Twelve months ago today, the curtain went up on the oddest year in the history of Scottish football. Many people think of it as the day a crazy saga ended. In fact, as the rest of us know quite well, it was the day it began.
Twelve months ago today, the football club who’s former owner had called it “the country’s second biggest institution after the church” went into administration. It set off a chain reaction that destroyed Rangers.
It saw the successor club starting life in the Third Division. It saw an almighty scramble for power in the offices of our football hierarchy, and it culminated, yesterday, in revelations about the director of communications at the NewCo which assure the next twelve months might be just as interesting as what came before.
All sorts of phrases are in vogue now. Scottish football fans are “obsessed” with Rangers. That’s a good one, a recent one, but one that artlessly tries to hide the truth.
The truth is, a large number of fans are engaged with every aspect of life affecting their football clubs in a way we’ve never seen before. It means taking a keen interest in the health and wellbeing not only of their own team, but also in their rivals, as well as the issues which affect the wider game. These fans have made it their business to be as educated and aware of everything that’s going on in Scottish football as it’s possible to be. They want to be actually involved in debating, discussing and dissecting the big issues which face football fans in this country.
There are forums everywhere now – the redoubtable Pie & Bovril ones for example – where the fans of other clubs come together and talk about the game, and the issues in it. There are websites dedicated to the game in Scotland in a way there haven’t been before. Not single club, or single issue sites, but those which want to dig deeper. It’s my hope this site will eventually become one of them.
Scotzine already blazes a trail in that regard, with Andy Muirhead and his team working seemingly impossible hours to cover as much of the game as possible, and taking a bucket load of grief along the way, simply for putting their views front and centre.
The Scottish Football Monitor has tried to be a “big picture” forum, and continues to try.
Say what you like about that particular site, accuse it (as this one has been accused) of focussing on a small microcosm of the Scottish game, in their case a continuing effort to uncover as much of what’s going at Ibrox as possible.
One thing cannot be denied. The guys over there are the only people continually doing sincere digging, not only into Green, but into the ways in which the rules were broken – and are still being broken – to give Rangers the kind of support, and help, that was denied to Gretna and numerous other clubs. They are uncovering stuff every day that makes you gape, as awareness grows that the media is, again, sleeping on the job. If I had to bet on someone finding a “smoking gun” regarding the goings on at Ibrox, I would stick my dough on the first evidence being published on TSFM. The hacks will, of course, follow suit many months later, and try to claim the exclusive.
The Rangers saga has been replayed endlessly on those forums, where the level of debate and discussion is a thousand times more sophisticated than that which you’ll find on the phone-in shows people continue to call despite the sheer ignorance of many of the “expert” panellists. Fans are no longer content to simply accept what they read or hear in the media, and really, how can they be based on what we know about Traynor now, and suspect about some others?
Many, especially those supporters who follow clubs facing their own tough financial times, study these sites intently and monitor the trends and moods of the game, like meteorologists study the prevailing winds. Many of them , for reasons obvious to anyone with half a brain cell, keep a close eye on what is happening at Ibrox. Are they also “obsessed” by Rangers, or, perhaps, do they look at what happened there with a view to doing what many Rangers fans seem unable to do; understand it, draw lessons from it, and make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to them?
Take Hearts. Their future interests me as much as that of any club in Scotland right now, as they are the only genuine threat to Celtic I can perceive arising for the foreseeable future. Some have accused their fans of sleepwalking into crisis, of ignoring the warning signs, yet you only have to look at their discussion forums to see how engaged they are with what’s happening inside the walls of Tynecastle. They are not sleepwalking into anything. Whilst the media has been slobbering over the loyalty of Rangers fans, paying ticket prices one third of normal and with the siege mentality driving them on, they’ve either forgotten, or chose to ignore, that Hearts would be dead, and buried, had their fans not stepped up to the plate.
Oh yes, indeed. Hearts would be dead if their fans weren’t doing their utmost to keep them alive. When the crunch came this time last year, and “Scotland’s Second Biggest Institution After the Church” was plunged into crisis, the Rangers fans failed to rally to the cause in a meaningful way. Their club did die. Hearts lives on.
The Hearts fans have learned the lessons of Romanov, and they’ve learned the lessons of the Whyte era too. Right now their supporters are roughly split between those want to see the Romanov’s depart and those are worried about the kind of unscrupulous charlatans the Lithuanians might decide to sell the club to. They look at Whyte, they look at Charles Green, and they wonder if things would get better … or worse.
Are they “obsessed” with Rangers, because they want to avoid the same fate?
The last twelve months have made history. Yet no sooner were the pages of that history being written, but it was being re-written. It still is.
A weird kind of myopia comes over certain people when you talk about the last 12 months. The facts are out there. The whole story is now known to almost everyone. Yet, you still hear people peddling nonsense. There are enormous mistruths still being portrayed as having some grounding in fact. In some parts of Scotland, when this issue comes up, reality is put on hold.
John F Kennedy said it best. “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
Let’s talk, then, about myths.
Let’s get the first one out of the way. That UEFA regards The Rangers Football Club to be a direct continuation of the one which went into administration 365 days ago. In point of fact, UEFA has never made direct comment on this issue, neither confirming it nor denying it. But the club was not allowed to play in Europe for three seasons as a result of the liquidation, because the UEFA constitution stipulates that it must have been a member of its national association for three years beforehand. Forget the filing deadline, and three years accounts … that is the all-important fact here.
Association membership. For three years.
People would have you believe this was a “transfer of share.” The argument is legally nonsensical. Had it been a simple “transfer of share” The Rangers Football Club would not have needed to apply for membership of the association. They would not have needed to leave the SPL. They would have had iron clad legal grounds to hold firm, and refuse to go. They had to submit a brand new application for SFA membership. They have to wait the full three years for European football eligibility. The evidence could not be more compelling.
Yet people continue to perpetuate this nonsense that UEFA regards them as the same club. Some point to their history still being on the website. Correct. So too are the histories of other clubs which have died, including some which never reformed. One of them even collected co-efficient points this season! What these people don’t want to tell you about the history being on the website is that the history ends – abruptly – on 13 May 2012, with a 4-0 away win at St Johnstone. A comparative glance at the page belonging to Celtic reveals not only latest scores, but a full list of forthcoming fixtures! Rangers is listed as having no forthcoming fixtures …
Where people are getting confused (deliberately so) is in the distinction being made by the European Club Association, which admitted Rangers for membership based on discussions with an un-named SFA executive who assured them the clubs were one in the same. Yet Rangers lost their full seat as a member there too, and have been relegated to Associate Member status. Along with Celtic, Aberdeen represents Scotland as a full member of this private members organisation – one which is not governed by UEFA regulations, and makes its own rules.
Let’s get the second myth out of the way, in relation to the first. That The Rangers Football Club was “relegated” from the SPL by a vote. It’s nonsense, and it’s proven nonsense.
For one thing, the club was not eligible for SPL membership! Please, do me a favour and read that line again. And when you have done that, please read this next one twice, and remember what it says. They’re still not eligible for membership in Scotland’s top division, and it does not matter a damn what that division is calling itself.
You don’t read that fact in the papers, but I assure you it is true. It’s a little known fact, except to us football geeks, those who’ve researched the matter. What it comes down to is simple; UEFA mandates that the top divisions in each country follow their own licensing criteria. The domestic licensing criteria is a separate thing. To be eligible to play in a division which send teams to European competition, you need three years membership of the national association, and those audited accounts.
NewCo Rangers is, effectively, banned from playing in our top flight.
I know what people are going to ask. If that’s true, then why did our authorities even make the effort to get Rangers into the top flight? The answer to that is simple, if you consider how incompetent the football authorities have looked, over any number of situations in the last year. They don’t know their own regulations in sufficient detail. They imposed a transfer ban on Rangers only to have the courts overturn it. Their disciplinary practices have been challenged, and overturned, time and time again. They freely admit now they broke their own rules, just to grant Rangers a temporary license, and then a full license, to actually start the season.
It has always been my belief that UEFA would have over-ruled any decision to allow Rangers NewCo to play in the SPL. It is my belief that they would over-turn such a decision if it was made in the light of restructuring. Rangers will not be “fast-tracked” for one simple reason; to do so would put the SFA in the crosshairs of UEFA, and FIFA.
Rangers were not relegated. The SPL clubs never got a vote on any such issue. They were asked to vote to allow a brand new football club, a phoenix club, into the top flight, and they said no. They were asked to ignore their own rulebook, the governing dynamics of the game, and even the unwritten rules of sporting integrity, and they refused. The same suggestion was put to the clubs in the SFL, and they also refused.
They did, however, allow Rangers access to the league structure itself.
New Rangers was not simply taken out of one league and put in another. They had to ask for permission to be allowed in any league at all.
Rangers started life where every brand new club admitted to the game has to start. The bottom. Enough of this nonsense about “relegation”. That is not what happened.
The third great myth is about punishment. This one says that Rangers have been continually punished, and continue to be . This is stated as fact, and with venom, as if it is somehow becoming vindictive. It, too, is a nonsense. What Rangers have suffered so far are consequences. Going into administration resulted in the deduction of 10 points. This is not a punishment, it is a consequence. It is in the rules, and requires no special hearings or convening of panels. It kicks in. Automatically.
Having to re-apply for membership of, first, the SFA and then the two league structures was not a punishment either. It, too, was a consequence, the natural consequence, of liquidation. Had the club not entered that process none of these things would have been necessary, and the rules are very clear on that too. European football would have been possible, once the requirement for audited accounts had been met, and the club would have gone on almost as before.
Players left once the liquidation was confirmed. Branded a punishment, this is perhaps one of the most ludicrous claims of all. Those players took wage cuts after administration. They made sacrifices for the cause, something a lot of people are in a rush to forget. At the time they were branded heroes, and that sacrifice was acknowledged. Now it is cast aside, because these people chose to leave when the club died.
Let’s pause there for a moment, to explore the utter unreality of Charles Green, and Rangers’, position on this one. For their claims to stand up – that the players were part of what he bought in assets – the players had to be contracted to the club, and not the holding company itself. Because if it was the holding company who held the contracts, that’s gone, and Rangers has no case.
So, the players belong to the club, the contracts were with the club.
Well, so too, presumably, were the contracts of those Rangers players who had EBT’s. How does he justify the stance that Rangers NewCo should be able to walk away from the EBT investigation, when it was over that very issue – the contracts of the players? Or is this policy of the club, not the holding company, owning the players a recent phenomenon?
Green, of course, is on record as having said he owns Rangers’ history, that it was an asset purchased when he bought the dead club’s carcass. I love that notion, that history is for sale somehow. Manchester City are clearly following the wrong football strategy, in spending all that money on players. Why don’t they just go to Notts Forest for their two Champions Cups, and ask them to name their price? They can book the open top bus and start ringing dates on the calendar.
I mean, it’s insane. How can you continue to push the notion that your organisation maintains its history, its goodwill, its assets, its name, and even its employees … yet none of the debt? Trying to walk both sides of the street doesn’t half get you in a state, Charles.
Rangers has suffered one punishment in the course of this whole shabby affair; they have suffered a transfer embargo, which they never cease to remind us was illegal. Yet this was not imposed on them or rammed down their throats. The minute the judge over-turned the verdict, they should have been planning a spending spree. Let’s not forget, having gotten that verdict, having won their point in court, it was the club, itself, which decided to accept the SFA’s position after all.
The Rangers Football Club took that punishment on. They accepted it. If Ally McCoist wants to make further complaints about it, he should start with his own board of directors. This is why I had to laugh when, at a press conference a few weeks ago, he actually suggested ending the transfer embargo was the price Rangers would seek for “accepting” the proposed restructuring plan!
It takes a brass neck, and a half, to come out with that.
The transfer ban itself came about because we had the ridiculous, and scandalous, spectacle of a football club simply deciding it was not going to pay any of its bills. The blame has fallen on one man; Craig Thomas Whyte, as if he was the only person inside Ibrox when all of this was going on. As if that was a decision he took alone, and for which no other person was liable.
This too is one of the great myths to be spun in the last twelve months. There were a lot of people inside Ibrox who were “in the know” about what Whyte was up to. Were they dozens? I think there probably were. Christ, I heard myself, from a source not even inside the walls, that Whyte was “sticking every bill in a drawer” in October 2011! Was my source just taking a flyer? If so, I want him picking my lottery numbers.
There is more talk of how Rangers might next be “kicked when they are down”, this time over the thorny issue of EBT punishments. I will hear none of it.
If Rangers broke the rules on the grand scale many in Scottish football believe, there should be no mercy shown to them.
The case of Spartans is a good starting point for what should happen. For misdating a single piece of paper, they were kicked out of the Scottish Cup and fined a quarter of their annual income. There is no suggestion that this was an attempt to defraud anyone, or break the rules … it was a simple mistake. They forfeited the match, and lost a lot of money because of an administrative error.
What happened at Rangers was no such thing. It did not affect a single game, but hundreds of games over a decade. It was not a mistake, or something someone overlooked. The First Tier Tribunal Report talks about a “policy of concealment”, of stalling tactics, of activity bordering on the criminal. Title stripping is talked about as the maximum punishment, and this is perhaps the greatest myth of all, and the one which may just end this wooly notion of the club being a continuation of the dead one.
If Rangers is found guilty, the panel is faced with two choices. Stripping titles is a matter of course. It should be automatic. They should be removed from Rangers’ historic record, and a black mark should be inserted next to each.
It’s what decision is taken next that should intrigue every one of us. If the panel accepts Rangers NewCo as a continuation of the Old, then the repercussions of it will be utterly enormous. The NewCo could face almost unlimited fines, and sanctions including, but not limited to, bans from Scottish competition, further signing embargos, deduction of points and any number of others covered in the rules.
But if the committee finds the NewCo can’t be punished … then the argument over whether this is the same club or not is over. Because a senior law lord, working for the SFA, will have ruled that one does not follow the other, and that issue will be settled once and for all, and Green and Traynor can whistle Dixie.
Again, it’s instructive to look at Green’s contradictory claims. Rangers retain the parts of their history they like, but not the baggage that goes with the bits they don’t. He bought the history, lock, stock, and barrel … and so it belongs to the club. The same club as before. Because it lives on. Yet the SFA can’t touch it because … it doesn’t belong to the same company. Eah? Is he for real?
One last myth has to be dispelled. The notion that this is not the fault of Rangers fans. I think it’s time we all started facing a harsh truth here, and knocked that one into the tall grass. Rangers fans are indirectly responsible for much of what has happened. First, they allowed Murray an easy ride for years, never questioning where the money was coming from, or if it could be sustained. They dined on glory, paid for on the never-never.
I wrote my first article about the coming demise of the club in 2008. Called The End of Rangers?, it posed a number of questions about where that club might end up unless someone called a halt to the madness. Hugh Adam, who had served on the board, was warning Rangers fans before even then. Ours were not lone voices in the wilderness. It didn’t take a genius to see insanity in Murray’s “for every fiver Celtic spend” boasting. He paid £12 million for Tore Andre Flo, doubtless as a statement of intent after Celtic had spent £6 million on Chris Sutton. It didn’t matter that we had taken a risk, but a calculated one. Murray wanted to stay true to his egotistical vow, and he sanctioned a piece of utter recklessness bordering on madness. The Rangers fans lapped it up, not asking how a Scottish club could afford an eight figure transfer fee.
By the time Craig Whyte bought the whole club for a quid, we already knew he wasn’t a billionaire or, indeed, even a man of any verifiable wealth at all. When he didn’t appear on the Sunday Times Rich List, alarm bills ought to have rung loud and clear, as there are 500 people on that well-researched and painstaking assembled examination of where our national wealth is. The people in the lower reaches of that list have wealth in the low tens of millions; if Whyte wasn’t on there, then he didn’t have the money to carry the losses at Ibrox for even a year. But you couldn’t tell that to the bulk of the Rangers support, who believed this guy was going to put his hand in his own pocket, and pull out a £15 million wedge, for signings.
That story, of course, was written by none other than Jim Traynor himself, a man who, unknown to the Rangers fans, had decided not to investigate any of the enormous information being dug up on sites like Rangers Tax Case and elsewhere, but instead was trying to secure for himself a more lucrative salary than that paid by the papers. The constant stream of positive stories from his news-desk were not journalism at all; they were job applications, cunningly disguised with bad grammar, bizarre assertions, fallacies of logic and lunatic deductions.
The closer we got to February 14 2012, the clearer it became to everyone that Rangers was a club living on borrowed time. Rangers fans would hear none of it, choosing to believe that anyone who said a bad word about their owner, or their club, was motivated by hate. Not even the famous Valentine’s Day announcement from Whyte changed their minds one bit. They listened to the voices who said it would all be okay, and they believed there was an anti-Rangers agenda when we told them, over and over again, that the only likely ending was a well catered funeral. (Jelly & ice cream as standard).
Traynor and Green said that would be the end of the history. The death of an institution. They were both correct, but you can’t sell season tickets, or hope to be paid a chunk of what they bring in, by telling Rangers fans an unpalatable truth like that, so both men publicly changed their tune. When I used the word Sevco the other day in a discussion, I was asked what the word meant. I said, only half joking “it’s the word Jim Traynor uses, in private, when people ask him who’s paying his wages these days.”
I understand why they’ve both done it … but I am amazed the supporters can’t see that it’s all about getting their money.
So yes, Rangers fans are partly to blame for this, and as a result, they do deserve a lot of the pain they’ve had to suffer in the last 365 days. Their unquestioning attitude towards their own club, their absolute intolerance of any dissenting opinion, their hatred for anyone, no matter how well intentioned or whatever the facts on their side, who tried to tell them any different … when you are so closed minded, myopic and entrenched, you get the leaders you deserve, the owners you deserve and, in the end, exactly what you deserve.
Twelve months on, they’re still telling themselves it will all be okay.
The old saying goes that “Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it.”
Fasten your seatbelts folks. There’s a lot more to come.
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