There are times when fact is stranger than fiction, and things happen in real life which would stretch the credulity of most Hollywood producers so that nobody would ever film it for fear of being laughed at for going over the top.
I watch a lot of TV shows and I am always looking for new things.
When I saw that the wonderful Julia Garner, of Ozark, was starring in another show recently I couldn’t resist it.
Inventing Anna is about a New York “socialite” named Anna Delvey.
For many years she was a regular feature on the jet-setting Manhattan social circuit.
She presented herself as a young German heiress who was awaiting her inheritance. Her social media profiles were filled with pictures of her hob-nobbing with the rich and famous. She walked the walk, she talked the talk, she dressed with impeccable style and taste and she moved through those circles exactly like she belonged there.
It was all smoke and mirrors.
She was, in fact, a complete fabrication. Delvey wasn’t her real name, but something she plucked out of nowhere. She was actually Anna Sorokin. Her family had no money to speak of.
Yet this woman of virtually no means managed to con her way into the stratospheric heights of the New York upper crust. More incredibly, she had somehow put together an elite team of specialists who were trying to help her secure tens of millions in funding for a mammoth arts project which she was trying to launch.
Yet none of that – as remarkable as it is – is what I found most amazing about the story. The most amazing thing about the story is a little off-hand moment which is barely explored; the fact that for a while, Sorokin lived in the home of another New York socialite who was less than surface appearances would suggest; fellow bullshit artist par excellence Billy McFarland, famous now for being the creator of the notorious Fyre Festival scam.
I’ve thought a lot about the Fyre Festival in the last week or so; an elaborate sleight of hand relying on surface glamour and the suspension of disbelief, and which ended with thousands of people who spent lavish sums of money and who thought they were on a trip to heaven ending up stranded in a Hellscape, penniless, angry, without adequate food or water and slowly coming to the realisation that they had been made mugs of.
I’ll bet you think that sounds familiar now, right? Of course it does.
Listening to the wailing of the Peepul, and their moaning about a city that didn’t do enough for them, about how UEFA didn’t do enough for them, about how Spain shouldn’t host another European final, I nevertheless cannot help but think that a lot of them are finally awake to the scale of their own self-delusion.
They weren’t conned exactly … but they swallowed a lot of hype and hysteria only to come crashing down to earth.
During the worst cost of living crisis in recent memory, with MyGers membership fees due and season tickets to buy, tens of thousands of them still managed to scrape together what little cash they had to travel to a faraway place for a party that never happened … and one which, if you read this blog consistently, you’ll know I never believed would.
The whole “run” was built on hype. Let’s, one last time, review the statistics, because they bear repeating.
They got to a European final having played 21 games in continental competition, two in the Champions League and nineteen in the Europa League. They won just seven of those matches; a one win in three games ratio. Eleven of those games were away from home; they managed a single win, albiet a big one, in Dortmund.
That is not the form of a team which deserves the adulation poured on them by our gibbering media, or by a support that was convinced that victories over Red Star and Braga amounted to anything substantial. Two wins against top Bundesliga sides are interesting and appear to offer a counterpoint to that argument, but the team that beat them in the final won’t finish in the top ten in Germany this season … so where’s the counterpoint now?
There are teams who, sometimes, go on to do unexpected things.
As I’ve said before, aside from Frankfurt and Sevco there are teams who have got to the final of this tournament who don’t have any discernible record in Europe to boast of; Braga, Dnipro, Middlesbrough, Fulham et al. None of these sides, or their media, embarked on the kind of nonsense that the Ibrox fans and our press corps did.
These clubs weren’t suddenly going to be catapulted into the European football elite. That is, and was, an utter fantasy of Anna Delvey style proportions; you can dress in the garb, and talk like a natural, but that doesn’t make you the real thing.
Sorokin didn’t con everybody, and nor did Ibrox’s “stunning” march to Seville.
When investigations into her dug deep they saw that the “friendships” which her social media depicted were mostly superficial and based on one or two casual meetings.
To use what might come off as a ridiculous comparison – but it isn’t – she was, in many ways, the Paul The Tim of Manhattan! Lots of pictures with famous and influential people … but very few who had more than the vaguest idea of who she was.
On top of that, some of those who encountered her sussed that there was something off with her, and whilst most didn’t penetrate the charade entirely there were a handful – like the Chinese art collector and museum founder Michael Xufu Huang, who was conned out of $3000 by her and realised pretty quickly what she was – who saw through it all.
I’ll tell you this; nobody at Bayern Munich or Real Madrid or at Liverpool or City was looking at that Ibrox team the other night and thinking they have something to fear. Whoever wins the Champions League could have – and would have – booked the Super Cup winners party before even knowing what the makeup of the Ibrox team will be next year.
So yeah, talking the talk is one thing but it doesn’t make you the real thing.
Sorokin’s con-job was effective because she presented the right image to the right people, but she actually didn’t get near to the type of money she was chasing any more than Ibrox was truly on the brink of those tens of millions and European football affirmation … penalty kicks notwithstanding, it was barmy for them to think they only had to show up and they could have it all.
Billy McFarland, on the other hand, with a similar act to Sorokin, got his hands on millions from outside investors and he conned the lot of them as well as the silly bastards who chucked their money down the bottomless pit of the Fyre fantasy. As I said, it was that festival of nothing that nagged at my brain all week long as the hysteria bubble swelled.
I was thinking of it even before the parallels – poor penniless stranded bears, people thirsty for water under the blazing hot sun, those who booked up expecting smart hotel rooms and got much less, and locals who smelled stupidity in the air and charged fortunes to people who had already maxed out their credit cards – became obvious.
It was in the way that the whole thing was oversold, and overpromised, and based on hype rather than on something substantial, and that if you possessed a modicum of sense you could see that for yourself in the way some of those who bought tickets for Fyre, and then did a little digging, saw the flaws long before they landed on Great Exuma and clocked those FEMA tents instead of the Coachella luxuries they had been promised, and had spent absolute fortunes on.
But then, this is the Ibrox fan-base all season long … believing in the oversell, believing in the PR machines, believing in the slobbering nonsense of a media which does no digging of its own and never tries to look below the surface spin.
Fyre was sold on its pre-publicity; a group of supermodels in a high voltage marketing video and the promotion, across social media, of the Fyre “symbol” – and this cracks me up folks – a bright orange square. The advertising beyond that was entirely false, but because it was done in connection with all these big-time names people believed it. Hell, the number two guy on the whole scam was the rapper and actor Ja Rule … he lent it an air of credibility.
You can tell already where this is going, right? And to whom … Yes … wait for it.
Everything about all that buzz was fake, though.
The glitzy, glamourous “marketing video” went viral … but it was a chaotic and disorganised shoot which was only made to look good by the hard work and sweat of serious people who knew their business and made it work.
The event was supposed to take place on “Pablo Escobar’s private island”.
Well, right there, I would have smelled a rat.
Norman’s Cay wasn’t Pablo Escobar’s anything … the guy who owned all the land on Norman’s Cay, and who turned it into a smuggling hub, was his Medellin Cartel associate Carlos Lehder. This isn’t even a little known fact; the movie Blow features the Norman’s Cay operation in its back half, and it was a minor plot-line in Narcos.
Anyone who smelled bullshit on that claim should have thought the whole thing was a bit off … much like anyone who looked at Ibrox’s record in this tournament rather the media’s spin on it should have been like “This isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
McFarland’s company didn’t “own” the island either, as they had claimed, but had been leasing it, and they only got the lease on the explicit condition that they never mentioned its drug smuggling past.
Which of course they did on all the advance publicity … and so the owner kicked them off with just months to go, forcing them to go with Plan B, which was to locate the whole thing on Great Exuma. In the middle of an annual yachting event, guaranteeing that there was no available housing for all the guests or the bands who had already been hired to play.
But the glamour and the hype had already sold all those who would soon be making their way there, even some of those who had been suspicious or fearful of the arrangements and looked into it a little.
As was the case with the Ibrox fans during the Whyte debacle, even when various sites reported the facts, a lot of these folk just didn’t want to believe them.
Aside from the Ibrox run not being half as good as the media portrayed it, there were a lot of people in their team who got hyped to the nines as well … none more so than Aaron Ramsey, and that’s another Sorokin/McFarland comparison which I find delicious.
Because right from the day Ramsey signed a lot of us said that this was all rep and flimflam and that it was a bling signing which would not make them even 1% better and only drain the Ibrox finances.
In short, we said it would be a disaster.
Well, Good God, we never expected it to be quite so disastrous for their club as it was … but I’ll tell you right now, without a word of a lie, that when he stepped up to take that penalty the other night I knew he would miss it and that we were about to witness the final denouement in both their Europa League fantasy and the wider charade of Ramsey himself.
I didn’t have the least doubt in my mind.
If the Europa League form hype is the Fyre Festival PR campagn, then it’s Ramsey himself who is the Anna Delvey of this whole season; a product of spin, a fairytale which a lot of gullible people told themselves until they believed it.
This was, quite literally, a case of Inventing Aaron.
Everyone who is now backing away from their over-promotion of the guy who had barely kicked his own backside in the last three seasons should feel utterly ashamed of how little critical thought they applied before writing their garbage about how this was the biggest player to arrive in the country since Gazza, and all the rest of it … an absolute joke, all of it, and to the eternal embarrassment of every single one of them.
Ramsey, brought in to “save the season” – according to some – or to “elevate this team to ever greater heights” – according to others – contributed exactly what those of us more capable of analysing it objectively said he would.
Nothing but laughs.
£2 million in loan fees was expensive enough … but that penalty miss must make that the most catastrophic transfer flop in the history of our game, with nothing even coming close.
The comparisons with Shane Duffy are frankly ridiculous and grotesquely underestimate just how momentous the consequences of Ramsey’s signing proved to be.
But as with Sorokin, and Fyre, Ramsey’s surface glamour somehow tricked almost the whole of the press corps and the vast swathe of the Ibrox support into believing that Scottish football had a superstar in its midst.
I found the idea insulting at the time and said so.
I now find it hilarious, and I suspected from the start that one day I would.
His vastly inflated salary at Juventus – possible only because they signed him from Arsenal on freedom of contract whilst his stock was still high – convinced a lot of folk that there was more here than met the eye … and you couldn’t tell them different, and there is even talk about how he might make up for it in the Scottish Cup Final, as if even a hat-trick in that game could possibly erase what happened on Wednesday or the impact of it.
This has echoes in how McFarland is still called a genius by folk who should know better and Sorokin still counts on the support of people who still cannot separate the penniless German con woman from Delvey, her invention, who they thought they knew so well.
The moment Ramsey stepped up to take that spot-kick, I knew that Ibrox hubris had again met its nemesis.
I knew we were in line for one of those twists so ridiculous that audiences wouldn’t have accepted it in a Jerry Bruckheimer film.
Because fact is stranger than fiction at times, and it produces plotlines which would test the limits of what screenwriters think they can get away with. McFarland and Sorokin sharing a flat, without one knowing that the other was living a lie just as large? You couldn’t have invented that. People would never have believed it.
Ramsey stepping up to take that penalty, after all the hysteria surrounding the signing itself and our months of mocking it … who else had no doubt that we were about to get the ending that story deserved?
But no script writer would have dared run with that.
Because it’s almost too crazy for words … but it’s no crazier than what Ibrox fans and the club’s fawning media toadies have been swallowing whole for months; that a freakish European run, built on bad stats and fortunate draws, had elevated them to the pantheon of football’s elite and would end in the ultimate victory.
That Tavernier and Goldson had proved they were good enough for England.
That Kent had been reborn as a superstar.
That Ramsey sits amidst the greatest players in Europe, for that is what these yahoos were telling us when he signed and what they continued to believe all the way up to the moment he hit that penalty.
You know how McFarland and Sorokin did it?
Because they both have the same instinctive understanding of one thing above everything else; give some Peepul a dazzling vision, however remote from reality, and they will swallow anything.
And some of them will back that belief with their cash, no matter how improbable the dream.
Those two supreme con-artists know that there are loads of them out there, and one born every minute.
They should have taken jobs at Ibrox, or at The Daily Record.