24 Apr 2012

Rangers goes to the heart of how we want to live

In a moment some words from Craig Whyte, reacting to the news from Hampden Park and the Scottish Football Association.

But first, I hope to inject a little perspective into everything going on around Rangers and the latest sanctions to be passed against the club – though probably not the last.

First off, we need to say again this is not about football and not about Rangers Football Club either. It is first and foremost about nothing less than the way we want to govern the big institutions of our society.

Put bluntly, do we want our sport to carry on being some kind of athletic version of the sub-prime casino banking mess the UK’s already suffered from? Do we really want that – with everything it entails in terms of rich men walking away and the mortagees/fans getting screwed over yet again?

That’s the Craig Whyte lesson, and reality, clearly. It could turn out to be the David Murray lesson too, on a far grander scale.

Is this what we really want in sport, finance, business – our very culture?

Well, sport, of course, has been turned into a business almost completely. But not quite. It still exists with all the naked cynicism of big business, yet within a framework of external governance which should work or there is no point to it at all.

And say what you like about football’s governing bodies, in Scottish football nobody can deny that at least one has sought to govern in the past 24 hours.

The SFA and it Chief Executive Stewart Regan is a body and a man under pressure.

Under pressure from Holyrood. In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News, it was Mr Regan who said he’d told the Scottish government to get its tanks off the SFA lawn in no uncertain terms and allow it to govern Scottish football, and not interfering politicians whose actions have been well documented by this programme in recent weeks.

Under pressure too from Uefa. We are told if there is one thing Michel Platini – the Uefa boss – really cares about, it is Financial Fair Play. Very much his project, so far as we can judge. The SFA HQ at Hampden Park knows it is being watched carefully by Uefa, as are Rangers FC in particular, as well they might be. Their imperative to act and seen to be acting, underlined then from Edinburgh and Switzerland.

Pressure too from within these islands but outside Scotland. For too long, to many it appears that the cosy old-boys’ networking and structure between the biggest clubs and the Scottish Premier League, on the one hand, and the Scottish FA on the other, has been allowed to go on unchecked and unremarked upon.

When this programme began questioning why, for example, the current SFA president Campbell Ogilvie did not step aside for form’s sake whilst all the current investigations into Rangers are going on and he was there at the time, our inquiries were met with near-bafflement by the SFA. They still didn’t quite seem to get it, with their own chief exec describing Mr Ogilvie as “heavily conflicted”.

So with all these pressures has come some meaningful action. Rangers supporters will hate it, of course – so would Celtic’s or Aberdeen’s, were this their club. Much of the Glasgow media will focus on whither Rangers? There will be a lot of hand-wringing and blaming, a lot of self-indulgent nonsense about fans being blamed for Craig Whyte’s mishandling of the club. You can see a lot of this out there already this morning – expect a hell of a lot more to come.

But somebody somewhere had to act. Somebody had to do something. Somebody had to send a message that simply allowing anybody to come into football and buy up our clubs just cannot be tolerated without sanction – and obviously that means hitting the clubs concerned. Tough for fans to accept – but impossible for them to deny if they care to pause for thought.

However, the SFA does not emerge with unalloyed glory. True, they have acted. True too that in a recent interview for Channel 4 News, SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan said they basically took it on trust from Rangers Football Club that Craig Whyte was the man to buy and rescue the club for a pound. We can but hope the SFA are dealing with their own internal mechanisms for dealing with this kind of thing in future whilst doling out punishment externally as appropriate.

Rangers then goes to the heart of how we wish to live and be governed in sport, culture, business and politics too. Do we want rules that are applied to governance? Or do we simply want to drift along in the casino world? Angry and sore though they are, I strongly suspect that Rangers fans will ultimately feel the same as Celtic’s currently smug support does on this key issue.

For this is what it is all really about. Against this, administrations… liquidations… voluntary arrangements… incubator companies… new companies… old companies… Employee Benefit Trusts… side contracts…

None of it really matters except insofar as Rangers’ personal pain, grief and general implosion serves as a clean-up call for football in general and perhaps our wider life beyond.

And whatever happens, in the end hundreds of thousands of folk will still want to support a team based in Govan, wearing blue. That is not going away. And one day they might find themselves playing in a far better-run game than they have known in the past. Today might just be Day One of setting off down this path. We can but hope.

And now for Craig Whyte in a moment or two…

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