Sevco’s Night Of The Long Knives Brings Them Another Step Closer To The Abyss

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Yesterday, Mark Warburton faced the media for his usual Friday press conference prior to a game.

The word usual is instructive here; there appeared to be nothing particularly odd about it, although the manager was under immense pressure.

If there were Ibrox PR people in the room they gave not the slightest hint that anything untoward was going on.

At one point in the proceedings Warburton was asked about a spate of stories which alleged that Frank McParland was on the verge of quitting; those stories had begun to circulate the night before last, some suggesting he was about to quit and others that he was about to be fired.

Warburton denied all of it, and reiterated his view that the club was “lucky to have him”.

He defended McParland’s job performance, and his own.

“There was a mischievous story yesterday,” he said, on the McParland reports. “Where it emanated from I’ve no idea. I’d like to know. He’s travelling again to look at players next week. I don’t understand where the stories are coming from. I’m apparently being linked to clubs, and Frank’s going – it’s just nonsense, I would love to know the origination of certain stories.”

Wouldn’t we all?

Because it becomes more curious the more one looks at what followed.

Let’s talk for a minute about “fake news”.

We’ve just been treated to 12 straight hours of it. I wrote earlier this month about how in Scottish football the truth comes slowly, but it always comes, and like with much else the facts here will only emerge far down the line when everyone concerned has already moved on.

To get a sample of how unwilling the Scottish hack pack is to actually get to the bottom of this, consider how John McGarry of The Scottish Daily Mail, opened his article on the subject today; I kid you not, a “journalist” actually wrote the sheer ignorance you are about to read as the opening line in his article.

“We can quickly gloss over the rather surreal fact that a manager is claiming he knows nothing of an official club communication detailing his resignation …”

Oh we can, can we?

Wouldn’t that be nice, and convenient, for those inside Ibrox?

Because if we “gloss over” Warburton’s denial we’re pretty much forced to accept the version of events the club itself is putting out there, right?

And if we don’t “gloss over” that inconvenient denial then we have to ask a series of much harder questions, don’t we?

God almighty.

What a world it would be if journalists did that, eah?

But in one thing, McGarry has it right; this is heading for a “messy settlement” and a court case, and that’s way down the line.

The truth will emerge many months from now, when everyone no longer cares.

Not that many of them care now.

Until the conclusion of legal proceedings, this article, and those like it from like-minded Bampots, might well be the closest thing to “truth” that exists.

If I can offer one piece of advice to the readers on this blog it’s this; bookmark this article for later reference.

You will not be disappointed that you did.

Let me go over some things for you, just to re-familiarise you with the timeline.

Just over 10 days ago, Sevco was massacred at Hearts.

Mark Warburton was not fired.

There was not the slightest suggestion that he would be.

The club had no money to pay off Warburton and his management team. That much is an established, incontrovertible fact. A rash of people inside and outside the media confirmed that, as if common sense and logic were not enough to go on.

A few days later, the club drew at home to Ross County, and they dropped to third place in the league.

Warburton found himself under the most intense pressure imaginable.

The media didn’t clamour for it, but I thought Warburton’s sacking was a formality after the Hearts game.

It seemed impossible for him to survive, even with the club in such a perilous financial state. But the sum that would have been required – £1.2 million – was far beyond the reach of the Ibrox board. They were in a bind.

Earlier in the week, an email dropped into my inbox, from someone with a fair claim to knowing the state of play inside the ground.

He told me at least one board meeting had been held to discuss firing the manager, but that it broke up over the issue of compensation. Another source told Phil McGiollobhain that an argument had been sparked between two board members over which of them would put his hand in his pocket and find the money.

Nobody wanted to do it.

In the same email my friend was unequivocal on one other fact; Warburton would not resign under any circumstances but those where he could paint it as a principled, dignified act having achieved his primary goals as per his contract; in other words, in the event the club came second in the SPL and qualified (at least in terms of league position) for a place in Europe next season. After that he would have been prepared to go on a “mutual consent” basis if the offer was right.

Warburton’s primary concern in not wanting to resign was that he would be seen as a bottler. This morning he’s seen as an underhanded backstabber instead, who resigned to go to another club, only to see that deal collapse. Not simply a snake, then, but one who took a stupid, shot in the dark at a risky proposition which backfired when “his bluff was called.” A traitor, and a stupid one at that, after a failed gambit with his career and those of his friends.

That is the story, and it is everywhere.

All of those tales have but one source; Ibrox.

Because of course, this is the club’s line we’re being given here, their version of events, originating from a board at whose helm is a guy a South African judge called a “glib and shameless liar” and of whom he said he shouldn’t be believed on any subject unless there was supporting evidence.

A guy who not one hack in the country isn’t wholly aware has dissembled and misled on everything from the money available to the manager to the club’s long term plan.

Is there any evidence here?

Like a signed resignation letter?

Like independent witnesses?

So much about this stinks, but one thing is clear, one thing stands as an uncontested fact; if this was a resignation and not a sacking then the club doesn’t have to find a reputed £1.2 million.

You can see why their version of events is so important.

Their PR people know that the key thing in putting out a story is to get your version out first; it becomes “fact” even if every single part of it is in dispute.

I’ve written about this too many times to be surprised by the tactic.

The Scottish Cup Final aftermath was handled this way. The Barrie McKay “transfer offer” was halfway around the world before RB Leipzig had said it was nonsense, and it continued to be printed and run for weeks afterwards in spite of that flat out denial.

The narrative has already been set in stone for a lot of these writers and their titles, and they will feel exactly no sense of shame if it later turns out – as I fully expect – that every single word of it was a particularly brazen, outrageous, lie.

Because in the end the club needed Warburton gone and it needed that to happen in a way that didn’t tip them into administration.

So who in the media, especially those who hover around Ibrox like flies around a fresh turd, cares how it happened?

Who cares if three men who had employment rights and an expectation of fair treatment were spectacularly done up and cast aside like rubbish?

Nobody batted an eyelid for Joey Barton when his confidential medical records were leaked, because the narrative had already been implanted in most minds that this was a trouble maker who deserved everything he got. The same idea has already taken root about Warburton, that he was incompetent anyway and thus no-one should be too bothered if things didn’t exactly happen the way the club says.

This is how things work at Ibrox.

That’s how these people do business; like a mafia family ordering a hit.

Is anybody interested in that?

Are the Bampots really the only people who’ll ask this stuff?

Are we the only people who understand that this is the weekend’s biggest story, by far?

The one these guys are almost going out of their ways not to write?

I don’t like Mark Warburton. I’ve written that enough times.

But I was a union rep and I am a socialist and this reeks like a dead fish left under a radiator.

Let’s say the club can produce a resignation letter, signed by Warburton, Weir and McParland.

Well that’s that. End of story.

Not quite nothing to see; without a firm job offer on the table resigning would have been an act of utter idiocy from the manager and his backroom team, a mistake in judgement which deserves a catastrophic ending and which would make a fantastic news story in and of itself.

I presume that resignation letter was made available to the hacks, who will all have asked to see it, of course, before simply accepting the club’s word on this?

Otherwise, this is hearsay.

The media is running with one version of events, the one that saves the club a seven figure settlement.

Will they even pretend to view that objectively?

I know how the law works on this. A resignation made verbally is perfectly valid in a court of law, but every employment tribunal in the world would ask, if faced with this scenario, why the club didn’t get a written statement to that effect, just in case someone changed their minds later.

And does a verbal resignation statement carry the slightest legal weight if, as the club allege, it was done through a third party, like an agent?

What the Hell is this?

Resignation by proxy?

Would anyone really be expected to believe that nonsense?

Here’s the scenario we’re being asked to swallow here.

On Wednesday Mark Warburton sent his agent in to talk to the club, after receiving an approach from Notts Forest.

He and his backroom team wanted to go to there and were keen that the club not stand in their way by insisting on excessive compensation.

Now, to even the untrained observer there would have had to be more to this “interest” from Forest than simply a brief, casual, discussion.

That offer would have had to have teeth, or the resignation would never have been offered.

But there was no formal, written, offer of employment from Forest – there couldn’t have been, as we’ll come to in a moment – so the interest was less than absolute. But however it manifested itself, it must have given Warburton reason to believe it held weight.

Sevco not only didn’t stand in their way, but they accepted the resignations of all three men.

Did they announce it straight away, with a cup game looming?

Did they get their reserve coach in and tell him to start preparing the team for the game?

Of course not.

For reasons known only to themselves they kept it quiet.

In the meantime, Forest, who now faced no obstacle whatsoever to appointing their top three targets, decided not to bother although there was no need for negotiations or a big settlement. Perhaps they got bored waiting, although negotiations between Sevco and the management team had been resolved in a single discussion.

Whatever, they announced that their interim team would have the jobs until the end of the season, thus leaving in the lurch the three guys they’d talked out of their jobs.

Cold blooded?

You better believe it.

(If you believe it.)

At that point, Warburton, having realised he had no job to go to send his agent into Ibrox to negotiate his un-resignation.

Then, presumably acting under his patron’s instructions, although he had no cards to play whatsoever – with no club interested – and the sure knowledge that his clients would certainly have already been sacked had the club possessed the financial wherewithal, and so with exactly zero bargaining chips, Warburton’s agent didn’t just ask for their jobs back but made demands of the Sevco board on top of that.

And they, in turn, having seen such treachery, allowed Warburton – who had no job there or anywhere else – to do a full interview with their in-house media unit in preparation for a game he’d never be around to manage.

A further day went by with no preparation done for the game but that which the unemployed management team thought apt.

Then they let him chair a press conference, two days after he’d quit, although they could have benched him and told the media what they liked.

Almost as soon as the announcement was made, Warburton was denying that he’d resigned at all.

And rather than go after Notts Forest, who at the very least would have broken one of those verbal agreement things which you will hear Sevco put such great store in this coming week, he’s going to consult his legal reps to go after the board at Ibrox instead.

He clearly blames them more than the club that enticed him out of his job and then decided not to bother employing him.

And that’s what happened. Allegedly.

Of course it is.

Because all of that makes perfect sense, right?

Which is why they didn’t announce all this earlier in the week but made this announcement on a Friday night, the traditional “good day to bury a news story” as no-one reads the weekends papers, and at a time when they knew the national titles were rushing to get their Saturday morning early editions out …

So that all would carry one version of events, the one the club wanted them to have.

Aside from the press briefing all the Usual Suspects were on hand, at once, for TV, to give the club version even more juice.

Terry Butcher was on Sky before the news had reached many people’s social media feeds. Watching him, my old man and I mused on how long it would be before Level 5 employee and Sevco mouthpiece Derek Johnstone was wheeled out for the cameras.

Before you knew it, there he was, orange shirt and all.

Even as we were watching him we wondered who would be next.

Neil McCann perchance?

Of course it was.

He, at least, suggested that there were clearly holes in the narrative and expressed some disquiet at the differing stories.

But before long all those stories had a uniform feel to them; Notts Forest were now being named in them, and the tale of the Job Offer That Came To Nothing was being put about. The Daily Record’s Gary Ralston was talking about a “bluff that had been called.”

What was the bluff? Ralston never explained it.

If his version was right the manager resigned, the club accepted it, and then the manager tried to back out.

It was a catastrophic mistake, but it doesn’t meet the textbook definition of “a bluff.”

Roddy Forsyth at The Telegraph had an even more convoluted tale, one which has popped up in a couple of other places; the three men were on the verge of being fired.

Someone at Ibrox had found the £1.2 million necessary to do it.

The sacking was to take place “within the week.”

But rather than wait for the imminent payday – which would, of course, have let Forest off the hook in paying compensation, forcing the club to both give them a settlement and forego one from the English team – these three guys resigned instead and got next to nothing …

Which makes even less sense than the rest of the “official” story.

The BBC appears to know that at least some of this is smoke and mirrors.

Graham Spiers certainly smells a rat.

And incredibly, Keith Jackson at The Record has contradicted the claims of his own sports writing team by tweeting that there were “no resignations” at all, which Warburton was equally emphatic about in talking to The Record’s rival publication The Sun.

Sevco’s conduct in this case is clearly suspect.

The suspicion naturally forms that when Warburton pondered the sudden rash of stories about other clubs wanting him and McParland being ready to quit that he was sending a message to interested parties that there was more to them than met the eye.

That he was even allowed to sit in front of the press at all yesterday, whilst the club alleges a board meeting was being organised to formalise his departure, stretches credibility to the snapping point. Something is very clearly wrong with this picture.

The “official version” of this has more holes than Swiss cheese.

There is no way this doesn’t end in a blood-letting tribunal which will cost the club a small fortune.

The “resignation”, done as they claim seemingly through a third party and with no formal paperwork, is a sham that will not stand up to scrutiny, where people have to give testimony that could draw them into personal litigation in the event Warburton and his people win.

Lying to an industrial tribunal isn’t a crime, but it could easily be construed as libellous if it implies someone else is being mendacious.

Warburton may well end up with the opportunity to go after the directors directly in those circumstances.

That opens up dark possibilities for all concerned, of course, and makes gilding the lily a heavy proposition.

Time is what they’re playing for, of course, and in that sense this has a demented kind of genius, like the logic of General Buck Turgidson, in Dr Strangelove, where he tells President Muffley they have to make a choice between two bad options.

“Mr. President,” he says, “We are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless distinguishable, post-war environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed … Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh … depending on the breaks.”

Faced with a disaster in the near future or a catastrophe in the more distant future they’ve chosen the catastrophe because it buys them that most precious commodity and gets them through the rest of the season, with a new manager at the helm.

Had they been forced to continue with Warburton he might have failed; worse, he might have succeeded.

Either way they’d have had to sack him or kiss off any season ticket sales.

This is a desperate, final gamble, with peril on all sides, but they wouldn’t be the first regime which saw its choices narrowed until one desperate, seemingly suicidal course was all that remained as an alternative to the sure-fire ending guaranteed by the status quo.

They took the shot.

I can’t blame them for it, although they did it in a retrograde fashion that heaps embarrassment and shame on them as long as the current regime is in charge. Any manager who comes in knows, furthermore, that he cannot count on loyalty or support from these people, that they will do anything to deflect blame from their own door.

When you see a major organisation conduct itself like this, whether it’s a corporation, a political party, a public body or whatever it may be, you are appalled at the lengths to which they will go in trying to survive, but you can’t help but be just as aware that what you’re watching is a last ditch effort by a regime that is crumbling into ruin.

This is the endgame, folks.

Whilst the media jumps all over the ephemera and fluff – who the new manager will be, the size of his warchest, the high hopes for a “challenge” next season – the water will continue pouring in and the guys bailing out with the buckets will have to work their balls off just to keep up with it.

Crisis at Ibrox is so easy to hide, because the media is never looking for it in the right places, if they can be convinced to look at all.

I have been covering Scottish football stories for five years now and I can honestly say I have never seen anything quite like this in all that time, or in my life. This club astounds you with its ability to constantly self-destruct.

Blame McCoist. Blame McCall. Blame Warburton. Blame King.

This club, since its birth amidst scandal and shame, has been a disaster area for everyone involved.

Mark Warburton might not have quit, but he is out now and he will be relieved about that if nothing else.

For him, this nightmare is over.

But the show goes on.

And on.

And on.

Sevco is like a terminal patient attached by tubes to a machine which is keeping him alive, although he’s long since passed the point of quality of life far less recovery, and all because nobody wants the responsibility of switching the damned thing off.

Let the media write, or not write, whatever the Hell they want. There’s a story for those who want to dig for it, but I doubt there will be much need for shovels until its time to dig a fresh grave.

Today we’re one step closer to the plug being pulled.

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