When Ian Kershaw was researching the life of Adolf Hitler for his masterpiece on the German dictator, he came quickly to realise that the book was going to tell a classic story of the sort that has stood the test of time.
The decision to split the story into two separate titles was an obvious one once he realised that it was in two parts, following the familiar pattern; the rise and the fall.
The first volume he called Hubris. It tells the story of how this oddball character, of no real talent except for a devilish ability as a speaker, rose from humble origins to command a nation state. The book ends with Hitler as Reich President in 1936, with the re-occupation of the Rhineland.
It seems, in some ways, a strange choice because he is nowhere near at the height of his powers yet; that was almost certainly when he returned from France after the war in the West appeared to have been decisively won and the “surrender of Versailles” avenged.
Yet as Kershaw had wisely deduced, the end was already there in the beginning.
The downfall wasn’t waiting for him in the snows of Russia or on the Normandy beaches; it had already started.
Hitler’s character was such that he would always go further, always push harder, to escalate the risk-taking. The decision to re-occupy the Rhineland was his last true act of political calculation, made by a man still aware that everything might go wrong. But from the moment he realised that gamble had paid off, Hitler became so swollen with pride and ego that forevermore he refused even to consider the possibility that his actions could prove disastrous for himself or his country.
The second volume, Kershaw called Nemesis. It is the story of how Hitler’s egomania brought war and death on an unimaginable scale to Europe, and led to his damnation by history and the destruction not only of the regime he built but Germany itself.
Aristotle believed – and most contemporary critics agree – that the true defining characteristic of Nemesis is that it is an external force that hubris creates; in other words, Nemesis does not simply appear to challenge hubris; it is the consequence of hubris.
Let’s cut right to the bare bones of it; think of hubris as a bully in a schoolyard who dominates everyone he sees. That ego leads him to believe that there’s nobody bigger or tougher than he is. Now imagine that he torments a weaker kid, daily, just to see the look on the poor sods face. And imagine that weaker kid runs off one day and breaks down crying and it just so happens that his older brother is walking by the room and hears him … and vows revenge on his behalf.
This is (almost) the plot of one of the finest movies ever made in the UK, the Shane Meadows classic Dead Man’s Shoes, about a gang of bullies who find themselves being terrorised by a vengeful demon from the past. Richard, an ex-paratrooper, is the older brother of one of their victims, played with grim magnificence by Paddy Considine. He is truly Nemesis in this film, the complete monster, and entirely brought to the men by what they’ve done as if their guilt and whatever shame they feel somehow conjured him out of thin air.
Hitler, Kershaw saw, was a man who invited Nemesis and not only for himself but for his whole country. From the moment I read those books, and understood what Kershaw was getting at, I’ve been fascinated by this idea that some people author their own destruction and that the seeds of it are planted before anyone even knows it. As I said earlier, the end is already there in the beginning. It’s part of their character, something they can’t escape from.
What happens to them in the end is not accidental; Nemesis is an external force, but it is the product of their actions. It does not happen by chance. It’s not fate either. Karma is a different thing entirely; that’s the belief that we lead many lives and that the sum total of our deeds across those changes the reality of the next one. Nemesis is different in that it brings the judgement and the punishment in the here and now; it’s what folk deserve for the things they’ve done.
And to me, looking at the stuff we do on this site, that always spins back to David Cunningham King, a man who is what he is and who does what he does. There’s no changing that man, there’s no profound moment of insight that’s going to happen to him now that will reorder the bits and pieces of his life. I know there were people – that there still are people – who think King will be tamed by the weight of his responsibility to the Ibrox shareholders and to their supporters. I know they believe him when he says he cares about that … but King is what he is and he does what he does and in his own personal hierarchy of needs he must always be the winner.
King, it has always seemed to me, is a man who sees life as a movie, and one in which he’s plays the starring role. And because up until now he’s managed to stay rich and out of jail and in some control over his life in spite of the colossal risks he’s taken with all of it, he imagines himself as a kind of superman. He can bend people to his will and defy institutions more powerful than he is, because, as Hitler calculated in 1936, other people, and institutions, have limits and he does not.
Let’s face it, as far as Scotland goes he’s seen nothing that will challenge that viewpoint.
The media here eats out of his hand like dogs being fed dinner scraps. The Sevco fans are almost entirely unquestioning and on those occasions when they are he has an innate understanding of how to get them back onside; Statement O’Clock nearly always falls in the aftermath of a defeat or a major setback. Only a fool hasn’t noticed that, but the view from inside is always different than the one from the outside, and their fans invariably lap it up.
But King is neither as smart or as slippery as he thinks he is.
The mistakes that will destroy him have already been made.
His ego, his hubris, has already brought nemesis into his life, and typically for King he appears not even to realise it. And it’s not even Mike Ashley, who views him as an irritant and something to take care of so he can get on with his life. No, for someone else King is the very personification of everything that’s wrong at Ibrox and perhaps even with the way things work in Scotland. That person is not simply out to beat King, that person wants to destroy him and reduce the institution he serves to near insignificant rubble.
King’s nemesis, and the agent of his future destruction, is Dermot Desmond.
I’ve known this for a while now. Some will doubt it. They harken back to a statement Desmond made when Rangers was liquidated and Sevco was in the process of being formed, where he said that yes, the game needed them and that Celtic might even need them too.
You can hear that and shake your head without fully understanding what Desmond meant.
Unlike what many appear to believe, this was not a statement of affection for Rangers. In fact, it was a million miles from being one. It was a man stating a cold-blooded and pragmatic belief that every club in football needs a rival, something to keep it sharp and focussed and on its toes. Desmond has never subscribed to the view, and nor has anyone at Celtic Park, that the Ibrox club is worthy of challenging us or that he wants it to … Celtic most certainly does not want a strong Sevco. Just one that is strong enough so that beating them means something.
This is what so many people misjudge about the mood inside Parkhead.
There is an acknowledgment inside the walls that as long as the game here exists there will be a club in it which calls itself Rangers. In the next ten years we might see three more versions of it, but it will always be there. The objective is always to be ahead of them.
And I would be lying if I didn’t say that I see something almost sadistic in that view; it’s like what O’Brien tells Winston in 1984, at that moment when these two men are at their most honest with each other and Winston learns, finally, the truth that is so enormous that he missed it although he’s probably spent years looking right at it; the Party exists to serve one function. The accumulation of power, for its own sake, as an end unto itself.
And what is power, according to the way these men have come to understand it (O’Brien far more so than Winston at this point)? How does it manifest itself? How does one man demonstrate his power over another? “By making him suffer,” Winston says and at that point he and O’Brien are completely in lock-step. “Exactly. By making him suffer,” the Party chieftain tells him. “Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation.”
The image that comes across, as delivered by O’Brien, is as shocking in a football sense as it is in a geopolitical one; this is Dermot Desmond to a T. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a football boot stamping on a Sevco crest — forever.”
And I entirely believe this, that Celtic is content for a club calling itself Rangers to exist, but only on our terms, only as something to be beaten, as a punching bag for all time. They will occasionally win minor trophies; that’s the nature of football. But never again a league title, and over the course they will exist solely on the margins of the very long shadow we cast.
That’s on a longer timeline; in the here and now they are epitomised in the person of King and when it comes to Desmond that man has made the gravest mistake of his life. And I know exactly the moment it happened, one that will enter the folklore of our club.
It was at Hampden after the Scottish Cup semi-final of 2016. In the aftermath of that match, Sevco’s directors gathered alongside those of Celtic in the executive boxes.
They believed they had arrived at a point where challenging Celtic was a realistic prospect, but worse; filled with the old supremacy that had played such a huge part in the crisis that wrecked Rangers, they rubbed Celtic’s noses in it. They talked big and threw their triumph in the faces of the club’s directors, and Desmond in particular.
How bad did it get that day? That can be surmised by the witness who said their behaviour “made you think they were in the Rangers end.” It certainly graduated past the point of being merely offensive. It was gratuitous. Desmond hails from Ireland of course; that might well have been the point in treating him with such open contempt that day. It was the ultimate hubristic throw-down, an action that demanded a reaction.
And Dermot Desmond had one for them, of course.
When we were going through our troubled spell in the summer I knew how it would end. I knew Desmond would get the main parties together and knock their heads against the wall, and force them to confront their issues and sort things out. I have no fears about the future whilst he is on his single-minded mission to avenge that day at Hampden, for that’s what this is about. He knows that he can destroy Dave King, and he wants to, by winning.
Because King is a blowhard and a braggart and a menace to himself. The further we move towards ten in a row – the point at which King will no longer be able to sustain his relationship with their fans – the more desperate and ridiculous his behaviour will become. Desmond will push him to the very last throw of the dice, his and the club’s. And we’ll still have more. We’ll still be stronger. We’ll still be in pole position regardless.
Desmond does not just want to win; he wants to destroy King and he knows that on the day a mere three years from now when a Celtic captain stands with the league trophy held over his head in triumph that this is how he himself will be remembered and how Dave King will be damned. Far more even than Murray, it is King the Ibrox supporters will recall as the ultimate architect of their darkest day and the man who realised their deepest fear.
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