This is about Scottish football but I take a while to get there. And I don’t think you’re going to like it, but something has been bothering me with all this news about Greece, there’s been a little dissonance.
Greece has come through seven years of devastating poverty and economic turmoil, the like of which has not been seen anywhere else in Europe, and within weeks it could get a lot worse.
Many Greeks with economically portable skills emigrated. Those left, the old, the infirm, the unskilled, and those who don’t want to abandon their family or country, have been left to deal with the consequences of a debt which dwarves their earning capacity.
Greece joined the euro and overnight were able to borrow money at cheaper rates than ever before. They borrowed and invested, but poor governments and lax taxation systems left them vulnerable. When the crash came, Greece was hopelessly unable to pay its debts, largely owned to German and French banks.
Back in 2008 the world’s banking system was on the verge of collapse. It is not an exaggeration to say that our economies, jobs, welfare systems, public services and more, were in jeopardy. Governments took steps to keep the banks afloat, but Greece owned money beyond their borders.
If they still had the capacity to issue their own currency, they would have defaulted, offered their creditors 10 lepta to the drachma, and quickly moved on. Prices would have skyrocketed overnight, many people would have been priced out of the basics, but tourists would have flooded in, as would new employers, to take advantage of the newly cheap Greek labour.
But since 2002 Greece has been using the euro. They could not print euros after the crash so had to come to a deal with their creditors, and that meant paying all their debts, in particular to the German banks who loaned them money, at an appropriate interest rate, years earlier.
It was appalling. Greece was not blameless, no European governments – or ultimately their electorates – were, but they were boxed into a corner and forced into a deal. Foreign banks, who were well-placed to weigh-up the commercial risk of their Greek loans, were beneficiaries of the squeeze put on some of Europe’s poorest people.
In January this year Greece elected a radical government. Syriza were voted in on a ticket to renegotiate the terms of what the world calls the ‘bailout’.
The bailout is an affront to the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank. The world’s governments needed to protect their banks to prevent complete collapse, but the deal imposed on Greek citizens is pernicious and disproportionate.
A game of brinksmanship is going on between Greece and their lenders, the Troika. Syriza are mandated for one thing and one thing only, renegotiate the current deal. I admire their resolve and hope the Troika accommodate their request for change, but the consequence of a failure to find an agreement is enormous, the like of which we have never seen in a modern economy. Those sitting at the Syriza side of the table know they may be marching their citizens off the edge of a cliff.
What’s this got to do with Scottish football?
For the Troika, read Mike Ashley, he was the lender of last resort, he was also the beneficiary of the loans. In fact, he loaned Newco money he’d already made from them. Those loans came with pernicious conditions. The profits he’ll earn from seven years merchandise rights are spectacular – and they will come from what I could argue is the most impoverished football club in Europe. Mike is the ugly face of capitalism (and there are pretty faces).
The analogy is not perfect. Rangers spectacularly defaulted. Newco’s early years have been more painful than they necessarily could have been, largely as a consequence of an organised group of Real Rangers Men who were determined to grab control of Newco’s assets for as cheap a price as possible. But if you are an unskilled Greek living on handouts, or an easily-led Rangers fan, who just wanted to watch his team, you were not the architect of your own misery.
Alexis Tsipras is no Dave King, he is an engaging leader and is not a criminal, but if he leads Greece into an abyss, he will be guilty of one of the classic failures of leadership – telling people what they want to hear in order to gain power, without any way of delivering on the promises made.
King may be doing the same. He strikes me as a man intent on recreating Jonestown in Govan. Unlike Tsipras, who appears to be making progress with his creditors, King has inspired division and boycott. I can’t picture him now without scenes from Jonestown flashing through my mind.
While I know I’m stretching the analogy between Greece and Rangers, there are many who have lost their livelihood, or football club, through the fault of more powerful men, who were paid to look out for their interests.
Mike Ashley is a figure of fun for us but be sure, he is not our ally. Our enemy’s enemy is not our friend. He’s just another in a long line of naked opportunists we were wise enough to avoid.