Let’s talk, this fine evening, about appeasement.
This naturally requires me to fall back on historical analogy; the obvious one is to go straight to Munich. I have heard all the rot about losing the argument the minute you mention the Nazis but since I am not comparing Ibrox to them it doesn’t apply here.
But the historical analogy is illustrative, even if Munich itself is slightly misleading.
Because, in fact, the appeasement of Hitler started long before that and by the time of Munich stopping him was already impossible short of war.
The truth is, Munich is much misunderstood. Hitler was obviously determined to upset the world order and so from the minute he stepped onto the great stage some form of confrontation between his regime and the wider world was a certainty.
He should have been stopped before he was.
Dealing with Hitler at Munich didn’t prevent war, but the truth is it didn’t lead to it either. Hitler wanted war. Munich was not the west buying peace at the expense of the Czechs, as some have long held. In fact, Hitler left the Munich conference infuriated by their willingness to give him what he had demanded.
By then he longed for the conflict, and felt robbed of the opportunity to get started.
He vowed not to make the same mistake when it came to dealing with Poland.
To properly understand where appeasement began, we need to go back to Hitler’s early decision to re-militarise the Rhineland. He himself regarded it as the biggest gamble he took short of invading the Soviet Union.
It’s an historical fact that his regime teetered on the brink at that point, and had the French moved one unit against the German army he would have had to back down, pull his forces out and face the consequences at home.
Germany was militarily weak, but Hitler played his game of bluff to perfection. Once the allies failed to move, when it was so easy, he realised that as time went by their options would shrink and their willingness to stand up to him would be less. He knew from that moment on that he could push his demands in other areas and be confident of success.
Had he not been hell-bent on war, the world would look different. A leadership not so pathologically fixated on the idea of a grand confrontation could have, and would have, come to dominate Europe by other means. Appeasement wouldn’t have come into it. Europe would have had to come to an accommodation with Germany which would have been almost entirely to that nation’s benefit … if he’d been willing to settle for that he could have had it.
These guys nearly always over-reach at some point. Remember, the pub hard man is only hard as long as he’s on familiar ground with a familiar crowd. There, he can throw his weight about for as long as he doesn’t come across some total stranger in a confluence of bad luck. Outside of that, he is simply waiting for a brick wall to run into.
What exactly is Ibrox’s endgame? What do they want? They have provoked a fight with the SPFL which they show no signs of calling off. What is their stratagem? What do they hope to achieve from it? One thing is for sure, whatever it is they are confident of success in the face of the governing body and its weakness. But how far will they go?
It’s perfectly obvious that they should have been stopped in their tracks before now.
Ibrox, in fact, should have been put on notice back in 2012, when those running the club were in a position of strength.
Know who scuppered that opportunity?
Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan when they told everyone who would listen that there would be “Armageddon” and “civil unrest” if a club playing out of that stadium didn’t get a smooth road.
But Ibrox could have been brought into line, admitted to the league only under strict conditions and the first of them should have been that if the club was going to claim Rangers’ titles that some of them would have to go by virtue of the EBT years. Instead the Five Way Agreement came with its notorious “no title stripping” guarantee side letter.
But imposing those conditions would have drawn a big, big line in the sand.
A bigger one, of course, would have been to deny the whole Survival Lie in the first place and that’s the one a truly courageous legislature would have picked.
Neither path was taken, and ultimately they got their SFA registration and what amounted to a free ride.
That was the first opportunity missed … and there have been many, many more.
Take your pick of the subjects on which they have tested the boundaries; financial fair play, war against the media, their policy of non-compliance with commercial deals, the behaviour of their fans, the determination to force certain people off the SPFL board, the ticketing scandal with Celtic … they could have been stopped, dead, right at the start, in any one of these areas.
They were permitted to take that decision knowing that it would result in reciprocal action from Celtic.
There are those who think that it has devalued the league’s flagship fixture. The league body, the TV companies and even the police all have reservations over it. When you consider the additional costs to the police of having to protect a tiny enclave of Celtic fans, of having to march them to Ibrox separately, guarding them all the way, it’s outrageous.
Had the SPFL wanted to act they could have, and some folk think they should have. A minimum ticketing guarantee for fans visiting Ibrox and Celtic Park would have been enforceable and it would have ended the dispute. Still, it rumbles on.
They could have protected the rights of the media to attend pre-match and post-match press conferences.
Sky and other companies are guaranteed representation at those affairs by contract; why aren’t the print media covered too? Again, this was an utter failure on the part of the SPFL to protect itself, its reputation and its partners.
When they tried to decapitate the SPFL board their own directors should have been booted off it instantly.
Their dodgy dossier was laughed out of the room, but the guy who produced it serves, to this day, with the people he levelled mad accusations at … it is absurd that he should still hold any position of authority within the game after that.
Every time Ibrox is treated with kid gloves, they push harder and further, and the fans do this as much as the club does.
When the sectarian and racist singing started back up again, in high volume, we highlighted it on day one and said that the media would have to take a lead against it and that the governing bodies would have to talk about it.
Neither happened, and what? The volume got louder until the songs of hate became acts of hate. A member of our staff was hit by a bottle in a shameful 90 minutes. Then the national semi-final was polluted by the toxicity.
Last night, as I wrote earlier today an Ibrox fan-site actually suggested that a low ticket count should they reach the Europa League Final entitles them to riot … that is what happens when a support thinks it has an entitlement to behave as it likes.
The club and the fans both feel the same way, and that’s because when this stuff starts nobody says “Stop!” immediately, and so Ibrox is emboldened.
Police Scotland saw what happens when their fans are similarly allowed to keep pushing, and so Seville should be preparing for the worst, now, in the event it comes to pass.
The George Square fiasco should have told them that.
There, they were allowed to gather when it was illegal, allowed to drink though it was unlawful, the bigoted songs came next and after that came the violence … and when the police finally moved in their yobs were so full of themselves they attacked them too.
Which brings us back to the question; what does Ibrox want?
What is the endgame?
We have no roadmap for it and so we can’t know.
Hitler wrote down everything in his book, and so most of his moves should have come as no surprise.
He published Mein Kampf in 1925 and in the opening chapter he writes, “(Austria) must return to the great German mother country, and not because of any economic considerations.”
Nothing that happened from 1938-1945 should have come as a surprise in light of those words, from more than a decade earlier.
If, in light of those words and their obvious meaning, he’d been stopped in 1936, when a small number of German troops crossed into the Rhineland, violating both the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Locarno, the annexation of Austria, the Czech crisis and ultimately the Second World War might never have come about.
There was ample justification for the French shutting him down in 1936, but they and the rest of the Western powers allowed it … and that invited Hitler’s next move.
So what is Ibrox’s next move?
How bad does it have to get before somebody in authority turns around and calls time on them and their constant infringements? Because it is perfectly clear that they will not stop pushing until something breaks. But what?
The commercial business of the SPFL is already at threat.
How can they sign contracts when the second biggest club in the country flatly refuses to honour them or participate?
Hell, at Ibrox they’ve proved that even contracts they themselves willing entered into aren’t inviolate, and so how can the game’s sponsors or commercial partners have any confidence in them?
On top of that, the fact remains that when their club pushes the boat out in a financial sense it is already taking a risk on its own future. If the rest of the game could be insulated from that risk it would be nobody’s business but their own … but it endangers those commercial deals more even than their own policy of non-cooperation does.
The risks they take place every other club in the league at risk.
The SFA spent years telling us that they were vital for the game, and then stood back and allowed their fiscal policies to place their own club, and thus all the rest, in grave danger.
So whatever Ibrox’s endgame is, the results are likely to be disastrous not only for them but for the game here as a whole.
That club will keep on pushing the boundaries until the walls start tumbling down, and if some of those walls support the whole structure of Scottish football then a hard rain is going to fall on everybody’s head.
It would have taken just one French division to send Hitler into retreat in 1936.
Just two years later, he could probably have been defeated, militarily, in short order had the combined might of France and Britain been brought to bear in defence of the Czechs.
A year after that, Germany was sufficiently strong that they conquered Poland in weeks … and would have been able to hold off British and French attacks whilst they completed that task.
Had the SPFL acted sooner against Ibrox a victory would have been easy.
What could they do, or threaten to do, if the governing body put forth its strength right now?
It would be a harder fight, for sure, and much of the media would swing behind Ibrox.
But it’s either now or it’s later, because earlier in the season, without most people realising it, when the cinch crisis kicked in, we reached our own Munich … and the SPFL blinked.
And so when they signed another commercial deal this week and Ibrox immediately rejected it, no-one batted an eyelid.
So the only certainty is that sooner or later the fight is going to come.
There will be something so big that the SPFL simply cannot permit it to stand, and then all the many years of appeasement and all this toleration of their bullshit will be revealed for the folly that it is.
The leaders of this game are not preventing that showdown doing Ibrox favours.
They are only delaying it, and every day they wait the tougher the fight is going to be.