One of the most startling phrases I’ve read on Celtic cyberspace came from Paul Brennan of CQN, over a dozen years ago now.
He said that we were in the midst of a “generation of dominance.”
Paul got it in the neck for that one at the time, especially when Rangers won the last of their league titles – three of them in a row, in fact.
It didn’t feel, to a lot of folk, like we were dominant.
But at the same time, Paul, Phil, myself and a handful of others knew that the Ibrox club was sitting on a time-bomb. The only question was when was it primed to go off? The more we said that the club was on the brink of meltdown the more the doubters questioned it. You only had to look at the way they were still spending money … could they really be just a few bad results away from a complete collapse? As it turned out, they most certainly were.
When we all write, now, about how yet another Ibrox club is sitting atop a volcano of debt and overspending that is going to blow its top, we get the same doubts as we did back then because we can’t put a specific date on it happening. All we know is that it will, that a club that has accumulated losses in the tens of millions of pounds cannot keep spending what it does not have. A lot of people still think of football clubs as magic money trees; they’re not.
A football club is the same as any other business. You can only spend what’s in the bank or what the bank will let you. The Ibrox club doesn’t have a standard overdraft facility. That means that when they make losses those losses have to be swallowed up by the directors or by loans or by generous donations of large sums of cash.
The Ibrox club has kept the lights on these past few years due to the largesse of its own board. Two members of that board have, in the last couple of months, said that those days are over, and at the worst possible time, as Ashley’s court verdict looms.
Even with European cash this season, the Ibrox club are still set to post a loss. There is no way in Hell that they would survive an early knockout from the Europa League in the next campaign whilst running at the current cost base. It is simply impossible.
Today, as we play for eight titles in a row there is not one person out there who can now deny Paul Brennan’s assertion that we are in the midst of one of the greatest periods in the history of our club. This is a generation of dominance, and it was one even when he was saying so. At Ibrox their club was built on sand, and although they watched the last one collapse they built their new one on the same shaky, ever shifting foundation.
Stopping Celtic is a problem Dave King has decided to solve by throwing money at it, at a time when his club has no money. This is his plan, and it’s the only plan there is at Ibrox. Robbing Peter to pay Paul to stop whoever the Celtic board appoints to the manager’s office. That’s the strategy, that’s as far as they’ve gotten.
Celtic in the meantime continues to develop every area of the club to meet the challenges of 21st century football, and those challenges are immense and complex and daunting. I may wonder sometimes at our overall strategic vision, but by God we recognise the way the wind is blowing and we’re ever in motion, trying to adapt.
Eight titles in a row for us was a dream back in the years when Rangers completed their nine. But the man who was at the helm at Parkhead then – Fergus McCann – knew that he was putting in place the foundations of a club that would eventually overtake theirs. He knew, as only a handful of people at the time would have, that Murray was spending the bank’s money and not his own and that such a cosy arrangement couldn’t and wouldn’t last.
Fergus had long since departed when the cold winds of financial change started to buffet Ibrox back in 2008, when the banking crisis hit with the full force of a hurricane. From that moment on, Murray’s club was floundering. And yet they continued to spend money.
Celtic continued to build and grow, without taking major risks. Did it cost us? Oh yes, at least three league titles towards the end. The spending of a just a few million in the transfer window of January 2009 might have sealed Gordon Strachan’s fourth title on the bounce, and if it had we might have seen the balloon go up at Rangers three years before it did.
Our parsimony in that window gave them the shot in the arm they needed. They won the league that year and the next two. Champions League money was all that was keeping them alive, and even then one year without it was always going to be fatal.
Whyte has always been blamed for what happened over there in 2012. But in fact, he was simply the guy who had his hand on the wheel when the ship ran aground; their collapse was in motion long before he bought the club for £1.
The NewCo was born amidst the wreckage of a financial disaster which had been in the post for at least the previous four years. The EBT scheme was the icing on the cake. Whyte had certainly intended some form of administration event to defeat the HMRC case, but from the moment they went out of Europe – with a license they shouldn’t have had – the game was up. There was no money to keep the club afloat, and so he stopped paying the bills.
And King is going to be faced with the same choice eventually, and when it happens the consequences for that club will be so immense that it won’t matter if they survive it or not. Their power will be further reduced. Their spending will be completely curtailed. They’ll be competing at the level of a Hibs or a Hearts.
Listen, don’t think for a minute that I’m exaggerating here. It costs tens of millions to run an operation the size of the Ibrox club before you even pay a footballer. To break even on something that size you need to sell many tens of thousands of season tickets. I don’t mean that they’ll be reduced to the size of a Hibs or a Hearts, I mean that they’ll have the same amount to spend on players. That infrastructure which they take such pride in is a cash guzzling black hole.
What 2012 did, more than anything else, is that it wiped the slate. For years Rangers was spending money it didn’t have anymore (they never had the money they were spending in the decade before that either, but the banks were more indulgent) and any success they had was built on debt in a version of financial doping which Scottish football still hasn’t outlawed.
Celtic spends what it can afford to. Everything we do is self-sustaining, and if they can’t catch us by throwing other people’s money around as they’re doing right now then they’re not going to catch us, period. All we’re doing now is waiting for the next Ibrox crash.
We’re on the brink of eight in a row this morning. Once we get over the line our club will start looking forward to making it nine. The Ibrox club has no plan to stop it expect to pour more money down the drain. When that fails, and we’re going for ten, they will literally risk everything to prevent it. And when that fails, a hard rain is gonna fall over there and with it a darkness will envelop that club from which there will be no dawn.
Celtic will just keep on going, and we’ll just keep on winning.
Enjoy your day, folks, and see you on the other side.