Rangers, Alex Thomson & Presbytarian Slaps

By on Apr 20, 2012 in Finance, Latest, Scottish Football | 18 comments

The one Rangers issue to attract more criticism recently than their financial management – alleged and actual – has been Scottish media coverage of it, especially in Glasgow itself. Scottish football journalists’ inability to comprehend Rangers’ current financial woes is already the stuff of legend. So for a truly remarkable angle to emerge now is… well… truly remarkable.

London-based Channel 4 News has run a series of features on Rangers’ insolvency which has thrown new light on the story, thereby exposing flaws in Glasgow’s football journalism and its subservient attitude to the story’s subject. This, in turn, has caused trouble for the features’ presenter, Channel 4’s ‘chief correspondent’ Alex Thomson. His willingness to highlight those flaws has led the story into murkier waters, as the Glasgow media’s attitude to his criticisms has ranged from ultra-defensiveness to alleged threats of violence from another, as yet unnamed, journalist. Thomson’s work has been designed to detail the Rangers story to a national audience. As such, much of it has been familiar to Scottish media aficionados.

Yet Thomson’s basic research into “corporate misgovernance” at Rangers and the Scottish Football Association has uncovered important details which Glasgow journalists overlooked, somehow. On March 20th, Thomson interviewed Rangers ex-director Hugh Adam, who had been quoted at length in the Scottish Daily Mail newspaper on March 2nd on the issues of player registrations and alleged “secondary” or “side” contracts during his Ibrox boardroom tenure. Thomson’s interview merely put a face – and an almost endearing octogenarian voice – to the name. But what was old news in Glasgow was relevant background to anyone in England without access to the Mail’s decent web-site coverage. And genuinely revelatory material followed ten days later, when Thomson forensically assessed the issue of the Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) used by Rangers from 2000 to 2009 – the focus of the “big tax case” which still, at the time of typing, hangs over the club.

He obtained rare access to oddball struck-off solicitor Paul Baxendale-Walker, who designed the scheme he says Rangers misapplied – “that is why there is a tax case.” And he revealed emails from Rangers ex-CEO Martin Bain on his EBT, including a genuinely attention-grabbing reference to giving relevant documents to then-chairman John McClelland’s secretary “for her to shred.” Thompson had already encountered hostility from Glasgow football journalists. On March 24th, he wrote that while he “expected paranoia, insults, spin etc…” from fans, he “didn’t expect… the insults (and in at least one case a direct physical threat) from Scottish journalists.” Thomson said he never got such an “interesting reaction” in 20 years as a war correspondent in “Sarajevo, Mogadishu” elsewhere. “Only in Glasgow,” he noted. “Something about asking questions about RFC clearly angers some in the Glasgow media.”

The issue attracted more attention on Monday when Thomson accepted an invitation to participate in the Superscoreboard phone-in programme on Glasgow local radio station Clyde Radio, who sat him in-between two “Glasgow media” representatives, Hugh Keevins, of the Daily Record newspaper and the Scottish Sun’s Roger Hannah. Their close proximity failed to inhibit Thomson, who claimed Rangers fans had been “sold down the river” by “the people who run their club,” the football authorities and “the state of football journalism in Glasgow.” Presenter Gerry McCulloch sped to his colleagues’ defence, calling the Rangers story “a type of journalism they didn’t expect to be speaking about.” And Keevins excused himself as “a mainstream football writer… matters of corporate governance, I hand over to Alex and those like him.”

That argument died instantly. Wasn’t there “anyone in Glasgow you could hand over to?” Thomson asked. “Surely it was in your gift to go to your editor and say ‘there are serious questions to be asked of, for instance, David Murray, of Craig Whyte? It didn’t happen.” Hannah slowly and laboriously explained that the story was “a slow and laborious process.” Thompson argued that there was nothing slow and laborious about “googling” Craig Whyte “but instead the story went out, as you well know; a billionaire, not true, off-the-radar wealth and all the rest of it.”

Keevins then bid for infamy by suggesting Whyte had “paid for his Google history to be deleted.” But before listeners choked on their tea, Thomson said: “It’s at Companies House, though. They don’t delete their books.” Thomson then moved to local journalists “sycophancy towards the big two, certainly towards Rangers,” marvelling that “you even have your own word for it…I didn’t know what ‘succulent lamb culture’ was until I came on this story” (during a 1998 interview with the Daily Record’s Jim Traynor, Rangers’ then-owner David Murray took “mouthfuls of the most succulent lamb” before dispensing ‘wise’ words for Traynor to unquestioningly reproduce in the paper – the wise words in question were “there’s more to come from Rangers” – how right he was). And he seemed over-proud (“I did an amazing thing”) of persuading four “Glasgow-based” hacks to go on camera to “basically dump on their own patch” and admit that “our house is not in order.”

So when Rangers fan David asked “how do you feel about people criticising your journalism?” Hannah counter-attacked. “What have you learned about the Rangers story from Alex and Channel 4 that you hadn’t learned from the Scottish media? Superscoreboard had condemned the poor Scottish football coverage in the UK-wide media the previous week, so Hannah knew well that Thomson was teaching most of the nation – or at least the bit that watches Channel 4 news. But David dutifully said he’d “learnt nothing” from Thompson and that Glasgow journalists were “fair journalists… as far as I’m concerned that’s how I know what’s happening.”

From that answer it was unclear whether David had ever watched Channel 4 at all, let alone Thompson’s investigations. But he fitted Supoerscoreboard’s anti-Thompson narrative as if he’d been a plant. And McCulloch went into smugness overdrive, asking Thomson if there was “anything that you’re about to break?” Not to be outdone in the smug stakes, Thomson replied: “I assume the gentleman who just phoned in already knew Martin Bain had put £100,000 in an EBT scheme and was asking for another and was asking for documents to be shred.” Had David been planted, he’d have been watching Emmerdale on the telly by now. But he stayed on the line and could only muster a bewildered “sorry?” before spluttering that: “I’m not 100% sure about everything. That’s not what I phoned about.”

It was too late and McCulloch couldn’t retrieve the situation with “members of the public and journalists are saying that you telling us what we already know,” as David clearly didn’t “already know.” It was the same on the subject of Campbell Ogilvie. The SFA president eventually revealed details of his EBT; but only a week after a Hampden ‘media breakfast’ (succulent bacon and eggs?) where journalists accepted it was “inappropriate to divulge” Ogilvie’s “personal” finances. Then things hotted up. Celtic fan Eddie brought up Thomson’s alleged threatening by another journalist. This also felt set-up, as it allowed Thomson to “prove” the threats.

Having “rustled the piece of paper for radio” and admonished Hannah – “no good trying to look at the names because they are blacked out Roger, good effort” – he read “a twitter message I had from this journalist.” It said: “It was me who threatened Timmy Thomson: you’d better desist, or you’ll get a real Presbyterian slap.” Thomson noted, in a perversely admiring tone, that “in the space of less than 140 characters, he’s managed to admit he’s previously threatened me, he’s called me Timmy Thomson which, apologies Celtic fans, is defamatory, and then issued another threat.”

Eddie had asked Thomson and the others to “name and shame” the journalist. “That will come out in court,” Thomson noted, having told listeners that “I have been in touch with Strathclyde Police and I fully expect a prosecution here.” He then addressed what happened when the issue had previously arisen on Superscoreboard. “At least two journalists implied that I had made up the story (which) is potentially extremely defamatory”, he noted before issuing his own wee ‘threat’: “There are certain potentially serious commercial implications for this radio station if you do that sort of thing.” He continued: “Something like this can be tolerated within Glasgow journalism… that’s appalling. Why didn’t they condemn it? Answer me that.” Despite Thomson’s repeated pleas that he “wasn’t the story,” he was making himself the story. Superscoreboard’s audio archive explained why.

Eddie had also phoned the programme on April 6th, asking why Glasgow journalists were not naming and shaming anyone threatening Thomson. But rather than explaining the potentially-damaging legal implications of doing so, the Sunday Mail’s Mark Guidi launched into a fearful tirade: “That’s the whole point, why doesn’t he?” Guidi replied, turning Eddie’s question on its head. “If you’ve been threatened, name them, if you’re that brave. What has he actually revealed that hasn’t already been out there?” Before Eddie could properly answer, Guidi was off again: “Ach, listen Eddie, don’t fall for that garbage. He can’t find anything… all this about media members have threatened him, I don’t believe that for a minute. If it’s true I don’t condone it but name the guys.” Thus, in less than 140 words, Guidi questioned Thomson’s courage, journalistic integrity and honesty, barely acknowledging that threatening fellow journalists was at all wrong.

Eddie asked, pertinently: “Why would he want to make something like that up?” to which he was told: “Don’t speak to me like that, who do you think you are talking to?” before being unceremoniously cut off by McCulloch. It was shocking, bullying stuff. Eddie had clearly struck a raw nerve. Little wonder Thompson wished to appear this week, refusing Clyde Radio’s initial suggestion that he contribute via telephone. “Not much use for revealing evidence of a threat, is it?” he noted, correctly, before challenging “every hack who doubted I’d been threatened to say it face-to-face. They talk tough when I’m 400 miles away – let’s see them show up when it matters.”

Predictably, Guidi didn’t “show up” despite Thomson questioning his courage, journalistic integrity and honesty. Hannah said that “the guys who spoke about this last week weren’t scheduled to be on this week’s show.” But if Thompson made it, why not Guidi? Cut from the above context, Channel 4 have simply spread a Glasgow story to a UK audience which, as Superscoreboard acknowledged, was previously ill-informed by an Anglo centric UK media. That they could add any new material, let alone significant material concerning Bain and Ogilvie, exposed much of Glasgow football journalism, its subservience to Rangers and ignorance of their financial troubles. And however serious the ‘threats’ to Thomson (“presbyterian slap” is the sound of a playground), the response has been an ultra-defensive, offensive closure of ranks.

And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan to believe that isn’t right.

STV – FAIR PLAY FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

As a postscript to this Glasgow tale, I was directed towards an intriguing STV story by 200% reader Tom Cassidy. “Celtic bottom of the league – disciplinary watch” ran the headline, leading to expectations that Celtic’s discipline had been the SPL’s worst this season. Of course, if Neil Lennon’s outbursts at officialdom were included, Celtic could be up for a perverse nine-in-a-row and a European Cup for indiscipline. However, the story revealed that Celtic’s disciplinary record was actually the SPL’s best and they were only “bottom” because “points” were awarded for red and yellow cards (two and one respectively) and Celtic had the lowest points total.

Mindful that teams topped fair play leagues with lowest scores, Tom took up STV’s offer to get in touch if he’d “spotted an error.” He told us: “I had an excruciating ping-pong match with STV trying to get them to admit the headline was a nonsense in relation to the story. Rob Woodward, the article’s author, was addressed at one point in the process. He delegated to Suzanne Burns who, in extremis, confirmed that the choice of headline accorded with STV’s journalistic standards.” I can’t but imagine that Alex Thomson, among others, would probably agree.

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    18 Comments

  1. The twitter quote Alex Thomson supplied as “evidence” was from a Parody twitter account of former journalist David Leggat. The account was set up to parody and make a fool of Leggat.

    It appears to have backfired and made Celtic supporter’s tamed journalist d’jour Alex Thomson look like as bit of a tit. Is he now ready to follow useful idiot and odious creep Graham Spiers into infamy and unemployment?

    Player 1

    April 20, 2012

  2. Ouch. The smug Mr Thomson’s “I have in my hand a piece of paper” routine has rebounded massively. Didn’t he do any kind of basic check on the bogus Twitter account? Just looking at some of the other posts from it would have told him everything. Even the Twitter name was a huge clue as it insulted the ex-journalist concerned. Mr Thomson failed to do basic checks or apply basic critical faculties. And his main thrust has been to criticise other journalists!

    Not that the other journalists are exempt from criticism. Some of them aren’t very good at writing about actual football so why on earth should they be good at covering finance? As for the financial journalists there’s a suspicion that for a long time they didn’t want to lower themselves to write about a football club and, to be fair, there are much bigger stories in purely financial terms.

    George

    April 20, 2012

  3. No, but mant Rangers (IA) players are. The truth hurts doesn’t Player 1(which soumnd more like the number of guys you will have left by July!)

    hattersfan

    April 20, 2012

  4. Galatians, Chapter 6, Verse 7;

    As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

    Frankie Gault

    April 20, 2012

  5. funny how Thomson didn`t investigate Arsenal on his door step prior to their deal with HMRC,,then again there wasn`t an arsenaltaxcase.com

    BILL HICKS

    April 20, 2012

  6. Just in case anyone missed it, Thomson tweeted a little more on the threat incident –

    “Just for the record – I obviously have more evidence than mere tweets real or no – which will be handed to police…. I was hardly going to divulge any of that”

    and in response to someone who suggested his only evidence was from a spoof twitter account -

    “…the cops get the real stuff – not Clyde or even you! I’m not quite that daft.”

    Just thought that might clear a few things up for Player 1 and George.

    Bill Hicks,
    The Arsenal tax case wasn’t grossly misrepresented by the media though, it wasn’t exactly given prominent coverage either. I think the English clubs will have their time after the FTT hits. I’m sure once the EPL clubs are part of this big tax story the Anglo centric media will fill their boots.

    Player 1,
    it’s quite obvious you are a Rangers fan. Why are so many of you so against Thomson investigating the dodgy characters who have been behind your club’s collapse?

    George,
    If financial journalist don’t wish to ‘lower’ themselves to a story just because it involves a football club, they are really doing a disservice. They should be focusing on the banks who funded the Murray years and their connections to MIH and indeed most of the other SPL clubs and the refurbishments their stadiums.
    It seems strange to me that ‘journalism’/media coverage these days is more about ratings or sales than anything else, yet they are ignoring a story that is actually worth investigation AND has a large captive audience.

    jack

    April 20, 2012

  7. As poorly as the Scottish football press have served the scottish football scene wider interests, rather than berate them for being peculiarly incurious, we might be better wondering why there’s not a Scottish David Conn.

    It’s not that the English press is known for its Woodward and Bernstein tendencies, with the vast majority of people earning a living from reporting on football either uninterested, unable (though ability or through not being given a steer by their editors).

    It’s not unrelated that Conn began life as something else, and became a writer, then a journalist – he proved the market existed and then newspapers picked him up, but they were not able to support his creation. That’s important, as the Scottish football market is much smaller, so the idea of a Conn figure publishing their way to become a Scottish equivalent is more difficult to imagine.

    Conn’s work clearly met a need (which Foul! had first served, followed by fanzine) for actual sports journalism and investigation, which others have followed – notably Matt Scott, Nick Harris and occasionally Paul Kelso, and sometimes others in the sports news scene. Even so, away from those, most sports news in England isn’t much far removed from succulent lamb.

    Where we perhaps differ is that the english press can become a reasonably effective pack when it sniffs blood in the water, mainly out of industry competitiveness. That doesn’t seem to have happened in the same way in Rangers case, not in others.

    Dave

    April 20, 2012

  8. Jack, why are so many Rangers fans against Thomson, because of the sources he has used , namely a disgraced social worker (attempting to defame the club at every turn hoping that some of the dirt he throws may stick) and the leader of celts for change in the 90s. Hardly impartial observers. If he had investigated the twitter threat he would have realised that they came from a so called parody account. As for the lack of interest in the scottish press on the story obviously I must have been reading a different source for the past year

    Wullie

    April 20, 2012

  9. @Jack, are you suggesting that Thomson knew the tweet in question was from a parody twitter account? If so why bother to share it.

    So, basically Thomson said he would share the evidence on the Clyde program,

    “Then I shall prove a G journo threatened to attack me and reveal how this person’s name will become public in due course – R Clyde 7pm”

    comes through with the fake tweet, then once exposed, says he has more evidence which he won’t share.

    Very convincing. Remember this is the guy who was going to show the Scottish Journos how it should be done. Laughing stock.

    Player 1

    April 20, 2012

  10. Wullie,
    Journalists must explore every avenue and listen to every source, however trustworthy they may be. It’s usually how one conducts an investigation. They then decide whether they’re worth listening to. Thomson has been in contact with a wide range of people, some of those are bound to be Celtic fans, some not.

    You do realise that he has been welcoming and taking contributions from anywhere and everywhere? If you think you can give him something worthwhile to do with the Rangers story then email him or contact him on twitter. Plenty have.

    Again, why don’t you want more to be known about what caused the collapse of your club? It’s not an attack on Rangers or Rangers fans.

    The whole threat thing is really not that important. I was merely adding to it so more of the picture could be seen. Personally, I’m not that bothered about it. It’s pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. There’s a possibility Thomson made mistake – I don’t think so, some do. We’ll see.

    There are more important things to focus on but if Thomson’s threat is all your concerned about while your club dies Player 1, then fair enough.

    jack

    April 20, 2012

  11. On another note, the unremitting myopic, victim-status seeking of the OF is another reason I thank whoever is responsible for ensuring that they’re not in English football. I thought the inter big red club stramash’s were tedious, but good christ, they look positively socratic compared to the usual Old Firm ding dongs.

    Dave

    April 20, 2012

  12. Allan telling the truth and there are a lot do not like it. Well done Mr Thompson and welcome to Scotland home of the bigot.

    Big Mike

    April 20, 2012

  13. The impression i got with the Arsenal tax case was that they paid up as soon as charges were brought (bearing in mind that Arsenal’s management of EBT’s was similar to Ranger’s).

    As for the spat between Scottish Football Journo’s and some outsider that bag’s the story. I kinda find it funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Then again, there isn’t really the same investigative journalism going on in Scottish newspapers as there is in their English counterparts. can you really imagine The Scotsman or the Herald, let alone the Record breaking the expenses scandal. Jeez, these publications still have their heads in the sand over Lockerbie.

    Allan

    April 20, 2012

  14. Mark, the ‘threat’ spawned from a fake / parody twitter account purporting to be David Leggat, who in essence isn’t really deserving of the title of journalist anyways these days.

    It was set up by Celtic fans of an online messageboard, and the joke seems to have backfired spectacularly. It has also shred Alex Thomson’s journalistic credibility, at least with regards to this ongoing Rangers story anyway

    In keeping with the theme of your article, maybe you too should make sure of the facts and substance before posting articles in future?? A mere 5 minutes searching online on google or the likes in the aftermath of Thomson’s claims on the Radio Clyde phone-in would have brought you to the relevant information.

    Good luck for the future all the same, keep trying hard

    John

    April 21, 2012

  15. Thanks for the advice, John. As you note in your comment, the tweet from which Thomson quoted was a “threat” rather than a threat. Just like I reported that he tried to “prove” the threat rather than prove it. And I’m not sure what you thought I meant by “the sound of the playground.”

    I must confess, I had assumed the tweet to be a childish prank rather than an organised website, but I didn’t feel the need to change what I’d written. It was, after all, a prelude to the Mark Guidi incident, which appears rather depressingly to be considered acceptable behaviour. I’ll keep trying hard to be a little clearer in future.

    That said, much of the above criticism of Thompson on this particular issue is well-founded. As to whether it has damaged his journalistic credibility on the Rangers story, that appears to depend on whether you want to believe him or not, rather than whether or not his sources are solid.

    And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan to believe that that isn’t right.

    Mark Murphy

    April 21, 2012

  16. Eddie had also phoned the programme on April 6th – incorrect

    douglas robertson

    June 28, 2012

  17. How stupid must the likes of ‘Player 1′, ‘George’ and other commentators on this blog feel now that David Leggat has resigned from the NUJ after being receiving the maximum possible fine for threatening Alex Thomson. Parody account indeed. Another Rangers-spun lie exposed.

    Euskadi

    August 13, 2012

  18. Mr tomo must have loved his welcome from the “obsessed”,,,their very own pet from down south who can reveal the terrible goings on in Glasgow,ably assisted by the failed social worker.
    Old leggo boy is a thorn in the side of the lads from Mordor,more power to his typing finger.
    Never mind lads,The Gers are no more,there’s only a wee 3rd division team playing in blue,playing at Ibrox,called the Rangers with a massive support to get “obsessed” about.
    Now can any of you chaps direct me to the Sevcotaxcase site?

    cam

    August 21, 2012

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