24 Mar 2012

When succulent lamb is on the menu – serious questions are off

Right – let me make two things absolutely clear at the outset.

First, I am writing this imagining that one or two people outside Glasgow use the internet, so I might make some observations familiar to Clydeside surfers.

Second, this arises from my continuing investigation into Rangers which is still in early stages. That is to say, I am not investigating Celtic. If I were, rest assured RFC Bears – they’d get just the same treatment.

I’d expected the paranoia, insults, spin etc – hey – this is “fitba” after all and I welcome it good, bad and ugly, from fans within and without Glasgow. Indeed I’ve gone out and asked for it.

What I didn’t expect were the insults (and in at least one case a direct physical threat) not from fans but from Scottish journalists.

Sarajevo, Mogadishu, Kabul, Islamabad, Tripoli, Baghdad…I could bore you with more – in none of these places have I ever got this interesting reaction from local journalists.

Only in Glasgow.

So something’s up. Something’s different.

Something about asking questions about RFC clearly angers some in the Glasgow media in a way I’ve never seen in 25 years of global reporting.

Equally, a number of fine Glasgow journalists have been incredibly helpful, encouraging and agree there has been something deeply wrong for far too long in the culture of reporting RFC.

They know who they are, male and female, working in papers, radio and broadcasting and every single one has encouraged me to dig around in an area many cannot, will not or are prevented from, exploring.

I refer of course to “succulent lamb”. Graham Spiers, seasoned football writer in Glasgow was there the day it happened.

He and other reporters dined with Sir David Murray – then RFC owner, in the Channel Islands. Murray – as ever – was talking big on the Rangers dream-theme, laying out plans for the club that seemed to go well beyond the mere limit of the sky.

There duly appeared copy praising the “succulent lamb” that was eaten – the “fine red” that was drunk.

The food and drink were taken – so was this man’s dream of Rangers – all without much question in some quarters.

I make and imply no criticism at all of the reporters present – what intrigues as an outsider is how many people years later around Glasgow happily talk about “succulent lamb” journalism.

Let Graham explain – he was actually there, after all: “Succulent lamb journalism means a culture – and I hold my hand up here too – a culture of sycophantic, unquestioning, puff journalism that went on around Rangers generally and Sir David Murray particularly.”

Of course you’ll see it to some degree across sport, across football. But it was, many Glasgow journalists say, more damaging here.

“Look,” says Graham Spiers, “you are making a pact with the devil if you like. You get thrown the best scraps. You get something for the back page or whatever. But there’s a tacit deal. You don’t dig too deep. You don’t cause any trouble.”

So Big Dave’s dream was shouted across Glasgow. Fans loved it. It shifted papers. Everyone (in blue) wanted in, needed to believe.

So it went on – year after year. On one side the directors at Scotland’s football “governing” bodies didn’t ask much. On the other, large sections of Glasgow football journalism declined to delve.

How else to explain Ibrox’s boom to spectacular bust?

How else to deal with the fact that when Craig Whyte took over it was stories of a “billionaire” with “off the scale riches” that were pumped out?

Ten minutes on Google or in Companies House could’ve ended that. But no. It was dreamland the fans wanted, dreamland much of the media bought into and a club already financially crippled was about to be further injured.

Legions of fans sold out again, as it would turn out.

Succulent lamb culture has permeated to a degree that, as one prominent Glasgow tabloid journalist put it: “The press -a really critical check and balance in the normal way of things, had been more or less destroyed in Glasgow.”

So are things any better today? Is succulent lamb off the menu – replaced with humble pie?

I leave it to others to judge if that succulent lamb cozy Glasgow football culture has really gone away.

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