6 May 2012

This is the time for leadership from Scottish football

So now the dust has slightly settled and we are on the eve of another Scottish Premier League vote (barring another postponement), let us strip away all the froth and hype and see where we really are.

On Thursday, Ibrox was a deeply bizarre place. Over the phone Rangers tried to make out their “press conference” was for “sports reporters only”. Even over the phone they quickly realised from my incredulity, this was a non-starter.

So we got a “press diktat” instead. It’s a press conference where they read at you from a prepared statement and you are not allowed questions. A press conference without the conference, if you like.

The charming Ba’athist thugs in Baghdad used to do this in the 90s, I recall. Bosnian Serb commanders likewise. Congolese child-soldier commanders do it. Duff & Phelps did themselves no favours. Of course, they’re neither criminals nor mass murderers. But questions were banned, the Rangers press officer said, “Because we don’t want this turning into a circus.”

So why do Rangers FC and Duff & Phelps think the normal rules of a press conference are a “circus”?

I suggest because of all the difficult questions they cannot answer.

They cannot explain how the Old Rangers company will somehow be “cleaned up” when it is left, toxic, mired in debt and – according to three insolvency experts I’ve now spoken to – inevitably heading for liquidation by the back door.

They cannot explain how a club banned from European football for three years, and with a one-year player-buying ban, is supposed to retain its key players who can – and very likely will – move elsewhere in the summer.

Nothing was said of the Sky/ESPN Premier League TV deal. SPL boss Neil Doncaster says it’s up for renegotiation this summer, but four Old Firm fixtures are the lynchpin of it.

So how does the shiny new, non-toxic Rangers team fulfil that next season? They’d have to stay up there with Celtic in the top half of the league with their squad of well-motivated 17-year-olds and has-beens.

So what will Sky/ESPN want? Equally, why should anyone in Scottish football listen or let them dictate the game?

Answer? Money. And if anything represents Oscar Wilde’s definition of the cynic as a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing right now, it’s Scottish football with its Glasgow media cheerleaders.

Consider Michael Johnston, chairman of Kilmarnock FC, who is quoted by the BBC as saying: “Members (of the SPL) see the commercial benefits of having Rangers, even as a newco. The clubs are mindful of a sporting integrity aspect but the commercial benefits may outweigh that.”

That is, Scottish football clubs know there’s a thing called integrity out there but it’s money that matters. What a world you are in, Mr Johnston.

Of course, it’s turkeys and Christmas and all that, and if club chairmen see an escape route for Rangers after their catastrophic lack of financial fair play (yes, financial fair play, Mr Platini and Uefa), then such kid-glove treatment will also come their way when they’re in trouble (as several clubs are).

And what of Craig Whyte? We speak frequently, though as yet off the record.

In all our dealings he has remained adamant that, as the major shareholder, he wants a return. Clearly, Bill Miller is openly antagonistic to Craig Whyte personally and financially – the Miller plan is designed to squeeze Whyte out. Put two and two together and you can quickly work out how all this is playing chez Whyte.

So be in no doubt, huge obstacles are being ignored in public by the administrators of Rangers, Duff & Phelps, who never mentioned by name either Craig Whyte or the major creditors, Ticketus or (incredibly) the taxman, in their press-diktat on Thursday at Ibrox. Funny, that.

So here, with apologies to Jonathan Swift, is A Modest Proposal. Crazy, I know, but I’m going to imagine a world where Scottish football is about sport, sporting values – integrity, morality, justice – all the kinds of things people care so much about in Scotland but see so little debated in their media.

The Scottish media, many clubs and all kinds of powerful voices seem to want Rangers kept in the Premier League at all costs. Life itself appears untenable without this. To any outsider, looking beyond money, this is ludicrous. Why?

If Rangers lost the (currently unmentioned) Big Tax Case, what’s the point of staying, without European football, with a wrecked squad in the SPL?

Why not (assuming by some miracle the Miller idea even works) opt to start with the new Rangers (Newco) at the bottom of the Scottish football league and work your way back?

Thus Rangers would be morally unimpeachable. They’d send a memorable message that Scottish football has, after all, got integrity. Newco and Oldco “cleaned up” at a stroke. Uefa proud, delighted and trumpeting the Rangers stance to Fifa and beyond.

Moreover, if my Scottish football-watchers are right, they’d be back at or near SPL status around the expiry of the Uefa ban. They’d attract new, affordable young talent whose agents would sniff European competition just around the corner.

So what if the TV deal goes into the ground? Either Scottish football runs Scottish football or the toxic hand of Rupert Murdoch does? Time to decide.

Were I a Rangers fan, were this my beloved Newcastle United, I’d be actively campaigning for this. The way to cleanse Rangers, cleanse Scottish football and cleanse big sporting governance in this country. The way for fans who don’t walk away to stay with a club they – and all of us – would be rightly proud of.

Or fight on, toxic, tainted and hated in the SPL – a club without an ounce of sporting integrity, helped back in by others who see only money and the short-term.

And likely the cause of significant fan protest and boycotts as well.

The choice for Rangers, football governance, sport and – yes – politics in Scotland is obvious. If Rangers really is “part of the fabric of Scottish life” as First Minister Alex Salmond says, let that fabric be about values supremely, not money.

Sport celebrates competition – business seeks to eliminate it.

This is the time for leadership, from Scottish football’s governing bodies, from the chairmen of the SPL clubs – but above all from Rangers Football Club.

As yet, I see little sign of leadership emerging, of men who see values, not just figures.

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