Over the last few months I have touched upon what league Rangers should play in, whether we can rightly be called "cheats" and how I saw this whole sorry saga ending in terms of new ownership. Work commitments mean I probably won't be writing anything on here for a few weeks. In some ways this does seem an appropriate juncture to pause for breath. The business and assets deal I always envisaged as saving the club has emerged. The potential transfer of the SPL/SFA membership will be decided this week. Two weeks from now much will be resolved so I thought I would take a look at what I consider to be the most pertinent issues right now.
For a long time the Rangers support was widely touted as all being behind the Blue Knights. The reality is we are far too divided a group for that to ever have been true. Many like me doubted the spin these were genuine Rangers fans. I think it is fair comment to conclude Paul Murray was too tainted by his association with the old board to be considered a genuine guy and Brian Kennedy is not a Rangers fan.
The worry is whether we can trust Miller? It has been speculated he is a front for everyone from Alastair Johnson to Craig Whyte to Club 9 to the Scientologists (no really). This won't make me popular but anyone looking for a bit of background on Miller would do well to have a read of the latest article on rangerstaxcase.com. I appreciate Rangers fans are reluctant to go on there. Often the comments section appears little more than the Jelly and Ice Cream Brigade with degrees. The main articles though often contain very interesting information. The latest effort was by the author's own admission an exercise in digging into Miller's past in the hope of discovering a Craig Whyte scale disaster piece. Credit where it is due he is honest enough to disclose that what he found was the opposite. I won't try and pass off his work as my own so have a look. In general terms his analysis fits with a growing consensus about Miller which is that he is a shrewd, he is (for a business man) a straight guy, he keeps costs down which has meant a good performance despite the current recession/depression, and this purchase would appear to be a business decision not something born out of a love for Rangers or the sport.
Should that matter? I am split on this. Obviously it is comforting to know that the guy in charge has the club at heart. In rebuilding though we simply cannot allow the heart to over rule business sense. Miller does not appear to be someone who will seek to appease criticism from the stands by splashing out on a new striker. This suggests a man whose philosophy is in keeping with Fergus McCann. I am sure there are not too many Celtic fans now who feel good about him being booed near the end of his ownership. Yes his frugal ways must have frustrated at the time but in the long run he was absolutely right.
The other question regarding Miller if we accept this is a business play is how he expects to make a profit? We are told there will be an initial £11m up front. I would imagine when you factor in advisor fees and working capital/capex spending you are probably talking about an investment of £20m. Is it realistic to think in 5 years Rangers will be restored to challenging for the league and playing in Europe? Is it realistic to assume the club will be run on a more commercial and professional basis? From what I see of Miller's past I'd say yes. It is a long road but it is not impossible. At this point would he be able to sell via a share issue? (This was how he exited his main truck haulage business) I would hope that the support would relish the chance to take the club into fan ownership after the horrors of the last year. Celtic plc have issued share capital of £24m. Is it realistic to suppose Miller could raise £30m? That equates to 30,000 shares at £1,000 each. I'd class that as challenging. If achieved though that represents a 50% return on his money in 5 years which would be an excellent piece of business in the current climate.
The Rangers Support
I have been delighted to see the hack-erati and phone in jibber jabber jockeys accepting that Bill Miller's plan to transfer the business and assets of Rangers Football Club plc (the stadium, the training ground, so far as they agree the players, the Intellectual Property, the admin staff and crucially the SPL/SFA membership) will ensure the survival of Rangers Football Club history and all. Happily the support have also accepted this. The administrators failed to explain this concept sufficiently. In the absence of clear direction from them the Blue Knights, their tabloid friends and their agitators in the official supporters groups sought to equate a newco with the end of the club. It never was. I have stated before that I think our support have been badly let down by the supporters groups, the most vocal of whom was the RST. This is a group with membership of less than 2,000. I think supporters groups can be a positive influence but in this case they have been manipulated, very possibly as a result of promises made by the Blue Knights of a seat on the board.
Rangers fans are frequently cast in a negative light. There is a tendency among all football fans to judge their own support by their best and others by their worst. Never was that truer than the attitude displayed towards Rangers. It is to our credit that we have such disparate views and that many have ultimately come to a conclusion on the acceptability of saving the club via a newco that is at odds with the party line fed by such influential voices. Others would do well to remember this the next time they rush to judge or lecture when elements let us down. Rangers fans are no more one single homogenous group than any other club's supporters.
This is a phrase wielded and abused by pundit, fan, chairman and tabloid scribbler alike. What though does it mean? In a basic sense I take it to be a moral view point and a basic principle of fairness. All legal/regulatory systems have as their starting point a series of basic principles which reflect that society's moral code. As a simple example let us consider the biblical commandment "Thou shalt not kill". This is universally accepted as a moral norm in all Western societies no matter how they have moved away from Christianity. However, this basic principle requires to be expanded upon. Consequently our legal system distinguishes between "murder" (where there is intent to kill) and the lesser crime of "culpable homicide" ("manslaughter" in England and the US). The legal system has also been refined over the years to reflect society's changing moral interpretation of this basic principle, so where once we hung people (another biblical principle, "an eye for an eye") society as a whole now views that as wrong and that punishment no longer exists. Likewise the legal system to an extent permits killing in circumstances where self defence is involved or, obviously, if you are involved in a war.
What I am illustrating is that Rangers cannot be guilty of breaching "sporting integrity", Rangers can only be guilty of breaching the football regulations as set out by the SFA/SPL which are designed to enforce the principle of "sporting integrity". To date the punishments imposed on Rangers by the SPL and SFA have been in line with existing regulations. We as a support can righty feel aggrieved that the club is punished for the misdeeds of Craig Whyte but if it is in line with the rules then there is really no legitimate grounds for complaint. Likewise everybody knew that administration meant the SPL would deduct 10 points so there really is no grounds for feeling sorry for ourselves in this respect.
Where we get into difficulties though is in considering the potential further punishments the SPL wish to introduce. I am afraid that when it comes to basic principles "the rule of law" will always trump "the rule of making it as you go along". It is perfectly legitimate for people to question whether the existing punishments and sanctions are sufficient to cover what is happening with Rangers. The fact some people have concluded they are not though does not though mean they can simply create a new rule book.
This morning's press are reporting that the SPL's own lawyer has advised that under the existing SPL articles any vote on whether to permit the transfer of Rangers' SPL share along with the business and assets to Miller's newco has to be a straight "yes" or "no" vote. In other words they have to apply the rules as EVERY club agreed them.
People mocked Mr Miller for stating he wanted comfort on future punishments. They questioned why he hadn't been over to Glasgow to discuss these matters directly with the authorities. In simple terms he didn't need to, interpreting existing rules and entering into direct discussion with the authorities on this is something his legal advisors are perfectly capable of doing themselves.
Related to the issue of "sporting integrity" is Rangers use of EBTs. This seems to be the primary reason for the cry of cheat. As has been frequently pointed out EBTs were not of themselves illegal, it is a question of whether they were legally implemented. In amongst the howl for punishment the fact Rangers are yet to be found guilty on this has been lost. If this was an open and shut case it would not have dragged on for years.
Misusing an EBT scheme means you have breached existing financial and legal regulations. That is the framework by which punishment is administered. People seem to forget that if the EBT regulations are shown to have been purposefully breached then there are grounds for HMRC to pursue those involved in perpetrating this fraudulent action. That not only means directors potentially being liable it also opens the possibility of a few sleepiness nights for players, their agents, managers and advisors who all benefited, if it can been demonstrated they were aware this was tax evasion. HMRC's recourse does not begin and end with their pennies in the pound return via a CVA. In this respect the extended administration proposed by Bill Miller should be welcomed by anyone seeking real justice. Legal actions to recover monies from Whyte and his advisors will potentially improve creditor's returns. The playing out of the big tax case and other related investigations which will follow into the actions of former directors/owners may yet see criminal charges, something I as a wronged Rangers supporter personally feel very strongly about.
Anyone who works a 9 to 5 will rightly be deeply troubled by the ability to reduce your tax bill via an EBT whether legally or illegally administered. We have no such route to minimise our taxes. We pay our share. The rules were changed from 2010 meaning there are now no circumstances under which these can be used. In other words the rules were brought into line to reflect society's point of principle. What people need to accept though is that none of this equates to "cheating" in a football sense. Only a demonstrable breach of the football regulations can rightly be called cheating and can rightly see punishments follow. Misuse of of EBTS may well also mean a failure to register players and the payments they received per football regulations. However it is not a given. These are different rules, differently worded and open to different interpretations.
As ever, if and when Rangers are shown to have broken these footballing rules then there can be no complaints should the full range of available punishments be applied to our club. First though it must be demonstrated.
SPL or SFL3?
This week the SPL chairmen will meet to vote on whether Rangers are allowed to transfer SPL membership as part of Miller's deal to buy the business and assets (i.e. the club). In may respects this all seems very premature since nobody has yet fully investigated and concluded on the issue of player payments and registration. Perhaps it is felt the big tax case has to be resolved and they cannot do anything to prejudice that. As before though, these are two distinct sets of rules so I fail to see why it would. Blazers though do tend to duck responsibility as a matter of course. Generally I do not envy anyone voting since they would appear to be faced with two nuclear options.
If they deny Rangers then we will start over in SFL3. As ever, if that is what is decided and it is in line with the existing rules then you will certainly hear no complaints from me. After much reflection I have concluded it is foolish to view this as a good thing constituting some grand romantic adventure for Rangers. Neither though am I arrogant enough to feel we can ignore the agreed wishes of the rest of the Scottish football community. If we are to repent with such a route then we must accept and embrace it. Make no mistake though this would very much be a nuclear option. The SPL would be faced with reduced deals with Sky/ESPN and will struggle to replace Clydesdale Bank as a sponsor. All clubs will see budgets reduced and player quality will diminish further. The co-efficient will already be heavily impacted by the loss of Rangers as representatives in Europe. Scotland currently has a total of 21.141 coefficient points of which 10.932 (51.7%) were contributed by Rangers. You see the true destructive nature of a nuclear bomb is not simply the initial explosion, it is equally the nuclear winter that follows.
The alternative option of allowing Rangers to remain in the SPL, and I find it inconceivable this wouldn't be without at least the current SFA imposed singing embargo as punishment, will alienate the supporters of all the other clubs. Their fans are currently fond of attributing blame to the Rangers support for the financial misdeeds of our directors/owners. Every lecture delivered is peppered with "you" and "your club", little sympathy or understanding ever given regarding the lack of control your ordinary fan actually has. Well they should be aware that if the SPL clubs vote to allow Rangers to remain in the SPL then applying their sense of collectivism "you" and "your club" will be responsible for the prioritising of commercial interests. Rangers can rightly be criticised for creating this mess but the chairmen, and by extension using others' own logic their club/support, will have more than played their part in ensuring that justice is not served.
As I stated at the outset, two weeks from now much will be resolved and sadly many football fans of all persuasions will be disappointed no matter which nuclear option the football authorities choose. I suspect there will be much for us all to reflect on.