Thomas More's Utopian Blues

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Laws. The law is an ass. Murphy's law. Unlawful laws. Denis Law. Er...Ashley Cole slaw. If you like football and the law, you're in luck, especially if you live in the chilly, damp western extremity of Europe. Here’s a take on laws, from Thomas More, sometime advisor to King Henry VIII of England, and, no doubt, for some a rather unlikely figure to appear on a Rangers site.

“Yet all the laws they can invent have not the power to distinguish what is their own from what is anothers, which the many lawsuits which break out every day, and which are eternally depending, give too plain a demonstration.” - Thomas More, Utopia, 1516

There’s certainly plenty of football fans, clearly at a loose end when it comes to studying, work or family life, who remain ‘eternally depending’ on that elusive legal decision which will, at last, allow them to see fair and proportionate punishment meted out to Rangers FC, that most villainous bastion of nefariousness, nastiness and ne’er do welling, which has hitherto, of course, escaped any sort of retribution for the sins of the Murray Group.

The world of those who cannot grasp ‘what is their own and what is anothers’ – failing to see that others may have a different opinion, or not grasping what the fairly straightforward word ‘unlawful’ means - and who insist that a Utopia could be created out of the stony rubbish that is Scottish football if only Rangers were chastised to their taste, deserves examination. Let's not beat around the bush: it's some Celtic fans we're talking about here.

At the lowest level they display a failure to recognise shades of opinion, a failure strongly enough held to be heading rapidly for the borders of sociopathy. The thesis runs thusly: I have decided that this is the narrative of the Rangers story, and no others are valid. Other opinions are not permissible.’ Now, everyone’s entitled to feel strongly about things, and of course we all have our own views on things, but treating any dissent from your own view as utterly discredited is not healthy, not ever, in any arena.

Curiously, the framing of the argument from our detractors doesn’t have quite the courage of the conviction. The point is usually made that this is NOT about Rangers v Celtic, absolutely not, in no way. When Mr Joe O’Rourke fires a missive to Stewart Regan, he is careful to include fans of other teams in the League of Aggrieved Supporters, including Kilmarnock fans, although he spoils the ecumenical zeal somewhat by suggesting they don’t know who their own chairman is.

“As for Billy Bowie at Kilmarnock, I doubt if anyone will know who he is never mind pay any heed to him, and I include the supporters of Kilmarnock in that comment.” - Mr J. O’Rourke, some kind of Celtic fans’ spokesman.

Dissent, remember, is not permissible. Mr Bowie, apparently (I hadn’t heard him say so, certainly) the holder of an alternative opinion to the ‘thrash Rangers’ mentality, must become a non person.

That this chairman has part of a fan led takeover of Kilmarnock which has lasted several years, and is therefore quite likely to be known to Kilmarnock fans, shows up the reality of Mr O’Rourke and the wider hang ‘em high brigades claims – he wants other fans on board to suggest a united front, and is happy to use them ‘on the leaflet’ so to speak, but can’t help revealing his ignorance of these other clubs because in the end he cares not a jot for these other clubs, or the wider game.

(It would be an unusually deaf or blind Rangers fan not to have noticed a similar strain of entitlement amongst ourselves; but for once, we’re not the ones being examined, and frankly we’re in no position to lord it over anyone, so we can smugly leave ourselves aside.)

But really, you don’t have to be a Bluenose to spot the self interest which is at the heart of the campaigns to keep the boot firmly on Rangers neck; an aim, quite frankly, which we’ve required little assistance with in recent years. Even so, Mr O’Rourke and friends have as much interest in fairness – ‘integrity’ - as Henry VIII did in marital fidelity: it is basic greed and the chance to fill your boots. Thomas More was well aware of where that leads:

“When every man draws to himself all that he can encompass, by one title or another, it must follow that, however plentiful a nation may be, if a few divide up between themselves the rest must fall into want.” - More, Utopia

Henry VIII’s advisor was talking about a different kind of title to the one we’re more familiar with, but the end game remains the same: power concentrated in one place, the rest in want. Given that this is pretty much David Murray’s business raison d’etre, the irony meter of Celtic and their chums aiming for the same target is off the scale. No amount of repeating the words fairness or integrity can cover the plan and the outcome – it’s not exactly hidden, not exactly subtle and not fooling anyone. All power to the Celtic!

How anyone at a club outside of Glasgow could have thought ‘I’m fed up with Rangers and Celtic having everything, it’ll be better if only one of them has everything’ is quite beyond my feeble intellect. But that’s where the game finds itself and even the most committed Gers man will surely agree that it will stay that way for a while at least.

If some clubs have now woken to the fact that having one club ‘drawing all to himself’ is not a great business plan and will not benefit them beyond the occasional loan player, a crumb of largesse from the master’s table, so much the better. Scotland is not so ‘plentiful’ in either sport or in general that individuals can afford to indulge in some collective madness for a few years. We can live in hope that the targets of Mr O’Rourke’s ire, the Stewart Milnes or the Anne Budges, are indeed moving on. Time will tell. Media coverage recently wasn’t promising, but it was the holidays and there wasn’t much else on, given our execrable result in Luxembourg.

As a side note on media coverage, it’s been amusing - if a little odd - to read this week’s coverage of Michelle Thomson, the ex-SNP MP, who was told she wouldn’t be hauled up on any charges relating to some house buying firm in Edinburgh. Media stories have, initially anyway, uniformly framed this as ‘Thomson fraud case dropped.’ That there never was a fraud case against her is irrelevant it seems, but the curious thing has been the anger at the media from Nationalists.

Given that the coverage of Ms Thomson almost exactly mirrors the coverage of Rangers – you acted illegally, then you acted unlawfully, and anyway there was definitely something fishy going on so we’re just going to carry on accusing you – one can hardly avoid the conclusion that the media in Scotland is a Celtic supporting Unionist cabal. Now there’s one for the psepholgists to get into, although I fancy John Curtice’s hair will be even thinner after he works that one out.

But to return to Rangers and how they spoil a tartan Utopia. The pity is that some people have bought so wholly into the concept that they cannot now retreat from their stance. A great pity in fact for, like society in general, we are not so blessed with acute commentators of the game that we can afford to carry those who, when the facts change, remain blinded by ideology. The likes of Graham Spiers we can write off as beyond hope, but Tom English, finest writer on sport in this soggy land, I am looking at you. I am sad to write that in the unlikely event of you ever reading these words, you probably won’t care.

How now for the ideologues, if the punishment narrative does indeed move on?

‘For inasmuch as sound and fury hath crashed around, it has found but a stony shore upon which to break. - You know who by now

Sound and fury, indeed. That’s charitable when we consider some of the contributions the Rangers saga has elicited, but the point is salient: the ‘sound and fury’ has actually brought forward, beyond kicking us to the bottom of the ladder to start again, nothing. Because, I would argue, there’s nothing to it.

The essential nutrient of any worthwhile criticism, constructive intent, has been absent; had it been present, solutions to financial mismanagement in football would have been suggested, enshrined upon vellum and buried under the centre spot at Hampden. Even as the dread hand of vengeance fell upon Govan, any chance of a repetition happening to one of the game’s more morally upstanding exemplars would have been banished via regulation or legislation.

But constructive criticism there has not been, nor can there be, for any such proposal would see the good ship Morality crash into the reality that on these dismal shores, the sands shift. You cannot legislate against the future any more than you can predict the lottery numbers: you may get lucky, but that’s about it. Where once HMRC made cosy deals with tax avoiding entities, and the bigger the entity the more likely the sweetheart deal, now the fangs of state are bared and relentless is the hunting down. For the newly puritan tax collector, issues of revenue are cut and dried clear.

Alas, this means issues of law must also be cut and dried clear, and these they never have been, nor ever will be. The law, on taxation just as on other areas, changes according to the public mood; proposal A from fan group B might win favour just now, but what happens in 5 years when PM Corbyn, swept to power on a revolutionary if somewhat geriatric wave of fervour, rewrites the code in favour of even more rigorous collection? Or when, in 10 years, PM Rees Mogg (God help us) reverses course and makes it fine and dandy again to try and dodge your responsibility to society?

And what if, like Rangers, schemes which were legal although, in my opinion, a really bad idea, are retrospectively made…watching my words here…liable? What if your team, in a small way perhaps, has been unable to foresee the future and taken a wrong decision? Better not to actually put anything on the statute books, I guess, lest the biter end up bit. If these shores have been found to be stony ground, perhaps the loudest voices against Rangers would do well to ask themselves why, although experience tells me the reply would most likely be ‘because it’s a media conspiracy’ or something along those lines.

Nah, far easier, in the end, to shout about title stripping, how it isny fair, and leave your non-Rangers team to get up to whatever it likes, so long as no-one knows. Far easier to call for vengeance and ignore the cause of the outrage. Thomas More held a jaundiced view on the chances of a just society ever existing, even if that society was set out as a shining light upon a hill: “I believe it would be long before we should learn or put into practice any of the good institutions” that he saw or could imagine in his society. Plus cha change, Tam.

Fans of other teams may wish to consider these points, but sadly for me these folk are not likely to read, far less feel persuaded by, this rambling piece of literary self indulgence; if we put them to one side and focus on ourselves, what now? Let’s see what the humanist More had to say.

“If a man saw a crowd run out into the rain, and take a delight in being wet; if he knew he could in no way persuade them otherwise, the best he could do would be to stay dry himself, for if he cannot persuade others he should take care of himself.’ - Himself again

In some ways I was disappointed to see Stewart Robertson appointed to some board or other of Scottish football’s labyrinthine corridors of power. Bluntly, he’s got – or should have – more than enough on his plate at Ibrox to let the rest of the game get on with whatever it likes, whether that be continued excavating of itself to feed fanaticism or even, admittedly unlikely, coming up with some forward thinking to invigorate the game.

Rangers is not, and is I think unlikely to be for some time, in a place where it can distract itself with questions about the greater good of the game. The focus must remain resolutely on our own navel for some time, until good health and, hopefully, success on the pitch, have returned.

Granted, the chances of radical, successful or even interesting administration of the game happening along any time soon seems slim, given what’s gone before; but even allowing for more of the catastrophic leadership we’re all used to, the view from Edmiston Drive ought to be ‘for us, it can’t get any worse than it has been. We’re not in a position to worry about others – you all just crash on, we’ll be with you in a while.’

If success and good health return to the club, representation on the boards at Hampden/SPFL will also return. You may have your own opinion on whether that’s a good thing, but it’s likely to be a sure thing, so in the meantime we should keep ourselves dry and let the others take a delight in getting wet.

For the dreamers, Utopia and Utopias often look great from the outside, but when you experience the reality things fall apart pretty quickly. There’s a relevant review on line here which talks about the Utopian societies which sprang up in the US in the last 19th century; it makes for grim reading. Usually, one person took all to himself (if the leader was male, in a sexual regard especially) while telling others everything was held in common. Disillusionment was rarely long in coming. You have to hope the Stewart Milnes and Billy Bowies of this world, while far from suddenly liking Rangers in any way, have realised that there’s no more mileage in whacking the Govan piñata, nor in cosying up to the London Rd Shelob.

I hope, quite a lot, that the madness has passed, that disillusionment with vengeance for vengeance’s sake has set in, and that the game might recover its previous position of being rubbish but not at death’s door. I don’t think there are any more chances for the game here, it’s like someone returning to the hospital time and again for a new liver but keeping on drinking every time. Sooner or later the door gets closed on you.

And though Scottish football may be pretty poor, it’s still better than the rubbish Utopia which some see just over that hill, the one with the signpost marked ‘strip titles and all will be well’. No doubt even a clunking piece like this will be rejected by many on the grounds that it’s just trying to divert attention away from the issue, and I accept that since each will have their own view – I just think that most people, after more than half a decade, would probably like to move on.

The alternative is pretty much obsession, and that’s not healthy. I certainly believe far too much space has already been granted folk who have long lurched way past obsession into sociopathy, although I don’t deny for a second that there was certainly a story there! My God, we of all people know that. But a new season is beginning, the play looked exciting if a little open at the back, who knows what will happen.

In the end, you can’t have a kickabout with a noose, any more than you can with a balaclava, a sash or a pyrotechnic flare.

It’s all about the ball.

The sooner we get back to that, the better.

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