Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Fuckyousaurus Rex

"There is no viable alternative...".  

Quick quiz - who said this today?

A clue - the speaker was defending his strong desire to ignore wrongdoing by organisations and individuals, on the basis that applying the letter of the law would inevitably lead to large losses in revenue.

Was it Chancellor George Osborne, defending criminal bankers from judicial inquiry?  Maybe it was Rupert Murdoch, in defence of phone-hacking and bribery...  Or could it be Barack Obama, explaining the necessity of promiscuous drone strikes?

Hell, maybe it sounds like Margaret Thatcher, once more addressing the Conservative Party conference from her armchair while her carer prepares her some egg soldiers and a nice pot of tea.

The answer: It was, of course, Stewart Regan, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, exhorting the nation to accept the readmission of Rangers Football Club - or at least, its revenant, zombified corpse - into the second flight of the senior game.

If you've found your jaw dropping in amazement at the tabloids' defence strategies at the Leveson Inquiry or your knuckles whitening as the rigging of financial rates has been explained away as a minor error, you haven't seen anything yet.

Regan's problem is that Rangers FC are dead, and that's a real threat to the money men in Scottish football.  It's simply the greatest crisis they've faced since the dawn of the professional game, and Stewart Regan is the rock at the centre of their defence.  Rangers must live - There Is No Alternative.

(Brief summary, for those not familiar with the situation)

An executive precis of how this situation came about is this - Rangers FC didn't die because they over-reached, as have so many other clubs, nor because they "dared to dream" in pursuit of European glory, or because they made foolish property deals.  

They're dead because, for most of the last twenty years, they were perhaps the first example of a criminal enterprise impersonating a football club.

The rest of Scottish football swam in the vast pool of money this activity created and, with their city rivals Celtic, Rangers were happy to splash and duck the other clubs as they liked.  When the financial crisis sucked up that big pool of money, clubs across Scotland were able to cover themselves by retrenching and refinancing as best they could while Rangers were left naked, cupping their balls in shame.  

Or, let's try another strained metaphor...  It's like there was a power cut during the evening soiree at Lady Hampden's country mansion and, when the lights suddenly came back on, there stood Reverend Rangers with Miss Motherwell's diamond necklace in his teeth and Colonel Caley's silver hip-flask in his left hand, while his right wiggled a wallet halfway out of Doctor Dundee's jacket.

(Summary ends)

While it remains to be seen how many of the highly credible allegations made against the club can be proven beyond doubt, the known facts have already shown it up as the worst corruption scandal in the history of British sport, by some distance.  Rangers were already the country's most successful club, yet they still felt the need to cheat...  And the Football Association are staking their own credibility, that of the Scottish game itself and even their own positions, on propping Rangers up.

So the SFA has a major problem on its hands.  Rangers FC are about to be liquidated and will return as an entirely new club with a similar-but-new name, playing in the same ground, yet still as an entirely new entity.  That new club has had its application to take Rangers' former position in the Scottish Premier League turned down, and the vacant slot will now be filled by a First Division outfit. 

Under the rules, the only remaining option for New Rangers - or for any non-league club trying to enter senior football - is to ask the other clubs for permission to join the Third Division, which is the fourth tier of the game.  After months of ignominy, even the club's own supporters appear to favour this option, if only to dissipate the rank stench of criminality wafting from Ibrox. 

Here's the solution that the SFA have devised - and get ready, because it's a humdinger...

1) Rip up the rulebook.

2) Offer struggling clubs a bribe to accept Rangers into the First Division, while also threatening them with the one-carelessly-dropped-match routine, and then 

3) Reorder the entire league structure...

...And all of it just to help just one club avoid its just desserts, so that the tills keep ringing.  

In customer service terms, the SFA's solution to the Rangers situation is a colossal, roaring Fuckyousaurus Rex of an affront.  The highest officials in the game and their press creatures have been pimping this proposal in the most brazen fashion as if it were the essence of reasonable compromise, rather than a very public gang-pishing upon the concept of fair competition. 

It tells fans loud and clear that all of those wet Saturdays watching their clubs slog away, hoping to win promotion on merit, were a sham.  It reduces the entire sport to the level of WWF Wrestling, without the enjoyment of seeing somebody rattle Lee McCulloch round the chops with a fold-up chair. 

As commenter Justin has noted, there's a name for this willingness to overlook wrongdoing for financial gain.  That word is corruption, and this corrupt scheme is the self-declared policy of the Scottish football authorities.

And did I mention that both the presidents of the SFA and the SFL own shares in Rangers FC, and that the former has been heavily implicated in the multi-million pound tax evasion case that was partly responsible for the club's demise?  

Much as I'd like to say that this corruption starts and ends with the SFA, it doesn't.  The top sides voted against allowing New Rangers to rejoin the top flight only under duress, on the threat of mass fan boycotts.  If you were to offer Celtic or Kilmarnock a chance to readmit New Rangers with impunity, you'd require microsurgery to reattach your bitten-off digits.

The chief executive of the SFA threatens clubs with the spectre of "social unrest" that could be caused if Rangers cease to exist entirely, invoking memories of recent incidents involving bullets and bombs being sent to footballers and political figures by disgruntled RFC supporters.  This is no light claim to raise - Raith Rovers FC, who are yet to vote on the proposals, have recently had to increase policing at their games because of firebomb threats that were likely made by Rangers fans.

The stain spreads.  Most of Scotland's media organisations are Glasgow-based, and the tabloids in particular survive on their football coverage.  A dead or drastically diminished Rangers will likely result in staff clearouts on sports desks all over the city.  Coincidentally, many of those journalists have spent the last week prophesying Armageddon - literally, Armageddon - if New Rangers are dealt with under the rules.

Rumours of collapsing sponsorship deals abound; a league without Rangers is even less attractive than it currently is, and the possibility of fleeing broadcasters threaten clubs with loss of vital TV income.  Political intervention is too little, and far too late to do any good.  Pressure is ratcheting up ahead of the vote.  

And here's where it gets interesting, if you've been exasperated by corruption in finance and the media - it looks like the clubs are going to vote against the proposals.

That is, the clubs in question are going to disregard the wishes of the money men and accept straitened circumstances, in the interests of "sporting integrity".  It'd be naive to imagine that the lower-league clubs don't have the bottom line in mind when they vote in accordance with their supporters' wishes, but a large proportion have already signaled their intentions.

And so Scottish football is in a position to do the entire nation a favour, here.  At Westminster, there are hundreds of ostentatious demands for high earners to pay their damn taxes, the same as the rest of us do.  There are a thousand pledges to run a river through the Augean stables of tabloid media and a million promises to end bonus culture and stop the banks rigging capitalism in their own favour.  

Here's the difference though - having declared their intent to uphold morality in the face of severe intimidation from proportionately similar entrenched interests, the SFL clubs may actually do it

Even if it sends some clubs to the wall, it's heartening to know that somebody, somewhere, finally drew a line in the sand and said No further.  You may wait a lifetime to see a repeat.