Today, Johnjames published another staggering article on the inner workings at Sevco.
It’s a piece that every fan of every club should read, because it tells the story of Rangers First and how that organisation went from being a fan group, who’s reason for being was to buy shares and hold the club to account, to being a creature of the board and a cash cow for Project King.
This is the ultimate supporter’s cautionary tale, one that could happen anywhere, to any fan body or group that allows itself to become too close to those running things at their club. Fan groups should never want that much proximity to the directors; it creates conflicts of interest and corrupts the very principles behind holding people to account.
But Johnjames article didn’t just look into the murky operations of Sevco fan organisations and the umbrella group Club 1872, named for the year in which the DeadCo was founded. His article also shone a light on one of the problems King inherited from Green, who bought it from Whyte, who purchased it from David Murray.
That problem is Ibrox Stadium itself.
It’s a problem that’s been discussed on many a blog and website before now, although it’s one the media has assiduously ignored for just as long. Because Ibrox is a wreck. Ibrox is a crumbling relic. Who says so? A lot of people who’ve had cause to visit the ground in the last few years do. Who else?
Well, Dave King himself admitted it at the end of last month, during one of the replies he put out on the website as part of his much heralded (and much derided) Q&A with the fans. On 22 June, he admitted that stadium maintenance went to Hell somewhere along the line; he says this predates the Craig Whyte era at Rangers.
Johnjames says Ibrox hasn’t been touched in nearly nine years.
Nine years is a long, long time to do no renovation work. Imagine you didn’t bother to do any maintenance on your house for nine years. Imagine you let leaks go unfixed. Imagine you let the wallpaper peel and the carpets fray and you didn’t clean out the guttering or the drains every once in a while. What a mess there would be.
Ibrox has long been the subject of speculation; people were saying during the Whyte era that the ground would take millions to bring up to code. The club he was chairman of might have fallen by the wayside since then, but none of the Newco boards has touched it. The problems have been mounting up and up and up, for a good old period of time.
Last year, Twitter was awash with pictures of buckets filling up under dripping holes. Visitors to the ground speak of partitioned sections and plastic sheeting up on certain areas. King himself was on the board at Ibrox during the Murray era; he admits this, freely, as being the last time any cash was spent on doing anything but the “most urgent” repairs.
One of the ideas he looked at and then binned involved getting the fans to volunteer to come in and fix stuff. That didn’t go end very well. The guy the board trusted to set that scheme up turned out to be the worst kind of Ibrox bigot, a racist and sectarian whose social media stuff was steeped in horrible language and disgusting statements. The club dropped him, and the scheme with it, when one of the newspapers ran the story.
In short, the club is not unware of these problems. It’s been focussing minds at Ibrox for a long time, and the idea that King is the man to fix them is farcical. He’s told the fans it will take years to bring the ground and the surrounding area up to code; to me that sounds an awfully lot like the “365 days, we do not close for holidays” permanent repair cycle on the old Forth Road Bridge, wherein you get to one end and then you about turn again and start towards the other.
It works, I suppose … but not forever.
This is the cheap option, which, itself, is far too expensive for the current Sevco board. It was far too expensive for Murray once Lloyds told him to start making cuts. But it’s odd the things they value over there. Remember those big screens they installed, and which went off for a huge period of time? Bear in mind that one of the first “priorities” of the Green board was getting those back on. It’s amazing what people find important.
Far more important are the state of the roofs, one of which experienced a problem last season which saw a group of fans moved during a game. King has admitted that three of the stands have structural issues to fix; Johnjames claims the engineers visited those stands last week. Whatever they said will have a huge bearing on what happens next.
Responsibility for ensuring stadium safety lies primarily with the club itself. If they have a structural engineering report on hand which says those roofs present a hazard then there’s an awesome legal responsibility on the board to get that seen to immediately. We all know what can happen when football clubs skimp on stuff like that; people die.
But it’s not the only place where responsibility lies. It also lies with the local authority, Glasgow City Council in this case, who King’s message to the fans mentioned, in the context of them “working together” to ensure that the club’s plans for maintenance and development at Ibrox went according to their as yet un-declared schedule.
Working together is all well and good, as long as it’s open and transparent and in the public interest and not done on the basis of a nudge, a wink, a wing and a prayer.
This is where the Health and Safety Executive comes in; they, too, have a legal responsibility for the safety of people visiting Ibrox. They are the ones who award a public safety certificate and they have to be satisfied that the ground comes up to code before they do.
Concerns over the ground are in the public domain. King himself has gone on the record admitting that previous Ibrox owners have let the place go to Hell. Structural engineers have visited; was that on the club’s instructions or those of the licensing agency? That’s unclear, but the consequences for all parties – Sevco, the council, the HSE – would be absolutely incalculable if the ground got a safety certificate and something went wrong.
Is Ibrox fit for supporters? Not only is that an issue for the home fans, but it’s an issue for us too. Celtic will have 7000 tickets for the ground next season, and we may have to visit it as much as four times depending on cup draws and Sevco making it into the top six before the split. This would be a good time for people inside the SFA to have a long, hard talk with the Sevco board to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed.
This is a real, genuine concern for the fans of not only our club but every club in the land who’s got to visit that ground in the coming year. The question as to whether the ground is safe is one of those the importance of which takes precedent over everything.
But right now, only those at the club who’ve seen the engineers report, and the engineers themselves, know the answer to the question.
If it’s not then that’s a problem to which there is no easy, or cheap, answer.
Doing nothing here simply isn’t an option.