If the wider, football-conscious world is aware of just two things about Scottish football, they are surely as follows: firstly, that there is a virulent rivalry in Glasgow between the city’s two great teams, Rangers and Celtic, based on a religious divide; and secondly, that Rangers recently suffered a catastrophic financial collapse, which ultimately led to the club’s insolvency.

Split into two separate, but closely linked, sections, Tangled Up in Blue: The Rise and Fall of Rangers FC gives the full account of both of these stories.

Stephen O’Donnell explores how Rangers first became associated with hard-line Protestantism, dominating Scottish football for decades without ever knowingly signing a Catholic footballer, until the feted arrival of Maurice Johnston at Ibrox in 1989.

He then switches focus to the club’s financial affairs, as Rangers’ unsustainable spending brought the club to the brink of collapse and, despite the hidden benefits of an illegal tax avoidance scheme, resulted in its liquidation.

Read our review here: Book Review: Tang (footballbookreviews.com)

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. August 2019. Paperback: 320 pages)


Fergus McCann Versus David Murray charts the changing fortunes of Glasgow’s two great footballing rivals as shaped by two business moguls. Both men came to prominence in the 1990s when new methods of governance and finance were taking hold of football.

At the start of the decade, under Murray’s chairmanship, Rangers were the dominant force, and the club went on to win a record-equalling nine consecutive league titles. Their success, however, was built on an extravagant spending strategy, which caused a financial catastrophe.

Celtic, by contrast, were struggling in the early 1990s, thanks to a complacent and nepotistic board of directors. But McCann took charge of the club in 1994 and turned things around. The new owner left Parkhead having won the league, rebuilt the stadium and left his shares in the hands of supporters. It was Murray, however, who was lauded in the media throughout his tenure at Ibrox, while McCann was chastised. Ultimately, though, their legacies would be utterly different from those misleading media portrayals.

Read our review here: Book Review: Fergus McCann (footballbookreviews.com)

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. July 2020. Paperback: 352 pages)

Book Review: Fergus McCann v David Murray – How Celtic Turned the Tables on Their Glasgow Rivals by Stephen O’Donnell

Stephen O’Donnell’s book is a thorough and powerful analysis of how the Glasgow footballing giants – Celtic and Rangers – have been managed and mismanaged. Two ex-Chairmen are the focus of the narrative and it is a damning commentary on how borrowing on a huge scale, mostly prompted by the self-promoting David Murray, was the eventual undoing of Rangers whilst Celtic found an unlikely hero in Fergus McCann. His ‘tight-ship’ budgeting proved unpopular at the time, especially when contrasted with free-spending Rangers, but ultimately proved to be the correct approach.

Rangers ran up colossal debt and there is a strong sense that they ‘got off light’, not being stripped of the many titles and trophies they won in the years leading up to insolvency in 2012 and not having to start completely from scratch like many smaller Scottish clubs in a similar plight. O’Donnell is also quite clear about who the real culprit is – Sir David Murray, despite Craig Whyte picking up the poisoned chalice as Chairman and then copping for almost all the criticism.

The book, all 353 pages of it, gives a detailed history of both clubs which is essential for a full understanding of the approach and effectiveness of both McCann and Murray. Celtic had a Hiberno-Catholic foundation, unashamedly so since its original existence was directly to help the poor Irish children in the east end of Glasgow. But in Celtic’s case that early sectarianism was continuously diluted over the years. That was not so with Rangers until the time of Graeme Souness as manager and the signing of the Catholic Maurice Johnson in 1989. Much of the blame for this must be directed at the Freemasons who took a firm grip on the club before WW1 when the extreme anti-Catholic stance of the shipbuilding giant Harland and Wolff, major financial supporters, was adopted by Rangers.

The author sees Murray’s Thatcherite attitudes to borrowing as the underpinning factor in why Rangers racked up such massive debts – at times approaching £100 million. The Scottish banks were all too happy to indulge him in this high-risk game, though. It seemed that Murray need only make a phone call to his buddy Gavin Masterton who was Managing Director at the Bank of Scotland and a huge loan would be granted in minutes.

Scottish officialdom comes in for the author’s criticism, too. Examples of its longstanding anti-Celtic bias are legion but perhaps the most notorious is when the registration of new signing, Jorge Cadete, was deliberately delayed for nearly six weeks by Chief Executive Jim Farry until after Celtic had played Rangers in the Cup semi-final.

The question may well be asked; How come this situation was so little understood by the wider public?

This brings us to the final strand of O’Donnell’s argument, that the Scottish media was very pro-Rangers. To those not fully acquainted with all the details, the assumption will probably be that both sides were equally guilty of sectarianism but the author points out it was more like 90:10, Rangers being much the worse. Supported by a fawning media, however, any story was almost always skewed in their favour, particularly at Celtic’s expense.

This anti-Catholic sectarianism peddled by the media was a blight which, ultimately, did no one any good and plenty of harm along the way. O’Donnell does not make the same Freemason link with the press as he does with Rangers but the reader can speculate. Consequently, as the author points out, anything McCann did was viewed negatively in the papers whilst Murray remained their Golden Boy, simply above all criticism. O’Donnell also points out that McCann did himself few favours, his dealings with the media being poor, leaving him open to being mocked and pilloried by them. Which he duly was.

Celtic were to have the last laugh, however, and they say he who laughs last, laughs longest. As Rangers were continuing to store up eventual disaster for themselves, McCann’s financial shrewdness and astute investment in rebuilding Parkhead as a fine all-seater stadium, was finally complemented by Martin O’Neill’s canny management allowing Celtic to compete with Rangers on a consistent level. Then Celtic grew whilst Rangers began to implode until, after the financial crash in 2008, their fate was sealed.

O’Donnell does indulge himself from time to time in reportage on Celtic matches. He is clearly a Celt but, wisely, lets the facts speak for themselves. An observation has to be made that, although it is very well-written, the complete absence of graphs, charts, tables or whatever means that the reader is required to hold an enormous amount of information in his or her head. Being able to make quick cross-references would have greatly helped.

(Pitch Publishing. July 2020. Hardback 353 pages)


Graeme Garvey


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Book Review: Tangled Up In Blue – The Rise and Fall of Rangers FC by Stephen O’Donnell

Growing up in the 1970s as a football mad kid in England I absorbed all I could about the nations favourite game and even though my team, Fulham, were rooted very much in the Second Division, BBC’s Match of the Day, allowed me to see the great teams of the First Division, as Arsenal, Derby County, Leeds United, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest won the top-flight title during that decade. During that same period in Scotland, only Celtic and Rangers won the First Division title, giving rise to the limited view of myself and so many others south of the border, at that time, that they were all there was to Scottish Football. And to some extent that view still pervades, when you consider that the last time a side other that the Glasgow giants won the top-flight Championship was Aberdeen back in the 1984/85 campaign.

But what do I really know about the Old Firm and indeed their relationship within the Scottish football scene? In reality – pretty generic things. Celtic, based in the East of Glasgow, the first British Club to win the European Cup, playing at Celtic Park, where its Irish Catholic connections are evident in the shamrock that adorns the club badge. Rangers, based in the West of Glasgow, playing at Ibrox, where the flags of Northern Ireland and the Union Jack are just as likely to be flown as the cross of St Andrew, highlighting the clubs Protestant leanings.

Of course, being a football fan, the big stories associated with these clubs since the seventies have also made it on my radar, such as the Ibrox disaster in 1971, Kenny Dalglish’s move from Celtic to Liverpool in 1977, Graeme Souness taking charge of Rangers in 1986, the 1991 signing of Maurice Johnston by Rangers as their first openly Catholic player and more recently in 2012 when Rangers went into liquidation, and a new side had to start life in the fourth-tier of Scottish football.

The reality is that I’ve never delved any deeper into many of those stories until now. Tangled Up In Blue – The Rise and Fall of Rangers FC by Stephen O’Donnell, is an incredibly well researched book split into two parts. The first, Rise: Religious Bigotry, looks at the formation of Rangers and provides an insight into the Protestant ‘influences’ on the club that despite great strides are still in evidence through sectarian chanting at the club. Insights are also provided on the Ibrox disaster in 1971 when 66 spectators lost their lives, with O’Donnell offering a different prospective on the possible cause of the tragedy and indeed the way the authorities dealt with the aftermath.

Part two, Fall: Financial Malpractice, looks at the period from the arrival of Graeme Souness to Rangers eventual return to the Scottish top-flight in the 2016/17 season. This is at times a quite extraordinary read as the eye-watering amounts of spending on players increases year-by-year, which whilst bought the incredible nine in a row titles between 1988 and 1997, creates the spiral of financial disaster that saw the club crash and burn. O’Donnell lays out the illegal financial transactions that contributed to their demise with the detailing of the ‘top-ups’ made through the Club’s Employment Benefit Trust, which came to be investigated by the Scottish Football Association and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, as well as issues such as the mortgaging of four years’ worth of season-tickets to Ticketus.

There is no doubt that this will be an uncomfortable read for Rangers fans, as O’Donnell does not pull his punches in examining both their club’s history and ultimate demise. However, it is hoped that the book is not merely seen as anti-Rangers or a hatchet-job and is therefore judged instead as a salutary lesson to club, owners and fans alike.

(Pitch Publishing Ltd, 2019. Hardcover 320pp)


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Book Review: Scotball by Stephen O’Donnell

Scotball is Stephen O’Donnell’s second novel following on from Paradise Road which was published in 2012.

This second offering has links to O’Donnell’s debut book, with Scotball having as its central character Peter Fitzpatrick. In Paradise Road Fitzpatrick leaves his native Scotland to sample life in the Czech Republic, but here returns with his Czech wife to Glasgow five years later.

In need of a job he returns briefly to the world of finance, but has a burning desire to carve himself a new career path and decides to put together a proposal for a football discussion programme.

The idea is accepted and the topical and forthright show called, The Scottish Football Debate comes to fruition with Fitzpatrick as the host. It proves to be popular and is nicknamed Scotball (hence the title of the book).

The programme is used as a vehicle to explore the state of football in Scotland, with topics such as the national side, refereeing standards, women’s football and the impact of the media featured within the various episodes of the show.

What also breaks in news-terms during the lifetime of Scotball is the significant story that is the financial crisis at Rangers. Fitzpatrick though is a Celtic fan and therefore his views are unashamedly tinged with green and white with regard to anything relating to their city neighbours.

The author (through Fitzpatrick) is also not afraid to debate and reflect on broader issues such as community, the economy and politics which impact the game. This means that whilst the book has an obvious attraction for football fans, Scotball also has a wider appeal as it touches on everyday life in modern-day Scotland. As with Paradise Road, O’Donnell uses Glaswegian vernacular to provide the reader with an authentic narrative voice which also delivers honesty and humour to another thought provoking novel.


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