How do you get to a place where fans cannot separate morality from the vain pursuit of success at all costs?
How do you get to a place where fans can cheer an oligarch whose pal has launched a war against a neighbouring country?
How do you get to a place where supporters cheer on the people who own their club because they are spending a little money when those people represent a despotic regime which abuses women, murders its citizens and is not above acts of terrorism against foreign journalists?
How do you come to a place where your club can defraud the taxpayer and leave hundreds of small businesses out of pocket, and where you can get behind a debt-dumping NewCo ideology which exists on the lie that they were the real victims all along?
I’ll tell you how you get there. One step at a time.
And it always begins with a small step, with an act that barely registers on the radar.
English football didn’t wind up with oligarchs in charge of clubs overnight, any more than the first Ibrox operation smoothly segued from relying on bank financing to operating a tax scam, and where the fans of the NewCo had no objection to being run by a notorious South African criminal who they still hold in high regard.
These things happen over time, and you can’t always look back and see clearly the path that should have been taken to avoid it.
But in the case of Celtic and the Australian Gutter Ball, there is no doubt what this signpost says and where it leads to.
There are few clubs in world football which operate according to an ethos.
Many claim to and many fans of those clubs even think that they do, but when push comes to shove how many would stand up and defend that ethos in the face of the most corrupting influence in the sport; cold hard cash?
You either believe in stuff or you don’t.
You’re either committed to keeping your principles or you are not.
They either mean something or they are for PR.
There is a shining example of this over in Spain right now; the slow degradation of Barcelona.
The institution which advertises itself as “more than a club” has finally, fully, joined the ranks of the Ordinary Teams.
There is nothing special about Barcelona any longer; the last vestige of that club’s soul has been traded away in the rush to bring in money.
And it happened slowly, over time, with a few simple steps that meant nothing at all. The road from being a principled organisation to the one which just allowed a gaudy sponsorship deal to rename its iconic stadium was not exactly a twisted path … in fact, it happened via a number of straightforward steps and smart people saw it coming miles down the road.
You might say that it started when Barcelona finally put a corporate logo on the shirt which had never had one before.
And yes, it was UNICEF.
But that was start of it. Once that shirt was adorned with a name the next step was to adorn it with a sponsor.
From there, the road to selling off the name of the ground was only a matter of degrees and as shocking as it is to see it and hear it, the shock is lessened because it was somehow inevitable.
This is a club which pays individual footballers obscene weekly salaries far in excess of the average annual wage of the supporters in the stands. This is a club that claims to be the antithesis of the establishment, but it has taken government subsidies and climbed into bed with the hedge funds. It manipulates the rules of football in Spain and sneers at UEFA and Financial Fair Play. It exists now as a monument to excess and greed … and it still claims to be special.
Celtic still has a tenuous claim on its self-image as a club with principles. It is being tested. Mostly by the behaviour of people inside its walls but also by a section in the support who seem to believe they follow a different club than the rest of us do.
But our decision to play the Gutter Ball is a step down a dark and dangerous path which ends perhaps in joint partnerships with people we shouldn’t be near, with an embrace of a “money at all costs” ideology, naming rights deals and other grubby commercial agreements almost without end and perhaps even, at some point, the kind of owners who either don’t respect our ethos or worse, actively threaten or even eradicate it.
The pursuit of cash above all else – which is precisely what this Australian farce is all about – puts this club and its values at risk. If our directors cannot understand why so many of us are opposed to this, then they have lost sight of what this club is supposed to be. In allowing ourselves to be portrayed as part of a toxic rivalry they are harming our reputation.
Reputations are hard to build, and they are easy to destroy. Once you start chipping away at it the damage will last years and will be nearly impossible to repair.
This club is now walking down a dangerous path, but let’s be honest; we’ve failed, utterly, here at home to challenge some of the lies of 2012 and that means we were walking down that path anyway. The thing is, we’re doing so openly now … and this is where our supporters should be drawing one big line in the sand.