Graham Spiers: A Case To Answer

There was an air of predictability last week when the SFA announced that Peter Lawwell, Chief Executive of Celtic, had no case to answer on his recent barbed jibe at the expense of Rangers. Frankly, I felt it was folly on behalf of the club to get involved in the first place. These veiled insults are becoming so frequent now that they’ve been reduced to background noise. If Lawwell wants to appeal to lowest denominator of his clubs’ support, let him. The club should be focused getting our own house in order, although questions do need to be asked about whether someone who sits on the SFA board should be making such comments, but that is another issue.

With Lawwell’s innocence confirmed, notwithstanding the slap on the wrist that he and Rangers received for a “lack of mutual respect”, the next batch of predictability came in Saturday morning’s Herald when Graham Spiers vented his spleen on the subject.  

As expected, and very much true to form, Spiers came down heavily in favour of Lawwell and his club. Celtic’s CEO had merely indulged in banter at the Celtic AGM, and that it had caused Rangers to go into such a “huff” was poor form on Rangers’ behalf.

He tried to justify this stance by stating that back in the day when David Murray ruled the roost, if faced with a similar scenario, he too would have made a jibe at Celtic’s expense. He actually went one further and gave an example of Murray’s revelling in the misfortune of Celtic by chucking out his “every time Celtic spend a fiver, we’ll spend a tenner” line as evidence. This is factually incorrect, but why let things like the truth get in the way of a good sabre rattle on behalf of Peter Lawwell.

For a start, David Murray was always consistent in his line when Celtic faced financial Armageddon in the early 90s, and his mantra was simple: Rangers, and Scottish football as a whole, need a strong Celtic. Privately, he may have been enjoying the situation in the east of the city. Publically he was careful in how he treated the issues surrounding the Parkhead club at the time. He wallowed in Rangers’ success – but never, to my recollection, at the expense of Celtic.

The “tenner for a fiver” line, which could arguably be the most misrepresented quote in the history of Scottish football, was a comment made when Murray and Rangers were on the back-foot after the arrival of Martin O’Neil and Rangers suffering an embarrassing 6-2 defeat at the hands of their greatest rivals and catastrophic start to 2000/01 campaign. Murray, facing the first real challenge of his club’s dominance during his reign at Ibrox, gave an embattled statement of reassurance, not one of laughing at the paupers in the east end with their biscuit tin mentality. So in terms of the context of Murray’s comment, Graham Spiers has grossly misrepresented it.  

Should we be surprised? This is the man who has made taking a pop at Rangers his life’s work, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that he is not consistent when it comes to covering the ills of the club at the other end of the city.

Take the sectarian abuse Frank de Boer suffered at Celtic Park when Ajax turned up for the recent Champions League encounter. The accusation from the Celtic faithful that de Boer was a “sad Orange bastard” was very audible as it rang around the stands that evening, yet it received no coverage at all from any of the mainstream papers, with attention drawn to the vandalism committed by the travelling support on the night.

Now Graham has been very consistent when it comes to sectarianism: Celtic have a problem, Rangers are far worse. Even if this view did have some validity to it, does that excuse his complete silence when faced with such a blatant and very audibly example of it at a Champions League match?

Given Graham’s views on the subject of sectarianism, and his complete loathing of it, you would have thought he would have been quick to comment on any incident of sectarianism, including the incident at Celtic Park. Apparently not.

This silence is in stark contrast to how he deals with the Rangers support when it comes to sectarianism. In February this year he commented very strongly on the inappropriate choice of songs by a section of the away support at Berwick, an incident that warranted a live on air apology from ESPN.

Graham was morally offended to the point of stating that “the Rangers problem was still with us” and it would take Rangers “fully 50 years to gouge out this sickness”. Strong words indeed.

Graham was also very critical of the Rangers support and their “sectarianism” in August 2008 for the crime of booing Robbie Keane when he turned out for Liverpool in a friendly at Ibrox. The implication was simple: Robbie Keane is an Irish Catholic – that’s why he was being booed. The fact that Keane had been very public on his support of Celtic, and was in the Hoops Bar in Glasgow’s east end celebrating Celtic’s 3-2 Old Firm victory just two months prior to the match at Ibrox apparently wasn’t worth considering as a reason the Rangers support dislike for Keane. It was sectarianism, pure and simple.

This is by no means an attempt to deflect the failings of a minority of our support, or fall into the “whataboutery” that Graham likes to spout when you ask him questions about his impartiality. But it is hard to imagine, say, Henrik Larsson returning to Ibrox and receiving sectarian abuse without Graham falling of his moral stool in outrage. Therefore you have to come to the conclusion that his stance on the issue of sectarianism can, at best, be described as inconsistent, at worst biased

Even in his latest offerings defending Lawwell, he talks about an “unwanted seam of anger and bitterness on one side”. No prizes for guessing what side he is referring to.

But, as I said at the top of the piece, should we be surprised? This was the man who claimed live on air that he hadn’t accused Rangers of cheating on the issue EBTs on the day of the FTTT verdict, only to be presented with solid evidence that he had. I assume the more than warranted apology is in the post, or maybe he just forgot.

Whataboutery indeed.

Colin Armstrong is a former columnist for the Rangers News and Rangers matchday magazine. He provided chapters for the books Follow We Will: The Fall & Rise of Rangers and Ten Days that Shook Rangers.