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Ian Black or Red

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Pic: Phil McCloy | Scotzine.com

Pic: Phil McCloy | Scotzine.com

Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose is one of the greatest Major League Baseball players who has ever lived. In a sport which regards statistics and numbers with religious dedication, consistency, hustle and effort are regarded on a higher plane, valued above anything remotely aesthetic, powerful, or thrilling. Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose, since the his retirement in the 1980s, has been expelled to baseball purgatory. He is persona non grata, even at his former teams. He is required, at risk of public prosecution, to submit an application to the MLB Commissioner’s office if he even as much as wants to attend a game from the cheap seats. He is – and please forgive the tabloidese – essentially banned from baseball. His crime? Betting on his own team to WIN. More of “Charlie Hustle” later. But first, flashback if you will to the start of summer, 2013.

Rangers, fresh from their scintillating season, had clinched the third division title at something less than a stroll. Manager Ally McCoist, for reasons best known to himself, had decided that his team needed an overhaul. The club, needing to free up wages for this new era in the second division, decided (over McCoist’s head, it should be said) asked their representative agent to find new clubs for their highest paid players. Lee Wallace, by some distance their best player, was offered around but for whatever reason, this came to nothing. Next on the list of players to be shipped out, was Ian Black.

Ian Black, the combative midfielder, is not a great player. He’s a good player. By SPFL standards, he’s an efficient one, with a cultured eye and the ability to occasionally stand out from the rest. In the third division, he looked like a superstar. He even won a solitary Scotland cap, albeit an award which will go down as Craig Levein’s last act of egotistical, petty defiance. Rangers, however, begun to tire of his disciplinary issues, and, from the board’s point of view, his wages were becoming prohibitive. So they offered him around, only to find no takers.

Jump forward in time, to the current day. Ally McCoist, the likeable Rangers manager, as reported by Scotzine, is currently defending Ian Black from an SFA charge that he bet on some 100 plus games. More than this, the accusation states that he bet on his own teams to lose. Most recently, he bet on Rangers to lose to Albion Rovers. One might say this speaks volumes as to his wisdom. But much more seriously, it questions Black’s commitment to the cause. A player who is comfortable with the idea of losing is one thing (Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh famously asked his team to read Tzu’s The Art of War, and dared them to lose – meaning, of course that a player who was scared of losing could not possibly commit fully to winning), but a player who benefits from defeat is quite another. Ian Black, if the allegations are true, would benefit financially if his team lost.

The defence to this has been two-fold. One, the genial Ally McCoist has stated, is that a list could be compiled of a hundred players who bet on their team. This is probably true.

But it misses the point; betting on your team to win gives impetus to perform better, or could do if that was your trip. Black bet on his team to lose. Big difference. The second defence of Black is that a player, in and of himself, is incapable of altering the result of a game. While this may be true of a midfielder – and a goalkeeper, as has been shown before is manifestly capable of throwing a game – it also misses the point. Ian Black, by betting on his own employers – Inverness, Hearts and Rangers – to lose, is indirectly questioning the preparation of his club. He is, indirectly, doubting his team-mates’ proficiency and, perhaps worst of all from a professional sports personality’s point of view, Black is opening himself up to accusations of (and again forgive the cliche) not giving 110%.

This, in the end, is the difference. Betting on your own side to win is morally suspect, but justifiable in that it provides, to a certain person, extra motivation to win. Betting on your own side to lose not only carries the same moral ambiguity, but runs antithetically to the idea of professional sport.

The accusations have been made, and Black will have had his chance to defend himself in front of the Scottish Football Association. It is not the purpose of this article to convict him; the verdict of the panel has already done that. But having been found guilty, Ian Black will become a leper within the Rangers dressing room, if he is not already. Betting on his side to lose is a direct comment on his confidence in his team, and perhaps saddest of all, a comment upon his own levels of professionalism and self-belief.

Pete Rose, for betting on his own team to win, was cast unto the wilderness by MLB. Ian Black stands accused of a far greater crime than Charlie Hustle. Perhaps it is Black’s less elevated standing which will save him from the full weight of the law. Currently, Ally McCoist, Rangers most prolific ever player, is publicly defending his player. McCoist seems like a good man, and it is right and decent of him to do so. But were you to ask the Rangers manager whether he, personally, would ever have bet on that 9-in-a-row side to lose, what do you suppose his response would be? A lengthy wait at A&E at the Western Infirmary would no doubt await the inquisitor. For all McCoist’s protestations that he is happy to pick Black, the truth is that the midfielder’s standing at Rangers is questionable. Future employers will be wary, at the very least. His standing among the footballing fraternity is damaged beyond repair. There may be some positive in this; Black’s story at heart is a sad one and if his demise – which many would argue began when he chased the Queen’s Shilling to sign for Rangers – is hastened then no pleasure could be drawn. A ten game suspension – in effect a three game ban as seven games have been suspended – means Black has landed on black. Here’s hoping he makes the most of it.

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