It’s more than ten years now since a band of rebels decided to lobby their clubs, other clubs and Scottish football’s governing bodies about the dreadful things that were happening in our game. I know the story by heart. I was one of the rebels.
My own role was not decisive, nor particularly prominent, but with the rest of them I dared stick my head above the parapet and invited the snipers to take aim. They’ve been sniping ever since.
The clubs were initially against us. They cared only about their bottom line, and they saw the absence of a club called Rangers in the league as fiscally unacceptable. They believed, as some of those in charge of running the sport did, that without that club playing in the top flight that everything that held the game together would collapse.
TV contracts would be the first to go, followed in short order by the other advertisers and sponsors. We were facing what Stewart Regan would later call “Armageddon.” Many of the people running Scottish football’s professional sides believed him. The notion of “sporting integrity” was one they had to be brought round to, and we had very little time.
The mainstream media were against us from the start and they remained against us and the final outcome right to the bitter end. They lobbied hard for the NewCo from Ibrox to be admitted to the top flight. They brought to bear the most unbelievable pressure, and not only because for many of them that was their favourite team. The people who ran those outlets were almost paralysed by fear.
Fear that they might have to actually learn something about football, instead of covering the eternal soap opera involving just two clubs. Fear that they might be about to lose their cushy number covering “the biggest derby in the world”, the only reason the rest of the world bothered to even learn their names. You had some of them as frequent studio guests on London sports phone in shows … they saw the collapse of Rangers as a clear and present danger to their way of life.
But there was more; the tools which we were using to campaign and lobby were an even bigger threat. For years these outlets and titles and broadcasters had completely dominated the discourse around our national sport. What they ultimately saw in us represented a real danger to that exalted status, and they cared about that most of all.
They called us The Internet Bampots. I don’t know who first coined the phrase, but soon enough it was in common usage, but not by them. We started to wear the label as a badge of honour.
If people wanted to say we were crazy because we cared about the game here, then so be it. But we knew what we were doing was important. We knew, in fact, that if we failed that the game here would be changed forever into something many of us could not continue to follow. That would have made us heart sick and been one of the most terrible events of our lives, but I have little doubt that I would have walked away from Scottish football, including my own club, Celtic, and that many thousands of fans from across the game would have done the same.
That’s why we won our battle. Fans across Scottish football came together and shamed and/or threatened their clubs to block the NewCo’s path to the top flight. Sporting integrity became important, and in spite of all the early threats and the sabre rattling, which got so bad that one director, Turnbull Hutton, called it “corrupt” on the steps of Hampden itself, the right decision was arrived at and no long term damage was done.
Indeed, as many of us had thought it might, the NewCo’s procession up through three divisions was a financial shot in the arm to clubs who had suddenly found their games on television and played in front of packed out houses. Some of those clubs were still feeling the benefits of that years down the line. More importantly Scottish football had sent a clear message.
There was, and there is, no such thing here as “too big to fail.”
Yet important lessons were not learned, or at least were not taken on board. Reforms which we all had every right to expect were never made. Changes we had demanded never came to pass. Even those who knew in advance what plans were being hatched by some of the more unscrupulous of Ibrox’s directors did not pay with their jobs and carried right on as before. One of them – Neil Doncaster – still has a prominent role today, protected in no small part by Celtic, my own club, which fought the good fight up to a point … and then went no further.
Ten years on, so much has changed … and yet so much has stayed the same.
Two years ago, the Ibrox NewCo won a top flight title after ten years of financial doping. That should never have been allowed to happen, and yet it was. Dave King returned from South Africa with a slew of criminal convictions and was allowed to take over the club there. That should never have been permitted and yet it was, and all the while the governing bodies and the media have engaged in the pushing of a grotesque and dangerous series of lies at the centre of which is the idea that Rangers didn’t really die, but were in fact the victims of a gross injustice.
The media landscape has changed, and not for the better. There are now dozens of “mainstream” titles, many of them offshoots and sister publications of those we know so well. Very little actual news ever surfaces on them; instead they have become repositories of gossip and rumours with no quality control, no editorial standards and no journalistic integrity.
They undermine clubs. They actively hunt managers. They unsettle players.
They have no concern for the greater game, and in fact talk it down at every turn and especially in comparison to what’s happening south of the border. These people, who would have helped precipitate the greatest crisis in its history, by allowing the NewCo into the top division, lobby ceaselessly on behalf of the only two clubs they care about covering leaving the game entirely.
They do not care that it might leave a wasteland behind. That’s how much consideration they have for the sport as a whole. In their egotism they would kill it just to hob-nob with the real media at the grounds of the EPL. Their industry is beyond fixing.
Our game has serious problems, and there’s no leadership out there worth a damn. I think that more and more this is going to fall on us, the fans, to fix things as they break and it shouldn’t be that way, but we can’t be any worse at it than those who have fallen asleep at the wheel.
This age of fan media is just getting started.
The evolution of what we do has been awesome and incredible, and that evolution continues. With so many outlets out there now, fans have more alternatives to the mainstream media than ever, and that’s good … but it’s also bad, because sections of fan media and the straight press are in a race to the bottom, feeding off each other even as the content grows more vacuous and out of step with what the real fans want; information and insight … a little bit more than transfer rumours.
The bottom line is that as this industry evolves, we in the fan media have to evolve with it. But it needs to evolve in the right manner, and in the right direction. We can’t become an extension of the mainstream press either by accident or design. We must not be reduced to competing with each other for hits regardless of how we get them.
Being a Bampot … that meant something at the start.
That was important. In my view, it still is and that’s why I’ve started this project. Over the next few months it will take shape, and things that make you scratch your heads now will start to make more sense. The landscape is changing even as we’re looking at it … things will look very different come the start of the next domestic campaign. Change, but change for the better I think.
I know this; there’s never been a more important time to be good at this stuff, to care about this stuff, to debate the real issues without fear or favour. This stuff does matter. Being a Bampot still matters. This is how we keep this game sane.
One day, who knows? We might even make it clean.