Clash of the Agnivores

By Pat Anderson

Sports, General non-fiction

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11 mins

Complete Control

Church bells rang out all over the world as the joyful news spread. Spontaneous street parties broke out on every continent while some folk just stood, tearful, overcome with emotion. It was like the Berlin Wall coming down, Nelson Mandela being released and the end of the Second World War all rolled into one. Rangers had been saved! Charles Green had arrived in the nick of time and prevented 140 years of history being flushed down the crapper.
Well, that’s the story we were fed by our esteemed Fourth Estate but it didn’t quite happen like that. In reality a tawdry, backstairs deal was done between Green and the administrators, Duff and Phelps before the liquidators arrived. Green picked up the assets for a song, while a cock-and-bull story about holding companies was broadcast to justify Green’s claim that it was the ‘same club’. In the process hundreds of creditors were shafted out of the money they were due, including the local paper shop.
If things were as simple as that it begs the question as to why the club was in administration so long. What was the point in trying to find buyers with huge bank accounts? What was the point in proposing CVAs? The whole thing could have been done and dusted within a couple of days of going into administration. The only problem with that is that Duff and Phelps wouldn’t have earned anywhere near as much as they did.
Our agnivores in the press were ready, just like Sooperally, to give their support to anyone. In April they had been all over Bill Ng like a rash, telling us how he had had a ‘lifelong passion’ for Rangers ever since he had seen them winning the European Cup-Winners’ Cup back in 1972. Strangely enough, Craig Whyte had been fired by the same passion; or so we were told. Wiser heads pointed out that Ng’s proposals didn’t quite add up. He seemed to think that £20m was going to be enough and there were doubts that he had enough money to do all the things he said he was going to. Eventually he pulled out, blaming Duff and Phelps for their intransigence.
Then we had Bill Miller, with his mad scheme of playing hide-and-seek with the assets. This was another guy with ‘wealth off the radar’ and our press was again all over him. The Daily Record even told us how his beauty-queen wife was going to be the ‘First Lady of Ibrox’.
The Rangers Supporters Trust denounced Miller’s plans, which involved putting the assets into a newco, letting Duff and Phelps try to get a CVA for Rangers and then amalgamating the newco with Rangers when everything was alright again. The danger with this was that Rangers might be liquidated and all that would be left would be a new club. Miller ended up pulling out, with the opposition of the fans being a major reason.
So everybody accepted that liquidation meant the death of Rangers; anything that came after would be a new club. So when Rangers did, eventually, die there was an air of resignation about the whole thing. They had come to half expect that their club wasn’t going to make it. Now here was somebody, in fact a lot of folk, telling them that their club hadn’t died at all. They couldn’t believe their good fortune! The Rangers support, including those in the media, were only too willing to swallow this story whole.
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Green at first. Sooperally was ready at one point to ‘do walking away’ when he apparently discovered that Green wanted rid of him. A ‘source’ said about Sooper, ‘Honesty, dignity and courage have always been the driving forces in McCoist’s make-up but he doesn’t think those qualities have been in abundance outwith the players, staff and fans.’
This was going to create major problems for Green. Sooperally had become a hero to The People and was the only link left with the old club. Getting rid of Sooper would mean an uphill climb in pretending that Green’s club was ‘still Rangers’. He also faced a threat to try to oust him, even though he had only just got himself ensconced in the Blue Room.
A consortium, made up of Douglas Park, described as ‘the bus tycoon,’ Jim McColl, the owner of Clyde Blowers and Walter Smith made plain their intention to buy Green out. This was going to be a formidable force to contend with, especially given Smith’s iconic status. Green said that he’d sell for £20m, which he knew this bunch would never come up with. Sooperally was bound to give this group his support, which meant that Green would be hard-pushed to sell even one season ticket.
It was obvious whose side our media was on. Yes, Green had saved Rangers but he wasn’t a ‘Real Rangers Man,’ was he? It was a case of, ‘Thank you very much for saving Rangers. Now fuck off!’
The People voiced their support for Smith and his gang, while the Rangers Supporters Trust called for a season-ticket boycott to starve Green out. Green was in an unusually conciliatory mood and offered to make Smith chairman of his new club. He said, ‘If Walter Smith wants to ring me, wants to meet me, wants me to go to his house, I’ll do it.’
When it came to the crunch Smith’s millionaires shit themselves and pulled out. Green, and his backer Zeus Capital, even offered to let the millionaires come in with them but, instead, they stormed off in the huff. Green was now the undisputed master at Ibrox. He also managed to get Sooperally onside. Sooper said that he had decided to stay because ‘The most important thing is the future of my club.’ It would be over a year before we discovered the real reason for Sooper’s change of heart. Suffice it to say that Scotland’s pie manufacturers never had it so good.
Since Green was the last man standing, and Sooperally was now on his side, the Rangers fans flocked to buy season tickets; something they thought they might never be able to do again. Charles Green went among them, giving out cups of tea and wee bottles of ginger for the weans. This, of course, went down well but not half as well as his belligerent language as he promised to ‘stand oop’ to the football authorities. A quick visit to East Belfast didn’t do him any harm either.
And so began the myth of Charles Green saving Rangers. Green played up to this fully, especially when it came to the investigation of the side letters by Lord Nimmo-Smith, acting on behalf of the SFA. Nobody was going to take titles away from Rangers, he maintained. They had an unbroken 140-year history, he said. Everybody’s got it in for them, he said. This was all mother’s milk, of course, to The People.
Our newspapers joined in, using words like ‘relegated’ to describe where Green’s Neo-Gers were in the league. In reality, of course, Scottish football, especially the supporters, weren’t going to stand by and see this new team shoe-horned into the SPL. Why should this club get any special favours? In truth, the new club shouldn’t even have been allowed into the leagues at all; there were other clubs in front of it in the queue. Even letting Neo-Gers into Division 3 was bending over backwards to accommodate them. The People, however, and their cheerleaders in the press, saw things differently.
Since Green’s club was still Rangers then there shouldn’t have been any argument about it. A points deduction for ‘a second insolvency event’ and that should have been it. This was ‘Scotland’s biggest club’ we were talking about; how dare they treat it this way! Obviously Green was right; everybody had it in for his club.
Leading the good fight was one James Sexton Traynor; affectionately known as Jabba to his readers and listeners. In a complete and utter show of sheer brass neck, he went back on his previous statements of Rangers being dead to become the main cheerleader of Green’s ‘Same Team’ agenda.
Of course, it did not matter in the slightest if none of the rest of us bought into the Big Lie that this club was ‘still Rangers’. After all, none of us were ever going to buy season tickets or merchandise, were we? This campaign was aimed squarely at The People and, more specifically, their wallets.
Jabba conjured up different bogeymen that had ‘nearly’ destroyed Rangers. HMRC was the first. Incredibly, he expected us all to believe that Her Majesty’s tax inspectors went after Rangers out of sheer hatred and bigotry. David Murray had offered a settlement, but no; HMRC had to see it through to the bitter end.
Then we had the SFA and the SPL. They should have listened to Jabba. How could Scottish football in general, and, more specifically, the SPL, survive without Rangers? After all, Rangers was the biggest club in the universe, spreading financial largesse to all the lesser teams. Armageddon was coming and it was all the fault of the SPL for ‘relegating’ Rangers and the SFA for standing by and allowing this to happen.
But the biggest bogeyman of all was Craig Whyte; after all, Rangers went into administration on his watch. Jabba started to say that Rangers’ debt had been reduced to a manageable level before Whyte came on the scene. He even went on a BBC programme blaming Whyte for everything, coming out with the classic line, ‘I’ve been saying this all along!’
In fact, he had been saying nothing of the kind. In 2010 he went on and on about how the ‘Lifelong Light Blues fan’ was coming to plough millions into the club. In June 2011 he was talking about ‘front-loaded war chests,’ whatever the hell that means. This cash was going to be ‘ring-fenced’ and more would be available if Sooperally needed it.
Now, however, in late 2012, Whyte was Satan incarnate. Of course, blaming Craig Whyte let Jabba’s god, the divine David Murray, who dispensed succulent lamb to the chosen, off the hook. Partaking of the Agnus Davi, however, came at a high cost. You were entering into a sacred covenant, where you had to give over your life to protecting your god. It’s like one of those strange, American cults.
Green seemed to be the new messiah, carrying on where Murray had left off. Whyte had done his best to destroy Rangers but had failed. Things were going to get back to normal, while all over Britain the sphincters of new-born lambs quivered in fearful anticipation.
Everybody in the press followed Jabba in slavish admiration of Green, especially praising his outspokenness and Yorkshire bluntness. Jabba’s old friend, David Leggat, he of the Presbyterian granny, took time out from his eternal, one-sided feud with Graham Spiers to say how wonderful Green was. Not only that, but Green’s associates, like Imran Ahmad and Brian Stockbridge, were the best things that had ever happened at Ibrox and they were more than suitable as custodians of the Neo-Gers, or Rangers, as many would have us believe.
Only one discordant note was sounded. A baldy ex-Rangers player stood on the steps at Ibrox, dressed in his dad’s ill-fitting, old demob suit, and shouted, ‘Showzzideeds!’ Whose name was on them? In the general feeling of overwhelming joy, however, his protestations were completely ignored.
Of course, when it came to the practicalities of Neo-Gers’ existence, the Big Lie had no place. There was trepidation over whether the team would be able to play at all; it was not registered with the SFA as a club. Our great leaders, however, were ready to ride to the rescue. A temporary licence was issued, an unprecedented act, to allow the Neo-Gers to play their first league game against Peterhead. Afterwards, the licence of Rangers was transferred over to the Neo-Gers. Surely this wouldn’t have been necessary if it was still the same club?
On the field things were not that great. Neo-Gers’ very first match in Division 3 ended in a draw against Peterhead. After that things did not get much better as any wins they did get were by a very slender margin and often the result of a penalty or the opposition being reduced to ten men. This lack of quality, however, was put down to Sooperally having to cope with a depleted squad. Things were bound to pick up.
Green huffed and puffed about the players that left after liquidation. According to him, those players should have remained at Ibrox under TUPE regulations. These regulations, however, only apply if the company, in this case Rangers, is actually taken over. Green did nothing more than buy the assets but it is testament to the work of himself and his supporters in the media that he evidently believed that he had taken over, and saved, Rangers. Nobody, except the usual ‘internet bampots’ tried to disabuse him of this fantasy.
As to Sooperally’s squad, the transfer embargo imposed on Neo-Gers, rather conveniently, did not come into effect until the transfer window was closed. Sooper had the same amount of time as every other manager to suss out players and he did sign a couple from the SPL. The press still insisted, however, in calling the Neo-Gers team ‘kids’ and in claiming that Sooperally was playing with a vastly depleted squad.
A huge boost for the Big Lie came in December when the European Club Association let Green’s club remain within it, albeit as associate members. It was a strange business, though. The ECA is based at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. Under Swiss law, ‘membership of an association is neither heritable nor transferable’. So Neo-Gers had to apply for membership. There was a stumbling block, though; members had to be in their country’s top division and have a UEFA club licence. It looked as if their application would be refused.
The weird thing was that the ECA then stated, ‘Taking into account that the 'new entity' also acquired the goodwill of the 'old entity', it was held by the ECA executive board that the goodwill, taking into account legal and practical arguments, also included the history of the 'old company'. Effectively, the ECA decided that Green’s club was Rangers, since it had inherited all the history. Since all founder members of the ECA, of which Rangers had been one, were guaranteed automatic membership. Green’s club, therefore, was allowed in, called Rangers and was treated as if it was still the old club. Their associate membership meant that Neo-Gers was not allowed to vote on any issues.
It’s a tricky business all this stuff about history. When you’re ready to graduate from university, having completed three or four years of study, you have to apply to receive your degree; they don’t just hand it over automatically. You actually have to apply to the University Bursar’s office so they can check to see if you owe them any money. If you do, and you don’t pay up then you ain’t getting your degree. You can argue till you’re blue in the face but no money, no degree.
Effectively all the history of your time at university means nothing. Who’s going to give you a job when you don’t have a degree certificate to prove what you’ve been studying and how you did in your exams? The money you owe to the university is part of your university history. You have to accept all of your history; you can’t just cherry pick which bits suit you.
Surely the same should apply to football teams. Yes, I know businesses liquidate and start over all the time, shafting creditors left, right and centre, but very few would be stupid enough to claim to be the same company. If any did they would be liable for the debts of the old company. Green appeared to be getting away with claiming to be the same in some circumstances, but different in others. If his club was inheriting the history of the old club then surely that should include its debts? Obviously the rules, not to mention the law, were being bent almost to breaking point just to accommodate this one club.
There was a huge degree of double standards at play too in the ECA decision. If Green’s club was still Rangers, one of the founding members of the ECA, then why did it have to apply for membership? Nobody, however, was interested in answering these questions; probably because they couldn’t. To The People and their friends in the media, however, this acceptance by the ECA was nothing short of a triumph.
Meanwhile, opposition to the Big Lie was jumped on and squashed. First we had the craven capitulation of The Sun. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s book, ‘Downfall,’ had already caused ructions in book stores, where staff were openly threatened for stocking it. The Sun newspaper (I use the term loosely) carried an interview with Mac Giolla Bhain, telling how his life was under threat. The paper then proposed to serialise the book, relating ‘How Rangers self-destructed’. Cue all the angry phone calls, e-mails and threats to The Sun.
Whether it was fear of violence, or straightforward fear of a circulation drop, The Sun caved in and decided not to go ahead with the serialisation. They gave as a reason the supposed fact that Mac Giolla Bhain was ‘tarred with the brush of sectarianism.’ They didn’t bother, of course, to mention who had been wielding the brush.
And so a major voice of dissent was silenced. David Leggat was overjoyed and lost no time in telling The People just what he thought of Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. His Presbyterian granny had no doubt been turning in her grave at the thought of one of them being given a platform in a newspaper!
There was one minor problem that still had to be fixed: the Daily Record online forum. Day after day there was all manner of racist and bigoted posts on this forum; words like Fenian, Taig, Tarrier and Papes were used without any censorship or censure. At the weekend all posts by Celtic supporters were mysteriously deleted, while those of The People were allowed to stand, no matter what they said. The Daily Record IT staff claimed that they were being hacked but they hardly moved Heaven and Earth to fix the problem.
The major cause for concern was what the paper called, ‘personal abuse’ directed against ‘members of our staff.’ I never saw any such abuse. What I did see, however, was the staff being exposed as hypocrites. Jabba was constantly reminded of his assertion that Rangers had died; a fact that he seemed to have conveniently forgotten. Also, whenever any Daily Record writer started banging on about the ‘evil’ Craig Whyte, the terms ‘wealth off the radar,’ ‘frontloaded war chests’ and ‘lifelong Rangers-supporting billionaire’ were cast up in their faces. Obviously this couldn’t be permitted to go on.
And so, on the 13th October 2012 the Daily Record decided that it would no longer allow comments on its football stories. Thus the opposition to the Big Lie was being systematically wiped out and being forced to become the preserve solely of the ‘Internet Bampot’.
Meanwhile, Charles Green’s lashing out at all and sundry had caught up with him and he was hauled up before the SFA for bringing the game into disrepute. The evidence was there for all to see; his interviews on the television and in the newspapers, where he called everyone bigots and even questioned the integrity of Lord Nimmo-Smith. Incredibly, the SFA decided to find the case against Green Not Proven.
A ‘Not Proven’ verdict means neither innocent nor guilty; Jabba, however, proclaimed Green ‘cleared of all charges.’ He also said that Green was now being more conciliatory. Green showed this by issuing one of his usual threats. 'Perhaps it is time that those people within the SPL who have been pursuing Rangers at every turn take stock.'
The whole affair was a fiasco and, if anything, showed that the Neo-Gers were going to be handled with the same kid gloves as Rangers always had been. This would help in the promotion of the idea that Rangers had never died and were still around. Of course, having Campbell Ogilvie EBT as president of the SFA couldn’t hurt either!
So Green was allowed to carry on his merry way, accusing everybody of having it in for his club, while Jabba cheered him on from the sidelines. The official Daily Record line was now that Rangers were still around, Green was right about everything and anyone that said differently was a bigot.
If Green had taken the time to take a good look at what had been going on around him, however, instead of getting caught up in all the nonsense, he might have planned a bit better for the future. The supporters, and the agnivores in the media, were ready to turn on him at the drop of a hat. He was playing a dangerous game. He might have been better off admitting that his was a new team and starting from scratch instead of going for the fast buck. He was not a ‘Real Rangers Man’ and never would be. There were plenty of those that were that would be only too willing to stab him in the back.



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