tolerant of companies whose core business is a popular pursuit like football. But there is a limit to how far backwards they can bend to accommodate you.
“David Murray has always had an amazing persuasiveness when it comes to getting people to put money into his businesses, but the signs are that those sources have dried up.
“The £40m worth of shares that ENIC (English National Investment Company) bought a few years ago are now worth about £15m, with no evidence to suggest that they will recover. The money itself, that which was actually invested, was lost some time ago.
“Now the latest investor, Dave King from South Africa, will know that his £20m shareholding is worth around half, or even less, of what it was when he bought. No proper businessman will want to buy into that kind of loss.”
Adam sold 12,000 of his 59,000 shares last year and the balance of 47,000 just recently. For the latter, he got £1.15 each; three years ago, they were valued at £3.45. He is convinced Rangers cannot trade their way out of trouble, unless they gain access to a league that will attract higher-bracket income from TV.
He was in favour of the proposed Atlantic League, involving the Old Firm and clubs from Holland, Portugal and other countries, but is extremely sceptical of their chances of joining the English Premiership.
He is adamant that Rangers do not have the customer base to improve their financial standing through merchandising. “Rangers’ so-called global appeal is a myth,” he said. “When I was there, we did an exercise which involved asking 50,000 fans on the database to recommend a friend or a relative abroad.
“A big response was expected – some were even talking about getting 100,000 names – because everybody in Scotland seems to know somebody abroad.
“We got back 2,800 names and three-quarters of them didn’t know they had been nominated. It’s no surprise that Celtic are officially the best-supported football club in North America, with more official clubs than anybody else. The difference is the Irish connection.
“Many Irish people may support Manchester United, Liverpool or whoever, but they all – every one of them – have an affection for Celtic. And, of course, Celtic also have a great Scottish following.
“The difference is that, while the Irish all have an allegiance to Parkhead, there are millions of Scots who not only don’t support Rangers, but actively dislike them.
“Despite the claims of international appeal, Rangers are, essentially, a West of Scotland club. They talk of supporters’ buses leaving from all parts of Scotland, but if you look closely, you’ll see there aren’t many from each area and they are not all full.
“This doesn’t mean that even Celtic will earn fortunes from emigrant supporters. There may be more of them than Rangers fans, but it doesn’t mount to the kind of income necessary to fund their ambitions. But Celtic have been, since Fergus McCann’s arrival, much the better-run club.
“Fergus was the most unjustly maligned man in the history of the game, when you consider that he took the club from bankruptcy into the mainstream and built that stadium along the way.
“Now, the Celtic board have more financial heavyweights than Rangers, with people like Brian Quinn, Dermot Desmond and Sir Patrick Sheehy.
“It’s only in the last couple of years that Celtic have sustained losses, but over the five-year period they break even. But Brian Quinn and his board are taking steps to warn people that they are not in the business of heading towards bankruptcy.
“For their pains – for doing their job properly – they get crucified in the media, accused of penny-pinching. I don’t understand it.
“They are determined to keep Celtic properly managed, while Rangers, with Murray, is a one-party state and the man in power has an allergy to any form of personal criticism. But he’s not a businessman in the long-term sense of planning and prudence, he’s more of an impresario.
“But what has been happening is unfair on shareholders, and they’re being short-changed.
“It’s a nonsense, too, to say that Rangers’ shareholders are all supporters who aren’t interested in dividends or profits.
“That’s okay for the man with 50 shares, framed and hung on his wall. The number of shareholders in that category would amount to a minuscule percentage of the equity.
“But I’m 76 and haven’t had a dividend in years, so what’s the point of me keeping shares until they dwindle to nothing? And I’m certain the people at ENIC won’t be too pleased with their investment.”
30 November 1999: ‘John Barnes is the trouble in Paradise’
YOUTH and inexperience will never be added to the list of humankind’s deadly sins, but, in the matter of co-ordinating the operation at a major football club floundering despairingly in the wake of its bitterest rivals, they can be serious character flaws.
Whatever allowances may be made for the raw naivete of Celtic’s head coach John Barnes during his novitiate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the conclusion that his appointment was the result of extremely poor judgment.
But Barnes is merely the tip of the veritable iceberg of cronyism which has formed at Celtic Park in the short time – is it really only five months? – since Allan MacDonald succeeded Fergus McCann as chief executive. This is an imposing structure, running from MacDonald through the director of football, Kenny Dalglish, to the head coach, Barnes, to “entertainments officer” Terry McDermott and goalkeeping coach Terry Gennoe.
If Barnes, after a period yielding five defeats from eight games and culminating in the embarrassment of Motherwell on Sunday night, is perceived by supporters and many in the media as a blight at Parkhead, its source should be regarded as even more damaging.
At a club of the magnitude and ambitions of Celtic, it will surely strike most of their fans and considerable shareholders as unacceptable to have the chief executive call an old friend and offer him the job of director of football; for the latter then to phone another old pal and make him head coach; and so on down the chain of command.
When Dalglish and Barnes were moved into position, the idea that they were some kind of “dream team” eagerly awaited by a rapturous support was a piece of media-led ballyhoo. I have yet to meet a Celtic supporter – and many colleagues have related a similar experience – who did not have deep misgivings.
These were based largely on Dalglish’s experience at Blackburn and Newcastle and on Barnes’s total lack of it. Dalglish justified his appointment of his former protege and team-mate at Liverpool by insisting that he had revolutionary ideas on how the game should be played and that he would prove to be the brightest new star in the firmament.
Barnes may be discovering (given his apparent imperviousness to suggestions or constructive criticism, this is not certain) that being ahead of your time is often as irrelevant as being behind the times; success tends to be achieved by exceptional people of their time. When the original Universal Man himself, Leonardo da Vinci, proposed that humans one day would fly, it was a marvellous notion which anticipated later developments in aeronautics; but it was not of its day, as even Renaissance Italy had not the technology to make it operable. Leonardo was celebrated for the work which appealed to 15th-16th century art connoisseurs.
Similarly, Barnes’s ideas on “how the game should be played” seem out of kilter with both the players at his disposal and the modus operandi of opponents who keep beating his team. In fairness to the head coach, it is understood that he was probably not responsible for some of the players who have been recruited during his term.
It is said at Parkhead that Oliver Tebily, Bobby Petta and Stilian Petrov, none of whom has exactly captured the affection of the club’s followers, were brought to Celtic by Dalglish, part of whose remit includes scouting for fresh “talent”. Indeed, it seems that the only new signing with Barnes’s fingerprints upon him is Eyal Berkovic. Even if that is the case, there have been assurances from Dalglish that Barnes has complete autonomy in the business of ultimately approving signings, training, tactics and team selection. So far, his adroitness in most of these areas has been questionable.
Petrov arrived at Celtic to something of a press fanfare, a “teenage sensation” who was supposedly the most outstanding young player in Bulgaria. Whatever talent he may possess has been well concealed; to the extent, indeed, that nobody, including the player himself, appears to know which position he plays.
While experience has shown us the wisdom of not making hurried judgments, there are certain players whose unlikely brilliance can be sensed. A Dutchman who has been allowed to play with Ipswich in Nationwide Division 1 without attracting the interest of a Premiership club is a prime example. Nothing Petta has shown since his arrival in Glasgow has left us looking foolish.
Tebily, like Petrov, was at the heart of Sunday’s ineptitude at Fir Park and has also been involved in most of the other defeats which offer evidence that the new management team at Celtic have made a difficult job look easy. That is, they have succeeded in reversing the progress of recent years by inducing deterioration. The rate at which they have gone backwards, of course, has been exaggerated by the simultaneous improvement of Rangers under Dick Advocaat.
Tebily has pace, strength, athleticism and willingness, but certainly lacks astuteness and concentration in defence and it is doubtful if he will acquire these essential qualities. He may have potential, but, like the head coach himself, he has no business serving his apprenticeship at Celtic.
Barnes does not help his own image with an affected smartness which impresses as mere pseudo-intelligence, accompanied by the supercilious posturing once favoured by the “boxer”, Chris Eubank (anyone who knows anything about the fight game will recall that he wasn’t very good, either).
Whenever Barnes answers a pre- or post-match question with one of his own, it is clearly intended somehow to highlight the inferior knowledge or competence of the interrogator.
Instead, he succeeds simply in making himself appear infantile and implausible, his replies at times as unfathomable as the spiel of an old-time, travelling snake oil salesman.
In essence, Barnes, like his team, tends to lack substance. You can’t buy that on the market and nobody at Celtic has the time to wait for it to develop.
17 May 2002: Zidane exudes aura of greatness
IT IS one of the enduring paradoxes of football at the highest level that it is a team game almost invariably shaped by an individual.
When Real Madrid won the club championship of Europe for the ninth time at Hampden Park the other night, it was no mere coincidence that they had in their ranks the man almost universally recognised as the most formidable practitioner on the planet.
It was not simply for his awesome winning goal that the great Spanish club and their supporters had to thank the incomparable Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane, securing their ninth triumph in the competition, but for his intelligence, vision, unrelenting commitment and extraordinary execution. Put another way, they are indebted to him simply for being there.
This tendency among the great players to win the glittering prizes is nothing new. Throughout the history of the game – but, more specifically, in the 50 years or so of the growth of the European Cup and the World Cup into their current status – examples are to be found everywhere of the world’s most accomplished exponents being associated with success.
Diego Maradona not only won Argentina the World Cup practically single-handed in 1986, but transformed the perennial no-hopers of Naples into Serie A champions when he moved to Italy. Johan Cruyff is inseparable from the greatness achieved by Ajax, Barcelona and Holland during his exceptional career.
Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Lothar Matthaus are other random examples of players whose genius has been accompanied by triumph at club and international level.
This association with winning wherever their expertise has taken them is common to all of them, including Zidane.
The 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday may have brought his first Champions League winner’s medal, but he already had in his possession mementoes from winning the World and European championships with France and the Italian title with Juventus, as well as individual honours as world and European Footballer of the Year in 1998 and his election as the outstanding player at Euro 2000.
Watching him at work on Wednesday, the 4-1 against France for next month’s World Cup – it is on offer generally by bookmakers – sent the saliva glands into maximum production. Roger Lemerre’s side, it should be remembered, contains not only the most accomplished all-round player in the game, but also three or four of the most gifted specialists.
Anyone seeking to argue with the contention that Lilian Thuram in defence, Patrick Vieira in midfield and Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet in attack are the best around should do so in front of a full-length mirror. It would give him an outside chance of winning his case. The point about all of these players is that, like their illustrious predecessors, they have brought success wherever they have travelled.
It is this ability to carry the knack of winning around with him that separates Zidane from most of his own clubmates, particularly the Spaniards.
The latter have never travelled much, and those who have been lured from their homeland have tended not to make an impact. They have traditionally had similar difficulties with playing for the national side.
There is an inescapable impression that, for many Spanish players, their clubs offer a context in which to play which makes them comfortable. We have seen instances of this elsewhere, although not in such numbers. John Barnes, for example, rarely achieved for England what he did for Liverpool.
It is reasonable to wonder if Raul, the impossibly precocious 24-year-old who is already the most prolific scorer in the Champions League in the nine years since it ceased to be the old European Cup, will be anything like the force for Spain in the World Cup that he is for Real Madrid. The evidence so far – the Spanish as notorious under-achievers at international level, despite a welter of virtuosi – suggests that it is unlikely.
Zidane, Luis Figo with Portugal and Roberto Carlos with Brazil have no such difficulties, apparently able to bring their strengths to their countries as well as their clubs and, indeed, helping even to nourish those around them.
Sir Alex Ferguson, on his way back to Manchester from Glasgow yesterday, drooled over Zidane and what this great player brings to the game. He was also admiring of the match as a whole.
“It’s people like Zidane who win these great trophies for teams,” said the Old Trafford manager. “If you look at Real, you see the only team in the world in which every single player has outstanding technique, all able to kill passes and be comfortable with the ball. They have the great flair players like Zidane, Raul, and Figo, although the Portuguese became a bit disappointing on the night, and they simply rely on them to do the business. I thought it a very good game, because the Germans had a terrific game plan and they made it hard for Real.
“But, when you have somebody like Zidane, able to score the kind of goal he did, it’s a terrific advantage. He gives you the little break at just the time you need it. We have a few of that type ourselves at United and, although we haven’t won the Champions League since 1999, there has been a good increase in the level at which we play. I would have loved a crack at Real in the final. It would have been very interesting.”