Are Rangers a new club?

When Rangers were liquidated in 2012 there were two nagging questions left unresolved that prompted endless arguments amongst football supporters. Were the Rangers club that kicked off in July 2012 a new club (as Dundee skipper Gary Harkins has suggested)? And should titles be stripped from Rangers because their use of Employee Benefit Trusts, which attracted the ire of HM Revenue & Customs, amounted to cheating?

The second question is a genuinely difficult and complex issue that requires consideration of tax law, Scottish FA regulations, and the rather vague notion of sporting integrity. I’m not going to touch on it here. It’s too big a topic for a short blog.

The first question, on the other hand, is deceptively simple. It can be answered easily and persuasively, without recourse to liquidation legislation or SFA regulations. It has appeared complex only because Rangers supporters are reluctant to concede any ground whatsoever, and their opponents are happy to pick up any stick with which they can whack the fallen giant.

In summary, the Rangers fans are right, but for the wrong reasons. The anti-Rangers faction are also right, but for reasons that don’t matter, or really should not matter to football fans. It might be more apt to say the Rangers’ enemies are wrong but for the right reasons.

The legal opinion on whether Rangers are a new club hangs on the question of whether the club and the limited company are distinct legal entities. The legal opinion is complex and irrelevant. No Rangers supporters would change their minds if a judge issued an awkward verdict. The Rangers support has been fighting the wrong battle in arguing that the limited company and the club are legally separate, and that the club can therefore survive the death of the company. That seems arguable as a point of law, and the opponents of Rangers have been revelling in their opportunity to pose as legal experts in order to wind up the establishment club. However, if you backed any true football supporter into a corner, they would acknowledge that a club is not defined by its articles of association as a company.

Limited companies are a lousy model for forming football clubs. They concentrate power in the hands of a few, who are barely accountable to the community they should represent. A football club can be bought and sold in absurd haste, with no adequate scrutiny of new owners. By their nature football clubs attract dreadful owners. Rangers are a classic example, stumbling into liquidation under Craig Whyte, then being resurrected by the dodgy Charles Green’s consortium. I doubt if any Rangers supporter believes that either Whyte or Green were fitting custodians of the club and its traditions.

What defines a club is the community it represents, its supporter base along with all the nebulous but vital memories, beliefs and myths that add up to tradition. They’re summed up beautifully by this anonymous writer.

The soul of a club is the product of its history, and the history of a club is a product of those who toil in its cause, with their hearts on their sleeve as well as the badge on their chest, who play with an awareness of where they are, and in whose footsteps they tread.

These words matter because we believe them, because we believe they matter far more than any legal document. They are used to great effect in this video, nakedly emotional and heart-tugging but deeply stirring for supporters of my football club.

It is this sense of continuity and tradition that validates Rangers as a continuing club, and this is what their support should be citing, not legal opinion.

The legal arguments are a smokescreen that have obscured the essential points. As far as I’m concerned Rangers are the same club, for better or worse, because I see the same community with a strong and continuing sense of identity and tradition, only part of which is that they’re playing at the same ground in the same colours.

The legal nit-picking has let the Scottish FA off the hook. Instead of trying to justify their actions, and justify the notion that company and club are currently legally separate, they should be admitting that their governance of the game has been badly flawed and that they had to try and achieve the right outcome by means that weren’t always strictly constitutional or legally rational. The SFA’s squirming to try and reconcile the law, their regulations and the reality of Rangers’ continuing existence has been cringeworthy.

Rangers have won their battle to be recognised as the same club, but there is still a widespread, sullen refusal to accept that, and an understandable belief that the SFA’s twisting and turning reflects a refusal to apply the regulations honestly. The wider battle for competent and responsible governance is nowhere near being won. Just one feature of that struggle is the need for an honest acceptance of what a football club truly means and an acknowledgement that forming clubs as limited companies has serious disadvantages; in particular limited companies are easy meat for chancers like Whyte and Green. Supporters deserve better.


I was in prison and you saw the chance for a cheap story

Introduction – December 14th 2017

It’s Christmas, so it’s time for the traditional, festive, cheap shot at an easy target. Yet again a newspaper trots out the usual guff about lavish Christmas fare for prisoners. Depressingly, but equally predictably, a Conservative politician dived in, eager to burnish his populist credentials. Three years ago I wrote this.

The original blog – from January 2015

I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, by an article in the Dundee Courier on 16th December 2014. We were invited to be shocked at the lavish fare on offer to prisoners in local jails. The headline and first sentence set the tone.

“Christmas feast for prisoners doing porridge”

Criminals doing porridge in prisons across Tayside will be treated to lavish Christmas meals with all the trimmings.”

Feast? Lavish? All the trimmings? That is not reporting. It is a verdict, that the prisoners are receiving high quality meals, by implication meals of the standard one would expect in a good restaurant and certainly of a higher standard than they deserve. The article is opinion masquerading as reporting.

The choice of the first word of the article is interesting. Criminals. Yes, prisoners have, by definition, committed a crime. But when should we use that word? While they are engaged in a criminal career? While they are in prison? For the rest of their lives? For the period specified by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 until the conviction is considered “spent” and the offender is deemed to be rehabilitated? If the latter applies then prisoners serving a sentence exceeding 2.5 years would be labelled as criminals for the rest of their lives.

Labelling “criminals”

So what is the right time to call someone a “criminal”, and is it even a constructive term at any time? Colin McConnell, the head of the Scottish Prison Service said in August 2014 that it is unhelpful to refer to offenders and prisoners as criminals. He argues that such labelling makes rehabilitation harder.

McConnell was speaking at the International Futures Forum, whose website states that “the invitation to visiting speakers is simply to ‘make us think’ about an issue of importance”. Here is how the Herald reported the story.

The Herald’s story is disappointingly slanted and superficial for a quality newspaper. However, what is interesting is the tone of the comments under the story. McConnell is an expert in his field. Right or wrong, he made a serious and thoughtful point that deserves to be treated with respect.

The commenters are pretty well unanimous that McConnell is an idiot, unfit for his job. On the basis of skim-reading a newspaper article, a lifetime of prejudice, and ignorance of the subject, they are utterly convinced that they know better than McConnell. They do not merely hold a balanced opinion. They know beyond doubt that they are right.

Experts and ignorance

Experts are not necessarily right, and they do have to be challenged. But this should be on the basis of evidence, analysis and reasoned argument, not an instinctive reaction based on emotion and ignorance.

The Courier journalist, Jamie Buchan, seemed blissfully unaware of the difficulties and nuances that McConnell has to wrestle with; difficult issues that are hinted at in the title of McConnell’s talk, “21st Century Prison Policy: Humanity, Humility, Forgiveness and Redemption”. Buchan simply launched straight into his piece with the phrase “criminals doing porridge”.

Journalists and politicians should try to provide the analysis and reasoning that an informed debate requires. They should not be searching for populist, emotional triggers that will provoke an angry reaction. At least, that is not what they should be doing if they wish to be responsible. The Courier failed lamentably with that story.

Informed debate and cheap populism

The Courier failed badly again with their follow up on January 2nd 2015.

This is just the sort of story that makes me shake my head in despair at the irresponsibility of the press and populist politicians. Murdo Fraser, a Conservative MSP in the Scottish Parliament, is concerned that more is spent on prisoners’ meals than those of hospital patients.

Are prisoners getting better food than they should? Is the budget for their food out of control? Are the conditions for producing food comparable in prisons and hospitals? Do patients recovering in bed need as much as healthy prisoners? Fraser and the Courier address none of these issues. Fraser admits he doesn’t even know whether or not patients are getting enough nutrition. His concern is merely that the cost of hospital meals is too low. What is his measure for that? Prison meals cost more. NHS suppliers must be delighted. The problem, as he frames it, could be solved simply by the suppliers jacking up their prices.

This is just a cheap and populist attempt to exploit public antipathy towards prisoners and the idea of prisons as a place of rehabilitation rather than strict punishment. Such articles reinforce prejudice and make us more comfortable with our ignorance. Rather than challenging complacency and ignorance by promoting informed debate they close down discussion of the issues by pushing populist conclusions and painting those who expect a more thoughtful approach as naïve fools, politically correct “do gooders”.

Fraser comes out with the classic, populist politician’s justification. This “will not sit well with the public”. Instead of using weaselly phrases like that he should address the issues, acknowledge complexity where it exists, and explain to the public what an appropriate solution might be. That’s your job Murdo! You are paid a good salary and it is not to act like an ill-informed bore pontificating in a golf club bar.

A message for Christmas?

These articles are particularly disappointing at Christmas. This is the time of year when we are reminded of the wonderful gift that we all received but which we don’t deserve; the love of God shown in Jesus, who came to save us all from our failures and failings. Surely as a society we should recognise the humanity of all people, those in prison or not in prison, and allow prisons to mark this event as much as possible, like the rest of us do.

What a pity that a paper like the Courier can’t run a piece about the wonderful work that prison officers, chaplains, medical professionals and other staff do over Christmas to meet the needs of people who find themselves in prison. In Jesus’s words (Matthew 25, verses 35-36):

“I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.”

Wouldn’t that have been a more appropriate, and inspirational, message for Christmas?

The Green Fields of France

It’s coming up to Remembrance Day, a day that always moves me. I won’t delve into the reasons here. They’re nothing unusual or special. I’m typical of my generation, brought up at a time when my parents, and those of all my friends, had experienced the Second World War.

I support the British Legion and the Poppy Appeal. I have always made a point of donating, and I do wear my poppy with pride. This year, however, the Legion has saddened me with a crass error of judgement.

The official Poppy Appeal Single is by Joss Stone. It is a rendition of Eric Bogle’s painfully poignant “Green Fields of France”. I remember the first time I heard the original. I was driving and reached my destination before the song finished. I didn’t get out, but listened, transfixed by the beautiful music and the heartbreaking lyrics, delivered with quiet anger by Bogle. At the end I was nearly in tears. I love the song, but I still find it difficult to listen to.

Joss Stone’s version is also far from easy listening, but in a very different way. Where Bogle’s treatment of his song was simple, restrained and devastatingly effective, Stone’s is histrionic and over-produced; rather than conveying an overwhelming sense of tragedy it is simply an overwrought travesty. The mess is compounded by a clumsy, entirely inappropriate rock guitar solo by Jeff Beck.

This would be bad enough, but the truly dreadful aspect of the single is the decision to use only the first one and a half verses out of Bogle’s four (as marked in the illustration of the lyrics). That frees up space for Beck’s self-indulgence, but it guts the song of its message. GFoF

Bogle moves from musing on the fate of the individual, teenage soldier to the millions more who died in the same war, and the millions more who died in the following wars.

For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Cutting the last half of the song is a dreadful artistic and political mistake. I hesitate to use the word “political”, but Bogle’s song is unquestionably political, in a quiet sense. Removing its message does not just turn a powerful piece of art into a disposable trinket; it implicitly offers a counter message, that Bogle was wrong, that the deaths were not in vain.

That is a valid argument, though it is not one with which I have much truck. I am prepared to concede that the First World War had to be won once it started, but I also believe that the politicians were negligent in their indifference to the likelihood of war and its consequences. The British politicians were far from being the most culpable and they did want to avoid war. It’s just that they didn’t want that badly enough to ensure that Willie McBride and his contemporaries wouldn’t have to die.

Quiet anger is entirely appropriate, along with respect and gratitude to those who served and fell. Bogle’s song is in accord with that sentiment. If Joss Stone and the British Legion did not believe that the last two verses of The Green Fields of France matched their vision of Remembrance Day then they should have chosen another song, rather than bowdlerising the original.

Stripping Bogle’s song of its final two verses is like performing Romeo and Juliet without the last act, on the grounds that its a downer of a conclusion to a great love story.

Perhaps Bogle’s Green Fields of France isn’t art on the same level as Shakespeare, but it is an important work of genuine quality, with the ability to stir deep emotion. It deserves better than Joss Stone’s dreadful treatment. The British Legion should know better.

Operation Doomsday

This is a translation of a Norwegian account of Operation Doomsday that my father took part in. It was the liberation of Norway in May 1945. He flew into Stavanger on VE Day. It bears out a story he told me that seemed a bit far fetched. They had to rearm some of the German troops to help keep order because the Russian PoW’s were out of control and there weren’t enough British troops to deal with the problem.

The article follows.

In Norway the peace could have been a bloodbath, much worse than the war. Both General Eisenhower and the leadership of Milorg (the Norwegian Resistance) had nightmares about what the 360,000 German troops in Norway would choose to do: surrender or fight to the last man in Festung Norwegen (Fortress Norway).

At 2:41, in the middle of the night, 7th May the German chief of staff Alfred Jodl signed a document in the French city of Reims. It promised that the Wehrmacht would lay down all weapons and surrender unconditionally. The following day was named VE Day, Victory in Europe, although fighting continued in several places. Much of the continent was on the way from war to chaos.

Norway was not covered by the peace in Reims. It had suddenly become the biggest threat to an orderly surrender. In Norway there were perhaps as many as 360,000 German soldiers, many of them well equipped and in good fighting shape, although there were reports of low morale in some camps.

In Berlin Nazi party secretary Martin Bormann threatened to fight to the last man in what was called Festung Norwegen, and the fanatical Nazi Reichskommisar of Norway Joseph Terboven had similar ideas at Skaugum (the Norwegian royal residence).

 There were now several million Allied soldiers in Europe. But the fighting wasn’t over and the vast numbers of prisoners of war meant that there was hardly a single spare soldier to be sent to Norway, whether to fight or to take charge of an orderly German surrender.

Many messages, telegrams, orders, counter-orders, intelligence reports and minutes of staff meetings at the highest level in the General Eisenhower’s SHAEF (supreme headquarters) and Churchill’s war cabinet, were flying to and fro. Plans were changing, often several times a day.

The Norwegian government in London couldn’t celebrate yet: would they return to a country in ruins with thousands of dead in a militarily senseless, desperate German farewell?

In Scotland there were 7000 Norwegian soldiers, desperate to take part in the liberation of their homeland. A company of mountain troops had been part of the Red Army in Finnmark (the far north of Norway) since the previous autumn, although their contribution was mostly symbolic. But the only Norwegian unit in a condition to take part in the first wave of Allied forces was a parachute company.

The plan was that a Norwegian American battalion would have the honour of being the first victors in the streets of Oslo, but they didn’t come till several days after VE Day.

This was a risky operation: a few thousand airborne troops against a giant, undefeated army. The British were also nervous that the German navy and the Luftwaffe would use Norway as a base for suicide attacks on British targets. Moreover, there was a large submarine fleet in Norway, mainly in Trondheim.

The commander of the Wehrmacht in Norway was not exactly a peacemaker. General Franz Böhme was notorious as the Butcher of Kragujevac, one of the most savage massacres during the bloody war in the Balkans, with 3,000 victims. Now he sat in his bunker under a Lillehammer hotel, under orders from the Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, Germany’s new head of state. He was receiving telegrams and courier reports that a British delegation was ready to fly from England in a white Catalina flying boat in the hope that Böhme would see reason and order his troops to lay down their arms and act responsibly.

But first the Allies had to prepare a military force that would prevent a bloodbath in Norway. This was Operation Doomsday. It was time for doomsday in Norway.

Almost from the very outbreak of the war, the Allied leaders had been planning for how it would end. Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt in 1943 agreed that they would not accept anything but  an “unconditional surrender” of Germany.

The first plan for the liberation of Norway was given the codename Apostle. But would Germany collapse, like a house of cards? Would Hitler capitulate simultaneously on all fronts, or would the large Wehrmacht force in Norway be excluded from the surrender and therefore pose a threat to both convoys on the Murmansk and assistance to German attempts to break out of the Baltic?

For a while both Churchill and Eisenhower’s SHAEF were so optimistic that they envisaged a German collapse as early as the end of 1944.

But they underestimated German resistance. And Eisenhower worried also about whether the Wehrmacht would transfer many of its divisions from Norway to France. Finally just six divisions moved from Norway to reinforce the Atlantic Wall, partly thanks to sabotage by the Milorg against railways and transport.

Photographs from the liberation celebrations, which lasted from 8 May to 7th June, often show the Norwegian resistance heroes, Gunnar Sønsteby, Max Manus and Jens Christian Hauge. The truth is that both Milorg, the Norwegian government and the Norwegian military leadership in London, led by Crown Prince Olav, played a small role in the first stage of liberation.

The Scottish General Andrew Thorne, head of the British Army’s Scottish Command, was effectively dictator of Norway for a few weeks, with both military and civilian power. The Wehrmacht surrendered to him, not local forces.

But as late as May 1st General Thorne was a commander without an army, although on paper he had Task Force 134, with both Norwegian, British, American and Polish soldiers.

Finally, it was agreed to use airborne forces from the 1st Airborne Division. These soldiers were to move in, via Stavanger and Oslo, as soon as General Böhme had signed the declaration that the German soldiers would stand down and await orders from the Allies.

On 8th May an airborne Armada was already crossing the North Sea, carrying the troops taking part in Operation Doomsday. These few thousand soldiers faced a challenge that would make the toughest fighters feel nervous to the pit of their stomachs They were entirely dependent on the Germans army keeping its discipline.

Who was the commander of the 1st Airborne Division, the visible liberator of Norway, who arrived in on 9th Mayl? He was already a famous war hero and he was driven into Oslo in a hijacked German car with only four police officers and two Airborne teams (Norwegian word is “lag” – I don’t know the English language military equivalent) following.

Major General Robert Elliot Urquhart was a 43 year old Scotsman with a long and hard war behind them. He was known by his men as a leader who could not be intimidated by hardship. One of his pilots stated that he was “a hell of a general, who didn’t think he was above doing a sergeant’s job if he had to.”

He would need all his toughness and energy during his real baptism of fire. He led the 1st Airborne Division during one of the biggest Allied failures of the war, Operation Market Garden. This was the Battle of Arnhem, “A Bridge Too Far” in the Netherlands, where the division’s combat strength was virtually wiped out. He led his men for nine days, cut off and outnumbered by the II SS Panzer Corps, in such a daring and efficient way, he was called the hero of Arnhem. Only one quarter of the 1st Airborne Division made it back to the UK.

Now they were 6,000 men up against 360,000. On 9 May they began disarming the huge numbers of conquerors who had suddenly turned into prisoners of war. Practical problems means many Germans were allowed to retain their weapons, to keep order, both in their own ranks and in the large, abused and starving hordes of Soviet, Polish and Serbian prisoners of war.

The airborne troops also immediately started their second big task: to find war criminals among the German masses. It was looking for a needle in a haystack. Many Gestapo officers showed incredible ingenuity in hiding among ordinary soldiers.

But there was help from both Norwegian and German informers so Akershus Fortress and other prisons were soon filled with torturers and executioners. Joseph Terboven escaped arrest. He blew himself up with dynamite at Skaugum.

As if that was not enough for Urquhart’s few men, they also had to be ready to fight if any German units resisted. It turned out that the only place they met resistance, was among the German Marines in Trondheim.

However, they were hit by adversity right from the start after leaving Britain in two waves. The bad weather caused one plane to turn back, and several crash landed. One was lost with everyone killed, including the Task forces RAF commander. Altogether, the division lost 37 men during the crossing. (NB three aircraft crashed on May 10th –  a total of 48 men were killed).

After the war Urquhart admitted that he envisaged a battle against superior forces when he landed. In total the Allied force didn’t amount to more than 30,000 men. There were also 40,000 Milorg People and 13,000 Norwegian police militia crossed the frontier from Sweden. But the main man, who was greeted by the people of Oslo in these first few days was Roy Urquhart, and it was he who accompanied Crown Prince Olav when he came home on 13th May.

In these exciting few weeks, which could have claimed the lives of thousands, General Thorne was dictator in Norway. But it was Urquharts paratroopers who, along with General Böhme, ensured that the feared horror scenario never came true on Norwegian soil.1st Airborne Division left Norway in August and was dissolved in November 1945.