Amongst the most frustrating things about being a blogger is the number of times you are told that your job is to be a cheerleader for the club no matter what.
Understand that this never comes from the club itself. No matter what I write about Celtic, no matter the number of times I take shots at those in the boardroom, there are people at Parkhead who understand what it is that I do and respect the way in which I do it.
People at Celtic trust me because they know that I care. They trust me because they know that I won’t compromise my integrity by writing only what people want to read or what others want me to write. I may get things wrong, but I don’t mislead and I don’t lie. I won’t toe a party line either, and nor am I angling for a gig with the club or in the mainstream press.
I believe that I share those traits with the vast, vast majority of people in Celtic social media. I think most of us are doing it for the same reasons, labouring away because we love the club and want what is best for it. We have no secret agendas, we’re nobody’s puppets dancing on invisible strings. Celtic comes first. That’s where our loyalties start and stop.
Some might think we are just lucky in that our ultimate loyalties are never put to the test. Few of us are going to be offered a job with Celtic or at The Daily Record. Few of us are ever going to be given true access to every area at the club or a soft seat beside the directors. The ancient wisdom is that it’s easy to scorn what you’ll never have … but if someone presented it to you on a plate, then the world would find out what your principles were really worth.
Speaking for myself, I love what I do and I wouldn’t swap it for anything. I’ve never wanted to be the star of my own reality show. Those who know me well know that I am comfortable with the semi-anonymity of being a mere blogger. I make a nice living; I work hard but even on the worst days I remind myself that I could be raking leaves in the park in the rain, a job I’ve done before as I’ve done so many others down through the years.
I know too that some of my colleagues in the blogosphere have had genuine offers and turned them down because they, too, like what they do and they like to be in full control of their own output. They won’t have some editor or manager telling them what they can and can’t write on a given day because it might piss some people off.
They certainly won’t accept any scenario where the club dictates it.
Our fans have been tested in the fire before, don’t forget. When Fergus was launching his revolution there were supporter’s organisations in the fight with him, but nobody in those organisations joined up with the promise of seats on the board or anything like that. None of those guys cared about that; they wanted what was best for Celtic.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that the word from across the city is that their own fan organisation, Club 1872, continues to toil and one of the reasons that it has is that it has basically lost the trust of the vast majority of their supporters.
There have been internal difficulties, of course, with one senior member being reported to the police for threatening the rest of the executive, an exchange he shared on social media to shame those who had tried to get him jailed. But the most compelling reason for their slide is that they’ve lost most of the members they’ve accrued over the years.
They have also lost 60% of what they had in the bank just five years ago, plummeting from over a million to around £400,000 as things stand.
In the same period the purpose for which they were formed – to accumulate as large a shareholding as possible – has been absolutely shattered. They once had over 10% of the shares, which they regarded as a major milestone.
They no longer do. They’ve had as low as 5% in that time, thanks to equity confetti and the steady dilution of the value. At the same time, fans have never owned so many shares or spent quite so much money on them. It’s just that they’ve lost their voting power, which was the reason Club 1872 were encouraging their members to buy them in the first place.
There are basically two problems here, and both are connected to leadership. Ibrox’s fan-base used to have two major organisations. The formation of Club 1872 moulded them into one. When there were two one could hold the other to account if it was felt that they were getting too close to the board, or if they weren’t providing fans with information.
Remember, these organisations were formed in the wreckage of Rangers. They were forged from fans over there basically watching as their first club died. The idea behind forming new fan groups is that it was never supposed to happen to them again, because the supporters would have representation on the board and would be able to scrutinise it.
They never got near that. And then Dave King launched his revolution. To do so, he identified a core group of influential fans and – and there’s really no other word for it – he bought them off. Whether it was through access, influence, soft seats near the directors or cold hard cash, he picked his wee favourites and elevated them above everyone else.
The two fan organisations, he somehow convinced to merge into one, and so they did. The Rangers Trust and Rangers First folded the hand, and in 2016 Club 1872 was born, based on membership and subscriptions with the sole purpose of buying shares and holding the club to account. Yet King filled it with his placemen.
Who were these guys?
Well oddly enough, some of them remain influential amongst the fan-base to this day. They can be found at the club’s “official media partners” and elsewhere within the power structure. Some of these guys got cushy numbers working inside the walls. Others are feted like royalty and have assumed “leadership” positions in various areas of Sevco social media.
King’s hand-picked people, those he used to undermine previous boards over there in order to assume control, now run the table although their lord and master is no longer in the building. A lot of their fans understand this quite well, and see how many of those “leaders” amongst them have done quite well out of the Dave King years, and they have a lot of questions and not many answers. They are correct to be suspicious, and Club 1872 suffers as a result.
So where did more than a half a million pounds of their fans money go to? And that’s the tip of the iceberg of course, because that’s only cash on hand in the bank; over the years there’s been much, much more flowed through their accounts.
Some of it went on shares, for sure, but some of it was also “loaned” to the club and even given away to them over the last few years, in contravention of the whole reason for the organisation existing. The first major drop-off in their membership came when it became clear that the directors of Club 1872 were bailing the club out financially using their fees.
Fan contributions are down 15% this year alone … that’s a cliff-face drop off and the reason for it is that the civil war within the organisation has spilled over into the forums. Nobody is suggesting that there is criminality or theft or anything illegal going on, just a feeling that a fan organisation should not be quite so close to those who are running the club.
It is important to maintain distance from those you are supposed to be scrutinising. The minute some of you are designated as “official club partners” you’re no longer separate from it, and you’re basically a creature of those you’re meant to be keeping in line.
The Scottish media never asks proper questions about how the Ibrox operation is financed. They should but they don’t. In their absence the fan organisations should want answers to those questions instead. But when those fan organisations have a vested interest in keeping those at the top of the house sweet, you aren’t going to get scrutiny from them.
There is a perception amongst their support that everything in the garden is rosy; they forget that Rangers won three titles in a row in the spell before they went out of business, so success on the pitch is not a reliable indicator of how healthy the club is off it.
They would rather not know uncomfortable truths. They would rather not be aware of pressures building up behind the scenes. Nobody in their fan media with any influence or reach wants to rock that particular boat, either by asking those questions or giving the answers to the rest of a fan-base which might be shell-shocked at what they find out.
And in the meantime, trust in their senior fan representatives continues to be eroded. Club 1872 is a dying organisation, and that’s all they’ve got over there.
Even as they consume themselves with internal wrangling, schemes like MyGers leech every available penny from an exhausted support which is coming to realise that they are going to be paying through the nose for the long haul.
This is what happens when your “fan leaders” are all too busy making sure that they’re in good with those running the club. This is what happens when you have supporters organisations in thrall to an ex-director and dancing to the board’s tune.
Look at the Celtic sites and how we cover our current board, this off the back of nine league titles and a quadruple treble success. This off the back of knowing how our club is funded and by whom. If we seem unsatisfied it’s because we’re not … because we do hold this club of ours to a higher standard. We do take our responsibilities seriously.
And not one of us is beholden to a living soul who works at Celtic Park.
We know our business, we respect our roles and we care about the club itself and about the rest of the support. We’re not, none of us, looking out for number one. If their support was like ours, they’d still be following Rangers because they would have saved it as Hearts fans did and as fans of clubs all over the world have when the chips were down.
In the aftermath, all some of them wanted to do was make sure they landed on their feet when the new club was born. They’ve been doing it ever since.
This is how supporter’s organisations die and when they go and can no longer hold people to account, that is how and when clubs die. That will never happen to Celtic.