(Picture – SNS Group)
Perhaps I’m biased, but for my money there isn’t a better professional football league in the world than the Scottish Championship. This season especially has had more twists, turns and backstabbing than a typical series of Line of Duty and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Falkirk FC are of course the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion of patter this season, of that there is no doubt, but every Rock needs their Austin. Step forward, Greenock Morton.
What the hell is going on? The question on every football fan’s lips. Not “Can Liverpool win the league?” or “Is Mourinho actually going to Celtic?” The football world wants to know what’s happening at Cappielow, and why everything inside of it is on fire. A managerial team walking out just hours before a game, “interference” from the board to stop Charlie Telfer’s contract extension, the chief executive resigning and a Chairman that seemingly exists only to tell the media how much of a financial hole the club finds itself in. All this at a club which until just two weeks ago was staring third-tier football in the face. From the outside looking in, it would be very easy to call Morton a club in crisis. There’s a lot in play here though, an awful lot of factors, and it is actually possible Morton come out of this in a healthier state than they were going in.
Lets start with Johansson and Houston. Your managerial team walking out hours before your final game of the season isn’t a great look and supporters were rightly concerned when board interference appeared to be the reason. If you take a step back though and ignore the cries of injustice from their media pals, the whole situation becomes a bit clearer.
They wanted to play Charlie Telfer, however the board requested he only appear as a substitute, as starting the game would’ve triggered a contract extension. The board believed that should be something for the club’s next manager to decide (this is common practice in football the world over) however this also appears to be when the penny dropped with the two that they were being relieved of their duties. Despite then being told by Chairman Crawford Rae they could “play Telfer if it meant that much to them” Johansson and Houston picked up their ball and went home. “A matter of integrity” according to Peter Houston but surely the right thing to do would’ve been to not abandon the players, see the game out and walk away after securing a 5th place finish for the club? Apparently not, the two vanished and control was handed over to Chris Millar, Jim McAlister and pretty much anybody else that fancied a go.
It all got much messier than it should’ve and was yet another embarrassing episode for the club, but the duo were rightly canned. The 5th place finish does not reflect just how terrible a job was done by the pair of them. They absolutely had to go, and provided the club doesn’t hand the reigns to a literal wild animal, or worse yet, John Hughes, they should be better off for it.
Where some confusion begins to set in is with Rae’s comments after their departure. He talked about how positive his relationship with the pair was, but that he “had to listen to the view of other investors.” Who those other investors are remains unclear – but to influence such a decision from the Chairman would point to them being significant. If you’re investing a substantial amount of money in a football club, or even taking it over entirely, obviously you’d want your own man at the helm. That could also explain chief executive Warren Hawke’s departure – another one which Rae seemed pretty reluctant about. It would appear somebody else is pulling the strings.
Now this is where things get interesting. Morton’s fourth-highest shareholder is a certain David Hopkin. (Yes, the same one) A man that just happens to be the favourite to be the club’s new manager. Like your Da grabbing the Scalextric set he’s bought you for Christmas off you to play with himself, could Hopkin really have engineered JJ & Houston’s departure to take the job himself? As funny as that would be, it’s a long shot. There could be someone doing it for him though.
What some may view as Inverclyde’s answer to the Soprano family, The Easedales, could finally be making their long-rumoured venture into Morton. They’ve invested before, funded contracts for players themselves and if Hopkin is indeed appointed would likely be the ones paying his wages. There’s issues surrounding their involvement in Rangers still, but it’s widely accepted they’ll have some role or another in Morton going forward.
If they have promised investment, and have put Hopkin forward for the job, then the sackings this past week would make complete sense. They want their own people involved, and crucially, someone that isn’t a complete dud managing the team. It might not be them, it could finally be Mike Ashley turning us into Newcastle’s La Masia (not even a made up story) but the main point is, somebody else is influencing proceedings, and you’d expect who to be revelated fairly soon.
In the background of all this is Morton Club Together, a scheme launched two weeks ago which seeks to raise £400k to be invested directly into the club, whilst also giving the group a 15% share in the club. This would give supporters a say in the running of the club, and crucially a layer of security. An idea with some details that need ironed out, but something that’d be a real positive for the club and the fanbase if successful. That has to be up in their air now. If there’s a complete takeover there’s no guarantee they’d want that level of influence. Hopefully for both parties some sort of deal can still be worked out.
The players futures obviously can’t be decided until the new manager appears, which could see some of them take up deals elsewhere to guarantee themselves a contract. None would be particularly big losses, aside from Michael Tidser. His PCA with Falkirk is now up in the air after the Grangemouth side were relegated to League 1 in hilarious fashion. What happens with him now is unclear, he hasn’t ruled out staying at the club but unless a testimonial is thrown in Morton will struggle to compete with the wages he’ll be offered elsewhere. If the new owners/investors wish to make a statement of intent though, he’d be a pretty damn good way of doing it.
It’s complete uncertainty. Morton could come out of this better for it, with new investment, a better manager and something close to a plan. Or, in an effort to make the club attractive to new buyers, budgets will continue to be cut, the cheapest of cheap options placed in the dugout and the club can continue its slide towards becoming a slightly bigger Clyde. Some very interesting times lie ahead for the men from Greenock, as well as the rest of the Championship. We’re unlikely to see any club rival Falkirk’s level of incompetence in the next several decades, but I can guarantee you everyone in Europe’s most mental football league will certainly give it a go.
In the immortal words of Craig Levein “It’s a good laugh isn’t it?”
By Evan Mcfarlane (@EvanMcfarlane)
Are you Pure Fitbaw? Subscribe to the Pure Fitbaw Podcast to hear about Greenock Morton and more https://pure-fitbaw.simplecast.com/episodes/jose-s-wild-eyes-are-gone