16 February 2013

The CRO exclusive: TOMOINTERVIEW

By Bill McMurdo | CRO Editor-at-large

Editor's note: Alex Thomson had become a bit of a white whale among the Rangers blogging and podcasting communities. We'd all tried to track him down, take him up on his offer to talk to us at any time, and all been knocked back at some point in the dialogue, with us here at the CRO casualties on that list.

That said, he put it out there in a series of tweets a couple weeks back that it was Rangers supporters who had always backed out at the last. Knowing that not to be the case, we went for it again, and after two weeks of emails, offers to online chats for Channel 4 productions, and five layers of bureaucracy, I'm happy to say Alex spent nearly an hour on the phone with Bill on Friday, talking about a wide range of topics in the Rangers story.

We'll have more followup and reaction to his interview over the coming days, and hope to bring you audio from it as well on an upcoming CROpod. My sincere thanks to Alex for finally coming on. Hope you guys enjoy it. -Shane

With the perfectly understandable cries of thousands of Rangers fans ringing in my ears to string up Channel 4's Alex Thomson, I tried to stay calm and interview the man who speaks so much about our club.

Some of the things he said were quite surprising, others more predictable but, just as I expected would be the case, Tomo was unflinching in his insistence that he is right to make Rangers a big part of his time and schedule.

When confronted by what is the biggest question Gers fans wanted asked of Thomson, Why is he so interested in Rangers?, he said, "It doesn't make any sense, I know, and it doesn't make much more sense to people in the news room."

He likened his obsession with the Rangers story to his previous journalistic crusades over the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre and his notorious reporting on Bloody Sunday – something unlikely to endear him to many Rangers fans.

He likened himself to a dog with a bone in regards to stories he perceives as important, working until, "things are cleared up to the people who matter most, which are the victims."

"I know Rangers fans, a lot of them, hate what I've done. A lot of them think I've got an agenda. I have no agenda," he continued. "I hope to God we're on the way out (of the Rangers story), and that we can leave all that behind and I can leave all this behind.

"That, if there is an agenda, is it."

When pressed as to why he was so obsessive about matters Rangers he said he prefers the word “thorough” but clearly believes there is justification for his pursuing the story to the last.

Some may admire such dedication to his profession but there are many Rangers fans who will see this appeal by Thomson to journalistic ideals as merely a cover story for a dose of Rangersitis. In short, Tomo has a bad dose of Rangers obsession which he is trying desperately to conceal.

As expected, Thomson cited the draw of the big story as a reason for getting involved with Rangers and it is hard to argue the case. Rangers going under was a big story, as was the run-up to this through the final tortured years of the Murray era through to the Whyte takeover.

Thomson spoke of Rangers in terms any fan would have been proud of, to be honest, referring to the club’s “world-beating success” and saying Rangers were one of the biggest teams in the world, before adding with a chuckle, "And by the way, I do believe its history is firmly intact. I don't want to get in that argument." Certainly a statement that may blot his copy book with his Celtic-supporting acolytes.

It appeared to me that Thomson was keen to stress how much he admired Rangers and the club’s fans. He thanked CRO for the opportunity to tell his side of things direct to Rangers supporters.

In his opinion, he is a victim of “Shoot the messenger” syndrome, claiming Rangers fans hate him because he tells them stuff that’s hard for them to hear. I pointed out that this was not the case – that Rangers fans didn’t dislike him for saying what was hard to take but that he was disliked because of how he was perceived to be part of the Rangers-hating network in the media.

I also asked him how he responded to the notion that he was a “useful idiot” for those with an anti-Rangers bias. Surprisingly he didn’t shoot this notion down but admitted that the anti-Rangers bloggers he is so often associated with have a definite agenda.

Thomson went on to say: “There’s some truth in the fact that a number of the bloggers out there – and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain is absolutely one of them – have a blatantly anti-Rangers regime. There is no doubt about that in my mind.”

In referring to Mac Giolla Bhain’s book Downfall, Thomson pointed out he had written in his foreword that, “I do not share this man’s hatred of Rangers.”

As I do with other perceived haters of RFC,  I pressed Alex Thomson to categorically deny his hatred of Rangers. His response was emphatic: “Hatred for Rangers? Of course not. Rangers and Celtic are one of the most glorious things about British football.” He went on to speak in glowing terms of the great noise made by Rangers fans on match days.

If Alex Thomson is a Rangers hater, then he does a pretty good job of masking it. But I’ll get to that in due course.

One thing I wanted to quiz Thomson about was something I picked up from a Rangers forum – i.e. Thomson’s fondness for referring to the “succulent lamb” phrase and culture made famous by our new Head of Communications, Jim Traynor.

I quizzed Thomson about the new “succulent lamb” culture in Scottish football, as pointed out by one or two posters on the forum, i.e. that dished out now by Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell. I asked Thomson what he thought of this culture where, instead of journos being afraid to ask David Murray probing questions or print anything negative about Rangers, they now had the same sickening compliance to the wishes of Peter Lawwell.

I also accused him of being part of this deferential media pack in not wanting to probe stories involving Celtic FC.

Thomson was quick to condemn Scottish journos – and rightly so –  for their meek deference to Peter Lawwell: "It only underlines the point that everyone's been making, Rangers fans as much as anybody, that we need a media  and you need a media  that's going to ask the questions." However, he wouldn’t accept his own guilt in not investigating good stories about Celtic.

I pointed out to Thomson there was a great story about a cover up at Celtic Park, particularly in light of a highly-publicised ongoing police operation taking place right now, and also reminded him of the big story involving Celtic’s majority shareholder and a certain nursing homes group which is a national scandal.

Such matters do not seem to interest our intrepid reporter whose dog-with-a-bone approach to the Rangers story is so all-consuming!

According to Tomo, the story is Rangers, and in a funny kind of way, he's not wrong. He's only saying what we all say: It's all about The Rangers. Can't argue with that...

Tomo is very clear about what he wants for Rangers. When I accused him of having a go at the club he refuted it outright, saying, "I want the best for Rangers. I want Rangers to succeed." He also said he wanted to watch Rangers-Celtic games again.

On the matter of the infamous Dalek jibe, something Rangers fans demanded answers on, Thomson reiterated his story that the Dalek comment was in relation to a Twitter conversation he was having about wasps.

He admitted the Dalek slur is sick in relation to the Ibrox Diasaster and said: "I can remember as a ten year old listening to what used to be Radio Two 1500M and I was a kid. I was playing with my toys in the front room and I remember it was a horrible January day; it was getting dark and this news came through and I still remember that." Thomson dismissed as absurd the idea that he would mock anybody involved in the Disaster and cited his coverage of Hillsborough as evidence. He also referred to his doorstepping of Kelvin MacKenzie as a good thing – maybe not the ideal way to buttress his case, to say the least.

Thomson was also adamant in his denial that his reporting has in any way further wound up the already tension-filled environment of Scottish football, and pressed as to whether he feels that he's become part of the story, Alex responded, "I don't think I've become a big part of the story. It's certainly not a good thing for a journalist to become a big part or any part of any story and I don't intend to be that."

He went on to reference his part in Downfall again by saying, "It was always going to be a difficult decision with Phil's book. I wish he'd written the book very much with the factual content, as is there and is not disputed, as that's what mattered, and not shown the kind of agenda that he has in that book against Rangers."

He went to say the pack of online individuals leading the charge against Rangers "were right. By and large, they were right," before adding, "Of course they were agenda driven. They don't like Rangers. But the difficulty for all of us here, the important thing for all of us here, is they were factually right."

He was quick to distance himself from comments from these very bloggers that Rangers were guilty in the EBT case, however, saying, "I've never said that, and if anybody has been foolish enough to say that Rangers were 'guilty' on the EBT matters I think they'd be in a degree of  legal challenges."

Another surprise – and one I am sure Rangers fans will happily search the internet to disprove – was Tomo's statement that "I have never met Stuart Cosgrove." Although Tomo was on an Off The Ball programme with Stuart once, he is adamant he has never met his Channel 4 colleague Cosgrove in the flesh.

I wanted to know if Cosgrove and Channel 4 lawyer Dominic Harrison  a big Celtic fan  had any input to Tomo's "crusade" against the Gers. Thomson was indignant that he could be swayed on a personal level by these men in terms of an agenda from Channel 4. Rangers fans may be shocked but comforted to hear these words from Tomo:

"The idea that there is or there could be any kind of agenda that's specifically about Rangers because we're anti-Rangers is the very opposite of what seems to be the obvious truth. We are pro-Rangers."

Again, Tomo stated his desire to see Rangers progress. "I want Rangers back in the SPL as fast as possible; I want them back in the Champions League or the European Cup as I prefer to call it, as fast as possible. I think that's good for everybody and it's good for Scottish football."

Thomson did state the need for the club to be run properly and admitted that it seemed to be under the present regime. According to him, "The Rangers support is absolutely phenomenal, and it would be good to do a Channel 4 write up just on that itself. What other club playing in fourth tier football and getting whatever you guys are getting – 40, 50-thousand at Ibrox every other week – it's phenomenal." When I asked him why his stories on Rangers weren't about such positives he said he includes positive comments in his pieces. Maybe I missed them...

Alex continued, "I want to see Rangers completely and utterly exonerated from the tax case and from the Lord Nimmo Smith thing."

Referring to his involvement in the Rangers story, Alex Thomson gave a big hint that it could soon be a thing of the past when he said: "My work is probably pretty much done here anyway."

Tomo signed off with the statement: "I have had virtually no abuse from any Rangers fan I have ever met."

I'll leave it to others to comment on some of the things the controversial Thomson said in our interview. I do plan on giving my take on the whole Alex Thomson thing within the coming days.

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