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|16-05-08 12:48 PM|
It’ll come as no surprise to anyone in Timdom that Scottish press coverage of the Manchester Riot bears absolutely no resemblance to the coverage in the rest of the world. Where every other country has offered a blanket condemnation of hunnery, our neutered meeja has suppressed and distorted the truth.
Once again, the Scottish press has followed a PR line designed to minimise the damage to Rangers Football Club. The only problem is, that this PR driven approach is rapidly falling apart around Martin Bain’s ears.
The huns’ approach to damage limitation has had three main stages.
Stage one: blame the cops and the council. This is the line being peddled by the huns’ in-house tabloid, the Daily Record, which, in a laugh-out-loud editorial on Friday, laid the blame for the violence on Manchester’s doorstep, rang the doorbell, and then ran away.
“They do not care they could have had a disaster on their hands because the game was played at a venue that was too small, in a city that couldn’t cope and run by authorities that were ill-prepared. The Prime Minister was quick to condemn Rangers fans. So were Manchester police and councillors, once they got their story right. Now the Rangers support…is being cast as villains.” Poor wee rioters! Bless! It was all the fault of that man who couldn’t fix the giant screen!
Stage two: suggest that those who responded to the provocation they suffered at the hands of Manchester’s notoriously aggressive big-screen TV technicians were a “tiny minority”. The number they’re currently peddling is 200, and, no doubt, the plan was to start reducing that figure slowly over the next few days, first to “a few dozen” and then eventually to “a handful”. This game, as we’ll see, is a bogey.
Stage three: suggest that this “minority” aren’t even real Rangers fans. This was the line trotted out by Martin Bain on Thursday, and duly reproduced by most major news outlets under headlines about the “infiltrators” who caused all the trouble.
“We've been informed that those scenes were caused by fans who don't normally attach themselves to our support," said the permatanned vintner. He then added, in the style of OJ Simpson vowing to track down his wife’s killer, "we have to identify anybody that was responsible for the acts of violence."
This three stage plan was no doubt accompanied by the usual David Murray media strategy. Editors would have been telephoned, exclusives would have been promised, lamb would have been marinated and bottles of Chateau de Moonbeam 1690 uncorked. Job done.
Except it’s not turning out that way.
When Harold Macmillan was PM he was asked by a young journalist what was most likely to blow a government off course. “Events, dear boy,” he replied. “Events.”
Macmillan’s phrase keeps coming back to me today as I watch the huns’ PR strategy unravelling.
The first unexpected event was the surprisingly tough defence that Manchester police and council offered of their actions and planning. In interview after interview officials and officers have laid into the Rangers travelling support. The TV technician who was bottled as he tried to repair the big screen called them “animals”; the policeman who was battered by a mob of 25 huns called them “animals” (can you see a pattern developing here…?); the leader of the council said the huns had let “themselves, their club, and their city down”.
Moreover, this was all backed up by a seemingly endless stream of TV pictures showing that the “200 strong” tiny minority was more like a 2000 strong mob. And that the “police provocation” consisted of six cops running away from a mob that was pelting them with bottles and trying to kick them in the head.
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, how much typing will the Record need to do on Murray’s behalf to make up for the CCTV footage of huns trampling on a policeman that’s been looped on every rolling news channel for the past 24 hours?
Finally, the latest event to undermine the huns media campaign came today, when the names of the first rioters prosecuted in the Manchester were released to the press. A quick Google search on their names throws up Bebo pages adorned with Rangers, UVF and Follow Follow paraphernalia.
Also – and here’s a surprise – it turns out that they weren’t “infiltrators” from England at all, but homegrown headcases from the dear green place.
Just to make Bain look like even more of a tit, they all helpfully turned up in court decked out in hun tops and tracksuits, just to make their allegiances clear.
They may have been bigoted old scrotes, but the “Rangers men” of an earlier generation at least had a bit of honesty. Willie Waddell’s infamous outburst against the “tikes, hooligans, louts and drunkards” who had caused Rangers to be “publically tarred and feathered”, was an honest assessment of the Rangers support that had rioted in Barcelona in 1972.
Compare and contrast that response to the cowardly, PR-driven bleatings of Martin Bain this week in the aftermath of the scenes from Manchester. Instead of verbally cuffing the new generation of hun louts round the ear, Bain chose to deny their existence.
To their shame, once again, the Scottish tabloids have followed Rangers’ line, which is coming apart at the seams already.
If Rangers had simply come out and acknowledged that the trouble was the fault of their fans, they might perhaps have retained a wee shred of dignity. But it’s too late now.
3 days later and still SFA
In the run up to the final SFA Chief Gordon Smith was happy to link the event to the reputation of Scottish football. "It would be good for the image of the game if Rangers got to the final, in the same way it was when Celtic got to Seville in 2003," he said.
"Everyone took notice when Celtic reached the final and this would be a similar situation.”
Well, everyone’s taking notice alright, “Smudger”.
But, since things went tits-up for the huns on Wednesday night Smith suddenly seems to have lost his tongue. When I called his press office this morning they confirmed that not only had the former Rangers striker not offered any condemnation of Wednesday night’s events so far, but also that he had no plans to comment.
“It’s not in his jurisdiction”, the SFA explained, “it’s a police matter.” Whether Smith likes it or not, this was football-related violence, and is very much within his remit as head of the SFA. He was only too happy to bask in the reflected “glory” of Rangers Euro run this season, but, like everyone else with a Rangers background, he’s washing his hands of an responsibility now that the fans have hit the shit. If Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond can condemn the Rangers riot, then why won’t Gordon Smith?
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|07-05-08 09:32 AM|
Incest, goat-slaughter, mindless violence: the links between Rangers and Greek Tragedy aren’t hard to find. However, as this season progresses, a few deeper parallels between our Germanic cousins and the likes of Sophocles begin to emerge. Scotland’s pundits agree that this is shaping up to be the most dramatic conclusion to a season in years, and, following the sudden reversal of fortune that has taken place since Celtic beat Rangers twice in a row and went 8 points clear at the top of the table, it looked like it was destined to be a distinctly knackered-looking Rangers team who were going to find themselves cursing fate as the curtain fell on season 2007-8. Would Wattie and Co. find themselves punished for the hubris of thinking they could bore European and Scottish football into submission with a succession of replays and energy-sapping extra-time snoozefests? This morning, however, it briefly looked like the story might be reversed again, and this peculiar dramatic interlude deserves a bit of attention.
Two weeks ago, the SPL announced two versions of the fixture list for the title run-in, one with an extension that would kick in if Rangers made the final of the UEFA cup, and one with no extension if they didn’t. Rangers pointed out that they hadn’t, in fact, asked for an extension of any kind, but immediately started a low-level gurning anyway, in which they and their friends in the media started moaning about the extension they’d been offered. Hysterical phone-in hosts, with typical incisive logic, played their role of Greek chorus to perfection, and began claiming that Rangers were being ‘punished for their success’ by, erm, being offered an extension they hadn’t asked for. Rangers did indeed qualify for the final, and weary Celtic fans accepted that the extension would kick in. And that, it would appear, was that.
Until, that is, this weekend, where Rangers did the unthinkable, and dropped points to Hibs, and since, certain journalists have been calling, in increasingly petulant tones, for the SPL to ‘bend over backwards to help Rangers’, to ‘do everything they can’. In this, they seem to be taking their cue from SFA man George Peat, who, James Traynor tells us, has joined Rangers Chief Executive Martin Bain in piling pressure onto the SPL bosses. ‘The SPL should be turning somersaults because a Scottish club are in a European final and must reconsider the decision not to postpone Saturday's match’ he apparently declared.
At the end of certain Greek tragedies, a God figure would be lowered onto the stage on a crane to sort everything out, punishing those he didn’t like and rewarding his favourites. This 'Deus Ex Machina' role seems to be the one in which SFA bigwig George Peat has cast himself. Today’s Daily Record reports that he’s threatening to ‘march into the SPL’s offices first thing this morning and insist the league be extended’, presumably brandishing his stage-prop thunderbolt as he does so. Indeed, Peat’s role in all this seems curiously involved. Quite what the SPL’s fixtures list has to do with Peat is anyone’s guess, and you’d be forgiven for wondering whether this concerted pressure is really an attempt to help Rangers in the UEFA cup final, or just, you know…in general?
This morning, as I write, it looks as though the unseemly pressure that has been brought to bear on the SPL has been unsuccessful. On the evening of May 5th, the SPL had announced they would be sticking to their guns, under mounting pressure to extend the extension they had already announced (y’know, the one that Rangers had never even asked for). SPL spokesman Greg Mailer said last night, with a certainty they may already be rueing: ‘The SPL has decided that we will be pressing on with the fixture model which was announced on April 22, with the season to finish on May 22. We can confirm we have received a request from Rangers to postpone their fixture with Dundee United on Saturday. We are unable to do that for a number of different factors one of which is the need for the final round of league matches to be played with simultaneous kick-off times. This is necessary to ensure that no one club can gain an advantage over another club in terms of winning the championship or qualification for Europe through the UEFA Cup.’ But this morning, the 6th of May, it seems as though Peat didn’t need to storm the offices. And yet this morning, even hours after releasing the above statement, we were told that they were on the verge of changing their mind with a degree of fickleness that would shame Imelda Marcos on a shoe-shopping expedition. That they haven't, so far, is to their credit. But that the SFA would connive with Rangers (and, seemingly, the Daily Record) to force their hand to do so is the real story behind this farcical episode.
For Celtic fans, it might be instructive at this juncture to remind ourselves just how we got here. Back in December, Rangers chose to postpone games to give themselves a rest: they borrowed from the fixtures bank, and now, when the bank is demanding repayment, they demand the right to borrow more, arguing that it’s unfair to expect them to meet their obligations. In fact, the situation that Rangers are in is nobody’s fault but their own. Between the 2nd and the 23rd of December, Rangers played only 1 match in the SPL, because they chose to cancel a game against struggling Gretna. Celtic played 4 SPL matches in the same period, dropping points in the process as we struggled with injuries. We had no fit right back, but we just got on with it as best we could. Which, it turned out, wasn’t very well. So the idea that Rangers should escape a similar fate, an inevitable consequence of a backlog, is unquestionably unfair.
Scottish football isn’t being asked to ‘bend over backwards for Rangers’, it’s just being told to bend over. Whether buggering the rest of us at the whim of Martin Bain offers a further allusion to the Greeks is something I'll leave to your discretion, but that the SFA should attempt to to facilitate this unfairness, to attempt to give it the weight and heft of official sanction, transforms it into a scandal, and one that might well have provided a tragic conclusion to Celtic’s championship hopes.
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