13 Feb 2013

Rangers: succulent lamb on the rack?

Channel 4 News understands very well that sportswriters need close relations with the football clubs they report on. But what follows stands out because of the culture peculiar to Rangers FC and the media during the reign of Sir David Murray and Craig Whyte.

It also stands out because it concerns a former reporter in that culture, who now runs the Rangers media operation.

In response to last week’s media coverage of Rangers’ disputed bills for £400,000 Rangers FC did not answer any of Channel 4 News’ questions directly.

Instead the club website – now controlled by Ibrox press boss James Traynor, attacked the media en masse, accusing them of being “at such a damning low”: “…it has become clear Rangers cannot rely on basic honesty, decency or integrity from enough of the country’s media…”

It struck many appropriate that Mr Traynor should issue such a rallying cry in defence of Rangers. For he stands as one example of the curious Glasgow concept of “succulent lamb” journalism:


(Daily Record – November 19, 1998)

Exclusive James Traynor

Rangers chairman David Murray opens up on the highs and lows of his decade in charge of Rangers and promises that the best is still to come…”

So ran Mr Traynor’s now infamously sycophantic article on how Sir David Murray would conquer the world with Rangers, building to those fateful lines:

“He was about to take in another mouthful of the most succulent lamb – anyone who knows Murray shouldn’t be surprised to learn he is a full-blooded, unashamed red meat eater – when he put down his knife and fork.

It was like a statement of intent and looking directly across the table to make sure I hadn’t yet succumbed to the wine, he said:

“Bring on the next 10 years, there’s more to come for Rangers.”

There certainly was more to come from Rangers: sold for a quid, put into administration, liquidated and lucky to be playing fourth-tier football.

And that “succulent lamb”? Well it’s so engrained as a concept in Glasgow’s media culture that these days it even has its own Wikipedia entry.

In the light of this, Channel 4 News can now reveal exactly what “succulent lamb” journalism means, from the hand of the RFC press supremo James Traynor.

Let’s go back just a short time to when the current Ibrox director of communications was football writer at The Daily Record and its sister paper the Sunday Mail.

Back in July 2011, there were searching questions to be asked of Rangers. Like just who was Craig Whyte? What was his business record and just what was really happening inside Ibrox?

But far from it.

In fact, at times, so unquestioning of Mr Whyte was Mr Traynor that we know of at least one occasion when he actually sent an article to Craig Whyte for prior editorial approval before it went into the newspaper.

July 14th is the day the French celebrate the overthrow of deference. But not in Glasgow where, on that day in 2011, James Traynor submitted an article due for the Sunday Mail, to Craig Whyte, with the following message:

14 July 2011 14:49

(Hi Craig, as agreed the following is what I think would cover the Sunday Mail piece. You’ll notice I start with the £15m but also that I haven’t quoted you on that amount. There might be one or two minor alterations between now and the deadline but these would only be cosmetic and grammatical once I’ve had a final look.Thanks, JT.)

He then submits his Sunday Mail article to Craig Whyte in full, for Mr Whyte’s approval, quoting the Rangers boss on grand plans in the transfer market and writing about the £15m to be spent buying the best.

Much of the article in fact is simply a string of quotes from Mr Whyte on his vision for Rangers after just a few weeks in the job.

The next day, Craig Whyte replies to Mr Traynor saying he’s satisfied the article can go in the paper, subject to a change:

Date: 15 July 2011 10:47
Subject: Re: Sunday piece.
To: jxxxxxx@xxxxxX
Hi Jim,

Only one thing – I’d rather not be quoted being critical of a particular player, ie. Danns. Other than that it’s fine.



Just four minutes later Jim Traynor is emailing Craig Whyte straight back to assure him the offending quote will not appear in the Sunday Mail:

Date: 15 July 2011 10:51
Subject: Sunday piece.
To: cxxxxxx@xxxxxxx

No problem Craig. It’s out. Thanks. JT.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s known as the “succulent lamb” in the world of Glasgow journalism.

In goes the article to the Sunday Mail, all about Mr Whyte’s £15m transfer treasure chest and all the rest of it.

Crucially, the glowing piece came after several months of doubt about Mr Whyte’s financial clout and willingness to invest his own money into the club.

The big spending promised in the article, approved by Mr Whyte, never did materialise.

One small episode in a greater scheme of things where – across all sections of the mainstream media – too few searching questions were asked about Sir David Murray and then Craig Whyte – successive owners who ultimately brought the club to its knees.

But there’s more.

Far from probing the probity of Craig Whyte, James Traynor was actually going on to probe him for a job at Rangers.

And here, for the first time, is your proof.

It comes in a series of text messages exchanged between James Traynor and Craig Whyte just a few months later in January 2012.

By now of course, the mounting problems at Rangers would have been more apparent and fans needed to know the full scale. But Mr Traynor had other things on his mind – a job under Craig Whyte. Here’s the text exchange:

6 JAN 2012 11.43
Hi Craig, haven’t been sacked, haven’t resigned despite all the rumours. However, I’m almost certain I can get out within weeks if I insist. Do you want to talk? JT

6 JAN 2012 16.07

Hi Jim, I’m back in Glasgow next Friday. Let’s meet up then and discuss. C.

6 JAN 2012 16.32

Okay, see you then.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong in looking for a new job – we all do it all the time. And of course we don’t know the preamble to these texts, but the curio here is merely the context that an experienced journalist should apparently be seeking a job from Mr Whyte, should want to be part of his Rangers operation. Channel 4 News understands they did indeed meet and discuss a job at the club. One month after that text exchange – one year ago this week –  Rangers filed legal papers at the Court of Sessions to appoint administrators.

Did James Traynor simply not know things were amiss?

Craig Whyte was banned by the Scottish football authorities from the game for bringing it into disrepute after Rangers ended up liquidated. They fined him £200,000.

So there you have it. What so many fans long suspected is laid bare. James Traynor has since made it to Rangers under the new Charles Green regime on a reported six figure salary.

Today Mr Traynor, through channels at Ibrox, issued this statement to Channel 4 News: “These suggestions are malicious and misleading. Anyone who knows anything about events at Rangers knows that James Traynor, in his capacity as a journalist, was instrumental in exposing the activities of the Craig Whyte regime which are currently subject to criminal investigation.”

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