LAST Friday, the Chairmen of the senior clubs in Scotland’s lower tier leagues did what most media commentators and pundits told us would be akin to turkeys voting for Christmas – they demanded that the club formerly known as Glasgow Rangers – “Sevco 5088″ being its current legal nomicker – be made to start in the fourth (and lowest) of the four Scottish senior leagues – the Scottish 3rd Division.
The message was overwhelming. Of the 30 members of the Scottish Football League (the “SFL” – comprised of the ‘diddy’ teams that don’t participate in the Scottish Premier League or “SPL”), 25 voted for the proposed new member to start in the lowest league.
To get to that stage, they had to agree to let them in to the SFL in the first place. In the minds of some, after all, this was a new entity without annual accounts, and (as it transpired overnight before the meeting) without the kind of information that generally backs such a submission. The former “Glasgow Rangers” having been Liquidated, and with ‘Sevco’ having until that point no league to play in, there was actually a chance that ‘The Rangers’ (as the new entity will supposedly be called) would tour the globe looking for exhibition matches while it waited for its next permanent port of call. But most agreed that while arguably an option (they didn’t meet the standard pre-requisite criteria for league entry and jumped ahead of other candidates), it would have been excessively harsh to boot them out of the game altogether – to fire them into orbit, as it were. As the BBC’s Richard Gordon put it, despite them having broken almost every rule in the book en route to their demise, “at some stage you have to stop kicking the corpse”.
Having let them back in, the options were then simple. Let them back into the second tier – SFL 1, or let them back into the fourth tier – SFL 3.
The first option represented the expedient ‘guddle’ – the option closest to the status quo, and the one that best preserved the interests of the richest clubs in Scottish football. The second option, while harmful to the Scottish game’s short-term finances, represented the opportunity to emerge from the whole sorry saga with some semblance of sporting integrity, and the opportunity to restructure the game for the long-term good. Short-term self interest versus long-term enlightened altruism, you might say.
Of course, the weight of institutional, media and political pressure had naturally been brought to bear ahead of the decisive meetings. At every stage, people were reminded that things must stay the same, or as close to the same was was possible. It was for our own good. The game would be denuded of the money it needs to sustain its ongoing existence, both in terms of gate receipts, and of media revenue. Despatch Rangers into the wilderness of SFL 3 (or worse) and Scottish football, not to mention Scottish society as a whole, will experience… well, take your pick – established media figures with prominence in Scotland rivalling that of Lineker, Hansen, Winter, Bernstein… almost all of them developed a habit of using words like “armageddon”.
And it’s here that the most interesting aspect of this whole story came into play. The country – the hitherto disenfranchised Diddies whose opinions had always been taken largely for granted – listened to what the ‘establishment’ figures told them, but for the first time (certainly in my living memory) they collectively reared up and said “hold on – we have resouces, and we have skills, and we have knowledge… and we believe you’re wrong. In fact, we suspect you’re wilfully misleading us.”
How about that eh? Long live Scotland’s rebellious heritage. Who’d have thought it was alive and well?
And further than that, the newly enlightened Diddies, realising they were in the almost unanimous company of fellow enlightened Diddies (in pubs, in stands, in smoking corners, and of course, online) got organised. They made sure that those with the power to represent their clubs knew their views, in many cases threatening to withdraw their patronage if their views weren’t taken into consideration.
(Of course, the Chairmen of many of these clubs (noted in Sunday’s excellent Guardian Sport Blog on the subject) were to a man well versed in running clubs on a shoestring, and of having to adapt to reduced annual income in order to survive. Alongside immediate fan pressure, threats of apocalypse from those representing the greedier clubs in the top tier would have been ‘slung a deafie’, as we say up north.)
It hasn’t all been bad in media terms either. A few notable exceptions emerged from the established media scrum over the months when the story unfolded, and it’s these people who the majority of Scottish football fans now trust when looking for news – people like Channel 4′s Alex Thompson, and the BBC’s Spence, Cowan, and Cosgrove, amongst others. However, the established ‘sacred cows’ of their profession – perhaps most notably Jim Traynor of the Daily Record – have emerged with their reputations in tatters. To see them now make repeated attempts both to reinvent themselves and to discredit the new media figures who supplanted them, well… someone with a little script writing nous really ought to buy the film rights. It wouldn’t take much tweaking to make the genuinely unbelievable seem plausible.
As Liverpool fans, of course, all this strikes a chord. We, the Diddies, were fed a constant diet of Bluetooth Headset stadia designs and be-suited bluster, and when we mobilised in favour of what was best for our club’s long-term future, many media figures (not to mention our erstwhile manager, now at the helm of England) told us we should simply sit down and shut up.
The Scottish tale has many a twist still to take, it seems, as the politics and double dealing continues unabated, not to mention the outstanding investigations and potential sanctions yet to be directed at the Rangers ‘cadaver’ – the entity still in liquidation. Dual player contracts, EBT beneficiaries… the Diddy masses have a postgraduate diploma yet to come to follow up their crash course Honours in football governance and tax law.
It all underlines the importance of blogs and podcasts like those offered on this very site. Most are now acknowledging the importance of the Rangers Tax Case blog, but beyond that, go to any Scottish football fans’ forum of any guise (and that includes the Glasgow Rangers fans – I by no means exclude them from the ‘enlightened Diddies’ tag – they’ve been more informed than most establishment figures would have hoped they might be in recent months) and you’ll see similar evidence of maven-driven research, collation and disemmination, and where needed, of concerted action to get their voice heard.
It’s reignited my belief that something fundamental has changed and a balance has been tipped to some extent. ‘Customers’ are, by the nature of modern social media, in many cases better informed than those in the traditional media, not to mention those who historically have been at the helm of the game. Only a few weeks ago, when Kenny Dalglish was sacked, I had my doubts. I said as much in an article at that time .
“[During the anti-H&G movement] fans experienced a greater sense of entitlement, and belief in their own empowerment to influence things. The reality, however, is now beginning to dawn on a few people. We believe we have empowerment and influence, but the cold hard irony is that we’ve been emasculated. We have the illusion of empowerment and enfranchisement. We are no longer acknowledged as needed for our spiritual sustenance – we exist to be cheerleaders, and consumers, and contributors to ‘fun’ online polls. We exist to be herded from website to website, and TV channel to TV channel, with our collective numbers helping determine just how much revenue the Limited Companies can extract from sponsors. Sponsors who, of course, have now assumed the enfranchisement the fans may have formerly enjoyed.”
It’s a view I still subscribe to if I’m honest, but with one new-found and important caveat. When things hit rock bottom, fans (particularly those involved in modern social media) can, possibly for the first time ever, be the key people in the decisions made. The Manchester United fans would maybe testify, however, that until things hit rock bottom, and while there’s still some remote chance that their club will compete for trophies, their worries won’t be taken into account, and the worriers – those who truly care for their clubs and the communities they represent – will be managed out of the equation as ‘noise’.
Regardless – to my point. Sites like this, and the multitude of forums we waste our daily lives on these days, have an important role to play in the way our game unfolds in the future.
For evidence, pull your chair up and pay closer attention to what’s going on North of the border. Who knows – it may stand you in good stead in the years to come.