17 February 2013

Ready for TOMO - and the rest

By Bill McMurdo | CRO Editor-at-large

If I am being really honest, I didn't want to interview Alex Thomson. I thought he would be a pompous, smug git. Fact is, he was anything but.

I was very aware that legions of Rangers fans wanted me to stick it to Thomson for all the grief he has caused them over the last year or so. But that was not my remit. My job was to put probing questions to him and allow him to answer them.

To be honest, Thomson threw me a few googlies. As I said, I expected a smug, condescending and arrogant brush-off for every question I asked. Hence my reluctance to speak to the guy. I questioned whether it was all worth it because nothing would change by my interviewing him - only I might get grief from fellow bears for not at least sticking the heid on him Glasgow-style.

Alex Thomson was gushing in his praise for Rangers - and actually quite nice about Rangers fans. He is adamant he is doing those same Rangers fans a service by highlighting the problems at the club and actually sees them as victims. I don't think he genuinely grasps how annoying this actually is to bluenoses.

The problem with Alex Thomson is he doesn't fit the mold. He is not a typical Rangers-hater, doesn't come from Scotland or Ireland and is not really part of the established anti-Rangers mafia.

Tomo is a leftie-leaning journalist with a crush on Irish Republicans and a desire to ingratiate himself with that community in some contrarian way. That has tumbled him towards pleasing certain factions who express their own support for the "cause" by engaging in virtually full-time propagandising against the hated Glasgow Rangers.

Thomson bought easily, I think, into the big oppressive establishment club myth perpetrated by the likes of Phil the Mad and others. He saw an opportunity to cement his reputation for being the bad boy of UK media in his chumminess with Republicans and willingness to join them in a jail cell. That opportunity would win him the respect and admiration of the entire pro-Nationalist community and open up a whole new market for him here in Scotland.

All he had to do was put the boot into Rangers.

Not much of a problem when the club was lying wounded and bleeding.

What Tomo didn't figure on was the response from Rangers fans.

And it is here that the answer to the Alex Thomson conundrum can be found - the unravelling of the "Why?" question that people - including those in his own newsroom according to the man himself - keep asking him about his Rangers obsession.

The answer is very simple. Alex Thomson does not hate Rangers. He never has. When he speaks of his admiration for Rangers, it is obvious he is either telling the truth or he is in the wrong profession.

Alex Thomson is hooked on the Rangers story for one simple reason. He underestimated the response of the Rangers support. And it is the Rangers support that keep him plugged in to matters RFC.

As I said, I didn't find Tomo to be a smug, pompous git. But he is clearly proud and driven - let's remember he is no pimply-faced youth reporting on cats stuck up trees in Shropshire. He is a man at the height of his powers, a big name in UK journalism and with a glittering career ahead.

In a nutshell, Tomo called it wrong.

Like a gunslinger who stumbles upon a gunfight and starts shooting, only to discover he is on the wrong side - but by then it's too late because he has shot too many on the other side, Thomson is "stuck" in the Rangers story by his pride. He doesn't want to just slink away and look like the loser.

Thomson is quite happy to confirm the Rangers-hating agenda of those he has become tainted with by affiliation - including Mad Phil - and is increasingly vehement that he does not share their ridiculous bigoted view of things. However, he has shot too many bullets from their side of the divide to just walk away as an observer.

And here is the crux of the matter. I don't think Alex Thomson is a Rangers-hater. But I think Rangers fans get up his nose. That's what pulls him back in - his pride is driving him to prove Gers fans wrong by continually looking for things he can spear the club with. His latest go with the Jim Traynor/Craig Whyte emails is an embarrassing example. As I said to Thomson - "Man seeks job. What a story." To be fair, he pretty much conceded the point.

In a nutshell, Alex Thomson is continuing to scratch his Rangers itch purely and simply because the power of the bluenose support swung to the club's defence and Rangers fans continually have a go at him on Twitter and by other means. In a sense, we are creating the Tomo problem. Yes, it is a demonstration of how fan power can work but I get the feeling Thomson wants to walk away from the fight.

Maybe we should let him.

But the Alex Thomson situation has bigger lessons to teach us. Yes, Thomson has earned his "Toxic" nickname and been a proper pain in the nether regions to Rangers and Gers fans.

There is, however, much more to be learned from all of this.

The fact that Thomson has been such an annoying and, it has to be said, effective enemy should logically teach us that the club could do with some friends like Thomson in the media. The plain truth is we need big hitters in the UK media to champion our cause, not lob devastating grenades at us. That is where Traynor comes in but the reality is he isn't enough and he can't do it alone.

The battles Rangers are engaged in are all in the PR and media realms and so Rangers must have people fighting the club's corner who are media-savvy and - frankly - good at winning friend s and influencing people. This includes engaging people like Alex Thomson and - whether fans like it or not - people with a track record of Rangers-bashing.

The club simply can't afford to have a policy where anybody remotely unsympathetic to Rangers in the media is banned and sent north of the wall (for you Game of Thrones fans).

A good PR person would have the likes of Alex Thomson in to the club - not for succulent lamb dinners - but for open, honest dialogue and an attempt at friendly relations. If people choose to be hostile or two-faced after that, then by all means withdraw their privileges and access.

"But Alex Thomson's a bam," some will retort. Well, if you can find a journo who wouldn't sell his granny for a story, you have either found someone who started today or someone who won't be in the job long. Being a bam is part of the journalistic make-up, it has to be said.

That's why I am a blogger and not a journalist...

Rangers need people who can grease the wheels. That's what PR is about. That is what the real world is about. Now, I am not suggesting that Rangers get slippery and shady in their dealings nor that the club doesn't stand up for itself. But a good PR person will soothe troubled waters and ease tensions behind the scenes, as well as defending the club's image and reputation in more open ways.

My editor here on CRO is the perfect example of what I am talking about. He has dialogued with Alex Thomson - not Twittered abuse at him and bombarded him with smarmy digs (well, at least outside a few choice articles on the site) - and got Thomson to agree to an interview. Like it or lump it, we have to engage with the media - and do it well. It's essential for big football clubs to do the PR and media thing well. As well as those who follow the clubs.

Alex Thomson may stupidly see his job as attacking Scotland's biggest team for whatever reason. As a Rangers blogger, mine is to defend the club from people who attack it. But that's just life, really. Sadly, every one of us who love the Rangers have all got a bit paranoid in recent times and forgotten how the world works. Life isn't always black and white and society really isn't divided between bluenose fanatics and Rangers haters.

Some people genuinely don't give a toss about Rangers.

And some journalists may pick on the Gers for their own reasons. That's why we need to keep things in perspective. Having journos onside is a good idea and having ones who have an agenda against our club is just part and parcel. Thus it has been, thus it shall be.

"Journalist is a bam who doesn't always tell the truth." Wow - what a story! Not one to get too upset over, though.

It's too late for Tomo to become a friend to Rangers. And he certainly has been an enemy.

But we do need friends in the media. Not necessarily "Rangers men" in the traditional sense but people who will be fair, helpful and supportive.

That's the lesson we must learn from TOMOGATE.

Don't shoot the messenger is how he would put it.

Don't treat everyone as an enemy is how I would.

Like my fellow bluenoses, I have an emotional response when I read the latest from Alex Thomson and others on the club I love. But there's a part of me that recognises there will always be those who want to knock the big club for all kinds of reasons. And that more rational part is aware that playing the PR game well is one of the vital ways to deal with it.

So, rather than a Glasgow kiss, I would buy Alex Thomson a coffee and help him talk about the bad dose of Rangersitis he has. After all, I know what it is like to be obsessed with Scotland's biggest team. And we have to accept that dialoguing with journos - even ones we don't like and who don't like us - is for the greater good of the club.

Sadly, "No-one likes us, we don't care" has become both an unofficial Rangers motto and a way in which we approach the wider world.

As I have said before, it is an abominable slogan and is completely self-deprecatory. It has certainly not served us well.

The old boys knew best. They gave us a motto which has stood the test of time and is more apt today than ever.In today's media-driven world, it is the perfect philosophy and approach.

It'll do fine for me.

Bill can be found on Twitter at @WilliamMcMurdo and via email: bmcmurdo@thecoplandroad.org