At the end of a gig in 1978 John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) of Sex Pistols infamy asked the audience “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” It was hard not to share that emotion watching this documentary by Celtic fan Paul Larkin and fellow supporters about his take on the David Murray stewardship of Rangers RIP (may they rest in pieces) and the toxic effect it had on Scottish football – and especially Celtic.
The title of the film is a curiosity which relates to a scandal in another sport and acts as the perfect metaphor for the thrust of this piece (if you’re impatient about the asterisks referred to this is explained in the trailer that can be viewed here: http://vimeo.com/98819327). (My wife’s suggestion of an alternative title Rangers Are Pan Breid: An Outsider’s View deserves a crumb of comfort in comparison). The film’s tagline lets you in on the conspiracy theory being propagated here – The Edinburgh Establishment v Celtic. The basis of the conspiracy is simple: how exactly could a Scottish bank take one leading football club (Celtic) to the brink of administration when in relatively good financial health, while allowing another (Rangers) to borrow millions and millions and (even more) millions of pounds regardless of their ability to repay – before being having to be sold for a derisory one pound? And why has nothing been done about this?
The answer lies in the wreckage of the career of the disgraced former Rangers and Murray International Holdings owner David Murray and his carefully nurtured range of business and personal connections he is neighbour to in the leafiest of suburbs in Scotland’s capital. Larkin, an Edinburgh Bhoy himself, weaves a cinematic web of corruption as he demonstrates how a public school boy originally from Ayrshire was able to gain a foothold in the modern Auld Reekie aristocracy. We meet various Establishment characters along the way, the names of whom will be familiar to many Celtic fans already: Gavin Masterton, Angus Gross, Lord Nimmo-Smith. Murray somehow managed to bankroll (with other people’s money, of course) business ventures and mountains of succulent lamb to ensure slavering media promotion of his super-casino, floating pitch vision of a dominant Rangers lording it over a demoralised and decrepit Celtic. Class war? You betcha. There’s more than a gentle whiff of Weller’s ‘Eton Rifles’ to ‘The Asterisk Years’ and not just from the impressive range of accompanying music, some of it original to the film.
The righteous anger on display here is well justified. With Scottish football duped by a financially-doped Rangers (Remember – up to their knees in EBTs) many clubs and, importantly, not just Celtic lost out on titles, trophies and European places. How this was achieved is told here in a unique way. The death and destruction of Rangers has been played out gloriously in this internet age. But this impressive production tells the story from a different perspective – in just over 40 minutes it covers various angles with insight and humour, perfectly capturing the frustration of the Celtic support at the ineffectiveness of the football authorities in allowing the omnishambles of Rangers’ rise under Murray and subsequent destruction and death to happen, without any apparent consequences for those responsible. In the combined role of writer, researcher and narrator Larkin brings his own engaging style to the fore. In his home town he contends there was a plot brewed to bring his football club, our football club, to its knees – and it very nearly succeeded.
This film has intrigue, well-founded speculation, great footage, a whistle-blower and, of course, the happiest of endings akin to the demise of the Third Reich – but at its centre there’s a very pissed-off Celtic supporter who remembers those dire, dark days of the 1990s when we went without silverware year after year in the shadow of a rival whom the media built up as indestructible, in the image of that club’s owner and chairman Murray. Sure the position is very different today as Celtic reign supreme domestically and the Ibrox club’s tribute act struggle to make it out of the lower divisions, but the questions are asked (and should be asked) over and over again: what should be done about the titles and trophies gained through the unfair sporting advantage created by the largesse of the Bank of Scotland in favour of its’ key business benefactor? How was a situation allowed to develop where a Scottish football club was paying among the highest wages in European football year in and year out with generous tax “advantages” that it clearly could not afford itself, hoovering up domestic silverware all the while, as its rivals who followed a legitimate path were left trailing in their wake?
The film’s polemical approach isn’t without fault. The documentary could have been longer and carried a bit more detail although this might have undermined its whistle-stop approach. As with all conspiracy theories there are holes in it, but none gaping as wide as the credibility of Scotland’s football authorities in their handling of this sordid affair. The film makes no attempt to hide its partisanship and neither should it – Celtic remain the party who lost out most as a result of these tainted titles.
At the heart of the Edinburgh establishment – surrounded by men with odd-shaped balls
A documentary film is an excellent format for a new take on the story of Rangers’ rise and fall and eventual liquidation. There are many who tell us this story is old and finished, what’s done is done, it’s time to move on and not get “obsessed.” But our club and other clubs were cheated – and answers are demanded. It is little wonder that Murray sought to have this film suppressed. It is a biting indictment of his reign at Rangers and beyond and raises many issues that the media in Scotland still choose not to.
‘The Asterisk Years’ represents a major development in fan-based projects away from blogs, podcasts and message boards. Funded by Celtic supporting investors, here we have the authentic voice of a football fan asking difficult questions and digging the dirt in a professionally packaged piece which has a much more greater impact than words alone. The presentation is underpinned by graphics, statistics, an excellent soundtrack – and the occasional cameo from Not The View’s evergreen Average Joe Miller, the Celtic support’s very own Benjamin Button who seems to get younger with each passing year (in sharp contrast with the director who appears to be slowly morphing into John Hartson).
Of course, you also have the distinctive Larkin lilt permeating this piece. A well known voice in the Celtic podcast community, his salt-and-sauce commentary pulls no punches and injects humour in all the right places (no more Trainspotting-type references, I promise). He’s created a fascinating and fearless work about an issue that continues to pre-occupy thousands of football fans in this country. The documentary premiered on a weekend when arrests were finally made in the saga of the deceased Rangers – an amusing piece of timing in the midst of a professional film launch.
The film is about to go on tour and it is definitely worth making the effort to see it on the big screen (details below). The fact that this venture has been created by a group of Celtic fans would in itself make it worthy of your support, but the quality of the job done here deserves both your attention and plaudits. It takes media generated by football fans in a whole new direction away from the blogosphere and it is fascinating to think what Larkin and his team might move on to next.
Despite the anger and the dismay on show in ‘The Asterisk Years’ there is one abundantly clear and positive message that this film gets across which is well worth remembering: they under-estimated their enemy because We Still Won.
The Shamrock Rating: 7/10
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Here’s where to watch ‘The Asterisk Years’ on its world tour:
More information here: http://www.rightgadgie.com/
The film goes to Australia! – http://www.asteriskdownunder.com/about.html
Paul is a regular contributor to the Homebhoys podcast – here he talks about the film’s premiere: http://www.spreaker.com/user/homebhoys/homebhoys-141-and-the-bafta-goes-to
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Issue 1 of The Shamrock fanzine – with features on the Celtic Brake Clubs, Paul McStay, Early Escapades of the Celts, The 5 Ages of Celtic, Cinema Paradiso and Cliftonville 1984.
Purchase using Paypal here: https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/subscriptions/
Issue 2 out: December 2012