The continuing adventures of Stanley, Monique, and George.
Previously on “99 Problems” …
We were introduced to the McKinsey consultants, Stanley, Monique and George, meeting the English FA. For lovers of character arc, I’d read the below article before this one.
The week was fizzling out in a low-biorhythm kind of way, and the weather wasn’t helping, as London offered one of its habitual grey pastiche landscapes over the city.
Tinseltown in the Rain, just a bit further South.
Stanley, deep down, was a kind, compassionate man, who loved his firm and people, and he’d struggled all week with the headlines.
His mother was from Dumfries, and he was catching up on all the current uncertainty and suspicion in Scotland, following the resignation of Sister Nicola. The inevitable battle for the SNP leadership, a possible opportunity for Labour and, maybe, how that could swing the balance of power in Westminster. After all, this was his job, reading the music of what was to come in Britain PLC, and how his firm could earn fees. Change and volatility are when blue chip consultants smell money. New projects to be awarded. Greed and fear.
He was, however, principally concerned about keeping his personal pod fully occupied and out of the sights of any cost-cutting accountant. He was at the end of the day very very fond of George and Monique.
“What’s the best way to gain us traction in Scotland, George? ”
Stanley mused, feet up slovenly on the desk of his new office in London’s Knowledge Quarter.
He would never have done that in their old Jermyn Street building, and he clearly felt subliminal disdain for the whole hipster vibe of the Post Building; and he despised anything calling itself the Knowledge Quarter. His tolerant level for “naff” had reduced significantly over the years, feeling the world was losing its sense of “excellence”, in a paint-by-numbers kind of way. Everyone was the same, no individuals, no mavericks.
His two weren’t, and he held onto that tightly. He looked at George again…
“I think this is going to be an important moment, when Westminster just throws money up there to keep the natives happy. A new King, independence possibly on the ropes. Remember when Donald Dewar bailed out Hampden? All that money could be coming to us. We need an “in” with a product; an idea. “
George nodded as a reflex, as he scrolled his Substack articles.
They looked such an impressive collection of worthy pieces which, in all honesty, he knew he’d never read. He was getting content backlog guilt. He wasn’t worried about the layoffs, as he knew his worth and marketability. All he cared about was the man in front of him and a French girl. He cared about the French girl a lot!
À propos of nothing… he looks up:
“You know Stan, Chris Rock is right about Meghan”,
“’She won the light skin lottery’, that’s a very clever line”, he guffawed to himself.
The Scunthorpe lad quickly remembered that he still owed his boss an idea, rose from the office white leather divan, and switched on the machine.
“All they care about up there is football…….and not in the way anyone else does. It’s not sporting passion, it’s deeper. Politics, society, the establishment, business, the professions, they all have never really gotten over the trauma of the Reformation. Scotland is a country that doesn’t have scars from all that; it still has open wounds with blood pouring out. They deny this, of course, but frankly…
Scotland is still a story of Two Tribes,
fighting a proxy culture war via two football teams…
…The big project, the big win, is them getting past John Knox, and making bigotry and discrimination as career-ending up there as racism is in the big world. Football is where I’d propose we start.”
Stanley was always pleased in these moments; he had seen the potential of the tall Northern lad the first day he interviewed him; the combination of (faux) shy, and incredibly erudite insight, made for a potent mix in a top consultant. A normal bloke, who could move in a heartbeat from opining on the value bets of the 15.40 from Kempton, to the inconsistency of Kanye and Adidas as brand. A genuine talent.
“You, of course, mean Celtic and Rangers, George?”
Stanley remarked, staring at the Fade to Grey sadness from the window of his new abode.
Sens la pluie comme un été Anglais
Entends les notes d’une chanson lointaine
Sortant de derrière d’un poster
Espérant que la vie ne fut aussi longue
Stanley’s brain wasn’t even waiting for George to reply. He continued:
“You know what they call this place, Georgie? “ … “A post-industrial building of epic scale and volume in the heart of creative London. It has a volume and generosity that you don’t normally discover; it’s something you’ll never be able to build again.”
He insisted: “That’s what’s written on their website. What does that even mean? You know our co-tenants are Rothesay Life and the Nationwide? Call me a snob, but that is so depressing. People pay for brand; our brand is platinum premium. Brand is who you are seen with and we are in an office with a bloody building society and a pensions company. It’s not screaming £1m a project, is it?”
This was out-of-character for Stanley. Overly harsh, and not as elegantly hidden as with most of his elitism.
The idea that McKinsey was sacking people wasn’t sitting well at all with Stanley. Devenir Gris indeed.
“Still, Hendrix recorded Hey Joe in the basement, Stanley”.
Monique had arrived! “You’re getting old and crusty, Monsieur. Still handsomely attractive, but getting old!”
She had spent the morning “workshopping” some Gen Alpha mood boards for Stella McCartney, on the big LMVH assignment. It had clearly gone well, as she was in her Joe Le Taxi mood.
An energy Stanley badly needed in that moment. He smiled warmly.
Monique was a fabulous consultant. IQ and EQ pouring out of her, all of which she liked to hide playing the vamp.
“Did ya get a new hat Moni?” George smirked. To be fair, the aquamarine beret, worn at that angle, did suit her to a tee.
“You know nothing, George. Go back to your white pan bread, egg and sausage, and warm beer!” she snarled.
“Talking of the North, Monique”, Stan interrupted, “what’s your knowledge base and insight on Scotland?”
She leaned on one hip, threw the beret on the divan, looked straight at Stan, wide Bambi eyes.
“In every combat, where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France… And what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with their friendship.”
She was quoting Charles de Gaulle verbatim.
Monique’s moods, more often than not, tended to melancholy cynicism, but, on this kind of day, she truly was Helen of Troy. Ships would sail.
Does anyone remember the French singer Alizee? Look it up 😉
“Stanley, they and we are
the true anti English Alliance. Bonnie Prince Charlie spoke French. The story of our nations is the story of the fight against the Reformation.”
“BOOM, Stan, take an “L”, told you so”, splurted George, his head still buried in his mobile, for the crucial Fantasy selection on a double game week.
Stan was shaken out of his Steve Strange lethargy. He was now “on it”.
“Ok, Operation Jacobite, how do we make ourselves and McKinsey £5m in fees over the next 3 years up there?”, he started pacing back and forward, hands clasped behind his back.
“George, now’s the moment to drop Haaland, bring back in Jesus, submit the bloody team, and give me your attention.“
George reluctantly agreed with his boss.
He was behind in the league and realised he wasn’t going to catch up by playing the percentages like everyone else. And, anyway, like many proper football fans, the nagging feeling, that Haaland wasn’t right for Pep, was growing.
Stanley faced the window, “We are going to offer a really cheap consulting deal to the league, the SFA, Holyrood, whoever, … on the strategic direction of Scottish football as nation building, mental health, inclusion, education … in a “post industrial world”. Stanley spat out that last phrase in disgust. “Once in the door, with that profile, we get the lot… gigs from wind farms to whisky, from independence to oil. Right you two, go… brain dump on Scottish football. Surprise me”.
Monique slumped down on the sofa, lit her Gitanes, and waited for the Scunthorpe lad to do his thing. This wasn’t her core competence.
She, in reality, didn’t give a flying fig about sport, as it played into the most predictable and immature traits of men.
“If the fire alarm goes off Moni, it’s on you”, her young colleague stuttered.
Monique shrugged at George, and winked. That was the end of the exchange. The contest had been brief. George lost.
He reflected again on Chris Rock … “the infinite power of female beauty” he mused. So true. Silently to himself, he pondered why Shakira had got all hot again, post Pique.
He cleared his head for the task at hand.
“Stan, it’s like this…”, George started at pace. “Up there two teams count. Celtic are the Catholic bohemian underdog artists, Rangers the Protestant establishment unionist team. Everything else is nostalgia for 50-year-old bald men with beer bellies.”
“The Celtic and Rangers death match dominates the entire narrative of the country… … Bragging rights is the currency of every single social interaction up there. Their direct derby games are basically a rerun of Culloden, but with the outcome in doubt.”
“The other 40 profession clubs in Scotland don’t really have a future as is. They have literally no chance of winning, and their fan base will dissipate with the current demographic. No new Gen Z audience of size is interested.”
Monique looked up.
She found her colleague surprisingly attractive when he dropped the shy act, and brought the alpha-male A game.
George was warming up: “As a product, Celtic and Rangers will end up 40/50 points ahead of third place. No one outside these two has won the competition in 40 years. And yet they still call it a league. It’s laughable . It’s a two horse race where the role of everyone else is to provide optionality on those two dropping points. That’s the only sporting jeopardy, and it’s reflected on the TV games selected. Always the Old Firm away from home. Few of their home games on TV, to protect their impressive season ticket customer base.”
“Celtic and Rangers account for between 70-90% of all the value that is generated in the industry of Scottish football…
… Everyone pretends it’s not true and the media “talk up” the game incessantly. They all know the truth, but it’s so Upton Sinclair. They don’t have a broadcast market of size so their TV rights revenues are risible. They now get outbid by conference teams for talent.”
“In the old days, they always had decent revenues from player sales, mainly to England. Those have dried up, and any talents they produce are stolen away really early at Academy stage. That reminds me… I think I’m going pick Ben Doak this week.”
“Amazingly, they manage to brush off perennial defeat in Europe year after year; you would think that would undermine their belief in the game; but no. Doesn’t matter. It has become a solely domestic sporting competition.”
“Indeed the Glasgow fan bases have become more political and politicised in recent years…
…Cultural identity and religion are intrinsically linked to Celtic and Rangers. This has grown, as international relevance has decreased. This antagonism has been unhealthily supercharged by social media, like everywhere i guess. Fans have zero self awareness of the business reality as they watch pirate TV feeds, wear fake strips bought on holiday in Turkey, whilst demanding the head of investors who have actually put in millions to keep the whole show afloat. Douglas Park dropped £25m on Rangers yet is now told where to go by these types…
… It is the antithesis of “fertile terrain” for fresh capital. In fact, none arrives. Scottish football is uninvestable.”
“Sure, football is hugely relevant up there. But its trending to negativity. Fans are in to get followers, likes and retweets. So after a defeat, measured criticism evolves quickly into a competition as to who can be the most vocally outraged in their pain. By the end of the week, folk are calling for the tea lady to be ousted for not living up to the club “standards. It’s negative passion that is eroding the stomach lining of the game. Toxic is the right word.”
“Jesus, George, enough already!”
Stanley wasn’t in the mood.
“We, as consultants, need to sell a hope for a new dawn. It’s too easy to point to what’s missing. Where’s the solution? Can we pitch a league with limited non-Scottish players? Give the politicians something to win votes with supporting it. What about Celtic and Rangers colt teams. It’s Castilla in Madrid, right?”
George‘s balloon deflated. His colleague saw he needed help. Monique interjected.
“Get the Scottish league to merge with bigger leagues. The English ones, or similar leagues with the same size problem…
‘Cause, you know, size DOES matter.”
She smirked, applying her lipstick after the cigarette.
She continued: “Get them to go all in on their own DTC media hub, go heavy on storytelling, make the rivalries more trash talk type content: the tifo, pyro, play into the social beef, laugh at it, put mics on fans and follow them on their away trips. Drive to Survive Season 1 was a success without big names and teams. You just need to get people to buy into the characters.”
Stan already had the mobile to this ear. “There you go George. Put together a deck. I’ll call the right people”.
George knew and remembered better:
“They tried both of those ideas a generation ago. A strange guy with glasses, from the music industry. The Atlantic League and SPLTV.
They laughed him out of town.”
Stanley had had enough and this wasn’t a hill he had a passion to defend, at least not today. The grey was winning. He started packing up his understated-but-cool Piquadro shoulder bag.
Un homme dans une gare isolée
Une valise a ses cotés
Deux yeux fixes et froids
Montre de la peur lorsqu’il
Se tourne pour se cacher
“You know what is the secret of making money as a consultant?” Stanley sighed, walking out, before even waiting for, or giving, an answer.
Monique stood up, straightening her skirt, the marquis fringe-sweep of her dark hair… and provided the answer.
“It’s recognising what’s a lost cause and cutting your losses”, she whispered softly in George’s ear.
She was right. Scottish football is a lost cause. Too small, too polarised, too many dying teams, too much granite-jawed intransigence and suspicion, too short of talent, a proxy war for the Reformation.
“But you and me maybe aren’t a lost cause, Northern Boy” she murmured, looking back at George. “See you on Monday.”
George’s weekend was ruined!
The infinite power of female beauty indeed, Chris Rock.
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