Rangers, the Glasgow football club, has had a torrid couple of seasons off the pitch, culminating in a spectacular implosion that forced it into administration in February.
In a lengthy blog post today, Channel 4 reporter Alex Thomson highlights a particularly disturbing aspect of the ongoing disaster: what he describes as a campaign of intimidation by Rangers fans aimed at those who have challenged the stricken club.
Although more a summary than an independent investigation, Thomson does a powerful job of explaining the underbelly of Scottish football – and he reveals the culture of threats ‘is getting worse’.
Thomson has personal experience of his subject: he wrote the foreword to Downfall, so far the only book on the crisis, and was, he says, rewarded with a barrage of abuse.
Downfall’s publisher, Frontline Noir, describes ‘pressure applied’ to discourage shops from stocking the title – while some stockists have reported fans screaming at staff for stocking copies according to Thomson.
And in a spectacular reverse ferret, the Sun announced and then cancelled a serialisation of Downfall, faced with complaints and threats considered so serious the police were called in.
This isn’t the only recent incident that has required police attention.
The head of the Scottish Football Association, Stewart Regan, consulted counterterrorism police after he claimed he had received death threats from diehard Rangers fans. Other Scottish Football Association directors had their addresses published online.
The three members of a tribunal that slammed Rangers for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ also saw their addresses published, and again the police were brought in to advise them on security.
All of this casts the media reporting that has taken place – at both national and local level, in the business and sports sections – in a new light.
Thomson’s own reporting has included revealing a network of offshore transactions that brought the club to the taxman’s attention. And the wheelings and dealings of majority shareholder Craig Whyte have come under forensic attention from Thomson, Private Eye’s financial maven City Slicker, and others.
The NUJ Scotland is aware of 25 journalists who have ‘been threatened for telling the truth about Rangers’, Thomson says – and he wryly admits he has become used to the abuse himself. For local reporters, the threats may be far more plausible.
And even for a national reporter, writing a post like today’s takes courage. Little of what he reveals will surprise anyone in Glasgow, Thomson points out – yet from the outside this is an attack on freedom of speech so drastic that you would hardly believe it could exist in modern-day Britain.