It’s over seven years now since the original Rangers faced liquidation but in that time there has been a notable absence of books published which have examined closely exactly went on at the Ibrox club. At the time Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s ‘Downfall’ delivered a blow-by-blow account of the arrogance and misdeeds involved in the club’s self-inflicted collapse but now a new book ‘Tangled up in Blue; The Rise and Fall of Rangers FC’ by Stephen O’Donnell (author of the Scottish football themed novels Paradise Road and Scotball) offers a bit of much-needed perspective and insight into one of the biggest stories in the history of British sport.
O’Donnell’s book however deals with more than just the Ibrox club’s financial implosion. He strips things back to the club’s formative years to see how a club formed by four young teenagers ended up implementing what the author refers to as ‘the exclusionary employment policy.’ The ‘no Catholics need apply’ mantra was common back in the day and O’Donnell examines the covert way in which Rangers came to embody the prejudiced attitudes of the times.
We see the origins of the rivalry with Celtic, how the two clubs came to dominate Scottish football and there’s a particularly amusing episode over how the Ibrox club mistakenly came to believe that it was founded in 1873, when in fact that was the wrong year, it was founded in 1872. The first half of the book though is taken up the employment strategy at the club and the disgraceful way that the ban on Catholics at Ibrox was allowed to persist down the years by a compliant establishment, until in the end, from round about the time of Jock Stein’s arrival at Celtic in the mid-60s, the Ibrox club began to squirm under the weight of its own traditions.
This is no biased account however, O’Donnell uses fairness like a lethal weapon, and in the end that’s appropriate, because fair treatment by the likes of HMRC or UEFA has always been Rangers’ undoing. In the end, even after the Maurice Johnston signing, which is examined in detail, as the author says ‘Rangers lost the battle of ideas’ and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the inclusive, multi-cultural world of the 21st century.
By then of course, the flawed strategies at the club had taken a new turn, as Rangers found themselves involved under David Murray in Paul Baxendale-Walker’s murky world of the EBT tax wheeze. O’Donnell looks at how the Souness revolution at Ibrox in the mid-1980s ushered in a new era of spending at the club, which might have been a good idea to start off with, given how bad Rangers were before Souness arrived but what should have been a short, sharp turnaround operation designed at getting the club back on its feet again, turned out to be a never-ending spending spree that only increased once Souness’s friend Murray arrived at the club in 1988.
Spending money became the club’s entire model for success, regardless of whether the finances were actually available or not. The banks at the time seemed to think that Murray could walk on water and do no wrong, lending him money with no questions asked for whatever purpose he required it. The actual collapse is handled brilliantly, forecast from years out – this isn’t a story with a plot twist at the end – but approaching inevitably and inescapably as Murray dumped the club and ran, leaving the hapless Craig Whyte to carry the can for the liquidation event.
A quote on the cover from Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News will no doubt remind people of Phil’s book and help Tangled up in Blue appeal to Celtic fans. It’s that old fairness thing again, from people and organisations outside Scotland – Thomson was one of the few non-Scottish journalists to take an ongoing interest in the Rangers liquidation story. but the scope of this book is far broader and there’s no question that this is a book which Celtic fans have been longing to see published for many, many years.
There’s even an extract from the book in the new Celtic Minded anthology which was published in May but really Tangled up in Blue should also appeal to fans of other clubs too, inside Scotland and beyond, because it deals with the important concept of sporting integrity and shows how a united campaign by fans of many clubs in the end overcame the grubby tactics of the game’s moneymen and administrators.
It also tells a salutary tale of how no club is too big to fail, particularly in this case a club which was so pre-occupied with its own sense of self-importance and its status in society that it completely lost its way in the end. Readable and well-written throughout, Tangled up in Blue is an important addition to the history of Scottish football, both in regard to the religious aspect of the rivalry in Glasgow, but also concerning the strange and surreal way that events in the game have unfolded in more recent years.
Released on 19 August by Pitch Publishing, CLICK HERE to order.
Tangled up in Blue; The Rise and Fall of Rangers FC is published on Monday 19 August. A limited number of signed copies are available from the author, contact @stephenodauthor