Historically civil wars and internecine strife have often been more brutal than conflicts between sovereign nations.
Whether we go back to the US Civil War, which cost the lives of more American soldiers than any conflict before or since, or look at the conflicts brought into the open with the crumbling of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, there seems to be more viciousness exchanged between neighbours than across national frontiers.
Cambodia, China, Russia, many African nation-states – the hatred and violence exceeds wars where patriotism for one’s country can unite a country against another.
(That is not to say that war between nations is civilised and genteel. It is clearly not.)
If we look at the present “conflict” for the soul of Rangers, we can see similar signs – of conflict rather than violence of course.
Whilst Rangers fans are happy to unite against “the common enemy” – which, depending on the weather can be Celtic, “Celtic bloggers”, the SFA, the former SPL, the Scottish Nationalists, the BBC, the Daily Record, HMRC, Charlotte Fakes, Craig Whyte (and so on and so on) – things become very different when there are different camps within the Rangers camp.
We saw this when Craig Whyte’s control of Rangers started to slip; when Duff and Phelps entertained various different prospective purchasers; when the Blue Knights tried to buy the “club”; when Charles Green took over; when Charles Green was moved out; when Charles Green came back; when Charles Green left again; when Jim McColl showed up; when the Easdale Brothers made their moves …
The latest battle lines have been drawn with on one side Mr David Leggat, that vastly experienced exponent of the “inky trades” and star of TV and radio, and nemesis of Mr Spiers, Mr Chris Graham and on the other prolific blogger Bill McMurdo. (The latter is not the famous and controversial football agent, but his son.)
Mr Leggat has been outspoken about Rangers for some time now. He was, for example, vocal in his opposition to Charles Green’s takeover, being instead a supporter of the Blue Knights. He saw them as real Rangers men and unlike the “snake-oil salesman” Mr Green. However he did what all good analysts should be prepared to do – changing his opinion to fit the new evidence – and he became a vocal advocate for Mr Green and his campaigning for Rangers. Cynics who suggest that this rapprochement was a result of Mr Green letting Mr Leggat launch his book at Ibrox with publicity on the official Rangers website are clearly attributing a base commercial motive to Mr Leggat, which I am sure is unfair.
Mr Leggat has recently been outspoken in his opposition to the present Rangers Board and to those connected with Mr Green, and has been taking verbal pot-shots at Jack Irvine, the king of Scottish PR.
Chris Graham, proud bearer of the Rangers Standard, has been less noisy than Mr Leggat but he too is clearly lined up in the “new broom” camp. He too has not been afraid to publicly recant his views. After all, only a few days before the Whyte-organised administration in February 2012 Mr Graham was staunchly maintaining that he was not going to go against Whyte, unless there was evidence justifying such an opinion.
Earlier this year his “wait and see” approach was summed up in his phrase “see how it pans out”. Clearly a man who weighs the facts carefully before venturing his views. (I should also thank him for his intervention which nipped my potential media career in the bud before it even started in February. After all, if it had not been for Mr Graham’s brave stance in favour of free speech in telling the BBC he would not appear on the radio with me, I would have probably been undone by the whole process and left embarrassed by his forensic questioning. So thank you Chris!)
His latest piece for the Rangers Standard described the “mystery” about the shareholding of Sandy Easdale, and suggested that the media coverage, especially by the BBC, was either simply wrong, being yet another example of the BBC’s perceived anti-Rangers bias, or planted by Mr Irvine’s Media House. Either way this was designed to bolster the existing Board, rather than help the football club and the “Rangers Community” as a whole.
Bill McMurdo, regular and provocative blogger, not just on Rangers, but on wider football issues and on matters too of politics and religion, has clearly taken the view that the existing Board members have actually invested their money into Rangers and, until there is evidence, rather than suspicion or bias to the contrary, they should be supported. He has contrasted the financial commitment of the Easdales and of CEO Crag Mather, for example, with the alleged fact that Messrs Paul Murray, Frank Blin and Jim McColl only hold a handful of shares between them.
Mr McMurdo is accused by others of being a mouthpiece for Mr Irvine and the Board.
And outwith these bloggers and writers, there is the factional strife between various supporters groups and between their different outposts on the Internet – whilst at heart all Rangers fans have the best interests of Rangers, there is little agreement about who can be trusted with the stewardship of their favourite institution.
And so, after that lengthy preamble, we come to this week.
Mr Graham posted on the Rangers Standard about the “mystery” of the Easdale shares.
Mr McMurdo responded with a detailed post explaining exactly where Mr Easdale’s influence came from and made clear that Blue Pitch Holdings, one of the original backers, were ready to write a cheque for £50 million to support Rangers improving its playing squad when it was in position to challenge for European football.
(There were unfortunate echoes of Motherwell-born Billionaires and of multi-million pound warchests in that statement, but I sure Mr McMurdo’s is far more grounded in reality.)
Mr McMurdo’s words were followed by the flurry of Stock Exchange announcements I mentioned yesterday. @@@@@
On Friday too Mr Leggat had broken a story which seemed capable of rocking the Ibrox boat to the point of capsize, or at least the vessel crewed by the existing Board.
According to Mr Leggat, the Serious Fraud Office had received information last week about Rangers, and especially its disposal of the proceeds of the IPO, which had caused “senior figures” in London such concern that they had immediately contacted the Procurator Fiscal in Glasgow who had, in turn, “called for a police probe”. According to Mr Leggat too this meant that the Executive Directors of Rangers faced police interview about the allegations. He talked about the Ibrox books being “seized” and commented that the inquiry was likely to be ongoing by the time, next month, of the Rangers AGM.
If accurate this was a story which would have justified a Stock Exchange announcement, and failure to do so could itself have been a breach of City rules.
But the piece has gone without a trace, both from Mr Leggat’s site and from a prominent Rangers online fan forum. There it was stated that the matter could not be discussed as it was “sub judice”.
Now I am sure that Mr Leggat has many excellent sources in Ibrox and that he would not permit his blog to be used any more as a weapon to suit someone else’s agenda. He has also been fearlessly outspoken before, making it clear that, having revealed what he has described as the truth about a participant in this saga, their failure to sue him is tantamount to an admission of guilt. (Which fails totally to take into consideration the economic factors involved in court actions for defamation, which are rarely worthwhile, unless you have a very thick skin and very deep and full pockets!)
By Saturday Mr Leggat’s piece was gone. Not because it was sub judice, because Scottish rules on contempt of court only arise once someone has been charged, and there cannot be an issue about something being “sub judice” if there is no judicial process ongoing.
Instead I can only imagine that Mr Leggat had a visit from friendly Sheriff Officers delivering him a message calling upon him to remove his piece, and threatening dire consequences if he did not (and possibly even if he did!) One would assume that that message would either be on behalf of Rangers or at the instance of some of the parties he named as “in the frame”.
To be fair, it looks as if someone has taken in Mr Leggat with the story – for various reasons.
As he correctly said, the SFO has no jurisdiction in Scotland. Rangers International Football Club PLC is a Scottish company. At first sight issues about it would be dealt with here. But as the SFO does not have jurisdiction, it is unlikely that it would have “senior figures” looking into allegations before deciding to pass these on.
In any event, as is clear from the various online resources available, even if the SFO thought something fishy was happening, it would contact Crown Office in Edinburgh, not the Procurator Fiscal in Glasgow. I suspect that if, for some reason, the SFO went directly to the PF in Ballater Street in Glasgow, they would be redirected very quickly to the Crown Office HQ in Edinburgh!
And as for the suggestion that, having received information this week from the SFO, the PF had already “launched a police probe” … anyone who knows how the system of investigation and prosecution of serious crime in Scotland works would know (a) that any such decision would come from Edinburgh and (b) in an alleged financial crime there would be lengthy and serious consideration given to what was alleged to have taken place before a single police officer was sent to interview anyone.
As for the slim possibility that Mr Leggat raised that the matter night be concluded by the Rangers AGM … well, if his story was at all accurate, we might be looking at the 2016 or 2017 AGM!
So, all in all, it looks like his story, which effectively accused various named people of being party to a multi-million pound fraud, was inaccurate in almost every conceivable way.
Rangers are to get tough on those who use online avenues such as blogs and forums to spread slurs and propaganda designed to destabilise the club.
One prominent blogger has been left in no doubt of the resolve of the club to take legal action against unsubstantiated claims. This has resulted in said blogger’s latest article being removed from his site.
I understand that other high-profile opponents of the Board may find that tolerance of their smear campaign has been stretched to breaking point.
My blog yesterday removing the “mystery” claimed by yet another agitating blogger over the shareholding and voting power of Sandy Easdale was verified by an announcement from the club.
Reading between the lines Mr McMurdo seems to be referring to Messrs Leggat and Graham.
As Mr McMurdo goes on to say he is not reporting this to crow that he is correct and that others were wrong, but rather to make clear that “Rangers” is getting tough.
It is also clear that the Easdales, who have been subject to numerous unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations and rumours in their own business, as pointed out by the Scottish Traffic Commissioner, are unlikely to be happy to allow vile calumnies to be spread about their football team either!
And so we have blogger taking up the keyboard against blogger; the football club sending in the lawyers against writers; the full competing armies of blogs, tweets, message boards and PR machines in opposition.
The question is, what will be left when the smoke of battle has cleared?
Which of the bloggers will stand tattered and triumphant and which will be defeated in the mud?
Posted by Paul McConville