Scottish sport comment: There have been deeply worrying stories in recent days from Channel 4 News journalist Alex Thomson concerning the conduct of some individuals who associate themselves with Rangers.
Thomson, who has taken a close interest in the club over its many months of financial meltdown, describes intimidation on a grand scale by some followers of the Light Blues, complicity by those now running Rangers, and an inability (or unwillingness) on the part of the Scottish media to speak truth to these forces.
The ITN man, who has been embroiled in the brutality of the Syrian conflict of late and covered numerous wars around the world, seems genuinely shocked by what he’s found, and personally been subjected to, in Glasgow.
As far as he is concerned, in Scotland in the 21st century a “mob” is threatening the legal profession, football’s governing bodies, club executives, publishers, bookshops, newspapers and TV companies for daring to contemplate investigations into and stories about Rangers and their fall from grace.
Staggering stuff — and getting worse it seems. The London-based correspondent points out that death threats have been made to at least one individual (the Scottish FA chief executive no less) prompting action by counter-terrorism officers. Not only that the National Union of Journalists say around 25 of their members on Clydeside have suffered abuse for simply doing their job.
Thomson also finds alarming the “silence” over all of this in some quarters of the media, asking “why not a single Scottish newspaper has reviewed a book” — Downfall: How Rangers FC Self Destructed — “selling way beyond its publisher’s estimates? What kind of power does the Ibrox mob have still?”
While it is clearly obvious that the police must be willing to act over these matters it is also necessary for Rangers themselves to take a stand, if they truly wish to have the slate wiped clean of past misdemeanours.
The individual now running the show, Charles Green, recently said he wanted Rangers to “be a force for good in football.”
He now has a duty to make it plain that abusive and threatening behaviour will not be tolerated at Ibrox, for no football club nor any other part of society can appear to be contemptuous of the law.
As we head into the winter months which traditionally shape the football season, fans have begun looking for signs of health or decay in a game that’s undergone tremendous upheaval since the blooms of last spring.
Debate is raging over attendance figures in the SPL in the wake of Rangers’ liquidation and demotion to Division Three. Depending on where you glean your information and how it is interpreted the game is either flourishing or teetering on the edge.
For instance, at this point in the season average home attendances at over half the SPL clubs are up — by 12 to 66 per cent on a year ago. However figures for Celtic, who have by far the biggest stadium, are down by around 11 per cent, including their lowest crowd for nearly 20 years. This may not be quite what it appears, though, because some Parkhead regulars are thought to be picking and choosing games with Champions League ties in mind.
Certainly Hoops manager Neil Lennon is not downhearted, pointing out that for three home games in succession last month Celtic had “115,000 people through the gate and that is pretty healthy, especially in this economic climate.” Those who take a positive view also suggest that across the league, if the numbers to date are maintained, there will be significantly increased gate revenues come May.
Not the case say others, especially those partial to a light blue jersey. The general consensus from Rangers’ fans was that it was correct they should start again in Division Three, where they are boosting gates tenfold and more. However, there was also an intended sting in the tail, which basically amounted to a “be careful what you wish for” attitude.
Sure enough those on this side of the fence point to what they see as an unfolding crisis in their absence. They concentrate not on average attendances but those deemed to be missing from matches.
Read this way things, it must be said, do look blacker: with August and September showing 441,717 spectators at games, leaving 355,466 — or 45 per cent, of spaces unfilled.
It will be well into 2013 before a reliable and settled picture emerges. In the meantime it’s best just to sit back, enjoy the football and the ensuing PR battle over bums on seats.
The appointment of Stephen Maguire as Scotland’s new athletics boss is a considerable step in the right direction ahead of the Commonwealth Games in two years time. The Northern Irishman, who has coached the likes of US sprint star Tyson Gay, has said “it isn’t good enough” that no Scottish male athletes made the track and field team for London 2012.
While focused on producing world-class athletes for the longer term, Maguire has targeted at least three medals in Glasgow.
Not a huge haul certainly but more than the Scots have won in track and field at the last two Commonwealth meetings.
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