I thought that you would be a perfect lover…

You seemed so full of sweetness at the start…

It was what you did when Danny Coffey died, you see.  You made sure the club supported the family, you made sure the whole of the Park Hotel was available for after his funeral and you stood at the door of the hotel personally greeting everyone who arrived.  Elsewhere, the then manager Jim Jefferies led a goodly number of the first and youth playing squads into the chapel, all of them there to pay respects to the tragic early loss of a lifelong Killie fan.  He had been a stalwart too of the supporters’ association and countless other related club initiatives.

Then there was how you responded to the news that the town was to lose its century old connection with Johnny Walker whisky. “Diageo’s decision to close the Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock must be reversed. Kilmarnock Football Club will support the employees whose jobs are under threat and our local politicians in their campaign to keep Johnnie Walker in Kilmarnock where it was founded in 1820.”  The club was at the forefront of that campaign, launching a petition, taking part in the march and rally.

Here was a man with not only the best interests of the football club at heart, but who also understood that those interests were intertwined with those of the town as a whole.  Who seemed effortlessly to get that it really was all about club and community.

So, how did we end up here?

But like a big red rose that’s made of paper, there isn’t any sweetness in your heart..

There was the sacking of Kenny Shiels.  Now managers come and they go.  But it is widely acknowledged that Scottish football has to do different if it is to survive, as an entity and as the sum of its parts.  The splash and bling model of old is over, except that clubs are still nursing their debt hangovers and will be for a long time yet.  For those who cannot come up with a suitable, sustainable future model the writing is on the wall and for Hearts and Dunfermline, the fat lady has indeed sung her last.

But Kenny Shiels got it.  The way of the future was to develop the youth and bring on our own players.  Killie has had a fine tradition of doing so – it’s a little known fact that Kris Boyd donated his Rangers’ signing on fee to Kilmarnock youth development to say thanks for what it did for him.  Shiels was determined to use his talent, tenacity and temerity to deliver more, with a five year plan at least that kept the footballing side of things healthy.  The fact that he was a character, that he stood up to the suits and defended his wee diddy club’s right to exist and to be treated fairly was a bonus.  At times, his philosophical ramblings were hard to decipher but that was all part of the charm.  Here was a thinker and a do-er and we were lucky to have him.

Then there was the dumping of Garry Hay.  The boy who was only ever Kilmarnock and while his best days were behind him, a more loyal servant on and off the field in Scottish football is hard to name.  He played all his career at his hometown club and Kenny Shiels realised the value of that commitment, ensuring he went for his coaching tickets, guaranteeing him a start on the managerial rung where his heart belonged.  But with Shiels sacked and Nicholl departing, you decided to call time on Hay’s career too.  Eighteen years and gone in a phone call.  Shocking.

Many have commented on Killie’s shoogly finances – a debt of £11 million is pretty huge, much of it incurred before your time in the hotseat.  But that ignores the overall financial picture and here you deserve praise.  Costs are generally down and the club has significant assets and alternative income generators in the hotel, the flats and the fitness centre.  Kilmarnock has suffered badly in the economic downturn so the fact that these assets are continuing to generate similar income and profit to sustain the club as in previous years is evidence of sound fiscal management.  And if the worst came to the worst, a fire sale would at least realise sufficient to cover the principal debt sum.  The fact that you have resisted temptation to sell anything off is welcome.

But you have also closed the door firmly to the prospect of alternative investment.  During your time as chairman, you have increased your shareholding, spurned the chance to bring others on board and tightened your grip on power.  There is only one director these days, you.

When key club sponsors – even the bakers of the famous Killie pie are rebelling – then the game’s a bogey.  In a few short weeks, you have managed by your actions to unite the town, the fanbase, local businesses, the football commentariat and segments of the wider Scottish footballing community.  No mean feat.

They are all of a mind – Johnston must go.  They might disagree on the tactics:  not everyone agrees that the way to force your departure is by starving the club of bums on seats.  You might calculate that this provides a glimmer of hope, a sliver of a wedge which you can wield to cling on to your power base.  You’re wrong.  This only demonstrates that some love their club so much they are prepared to follow it no matter what happens off the field.  For you, of all people, to try to use such commitment to your advantage sums it all up.

And for you to try to stave off the inevitable by conducting public slanging matches with potential investors, in an attempt to demolish their credibility, suggests that it has indeed, become all about you and no longer about Kilmarnock FC.

Therein lies the crux.  When it comes down to it, you want to preserve your fiefdom at all costs, even if that results in the demise of one of Scotland’s oldest and proudest football clubs.

As the song suggests, no matter how real the roses and the love for Killie seemed in the beginning, they have been found out, in the end, to be only imitation.

Killie and Paper Roses… some of us know why

Could there be two better examples of the gulf that exists at the heart of Scottish football culture?

At one extreme sits the petty boycott by Rangers fans of their Scottish cup tie with the mighty Arabs.   Now, there are many reasons not to fancy a trip north-ish in January.  The weather for one.  The rather notorious attitude of stewards and local police to away fans, of all hues.  But this is much more base.

According to Rangers Supporters Assembly which organised the boycott, at last here is the opportunity to “send a clear message to those who tried to destroy our club”.  Which is somewhat breathtaking in its arrogance, given that the people who tried and managed to destroy Rangers football club were those who ran it, those who stuck two fingers up at the normal rules applying to everyone else and decided to embark on a cunning wheeze to avoid tax liabilities thereby giving Rangers an unfair fiscal advantage over clubs like Dundee United.

The aim is to starve the Arabs of a cash boost from a full house, ignoring the fact that Rangers also stands to lose out on its share of gate money.  Arithmetic is clearly not a strong point at Rangers.

Punishing fans and other clubs might give a visceral short term thrill but does the whole game no good at all.  There will be a tat for this tit somewhere down the line.  And it’s way past time that fans of all clubs realised we all need each other and should look out for each other, for the good of our national sport.  But then showing solidarity with the wee diddy clubs was never a priority for either half of the Old Firm.

Thank goodness then, for the likes of Killie, my own club.  Today, in a way only Killie could, it made a rare foray onto the sport section of Reporting Scotland.  Not for its footballing exploits but for its fans.

Today the Killie fans had a date with Marie Osmond and the warmth of her reception surprised her.  But not me.

Paper Roses has been the unofficial anthem of the club – or at least, its supporters – since the 70s.  The reporter suggested no one knows why.

But actually we do – or at least, most of us do know the widely accepted explanation.

Paper Roses was adopted by a group of supporters travelling on a bus to an away game at a time when violence and bad behaviour was beginning to dog Scottish football.  Some fans decided they wanted no part in the ratcheting up of rivalries and wanted to make a statement to that effect.  What they could not decide on was how.

Then, Marie Osmond came on the radio singing Paper Roses and the fans decided that was it.  Here was a harmless, guileless song with a rather twee tune.  It was perfect.

So every time, vitriol and hatred were chanted in their direction in an attempt to force a response, the reply came by way of a chorus or two of Paper Roses.  It took the sting out of things and made those who sought violence look rather stupid.  Killie fans in the vanguard of designing innovative approaches to reducing violence in our society – who’d a thunk it?  And the song stuck.

This, at least, is the story I was told by one of the fans on that original bus journey – the late and sadly missed Danny Coffey.  Although I know other stories abound…

No one cares anymore about its origins;  it’s enough that the fans have an anthem which is uniquely theirs and which even today, still makes its point.

And it was lovely to see fans getting to show Marie Osmond how to sing it properly.  Tunelessly, silly big grins and with scarves aloft.

If only Rangers fans could learn to take themselves a little less seriously, then Scottish football would be a far healthier and happier sport.




Today is D-Day for Scottish football – time to do or die

I’ve given up trying to make sense of the Rangers saga.  Suffice to say, it’s beyond mess.  Schadenfreude is in plentiful supply, but so too is sympathy.  Fellow fans recognise that for those individuals and families who have passed the mantle of supporting Rangers down through the generations, the pain is visceral and tangible.

But a view from the sidelines.  Duff and Phelps might well go down in history as the worst administators ever:  even an insolvency novice like me can sense that lots of things don’t add up in their handling of this affair.   Craig Whyte might have been the catalyst but the rotten, tax-avoiding practices were well embedded in the club’s operating culture long before he arrived.   Charles Green is not quite what he appears to be and far too many loose ends exist in his model for any fan to find anything but cold comfort.

Anyone who has played a role either as a Director or a senior employee in the club since the turn of the century does not have clean hands.  Indeed, it’s almost worse for most of them – and that includes you, Gordon Smith, with your wide-eyed protestations of innocence – to claim that they knew nothing of what was going on.  That suggests incompetence and the lot of them should be drummed out of Scottish football for good.

And then there’s the rest of Scottish football – the clubs and the governing bodies.  Some of us warned, some time ago, that failure to grasp the mettle and deal decisively with Rangers might result in the downfall of other clubs and the whole precarious edifice.  And lo, it has very nearly come to pass.

For months, dithering has been the order of the day, in the hope that somehow a miracle would transpire and clubs and authorities would not have to take the crucial decisions.  Here we are, months on and only now is an end in sight.  Yet, even though few hiding places remain, still they dither.

The SFL and SPL – the sum of football’s constituent parts, one month exactly from the start of the new season – are now contriving to pass the parcel.  The SFL met yesterday to consider whether or not to allow a New Rangers entry to Division 1 rather than Division 3 – a grubby compromise no one appears to want but everyone feels obliged to accept – blethered a while and came away with a commitment to meet again on 12 July.

Today, it’s the SPL’s turn and the wires suggest that it is minded to agree nothing until the SFL has met again on the 12th and reached its decision.  This ain’t no magic roundabout.

Now, it is not clubs, nor money men, nor key officials driving us to the denouement.  Thank goodness for the fans.  People power has at least focused the minds of chairmen and chief executives across the land and will hopefully force their hand.  Good on us.

Clubs have been pushed into doing the unthinkable in recent weeks and consulted their supporter bases.  Supporters have given their clubs their steer – No to Newco – and yet, the clubs still feel unable to act and compelled to dither.

Fans have not reached these decisions lightly.  They are well aware of the financial consequences of burying Rangers deep in Division three and they are mindful of their role as custodians of their institutions.  But it is exactly that sense of responsibility which has driven their opinion-forming.  Even if those running the game in Scotland still cling to hope that somehow, a solution will fall out of the sky, supporters have reached the inevitable conclusion that the gemme is indeed a bogey.

The only way to sort the morass, of which Rangers is the prime messy suspect but not the only one, is to start afresh.  Kicking Rangers into touch might well cause other clubs to go to the wall but a fresh start all round might be what is needed.

My own club, Kilmarnock, is one such standing at the precipice.  The wee chicklet is a Killie shareholder, courtesy of an inheritance from his late and very great Uncle Danny.  And on account of acting in proxy, me and the wee man took the last minute consultation launched last week very seriously indeed.  In trying to explain to him what the club was asking of fans and what the decision might mean for the club and for Scottish football, I found myself wondering what Danny would do.

A pragmatist, he would have been uneasy at the thought of voting potentially for his beloved club’s demise and he would have been very mindful of the economic consequences of voting No to the Newco.  But he would also have believed – as so many of us do – that fans would rally round.  Kilmarnock might face a shortfall of £300,000 in income this year if a new version of Rangers is not in the SPL, and it might require an additional 1000 season tickets to be sold to come close to plugging the gap but the Chairman has to hear his core supporters and trust in their judgement that making the right decision for the right reasons will cause the community to rally to the club’s aid.

Ultimately, Danny, like the rest of us, would opt for integrity, for the rules to be followed, for justice to be applied.  He was that kind of a man.

As so many other fans and supporters of clubs have proven to be.  Indeed, it has been life-affirming to see supporters take charge of this rudderless ship and lead the clubs where they do not want to go.  One rule for all is the core premise and by standing together, we have a chance to clean up Scottish football and put it on a footing that gives it a future.  It might not be a comfortable future but none of us is afraid of hard work.  In any event, living beyond our means – collectively and individually – has long since been unsustainable, on an emotional and a practical level.

So the fans have decided that Rangers must be allowed to die and rise again, if the club can, from the ashes of the third division.  Today, their clubs must decide;  there can be no more dithering.  They must follow their fans’ lead.  Today, it is time to do or die.