Dynasties fall. This is the one great lesson of history which all leaders should take on board. They can fall in a number of ways, slowly or quickly, calamitously or through sheer neglect. But always there is what scientists call a “tipping point,” a moment when the momentum towards the fall can no longer be checked, can no longer be halted, and it becomes inevitable.
Anthony Seldon’s recent book “Johnson At 10” discusses the downfall of the former Prime Minister in clinical detail, and although he concludes that Johnson was always doomed to fail because of his personality and his style of government the tipping point, when the momentum towards his end became unstoppable, is the subject of much debate.
The Tory Party was far more forgiving of Johnson than was the general population. He survived scandal after scandal before they turned, and all of it against the backdrop of ever worsening opinion polls. By that barometer, and in point of fact it’s the one that really matters, we can actually trace the tipping point to a specific moment.
It was the day that pictures of the Queen, sitting alone in a cold church, at the funeral for her late husband, were published in the national newspapers.
See, most people can see things pretty clearly and most folk they didn’t care that Johnson was a rogue and that has party had driven down living standards and caused mayhem by dragging us all out of the EU. That’s politics, and Johnson’s wayward behaviour was his own business. But the minute you touch people on an emotional level, the minute they understand these things in their gut rather than where they can rationalise it … that changes everything.
Those images were extraordinarily easy for people to grasp. They saw the head of state behaving responsibly even at her darkest moment, socially distancing and following the rules, even as she grieved for her husband, and they saw Johnson and his cronies living it up as if the rules didn’t exist at all. Intellectually, they knew what Johnson was … but that was the moment they felt it in their stomach’s, the moment the revulsion rose.
It never subsided. The Tories slid downwards in the opinion polls that very day and their numbers have never recovered. So in many ways, the tipping point for this government and, undoubtedly, for his premiership is easy enough to surmise. It was that collapse in their numbers which led to the first wave of letters demanding a leadership contest.
Everything else flowed naturally from there.
Football dynasties have tipping points. Sometimes you can see them and sometimes not. Celtic under Neil Lennon had a definite tipping point, when you come to look at it now. It was the night of the Ferencvaros game, when his tactics were baffling and in the aftermath he threw his team to the wolves. You could imagine how that went down in the dressing room, amongst players who were simply following his instructions.
The collapse was on from that moment forward, and there was no stopping it. The fans in the stands, if they hadn’t turned that night, turned shortly afterwards but in that regard they were the same, in a way, as the Tory MP’s who tolerated Johnson in the hope he could pull things back. But amongst those with the power to break him – in Johnson’s case the voters, in Lennon’s case his own players – the damage had been done.
The moment the dressing room stopped caring if Lennon survived, his reign was over and all that was left was the fall into ruin. That fall is what turned the fans, and that turned the club itself. You can trace it back and watch the dominos fall one at a time, with Johnson as with Lennon, the way a single moment can start that chain reaction.
A question arises when you think of how dynasties fall. Can entire empires fall the same way? Well, history tells us that they can, and so we know they can. Companies can collapse when they reach that tipping point, that moment where the sums no longer add up, and so too can football clubs. The one at Ibrox emerged from the wreckage of the one before it.
What was the tipping point for the last Ibrox club? The day David Murray started down the road of EBT’s? The moment Craig Whyte got the controls? The moment he stopped paying the bills? When did the slide into ruin become an avalanche, a force multiplying under its own strength, something beyond anyone’s control or ability to alter?
There is an argument to be made that it started with Celtic’s hiring of Martin O’Neill, this club’s great awakening from the slumber of years, the moment that we decided to be all we could be and to go out and find the man to take us to that next level. Until that moment, Murray’s Rangers were exactly where we are now; they had lost ten in a row but had regrouped and rebuilt. They had a won a treble and looked as if they might go on another long run.
Murray may have thought that Celtic’s morale would be shattered, and that our club would retreat to the margins. Then we hired Martin O’Neill and he purchased Chris Sutton as his statement signing, and in the first game against Murray’s team, led by Dick Advocaat, we put down a marker and didn’t look back. It was O’Neill coming in which confronted Murray with the idea that Celtic was going to be a force to reckon with … and at that point he made the conscious decision to risk it all trying to stop that. Ten years later, the entire club was gone.
Had Murray not pushed his luck the EBT case would have been smaller and more easily dealt with. It prevented them finding a buyer back when they might still have been an enticing prospect for one. That led to the showdown with the banks over the level of debt, and that led to Craig Whyte, who very quickly determined that he would attempt to shed them via some sort of pre-pack administration or phoenix club and bring them out the other side, with their top flight status confirmed and signed off on by the governing bodies.
He did not anticipate the rise of the Internet Bampots, who rallied, lobbied their clubs and prevented the scam from going through, although by then it was Charles Green and his “basket of assets” who saw those plans dashed. That was the subject of our opening article.
What would it take to tip the current Ibrox club into the abyss, and how close might they be to just such an event? A difficult question to answer, but here’s a theory for you.
All through their rise from the bottom of the league to the top, it was hate and envy and the lust for revenge which powered season ticket sales. Since their return to the top flight, Celtic has won five trebles and a double, in seven years. Their ticket sales remain strong in spite of that, and that’s a credit to their loyalty and to the astonishing PR job the media does on their behalf.
But that can’t last, and it will not last. They cannot, they will not, fill Ibrox every week if Celtic continues to win everything. Those season ticket numbers will drop off; they have to, it’s natural, it’s a fact. Fans who believe their team should be winning everything, every year, will not continue paying for tickets to watch routine beatings and their rivals sweeping up the silverware; that’s just the way this game works, and it always will be.
They are safe for another summer. Their season ticket monies are already in the bank, and there is general optimism about the state of their club, optimism which is sorely misplaced. Because they aren’t going to be the determining factor here; Celtic will be. We are a far bigger club now than Murray’s club was when it faced its great historical threat with the arrival of Dermot Desmond’s manager Martin O’Neill and his footballing juggernaut.
We are also built on solid fiscal foundations; there will be no showdown with the bank here, no forced sales of players, no forced sell of the club to some charlatan. No administration. No HMRC final demand. Celtic spends only what it can afford … and so the circumstances which destroyed Rangers and which ate away at Murray’s final years there will not arise to threaten or challenge our dominance. As long as we play it smart, we have nothing to fear.
So say there comes a point when some of their fans understand, in their gut, not just intellectually, not just in their heads where they can come up with excuses and rationales and thus wish away anything that they don’t like, but deep down in their bones, what happens when they know that Celtic will be dominating them for years to come, and perhaps their lifetimes?
Will their club still be able to sell as many season tickets as it does now? Will they still have that cash-cow to fall back on, that incredible support? Will directors stop throwing good money after bad, and recognise that their club can’t go on paying the bills with loans and equity confetti? What happens to them at that point?
Cuts. Savage cuts across the boards, in order to pay those bills. With those cuts comes the obvious further weakening of the playing squad, which of course comes with even more success for Celtic and before you know it they are in a downward spiral and one that will be incredibly hard to halt. They will not die, as the Tory Party will not die, but as a force able to challenge and win things … yeah that’ll be all over and perhaps for a long, long time.
How close are they? That’s the critical question, but seven seasons they’ve been in the top flight and in five of those seasons we’ve done a clean sweep and we’ve won the double in another. So it’s closer than might first seem obvious from all their bluster.
Let me tell you, it could happen swiftly, and it might not even take another Celtic treble or a title, but just that dawning realisation amongst their fans that the light on the horizon isn’t the dawning of a sunshine day but the detonation of some superweapon, with a shockwave that’s going to wipe their hopes away as if they were a stain on a table top.
Remember, the tipping point where empires fall is the irreversible moment when the perceptions of those with the power to bring it all down change and a new reality dawns. The public knew that Johnson was a laddish clown; it wasn’t until those details about lockdown parties emerged, juxtaposed with those photos of the Queen on her own in that church that they grasped at the most fundamental level that he was a blight on the nation.
For Ibrox fans, the tipping point could be as simple as one result, one sufficiently horrendous that it erases any remaining hopes they hold that things are going to significantly improve. It might be the loss of a trophy. It might be another Celtic title. It will almost certainly be triggered when Celtic moves ahead of the titles they claim from the dead club and have added to their own total … that will certainly be a Year Zero moment for them.
All we can say for sure is that they have to be right on the edge of such a moment, and that in all probability sending them over it lies in our hands. If your rivals have that kind of power, well that’s not a good place to be.