Gary Ralston’s Ashley Piece Was Another Nail In The Coffin Of Sports Journalism In Scotland.

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Yesterday morning, I read a fantastic piece in The Guardian.

It was a tennis article. I hate tennis. I think I’ve watched it maybe a dozen times, and only when Andy Murray has been playing.

Normally I wouldn’t bother with the sport, but the headline caught my eye; it was a piece about Monica Seles, who I had thought about a lot considering what could have happened to Neil Lennon at Tynecastle on that horrific night when a crazed fan ran onto the pitch to attack him.

A lot of things leaped out at me from that article, stuff I had not known.

I had no idea, for example, that Seles had been quite so good quite so young, and that she wasn’t even anywhere near her peak when she was stabbed by another lunatic leaping from the crowd. I hadn’t realised that she was on course to shatter all the records as the greatest women’s player of all time … and many in the sport are willing to concede that honour to her.

I had remembered that the trauma of that event partially ruined her as a player, but I hadn’t known that she came back to win another Grand Slam title or that she’d got a bronze medal at the Olympics in the aftermath too. The piece was full of little diamonds like that.

And as I read it, and finished it, I couldn’t help wonder about the dearth of writing talent in Scottish sports journalism.

No paper up here could have produced that piece.

No journalist up here could have written it.

It’s not as simple as saying the cream goes to London where the big bucks are; I dated a girl who had been seeing Darryl King when that eejit was working at The Evening Times and she told me his salary was almost ridiculous.

I’ve heard estimates of what Keith Jackson earns which would make your jaw drop.

The near total absence of top class sports journalism up here has exactly nothing to do with the money on offer; it’s about the culture. It’s about the rags hiring folk with no discernible skills because they know none are required. The papers up here aim low, in content and quality.

That they so often fail even to hit that mark is a testament to how little they care.

Their contempt for their readers and for the wider profession of which they are a part was epitomised by the article Gary Ralston published in the aftermath of Sports Direct’s claim to be the “exclusive” sales venue for Sevco shirts come 1 August.

It was a ridiculous piece, so clearly based around nothing more than what the club itself was willing to release, that the paper should have ignored it until they had a proper story to write. But someone at Sevco kicked the cage and this lapdog yelped into action at once, barking out exactly what the club told him to write and slinging a few ludicrous claims in for good measure, such as repeating the obvious lie that the Castore deal is worth £25 million.

He claimed that the club was on the verge of selling out 50,000 tops in the first few days … I listened carefully to what Castore’s guy said about that; he said several sizes had sold out, not that they were close to selling out entirely. I know enough about how manufacturing organisations work to know that certain sizes would have had a very small run … and those sizes are over-represented in the Sevco support, if George Square was anything to go by.

The club was supposed to have “reassured” the fans over it … in fact, the club was as good as admitting that Castore and Sports Direct will, at the very least, be working hand in glove.

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, who has covered more Sevco stories than the average Scottish tabloid hack ever has or ever will, has his own suspicion about what Ashley is up to here; he reckons Ashley does still have a watertight contract, and is simply firing a warning shot to remind those at Ibrox of that.

Phil’s own article, in the aftermath of Sevco’s statement and Ralston’s piece of spin, was excellent; he got right to the heart of it, as usual, by pointing out that the only question the hacks needed to ask was “Ashley claims to have exclusivity. Is he lying?”

Phil’s piece from yesterday seems especially timely; it’s on the latest series of staff cuts at Newsquest, owners of The Herald Group, which once employed the useless Neil Cameron – as Head of Sport, no less – and where the notorious Chris Jack allegedly still works. Another of their sports writers, Mark Hendry, was the subject of an article on this site just the other day, for his own dire response to the Ashley and Sports Direct story … these folks are useless.

Phil’s point is that every reporter in the country should be in a union; I can’t imagine anyone but Neil Cameron, who spat the dummy with the NUJ and quit over his being held to account for slandering a fellow writer, would disagree with that sentiment.

But the sports press in this country spends so much money on third-rate intellects and fourth-rate writers who are hired on the basis that they once played at Ibrox or Celtic Park that it’s no wonder there are no jobs for real journalists.

Phil is correct to say that every round of cuts impacts on the mental health of those who are left … he produced an excellent NUJ video on that subject, which you can see in his article. Whilst undoubtedly true, those people should be asking why so many ex-players, with no qualifications as journalists at all, are allowed to leech money out of the company instead.

On top of that, they should be pointing to the utter rot that seeps off the sports pages at the moment and asking “Are you really saying I couldn’t do better than that?”

Something has to give. Austerity has bitten so deep and so hard in that profession that you can tell the “quality” a newspaper is going for these days by the worth of its survivors. Scottish journalism seems to work according to the principle of “survival of the unfittest.”

The Record, for example, clearly has no notion any longer towards self-preservation, with the cadre of eejits, halfwits and semi-literate clowns it employs … The Herald Group once had the best sports writers in the country, but that too has gone downhill.

A year back, Graeme McGarry, one of its in-house hacks, wrote a piece so ludicrous and Sevcocentric that I did a full-scale hatchet job on it, dismantling it piece by piece. The central thrust of it was that their fans were desperate for Lennon to get the Celtic job whilst our fans would have preferred Gerrard himself. Only a full-on idiot could have written than and believed it … McGarry was evidently squarely in both camps. And you wonder … if this is the cream, what’s left?

To call people like Ralston mediocrities is to do them too much credit. He and McFarlane (a Sevco blogger who doesn’t belong near a national title), McDougall, Young, Wilson and especially the virus denier Jackson, are a big part of why The Record is on its knees. There are other issues, of course, like dreadful leadership at the top of the house … but I think that can best be expressed in the dire standard of the newsrooms and The Record is a sterling example of that.

Probably the worst thing about Ralston’s piece was how predictable it was; no sooner had I posted my story on the Sports Direct claim but I was getting messages on social media of people wondering how long before The Usual Suspects were doing their pro-Sevco spin. Ralston’s piece was up ahead of the rest, but that’s no great shock when you consider that the club considers him amongst the most reliable of their pet hacks.

That should make him embarrassed. It should make his bosses afraid for their paper. And it should make any decent writer trying to break into the business angry, because its clowns like this who are standing in his way and threatening the existence of the newspapers themselves.

Ralston’s piece was a flat-out disgrace, a piece of Sevco propaganda, not only trotting out the old party lines but throwing in a little fiction writing to boot. It did not belong in a national title. It would have been more at home on one of the clownish Sevco sites which do nothing but indulge in fantasy.

Ibrox Noise, perhaps.

He’d fit in perfectly with the standard there.

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In the 1951/52 season, SFA chairman George Graham tried to stop Celtic from flying the Irish tricolour flag over Celtic Park, leading to a bitter stand off between him and the club. Which Scottish club backed Graham over his stance?

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