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Scottish journalist leaps to the defence of Scottish sports writers under siege from Channel 4 News

By Hamish Mackay |

May 8, 2012 | 7 min read

A former sub-editor on a number of Scotland’s sports desks has leapt to the defence of Scottish sports journalists who have been severely criticised by Channel 4 News’s chief correspondent Alex Thomson in his on-going investigation into the tangled financial affairs of Rangers FC.

Writing on the Caledonian Mercury online news site, Jack Jonson declares: “I didn’t think I would ever be defending those hacks that made my life a misery as deadlines loomed and, in a fever of ferocious rewriting, I had to recast their illiterate ramblings.

“However, Channel 4's chief investigative reporter Alex Thomson has attacked their role in the Rangers fiasco and his criticism is unworthy in the extreme.

“I suspect he was alerted to the Ibrox crisis by Celtic-minded bloggers who insisted there was a story of ‘Watergate’ dimensions that is being suppressed by a pro-Gers media. Fair enough. Certainly worth checking out.

“He spoke to Graham Spiers who explained the meaning of the ‘succulent lamb’ jibe frequently parroted on Hoops blogs as proof that the Scottish media hate their club while favouring the other lot.

“Spiers, of course, found a comfortable niche in football journalism as the fair-minded, middle-class good guy among the cynical, hairy-arsed working-class hacks. Which he did, and does, admirably.

“It has to be said though that since becoming freelance he’s having to take a piece from anybody’s door – and Channel 4's will do nicely.

“But let me explain how ‘succulent lamb’ really works – though I would have expected an experienced journalist to know anyway. Maybe Thomson – as he likes to point out frequently – has been in too many war zones where things pan out differently.

“So, a quick lesson in elementary sports journalism. The bloggers – or ‘internet bampots’ as Hugh Keevins calls them – should tune in carefully too.”

Jonson claims that football is showbiz – the game needs the media and the media needs the game.

“That’s why the big clubs employ PR staff and contractually insist that players and managers do interviews – to maintain a flow of info to the media that keeps them in the spotlight. Also keeps the sponsors happy, ensures ticket sales soar, papers get sold. Everyone’s happy.

“Cosy relationships are formed on both sides and indeed there are drinks and dinners where bonds are formed and contacts strengthened.

“As Jim Traynor, author of the ‘succulent lamb’ article, recently pointed out, that meal was vin ordinaire and he’s had much better fare at the table of Celtic’s high heid-yins. And, given his portly disposition, you have to assume he’s something of a trencherman…

“Oh and Spiers has also admitted to partaking of the same dish – at Celtic Park. No mention of that, though, from Thomson.

“This idea of ‘agendas’ is perpetuated by fanatics because they get some sort of kick from being on the receiving end of a bigoted media – as they see it. Scottish football may be in crisis but any failings by the football authorities are due to acts of incompetence rather than anything sinister.

“If Rangers go down the plug it will be because David Murray gambled and lost on a dodgy tax scheme then stupidly sold the club to a numpty. That’s it. Not because the SFA and the media were involved in some massive Masonic cover-up.

“Then Thomson insisted he was ‘physically’ threatened by an NUJ member and made a great deal of this. He even went on Radio Clyde and castigated the Scottish media for not taking this seriously.

“When asked for proof he read out a Twitter message threatening him then said the matter would be reported to the police. Someone who uses their social media account to commit a criminal offence is clearly not the brightest, eh? And an NUJ member too…

“Roddy Forsyth, in the Daily Telegraph two weeks ago, reported the police had dropped the matter, with a source claiming the complaint was ‘laughable’. However, it seems the inquiry – or is it another one involving a blogger’s threat to Thomson and three others? – is still on-going.

“Forgive my confusion, but it’s all a bit complicated now. I just hope that justice is eventually done and the real story emerges. I also hope it doesn’t end with someone getting a “reddy” – a good Scottish word for Thomson to check out.

“Now to the central charge he makes against the Scots media – implying they favour the team from Govan and have sold football fans ‘down the river’. Well, what has he revealed thus far which they haven’t? That Campbell Ogilvie had an Employee Benefit Trust, he claims.

“Alex, it’s been common knowledge in the media that EBTs at Ibrox were widely used throughout the club – not just by players but directors and senior staff. So in the six weeks or so he’s been on the story he’s found nothing that hasn’t been in our media ad nauseam for more than a year at least.

“That means he really does have some cheek insulting NUJ colleagues. But, then again, if you can’t uncover anything of substance, a campaign against Scotland’s sports hacks might do in the meantime to deflect attention away from his failings.

“I have worked on news and sports desks of many national titles in Scotland – broadsheets, mid-markets, tabloids – and never once witnessed any agenda being played out. I have seen incompetence on a grand scale – I’m a crabbit sod – but not deliberate bias.

“As Thomson is, no doubt, finding out, there is a deep bitterness among many fans of the Old Firm that brings shame to Scotland. Both sets of supporters insist their team is a victim of the authorities, the SFA, SPL, referees, the media. It is, of course, absolute nonsense. Well, they can’t both be right. Can they?

“The real story, in fact, is the depth of the hatred, bitterness and delusion among the warring tribes. But that’s not as sexy.

“From where I’m sitting it appears Thomson arrived up here with the mindset – no doubt passed on to him by the deluded hordes that sucked him in – that there would be rich pickings uncovering wide-scale corruption among the media.

“That can be the only reason he has thrown insults around like confetti. At best, that shows an appalling naivety for one so experienced.

“I wish him well in uncovering some smoking gun because, as it is, his reputation is taking a bit of a battering among real journalists in Scotland who have been on the receiving end of spiteful taunts from Old Firm fans for decades.

“Let me give him an earth-shattering exclusive – Scottish journalism is among the best in the world, so his cheap shots have done him no favours whatsoever.

“Finally, no one will be happier than me if Thomson does get a big exclusive – and I’ll treat him to a succulent lamb dinner washed down with vintage Château Lafite.

“Alas, tail between the legs and back over the border is how I see it all panning out for him. It would be nice though if he also found time to apologise to those NUJ colleagues he has insulted so readily.”


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