Ten years ago today, the good folk of Scotland awoke to an amazing story about some Celtic players.
The now infamous Daily Record front-page headline “Thugs & Thieves – the truth behind Celtic stars’ shame” claimed that Celtic players had run amok on a Christmas night out in Gateshead, near Newcastle.
Within six pages inside, the Record claimed that players, including the present management team of Neil Lennon and Johan Mjallby, had caused mayhem, assaulted a photographer and stolen his cameras.
The police were called and Mjallby, Bobby Petta and Joos Valgaeren were arrested for an alleged fracas outside Buffalo Joe’s, a wild west theme bar and nightclub on Tyneside.
To the unsuspecting Daily Record reader it sounded like carnage.
There was only one problem with this amazing scoop and that it was largely bollox!
The only thing missing from the coverage was a by-line from Hans Christian Andersen.
Celtic manager Martin O’Neill, who had been studying law before he made it as a professional footballer, was incensed at this “story” and he was adamant that the club and the players take legal action against the Record.
The memory of this outrage has lived in the hearts of many Celtic supporters for years, with the “Thugs & Thieves” headline imprinted in their minds for life.
But how much has changed in those ten years?
Some of the main players and the extras in this melodrama have moved on.
Martin O’Neill, who helped orchestrate the clubs fight back against the Record, has his own battles to fight with Sunderland.
The editor of the Daily Record, Peter Cox, left the company a few months after the incident.
The Record printed an apology to Neil Lennon for alleging that he had chased photographer Paul Chappells and robbed him of £12,000 worth of camera equipment.
They also agreed to pay Lennon’s legal costs as part of an out of court settlement.
Bruce Waddell, a close friend of Sir David Murray, replaced Cox.
One of the Daily Record sports star hacks back in 2002 was James Traynor, who recently announced that he would join Sevco as Communications Director, and Keith Jackson has stepped into his column.
This Christmas tale of woe ten years ago cost the Daily Record thousands of regular readers from the green half of the city.
It is accepted in the Glasgow media village that the title never got those customers back.
Moreover, it is my contention that they never really tried to win them back.
Despite what some Celtic supporters thought about the people at the Record, it wasn’t personal, it was just business.
The blue half of Glasgow represented the bigger demographic for sales and it also made for an easier life for sports journalists.
This was the era of big-spending Rangers under David Murray and the press pack could clearly see their careers in terms of being thirled to an era of prolonged dominance from Ibrox.
Subsequently, the main titles tilted in the direction of Rangers and their support base.
Although the Christmas tale from ten years ago was actionable most of the coverage was just selected to please the blue half of Glasgow.
The people in charge knew that what was required and that the copy, whenever possible, should be agreeable to the paying customers at Ibrox.
Celtic, after suffering a couple of defeats in meaningless pre-season friendlies, would find the club’s crest cracked in the pages of the Record, signifying a real doom laden crisis for the Parkhead outfit.
Of course, it was nothing of the kind, but it was feel-good stuff for Rangers supporters and they were the target market.
Essentially, the guys at the Record were giving their main customer base what they wanted, but sometimes at the cost of accuracy and balance.
There seemed no on-field embarrassment or off field difficulty down Ibrox way that would, produce a cracked Rangers crest.
The “thugs and thieves” story would have been great for the Record, if it had been true.
It is part of Glasgow media folklore that the Rangers Christmas party was also heading for Newcastle that night, but they received a warning call from someone inside Anderson Quay that the paper had a snapper on the prowl on Tyneside and so the Ibrox chaps diverted en route to another English city.
The Celtic players had no idea of what was afoot and the Daily Record got their “story”.
In this one shabby episode, some of the worst elements of the tabloid worldview could be seen clearly and it wasn’t a pretty sight.
It was a case of “make it snappy and make it up!”
The role of the journalist is to investigate not instigate, to find out not fabricate.
The people behind this debacle clearly lost sight of that if they ever had those professional values in the first place.
This is the same lack of ethical standards that has been examined in forensic detail by Lord Justice Leveson.
There are many factors contributing to the decline of the print sector.
One of them is an appalling lack of respect for the craft of journalism by many in the tabloids.