Dave King is gone and our game is better for it.
He was the Real Thing, like a gangster out of a bad pop culture film, a briber, a corrupter, a tax cheat, a fraudster, a liar. He remained those things right up to the end. He spread confusion whenever he took a seat in a press conference, but to the rest of us Dodgy Dave was not an enigma. He was a corrupt swindler, capable of any mendacity.
Nothing was beneath him. Even the ground at Ibrox gave way to allow him the wiggle room to go lower. We will not see his likes again, unless Ulster Loyalists take over the club, and let’s face it with their new Head of Media they have one foot in the door.
Even they will struggle to find his level.
King lied about everything, great and small.
He lied when things were important. He lied when they could not have been less important. He lied to journalists. He lied to administrators. He lied to fellow directors. He lied to players and managers when he could be bothered to grace such bottom feeders on the food chain with his presence, and over and over and over again he lied to the fans, those he knew would believe anything as long as it was said with enough bombast.
They swallowed it all, like basking sharks swimming open-mouthed up a dirty river.
And finally he lied to the courts. He lied about having tons of money and he then lied about having none.
He was so practised at disseminating falsehood that some say he could do it without his lips even moving. There were times when he could dance between fact and fiction, on the same subject, in the same sentence, without a shred of remorse, eyes flinty and unblinking, like a serial killer’s.
He said he loved the club, the second one to play out of that ramshackle stadium, but surely not the last.
For all his expressions of devotion he was barely seen around the ground. He moved through the place like a burglar, coming and going only to fill his pockets or inflate his ego. He crept in and out of Scotland like a teenager after dark, sometimes for court appearances, at other times for secret liaisons with Stewart Regan, the two of them, meeting like adulterers, their betrayal of others an afterthought.
“General discussions,” the former SFA CEO, who King had a hefty blackmail file on, once called them, as if it was normal to sit and have a friendly discussion with a man who had you by your balls and would occasionally give them a squeeze just to see what colour your face turned.
There are some who will say there’s no proof that anything untoward happened at those meetings, but the very fact of them, and the way they were conducted, is as suggestive as pictures of Dodgy Dave with his fly unzipped and Stewart Regan, supplicating in front of him, on bended knees.
To some, King’s reasons for getting involved at Ibrox will forever be a mystery. To others the truth is pretty simple; he bludgeoned his way to the chairman’s seat, with the finesse of a wrecking ball and the morals of a mafia don, so that he could bask in the warm glow of the fans and the media. He was a publicity hungry harlot, ever greedy for the limelight, like a thirsty bird pecking at groundwater. Who knows what he will do now that it’s gone?
It was Dave King who first convinced me that the mainstream media was a shameless rabble of expenses fiddlers and bin-rakers, a profession that had forgotten what truth even looked like, long before News Of The World were caught trawling gutters and tapping phones, before Kate Hopkins was more than just a desperate housewife who looked like the female creature in Gremlins 2 and Tom Harris was still a shabby climber, living in the shadow of John Maxton. It was King’s early media sycophants who paved the way for celebrity columns, Derek Johnstone in the Evening Times and Kris Boyd offering an “expert opinion” on Sky.
King appeared from nowhere like a silently squeezed fart during a party; at first mildly distasteful and then noxious, so you wanted to clamp your hands over your face to keep out the smell and stop from getting vomit on the buffet. Dressed up as a folk hero, he was the man who had left Castlemilk to go to South Africa, where he moved up fast and lived in a mansion and rode around in a helicopter like an 80’s Bond villain, and now was giving oodles of cash to his favourite club as a mark of respect for David Murray’s “business acumen.”
And not one of our intrepid “journalists” asked how, and this in what we look back now on as a golden age, before Chris Jack, Keith Jackson and the rest of the current clique, so bad they make their predecessors look like Pulitzer Prize winners.
To have gone to South Africa in that era and made all that money, during apartheid and international sanctions, well he was clearly as bent as a FIFA election campaign, and my first thought when I heard the story was that Broederbond must have opened their doors to non-Afrikaners.
But it quickly became clear that those sewer dwelling elites, that deplorable shower, that notorious collection of racists, criminals and scoundrels, who Jan Smuts once called a “dangerous, cunning, political fascist organization” would not have given the time of day to his sort, a backstreet crook, a cheap huckster with a second rate business qualification, a shady bullshit artist forever on the make, a man without the social standing of a pickpocket.
No, what King did he did alone, scheming in some backroom with nothing but a cunning plan and the psychopaths urge for a quick score. In keeping with his level of intellect, he pulled it off and then made a mess of covering his tracks, leaving a paper trail a mile wide and five long like a slug slithering across a kitchen floor.
Yet even then he might just have got away with it, but not for the last time it was his ego that caught him out, his own arrogance and preening, his strutting like a peacock for all the world to see. He bought a painting at a gallery auction and then bragged about it to the press. A humble tax inspector at SARS read the story and pulled the King file, to find that the Castlemilk con artist was claiming next to no income. That was the beginning of the end.
A court battle followed that would have made Napoleon’s generals blanche. SARS pursued him for nearly a decade, and as the case dragged on and his evasions became more and more elaborate the charge sheet grew like Follow Follow’s list of grievances. Before long he was being accused not only of tax evasion but of fraud, bribery, forgery and a host of other offences.
There has always been something in the slippery sod, some piece of chipped marrow, that forever propelled him towards destruction; he has the high-wire walker’s urge to step out into the abyss, and he always prefaces the first step with a long look down.
In the background, the Rangers express train left the tracks and the flaming wreckage was as far as the eye could see. King, mired in his own problems, missed the chance of an easy win when another second rate wide boy beat him to the Ibrox asset grab. To think of him at that moment is to smile sweetly, imaging him lost in anger, slamming his foot through the floor like Rumpelstiltskin after the miller’s daughter guessed his name.
Luckily, King had a few friends amongst the rabble of the Scottish press and so from almost the hour in which Charles Green sat in the Ibrox hot seat and got those “big Yorkshire hands” busy stuffing money into brown paper bags, King, aflame with jealousy, was working to unseat him, with the aid of a rat-pack right out of Hoodlums Central Casting.
They “swept to power” in what some have termed “the off-license putsch.”
This hero rolled in on a wave of Ibrox euphoria like one of the “liberators of Iraq”, flaunting his knowledge, experience and ego for all the world to see, like a strumpet on a stage, and like Bush and Blair and the rest of the dogs of war, he was surprised when things didn’t go according to plan.
His first managerial pick was Stuart McCall, and that ended with all the grace and beauty of an old dog sicking up its breakfast. His second attempt was to take him to England, to pluck from obscurity a guy with a solitary year’s coaching experience, and to let him loose on the EFL with a cheque book.
Warburton came to the club as a man with more City experience than in the game … and perhaps that was what the board under King really wanted. He was certainly not cut out for the big stage of football management in Scotland.
Yet it was under the Bread Man that the glib and shameless one almost had his finest hour.
When Warburton’s rag-bag mob knocked Celtic out of the Scottish Cup on penalties Sevconia was united in praise for the South African swindler, who preened and strutted like a Premiership WAG visiting a third tier team and seeing the opposition’s wives in their Primark gear. He and his fellow boardroom egotists took their joviality to the Executive box at Hampden … and there made the judgemental error that was to haunt their every step from that moment on.
They came across the Celtic party, and in their gloating so infuriated Dermott Desmond that the word went out; King and his board were to be stripped, beaten with rubber hoses, hung up on meat-hooks and displayed to the world as a warning. And if that wasn’t feasible they were to be humiliated instead, over and over again, subjected to all the ridicule of a fat man in the stocks, begging for mercy as passers-by spank his rump posterior with a plank.
Desmond went out and brought in a top EPL manager. King and his board responded by signing a broken down Croatian, a Northern Irish nutter, an English ned and a guy named Crooks. Seeing that name on the back of a blue shirt would have been one of the highlights of the season had we not been treated to many, many, many more of them.
For King and his board, the last four years must have seemed like something out of a Richard von Krafft-Ebing study, except without the aspect of pleasure. Routine beatings became common. Fans would queue up to watch their team, excited like seniors at an all-day Bingo Hall, and leave at the end of matches with the shell-shocked expressions of GI’s emerging from the Vietnamese jungles after their first night on ambush.
Yet throughout it all, King maintained his view that he and his board were doing just fine, that he had brought “stability” to the football club.
Warburton was gone before the chance to celebrate Administration Day. Interim manager Graeme Murty tried to steady the ship for the first time, but not the last. By March he was being eased aside and the new manager eased in, to prepare him for what lay ahead.
The press hailed the appointment of Pedro Caixinha as a genuine coup.
The rest of us were too busy thumbing our way through tattered copies of the “Football Who’s Who?” to see if we could find the guy.
We now know that King, this master of detail, this genius whose prowess was hailed by every media outlet, didn’t even interview him in person before he got the job. A Skype conference call was about as good as it got and whilst most of us wouldn’t even have gone on a blind dated based on such limited knowledge about a prospective partner, Sevco unveiled him as boss and gave him the cheque book which they had prised from Warburton’s desk on the night they cleaned it out before informing the press that he’d “resigned.”
The hilarity that followed would not have seemed out of place in a Mel Brooks film. From Caixinha addressing fans from behind the bushes on the night a team from Luxembourg knocked them out of Europe, his green boots ban, to his notorious press conferences where he involved vampires, barking dogs, elephants and caravans, there was never a dull moment.
Keith Jackson and his ilk had packaged him as the “Portuguese James Bond” because he had once taken a ride on a jet-ski. By the end of his reign he looked like a drunk Austin Powers, on all fours in a strip joint carpark, scrambling around looking for his Viagra.
King, undaunted, called for Murty again. There was talk than an internal appointment might be the way to go. But instead, seduced as ever by the appearance of bling, the way a magpie is attracted to shiny objects, and knowing the value of good PR, he went for a former elite midfielder earning his stripes as an Under 18 coach at Anfield.
It was meant to be the turning point, but it has led to the end of the line with the team in turmoil, the club in dire straits, bleeding out as the global health crisis bites … and with King’s own finances, which were never that great, taking a battering like a punched out wide-boy who made the wrong crack to the wrong guy in the wrong pub.
King had wanted to leave a legacy behind him. Upon his arrival he promised the Sevco fans that Celtic would not do ten in a row on his watch; he leaves with eight secured and the ninth in waiting, giving the impression that he’s not so much stepping down as sneaking out the toilet window in a restaurant so he doesn’t have to pay the bill.
In this last three years at the club Celtic has won all ten domestic trophies that were up for grabs, and we’re awaiting the SPFL judging the season complete so that we can make it eleven out of eleven. Still, Sevco fans thank King for his brilliant leadership just as those who queued up for the Kool Aid at Jonestown remained grateful to their charasmatic “messiah” for his.
He leaves a club behind him which is mired in debt, cloaked in failure, without a shirt deal, too expensive to run and with the stench of death on it.
Cold shouldered by the City, pursued by Ashley, beaten by Celtic and with no real achievements to his name, he looks bereft, and shattered, reduced, like someone who hasn’t eaten a good meal in a fortnight. In contrast, an ever larger, jovial, Peter Lawwell remains at the top of the Scottish game like a tomcat that just had its dinner.
We will remember Dodgy Dave for many things; for his egotism, the combative streak and shit gamblers instincts which led him into court cases and attendent defeats beyond counting, his delusions of grandeur and his rotten judgement, all of which led the club to misery, failure and finally the brink of administration again.
But above all else we will remember his rottenness, his corruption, the way Scottish football became a much more savage place on his watch. For he unleashed the crackpots, inspired the lunatics, pandered to the sectarians and turned up the volume on the hate. He presided over a PR operation which would have seemed extreme from a Mexican drug gang.
For all that, he departs as a man the SFA considered “fit and proper.”
Dave King is gone, but he will not be forgotten. He has left scars on Scottish football which will take decades to heal. His acolytes will hail him, so used as they are now to failure that they see victory everywhere in it, but the rest of us will remember the blustering fool, the charlatan, the posturer, the stumbling, bumbling failure, the rancid presence, the breaker of contracts and betrayer of words, the enabler for bigots, the liar, the crook.
These may seem like harsh words for a man who many in Celtic cyberspace will hail as a double agent as outstanding as Green or Whyte but without the cool tri-colour name but I have written worse things about Dodgy Dave, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was a Sevconite, yes, but before that he was bog-standard, good old fashioned scum.
And that’s what he remained, right to the end.
This piece was inspired by the most brilliant, acidic, obituary of all time, Hunter S. Thompson’s searing farewell to Richard Nixon. I am forever in awe of that piece and everything else written by the Gonzo Godfather.
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