One of the greatest pleasures I’ve ever had in my life was to be running a politics blog – Comment Isn’t Free – during the Scottish independence referendum.
That sense that every day was special, and important, has never felt quite so acute as it did then, but my career as a blogger started with another local story – what I call (thanks to Phil) The Fall Of The House Of Murray.
That, too, was historic.
Back then, around 2008-09 there were only a handful of us who understood and were willing to write about what was happening at Ibrox.
Paul Brennan at CQN charted every single downward step as the first Ibrox club started to unravel.
Phil was writing about it from at least that time, and an article of his, on why Murray International was facing ruin, was pivotal to my own first major piece on the evolving crisis over there, The End Of Rangers? which I published over on E-Tims in 2009.
The roots of that crisis were found in two major events; Celtic hiring Martin O’Neill and his first season treble, which forced Murray into the suicidal course of paying players through EBT’s; and the banking collapse of 2008, which gutted Murray and led the banks to take a much dimmer view of organisations with increasing amounts of debt.
Phil excelled himself when he spoke of Murray International and it’s “paper worth” in a way that every layperson could understand. He compared it to a corner shop with filled shelves – stock, worth a certain value in pounds and pence.
But what if nobody wants to buy what’s on those shelves?
The Murray empire was propped up on the valuations of steel and other raw materials which had a nominal value but were worthless on the open market. The real estate holdings might have a balance sheet worth but nobody was touching real estate with a 20-foot pole back then, as mortgages and land deals were part of the problem.
Banks, which would have been happy to use those things as collateral before the crash, were pushing them back at people like Murray and asking for readies instead. When your entire corporate structure is built on debt there’s not a lot of quick cash to be had.
By 2010 Lloyds were running things at Ibrox and had even put a director on the board.
Rangers was in the midst of the final spending spree, and two titles into three in a row. But everything had changed. The bank was no longer willing to indulge them and wanted out. Murray was shopping around for a new owner … and that was when Phil dropped the EBT bombshell.
HMRC had stumbled onto Rangers’ tax scam whilst the Fraud Squad was hunting around for evidence that the Jean Alain Boumsong transfer from that club to Newcastle was as dodgy as many of us had assumed it to be at the time.
They never actually found any evidence of that, but were unable to say that the deal was straight-up either.
Whilst rooting around inside Ibrox, they came upon the proof of a tax-dodge instead and they handed everything over to HMRC for their investigation.
The sequence of events there is worthy of a book all on its own; the upshot was that they opened a case against the club and presented Ibrox with a whopper of a bill. Nobody knew this until Phil broke the story.
Ibrox was engulfed by a perfect storm; the government wanted its money, Lloyds wanted theirs, Murray wanted out whilst he tried to hold his empire together and nobody watching wanted to touch the club far less own it.
Except for the con-men and wide boys who were soon popping up out of the woodwork.
The rest is history.
And the great thrill of being able to cover that as a writer, as it happened, was amazing.
Getting to cover the independence referendum three years later felt, at the start, like a bonus, and yet it was fulfilling in a different way, an even better way. I never expected to be covering an historic turning of the tide for a third time in ten years … and yet I think I am.
I think all of us are, everyone in the blogosphere.
Like every other great historic change, if you want to trace it back you can usually do so.
This one really feels like it started to turn in November of 2004, when Martin O’Neill chose a pre-match Champions League press conference in Barcelona to rail against the racist abuse Neil Lennon had endured at Ibrox the weekend before.
O’Neill picked his moment beautifully, knowing that UEFA couldn’t and wouldn’t ignore it … and from there things started to pick up pace.
Within months, UEFA had done what Scottish football had refused to do for eons and started to wipe The Billy Boys and other little ditties of hatred from the Ibrox stands.
They didn’t disappear overnight, but an increasingly severe series of punishments forced the club and the fans into retreat.
That lasted only so long as it took for The Famine Song to be born.
But by the time it did, Celtic had changed again and we were led, from the boardroom, by a former British cabinet minister who knew how to work the media and had the profile to put their shame in front of the world. Which John Reid duly did.
That song was debated in the Parliaments of Ireland and Britain.
And the moment the full weight of it fell on the club, the song ceased to be sung in the stands.
There is a history of shaming that club into doing the right thing; you wonder why it takes so long between times.
So the road to where we are today started in 2004, but I never felt that it was a turning point, nor did I feel Reid’s denunciation of The Famine Song changed much except that it revealed our place in the wider world and their place on the fringes of it.
Every time the Ibrox support is shamed it finds a new variation of hate to shame itself further.
The Famine Song turned into their scummy obsession with child abuse, which is rampant in their support like a virus that just won’t die out.
Their morphing into a fan-base of the far-right, of conspiracy theories and crackpot ideas, was always ongoing but the speed at which it’s swept through them is incredible. This was somehow not clear to the wider community in Scotland – and certainly not Civic Scotland – until George Square and how appalling that whole thing was.
At that point it became impossible to ignore, and in the aftermath of that I started to think that we were, again, covering an historical turning point.
Civic Scotland’s fury was so clear and precise and directed where it belonged that I thought “Things have changed here.”
And you know what?
I think maybe they did.
I think things did change.
Because although a bunch of Ibrox fans on a bus thought they could get away with singing about Kyogo and posting it online they were wrong.
Fury erupted. The club was put under pressure.
Bans were handed out. Police charges followed.
The whole country backed our player, except those institutions which were supposed to; the SFA and the PFA.
But Civic Scotland reacted and the club was forced to.
But the Peepul learn slowly, and so it was a matter of time before the next outrage and the only thing I was surprised at was the resurrection of the song which a judge branded vile and racist and was largely gone from their games.
And Civic Scotland has hammered them for this like never before.
Questions are being asked in Parliament again.
Phil’s latest piece today charted the stance of some in the media and James Dornan, the MSP, to the way Ibrox has handled this, and it is Dornan’s question in the House today which has made sure this story stays current.
This one isn’t going to die down.
Civic Scotland has finally spoken with one voice and pointed the finger of blame where it belongs, and made it clear that it’s the club’s job to finally wipe this out. As long as the club is willing to ban those responsible for these outrages we’re somewhere we haven’t been for a long time … sadly Dornan has suggested tonight, after receiving a communique from the club, that they “still have a long way to go.”
But the important thing is that the rest of the country is talking about this and directing their anger at Ibrox and not conflating it with other issues.
This is the issue.
It’s the only issue, and we are, all of us, covering what might be a vital moment in our nation’s history.
This will either be the moment Ibrox gets real or the moment when they are clearly identified as part of the problem and not part of the solution. What’s important is that the rest of this country wants that solution.
The rest of this country is sick and tired of this stuff.
Everyone but the Ibrox fans themselves, who have spent half a week indulging in the most preposterous defences for this stuff, and now have resorted to asking their fellow fans to behave “for the good of the club.”
How about behaving for the good of society?
How about a straight-up acknowledgement that this stuff is just plainly and simply wrong?
Our manager has had the courage to say this … others must do the same.
Phil asked me today if I’d have believed it had he told me in 2001 that ten years later we’d finally be debating this matter in the right way, and that the big spotlight would be shining, at last, on the totem pole of hatred around which too many have, for too long, danced.
I would have found it impossible to believe then, because it was a conversation no-one wanted.
But we’re here, finally, and our society can only be better for this debate finally being had.
It is time for it. It is past time for it.
Those of us – Phil, myself and a handful of others – who have been writing about this issue for as long as we’ve been writing about the football – are covering what might be a great historic turning point … and I cannot help but think that this could yet be a moment Scotland emerges from with a great deal of pride.
Do not allow anyone to try to put this on the back-burner.
We have the spotlight where it needs to be.
It is the job of all of us to keep it there until this is resolved.
The moment is unique.
So is the opportunity to finally rout these Peepul out of our sport once and for all.