We have it in England too, of course. If the Daily Express newspaper doesn’t lead with a “news” item on Princess Diana, Madeleine McCann, freak weather or an EU “scandal”, something is seriously wrong. But the Daily Record newspaper’s near-obsession with the ‘Blue Knights’ consortium, which exited stage left for the very last time honest yesterday afternoon, has been a worthy rival in this area of tabloid sensationalism. The Record was a bit quieter yesterday, as the Knights regaled us with their bitter take on events in an afternoon press briefing. An angry Brian Kennedy frothed that “the administrators better have somebody good, some good credible consortium who is fully-funded.” But the expected “or else” failed to materialise. This was wise, of course, as Kennedy was only hours past telling administrators Paul Clark and David Whitehouse that the Knights bid better be accepted by noon on Friday or else they would withdraw from the process. To which the response was “…” – arguably the most honest statement they’d made for some days.
Meanwhile, back at yesterday afternoon’s briefing, nominal bid leader Paul Murray nervously scanned the room for anyone looking ready to ask Kennedy if he had his Scottish Cup Final ticket for the Hibees end. Neither could blame the Record for their bid’s demise. Had it succeeded, the proverbial cheque would have been in the post to particularly supportive hacks such as – to give him his full name – “Exclusive by Keith Jackson.” But as it was, the Knights would probably have struggled to stump up the cash for a stamp. It was particularly instructive to hear the Knights’ bid details, and to note how easily a previously nervous media performer such as Whitehouse was able to reduce the figures to almost nothing – literally almost nothing for unsecured creditors. Worst of all, Kennedy seemed to reveal these skinflint details in the belief that he was showing the world, and Duff & Phelps, in particular, what riches they were turning down. It all resembled naff 1980s quiz show Bullseye with Jim Bowen telling the final couple: “this is what you would have won” after they’d given up a dozen fab prizes for a bloody speedboat – and them living in Wolverhampton.
As someone from Rangers’ administrators Duff & Phelps told BBC sports news reporter Matt Slater yesterday, “money will buy Rangers, not media.” Otherwise Kennedy would probably be too busy running Rangers to even watch the Scottish Cup Final on the telly, chatting merrily away to Walter Smith and Graeme Souness, if the Knights’ swansong statements are to be believed. Pro-Blue Knights rhetoric has peppered the Record’s website throughout Rangers’ administration. The Knights’ “big hitters” were revealed in an “Exclusive by Keith Jackson” on March 12th. They were, Keith exclusively told us “well-established business figures operating at the highest business circles” who “turned over many millions of pounds” or “dealt in billions of pounds of investments” and other eye-catching but unspecific claims of unimaginable (“off the radar”?) riches. Two days later, Paul Murray “laid out his plan to bring punters on board exclusively to Record Sport” – a share issue which perpetuated the class system with its three “entry levels,” £1,000 for plebs, £100,000 to £500,000 at “level two” and over £500,000 for “big money investors.”
The most in-depth analysis of last week’s model Bill Miller came from the Record, on April 6th, almost a month before the Tennessee tow-trucker became preferred bidder and two weeks before he first revealed his “all nonsense” (copyright Rangers Supporters Trust) bid. It was, admittedly, an in-depth attempt at character assassination, which prompted a direct and energetic rebuttal from Miller himself within a day. But it was a well-researched attempt at a character assassination. And it prompted a direct and energetic response from Miller, the like of which we were not to see again, as Miller restricted his communication to American-spelt talk of the “honor and privilege” of owning Rangers, before deciding it was probably not much of either and wishing them “God Speed.” But for all the material gleaned from the website, it wasn’t until I happened upon a copy of the paper itself, this Wednesday just gone, that I felt the full force of the weight the Record threw at Miller and behind the Knights.
The paper devoted the equivalent of an eight-page supplement to the news of Miller’s withdrawal and the how, when, where and why of the Blue Knights’ situation. Other Rangers news was limited to attacking wide midfielder Sone Aluko and defensive SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster. Aluko stood on cliché corner to tell us that if he had “£1 for every time someone asked me what’s going on I could buy the club myself” (he’d have been able to outbid the Knights after a couple of hours at a moderately-well attended dinner party). Doncaster, meanwhile, told us “we clearly lack clarity.” Well, clearly. But back at the main event, there were two exclusive reports by “Exclusive by Keith Jackson,” neither of which contained especially exclusive information. “The Bill was too big for Bill” ran one headline, which was exclusive information to anyone and everyone who had read Miller’s announcement of his withdrawal. “Paul Murray and Brian Kennedy could yet ride to the rescue,” the story continued, in attention-attracting bold letters.
The other exclusive was headed “Players in crisis talks demands,” which provided some exclusive words from “a source close to the squad” about the far from exclusive news that players had been ill-informed by Duff & Phelps on their employment rights in the event of a transfer to the new Rangers company Miller had proposed as an investment vehicle and SPL shareholder. None of the Knights were shoe-horned into that story. But the balance was restored by half-a-page from Neil Patey, a partner at global “accountancy giants” Ernst & Young, on what the Blue Knights should do next, based on the contentious and premature assumption that it would BE the Blue Knights doing something next. Jim Traynor chipped in with a series of excruciating transport and shark analogies (Miller the “trucker” and Kennedy the Sale Sharks rugby club owner), which at least had an appropriately cynical tone – one borne out by subsequent events.
Alongside that was a mass of superfluous opinion from former Rangers chairman Alastair Johnston. Johnston undertook extensive research into Singaporean bidder Bill Ng, which filled several column inches in the Scottish Sun last month. And he used “his own contacts in the media and sports business world” to delve into Miller’s background. Unhealthily obsessive, maybe, but enough to put media and administrators alike to shame. His lead opinion was that Duff & Phelps should “stop blocking Paul Murray and Brian Kennedy,” a manoeuvre which only the “clearly riled Johnson” speaking “exclusively to Record Sport from the States” had noticed. Good eyesight, then. But he also found time to berate Clark and Whitehouse for “filling their own trousers,” a misquoted comment on the administrators’ mega-fees rather than their unease under the media spotlight. Presumably. And the front page was covered with Miller’s face and words. These topped a story filed by Mark McGivern, blowing the paper’s foreign affairs budget in Chattanooga, Tennessee, from where the previous day the paper had done a vox pop among some of Miller’s employees – an exercise which was virtually worthless even before it was rendered utterly worthless by Miller’s withdrawal.
The fact that three bidders had emerged was the most newsworthy consequence of Miller’s withdrawal as preferred bidder, not least because Duff & Phelps had portrayed this emergence as a consequence of Miller’s selection as preferred bidder – a piece of nonsense still in need of adequate explanation. The Record reader could read about this astonishing development in the front page story…but only in its THIRTY-THIRD paragraph, by which time the front page story was the “bottom of page three” story. And by paragraph 36, attention was once more focused on Miller as the past, Kennedy as the present and the Knights as the future. Alas for them, as we all now know, BK and the BKs are now as “ex-“ a bidder as Miller. And, as I type, they are fighting an unseemly war of words, e-mails and figures with the administrators, at a time when Duff, Phelps, Clark and Whitehouse need to be focusing on other matters, about which Rangers’ creditors might actually care.
The Record was initially low key about the Knights failures. The website only had a short – if inevitably “exclusive” – piece by Jackson on the Knights press conference. That didn’t last, of course. Kennedy said the administrators could have “blood on their hands” as the Record detailed his brave, brave efforts to save Rangers. And the headline wrote itself. The Record (“Scotland’s Champion”) has already found a different angle to flog. It has linked the media’s new preferred bidder, Charles Green, with “shamed owner Craig Whyte.” And Alastair Johnston has piped up again in its pages to defend Rangers’ old board (including one P. Murray esq) against allegations emanating from the SFA independent panel’s report into club misdemeanours over the last two calendar years. Meanwhile, the self-styled people’s champions, the fan-backed Knights will now have to come to terms with their own failings. On STV’s Scotland Tonight on Tuesday, former Times journalist Graham Spiers summed them up best. “They’ve got next to no money,” he noted, before remembering their “millions of pounds of turnover” and “billions of pounds of investments” and adding the telling, condemnatory: “They’ve got next to no money that they’re willing to put in.” And you don’t have to be a Rangers fan to believe that that isn’t right.
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