Andrew Smith, who now scribbles away at The Scotsman, has written yet another piece of out-of-touch dirge which shows how little he understands our fans and our club, and at the same time has swung behind a little liquidation denial, using phony cases to back up his own phony claims. It’s a dire piece.
The only thing that stops me being harsher is it’s not the worst article I’ve read this week; the real prize goes to Keith Jackson and I’ll be dismantling it brick for brick later.
For openers, the story is ostensibly about how we should all be grateful to Lawwell and Desmond because they didn’t run our club into the ground.
I’ve always thought that this was a preposterous argument, only fit for debate when everyone in the pub is drunk and there’s a brief break in the karaoke. Most club chairmen manage not to get their clubs into that kind of trouble; we shouldn’t be overdoing the praise because the people running Celtic aren’t lunatics.
He starts down this wrong, long road with a bizarre argument.
“A section of the Celtic support will hate the line it is possible to draw in assessing their club’s fortunes since they were runners-up to a title-monopolising Rangers in 1995-96 – a finish that ended seven seasons when they failed to make the top two. A line brought to mind by the interview with his club’s TV channel that Celtic major shareholder Dermot Desmond gave last week.”
He’s saying – in a pretty convoluted way – that Dermot Desmond is one of the things that’s changed. He joined the board that year. But why In God’s name would Smith think any section of our support, no matter how loosely connected to reality, would not want to acknowledge that? McCann was running the club on a smart, break-even basis even before then … and we had somehow found money to invest in the team at the same time.
Smith then repeats one of the most widely used – and absolutely wrong – claims that there is about Celtic; that Fergus McCann saved us from liquidation.
This is such a part of the discourse that I’ve heard it even from people who should know better. Fergus pulled us out of the clutches of the old board. There is credit enough in his doing that. There is credit enough in his writing the big cheque that kept the bank from doing something drastic. But the bank was never in any position to close Celtic down.
The bank had the right to call in its loans. That’s a fact. If memory serves me, they had the stadium as security. But had the bank shut Celtic down it would have had to answer two serious questions to its own shareholders, aside from facing enormous and consequential rage from our supporters. The first question would have been “How are we going to get our money back?” and the second would have been “What are we supposed to do with a run-down football ground with no team to play in it, and a training centre which has seen better days?”
Fergus saved us from an administration event, not a liquidation. The possibility that Celtic would have been liquidated is non-existent. Even if Fergus had walked away, there were others waiting in the wings, including Gerald Weisfeld and perhaps even a grouping involving Brian Dempsey and his sidekick and die-hard Celtic fan Willie Haughey.
This notion that Celtic was “hours from closure” is one of the most pervasive ideas in Scottish sports journalism, but it’s not even close to being true.
Yet here it is, repeated by Smith in this woeful piece. “Only two years before, Fergus McCann’s takeover of the club resulted from his being required to pay off a bank debt to prevent Celtic sliding into liquidation.”
His next claim – or rather his next group of claims – are absolutely ridiculous.
“Some of the club’s supporters, in believing that the current Rangers should not be allowed to claim the heritage of their pre-liquidation incarnation (despite other UK clubs that have suffered this fate in such as Middlesbrough, Coventry City and Luton Town all blithely doing so), have the odd moan about McCann having had to stump up to preserve their unbroken history. However, had he not done so, a clamour would have sparked up to have Celtic penalised for going into liquidation – as happened with 2012’s supporters’ spring.”
First up, nobody ever “moans” that Fergus had to stump up. We understand how it works. To avoid the embarrassment of having administrators run our club Fergus wrote a big fat cheque. Getting rid of the old board was the real prize, and he took ownership of the situation when he elbowed them aside to lay claim to the whole box of marbles.
But let’s examine his more noteworthy claim, that what happened to Rangers has happened to other clubs in the UK. Again, this is absolute nonsense.
In the case of Middlesbrough, almost every report makes it clear that they were “minutes away from disappearing”. They never did disappear though. The final decision on them was taken an English Football League meeting where an agreement was reached “with just minutes to spare” for the club to continue to hold their league registration in exchange for its new owners agreeing to underwrite a bond. This bears no resemblance to what happened at Ibrox.
There was a process involving the administrators. The liquidators were then brought in. By the time Charles Green got the assets the SPL had already rejected any prospect of a “share transfer” which would have allowed the NewCo to pretend to be Rangers.
Coventry came very close to a proper liquidation, but the league agreed the transfer of the club’s “golden share” in the FA to a new corporate entity. Let that sink in. The They did not consider the club to have died. As I’ve pointed out, the SFA never agreed to transfer Ibrox’s share to Charles Green and his NewCo. They considered it a new club.
Luton weren’t even close to liquidation, although financial problems dropped them four divisions in short order and they had to suffer financial penalties and points deductions from the league for repeated administration events and “financial irregularities.”
The facts of what happened at Rangers are these. They suffered an administration event followed by a shareholder’s conference where HMRC rejected the offer of a pennies in the pound CVA. At that point Rangers ceased to exist. The league voted on the infamous Club 13 proposal. The space at the bottom of the tier had to be applied for. Sevco was granted a new SFA membership – a new SFA membership – and had to start from the bottom tier.
And this is not limited to “some of the club’s supporters”; it is the nearly unanimous view of the entire fan-base. You know who else holds that view? Dermot Desmond himself, and he said so in the interview that sparked this article.
This is my favourite bit.
“A left-leaning Celtic support are entitled to detest the neo-liberalism, free-marketeering methods that underpins Desmond’s billionaire status. They are, though, churlish to deny that the focus on spending only what you earn, which is embedded in the Celtic psyche at boardroom level and guides the Irishman’s hand in his string-pulling at the club, has ensured a remarkable 27-year era.”
First, most Celtic fans, even those of a left-leaning perspective, generally don’t give a toss how Desmond made and maintains his fortune. It is of no consequence to us, although I find it amazing that Smith appears to when you consider that a certain former chairman at Ibrox made his fortune by fraud and nobody cared then or now.
The reason Desmond’s fortune is of no consequence to us is that he does not fund Celtic and never has. We are not dependent on his cash in any way, shape or form. Only if we were would we have any right to bitch and moan and complain about how it was obtained.
Secondly, I don’t remember too many Celtic fans being “churlish” about the way the club is run. Most of us understand – and are proud – that Celtic runs on a self-sustaining basis. It’s why we support Financial Fair Play and regulations which would force other clubs in Scotland to be run the same way. Nobody wants to see us endanger ourselves in the manner numerous reckless Ibrox boards have endangered their clubs.
Smith talks down to us here as if we were idiot children needing this explained to us. The vast majority of us have understood this stuff for more than a decade now.
Since Andrew Smith has decided to respond in the Comments section, let me amend part of what I wrote above, but here and not in the above section as I want to play this straight. The SFA granted Sevco a license in 2012 after weeks of negotiations which culminated in the Five Way Agreement, a document with so many contradictions and wilful bendings of the rules – as well as its notorious “side letter” – that it bends the mind. So I was factually incorrect in my assertion about the “share” but accurate in that the SPL very pointedly did not agree to it. If they had the NewCo at Ibrox would have started life in the top flight. That they did not makes it very clear what the position of the clubs was … and furthermore what was written in the rulebook. There has never been a big conspiracy here to deprive “Rangers” of their SPL place no matter what some might want to write or believe. The simple fact is that all of Scottish football considered them a new club … that Charles Green did a grubby deal, and that the SFA agreed to it, at the barrel of a gun, is another historical fact but one that remains a rancid cancer at the heart of our game.