At the centre of the civil war currently raging at Ibrox is the subject of money. It dominates almost every conversation. It is the at the heart of everything they believe their current board is getting wrong. They don’t spend enough of it. They have no idea how to raise that which the club genuinely needs. They cannot “take them to the next level.”
Ask them what that means and you get a curious answer.
Once it would have been “to achieve our potential in Europe.”
Well, they got to a final and sacked the manager who did it not even 8 months later. The board would say they provided sufficient funds for that endeavour to have almost ended in success.
“It’s about winning the league,” their fans will fire back.
But the board can point to having done that not long ago as well.
They might not want to accept this, but when their board fires back at them about those inside the walls doing a good job, they have a case, of sorts. Yes, there is plenty wrong at Ibrox, but every criteria Ibrox fans could name for “success” is being met but one.
If I were on their board facing that sort of critique, I could bat it away all day long.
When Celtic fans were furious at the board two years ago there were very specific grievances and ones that were not that easy to dismiss. We were angry at the lack of strategic thought which went into the Lennon appointment.
We were angry at the way the directors seemed as if they were ignoring the fans wishes. We were angry that some of them had been in office too long, and were no longer capable of innovative thinking.
We were angry that they had appeared to sleep at the wheel, and allow a financially doped club from Ibrox to win a title when some of us had been screaming about the need for domestic FFP regulations for nearly ten years.
The successes of the club in the years before were offered as mitigation, but that didn’t answer any of our central points or concerns. And you’ll notice that amidst all that, there was one subject which didn’t come up for debate at all. Money.
What fixed things at Celtic was not even success. It was the appearance of a strategy at long last, and a sign that the right man is in the dugout. The signing policy has changed. The manager is in total control. There is no more interference in the Football Department from those not qualified to do so. These things have restored a lot of the trust.
With money never having been one of the issues, there was no need for the club to do things differently than they did before on that front. Spending what we earn isn’t just something that we’ve gotten used to, it is the secret sauce which holds the whole mix together. Not so across the city, and that’s why their problems continue to mount.
If you’ve ever watched Sunderland Til I Die, you know what happens when the adults walk into a room after years of letting the kids run the party.
At one stage, Charlie Methven tells the staff about their annual deficit; £40 million when his people took over, in no small part because whenever the club had a problem before that they would let the Americans know and Ellis Short would write a cheque.
And what that does is creates a culture that is difficult to change. That culture has had Ibrox in its grip for more than 20 years. Their fans have no concept of what living within your means looks like. Where would they be if they hadn’t spent these last ten years on financial dope? How do they think a new owner or new board would change that?
A new board would not be permitted to over-spend to the extent they’ve done; UEFA regulations will see to that. Sooner or later the same problems would confront them as confront the current board, and the current board knows it even if the fans don’t.
When they claim that the board has taken them as far as it can, they refuse to accept that perhaps they’ve taken them as far down the road of un-sustainable spending as any board would be able. Any new board which came in would need to make it clear to the fans on day one that there was no possibility of spending vast sums beyond what the club currently does.
The thing about a football club is that it has a voracious appetite; it will never stop being hungry for money. They more you give it, the more it eats. Fans always want you to feed it more, but eventually that becomes self-defeating. That time has arrived for Ibrox.
I said earlier that a cup semi-final win will send Ibrox into a downward spiral, just in time for the toughest summer they’ve ever faced.
Their fans believe that the club will pull money out of the mattress because it has to … but a lot of that will depend on what they are willing to do themselves, as fans, because the days of someone else writing the cheques are just about done.
Their club would do well to be straight with them, and with the manager, about that. There’s not going to be any further spending beyond their means. UEFA won’t permit it and there’s no appetite for it any longer amongst the board.
Even if these guys were to sell there would be no pot of gold.
Celtic fans have a genuine billionaire on the board, not a pretend one from Motherwell, and we have never expected that guy to put his hand in his pocket and fund a team. We work with what the club has, and we have gotten used to this, and it’s a point of pride for us all now that when we look at Celtic we can honestly say it belongs to us and we built it.
Why don’t they have the same sense of pride in theirs? Because someone else built it, someone else’s money, and now those days are over and those fans are going to find something out which must have haunted their nightmares for years.
Stripped of all the doping, forced to spend only what they earn, what’s their actual potential? What are they actually worth? And is it good enough to sustain even the bare bones of a challenge to a Celtic which has never looked stronger?