William Butler Yeats infamous poem “The Second Coming” is about collapse.
It is about the disintegration of the world around us, and its change into something new, something horrific.
I’ve talked about evolution a lot today, in a positive context involving our club.
Let’s now delve into a different kind of evolution, or rather its polar opposite, devolution; going backwards, degenerating, moving from a state of calm and peace into something more anarchic and dangerous.
That’s what faces our biggest rival right now.
Yeats wrote his searing masterwork during a time of enormous upheaval.
The world was just emerging from a war, into the influenza pandemic in which his pregnant wife almost died. In Ireland, the Easter Rising was still on its way but the seeds of it had already been planted and were just starting to bloom. The Irish Parliament had met in Dublin and declared independence as Britain watched and pondered the next moves.
Yeats saw a world that was wracked by chaos with more in the post.
Even he didn’t know the half of it. Hitler would be Germany’s chancellor within 15 years and the world would be rocketed towards an even more destructive war.
Yeats had proved to be a prophet, and people never forgot that. The power of the poem can still be felt to this day, and the world we’re living in is a testament to why.
The idea that it could all unravel, and that the unravelling might be fast, is ever present, and the issue is summed up in one of his most notorious lines.
“The best lack all conviction whilst the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Most of us are just bone weary and heart sick about the state of things, and see no clear way out of the mess we’re in. In the meantime, those who have brought us to the brink continue to drive the engine of our own destruction with ever increasing speed. They don’t need to rouse themselves up in the morning, they are always busy and hard at it.
The origins of Ibrox’s current crisis, and the spiral into the summer, were right there from the start; as TS Elliot in another context said, “the end is in the beginning.”
When they crawled out of the grave of Rangers they made two key mistakes. The first was to pretend that they were Rangers, and that led automatically to the second. They refused to acknowledge how Rangers got there, which led to the same pattern of behaviour and all the same mistakes.
It didn’t have to be like that, and some of us said that at the time.
Penitence, acknowledgement and restitution would have changed the game.
I think often of Tony Blair’s speech to the Labour Party conference, in the shadow of 9/11, when he said one of the most significant things ever to come out of his mouth; the tragedy is that he couldn’t live up to the sentiments expressed, if he even meant them at all.
“The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”
Charles Green and those others who bought the assets of Rangers could have done things any way they liked. They could have decisively broken with the past, purged that club of sectarianism and bigotry and vowed to run it on a sustainable basis.
Instead they chose the path of least resistance and tapped the hate vein.
The haste with which he got out of the club – pockets bulging – shows you what he was all about.
He didn’t care about its long-term future, just his own short-term gains.
Everything he did was predicated on that. He set them on the present path.
Ashley and his people would have put a stop to the worst of it, had they been allowed to. But then King came along with that giant ego of his and instead of less insanity he turned the volume up to full. Ashley decided that the game wasn’t worth the candle. He retreated to a role behind the scenes, controlling only the kit deal and his fingerprints are all over that to this day.
No-one would ever call him the best of people, but Ibrox allowed the worst of people, “full of passionate intensity” to grab the controls … and now those people are all that stands between that club and something that is perhaps much worse.
At the weekend, their fans protested the board. They want Park out. They want Wilson out. We know that there’s reputedly an interested party, Kyle Fox and the Americans. Ibrox’s position on them is one of the most bizarre I’ve ever heard.
They would have taken her money but would not give her security on the value of her shares, seats on the board or even access to the hard numbers that underpin the whole club. That’s not a credible position for anyone facing potential investors to take. That was not a serious negotiation, and that means they have doubts about what the Americans are up to.
In any case, there is only the faintest hope for their fans that new investment would offer any sort of answer, something that they seem almost stonily determined to ignore. UEFA’s financial sustainability regulations would not permit sugar-daddy owners, even if they existed, to come in and start throwing money around like confetti.
The powers that be in Nyon would ask questions and finally impose sanctions when they didn’t get satisfactory answers.
That club is facing having to spend only what it earns for the first time in its short history, and Ibrox fans face following a club that can only spend what it earns for the first time in nearly 30 years. They should be preparing themselves for it.
But they never do. They never prepare.
They prefer to be fed, and to swallow, feel-good fluff even when, on some level, they know different.
A lot of their angst at the moment comes from realising that they convinced themselves that things were better than they are, that they really did believe all King’s fantasy nonsense about Celtic collapsing “like a house of cards” and that they would be ruling Scottish football for a generation.
As Patrick Ness beautifully put it in his superb novel A Monster Calls, “Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.”
They are experiencing that full-on at the moment, as the very real prospect of Celtic disappearing over the horizon looms.
Let’s, then, take a look at the critical period in front of them, and why they are in a lot of trouble.
Celtic has major structural advantages, and the ability to generate more money than they do.
That’s the first thing.
On top of that, we have cash in the bank, which allows us to face the future with confidence, whatever that future holds. Celtic could cope with a COVID level crisis if one struck again. It is difficult to believe that the Ibrox club would.
Secondly, we have a proven player trading model which is highly regarded south of the border and elsewhere, and even a few high profile failures – on the other end, not on ours, like Edouard and Dembele – have not changed that, as will be evidenced if, to use today’s example, Liel Abada goes in the summer for an eight figure sum.
Ibrox is looking to ape that system, but their version of it already looks radically different and much less sure; they are trying to do it on the cheap.
Of Celtic’s transfer success stories, only a handful – Ajer, Dembele, Wanyama and Frimpong – were signed for relatively small sums, and we got all of them young enough that their potential could properly be realised.
City resisted Frimpong moving. Dembele’s move to Celtic almost caused a meltdown at Fulham. Ajer and Wanyama were the result of brilliant scouting and a keen knowledge of what we expected from the players, and Ajer’s didn’t start paying off for a couple of years.
Of the other high profile deals, there was an initial outlay on those players which Celtic easily afforded and they weren’t cheap, by the standards of the game here.
Fraser Forster cost £2 million to make his deal permanent after we’d already paid a loan fee. Ki Sueng-Yung cost £2.1 million when we signed him. Stan Petrov was £2.8 million. Virgil Van Dijk cost us £2.6 million and so on.
These guys had to do two things; they had to be young enough that you could see them progressing and they had to be good enough to go right into the first team and start producing for the side.
That requires the club to have the ability to spend that kind of money on the chance that these guys can do the business. It requires more than just crossing your fingers and hoping.
Their two big hopes right now are Cantwell and Raskin.
But they got both of those guys in January for nominal fees, and Cantwell already has a history behind him of being lazy and prone to stroppy behaviour. Raskin was famously relegated to the reserves at Standard Liege after he virtually went on strike.
The press is hyping both of them, but just how good they are remains to be seen, and the club won’t turn a profit on either until, at the earliest, next summer.
This is the summer that has focussed their minds. This is the summer that has them concerned, and they should be concerned because they’re in big bother whether their fans acknowledge it or not.
Without a major sale, they barely have the ability to replace one of the guys going out far less all of them.
This bears repeating; without the sales and Edouard and Ajer there would have been little money with which to secure the double last season far less a potential treble in this one.
The money for a full-scale rebuild of the sort we’ve undertaken would not have been there. Whatever fools like The Mooch tell themselves, we do everything on a sustainable basis and this would have been no different.
With their ability to spend over earnings curtailed by the directors being unwilling to fund it out of their own pockets, their inability to do so anyway with UEFA watching every move and the lack of saleable assets to generate additional cash, their prospects of doing the rebuild on the scale they need are somewhere between slim and none.
So the objective conditions exist for an unfolding disaster.
They have two scenarios to consider when it comes to their out of contract stars leaving. Either these guys stay, on higher salaries and better conditions, or they go for free.
If they go for free then all these stalwarts of the team need to be replaced and because they don’t generate transfer income they have to be replaced on the cheap because that’s the new reality.
But equally, if these guy stay, earning more money, why should we be afraid of that?
These are proven failures, guys who haven’t taken them past us.
Why should we believe they’ll get any better?
The club might hope that retaining Kent and Morelos will one day allow them to sell these guys at a profit, but let’s be realistic; that hasn’t happened up until now and both players are available this summer and there are no takers. They aren’t going to sell these guys in the future for big bucks if nobody will take them right now, for nothing.
In the absence of automatic qualification for the Champions League they have qualifiers to play. We’ve already found out how difficult that is when you’re still trying to get your team in place.
If they go out early they parachute into the Europa League … if they have to budget for that – and they should if they have any sense – that’s bad from the standpoint of being able to buy players for the qualification campaign.
If they don’t budget for that and plan for the Champions League instead and then don’t get there, that’s degrees of magnitude worse in terms of the rest of the window and their outlook for the year ahead, with UEFA financial control watching everything.
Ange was given time to get his team together, by the club yes but also by the fans.
The Mooch will get no time. He will get no benefit of the doubt.
Questions are already being asked, and don’t forget they are being asked at a time when they are performing well above expectations in the league. If we win the Scottish Cup tie and beat them at Parkhead a lot of them will consider the Ibrox game a critical moment for him. Drop points there and they’ll be writing his obituary.
But all this isn’t even the worst case scenario for the club as a whole.
Managers live their whole lives under pressure, but they are sitting on top of a volcano. The chances of a full-scale descent into civil war are higher over there than they’ve been in years.
Their fans endured “the journey” in part because they were fuelled by hatred and a lust for revenge, as they saw it, on the people who put them in the bottom tier. That’s what comes with ignoring the facts and the reality of their situation.
But that anger did fulfil a useful function; it sold season tickets and for a while those baser emotions were enough to keep the money flowing into the coffers.
Now they’re in the top flight, now they’ve been there for several years, the demands are greater and the club needs to be winning things, or those same fans are going to conclude that that they’ve had all they can stomach.
Trying to make them understand the position the club is in, and their inability to operate in any other way from that which is coming, will be virtually impossible.
This is a support which has been fed and watered on supremacist guff for thirty years … trying to tell those people, now, that there are no easy solutions, no quick fixes and perhaps no long-term future in even the idea of “competing” with Celtic in the way they expect … well good luck with that. That’s a message none of them wants to hear.
The anger radiating from the stands is palpable.
It will only take us beating them in the cup semi-final and, to quote Yeats “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed.”
A club board in open warfare with their fans, unable to do what those fans demand and yet knowing that they have to be seen to at least try if they want to sell season tickets at all.
And waiting in the wings, the formerly deposed Dave King, Kyle Fox and the Americans.
Their intentions might be unclear but his own are no secret whatsoever.
He wants to topple the board and with 14% of the shares he can make plenty of trouble for them, and he will. Allied to King, because the board has made its own views on them clear, their largest group of fan shareholders, Club 1872.
If King decides that the strategy which best presents him with a win is to split the fan-base he has willing accomplices and an army of foot-soldiers ready to do their bit, provoked in no small part by the club’s own conduct towards them in recent weeks … including the insanity of the manager trying to pick a fight with them over a banner he personally found objectionable.
The Mooch himself is a character who has to be watched carefully here.
Nobody inside Ibrox should trust the manager for one minute.
He’s already demonstrated a capacity for ruthlessness and disloyalty towards his former employers – and he’s walked out on Ibrox once before, a fact none of them wants to be reminded about – which should trouble those who hired him and are about to plunge him into the centre of the summer’s chaos.
If it goes wrong, will he accept the blame for himself or, with two sides raging against each other in the war going on around him, will he take the opportunity to choose a side?
If he thinks the board hasn’t backed him properly, or if he can create that perception to get himself off the hook, what’s to stop him joining those calling for regime change?
What will the aftermath of another conflagration at Ibrox look like?
If the “blood dimmed tide” really is loosed over there, the guy most likely to benefit is King. Or, as Shelly once put it, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
We know this already, but as has been pointed out, he’s not the only scavenger scouring the landscape for the ravaged and torn detritus of battle and war. He would gladly inherit a Hellscape, if it would make him the “king of the ashes” as George RR Martin put it. For others that just makes the purchase price of the shares cheaper.
The danger in that scenario is difficult to understate. I’ve written about it before. Whatever comes to pass with the rest of this season and next, their fans might well consider these the days of wine and roses by comparison.
“Things fall apart,” Yeats wrote. “The centre cannot hold.”
The tinderbox is just waiting for the spark that sets it off. That’s where we come in.