“It was all nonsense, as they both knew. In reality there was no escape. Even the one plan that was practicable, suicide, they had no intention of carrying out. To hang on from day to day and from week to week, spinning out a present that had no future, seemed an unconquerable instinct, just as one's lungs will always draw the next breath so long as there is air available.”
What now do we make of Sir David Murray? For a time I believed him to be totemic of our times. A man who made his initial millions in Mrs Thatcher’s 80s, when greed was good, and who succumbed to the easy finance culture of the last decade. As Murray’s empire crumbled under the weight of its bank debt, ill-advised reliance on commercial property and poorly executed moves into private equity it seemed he was merely another casualty of 2008’s economic whirlwind. Were that the case then his greatest failings would be over ambition and an inflated sense of self confidence and worth. These are scarcely admirable qualities but hardly a crime. The revelation though that it was under his ownership/chairmanship that the board allegedly embarked on a systematic decision to evade taxes by misusing Employee Benefits Trusts utterly destroys such a benevolent conclusion.
If, or more precisely when, the “big case” is lost then HMRC must pursue Murray and all the other board members for their actions (yes that does include Mr Greig I am afraid). I for one would like to see criminal culpability established and the necessary punishments delivered. I would also like to know exactly which directors benefited from EBTs and whether personal gain played a part in the wrongful administration of the EBT scheme generally.
Whyte/White (ever the mystery man) was greeted with open arms by some but scepticism by most. It was all too tempting to believe the financial woes would come to an end. Why should it not be when the Scottish journalists were declaring him a billionaire with “wealth off the radar”? I gave him the benefit of the doubt though like most remained wary. It is with bitter regret that the better nature of the majority of our support who shared a similar view has been demonstrated to be foolish. Sometimes in life it seems every day brings a renewed degree of cynicism with which to greet the world.
Whyte/White is at best someone who knows the insolvency system. This is about the only positive thing anyone can find to say about him. Even then is that really much of a positive? I know many of my fellow fans are struggling with the morality of our current circumstances but for me business is business and if the insolvency regulations provide a means to extricate our club from our current financial suicide then so be it. In plain English I am more than happy to hold my nose and ignore the stink for a couple of years.
What I am struggling with just now is the timing of last week’s announcement. It is impossible to know what advice Mr Whyte/White has been taking regarding trading while insolvent. Given his previous seven year disqualification I would assume this was at the forefront of his thinking. In the end administration when it arrived at least offered a chance of relief from the endless speculation and slow financial strangulation.
“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary… And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.”
Clearly Celtic and the other SPL clubs are entitled to their own opinions on what should happen moving forward. The contents of the Sky/ESPN contracts and other commercial considerations are not of themselves a reason for Rangers to remain in the SPL. However, those calling for Rangers to be refused re-entry to the SPL in the event of liquidation and/or to have trophies stripped which were won during the years when EBTs have yet to make a compelling case for either. Amidst the fury and the blood lust from those with vested interests consideration needs to be given to what rules Rangers can be shown to have broken and what punishments exist. Justice must be the order of the day not vengeance. Are we really just seeing hatred masquerading as outrage?
Much has been made of the £9 million Rangers currently owe HMRC (the “big case” is as yet officially still a contingent liability). Let us be clear on this, NO COMPANY ever enters administration and does not have HMRC as one of their creditors. Any company with significant cash flow issues will only make payments essential to continuing its day to day trading. In Rangers case this is obviously the payroll plus say the police, security and other match day essentials. Clearly HMRC will not allow this situation to continue indefinitely. I am not saying it is correct that companies cease paying their taxes but it is a reality of life in recession/depression Britain. For the last few years HMRC have been dealing with companies on a daily basis who are behind with their tax and agreeing repayment plans. What they will not do though is agree a CVA which means unless the total HMRC debt represents less than 25% of the total creditor claims Rangers would need to agree repayment over a number of years rather than a pennies in the pound deal.
As regards the use of EBTs these were not of themselves illegal. If it is proven that the EBTs were administered in such a way as to constitute tax evasion then there is a clear legal frame work in place with consequences for the company and the directors. Nobody would wish to see director illegality in this respect dealt with more than the Rangers support for it is this more than any other issue which has brought our club to its current position.
In terms of the footballing punishment in an abstract sense that has already begun. The use of EBTS if illegal has its own distinct legal/financial consequences. From a football point of view it allowed Rangers to have more money to spend on players than they could generate from their own resources. As with any club spending more money than it generates the years when you have a better team than you can rightly expect will surely be followed by years when you have a team poorer than you can rightly expect.
I have yet to see anything specific cited in either the SPL/SFA rules beyond general rules around disrepute and breaching articles of association. It seems to me we have a growing suggestion new rules and penalties should be created which flies in the face of natural justice. The only clubs I ever recall being stripped of titles are Juventus and Marseille both of which were cases involving match fixing (happy to be corrected on this point if anyone has examples). Clearly Rangers improved their cash position by using EBTS but applying this logic should Chelsea lose the EPL titles because of Roman's largesse? Should Hearts lose the Scottish Cup won during Vlad's era? What of Livingston who were allowed to win the League Cup whilst actually in administration? Should Celtic lose the trophies they won when Desmond and not the club's bank account funded Robbie Keane's wages? (Just a wee joke there to lighten the mood Bhoys. I know he won nothing) Any arrangements by which a team lives beyond their means can be considered unfair. The issue of levelling the sporting playing field, possibly with a salary cap, is a debate football generally seems reluctant to have.
The most relevant example I can think of regarding tax would be Portsmouth. Currently in their second administration they came out their first through a CVA. One of their creditors who was HMRC. In simple terms their decision not to pay the tax man, who due to the CVA received pennies in the pound not the full amount due, never resulted in any calls to strip them of their FA Cup. Arsenal too reached an agreement with HMRC on tax issues allowing them to make partial payment and avoid a potential tribunal. What penalty was imposed on them for “cheating” in the period they under paid?
I am not suggesting Rangers do not deserve punishment, I am merely requesting that they are treated in line with any other club and that vested interests are not allowed to create new rules and punishments which fly in the face of any true justice.
What has bothered me this last week is not simply a footballing issue. Football isn’t really just about the club or the game, the social aspect is a major part. The thought of Rangers ceasing to exist doesn’t just deny a future it also steals memories of times past spent with family and friends. What makes this hard to take is that it is Celtic fans wishing our death more so than any other group. Should I expect any different? Possibly not. This goes beyond rivalry though and having stepped close to the brink in 1994 themselves it is difficult to accept our friends, co-workers, neighbours and even family could actively wish our demise. What then? A league won every year by February? An ever diminishing budget and quality of player at their own club? I’m sure the jelly and ice cream tastes great right now. Too much of a good thing tends to make you sick in the end.
“Until they become conscious they will never rebel and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious”
One curious discussion over the last week is the blame which can be apportioned to the fans. One of my best friend’s Father is a Third Larnark supporter or, more accurately, he was. The club ceased to exist in the 1960s due to financial mismanagement on the part of the directors. At no point in all the time I have known him have I ever thought to ask him if he as a fan feels any guilt or responsibility for what happened.
Finally the whole Rangers support has woken up to what has gone on over the last few years but there will always be limits to the degree of understanding the average football fan can be expected to possess. The Rangers fans turned up in numbers at the weekend and in the main were a positive force. The air of defiance is to be expected and is perfectly understandable. However, that cannot be allowed to drag us backwards in terms of the singing.
There is a role to play for supporters moving forward and their passion must be harnessed. Pressure must be brought on the administrators and authorities to account for what has gone on. Ultimately we must support the team in the short term and longer term agitate for an overhaul in how the ownership of the club is structured to ensure at least 51% of the shares always remain in the hands of the support. We must ensure that “never again” becomes a reality.
“Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth”
Perhaps “no-one likes us” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Certainly the lack of support from the Scottish football community is galling though no surprise after 2008. Rangers were a founder member club of the SFA in 1873, we were a founder member of the league in 1890, we have reached more European finals than any other Scottish club, we are the last Scottish club to reach a European final and we have contributed more players to the national team than anyone else, yet some this week have sought to dispute our importance to the Scottish game. The danger for me is that in the coming weeks and months myths become facts. Already we have 9 in a row being attained through “cheating” being quoted as fact by fans and media alike.
It has been claimed that if Rangers Football Club plc were to be liquidated and a newco buys the business and assets of that business (i.e. the stadium, the players, the training ground, the IP... essentially everything that is the club) then this represents a break with history. Such a suggestion is patently nonsense. Rangers played their first game in 1872, the club was officially founded in 1873 and between 1873 and 1899 it won two league titles and three Scottish Cups before the creation of Rangers Football Club Limited (now renamed Rangers Football Club plc). The record books do not show Rangers Football Club has won two titles and Rangers Football Club Limited/plc has won 52. The company is merely the current ownership structure it is not the club.
"There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad."
There has been so much speculation, innuendo and wishful thinking in recent times that it is almost impossible to second guess what will be the end game. Taking a deep breath and stepping back from the hype my view remains the same as it has been across my time writing on here. There will be a sale of the business and assets to a newco with new owners. This will not involve any previous directors since the revelations of the next few weeks while Duff & Phelps continue their role as administrator will make that untenable. The clean start will allow Scottish football to accept this is saving a historic and important club, and its fans, from the financial misrule/criminality of the previous directors.
NB - Half of the £0 fee I receive for this blog will naturally be shared with the ghost of George Orwell.