Wed, Feb

The Scottish football media's stunning EBT gymnastics

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Unless you've been stuck on the moon over the last few days, you won't have failed to note another EBT hullabaloo has formed after leaked communications between Celtic and the SFA. To cut to the chase and avoid you falling asleep, Celtic, aided and abetted by the SPFL it seems, are demanding (another) independent investigation into governance of Scottish football in and around the period Rangers utilised certain tax schemes - recently declared ineffective by the Supreme Court. In other words, although their cheerleaders in the media will deny it, they want further punishment for Rangers, most probably in the form of honour stripping. Indeed, it's this cheer-leading that is of primary interest to yours truly.

If we go back a number of years to when Rangers were dominating Scottish football (pre-EBTs for those interested) it was always suggested we benefited from favouritism in the media. And, for what it's worth, I think there's some truth in that. Perhaps not so much for the club per se but certainly for its owner David Murray. In those days Murray controlled much of Scottish football and because Rangers were Scotland's primary club, it was perhaps natural sections of the media deferred to him and were slow to react to his less effective parts of his custodianship. Ergo, out of a now infamous dinner in Murray's Jersey property, the phrase 'succulent lamb' was born and it is quite rightly used to mock a lot of the period's media coverage and journalists.

Fast forward to 2017 and the tables have somewhat turned. Rangers have undergone many years of fiscal penance after the risks and frauds of figures associated with the club. Instead of Rangers director John McCelland as vice-chair of the powerful ECA board we have Peter Lawwell and Celtic employees such as Lawwell and Eric Riley have helped form Scottish football policy for several years - with Rangers absent from the same table(s). Many Rangers fans won't like me conceding it but Celtic are now undoubtedly the country's dominant force. And, ironically, this isn't shown any more clearly than by the coverage they now benefit from in the media.

Late last week, Celtic fans Peter Martin (STV2 Football Show Host), Hugh MacDonald (now a semi-retired freelance but contributes regularly to the Herald, the BBC and STV) and Chris McLaughlin (BBC Senior Football Reporter) were among the first to bring back the issue of how a new independent review hadn't been formed by the SFA following requests from the SPFL. As part of this, letters from Peter Lawwell were quoted and Celtic themselves were 'forced' into a statement on Saturday where they released letters between them and Stewart Regan. Stuart Cosgrove (one of the main BBC Scotland contributors and former C4 director) jumped on this for his radio shows which bookend BBC Radio Scotland's live coverage of Saturday football matches.

Coincidentally I'm sure, semi-retired MacDonald (fresh from his appearance on STV2 the previous day) was invited on and the narrative of how this was all good for Scottish football was pushed. Tam Cowan was a dissenting early afternoon voice but, in the evening programme, both Cosgrove and MacDonald were at pains to say they would not drop the issue. Perhaps Cos intended to use his previous relationship with the Scottish Football Monitor (an anonymous collection of paranoid anti-Rangers bloggers) to do so? If not, he has two Saturday BBC radio programmes to use and often appears daily on their lunchtime news discussions with John Beattie.

Moving onto Monday and the topic remained a hot one. Graham Spiers (columnist for the low-circulation Scottish version of The Times) has trapped along with Alex Thomson (a mate of Cos at C4) and even the old 'housewives favourite' Keith Jackson (at the failing Daily Record) has been brought back in from the cold by Peter Lawwell. All three parrot the line of their colleagues from the weekend, forcing Regan and the SFA to offer press access on the issue. This allows further discussion on Radio Scotland featuring their Chief Sports Writer Tom English (recently ridiculed by this site for his topsy-turvy coverage on EBTs). Thankfully they don't follow Spiers' vile comparison with the fine work of the "Justice for the 96" vis-a-vis Hillsborough but amidst a bizarre discussion between English and Michael Stewart (former Hearts and Hibs player) Tom does recommend Lord Nimmo Smith is investigated for his part in the first independent commission's findings (notwithstanding the fact this commission fined Rangers).

Let that sink in for a moment. As this site discussed a few weeks back, not only does the BBC Scotland Chief Sports Writer disagree with and mock experienced QCs on social media, he now thinks their peers should be investigated. Yet, in 2012, Tom said in The Scotsman that Nimmo Smith was "a man whose word carries weight across all divides" and "the commission was beyond reproach". Who exactly does he want to perform this new investigation if he now doesn't trust our law lords? Remember, English's flip-flopping contribution is paid for by you and I. Discredited doesn't begin to describe him.

Hilariously, just as English and Stewart's ill-informed comments were airing, Hibs had joined Aberdeen in calling for calm. Although I won't agree with everything Hibs' statement said, it was fair and constructive and, as Rangers were asked to do in 2013 after the initial LNS commission findings the Edinburgh club wanted to move on. This was an enlightening moment in the debate as Hibs - especially their chairman Rod Petrie - are considered close allies of Celtic. Yet, here we had another top six club join Aberdeen in going against Peter Lawwell's claims that all 42 clubs wanted an investigation. Despite this, no other club has publicly suggested as much and Stewart Regan has also said the complete opposite is true. What gives?

Ever confused and clearly let down by his source(s), Tom seems to have changed tack slightly this morning. Now he's quite correctly saying on Twitter that "Neil Doncaster has questions to answer over SPFL call for a review that his own clubs (bar, seemingly, a tiny number) didn't want". At last, a touch more balance and perhaps less haste but far too late to rescue the reputation of topsy-turvy Tom. After all, surely a journalist like him, so keen to highlight our sport's apparent governance issues would also name Peter Lawwell in his concerns. Lawwell is a key member of the SFA's Professional Game Board so, given his false impressions of support over any new review, his position at the SFA must be untenable? Or does Tom consider him fit and proper (not forgetting Lawwell's own tax arrangements over the last 15 years or so)?

And that's the crux of this debate. Of course journalists should be free to openly discuss any and all issues surrounding our national game. If that means strong criticism of Rangers then so be it and our club and fans shouldn't be afraid of transparency. In fact given what has happened of late, it's the least we should want. Unfortunately, what the last few days has proved is that such debates are flawed. Not only do Rangers not have access to BBC Scotland as it stands (Derek Ferguson commenting on tax issues is, with respect to our Hamilton based followers, not applicable) but it seems invitations to succulent dinners are still being offered. Indeed, many of the names listed above are not new when it comes to agreeing favourable coverage of certain issues behind closed doors. However their judgement remains as flawed as whatever meat is being offered. And it's no longer lamb, that's for sure.

Let's be clear: Scottish football governance has been an issue for many years and probably always will be. However, let's not kid ourselves on that people like English, Spiers or Cosgrove care about the issue so much as which club is being punished. After all, if their own reputations were beyond reproach then it wouldn't just be Regan and Doncaster they'd be highlighting but the man who pulls all the strings since David Murray retired hors de combat in 2011. The fact they will not discuss the lies and hypocrisy of Peter Lawwell tells you everything you need to know about their intentions. For the good of Scottish football, aye right!

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