Mal From Ayr, Kilmarnock Fan Extraordinaire
Since the full extent of Rangers’ financial troubles was exposed in 2010, their fans have almost totally refused to accept that their club is to blame for anything at all ever. One manifestation of this is the accusation that any critic of the Rangers must be a bigot, an obsessive, a Celtic fan, or all three. Anyone claiming support for, say, Albion Rovers, or Kingstonian, is almost automatically branded a liar. For years, Celtic fans have seen Rangers fans throughout the media like some sort of bastardised “sixth sense” (“I see blue-nosed people”). So this isn’t a one-way or new phenomenon within the confines of Glasgow football fandom. But sometimes, when it looks like a Rangers/Celtic fan and sounds like a Rangers/Celtic fan, it IS a Rangers/Celtic fan, as was exposed for the nation to hear last Saturday evening, on BBC Radio 5 Live’s famous “6-0-6” phone-in programme.
A “Kilmarnock fan,” Mal, from Ayr, phoned in to complain about the Scottish media’s obsession with Celtic’s 2-1 Champions League defeat of Barcelona at Celtic Park. There has been something of a Celtic love-fest in the Anglocentric national media. And some could argue that there is a brush of double standard about lauding Celtic for the method of their victory, while bemoaning Chelsea for their method of becoming European Champions last spring. But Celtic’s win over a Barcelona side of such wonderful pedigree – European Champions twice in the last four years, semi-finalists on the other two occasions, current Spanish league leaders with 28 points out of 30 (31 out of 33 now) – was THE story of the latest Champions League week. It would have been THE story, even if Chelsea hadn’t won so late against Shakthar and been left staring group stage elimination, five months after conquering the continent. And given Scottish clubs’ lamentable record in Europe in recent years – Celtic very much included – it was a wonder story.
It is only eight years since Celtic last beat Barcelona at Celtic Park, and they parked the proverbial bus at the Nou Camp to get a 0-0 draw and knock the Catalan giants out of the UEFA Cup. That was a big result at the time. But the clubs’ fortunes have so diverged since then that last week’s result was, to use a phrase from a different context, “off-the-radar” in terms of ‘cup shocks.’ Mal, the Kilmarnock fan, was having none of that. “The note on the screen suggests you’re angry,” said 6-0-6 co-presenter Mark Chapman. The note was right. “I’m just fed up with this over-reaction about the Celtic result the other night,” he began. “They’ve won one game and they’re going about saying they think they’re world champions,” he added. Fellow co-presenter Robbie Savage was having none of THAT. “Mal, Mal, listen,” he pleaded, before listing the virtues of the victory and how it brought “pride back to the Scottish League, pride back to Scottish football.”
It might be as relevant to suggest, as Richard Wilson did in the Independent on Sunday that the victory papered over the cracks in Scottish club football’s current edifice. But, Savage concluded, “they’ve beaten the best team in the world. I can’t believe you wouldn’t be proud of being Scottish.” At this stage, remember, Mal was a Kilmarnock fan. And he certainly did not appear to be a Barcelona fan: “What did they win last year? They are not the team they were two or three years ago?” he added, seemingly ready to point out what many media luvvies have overlooked, that Real Madrid deservedly beat Barcelona to the Spanish league title last season. But when challenged to name a “better team than Barcelona at the minute,” Mal plumped for “Manchester United, on their day.” Still, that was a valid opinion to hold, if a very difficult one for which to argue. But then the conversation took a key turn. Mal might well have been expected to cite Killie’s 2-0 triumph at Celtic Park two weeks ago, their first win at the ground since 1955, and how Killie fans didn’t “go on about it” like he felt Celtic fans were.
Instead he regaled us with tales of his “friends that are Rangers supporters” who “celebrated for one day maybe,” after their side’s 3-0 Champions League win in Lyon in 2007 – “at the time, one of the best teams in Europe.” And “after that, they got their heads down.” Rangers’ fans’ reticence to celebrate may have been admirable restraint. It may, however, have been because Olympique Lyonnais were, at the time, ‘no Barcelona,’ having been regular Champions League quarter-finalists but no further. It may also be a figment of Mal’s imagination, as Rangers fans, quite reasonably, continue to harp back to what was possibly even the best in their European history…not tempered by the fact that Lyon exacted full revenge at Ibrox two months later. Maybe Mal was concentrating too hard on Killie’s league struggles that season. He was now in full stride here, though: “I’ve not bought a Scottish newspaper because they’re still going on about Celtic… I don’t want to read about Celtic against Barcelona, that’s history, that’s gone (but) they keep going on about it over and over again.” This, remember, was less than 72 hours after the final whistle at Celtic Park.
Mal certainly wasn’t in the mood to make a jokey claim that recent results made Kilmarnock better than Barcelona. Mark Chapman had to do it for him…and Mal didn’t get the joke…Chapman had to explain that to him. Instead, like his “Rangers mates,” he celebrated Killie’s first win at Celtic in nearly 60 years “for a day.” And he wasn’t bothered about any future receptions he’d get at Rugby Park, suggesting that “the next time they’ll beat us 4 or 5-0,” – a rather glib dismissal of his own team’s prospects, hardly supported by recent evidence. You could almost hear Savage shaking his hairy head, spluttering: “I don’t believe… if I was a Celtic fan, I’d still be celebrating.” Enter Frank from Glasgow, a Celtic fan. Was he still celebrating?” “You’d better believe it!” he cried, lightening the mood in the studio considerably. “I’ll be celebrating until the cows come home!”
Frank had his suspicions, though. “Mal, I’m assuming there’s a Kilmarnock scarf in your top drawer and a Rangers scarf in the one below it.” And he added, (at considerably greater length than this, I should warn anyone checking this article against the programme itself on BBC iplayer): “It doesn’t make us world beaters, it just means our boys performed with their heart and soul, backed by that fantastic support…can you not just put your bitterness and whatever twisted agenda you have aside and just have the good grace to say, ‘well done’?” (Of course, Celtic fans would have struggled with this after any major Rangers triumph. But Mal was a Kilmarnock fan, remember). “No,” Mal replied, perhaps surprising everybody…he was a Kilmarnock fan, remember. “Because for one night, that’s all they deserve.” And again eschewing the opportunity to cite Killie’s win at Celtic Park, he asked where “this superb support has been in the league”, as if bigger crowds for big games was an entirely new phenomenon.
And then, the mask slipped: “It’s down to 41,000,” he said. “Rangers are getting bigger crowds in the third division…” Even Savage twigged by this stage: “Mal, I thought you were a Kilmarnock fan? Why are you bringing Rangers into it?” “Because I look at the attendances,” Mal replied, prompting Savage to suggest he should “look at your own attendances, you’re a Kilmarnock fan.” This latter exchange was played out to a background of Frank’s laughter and occasional “exactly!” And it was time for the knock-out blow: “Mal, you beat Celtic the other week…who scored their goals?” There was silence…until Chapman spoke: “Well, Mal’s gone.” “Exactly, Mal’s gone,” Frank said in his best ‘I-told-you-so’ voice. “You’d better believe Mal’s gone. He’s as much a Kilmarnock fan as I am.” And you had to concede that Frank was probably right. Mal might even have come back at Frank’s rather rose-tinted view of Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s “good grace and dignity,” as there was very little of either quality after Killie beat Celtic in last season’s Scottish League Cup final. But Mal was gone. Not surprisingly, this exchange is fast entering whatever passes for folklore in Scottish social networking circles – it will be news to far fewer of you than when I started typing. But for all its humour, it is an example of the grim reality facing critics of Celtic and Rangers – currently the latter in particular because of current circumstances. Mal may have been exposed. But no-one, it seems, can be accepted as a critic without having what Frank automatically presumed was a “twisted agenda.” This is happening to important bloggers on the subject of Rangers’ finances and ownership and less important ones…
One of my recent efforts drew the usual “Rangers-hating” criticism from a commenter who proceeded to agree with the major point I was making. Likewise my first Rangers article, when I acknowledged that Rangers could pay a £2.8m tax bill for which they accepted liability and wondered why they hadn’t paid it. “Rangers can afford to pay,” came the responses, accusing me of inventing an “anti-Rangers” story and being ignorant of tax law. This was in August 2011, three months after the takeover of Rangers by…Craig Whyte. Which needs no further comment. The full extent of Rangers’ wrongdoing will eventually emerge. We may, indeed, have reached that point already. And for all their efforts, legitimate or not, to reduce their tax liabilities by millions of pounds every year, they still went out of business in June, to be formally liquidated at the end of last month, owing tens of millions of pounds to creditors large and small. That is worthy of not only criticism but condemnation as serious financial mismanagement over a decade. Whether it was more than that remains to be seen. But whether it is or not, as I’ve written before and will write again (then, now and forever?), you do NOT have to be a Celtic fan with an “anti-Rangers” agenda to believe that that isn’t right.
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