Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Dogs Bark

The Dogs Bark

One of Scotland’s trashier papers allowed its pet ‘Rangers blogger’ to publish a piece this week on the wonderful job Dave King is doing at Ibrox. We are asked to look and marvel at the brilliance of the Ibrox board’s acumen. Of course such articles are little more than season ticket advertisements which normally I wouldn’t even read, however the article’s made certain accusations about Fergus McCann which need to be corrected. Under the headline ‘Dave King is in it for the silverware but Fergus McCann only wanted silver’ the rather strangulated prose of the author informs us with a blithe disregard for facts that…

‘’It’s tempting to draw parallels with what has been achieved to Fergus McCann who undoubtedly saved Celtic in their time of crisis but the difference is in the detail. McCann smelt business opportunity and walked away with a huge profit. His motives were not altruism, and the good state of Celtic on his departure was simply a happy by-product of his reign rather than the key objective. Perhaps that’s why he departed to a chorus of boos although that has been swept away in a reformed, revisionist history. King on the other hand is no McCann. He will make no gain, no swag bag of financial reward. Success on the park is no mere by-product, it’s the principal aim. Perhaps it’s this truth, that rankles with so many.’’
Where to begin with this pile of tosh?  The Celtic Fergus McCann took over after a bitter struggle with the old board in March 1994 was a club in terminal decline. Celtic in 1994 had a stadium in need of rebuilding, a failing team a support in open revolt and accounts which suggested major investment was the only thing which could save the club from financial meltdown. He sent out a letter to Celtic supporters outlining his plans and what needed to be done to put the club back on the road to success. First off was the need for a share issue which would recapitalise the club and allow the creditors to be paid. Unlike a certain other club he would not take the easy way out and shaft the creditors. McCann said tellingly in later years…
“It would’ve cost less, and left the previous owners with nothing, to go into liquidation. But it would also be humiliating for Celtic. So we paid all the bills. Celtic means the same to me as it does to other fans. I identify with the club and wish to be proud of it.”
McCann’s share issue was a huge gamble for him for had it failed to raise the necessary money, he had underwritten any shortfall and would have had to carry the can. It turned out to be the most successful in British Football history as thousands of ordinary Celtic fans rallied to save their club. One cannot help but contrast this to the sullen inaction of Rangers supporters as their club sank into liquidation in 2012. Rather than face up to the truth and look for solutions they attacked the messengers who warned that the hubris and financial insanity of the Murray years was leading them to extinction. Yes, McCann was and is a capitalist who made money from his investments in Celtic but to say this was the chief motivation of a man who clearly loved Celtic is just nonsense. Those who booed him in 1998 did so in the wake of Wim Jansen’s departure and in the face of a frankly disgusting hatchet job being done on McCann by the gutter press.
The same ‘news’ paper which printed this half-baked article with its digs at McCann was also the rag which compared him to Saddam Hussein. It was also the rag in which James Traynor urged him to ‘Go now or be hated forever.’ Fergus McCann was not perfect. He put the financial well-being of the club above any rash spending on the team. He expected players to honour the contracts they signed and not agitate for more money or a move. He could be inflexible and even ruthless but he wanted Celtic to succeed on and off the field.  He once said at an AGM...
 "I tell you that 90% of the people here are not interested in business. They are interested only in the playing side of things. I tell you that without the business, there would be no club - and NO team."
Fergus left Celtic in 1999 in a far better condition than he found it. He had led the renaissance of a club which was in trouble on and off the field. The stadium was rebuilt, the team finally became Champions, the charitable ethos of the club put on a more secure footing with the birth of the Celtic Foundation and the supporters given hope again. The new century sees the club as the dominant force in Scottish football having won 11 titles in 16 years. Rangers as we know collapsed in ignominy and disgrace with a certain Dave King on the board as a non-executive director.
For anyone to claim that Dave King is somehow on a higher moral plane than Fergus McCann is simply preposterous. It was said of King in the South African court by Judge Brian Southwood after he had seen King testify…
 “We are unanimous in finding that he is a mendacious witness whose evidence should not be accepted on any issue unless it is support by documents and other objective evidence. It was remarkable that King showed no sign of embarrassment or any emotion when he conceded that he had lied to the (Sars) commissioner in a number of his income tax returns. In our assessment, he is a glib and shameless liar.’’
The only revisionists are those who deny these facts and the fact that Rangers died owing 276 creditors millions of pounds. That embarrassment is what really irks and no cheap digs at Fergus McCann will change those facts.
Postscript: August 2014, Fergus McCann is invited to unveil Celtic’s League flag and is given a standing ovation by the huge Celtic support. There is recognition of what he did for Celtic and vindication that his sensible financial approach was right. As he once said when the gutter press were attacking him in the 1990s… ‘The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.’

Saturday, 18 June 2016

When the Fates Conspire

When the fates conspire

The mid-1960s through to the mid-1970s is considered a golden era in the history of Celtic Football Club. Not only was the team a force to be reckoned with at home and abroad, they were also building a second string of talented players which might well have carried Celtic’s dominance of Scottish football on for many more years. The so called ‘Quality Street Gang’ was an extremely talented group of young players which it was hoped would in time replace the legendary Lisbon Lions. Celtic, as one of the best teams in Europe could attract youngsters from all over Scotland and the brightest and the best learned their trade under the watchful eye of Jock Stein who allowed them to train with the first team on a regular basis.

The Quality Street Gang contained players of real quality such As McGrain, Dalglish, Davidson, Connelly, Wilson, Hay and Macari. Other gifted players who may not be so readily known to the younger Celtic supporters also played in that talented young team. Among them were Tony McBride, John Gorman, Bobby Wraith, Billy Murdoch, Dave Cattanach, Pat McMahon and the supremely gifted Brian McLaughlin. A mark of how good this group of youngsters were is the statistics for season 1970-71 which were recounted in Paul John Dykes excellent book on the Quality Street Gang...

‘’The Quality Street Kids were wreaking havoc as the highest goal scorers in Britain. Kenny Dalglish was mesmerising with 16 goals in a mere six games. With such glorious firepower the reserves wrapped up the League title, the League Cup and the Second XI Cup treble. Rivals Rangers were beaten three times out of hand in eight days of madness – the League and two-legged League Cup Final. The games weren’t even close: 7-1, 4-1 and 6-1. Kenny Dalglish may have plundered 43 goals in two campaigns but his exploits were overshadowed by Vic Davidson, 92, and Lou Macari, 91.’’

History was not kind to Celtic in subsequent years as so many of that excellent group of youngsters were not to serve Celtic in the manner it was hoped. The Board in their short sighted parsimony under paid players and ensured once they reached maturity and mixed with well-paid English based Scots in the national team, they became disgruntled. David Hay was being paid £60 per week basic at Celtic and when he was sold to Chelsea he started on a wage of £210 per week. ‘I only wanted what I was worth’ Hay would later reflect and he would have stayed with the team he loved if they had paid him an appropriate wage. Macari was sold to Manchester United, Dalglish to Liverpool and the excellent George Connelly was lost to football altogether as he fought his own personal demons. Others were allowed to leave and only the wonderful Danny McGrain stuck it out at Celtic for virtually his whole career.

The promise of the late sixties and early seventies had been allowed to slip away partly by circumstance and partly from the actions of a board which seemed to think there would always be more talent coming through to replace those they sold. Some of the Quality Street Gang went on to have excellent careers while others pottered about at lesser clubs or left football altogether. One of the most promising players of that era was Brian McLaughlin. The Falkirk lad was Celtic mad and his dreams came true when he was signed by Celtic on an ‘S Form’ in 1968. He was described by Tom Harvey, the Janitor of St Mungo’s High School in Falkirk, who also happened to be a Celtic scout, as the most talented Schoolboy player he had ever seen. His potential was recognised and he signed his first professional contract with Celtic in 1971, making his debut at just 16 in a 6-2 victory over Clydebank. Brian was tagged with the nickname ‘Super’ by those who trained and played with him. Jock Stein thought he had the most potential among a glittering group of youngsters at Celtic Park.

Within a couple of years the talented right sided midfielder was pushing much more experienced players for a place in the side. Supporters warmed to the pacey, skillful Falkirk lad and a bright future seemed assured. Brian played at Ibrox in August 1973 and helped Celtic to a 2-1 victory in front of more than 63,000 fans.  That September though his career ground to a juddering half following a tackle by Clyde defender Willie McVie, which even in the harsh world of 1970s football was described as ‘brutal.’  Celtic were cruising at 2-0 in a game they would win by 5 goals when McVie’s horrendous challenge arrived. The damage it inflicted to McLaughlin’s knee was career threatening and Stein was said to be very dismayed as he listened to the physio’s report. Here was one of his brightest young stars taken out in a brutal and cynical manner. It was a cruel blow and one the talented youngster never really recovered from.

Celtic stuck with Brian McLaughlin and helped him through a long and arduous recovery process. He would go AWOL on occasion and show up at his extended family’s home in Donegal. He did play the odd first team game after his injury and managed a goal in the European Cup against Jeunnese Esch of Luxemburg. However it was clear he struggled to find the sparkle and form which made him the most sought after youngster in Scotland. He was transferred to Ayr United in 1977 and scored against Celtic in a memorable 2-1 win for United. His career continued in relative obscurity until he retired from football.

Brian passed away at the tragically young age of 54 in 2009. He followed the fortunes of Celtic all his life. They were his team and if the fates conspired to deny him the great career at the club he loved, we should still remember him fondly. All who met him spoke of a ‘great wee guy’ with a heart of gold.  Perhaps it could be argued with some truth that he didn’t fulfill his potential at Celtic Park but given the horrendous injury he suffered we can forgive him that. For a while at least he lived every young Celts dream of pulling on those hooped shirts and representing the team he loved. No one can take that away from him.

Rest in Peace, Brian.

Brian McLaughlin (1954-2009)
Celtic player and Celtic Fan
Hail Hail

Sunday, 12 June 2016

People in Glass Houses

People in Glass Houses

Years ago I picked up a book in my local Library entitled ‘The Faithful Tribe’ by Ruth Dudley Edwards. It was a rather sympathetic look at the Loyal Institutions in the north of Ireland and portrayed them in a most favourable light. Ruth was born in the Irish Republic and built a reputation as something of a revisionist historian. Her book on the Orange Order and its sister institutions was interesting but there were huge omissions which didn’t quite suit her narrative of the ‘faithful tribe’ being nice folk who were simply misunderstood and poor at public relations. Just as any group with a large number of members will have its share of rogues, so too have the Loyal institutions. I’m sure any cursory look at the history of the troubles will find some members of the Orders heavily involved in a variety of activities which Ruth chose to ignore in her rather fawning book.

This last week she popped up again writing an article in the Belfast Telegraph about the ‘demonization of Loyalists’ here in Scotland. Her article ruffled a few feathers and in honesty showed a complete lack of understanding of the social, political and sporting history of Scotland. She stated among other things…

‘’ I don’t for one minute ignore the abuse of Taigs and Tims and Fenians, but the insults from republicans are of a different order, for they echo the language of demonization republicans practised so ruthlessly in Northern Ireland and exhibit the same contempt for loyalists. Back now in the top tier, their enemies call them Sevco and refer to their supporters as Sevconians, which the Urban Dictionary tells me refers to people “usually bald and toothless” and “consumed with bigotry and lies” who insist they are really Rangers. On the website of Rangers supporters the Vanguard Bears, there is a thoughtful blog called “Dehumanisation and the end game”, which gets to the heart of the matter. It is dehumanising to deny the club’s identity by refusing to call it Rangers and to refer to its supporters as “Ku Klux Klan”, “Nazis”, “Huns”, “knuckledraggers” and “scum”. An important part of the process of dehumanisation, as discussed in the blog, is deindividuation, whereby individuals are seen as a member of a category or group, rather than being seen as a person”.
Dudley Edwards equates Rangers Supporters and Loyalists in a way that is only partially true, not all loyalists are Rangers supporters and not all Rangers supporters are Loyalists. Despite this, I read the Vanguard Bears article and thought as I did so of the unbridled hypocrisy it contained. Every single complaint they laid at the door of ‘those who hate us’ could just as easily be made about the behaviour of elements among their own support. Indeed the comments section after the article contained many of the old stock phrases about ‘Papes’ etc with no sense that the writers saw the irony of their own comments.

There is no doubt that the distaste being shown towards the more bellicose elements among the Rangers support in recent years by supporters of many clubs has increased.  This has to do with the fallout from liquidation, the arrogance and lack of contrition from the club about what occurred and of course the perceived unfairness of the EBT years. The continuing bullying of those who expound a different narrative from theirs about the events of 2012 is perhaps another element in all of this as is the continuing singing of songs increasingly out of step with modern Scotland. An often unrecognised element though is the fact that as Scotland awoke politically in the run up to the 2014 referendum the existence of an aggressive unionist/Loyalist contingent among the Rangers support became more apparent to a wider audience. The ire this group normally reserved for Celtic and the Irish-Scottish community was turned on the wider ‘Yes’ voting community in a manner which appalled many. Their language morphed into terms reminiscent of the troubles in the north of Ireland. Indeed some spoke of the ‘Ulsterisation’ of Scottish politics but that was surely an exaggeration as most Scots are unreceptive to extreme views of any kind.  

Ruth Dudley Edwards is right about the use of language being a powerful weapon to undermine or dehumanise people and there is a significant minority on all sides in Scottish football who overstep the mark at times. However this isn’t about the ‘demonisation of Loyalists’ it’s about the antics of that moronic element which attaches itself to all football clubs. You’ll see it in deeply vitriolic terms in England for instance where the more moronic followers of Manchester United and Liverpool will stoop to mentioning Hillsborough or Munich to irk their rivals. Decent fans of all clubs have no time for such stupidity and while many join in the banter and hold strong opinions about their rivals, few seriously try to dehumanise anyone. How could they when families are so inter mixed in Scotland. The community polarisation which occurred in the North of Ireland, where according to some surveys fewer than 6% of marriages are ‘mixed’ never occurred in Scotland. Scotland absorbed literally hundreds of thousands of Irish migrants without any serious social disruption or disorder occurring.

The poor behaviour of a minority of Hibs supporters at the cup final or the crude terminology used on social media about the worst elements of the Rangers support are not symptoms of demonization or dehumanisation they are symptoms of the run of the mill contempt the more uncouth football supporters the world over exhibit towards their rivals. Celtic supporters deal with jibes such as bead rattlers, Fenians, Paedos, Provo lovers, Bheasts, Taigs, etc. The vast majority know that such terms say more about those using them than their intended targets. There is dislike of Rangers and their more vitriolic followers, even hatred in some quarters but to equate it to the ‘dehumanisation’ is simply wrong. If you want to see what real dehumanisation is, a good history of the Holocaust or Rwandan genocide will enlighten you.

That being said, people do need to make a choice about the terminology they use about others. Most folk are decent and avoid the more cutting terms. I stopped using the term ‘Hun’ years ago, not because it’s sectarian because in the Scottish context it never was, but because others ‘rebranded’ it and now use it as ‘proof’ that Celtic fans are routinely sectarian. In the final analysis the decent majority at all clubs know that these issues aren’t about Loyalist against Republicans, Celtic against Rangers or any other fabricated division. They remain a struggle between the decent football supporters at all clubs and the less cerebral minority among their supports who try drag them down to their level. That’s the real battle which must be won.

As for the Vanguard Bears, their rather overblown article was no doubt well-meaning but people in glass houses had best beware throwing stones. As I read their article I thought of the scene in Silence of the Lambs where FBI agent Clarice Starling is analysed by the brilliant but insane Hannibal Lecter in devastating fashion, she listens to his words before retorting…

‘’You see a lot, doctor. But can you point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you – why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to...’’

In the final analysis the best way to be thought of and treated as a decent human being is to behave like one.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The bhoy in Ward 13

The bhoy in Ward 13

He stood in the dimly lit tunnel his comrades lined up beside him. Ahead he could see sunlight slanting into the tunnel entrance and hear the rumble of the crowd like distant thunder. It was a hot one today but he was ready and so were his team mates. This would be their greatest challenge but then he’d faced some tough challenges in his life. As they waited for the referee’s signal, his mind drifted through the years back to a more difficult time in his life…

Doctor McKenzie subconsciously stroked his beard in the manner he did when he had important things on his mind. As he strolled along the corridor leading to Ward 13 of Belvidere Hospital, he put on the serious face he reserved for bad news and entered the ward. He spoke briefly to the duty Sister before he turned to the man lying on the bed to his left. He sat down and looked at the bright eyes of a young man on the cusp of life.

‘Stephen, I want you to listen very carefully. You are suffering from Mycobacterium tuberculosis of the meninges. We often call it TBM for short. The inflammation is concentrated towards the base of the brain and in the membranes which blanket and protect the central nervous system. There is much which can be done but the treatment is somewhat rough and I must warn you that not all the outcomes are satisfactory.’

The young man looked at him trying to take in all of the things he had heard. ‘Not satisfactory? What do you mean, I could be crippled?’ The Doctor’s face betrayed no emotion. ‘That is always a possibility, Stephen. I must warn you that a percentage of cases of TBM prove fatal. Now you’re a fit and strong young man and we may be able to intervene in a satisfactory manner but I’d be derelict in my duty if I didn’t lay the facts before you and warn you of the risks.’ The young man exhaled a troubled look on his face. ‘Thank you Doctor, I appreciate your honesty.’ The Doctor outlined the process ahead as Stephen listened in silence. Despite what he was hearing a quiet determination was growing inside him. He’d fight this. He’d fight it with everything he had.

The next few months were an extremely difficult time for young Stephen. He forgot all about his football with Kirkintilloch. He had more important battles on his hands now. He grew to dread the days when the young Doctor would enter Ward 13 pushing a small metal trolley with the utensils he needed covered with a white cloth. The curtains would be drawn around the bed and Stephen would assume the position on the bed he had been shown. He knelt on the mattress, face pressed onto the cool surface of the pillow. This allowed his spine to be fully extended. It was only then the agonising business of the lumbar puncture could take place. The young Doctor would produce a large syringe and use it to draw fluid from around his spine. Stephen hated it but he gritted his teeth, determined that he wouldn’t become negative. He’d fight this illness just as he fought every tough defender he’d come up against in the rough world of Scottish Junior football.

For six long months he stayed in Ward 13, enduring the harsh treatment which it was hoped would cure him. He was ordered to stay in bed and have complete rest but as his natural fitness ebbed away he would choose quiet moments to slip his legs from under the blankets and exercise them gently. He loved football and the thought of never playing again disturbed him. On more than one occasion during his months in Belvidere he had watched as curtains were drawn around one of the beds in Ward 13 and Doctors and Nurses rushed in and out. Then there was that ominous calm and they walked away, silence hanging heavy on their lips. Within a few minutes the Porters would arrive and remove the person who had lost their fight. Stephen would roll over in those moments and close his eyes saying a small prayer for the deceased and if he was honest, for himself too.

On some Saturday afternoons as he lay in his bed he would hear a distant roar, like a rumbling train. He knew it was the crowd at nearby Celtic Park greeting another goal. As a boy he dreamed about playing for Celtic, about pulling on that beloved hooped shirt. His old man had made it as far as playing for Clydebank in his football career but Stephen dreamed of grander things. In those quiet moments when the ward was still, he’d imagine himself playing at Hampden in the cup final for Celtic or battling with Rangers defenders in the big Glasgow derby. In those long months in Belvidere such daydreams helped sustain him.

His mind was jolted out of those thoughts of days long past when Bertie’s voice cut through the tension in the tunnel. ‘Right boys, let’s give them a song while we’re waiting!’ Stephen smiled; trust Bertie to know what to do at such a moment. As the astonished Italian players looked on the song spread along the line of Celtic players… ‘Hail Hail, the Celts are here, what the hell do we care….’ It was a moment he’d never forget. As he sang with his team mates he glanced along the line of Celtic players who looked almost as if they were glowing in their pristine green and white shirts; McNeil at the front, imperious and confident. Auld, that gallus streak evident on his Glaswegian face as he sang his heart out. Johnstone, fists clenched, determined. Lennox like a sprinter itching for the starting pistol to fire. Murdoch, a life-long Celt who would run through a brick wall for his club. No player could ask for better team mates. They were fine players all of them and fine men too. As the song ended and the Referee gave the signal to head for the stairs which took them up into the glaring light of a Portuguese summer day, Stephen gritted his teeth. He’d fought so hard to build a career after his brush with mortality in ward 13. He had made it to his beloved Celtic and now he and his comrades stood on the brink of greatness. As they emerged from the tunnel, the sun momentarily dazzled his eyes. As he refocussed he could see that the Celtic supporters were there in their thousands. A low chant drifted across the emerald turf towards him, it grew in volume as more and more voices took it up…. ‘Celtic…Celtic…CELTIC…CELTIC…’

As he began his warm up he could hear Murdoch roaring at his team mates, ‘Come on lads! Today’s the day, let’s do this!’ The Celtic midfielder turned towards Stephen, ‘This is your day, Stevie boy! Get that ball in the net son!’

As the game began Stevie Chalmers was totally focussed. Ward 13 was history and here was a chance to write a page in Celtic’s history which would never be forgotten. This chance might never come again, today of all days, they had to take it.