It is an article of faith for many people that the imminent liquidation of Rangers Football Club plc means Rangers Football Club ceases to exist and, while Sevco may have bought assets of the soon-to-be-liquidated plc, it cannot be a continuation of “Rangers”. Equally, it is an article of faith for many that the demise of the plc has no necessary impact on the existence of “Rangers” and indeed that Sevco, or some other corporate entity, will become the next vehicle for the continuation of “Rangers”. The former group is better represented on Celtic-supporting blogs, and indeed many neutral ones such as this, with the group we might call the “Rangers” Survivalists (which i guess would make the first group the Extinctionists) mostly restricted to Rangers- (or “Rangers”-) supporting sites.
The point of this post is to explore the history of a cultural reference occasionally used by the Extinctionists, to suggest a potential different meaning for it, and to examine whether in fact it can be used to bridge the divide between well-meaning individuals on both sides of the debate.
The Extinctionists sometimes refer to Sevco as “Trigger’s Broom” as a humorous way of underlining that Sevco can never be Rangers. The story of Trigger’s broom comes from the television series “Only Fools & Horses” where the character Trigger is a drinking buddy of the lead characters, and is the local roadsweeper. The incident of Trigger’s Broom occurs when he is given a medal by the council for using the same broom for 20 years. He then explains that the broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles. When asked how it can be the same broom, Trigger produces a picture of himself and his broom and asks, “What more proof do you need?” Extinctionists use Trigger’s stupidity (the character is not portrayed as an intelligent or sophisticated individual) to highlight the absurdity of the Survivalist view.
However, Trigger’s Broom is not a new story, and nor is it that simple. The original story is a famous paradox from a couple of thousands of years ago, and its resolution has puzzled philosophers ever since. The first version was the paradox of the Ship of Theseus, outlined in its best-known version by the Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch in his “Life of Theseus” in the late 1st century. The question he posed was whether, when Theseus returned from a (very) long voyage, the ship in which he returned was the same ship in which he had originally set sail – although, over the course of the voyage, every single original part of it had been replaced (told you it was a long voyage).
Philosophers have argued about this pretty much ever since. An important early contribution was from another Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who extended the paradox to a river. His point was that if someone stepped into a fast flowing river, then stepped out and then stepped back, it would never occur to that person to argue that, on the second occasion they stepped in, the river was a different river from the first time – even although the water surrounding their feet the second time was entirely different. Inevitably, someone (Plutarch again, in fact) did then come along and argue precisely that – that it was a different river. Philosophers have continued the argument ever since without really reaching a conclusion much beyond “it depends what you mean by ‘same’ and what you mean by ‘different’”.
The Rangers/Sevco case is arguably even less clear-cut than that of Theseus’ ship – when Sevco argue they are “Rangers”, they have some of the same players, some of the same staff, the same ground, the same colour jerseys, probably a similar playing style (should they ever actually play football) and so on. A casual observer who didn’t know about the impending liquidation might readily accept that Sevco was more clearly the continuation of Rangers than Arsene Wenger’s Emirates Arsenal is the continuation of George Graham’s Highbury edition.
My own view (which is largely irrelevant) is that it’s strange to pick on the corporate entity as being uniquely the single element that determines continuity. Inevitably, Douglas Adams expresses it better than I can in his description of his tour of the Golden Pavilion in Japan (acknowledgement due to Wikipedia, where I read this quote and much else on the Ship of Theseus – at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus for those who are interested):
“I remembered once, in Japan, having been to see the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto and being mildly surprised at quite how well it had weathered the passage of time since it was first built in the fourteenth century. I was told it hadn’t weathered well at all, and had in fact been burnt to the ground twice in this century. ‘So it isn’t the original building?’ I had asked my Japanese guide.
‘But yes, of course it is,’ he insisted, rather surprised at my question.
‘But it’s burnt down?’
‘Of course. It is an important and historic building.’
‘With completely new materials.’
‘But of course. It was burnt down.’
‘So how can it be the same building?’
‘It is always the same building.’
“I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise. The idea of the building, the intention of it, its design, are all immutable and are the essence of the building. The intention of the original builders is what survives. The wood of which the design is constructed decays and is replaced when necessary. To be overly concerned with the original materials, which are merely sentimental souvenirs of the past, is to fail to see the living building itself.”
—Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See, p. 149
I invite those of an Extinctionist frame of mind to apply the thinking in that last paragraph to (at least the good elements of) Sevco/”Rangers”.
Anyway, this is all very well, but what does it tell us concretely about what’s going to happen, or even what should happen? Well, I recognise that this excursion into Greek philosophy and Japanese temples isn’t going to convince all Extinctionists that Sevco is the continuation of Rangers but I’d like to imagine that it would at least allow some to acknowledge that the Survivalist viewpoint is not completely absurd. Ultimately, I’m arguing that it is meaningful and not absurd to talk about “Rangers” surviving the liquidation of the plc, if enough of the good people around Rangers want it to be so.
There are, of course, real legal problems for Sevco to overcome it wants to trade as Rangers but, assuming that a legal way through that particular minefield can be found, and a critical mass of the good people around Rangers decide that Sevco is the continuation of the football club founded in 1872, then I think it is incumbent on the rest of us to accept that.
But – yes, there’s always a but – decisions have consequences. And one of the consequences of the “Rangers” community deciding that Sevco is the continuation of Rangers is that the history goes with it – the bad bits as well as the good bits. It remains true that Rangers (or “Rangers”) have yet to be sentenced (or indeed even explicitly, openly and transparently found guilty in some cases) for a range of offences – the Big Tax Case, the Wee Tax Case, dual contracts, and the range of offences that will eventually be ruled upon by the SFA’s Appellate Tribunal (to name but four). (Note in passing that only one of these relates to Craig Whyte’s time in charge – sadly, it’s simply not the case that Rangers were just innocent victims here.)
So what does that mean? It means that Sevco must, at a minimum, accept any sporting penalties resulting from the cases listed above (and others I have undoubtedly missed out). Their “punishment’ to date consists of a 10 point deduction, a 3-year ban from European competition, and getting kicked out of the SPL – all of which are simply a rule-based consequence of administration and liquidation – plus the fines from the SFA case. So – to put it mildly – it feels unlikely that independent arbiters of the cases listed above would conclude that “Rangers”/Sevco had been punished enough already. All of which adds to the growing feeling that the right question now is not SFL3 vs “SPL2” (whatever that might be) – it’s whether “Rangers” will be able to fulfil a full slate of fixtures in any professional league in 2012-13.
Posted by ADM