Friday, 8 September 2017

Five Years Of Downfall Denial

Its five years today since Downfall - How Rangers FC Self-Destructed was published. Written by Phil McGiolla Bhain, a freelance journalist who’d led the press pack on the Rangers story, the book was subjected to a campaign of abuse. Of course, this had the effect of increasing sales, one of these beautiful karmic responses that the universe delights in handing out.

The campaign against the book included phoning head offices of major book shop chains to complain about the book being stocked – and then denying it. One head office buyer, after having placed pre-publication orders, called me to ask if it was going to be worth the hassle as they’d had complaints. Thankfully the buyer agreed that it was worth it.

Another retail manager told of visitors to his chain’s stores berating staff for having the cheek to stock the book. Some visitors went as far as to move the book from its Number One spot in stores, hiding it near cookery. Others, presumably in a fit of pique, scrunched books up to make them unsellable.
Of course, these instances were all denied as having happened. It’s one thing to do these things, but at least have the courage of your convictions. Don’t then deny it happened.

The Sun newspaper, who I’d approached on serialisation on another book (Ciaran McAirt’s The McGurk’s Bar Bombing) rebuffed that effort and instead stated that they wanted to serialise another book we’d published the same month, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s Downfall book. The deal was done and a very fair and decent piece on Phil and his book appeared. However, it’s appearance produced an astonishing reaction. I was new to Twitter and was following reaction on various feeds. The first I learned that The Sun was scrapping the serialisation half way through its agreed run was on Twitter when a Sun employee stated that this was the case.

Another Sun employee told me privately that the switchboard “melted” when the reaction from some Rangers fans came in. Weirdly, months later when I discussed this with a Sun employee, I was told “there was no big reaction”. No reaction? Really? What about that switchboard “melting?” It was “exaggerated”. Why the change of facts here? Again, have the courage of your convictions. Don’t deny it happened.

Some gifted People took the trouble to review the book – before it was even finished being written. Now, that was conscientious. You have to wonder why such prescience on their part precluded them from foreseeing the demise of their club.

One chap who did foresee that demise, and who indeed warned all and sundry publicly in his contemporaneous blog, wasn’t much thanked - or even believed. Thankfully he (Phil) was believed by many when he wrote Downfall – How Rangers FC Self-Destructed.  So much so that the book reached Number 8 in Amazon UK’s overall book chart, despite concern for me among some Rangers fans who claimed I had thousands, piled high, unsold in my garage. Not only did I not have any in my garage, I didn’t even have a garage.

I then received calls from a seemingly nice chap in Belfast who claimed he was working as a buyer for Bargain Books in that neat little town. I played along, as the caller was obviously unaware that I had worked very closely with Bargain Books in Belfast since 1996, publishing several books with them under their Lagan Books imprint and supplying their stores with literally thousands of books, both full price books and bargain books, for years. I knew the owners very well. Indeed, they were personal friends of the finest and most loyal kind. I knew who the key store managers were. This gentleman caller, friendly as he was, had clearly nothing to do with Bargain Books Belfast. He seemed to think I’d want to sell the book at a dirt cheap price. What was this charming chap’s game? He seemed determined to even have me say the words “I’ll supply Bargain Books with Downfall” for some reason. It all made sense later when it was apparent he was taping the calls. The project, such as it was, was to discredit the book by suggesting it was such a terrible, unwanted item that weeks after publication I was eager to offload it at a loss. Impersonation, taping calls, quite a lot of trouble to go…

Despite being a Scottish Bestseller in many key Scottish book outlets from Waterstones to WHS and others the Scottish media took their lead from The Sun and collectively shat their pants. Only one SMSM chap reviewed the book. The rest either decided that the only book on the greatest sporting scandal in Scottish sports history wasn’t worthy of a second glance or they didn’t think it was
 “worth the hassle”. In case you think “shat its pants” is hyperbole, ask yourself how you’d describe a media which one day had uniform headlines across the board along the lines of “Rangers, 1872-2012, RIP”, and then airbrushes all reference to those headlines from their current narrative. No attempt at any expansion, any “we were wrong” - just a desperate wish for all their readers to lobotomise themselves to the point they don’t remember such headlines or where they wonder if they dreamed them.

That hassle was documented in Alex Thompson’s piece for Channel 4 where several Scottish commentators related the grief they got for commenting in any negative way on the club that was Rangers. The editor of the book, Sunday Herald columnist, Angela Haggerty, received disgraceful sectarian abuse. You know the kind? That’s right, the kind we have to keep reminding certain commentators that is NOT “banter”, and is NOT “funny”. Replace the work “Taig” with the word “black” just in case you had any doubt about just how offensive, not to say illegal, such “banter” is. So illegal in fact that one perpetrator, who hosted an internet radio show spewing out threatening bigotry, was tried and convicted in a Scottish court of sectarian hatred and was sentenced to 6 months in jail.

Sadly, it was not just many in SMSM who were keen to dismiss the sectarianism that some involved in the book were subjected to. Despite the complaint being made about the radio show, and it’s shocking vitriolic bigotry jeopardising the safety of our book’s editor, it wasn’t until Alex Thompson‘s Channel 4 piece on what Angela endured that the police seemed to take the complaint seriously. The world outside Glasgow was on now the case, apparently. Glasgow had to wake up to the fact that what many thought was “banter” that had been “asked for” was actually a crime.

Since publication of Downfall five years ago, the very Downfall itself has been erased from the history, as related by SMSM at least. Reference to Rangers now being bereft of life is censored on both main Radio football shows. No debate even allowed. It’s like Soviet-style collective hysteria, as if the mention of a fact will bring civilisation crashing down. Sure, they obliquely refer to the “relegation” of “Rangers” to the fourth division. But the Downfall, the Self-Destruction, is denied with more fervour year on year. Doubtless some scribe will claim to have covered The Downfall, but unless they mean Downfall in the Python-esque it has ceased to be sense as opposed to the pining for the fjords sense, then they have missed the point. That’s a set-back, not a Downfall. Thankfully, at least one book exists on the subject to keep us right.

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