The story goes something like this;
In 1979, Ronald Reagan was visiting the Cheyenne Mountain complex, NORAD, and when he saw the vast array of computers and what at the time was cutting edge technology, he asked some of the most pointed questions of his life and what he got in response was highly dispiriting.
He could not believe that American equipment was so sophisticated that it could “see” a missile emerging from a silo half a world away, calculate the flight time and estimated target and still do nothing to stop it from getting there and detonating.
What he wanted, he told the generals, was a system that could not just detect a nuclear launch but destroy the warhead before it ever landed on American soil. The techies called the project that emerged from that the Strategic Defence Initiative.
The media, realising the idea was literally to put lasers in space, called it Star Wars.
SDI lasers were built and tested. None of the systems ever cracked the case. SDI was a waste of money. Or so many believed. And yet those who thought deeply about it had realised from the first that it was not going to work. So why proceed with the scheme anyway? Well, they had a good reason for that, a secret plan, and that plan did work.
At the time, the Soviet Union was spending far more on defence than they could afford. Still, when the SDI became public knowledge they worried that they would be left behind. They started pouring money into their own version of it.
They also realised that another answer to such a system was simply to build more, and better, missiles and so they poured even more money into newer, more accurate warheads, mobile warheads, and more efficient delivery systems.
The effort bankrupt them. This is still a point of debate today, but mostly from people who still, for some reason, fail to recognise that a country can run out of money just as a business or an individual can.
The Soviet Union economy was in ruins when the system crashed.
I used to think about that a lot when, post 2011, people used to tell me that Rangers would never go bust. I remember a furious debate between Chick Young and Jim Traynor on Radio Scotland when Young had gotten a nod of the head from then chairman Alastair Johnston when he asked if the Big Tax Case could wipe the club out.
Traynor’s refusal to believe it led him to question Young’s journalism and eventually his integrity.
His mind simply could not cope with the idea.
I was telling people from at least 2009 that it was almost the inevitable consequence of Rangers’ over spending. My first major article on the subject, on E-Tims, called The End Of Rangers?, hails from that time.
The 2008 crash had left real estate values in the toilet. Murray’s whole business empire was teetering. Banks were going out of business … banks. Those sort of financial high tides could certainly wash away a Scottish football team.
The old wisdom was never more true; “Those who will not learn from history are destined to repeat it.”
Well, think of what could happen when people don’t just fail to learn from history but actually deny what happened.
Ibrox spends more than it earns.
The more they make, the more they spend.
This has always been true, as long as I can remember, and when the NewCo has already spent an estimated £80-100 million above and beyond earnings to win a single title you can see how easily they could have followed Ibrox to the grave.
Yet that’s not the question that nags at me.
The real question is what they would have been without that vast overspend.
Thinking about that can make you dizzy.
Everything myself and others write on the subject of Ibrox’s accounts is based on hard numbers. That’s all it is. It’s fact, based on an understanding of how money works in the real world. In the real world, as opposed to Scottish sports media fantasyland.
Think about the question for a moment. Ignore the colossal underachievement with that enormous sum and think of what they’d been had they not been able to spend it.
You’ll see why it’s dizzying.
You’ll see why it makes the heart beat a little faster.
There is a presumption that Ibrox would be the second biggest club in the land either way.
But it’s not true, or at least it’s not automatic.
The only two numbers that matter here is income and expenditure and those numbers have been consistent for as long as I’ve been doing this. To run a club the size of the Ibrox one costs tens of millions of pounds before you even employ a single footballer.
It took them £80-100 million to win a title … but that overlooks a bigger issue. It took that kind of money to put them in a position where they could consistently finish second.
That’s the reality. That’s the dilemma they’d have faced had they not spent that money.
“Do we even have the resources for a second place finish year on year?”
The infrastructure costs alone would give you a nosebleed, and if you surmise that the only thing keeping them from serious, hard choices are the number of fans they can sell season tickets to you have to remember that those sales will forever be tied to the club appearing to take seriously what has become their principle and defining mission; keeping up with us.
Notice that this doesn’t say “challenging us.”
It says keeping up with us.
There will be years in our future where the idea of them “challenging” simply does not apply.
Because that club is now locked into a death-spiral of overspending for years and then languishing in the preceding years as they pay for that splurge. They are in one of those periods right now.
Their director’s loans are being repaid annually, sucking millions out of the kitty every year for the foreseeable future. The Bassey fee has probably been swallowed up by court costs, paying off the previous management team and hiring the new one. Which leaves their Champions League bonanza, which is short of prize money as they didn’t win a single point.
They earned less this year in Europe than they did last season; that’s going to be borne out when those figures are made public this time next year.
All of this, in itself, would not be damaging to them if Celtic were not in rude financial health and, for the first time in decades, flexing that considerable muscle in a big, big way.
In the January window where Wilson will have to find money in the mattress for signings, we’ve already strengthened the strongest squad in the country, considerably, with millions in additional spending.
At this point in time, they are not competing. They are trying to keep up, and even that is being made increasingly difficult if not impossible.
Ponder this too; if we keep our squad intact through January, and even add to it, we will almost certainly win this title, and probably by a considerable margin.
That will guarantee the next Champions League pot of gold, and on top of that there is the distinct possibility that we can then sell Juranovic and others for enormous sums and plough much of that cash right back into the team, evolving us to another level again.
Their summer is already full of difficult choices.
Imagine the choice that we could force on them if we give Ange Postecoglou resources beyond their wildest imaginings. Then even “keeping up” loses much of its meaning for them and their fans.
Make them desperate. Desperate enough to take ever bigger risks.
Force them to try. Force them to over-reach again. Force them to sack another manager, pay off another backroom team, rebuild another squad and all the while we keep on reaching for the next rung on the ladder, fortified by a healthy bank balance, heading into a reformed Champions League where the riches of this one will seem like pennies.
What does “keeping up” start to look like then? Being visible in the rear-view mirror?
Go further. Turn the pressure dial up to full. Start looking at developing the Main Stand, add to the capacity even as theirs starts its slow tumble as fans are disillusioned and start staying away.
Open the gap ever wider and dare them to play the cards they have left.
What we’ve seen, clearly, is that Scottish football will always have a club calling itself Rangers.
But it’s the form that club takes which has always intrigued me most.
A hapless, helpless, shadow of itself, capable of winning the odd cup competition like every other side in the country who can catch a lucky break or go on a good run but for whom league titles become a distant memory.
As someone smarter than me once said, “that’s living, it’s not a life.”
That process might already have started. They’re watching us right now bringing in players and adding to the depth of this pool, and they have two options basically; try to keep up or know their place for a while. To accept reality and simply exist for now, focus on the summer and don’t put too much store in ego or pride or supremacist guff.
We all know what they’ll try to do. That club lives to raise, call, raise again … and every time you do you’re taking a little more off the top of your stack as you hope for the perfect card to come out of the pile.
Soon enough there’ll be no more chips to play with.
If you look at how Rangers fell you’ll see that the EBT era was in direct response to Martin O’Neill’s time at Celtic, the last time we threw our weight around as we’re doing right now. We’re in better shape now than were then too, because the effort caused us a few years of pain when we over-spent … but we won, and their club died.
That’s history, and we learned from it and they didn’t, so watch this window when it opens.
It will decide more than just a single league title.