|Arise Sir Walter? Or Sir Craig? Maybe Sir Neil?|
|Written by Fife Bhoy|
|Sunday, 08 May 2011 17:14|
Thirteen English MPs are calling for a knighthood for King Kenny of the Kop and for some time now there have been hints in the Scottish media that one of our SPL managers is soon to be knighted by Her Majesty the Queen (HMQ).
Now I have no wish to compete with Harry Brady and Punter’s Corner but I contacted my online betting accountant about this and was quoted odds of 2/1 Walter Smith, 20/1 Craig Brown, and 500/1 Neil Lennon.
So which manager do you think could win this honour? I will give a brief summary of the achievements of the top three contenders to help you asses which of them is the most likely to kneel before HMQ at Buckingham Palace and be dubbed a knight of the realm.
#1 Walter Smith OBE. Walter served his managerial apprenticeship as a hard man enforcer under one of Scotland’s hardest hitting managers, Jim McLean, who once decked a BBC reporter live on air! It was claimed by former player Kevin Gallagher that Smith could become ferociously angry with the club’s apprentices and enforced discipline by punching them.
Next Walter acted as understudy to another hard man manager, Graeme Souness, before taking on the manager’s job at Rangers in 1991. Rangers were the club he had supported as a boy, standing on the terrace and singing their “traditional” anthems with the best of them, but he now thinks that in a modern era it’s maybe not acceptable.
In 1992, during his first season with Rangers Walter was arrested by the police and charged together with St Johnstone’s manager Alex Totten with having a stand-up fight in the tunnel, shouting and swearing and causing a breach of the peace. Both admitted shouting and swearing during the incident, which happened after a disputed offside goal had given Rangers a 2-0 lead just before the interval. The police asked both managers leave the ground at half time.
At trial in Perth Sheriff Court evidence given by Chief Inspector James Adamson of Tayside police described Walter as being the aggressor and barging into Totten, but the court found the case against Walter not proven. However the court did convict Alex Totten who was quoted as saying to Walter that: Rangers were ruining Scottish football and wanted all decisions in their favour, and Ally McCoist was a cheat! The more things change...
Between 1991 and 1997 Walter had success of sorts in Scotland aided by massive spending sprees, but failed in Europe and was sacked in May 1998 after losing the league to Celtic and the cup to Hearts.
Walter then joined Everton in 1998 spending over three years with the club before he was again sacked in 2002 after taking the club to the brink of relegation. This sacking was popular with Evertonians who nicknamed Walter the Silver Sloth.
After two years of unemployment Sir Alex Ferguson came to his friend’s aid and gave Walter some brotherly relief, appointing him for several months as assistant to Mike Phelan the Manchester United assistant manager at the end of 2004.
Walter then returned to Scotland where he replaced Berti Vogts as the manager of the national side in December 2004. Under Walter Scotland failed to qualify for the World Cup and though he was bound by contract until 2008 he left the national team in the lurch at a crucial stage in their European Championship qualifying games. Walter walked out on the SFA without notice to rejoin his beloved Rangers, much to the disgust of his employers.
Since 2007 Walter has been relatively successful at Rangers, but his poor showing in Europe has continued, with the exception of reaching an unforgettable final of the UEFA Cup in Manchester where Rangers lost to Zenit St Petersburg.
Walter has not mellowed in his advanced years and still causes trouble for friend and foe alike. When not bitch slapping his assistant Ian Durrant in the director’s box he is still capable of aggressively haranguing opposition managers and officials.
A couple of seasons ago Walter was sent off for lunging at Mixu Paatelainen, the Hibs manager, and it took the intervention of the fourth official and police to restrain him before he was sent to the stand.
It would be unfair to suggest that Walter’s aggression is always acted out physically. He is a skilled communicator, and evidence from Graham Spiers confirms that while very civil on-the-record with journalists, the gloves come off with off-the-record briefings against Celtic and their manager Neil Lennon.
Walter can reduce his adversaries to jelly by verbal joust as he did with Chick Young, and he can also convey his message in almost subliminal ways as he did with his bitter criticism of linesman Tom Murphy who was guilty of the serious crime of having an Irish-sounding surname while flagging offside against Rangers.
So while a compliant media usual portray Walter as everybody’s favourite uncle in his cardigan and slippers we can see that the reality is somewhat different. Walter is not only a wily old silver sloth fox in football tactics, he is not bad at media manipulation either.
Walter is set to retire at the end of this season and is going out with a bang by making it clear that he would have quit last season if he had known what this one would bring. However it is not clear what events irked him most, the bullets, bomb threats or Celtic’s outing of cheating referees which he sees as a campaign to get penalty kicks.
#2. Craig Brown, CBE. Like candidate number one Craig, born 1940, is a fan of Rangers and actually played for them. He is a father figure in Scottish football and judging by Walter’s actions he has modelled his career on Craig’s.
Craig’s managerial career started as assistant with Motherwell in 1974 before spending the next ten years as part-time manager of Clyde.
Again like Walter he was fortunate in having the SFA to fill in gaps in his employment and as well as having various coaching/teaching roles with the SFA he was made assistant Scotland manager to Andy Roxburgh in 1986. This dynamic duo was controversial and the captain of the national side Richard Gough was said to have commented that they had taken advice on tactics from a taxi driver.
The controversial Craig was manager of the national side between 1993 and 2001 and during this time the football may have been dull, but never the manager. Craig doesn’t quite have the Machiavellian media management skills of Walter, being much more straightforward. So in 1999 it was no surprise when he fell foul of the News of the World, which accused him of bigotry after he sang the Billy Boys—as song which expresses a wish to wade knee high in Fenian blood—into his ex-lover, Lynda Slaven's telephone answering machine. Predictable Craig said this was just banter and didn’t everybody sing it? Well Walter would agree with that.
In 2000 Craig was back on the front pages when details were published of his romantic relationship with sports presenter Louise Port, 37 years his junior, and younger than his daughter!
The many similarities between Craig and Walter are amazing as both have worked with Archie Knox as their assistant and both claim never to criticise referees, only to go on in the next breath to criticise referees. Craig was sent off for persistently criticising and swearing at one referee in October 2000 during Scotland’s 1-1 draw in Croatia.
When Craig finished managing the national side the SFA again came to his aid and he was appointed Director of Football.
In 2010 during Motherwell’s European tie against Odense of Denmark Craig went one better than his protégé Walter when he punched the Dane’s Sporting Director. Showing no remorse for his actions he boasted: "I got a shove and I had a retaliatory punch."I don't want to get messed about and I wasn't going to be messed about." “when I played the game, I was accused of being quite aggressive.”
Since his European boxing exploits Craig has left Motherwell and he publicly fell out with their owner John Boyle when his new team Aberdeen visited Fir Park. On live television Craig was seen to lunge at Boyle and grab him after Boyle had whispered something in his ear. The police and stewards intervened and the matter is to be considered by the disciplinary staff at Hampden Park where no doubt Craig will receive a sympathetic hearing.
Again drawing on similarities with Walter, the Rangers-friendly media portray Craig as everybody’s favourite grandfather, Wee Craigy Broon as he is sometimes known is a harmless old soul, but don’t tell that to Odense’s Sporting Director or John Boyle. The reality as we can see is somewhat different.
Craig can be forthright in his media messages and was frank to the point of bluntness when he publicly apportioned blame for the recent referee’s strike in two words: Neil Lennon! In fairness to this pawky old pensioner he defended Neil’s cupped hands to ears gesture at Ibrox, probably out of remorse for his previous comments that had fuelled the anti-Lennon fire.
#3 Neil Lennon. Neil—no we will call him Lennon as the press do—is a novice in the managerial business compared to Walter and Craig and he has very little else in common with them other than having been sent to the stands for over-zealous behaviour.
When Lennon played with Man City, Crewe, and Leicester, life was simple for this young man from Northern Ireland who also represented his country.
Lennon’s problems began when he joined Celtic, the club he had supported as a boy and it was then that death threats were made against him by loyalist paramilitaries. Consequently Lennon decided to retire from international football.
If Lennon thought that he had left his troubles behind him in Ireland he was wrong and as a player, and from 2005 captain, of Celtic he was always on the end of a hostile reception from opposition fans. The Scottish press turned Lennon from a popular football player into a hate figure and target for anti-Irish-RC fanatics.
This hatred against Lennon was not confined to football stadia or to football fans and plagued his private life. In one incident he was accosted while with his young daughter in a car at traffic lights by three men, two of them students who abused and attempted to assault him. Lennon detained his attacker and two scholarly thugs were fined for their part in this unprovoked attack.
Though death threats were made when Lennon played for Celtic it was in 2008 while coach under Gordon Strachan he suffered his worse abuse in Scotland. It was then he was attacked by two thugs while walking home, beaten unconscious and left for dead in a Glasgow street.
Lennon’s attackers were later convicted of GBH and jailed for two years. Strangely enough this incident brought little sympathy from Scotland’s pro-Rangers media which to a man blamed the victim for being out at night and not the vile thugs who had attacked him.
Worse was to follow when he was appointed manager in 2009. More death threats and bullets were sent to his home, but by far the most serious threats to Lennon’s security and that of his family came in early 2011 when security forces had to rouse Lennon and his family and move them to a safe location after credible information from security forces in Northern Ireland had warned their Scottish counterparts that a UDA unit with access to weapons posed a threat to Lennon’s life. Around this time a nail bomb was also sent to him.
Recently and against police advice the most heinous incident yet in the career of Lennon was made known to the public: the fact that viable letter bombs capable of death and serious injury had been sent to Lennon, his lawyer, and a Celtic supporting MSP. The packages were intercepted before being opened and the hunt is now on for the bombers.
On the face of it Lennon deserves a knighthood for his bravery in carrying on in the face of death threats in the first quarter of 2011, let alone the past ten years! However knighthoods are not awarded for bravery, they are awarded for services to a particular cause or calling.
There is no doubt that Lennon has done Scottish football a great service by being instrumental in bringing about potential changes to the refereeing of Scottish football matches. This came as the result of Dougie McDonald lying to him after awarding then overturning a penalty against Celtic. Apparently prior to the arrival of Lennon on the Scottish football scene this sort of thing was quite acceptable.
So despite all of his personal difficulties Lennon has given his club 100% and has taken them to the finish line in the league championship and the Scottish Cup final. For a novice manager that is some feat. In doing so has acted with courage and dignity, looking for no sympathy from the Scottish sports press, football authorities or other managers. He has certainly got little support from his peers, rather the opposite.
Summary of the candidates for a knighthood for services to Scottish sport.
I agree with the bookies that Walter is the most likely candidate to get an award from the establishment to compliment his OBE. He has for many years been part and parcel of the Scottish football establishment with the result that the controversial aspects that are highlighted above have been largely ignored, or airbrushed out of his CVs by his brethren in the press who portray him as the very personification of dignity. He has had some successes and some failures in football.
Walter can expect to get some preferential treatment, because like HMQ’s late father and hubby he is a Mason. Listed in Famous Scottish Freemasons under McCoist. This will not do him any harm.
However on the downside HMQ will not be amused that Walter’s followers wrecked one of her northern cities.
Craig’s career is more or less a mirror image of his protégé’s, which is not surprising as he can be seen as being Walter’s mentor in football and managerial conduct.
In Craig’s favour he is a cheery chap who is generally more well-liked than the taciturn Walter, but this ageing Lanarkshire Lothario’s reputation for younger ladies will go against him. It is on the record that HMQ takes a very dim view of this sort of thing, having experience difficulties with her own family in this regard. So Craig’s over active dong has probably cost him another gong.
Then again Craig is popular with the ladies and that twinkle in his eye seems to cast a spell over the fair sex and HMQ may not be immune to this charming and loyal subject?
Lennon, unlike the other two contenders for knighthood currently has no awards for distinguished service to the British Empire. He is an outsider, an Irish RC and though he has not used his fists like the other two feisty fisticuffers, he has been controversial.
What other manager has attracted vocal bigots, savage attackers, murderous thugs, and bombers to taint the beautiful game in Scotland?
The press have never liked Lennon and they still harbour a grudge after he successfully sued them for unfairly calling him a thief and a thug after a Celtic Xmas party in Newcastle. The apology and damages paid by the press then to Lennon have made him a target for revenge by the laptop loyal.
Being an Irish RC in Scotland one is supposed to know ones place and accept what the paper’s say and Lennon clearly doesn’t. So a great deal of journalistic antipathy would go against him in the PR lobbying for prospective candidates. And another big minus for Lennon....he has ginger hair.
In Scotland it seems we bestow honours on managers who are greying, physically aggressive, mature and Masonic, and Neil comes up short on all counts.
On the plus side HMQ is going to Dublin this year on a bridge-building exercise between the UK and Ireland and she may see an honour to Lennon as a move that would help that process.
Again on the positive side Lennon’s services to transparency and openness in Scottish refereeing has improved the SFA’s poor image, which was one of being a biased clique.
So in conclusion, Walter is a shoo-in for a knighthood and if you can get any kind of decent odds from your bookie put your shirt on it.
N.B. I would qualify my selection with one proviso which hinges on the upcoming decision by HMRC in their case with Rangers. If the case goes against Rangers then Walter can forget his knighthood. Even if he wasn’t one of the employees being paid by Employee Benefits Trust, HMQ would never knight anyone who worked for a company that avoided paying her taxes.
So perhaps a small saving bet on Baron Lennon of Lurgan to cover this eventuality?
I would be interested to hear who your money is on? Please tell me in the comments section below.P.S. Apologies to Harry Brady who normally does the football betting section.