A “What If …?” Scenario That Should Scare The SFA

1280px-HK010I’m going to tell you a story here, and please bear with me.

Before I do I want to thank two people; one directly, and one anonymously.

The direct thanks I send to the writer of the John James blog, whose recent works have been great reference points in helping me get to the bottom of a murky story I heard earlier this year and which another source all but confirmed over the weekend.

That source is the one I’d like to thank anonymously. He knows who he is and why it’s important that I don’t use his name.

What I am about to write for the next few paragraphs is all fact.

I’ll tell you when I start speculating, because it’s important to separate the two things.

On a day when The Guardian is publishing unsubstantiated crap in an effort to attack the Resolution 12 team, and maintaing that Scottish football governance issues are of concern only to Celtic and our fans I am not about to claim, for one second, that what you are about to read is all referenced and properly sourced and 100% accurate.

I’m not even going to tell you the specifics of what I’ve heard; I’ll give you the background and a hypothetical scenario based on some of it, and what I don’t write you can check out for yourself. Some of it is already online.

You can then decide what you think.

Nothing I’ve seen is actual evidence; I want to reiterate that now, although I’m equally certain neither John James nor my other sources are going on rumour alone. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t write an article based on such rumours, but it is not how real or not these stories are that bothers me and made me decide it was a worthwhile piece.

I’m writing it because this isn’t impossible. It isn’t even implausible.

It’s all very … doable.

And that’s what worries me.

This story starts in South Africa in 2013, when the tax authorities there brought an end to their campaign of chasing the assets of, and threatening to jail, one David Cunningham King, now the chairman of Sevco, otherwise referred to on the various Celtic blogs as the “glib and shameless liar.”

One of the key provisos of the deal was that he “repatriate his overseas assets.”

In other words, they wanted his cash reserves and his future earnings right where they could see them, where they could keep a close watch on what he was up to.

One of those overseas assets was a company called NOVA.

He sold that company to another, MicroMega. The South African government got the proceeds of the sale.

NOVA had been a pretty important part of the King portfolio. It had subsidiary branches in China, Brazil and Peru.

But it was a strange deal, one that bore scrutiny. It was so strange that the South African government had to independently investigate it to make sure the shareholders at MicroMega got themselves enough bang for their bucks. Because, you see, MicroMega is partially owned, and chaired, by none other than David Cunningham King himself.

This isn’t uncommon in the business world, and here it was a perfectly logical step.

King still does a lot of business abroad and NOVA still has offices in various nations; what’s changed is simply that the company now has its headquarters in South Africa. Although MicroMega also has subsidiaries in various nations around the world, they are registered at home, whereas the registered offices for NOVA had been in Hong Kong.

At various times in the last two or three years I’ve looked into King for this and for the CelticBlog.

It wasn’t hard to discover that his reported wealth these days is mostly on paper, tied up in the share value of companies he is sitting on the boards of and has shares in.

It’s an established fact that all of his disposable assets were seized by the government; the cars, the houses, the wine cellars. His liquid assets were either turned into cash to pay the fines or likewise seized. The settlement didn’t wipe him out, and in comparison to the likes of us he’s still a wealthy man, but it didn’t leave him much to “invest” in Sevco either.

But he still works hard and he has a lot of shares, and based on the values of those he still appears to be quite well off.

But this has always been a fundamentally misleading indicator of actual wealth, because if, say, Mark Zuckerberg were to announce, tomorrow, that he was putting up the entirety of his Facebook shareholding as a public offering, the value of those shares would go through the floor as people wondered why he was bailing out.

King’s done that before, of course, which is what got him into trouble with SARS in the first place, and although it is possible for him to liquidate shareholdings in little chunks, this potentially has a negative impact on the value of the rest of his shares.

In June of last year, King sold 15 million shares in MicroMega for a value of £8.5 million.

I’ll get back to that number shortly.

South Africa is a country that takes a dim view of the things Dave King did in his tax avoiding years.

Other countries have a similarly dark attitude towards tax evasion, but South Africa take it more seriously than most, in particular because much of the cash they lose out on ends up overseas. Their government likes to keep their national wealth in-country, as it were, which is one of the reasons King was told to “repatriate” his assets back to where the tax man could get at them.

South Africa also has rather robust exchange control regulations, which heavily penalise high worth individuals who want to move cash out of the country. They’d prefer that cash was invested, and taxed, right there at home, for obvious reasons.

There’s a financial cost to transferring money out of South Africa.

There are also regulations in place which require disclosure on where the money is going and what it’s ultimately for.

These rules would be even more rigorously enforced with a man like Dave King.

Without prior approval from their government and Treasury, no resident can transfer cash out of the country in any significant sums. There’s simply no getting around that fact.

This site has long argued that the combination of Dave King’s tax settlement, the government’s insistence on the repatriation of assets and the harsh exchange controls which the South African government has in place, make it virtually impossible for him to “invest” in the club to the extent he and others seemed to suggest he would.

In short, even if he had that kind of wealth he’d never be allowed to spend it catering to the egos of Scotland’s most ungrateful and impatient football fans.

This site and others are on the record as having said that King has spent precisely nothing on NewCo Rangers up until now, save for the purchasing of some shares and giving a loan of £1.5 million in the name of New Oasis Asset Limited, which is referenced as a “King family trust” and, for all we know, doesn’t even have his name on it.

Any further “investments” should be very easy to demonstrate because something like that would leave a very long paper trail.

Or so I long suspected.

At the same time, this site and others have long argued that the present directors, none of whom are high worth individuals – save for Douglas Park, who has always shown great reluctance to pour it into the black hole of a football club – will be able, or are willing, to keep on funding the club from their own “soft loans.”

The only person in the history of Sevco who had the financial wherewithal to do that into perpetuity is the one King has worked so assiduously to push away; Mike Ashley, who’s Sports Direct billions could have kept the lights on indefinitely.

That means that without “outside investment” sooner or later it’s going to fall on King to keep his promises, or not.

King can buy shares in, and invest in, any company he likes, just so long as he does it through a South African registered “vehicle”, and the tax man knows how it’s been done. There are “foreign portfolio investment allowances” which have to be run through registered bodies, and individual allowances, which can be up to £400,000.

It is possible to get certain funds abroad for such purposes.

Buying shares in foreign registered companies comes under the exchange control laws and his initial share purchase, plus the £1.5 million in loans, probably doesn’t push him over the threshold depending on what’s in the “family trust.”

In the main, however, the more money he has to “invest” the more likely it is that the South African government will draw a big line and subject him to those more rigorous investigations and rules. South Africa’s government is not of a mind to let any high worth individual – far less one they had to chase for years – take significant sums out of their country.

And this is where our friend Keith Jackson comes in.

On 7 December 2015, Jackson wrote one of his best articles of last year, if not the very best. In it, he questioned King’s “investment” in the club and wondered where the £5 million which they had recently announced would pay off Sports Direct was going to come from. It was one of the first articles to actually ask hard questions about the Sevco board and their long term plans.

And a certain man in South Africa was spooked by that, because he has always been able to rely on a subservient media in order to get the things he wants. He had made promises and Jackson was asking he keep them, but the Record writer was also casting doubt over the veracity of a lot of King’s claims and that bothered him most of all.

Was Jackson reading up on South African exchange control laws?

No, he was simply wondering why, when it only takes 11 hours to fly here from Johannesburg, that King hadn’t already simply delivered the money and given it to the Newcastle owner.

For all it was a ridiculous notion, there was a core of truth in what Jackson actually said … and he was right to be asking the question. He should have asked more questions though, such as where King had allegedly found the two “investors” who were said to be putting up the bulk of the cash. Jackson had doubts about those guys, and those doubts were not without foundation.

Whether Jackson pushed King and his people into speeding things up or whether his intervention was shrugged off inside Ibrox and utterly ignored is something we’ll never know, but that money duly found its way to Ibrox shortly thereafter and the debt to Ashley was cleared. The Sevco board agreed another £1.5 million in loans, and they were able to get through the season.

Just a month after he had written that piece, with the money now in place and with Ashley paid off, Jackson was singing a very different song. Yet oddly he wasn’t giving the credit where it was supposed to be due.

In fact, he was telling everyone that King had actually invested “north of £7 million” in the club himself.

Myself and others mercilessly and brutally mocked him for that assertion.

Where did he get that number from?

Was it “direct knowledge”?

Was it a wee emailed memo, perchance?

Something thrown to him by a PR firm?

If it was then it was the daftest ever released in the history of public relations in Scotland, because it has been focussing minds ever since. As John James has already pointed out, the total “take” Sevco had brought in since King became chairman was not far from that sum and we know much of that had come from other members of the board.

But there was still that rather large chunk of money that came from elsewhere, from “Hong Kong-based fans” Barry Scott and Andy Ross.

Sadly, for Sevco, it quickly became apparent that Ross had some “background”.

In December 2014, he had been charged by the Securities Commission over there, and found guilty of numerous failures in relation to his handling of an audit involving a company that was being investigated for fraud. The charge was “improper personal conduct” and he was fined and banned from serving on an SEC-regulated company for a term of three years.

It’s not clear if he knows, or has done business with, George Latham, the other Hong Kong based Sevco investor, who is rumoured to be deeply unhappy with things at the club. Perhaps he’s aware of stuff that the average punter isn’t. I have heard that he was explicit in demanding that King finally show the others the colour of his money.

And this is where we head into speculative territory.

According to the people I’ve spoken to, and as  John James has suggested quite openly, neither Ross nor Scott has that kind of money. With Ross unable to sit on a board of directors, and with his net worth unknown, we can’t really say whether that’s true or not, but it can’t be easy to just find £2.5 million that’s going spare, even if, as some have suggested, there’s a Wonga rate of interest on it.

If these guys don’t have that kind of money, if John James and others are right, then they’re not the source of the £5 million which is attributed to them in the Sevco accounts and which so famously bought Ashley off and ended his hold over the club.

We know the money is real, but if it didn’t come from them then where did it come from?

Let’s start there. Let’s speculate a little.

Did that money originate elsewhere?

Say, in South Africa?

Was it funnelled through Hong Kong and into the accounts at Ibrox, with those two “investors” playing patsy, and either taking their cut of the interest or being looked after some other way?

In short, did that money come from Dave King himself?

First, with King’s financial situation being what it is, where would he get the cash?

Well, I suppose, if we’re speculating, that it’s possible the genesis of these funds was the £8.5 million in shares which he sold in MicroMega in June last year. This, after all, was the very company he used for the incestuous deal that let NOVA become a South African company, although it was based in Hong Kong. In fact, isn’t it also possible that the £5 million actually went through NOVA itself?

As I said, I’m not saying this is true.

This is all speculative, a “what if?” scenario.

But the way the game is run here in Scotland, it’s not impossible.

It’s not even improbable.

Because this isn’t even about King, not really. This is a scenario that could as easily have involved Craig Whyte or Charles Green or the Easdales or whoever else has sat on the Ibrox board over the last few years. The loopholes that allowed those guys to get their feet under the table are still wide open, and God alone knows what might happen in the future if they stay like that.

As to King himself, well what he does with his own money is his lookout. He’s already proven to be a little slippery, but also a little stupid. In the documented instance which he’s famous for he did, after all, get caught.

I expect someone who screws up that badly would be odds-on to do so again.

It’s not as if there aren’t people looking.

As simple as it would be for someone like him to move money around like that and find ways of doing it, he has to know he wouldn’t be operating in the dark. He’d be doing it surrounded by eager eyes.

I’m 100% certain that SARS keeps a close one on him and they aren’t the only ones. He has seriously pissed off an actual billionaire, a guy who knows his background and will be very aware of South African exchange controls and the corporate structures at NOVA and MicroMega, and will be understandably curious about what the source of the £5 million which paid him off is.

Is that a guy you’d want digging into you?

We already know King provokes him to a foolish, even dangerous, degree but could he really have been that stupid?

Ego does things to people. It doesn’t keep them smart.

But like I said, that’s his business.

If he’s done something daft then it’s on his head, and there’ll be no dodging the bullet this time.

The issue here, as ever, is football governance or what passes for it in Scotland, because I cannot imagine another association where a scenario like the one I just proposed is even remotely possible, in light of all the outside agencies supposed to be watching.

What troubles me is this; what does it mean to Scottish football?

Because we’d be talking about money laundering here, and that’s the best case scenario. That’s the long and short of it, and that goes well beyond the usual nonsense we often hear about. This would be the illegal transfer of funds from one country to another, evading financial controls and other laws, and probably screwing with the tax man into the bargain. Again.

It all comes down to how this kind of thing could easily happen with the people we have running the Scottish game. As John James has pointed out, if someone wanted to do this kind of thing he only has to look at the way the media ignores any issue it doesn’t want to deal with and the way in which the SFA turns a blind eye to all manner of things, no matter how dark.

None of this should be possible with the proper controls, but it is.

Good governance doesn’t even have to be that complicated, not in this case.

I cannot overstate enough times that Dave King is an open book. His history is not a secret and neither is the fact he needs to comply with South African laws involving investment and the transfer of funds. That’s a fact and whether he simply found two Hong Kong based mugs or whether he used them as conduits for a scam is beside the point.

To get where he is right now, he had to pass a “fit and proper person” exam.

We all know that. Ashley took the SFA to court to find out how they arrived at the decision, and he demanded they make their report on it public. He hinted at some deadly information in there. I think I know what that information is. It’s not what they asked King or what answers he gave. It’s what they didn’t bother to ask him at all. It’s the answers they didn’t even look for.

When he sat in front of the SFA for his fit and proper person examination, how much did they really want to know?

Did they quiz him on South African financial regulations?

How much clarity did they seek about how he was going to meet all of his stated commitments about investing tens of millions of “his children’s inheritance”?

We know it’s impossible.

But this guy was presenting himself as the saviour of the club, in the same manner Whyte did, with glib assurances painting over blatant bullshit. Remove Dave King and his grandiose and utterly ridiculous promises and isn’t Sevco a club in serious danger of collapse as a going concern already?

It’s his alleged wealth that underpins the “business plan”, the one on which the club getting a UEFA Level License to compete in the top flight next season legally depends … this is right there, in black and white, in the SFA and UEFA rule books.

Wasn’t it important to know where the cash was coming from?

Surely they didn’t just accept all that nonsense about how easy it would be to find “outside investment”?

Who better than Stewart Regan knows how hard that is?

This is a Scottish club that emerged from a liquidation, which is still haunted by a tax scam and wIth no record of posting profits. As Phil is fond of saying, “this is a loss making company with no credit line from a bank.”

Sevco’s short term business plan is wholly dependent on Dave King’s promised pot of gold, and as we’ve seen even if that exists he’s not going to be able to use it for that purpose, not legally, not by any means that would be palatable to his government or in line with the deal he’s made with them. So where’s the money actually coming from?

Some folk in a position to know assertain that everything about the Hong Kong deal is fishy. That nothing about it really fits. Where the Hell did King find these guys? Why didn’t they “invest” before? Their £5 million could have bought the assets of the club in 2012, so why now? Why have they only now popped up out of the woodwork?

They were initially touted as being “Rangers men.” But they were previously “investors” in Workington Reds, where they were similarly packaged as “fans” investing their cash in an act of love.

It’s not hard to come up with tenuous links between Ross and King, if we wanted to take speculation to absurd heights. Ross works for Baker Tily. They are one of the biggest accounting firms in the world, so it may just be a coincidence that they’ve worked with NOVA. That they’ve got offices in both Hong Kong and Johannesberg. That there are other subtle connections.

But they were also linked with Sevco itself.

In August 2015 they were being touted as the club’s official auditors, and in an odd turn of events Phil reported that a “senior client” of the company had strongly objected to that. He sent them a bunch of questions on the matter, alleging that they’d turned down the opportunity and that Campbell Dallas LLB had been approached instead. As it turned out, they were duly appointed a day or two later.

Although The Offshore Game and the Tax Justice Network guys have had all the ink recently, they’re not the only NGO to have looked into the dark corners of football. In 2009, The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental agency, wrote a report called Money Laundering Through The Football Sector. It is a damning, shocking, and incredibly prescient piece of work.

Since then, of course, Scotland has seen a parade of less than savoury characters troop across the landscape singing The Billy Boys. As one guy on TSFM said recently (and thanks to him, REIVER, for posting a link to the FATF report, “organised crime has its grubby hands in sport all around the world why would Scotland be left out?”

Who says we’ve been left out?

Does any of this even remotely compute at the SFA? Do they give a damn? Can something as potentially damaging as this really happen right under their noses? Of course it could. Because it’s happened already.

I mean, don’t these people have a fiduciary responsibility to scrutinise the means by which a football club comes into millions of pounds?

My God, doesn’t that open the doors wide to corruption on a grand scale?

How do we know clubs aren’t being financed by the proceeds of crime right now?

That there isn’t at least one Scottish club paying its bills with drug money or loan sharking debts or worse? The Ashley loans were at least open and transparent, his company at least reputable if not entirely wholesome.

King couldn’t wait to get Sevco off the stock exchange. We’ve all wondered why. Is it because, as he puts it, that it’s expensive and wasteful of time and effort? Did he really ditch is so he wouldn’t have to fill in a few forms? It’s a lot of inconvienance, including not being able to start a share issue, just to save on the admin costs.

Or was there another reason? A darker one?

One more to do with transparency and openness?

These are just some of the reasons why a scenario like the one I’ve outlined is more than just a flight of fancy and the stuff of the internet Bampot. We have rules here so lax you could get around them in a hundred ways, and it wouldn’t take an international super villain out of a Bond movie to come up with a dozen strategies for pulling it off.

Doesn’t our football association need full transparency about these sort of things?

Isn’t it way past time for fit and proper person criteria to do what it says on the tin?

Isn’t it time for financial fair play to be introduced so stuff like this is impossible and not just unbelievable?

Because the only reason I’m not wholly convinced of this is that it just sounds so absolutely out there and unreal because of all the implications of it.

And that begs one last question; at what point does a failure in governance become complicity?

When does looking the other way graduate to something more serious?

Is wilfully ignoring a possible criminal act not, itself, a criminal offence?

The SFA is a public body. It has responsibilities beyond covering its own backside and that of a certain football chairman.

If the SFA has helped Dave King commit a crime here – either by accident or design – then not only should heads roll but people should be indicted alongside him as co-conspirators or accessories after the fact.

I can’t put it more bluntly.

This policy of “look the other way” when it comes to Ibrox has been disastrous for the club and for Scottish football but we’re on a whole new playing field if a scenario like the one I just proposed ever comes to pass and the authorities find out about it.

People will say this is a crazy suggestion, and at any other association it would be.

As those who’ve been following the Resolution 12 situation though, we know what these folk are capable of.

The SFA knew what Whyte was planning months before he pulled the plug, allowing Rangers to trade whilst insolvent and continuing to run up debts it had no intention of paying.

They allowed the assets of the liquidation to be bought by a company which wasn’t named on the original sales documents, and they gave that company a license.

They allowed Green to sell shares when it was apparent to many they might not be his to sell and they stood back whilst his board of directors investigated itself over links to Craig Whyte, links which had a direct bearing on that share issue.

I have long contended that this might have made them party to a fraud.

Does it still sound unlikely to you?

Americans have a law that I sometimes think would work very well over here; they call it RICO. The Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organisation Act, which seeks to destroy entire groups involved in what the FBI refers to as a “continuing criminal conspiracy.”

Regan, Doncaster and others have gone out of their way to help first Rangers and then the NewCo avoid the scrutiny every other club would get, and through all of it their only defence is to accuse those of us who question it of bias and being motivated by hate.

What’s the line from The Godfather?

“It’s business, not personal.”

This wouldn’t be a shock if it turned out to be true, and people at Hampden who should have known better either averted their eyes or simply pretended it wasn’t happening at all. For people who understand the words “continuing criminal conspiracy” better than most, having assisted Craig Whyte in one, this wouldn’t be personal.

It would just be business as usual.

At a time when the mainstream media can’t even be trusted to cover the biggest sports story in the history of this island sites like this one are more important than ever. If you are able to, and you want to help real Scottish football journalism, and not the sort you get in the tabloids, you can make a donation by clicking the link below.

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Resolution 12 Campaign Leaves Sevco Facing A European Ban

1939633_w2This is an article that was almost written last week, but then the need for it was removed at a stroke by a late Hibs goal at Hampden.

Amidst the mayhem that followed that goal, this story was put on the back burner. Events have moved forward this weekend.

For the last couple of years, a group of dedicated Celtic supporters has been working away, diligently, on the matter we call Resolution 12. Much is at stake; the credibility of the game here in Scotland, SFA reform and exposing the truth about some of what was going on during that period.

Yet Celtic fans, and those of other clubs, still appear largely ignorant of the real scale of what’s up for grabs here.

Celtic supporters have long wondered whether or not getting to the roots of this will do much more than embarrass Stewart Regan and his cohort at Hampden.

This was never about embarrassing people.

One of the consequences of it will be removing them from office entirely.

If it’s found that the SFA helped Rangers to deliberately conceal tax payables owed during the UEFA licensing process then that’s the ball game for everyone involved in that matter. They are gone.

But there’s always been another side to this, and some of the Resolution 12 guys have been wholly aware of it for a while, and their legal reps and those at the SFA most certainly are.

Celtic is well aware of it too, and it’s one of the reasons for their reticence in making a public statement. I am glad to be able to make that clear, and it’s something that only came to my own attention in the last weeks.

Let me make something else clear; Celtic has no interest in this beyond establishing the facts. Our club doesn’t want blood here. It’s not the reason the club or fans are pursuing this matter and you know this because at no time have the guys behind Resolution 12 presented demands for that in a public forum, as a stated objective of the campaign.

But it’s always been accepted that if their case is proved that there will be consequences for people.

So what are these consequences and what do they mean for us?

Well I can tell you now that one of them will be Sevco facing a lengthy European football ban.

Yesterday, the Offshore Game published an addendum to their stunning report into these issues, a document which clarified certain issues. But it also mentioned the UEFA disciplinary committee and its remit to punish clubs after the fact.

I’d heard that might be a possibility in this case a week or two ago. I had been planning to write a piece on the day after the cup final, if Sevco had won, but of course that game went far better than many of us had expected.

But the issue is now starting to come to light anyway. People are beginning to open their eyes to the true consequences should Celtic fans and the club manage to compel a UEFA inquiry into these matters.

This explains a few things about the last week, and in particular the reason Sevco is going on the offensive over the level of “hate” they have to endure. For these things are all connected, all entwined, and people at Ibrox are laying the groundwork for a fresh PR campaign in the event their club is hauled before the beaks.

It will be the most important PR offensive in their history.

Over the last couple of years I’ve written extensively on what we refer to as The Victim Myth, but never more so than over the last few days.

That myth has been allowed to grow to monstrous proportions and at the centre of it is the notion that all of Scotland is determined to hurt their club and that we all played a role in the destruction of the OldCo and would happily send the NewCo the same way.

In the last week I’ve written numerous pieces in response to these fantastic and paranoid claims, but as I wrote every word I knew there was more to them than simple self pity.

When you consider that at the same time as this wailing is going on in the background, that board members have been telling the press that the game has to “move on” you see more to their bitching than might at first be plain.

Go ever further, consider that King himself actually openly criticised the Resolution 12 guys earlier this month, accusing them of having an agenda. Why would he say that, if these issues were not able to impact Sevco?

It’s here that you start to see the outlines of what’s really going on behind the scenes.

People at Sevco are worried about this campaign.

Aside from the Victim Myth, the other toxic issue at the centre of Scottish football is that other great lie on which so much of our game is built; the Survival Myth.

Anyone familiar with these issues knows this one is a real article of faith for many of them. In fact, some of them have accused those of us who scotch it of using “dehumanising language” to refer to them.

I call them Sevconians. They object to that word. Others call them zombies. They object to that even more strongly. One demented article from yesterday appeared to compare the atmosphere in Scottish football to that in Nazi Germany with the Sevconians in the role of the Jews.

It’s an offensive idea, and not just because of how over the top and crass it is. After all, there’s only one club in this country who’s fans stand accused of having used the hated salute of Hitler’s despotic regime; I’ll give you a clue. It isn’t Dundee.

These sort of articles are intended to wed the Victim and Survival Myths, and fuse them into one, and they are a recent addition to the Sevco PR arsenal.

Believe me when I tell you that’s not a coincidence.

Until this week, when the Victim Myth was hyper-charged, I had believed the Survival Myth to be far and away the more damaging and corrupting of the two. In some ways it still is, but it’s not as dangerous to wider society as this notion that their support are social pariahs, “denied their human rights” as that hysterical piece yesterday alleged.

The Survival Myth is hateful not only because it denies reality but it places our game in mortal peril. If this is idea is followed to its natural conclusion clubs which overspend will know they can dump debts, reform and carry on as before.

It will allow guys like Whyte to come and go as they please, looting clubs like a business at the centre of a Mafia style “planned bankruptcy” before walking away knowing the football authorities will barely blink an eye.

It would be open season for con artists, charlatans, even organised crime groups, to come in and use Scottish football for all manner of schemes and scams, and we can’t survive the damage that would do.

Yet at the heart of the Survival Myth and its inherent contradictions, I always believed there were dangers for the club itself.

When Mike Ashley’s loans were all that was keeping their lights on and he seemed as if he might get the whole thing in his grip I wrote that the Survival Myth and this daft idea the holding company and the club were two separate things had created a deadly possibility; that the holding company might well end up in the hands of someone who made a similar distinction. With no ownership over its own stadium, image rights, intellectual property or merchandising the club would be no more than animals in a circus, there to provide the entertainment to a dwindling band of followers, with the company cutting accordingly.

I still think it’s the most stupid – and potentially deadly – separation of a football club and the people who run it that I’ve ever heard of.

How close did Sevco come to ending up just like that? At one point Ashley had an iron grip on nearly the lot of it but ironically the club itself was too unsure about its own hold over the stadium to grant it to him as loan security.

What underpins the Survival Myth is the Five Way Agreement and it’s here the current problems for Sevco exist and present the gravest danger should Celtic fans succeed and UEFA open an investigation into the granting of the European license for 2011-12.

Because that document, whilst giving Sevco a “no title stripping” guarantee, also forced them to accept certain things. The key one was that it should assume responsibility for any “football penalties” the SFA chose to levy.

In the end a dirty, grubby deal was done and those penalties amounted to nothing … but it’s in there, in black and white, and nothing anyone does can change it now.

One of the funniest things in all of football is listening to a Sevco fan or journalist try to square the circle of liquidation and death and the “continuation of history.”

The current club is always trying to distance itself from the old one did, but they want all the good bits for themselves.

The SFA tried to ride the middle of the road on the issue too and it still sits uneasily on the perch where they placed it.

The Resolution 12 guys can blow that all to Hell.

If UEFA opens an investigation into these events – as looks increasingly likely – they will ask for all the information that’s in the public domain and a lot more besides. If they conclude that people with-held information from them there will be sanctions.

Some of those sanctions will fall on the SFA, as the licensing body. Associations have been heavily fined by UEFA for their failures to get to the bottom of licensing disclosures.

But UEFA will also punish the club, and that’s where life becomes interesting.

Because they’ll ask the SFA whether it stands by the claim that Sevco and Rangers are one in the same. What the SFA says in response will dictate whether the Survival Myth is reversed or whether its tenants are upheld.

UEFA do not make the club – company distinction, and they never have, but in handing down a punishment they will be guided by SFA conventions. One of the big issues the SFA will face is the legally binding “Five Way Agreement” wherein whatever they argue, they and the club will still be bound by its numerous clauses, one of which is that Sevco will accept any “football punishment” levied on Rangers.

And then there’s the Survival Myth itself. The SFA cannot escape a choice on that and if they uphold the Survival Myth UEFA will drop the hammer on Ibrox and there’s simply no way anyone can mount an argument against it.

The NewCo will be banned from European competition from anywhere between one and three years. There will be little prospect of an appeal, because the only defence Sevco and the SFA will have is the one they have been busily destroying for the past few years, that these actions were carried out by another club.

Just making that argument will burn the Survival Myth to the ground once and for all and fully vindicate all we’ve said these past few years, which is why the SFA and Sevco are going to have no choice but to stick to their guns on this, to pretend the Ibrox club is still Rangers and take whatever’s coming their way. For either organisation to reverse course on this issue now would be devastating for them.

Had Sevco won the Scottish Cup this would have been looming in front of them all summer long. As it is, the issue remains but it’s no longer one that will disrupt anyone’s passport application process.

Yet I fully expect that before next season starts Europe’s governing body will be well on the way to a decision in this matter and that decision may well have horrendous consequences for the Dodgy Dave King business plan, which is heavily reliant on European footballing income for the club’s very survival.

This coming season will be Year 5 away from that stage. It is not inconceivable that Sevco might spend its first decade without ever playing a game on the continental stage, still paying the price for what its predecessor club did.

I personally don’t think that’s fair.

From the beginning I’ve argued that footballing sanctions shouldn’t be applied to Sevco, that it’s a perversion of natural justice to punish one for the sins of the other just because they play out of the same stadium and wear the same jersey … but through all that time I’ve been told that I’m wrong, that I’m motivated by hate, that the clubs are one and the same. The press and the SFA have backed that line to the hilt.

In the bed they’ve made, now let them lie.

A reckoning is coming, as many of us suspected it would.

The Resolution 12 guys didn’t know this when they opened the can of worms.

It wasn’t even on their radar, far less an objective of the campaign.

But Celtic grasped it quickly and part of their low-key public response was based on that. The SFA and Sevco understood it just as fast, which is why the stonewall strategy came first and now the elevation of the Victim Myth goes into high gear, and with it one last plea for people to “forget the past” and move on.

In this case, the past is like a murder victim, lying in a shallow unmarked grave. Sooner or later someone was always going to stumble over it, and then an investigation would start. Whatever evidence there is out there will find its way to the right place and when people in positions of authority start to piece it together we’re going to see a show.

Then punishment will follow, like night follows day.

At a time when the mainstream media can’t even be trusted to cover the biggest sports story in the history of this island sites like this one are more important than ever. If you are able to, and you want to help real Scottish football journalism, and not the sort you get in the tabloids, you can make a donation by clicking the link below.

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Celtic Fans Crowdfunded Newspaper Ad On SFA Scandals Is Paid For And Ready To Go

stack-newspaper-pile-croppedBefore we go any further, let me apologise to all of you who were trying to access the site, and this article, before now. Although I should be used to all manner of mendacity and hassle by this point I’m clearly still a babe in the woods.

This evening, after I published this article, this site was subjected to what I can only describe as a “brute force” assault.

First it was a Denial of Service attack and then it was straightforward hacking job, which took down this article and infected the rest of the site with God knows what.

This was a pretty bad evening, and costly too. I won’t go into details. It’ll depress me. But you know something? If they’re screwing with you to this degree you’re doing something right.

Anyway, congratulations to the guys over on CQN, and to the Celtic Family as a whole, for another outstanding achievement.

Today, Winning Captains has announced that the costs of two full page advertisements – one in the Swiss press and one in The Guardian – are now paid for and booked, and good to go for next week.

The Guardian ad will bring the Celtic fan led reform campaigns to the attention of an English based audience and seek to spark interest in the cause in the wider media.

As the ad before last season’s League Cup semi-final got people outside Scotland to look at the Survival Myth, this ad will get the media down south focussed on the way the one up here ignores major issues and the SFA continues to be run by people who think they should be immune from scrutiny.

This is a landmark moment; mark my words, it will have an effect.

The ad in the Swiss press is even more important, of course, because it’s the moment we put this issue in front of the eyes of UEFA.

We can write all the letters to these guys that we want, but nothing we do in that regard will have an ounce of the impact taking out an ad in a newspaper right on their doorstep will have. It’s an incredibly ambitious move.

And it’s a game changer.

In addition to all this, the guys behind this campaign are pushing out the boat one last time, to run a third ad in a Scottish newspaper at a later date.

I can’t overstate how important this development is.

I’d urge anyone who’s able to support them to do so by visiting the following link:

Crowdfunding Campaign

I’ll tell you why this is an amazing achievement.

Celtic fans, and a small but important number of those at other clubs have gone to incredible lengths to bring these matters to light. The whole of Scottish football was hurt by what Rangers did, but it was a small handful of supporters who took the lead in driving reform.

This isn’t to say the majority of fans at other clubs didn’t get involved.

When the moves were afoot to parachute the NewCo into the SPL they rallied as we did and lobbied like mad to prevent it.

But it was mostly Celtic fans who pushed hardest and longest to make sure nothing like this could happen again. With a small handful of fans from other clubs, it was Celtic supporters who laid the foundation stones for sites like The Scottish Football Monitor, which sought and still seeks to engage all supporters, everywhere.

Because of that, there’s a perception amongst many that this remains a “Celtic fan led” campaign and whilst not entirely untrue efforts like this wouldn’t be possible without a greater hunger amongst football fans to see real transparency in our sport.

We should all take heart from the way this war is being waged.

Because when you consider what it must cost to place an in just one newspaper you have to be awed at the commitment from our supporters towards making it happen in two, and actually pushing further for three.

I know, from personal experience, how fantastic that commitment is; this site only continues at all (and some big stuff is coming on it soon!) because of donations and the other support that it gets.

It’s humbling to get that support, but I’ve ceased being surprised by it because our fans (and others) are remarkable in that they don’t just talk a good game … they put their money where their mouths are. They are willing to fund challenges to the status quo. They are willing to push agendas, even when it means dipping into their wallets.

I find this incredible, and what it portends for the future can’t be doubted.

If it comes to the crunch, fans will fund legal challenges to the SFA if that’s what it takes to get justice. It’s a long game we’re playing here, and as we’ve all seen getting the results won’t happen overnight – it never does – but I’ve never stopped believing that it will happen.

Take pride in this development, friends, because this is a big one.

Now I’m going to tell you why these ads are necessary; why, in fact, they are vital to the campaign and why they should be given every support, not only financially.

I’ve been doing this now for five years nearly, and there are guys out there who’ve been doing it even longer. There have been books about this, documentaries, and a small handful of journalists have tried to get it into the mainstream.

None of it has crystallised thinking as it should have.

One day I’m going to write a ball-buster of a book about this period, and I know others will do the same, and they might impact the debate in their own way, as these blogs might grow their readerships to the point where Celtic fans don’t bother with the mainstream press at all … but until we get to that point the papers will always have longer reach than we do.

We’ve worked an absolute miracle so far, all of us, together, in transforming the way the debate over football governance in this country is conducted. There was a time when the SFA would never have had to face scrutiny like this, and the idea, five years ago, that we would be able to hound the CEO of the association into answering his critics would have seemed preposterous.

Guys like Tom English can talk the most lamentable bullshit all day, every day, about “flaws” in the Offshore Game report without once pointing out what a single one of them is, but these people can no longer close off the debate completely by doing that.

Our quest for the big three – governance, accountability and oversight – has been unrelenting.

The impact we’ve had so far has been immense.

But it’s not enough.

This is still, primarily, an internet campaign and these ads are a monumentally important step towards changing that, and taking us into a brand new phase.

When you think about what people like Matt McGlone were able to achieve many years ago, getting Celtic fans interested in taking control of our club, it’s extraordinary to imagine that they did it before this great engine of information was invented.

We can learn huge lessons from what they did and how it was done, because the online game isn’t the only one we can play.

This is a move towards a different way of fighting this battle, and if there’s anyone left in the media in this country (and this move absolutely disgraces them; Celtic fans actually paying to put in their papers what they don’t have the balls to write themselves. Try hiding behind “legalities” now you gutless worms) or amongst the governing bodies who has the slightest doubt about our intent and determination this should erase them once and for all.

We are here to stay, and we’re going to hold you to account no matter what.

None of these issues is going away, no matter how much they wish they would.

We will get the reforms we want. We will get the justice we demand. Because we have all the time and the will in the world, and eventually we’ll bring this wall down, whether it’s by chipping away one piece of stone at a time or finally driving a wrecking ball through it.

Those on the other side better brace themselves either way.

At a time when the mainstream media can’t even be trusted to cover the biggest sports story in the history of this island sites like this one are more important than ever. If you are able to, and you want to help real Scottish football journalism, and not the sort you get in the tabloids, you can make a donation by clicking the link below.

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Scottish Football: Living In Ignoreland

indexIn 1992, REM released Automatic For The People, one of the greatest albums ever. One of the tracks on that album became a hit although it was never properly released as a single.

It was written in response to the Iran-Contra scandal, and its roots in 1979, and the election of Republican candidates for years after it.

Its target, in part, was the American media who had turned the hostage crisis of that year into a referendum on Jimmy Carter. This cost him the 1980 election. They then soft pedalled on how the Reagan administration dealt with it, which allowed his team to get through his re-election campaign in 1984 without ever having explained what was going on (they were trading military hardware for the hostages; literally buying them back with heavy duty weapon systems) then almost completely ignored Bush’s role in what became a monumental scandal although he’d been director of the CIA. This led to his own election in 1988.

Michael Stipe called the song Ignoreland.

It’s probably the most fitting metaphor for Scotland, as represented by the Fourth Estate, which I’ve ever come across.

Let me tell you, before I get to the point, just how little faith I have in our media to properly execute its responsibilities and do the job it’s meant for.

I started writing this article on Thursday night, after The Tax Justice Network, through their ancillary organisation The Offshore Game published their astounding report into the SFA and the way they dealt with Rangers. They didn’t quite call the SFA corrupt, but they didn’t stop far short of it. What they did say is that there are serious questions over the ability of the organisation to act impartially.

For those unfamiliar with the kind of nuance that’s prevalent in these kind of documents, this is a polite way of saying the people running our national sport are about one step shy of deserving to be paraded through the streets to the stocks.

It is a devastating judgement.

I had fully intended to do a long piece on that and publish it the following day. When the following day came I had a million other things to do, but at the back of my mind I kept thinking this had to be written, that the report had to be explored properly and stripped down for the layperson or those who didn’t have time to go through it line by line.

But by Friday night I’d concluded that there was simply no hurry.

In fact, I actually thought the article would have greater weight if I left it until after the league title had been wrapped up.

By that point I had moved on from where I was writing only about the report itself and decided what this piece had to be was an assault on the media.

I was so confident that the press would continue to ignore that report that I actually laid everything aside over the weekend and took Saturday and Sunday off.

I mean, it’s only the most damning report an outside agency has ever written about the game here … what were the chances of the press picking it up and running with it?

None whatsoever, of course.

It wasn’t that I took a calculated risk that the story would still be waiting for me today; I knew for a fact it would.

Isn’t that damning?

Isn’t that a greater statement about these people and how useless and corrupt and gutless they are than any words in this article ever could be? I felt confident enough that our media would not touch this that I left it for four full days, knowing that I could come back to it and write it and that it would be even more potent because of that.

People probably know I have a certain contempt for our press.

I can’t put it more bluntly than this: if you are a Scottish sports reporter and you’re not all over this story then you, my friend, are a fraud. Pure and simple. You’re a thief because you’re taking money under false pretences. You are conning your bosses and you’re conning the readers. Stop pretending that a NUJ card makes you a journalist.

You are the furthest thing from it.

Yet I know the press is perfectly capable of working away when it wants to.

Why just last week I read a story that was actually researched. It was on Celtic players and their salaries. It ran on the website of a national title. It listed the wages of every player at our club. The trouble was, the writer had taken them from Football Manager.

Nevertheless, as unprofessional and ludicrous as that was, it must have required some work; booting up the game, selecting Celtic, checking every individual player. Sniggering at Efe Ambrose allegedly on £7000 a week. Writing it all down. Uploading it.

Effort. Graft. Of a sort.

The media is also capable of writing controversial stuff that offends large numbers of people, like last week’s story about a Hillsborough campaigner who was encouraged to say disparaging things about our club.

That was nothing other than a smear job against Celtic, and it backfired spectacularly and resulted in an apology. Yet it proved that these people aren’t afraid of taking on power when they want to, even if this time they were crushed like a worm.

How does a story as weak and pitiful as the first, and one as basically reeking as the second, make it past editors and end up published when the biggest football story in the country – maybe the biggest ever – can be ignored for days, and would, without articles like this from the bloggers, actually never see the light of day beyond the initial report?

Where is the professional pride in our newsrooms when the whole of the Scottish football public knows they’re simply hoping this will go away?

There was a time when people got into their profession for more than just a fat expense account and a chance to hob-nob with the beautiful people, or the Scottish celebrity equivalent thereof. These people have disgraced it. Eventually, they’re going to kill it.

What a legacy to leave behind you. The people who killed newspapers in Scotland. The people who destroyed the reputations of once great titles. The people who obliterated their own industry because they couldn’t stay one step ahead of people like me; folk who do this from their bedrooms and spare rooms and don’t make a fraction of a journalist’s wage.

Let me break it down, real quick.

An organisation which has enormous credibility in the twin spheres of politics and economics, which wrote one of the most quoted and re-published articles on tax avoidance in the history of journalism, which made international headlines and affected public policy making in a big way, published, through its offshoot a story on how the SFA had been lied to, and how its officers had lied in turn, over issues affecting Rangers Football Club. This article stated that the Lord Nimmo Smith verdict stinks to high heaven, and can no longer be left as the final word on title stripping. It made it clear that the Resolution 12 boys don’t have a case as much as they have an iron clad slam-dunker of one. It called into question the SFA’s ability to govern the game in a fair and impartial way. It said that what these issues require is a fully independent public inquiry with the power to make recommendations for sweeping changes in the sport.

They called the former head of the SFA, Campbell Ogilvie, an out and out liar. They accused Stewart Regan of presiding over a shambles and knowingly allowing corrupting – and possibly even criminal – behaviours to be swept under the carpet, or was complicit in that himself. It says there are serious doubts as to whether the SFA is even capable of reforming itself, so deeply embedded in the structure of that organisation are these underhanded and cynical methods of dealing with issues. They are to do with Rangers, yes, but Rangers was never the target of our interest – as much as their stupider fans might have thought otherwise.

This was always about football governance, or lack thereof.

This report says football governance in Scotland is a misnomer. It’s a contradiction in terms. It is non-existent. It says the people running our sport either haven’t got a clue or are bent beyond redeeming and need, instead, to be swept away.

The Offshore Game’s original article on overseas ownership of football clubs in the UK created a surge of news stories and articles poring over every detail. It wasn’t a national story; it was a national event.

Every newspaper in Britain ran a piece on it. They update what they call The Offshore League Table every single year; Celtic is 8th on it, because Dermot Desmond holds his shares in our club through an offshore trust called Line Nominees.

The larger organisation which runs The Offshore Game site, the Tax Justice Network’s 2012 story on offshore banking beat the Panama Papers on the subject by four years, and was an international news story of epic scale and consequence.

Everyone was quoting it, from The Wall Street Journal to The Sunday Times, who had to rewrite their Rich List for the following year in one big hurry.

And irony of ironies, in the aftermath of the Panama Papers, another report from the Tax Justice Network is a main story on the websites of every credible news title from The Guardian to The Independent even as I sit here and write these words.

These people redefine the word “credible” as it’s used in the context of the issues we’re talking about. This is the equivalent of Holy Writ. It’s impartial, written by people with no axe to grind at all. It’s professionally sourced and presented. Every named person was contacted for a reaction quote (and every one refused) beforehand. Every assertion is backed by facts. This is a brick bunker of an article, unimpeachable in every way.

Yet it remains wholly untouched by the media which allegedly writes about issues affecting our game. This investigation into the SFA may well prove to be the least reported on document the Tax Justice Network has ever commissioned.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing, of course. It’s the same old picture. The same feeble attitude, gutless, heartless or clueless, I’ve stopped caring now. I’ve even stopped caring whether it’s the hacks themselves or their editors who stop this stuff getting a proper airing.

Journalists would once have resigned over being told to ignore an obvious news story like this. They’d have been asking their bosses who benefited from silence, whether there was an agenda.

They would threaten to take the thing to another publication.

But no publication wants a piece of this. Why?

Cause it’s not news? Are you joking?

This is the textbook definition of a news story. An independent agency has slammed a public body in a damming report, claiming that it’s incapable of impartiality and ought to be reviewed by outsiders because it can’t be trusted to reform itself?

In which parallel universe is that not news?

I can only call these people gutless frauds so many times before it all becomes just words. I know they don’t care about it, because they think theirs is the final word. They have no concept of what the historical verdict will say any more than Sevco fans do. Their supporters think because the corrupt football association that runs our game “recognises” the history and didn’t strip the titles that this is how it’s going to be, forever.

But every one of those titles will forever have an asterix beside it, because there is a permanent record of what these people did and what the governing body allowed them to do, and we’re writing that permanent record right now.

When the books are written about this period in Scottish football – and I’m more and more sure that I’ll personally write one of them – they will end up as part of the permanent record of this moment and what was happening in it, and in that record the media’s silence will be logged for posterity and future generations can draw their own conclusions from it.

When media students ask why the Scottish sporting press contracted and died, and in a few short years was supplanted by the bloggers and the citizen journalists those books and these blogs will be the permanent record, and their disgrace will be known to all.

The press can’t escape that judgement. They can’t run from that verdict. History will devour their reputations and make a mockery of everything they think they’ve achieved. If titles aren’t stripped they’ll be forever tainted. Because the real truth will be on the record, and it will be all the more illuminating because it wasn’t put there by the mainstream press.

It’s never been more important for those of us in the blogosphere to keep on doing what we do, because this is a sterling example of how little our media can be relied on, and I actually write that with great sadness and regret because until we have the reach the mainstream press does we’ll never be able to affect the kind of change they can.

I do believe that if the media was willing to write about these matters honestly and faithfully that Scottish football would change, and it would change for the better. The people running our game in this disastrous fashion can only do so because of a complete lack of oversight and the kid gloves treatment they get from the people in the newsrooms.

Even when Mike Ashley Holdings obtained the full details of the SFA’s decision over Dave King recently, that story was spun to do the minimum damage to the men at Hampden. Indeed, it was spun as a victory for the SFA and King, when actually Ashley got exactly what he wanted, a full and frank explanation, and the documentary proof of the SFA’s ludicrous decision making process. His demand for “full disclosure” – that the SFA should make this stuff public – was ignored, even when he pointed out that fans deserved the answers.

These people don’t believe we deserve answers, and the problem doesn’t just lie with the media or the governing bodies. It lies with the clubs too, and even with some of the fans. There are too many people, even those who take an interest in these affairs, who think stuff like Resolution 12 is the peculiar fixation of Celtic fans only, without seeing that it has a wider impact, even if you discount how it affected other clubs and their finances.

This is about naked corruption, and that shouldn’t be left to Celtic supporters to fight alone. There are a lot of people who wail about Scottish football and the issues in it who are all too quick to put Celtic in the same box as Rangers, although the proofs that the game here has been bent for just one club are piled high like snowdrifts on all sides of them.

An independent report has borne out two of the central allegations Celtic fans have made in the last few years. It’s now an established fact that lies were told, rules subverted, other clubs disenfranchised. Why are we still pretending these issues only matter to Celtic fans? Why do so many people still seem to believe these aren’t problems for their own teams too?

It’s been proved, conclusively, that Rangers got a European license in contravention of the rules; would Aberdeen have got one? Or Hearts? It wouldn’t have mattered if these clubs had been facing a dire financial situation, as Rangers was at the time. The SFA would have given them nothing. Why aren’t their shareholders asking for a full investigation into this?

Motherwell were denied European income as a consequence of the SFA’s action. Where are their shareholders on this issue? Why aren’t they asking the same questions as Celtic’s are? How much money was taken from them? They followed the rules. Their fans, players and management team did nothing wrong. They didn’t deserve to be penalised for playing it straight.

But how much do they care? How much have they done to bring the truth to light?

The media aren’t the only ones in Scotland living in Ignoreland. Much as Stipes’ seething commentary wasn’t only directed at the media and the Republican Party it was a pointed dig at the voting public too. There are no secrets anymore and there never were.

Ignoreland is a safe place to live, even a happy place.

Where do you think the saying “Ignorance is bliss” comes from? How do you think it came into vogue in the first place? Knowledge is power, but it’s also responsibility and for a long time now a lot of people have been hiding away from both.

There have been opportunities to change the game in the last three or four years. Even the SPL’s disgraceful 11-1 voting system would not have been a meaningful barrier to change, with Rangers out of the picture, had fans been lobbying their own clubs to do what was right. Financial Fair Play would be a reality already if shareholders at other teams pressed the people in their boardrooms to put it on the agenda.

To some, these campaigns look like Celtic fan driven vendettas. The media has had no problem painting them as such. But an independent report from a well-respected and highly influential think-tank has said everything we’re concerned about is valid, which means it’s no longer just our issue but one that belongs to the whole of the sport.

The media is going to ignore this, and I’m past trying to shame them into doing what’s right. They’re beyond shaming. They’re beyond reach of anyone who actually cares about our sport.

The game needs leadership and as we know it’s not going to come from those who’re supposed to deliver it, who do you reckon that leaves?

It leaves the fans themselves. And don’t worry Aberdeen fans and Hibs fans and Dundee Utd fans and those of our clubs who’ll say that Celtic is one of the obstacles to change; a lot of us sussed that a long time ago, and we’re working on setting that right. Do the same at your clubs and don’t spend so long worrying about ours.

Your CEO has the same vote Celtic’s does and if you get your club on board with reform it really won’t matter if we fail to do the same with ours. The numbers will be there. The change will come because it has to. Because it’s time.

Michael Stipe was one pissed off guy in 1992, and he said so in his song.

“TV tells a million lies. The paper’s terrified to report anything that isn’t handed on a presidential spoon. I’m just profoundly frustrated by all this. So, f@@@ you, man.”

Sound familiar? Yeah, doesn’t it?

REM’s angry song ends up on a bum note though, with what sounds like an admission of defeat.

“I know that this is vitriol. No solution, spleen-venting. But I feel better having screamed. Don’t you?”

We’ve been screaming a long time now. Feel better yet?

No, me neither. Nobody listens in Ignoreland.

When the world turns to crap you’ve got two choices; get comfortable living in it or pick up a shovel. I’m sick of living in this. How do you feel about it? You wanna keep screaming, or you wanna get busy with a flat headed implement?

This article has been amended. In the original I said it was Kilmarnock who had suffered because of the granting of a European license to Rangers. Actually, back then, before they made the Scottish Cup runners up ineligible, it would have been Motherwell who were due to compete in Europe had the proper procedures been followed. Thanks to Matt Leslie and a couple of others for that correction.

(This site couldn’t run without the support of its readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. If every reader was able to give just a small sum this site would be all the healthier for it.)

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The SFA Is Terrified Of A Shareholders Judicial Review

JS77064508The French dramatist Jean Racine said “There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”

Benjamin Franklin lamented the difficulty in hiding things when he said “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

They both knew, as so many others do, that nothing stays hidden forever; people talk, things get discovered or those previously put aside come into view again as new information shines light on dark corners left and forgotten.

Today there was a bizarre little moment in the court battle between Mike Ashley and the SFA, over Dave King, where the association’s lawyer asked a completely unrelated question about whether Celtic fans could sue them “if King is a success”. During the case itself, Ashley and his people backed away from holding the SFA to account, but that question reveals something interesting about the thinking at Hampden at the present time.

Call it a Freudian slip.

These people are positively petrified by what football fans might uncover should they decide to push for their own judicial reviews into SFA procedures.

And you know what? They should be.

Resolution 12 looms large in the thinking here, but so does the debate over title stripping in the event that the Supreme Court rules in favour of HMRC over the Big Tax Case. These are hot-button issues for our fans, and the anger runs so deep on both that there’s little prospect of the SFA wishing these matters away. Even Celtic itself has no recourse to stop individual shareholders in certain actions if they chose to try.

Let me clarify something for you.

In terms of Resolution 12, what fans want more than anything else is to see justice done through the football structures. This is why the objective was always to have this matter analysed properly at UEFA. The SFA is never going to come around to admitting mistakes or culpability; this was always about getting an independent football body to look at the evidence and examine it in full, without us worrying that it would lead to a biased conclusion.

Going through the SFA and the proper procedures was vital, and still is, for getting a footballing solution. Celtic are the ones who need to raise this matter at UEFA, or with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. There’s no way for the fans to raise this independently through those bodies.

There are also certain legal actions which would have to go through the club.

But shareholders have rights, and they’ve always been able to pursue those rights through the legal system, even if the club itself is not fully on-board. One of the vehicles for doing this is a judicial review, but it’s not the only one.

Celtic shareholders never pursued this option, because the football route was the preferred one for getting to the bottom of this morass.

But should that route prove fruitless, whether because the SFA or Celtic or whoever put up a roadblock to it, those other paths can be taken instead.

It must be said that this does not harm Celtic in any way.

UEFA and FIFA regulations are very specific about how the clubs must do things in relation to the law. They must go through the governing bodies themselves, with CAS as a last resort. They cannot pursue legal channels out-with that, because UEFA and FIFA do not allow legal interference in the running of the game. Draconian punishments can handed down for doing so, including banning teams from Europe and stopping the national team from taking part in competition football.

These regulations do not cover individual actions by shareholders.

This matters in football because the SFA is not, as Regan and others appear to believe, an organisation which does what it likes and is accountable to no-one.

The Scottish Football Association is not a private members club; it’s a public authority, as has been demonstrated time and time again in the law. It gets part of its funding from the tax payer. It is responsible for licensing. It is answerable to government agencies in relation to some of its activities. It has to comply with Freedom of Information requests.

Regan simply cannot pull down the shutters here, much as he’d like to.

Now, a judicial review won’t accomplish all our goals. What it does is forces a public body to declare the means by which it arrived at a decision. There are misconceptions about that, and I want to set them straight. A judicial review would compel the SFA to lay out the evidence that it followed the rules and that it did everything it was obliged to do.

Frankly, they’ll have a job there because as I pointed out in last night’s piece on Resolution 12, over on the CelticBlog, they’ve either ignored evidence, hidden evidence or were very selective on the questions they asked, knowing the kind of answers they’d get.

Procedures were followed up to a point. Beyond that, they either knew enough not to want to know more or they simply ignored what was in front of them and granted the license anyway.

The process would be laid out there.

We’d know what information they asked for, and received.

We’d know what they didn’t bother with or ignored completely.

Based on what was put in the public domain, I have no doubt UEFA would find itself involved.

The SFA has been at it so long they are terrified of outside scrutiny.

Look at how they handled the allegations that Charles Green was involved with Craig Whyte. If the Rangers First guys want to do something that rocks the boat a wee bit they should ask for their own judicial review into that particular matter; no-one will convince me the SFA did due diligence on that, it’s frankly incredible anyone could be expected to believe it.

Pinsent Mason’s report came back to say “no evidence” had been found in that case; sterling work, with a company hiring a firm to investigate itself. I’ve never heard of anything like it. Yet there was enough of a link for the Crown Prosecution Service, who’ve levelled criminal charges on the back of it.

How was Sevco allowed to stay in the hands of a guy like Green long enough to have caused the chaos we know he did? A lot of their fans were asking that very question, but they were asking the wrong people.

A lot of the Celtic bloggers said it right from the start; ask the SFA.

They had a legal responsibility to that club’s shareholders, and to the rest of the game, to get to the bottom of issues like that, and they never bothered their arses.

Celtic shareholders have been similarly disenfranchised, over stuff such as Resolution 12 and title stripping. Their own legal protections have been nullified by the SFA’s lack of oversight and their criminal contempt for shareholders rights, espoused beautifully in today’s question to the judge, in Regan’s “I’d do nothing” reply when asked if he would act if irrefutable evidence was presented to him proving the Resolution 12 case in full, and most clearly in the letter some of the Resolution 12 requisitioners received recently in which he stated his view that the governing body is neither answerable to Celtic shareholders or those of any other club.

Such contempt has earned its day in court, as far as I’m concerned, and it makes Ashley’s decision not to proceed both baffling and infuriating. Is he what King says he is? A bully, a braggart but ultimately a gutless coward?

Where the billionaire feared to go, Scottish football fans make yet tread and Celtic aren’t the only club with lots of shareholders or the only club whose fans feel positively screwed over by the arrogant idiots at Hampden.

Anyone who doubts fans will put their money where their mouths are need to think again. Scottish football fans must be amongst the best in the world when it comes to holding people to account, and doing so with their hard earned cash.

Celtic fans have already paid for a full page newspaper ad tackling the Survival Myth. Websites like this one couldn’t survive without donations. James Doleman’s court expenses were covered by Scottish football supporters who wanted to get to the truth. There’s an appetite out there for a crowdfunded legal challenge, and I think a lot of lawyers who would love to take on our case for a very reasonable fee. The mood for one is growing, and at long last the supporters realise that it might well be the only way we get some answers.

Shareholders hold all the cards here.

There are enough of them, from various clubs, including the Ibrox ones, who feel the SFA’s lax regulations and contempt for their own rules has had adverse consequences, including for share prices and dividends, and that’s the key factor.

All a judge requires to consider a judicial review is evidence that procedural failings at a public body may have resulted in a loss to shareholders. That’s clear enough and easy to demonstrate in cases where you’re talking about huge sums of money or falling share prices.

When the SFA’s lawyer contemptuously raised the spectre of fans taking legal action against the association for failing in its basic requirements as a public body, he was expressing a very real, very reasonable, fear which exists in that organisation.

They know there are bodies buried out there, and they know a lot of people are very busy with their shovels. It’s a matter of time before these things are uncovered, and the only questions that remain are about how that’ll be achieved and what comes afterwards.

The novelist Margaret Attwood once said “The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one.”

That approach might have worked once at the SFA but they no longer feel they to need to pretend with us. They’re very open about their propensity for hiding and covering things up, otherwise they wouldn’t expend such energy in telling us such things were none of our business, and that we have no right to know about them.

It was James Joyce who called secrets “tyrants waiting to be dethroned.”

The SFA knows it can’t keep the lid on this forever, but it continues to try.

When the dethroning comes here, they’re only going to have themselves to blame.

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SFA “Strict Liability” Proposals Are A Direct Threat To Celtic

JS31156726Stewart Regan. Dear oh dear.

You have to give him his due; he seems to know what side his bread is buttered on, and just who butters it.

Any time there’s crisis or scandal at Ibrox he’s a long way from home, posted missing, silent on the subject.

I’d call it gutless, but he’s never quite so remiss when it comes to tackling Celtic.

We all know that this man will do anything at all to keep the club operating out of Ibrox afloat, whether that’s bending or flaunting regulations; ignoring others; allowing convicted criminals onto the board and even looking the other way as a potential fraud is going on.

That same attitude applies, of course, to the occasional outbreak of illegal singing, like the one against Hibs, which it seems he only discovered yesterday as it was the first he’s mentioned it … and then only fleetingly.

Another club’s supporters were the real target of his rant.

Who knew that all it would take to bring him out of the bunker was Celtic fans throwing a few flares?

Hell, we can’t have that in our national sport!

Let’s change the rules … so that we can punish the club for it!

Yes, whatever you say Stewart.

Except … no.

What balls this guy has. What a brass neck on him.

He and his lawyers are, doubtless, going to be working hard on the proposals for “strict liability” in the next week or two, and if Harper MacLeod can ratchet up the costs a bit who are any of us to stand in their way? They’ve got to make a buck too … but at the end of the day the fruit of these labours will wind up in the bin. It belongs there.

Frankly, Regan can wipe his arse with them for all I care.

If Celtic voted in favour of these proposals – and the chance of it is somewhere between slim and none; there is no way in the world we’re going to do it – then a cold day in Hell it would be, and the problems would mount up down the road until we couldn’t move forward for them.

When I heard he’d commented on this, and said “strict liability” was going back on the agenda I was honestly fuming, and flabbergasted at his brazenness. The statement itself is absurd, and offensive to those of us who’ve been following the backstory.

There can’t be another organisation – except the SPFL – which is so selective in the things it chooses to care about on any given day.

Regan feels he can bang the drum on this one because it was in the Scottish Cup … well it’s funny, as he seems to care so much; he said and did nothing last season when, at the very same ground, Dundee Utd fans did much the same thing.

Now, no-one should misinterpret this as me defending the guys with the flares.

I’ve already written about that over on The CelticBlog this week, and my views were pretty clear. The guys who do this are a menace, pure and simple, and ought not to be allowed inside football grounds.

But see, that’s a police matter. It’s got sod all to do with the sporting authorities. We ought to let the police deal with it, as they have been doing. Let the clubs find the people responsible and ban them, and then allow the machinery of the law to take over.

Football sanctions to clubs for the behaviour of a few neds?

God, why not just punish certain clubs (i.e. Celtic) before the season even starts?

Save time on the disciplinary hearings.

Because these rules will be so open-ended you might as well.

I would be willing to bet every penny I make in the first year of their existence that we would be in front of the beaks more than any other club, and that has nothing to do with our fans but everything to do with a media that would whip up controversy every chance it got and the governing bodies themselves who might even jump at the chance to make the league more “competitive” by deducting us points every so often.

As the rules stand right now, all a club has to do to get off free and clear – see Sevco and sectarian songs – is demonstrate that they’ve taken “all appropriate measures” to discourage that. No-one even knows what that actually means, and that’s very deliberate.

And you know what? I’m content for that to be the position. Because that’s the way these guys work, and I have no doubt that should “strict liability” come into existence the regulations would be no more robust than the current rules, but would morph, instead, into an awful Offensive Behaviour at Football Act written by the governing bodies themselves, one handing match delegates complete discretion over what constitutes an offense … and that’s to say nothing of their famous “compliance officer” and what his own godforsaken role in all this would be.

Uh-uh. Not a chance in Hell.

Someone like Vince Lunny, with the power to deduct points and close stadiums because of what he personally finds offensive? Newspaper media rooms and PR companies scanning YouTube footage deep into the night and submitting it for his “assesment”?

You can see where Celtic might have a problem with this idea, right?

We may as well shut the stadium right now.

Even if the SFA could be trusted (I know, I’m laughing too) I’m not in favour of strict liability anyway, because it’s too easy to extend and amplify and would, eventually, turn all football grounds into soulless cathedrals of consumerism and make the experience akin to going to the theatre.

Regan uses UEFA as his exemplar here, because these rules already exist there.

Ha!

The SFA’s newfound embrace of UEFA standards is heartening but much too selective, and that’s the real problem here and where Regan’s hypocrisy is most clearly expressed.

There are UEFA regulations which do badly need implementing in Scottish football, foremost amongst them the one governing Financial Fair Play.

That it hasn’t already been passed is ridiculous; the English leagues got their house in order on that score five years ago.

But, of course, there isn’t strictly an establishment favourite club down there, one that would fall foul of those regulations every single year.

Quite how anyone could argue that Sevco would not be in current breach of those rules escapes me … which is exactly why they’ve yet to see the light of day, and why I suspect they never actually will.

King’s big talk about “front loaded investment” was always bluff and bluster anyway, but the whole concept has still been allowed a credibility it doesn’t deserve. That we continue to perpetuate this dangerous nonsense as somehow “good for the game” is part of a wider problem Regan and his people don’t even seem to want to acknowledge let alone do something about.

No, this is more typical of them, to focus on a cheap headline, a one day story, to leap onto a passing bandwagon.

This isn’t leadership; it’s deflection.

It’s an attempt to steer the agenda away from his favourite club at a time when the governing bodies are inextricably bound to their fate, and heading for a calamity that will make 2012 seem like small beer.

Regan would have been better focussing on that, or on the certainty that his name will come up over and over again during the trials of Whyte and Green.

If he wants to give the lawyers something to do he can dig out the emails he and Whyte exchanged, and the minutes of his discussions with Green, and others, and get the SFA legal team to investigate whether or not they were party to a fraud, however unwittingly it might have been,

I don’t like this guy; that’s no secret. I think he’s a coward and a charlatan and that he’s been wrong, and his association has been wrong, on every major issue of the last five years except the appointment of Gordon Strachan.

He and those around him can preen and posture for the cameras all day long. They can write all the useless and doomed regulations they want. They can fritter away the remainder of their time in office by pandering to the press and the Ibrox mob. Or they can find ways, even now, to redeem their reputations before it all comes crashing down.

This is partly about that, of course, about legacy shopping; one good deed to try and counter all the years of sitting on his hands. I’m not fooled for a minute, and no-one else should be either.

I’m past caring what choices they make.

But I’m damned if I’ll sit in silence whilst they try to use my club and its fans as a deflector shield when the biggest and most serious issues in the Scottish game can still be traced right to the door of another stadium in Glasgow and to the actions of a procession of dodgy geezers Regan and his people said were “fit and proper.”

Stewart Regan, leading reform?

Don’t make me laugh.

His real motivations are more transparent than he thinks.

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La Liga Looks Abroad to Improve Popularity

Madrid2-Milan0_20101019_224210A few weeks ago, news reports suggested that Celtic and Dundee were in talks to play an SPL match in the United States. The news went down well with many fans, but the governing bodies appeared not to be interested in it, or in supporting it.

But it was thinking outside the box, and that’s ever more necessary as cash continues to flow into the Premiership, sucking the life out of other leagues.

You’d often be forgiven for thinking Scotland is the only country affected by the huge financial power of the EPL. In fact, Europe’s top leagues are suffering too.

With the latest land rush for the English Premier League broadcast rights, there is more money in the sport than ever before and the other domestic leagues of Europe are searching for a way to replicate England’s success, lest they be left behind.

Spain’s La Liga is looking to turn itself around through international expansion and a revamped system of negotiating its own TV rights.

The EPL has been in the process of selling the overseas broadcast rights for the sport from 2016 to 2019 and the rights are estimated at greater than £3 billion worldwide, which evens out to more than £1 billion a year.

This is more than double what the Spanish league sees for its own rights.

No one questions the history and legacy of the Spanish La Liga but let’s be honest with ourselves, how often do you really think about the Spanish league if Barcelona and Real Madrid aren’t playing?

This lack of interest beyond the league’s four big teams has some worried that the Premier League could become to football what the NBA has become for basketball in the world.

It could lead to a league that snatches up all the top talent and leaves the rest of the leagues to languish with lower-quality players.

“We run the risk of having the Premier League become the NBA of football in the next five years, with the rest of European leagues turning into secondary tournaments,” La Liga president Javier Tebas said in an interview.

“We all know that every talented basketball player discovered anywhere in the world ends up going to the NBA, and if the European football industry and the Spanish football industry don’t react, we will also be losing talented football players.”

Despite boasting arguably the two best players in the world, La Liga still finds itself standing in the shadow of the world-renowned Premier League.

While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can draw crowds, too often the league is seeing its most promising players lured to England by promises of fame and fortune. Nicolas Otamendi, one of the league’s most exciting young defenders, was snatched away from Sevilla by Manchester City over the summer transfer window.

And with the exception of big spenders like Real Madrid and its Galacticos, the transfer of talent between the two leagues often seems to be a one way street.

In an effort to increase its cultural clout in the world market, La Liga has learned that to be successful abroad, the league needs to be attractive and desirable as a whole product. In the States, the NFL has done an exceptional job of this with its annual games held in England that are widely attended regardless of the quality of the teams involved.

“We’re not here to see Detroit, we’re not here to see Kansas,” an NFL fan told Bleacher Report; “we’re here to see the NFL.”

This is the kind of thinking that led to the proposals to play an SPL game abroad, an idea that has been discussed in England as well. This concept works for other sports. It’s a matter of time before it is tried in football.

In the meantime, even the Spanish game is not immune to the pinch, and getting fans to invest in the product and the sport itself, as opposed to just one team, will be crucial to the continued success of La Liga.

They’re set to face Arsenal next week, in Champions League action, where they’re favoured to continue their international success against the team. That being said, the Gunners should give the Blaugrana a run for their money, as they’re having one of their best Premier League seasons in the past decade. If they can translate that success to the Champions League, it could be anyone’s match.

The financial issues that have long haunted the Spanish league are much to blame for many of its current problems. La Liga hopes to alleviate some of these through a more egalitarian distribution of broadcasting revenues and providing smaller clubs with a bigger share of the pie. The idea is that by giving mid-table clubs the capital needed to retain players, Spain can create a more enticing product that can eventually compete with the Premier League in popularity on the world stage. We can only hope that the Spanish league can figure itself out because better football is something everyone can get behind.

We can only hope that the Spanish league can figure itself out because better football is something everyone can get behind, and if they get the model right it might even be one that can be copied by other leagues, including the one in Scotland.

Owen Gordon is a freelance writer and passionate football fan based out of London. In his downtime, he enjoys running, cooking, and making his way through his Netflix queue.

A Very Scottish Scandal: How Rangers Almost Wrecked Scottish Football – Part Two

craig-whyte-691403225(This is Part 2 of a lengthy article for this site and another one on the saga that saw Rangers fall into administration and liquidation, and how they and the governing bodies almost wrecked our national sport. Originally intended to be in two parts, this has grown to the point where it has to be considered a four-part piece with the rest soon to follow.

The last section charted the story of how Rangers was built on bank debt and tax evasion, how the party ended in 2008 and of how the club was allowed to get away with it all because it had friends in the governing bodies and the media.

This part tells the incredible story of the reign of Craig Thomas Whyte, and about how that same media exalted him without cause, how the governing bodies conspired with him without shame and how a handful of bloggers and serious mainstream media journalists investigated him without fear or favour.)

Part Seven: The Start Of The Whytewash ….

The high point of Craig Whyte’s time at Rangers came only 10 days after he took over the club, when they won their 54th, and final Scottish Premier League title. They were still betting everything on European football income, and winning the SPL had given them a potential path back to the riches of the UEFA Champions League.

Walter Smith, the manager, was due to leave at the end of that season and in a press conference after the match he told the waiting journalists that Whyte would have to deliver big money to “continue the success” at the club.

At that point, they had a squad of highly paid footballers, and operating expenses of over £40 million a year. The financial crisis was receding, but people were still feeling the pinch.

Smith’s statement was the purest sign you could get that the “Murray Way” of doing things at Ibrox was still very much part of the club’s DNA, and why not? Rangers hadn’t had to live within its means for nearly 30 years.

Three days later, Whyte told the media that the new boss, Ally McCoist, would get the money that he needed. It was a foolish promise to make when you considered that with Lloyds now gone they had no credit line from a bank and that the directors would be forced to personally carry any shortfall in funds.

But that kind of talk was needed to sell season tickets, and between those and European football income it might well have be enough to see them through the following campaign.

Just six days after making that promise, nine days after they won the title and only nineteen after he had secured control, the bloodbath started. Alastair Johnston and Paul Murray were kicked off the board. The chief executive, Martin Bain, and the Finance Director, Donald McIntyre, were suspended. Whyte’s gunsights were also trained on those who were left.

Their time would come. He could afford to wait.

In June, Bain announced that he was going to sue the club for breach of contract. When his case finally arrived at the courts, in September that year, Rangers were already reeling from one hammer blow after another.

The summer transfer business wasn’t what Rangers fans had been hoping for; there were no multi-million pound signings, but seven players were brought to the club for £4 million. There were a rash of outgoings, as several out of contract players weren’t offered new deals.

None of it significantly weakened the playing squad; in fact, the Scottish media, and the Rangers management team, were delighted with the business, and big things were predicted for the season.

On 26 July, Malmo travelled to Ibrox for the first leg of their key Champions League qualifying match. Rangers lost 1-0. A week later, on 3 August, they exited that competition after an ill-tempered 1-1 draw away from home. It was a disaster. Champions League revenues vastly outstripped those in the UEFA Cup, and the club needed them to stay afloat.

On 25 August even that was no longer there for them, when a 1-1 draw at NK Maribor, after a 2-1 defeat at home, saw them crash out of Europe for the second time in a month.

The hole this left in the balance sheet was enormous, somewhere between £10 million and £15 million. When their accounts came out later that year, they showed a profit of a mere £76,000 for the previous year.

European income had been keeping on the lights, quite literally, leaving the club just one season from disaster.

That season had arrived, and in the interim, player salaries had increased as all the top stars were offered new deals, and new players were purchased.

Things were bad, they shortly got worse.

The following month, when he appeared in front of the judge, in his case against the club and Whyte, Martin Bain’s lawyer told the court he believed the club was in serious financial trouble and would run out of capital by the end of the season. The judge believed him. He froze £500,000 in assets, in anticipation of a future court date.

Bain and the judge were right to be worried.

A lot of stuff about the club’s financial positon was already seeping into the public domain, in no small part because of more trouble with the taxman …

Part Eight: The Taxman Cometh …

On 10 August 2011, an astonishing thing happened at Ibrox. Sherriff officers came to the stadium, to serve paperwork on the club in relation to the Discounted Options Scheme, the Wee Tax Case, as it was known. An online journalist, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain – who, in fact, had been the man who brought the story of HMRC’s Big Tax Case demand to the attention of the world – had written a story earlier that week saying they were due; the club denied it and, as usual, the media ran with the denials and poured scorn on the idea.

The following day they all ran with the “exclusive” story, of course.

The sheriff officers’ visit was a crucial moment in this saga; it was the moment when things that had been going on behind the scenes momentarily came to light, like the tip of an iceberg, visible above the waves but hiding much more. The importance of it was not confined to the Whyte regime; it’s a moment that still scares the SFA.

The taxman had been investigating goings on at Ibrox for four years at this point, and whilst they believed that EBT’s per se were a form of tax evasion and were pursuing this vigorously, they already had precedent for saying that the Discounted Options Scheme was.

Discounted Options Schemes had been made illegal in 2003, and in November 2010, HMRC had won a landmark battle in the Aberdeen Asset Management case where they tried to apply retroactive punishment on that very point.

They presented Rangers with a bill for the Discounted Options Scheme almost immediately, but the club rejected the initial settlement offer. When HMRC had asked if side contracts existed, the club had flatly denied it.

By February 2011 HMRC knew that was a lie.

On 11 February, HMRC sent a letter to the club laying out a new payment demand, having revised their claim of November, adding interest and updating the claim to backdate it to a time they hadn’t even been aware of it at first.

HMRC’s communique also revealed their knowledge of the side letters.

The letter did not dwell on the matter, but reminded Rangers that they had previously denied this.

HMRC’s letter made it clear that it had been taken into account.

Rangers’ own legal adviser, Andrew Thornhill QC, read that letter and sent one to the club shortly afterwards, in which his advice was clear; plead no contest to the DOS EBT and pay the tab. He was particularly concerned with those side letters and that HMRC had discovered them; he knew that taking it to a tribunal would have been a losing battle where the club’s malfeasance would have been put out there for everyone to see.

Rangers decided to pay. They arranged a meeting with HMRC for March, where the two parties hashed it all out. We know this because the bill appeared in their April accounts, informing the wider world of its existence for the first time.

On 6 May, Craig Whyte took over the club. The bill was still outstanding at that point. On 10 May, Whyte told the Rangers fans that there was no tax bill outstanding; he admitted they were appealing the Big Tax Case, but didn’t mention the payable due on the Discounted Options Scheme.

Yet the very next day another meeting took place between Rangers representatives and the taxman. HMRC made it clear that the bill was due, immediately, pointing out that they had the power to levy further penalties and costs on the club if it didn’t follow at once.

They sent a further letter, to that effect, to the Ibrox club on 20 May, which was to be their final warning before additional action was taken.

That bill was due. That bill was unpaid, and that had been the status of it since the club’s own lawyer had said they should find the money and get it sorted out.

On 2 June, the sheriff officers served notice on Rangers for the first time. No-one knew about it, and the event went unreported, or even speculated on. It was to be two more months before the more famous visit by the taxman’s hard guys was reported in the press, and this one with pictures which made it undeniable to even the most hardened cynic or faithful supporter.

Pressures were mounting up on Rangers and on the shoulders of the Motherwell Born Billionaire. The club was embroiled in chaos. Board members had been purged. They had exited Europe, twice, in quick succession and now bailiffs had visited the ground.

The bill was still unpaid on 2 September. The taxman sent Whyte and the club a demand for payment which brooked no compromise. At the same time, a firm of lawyers had submitted a demand for £35,000 which was still unpaid, and they were taking the matter to the courts to get their own money, as fears that the club could go bust were growing inside Ibrox and elsewhere across Scottish football.

By the time Martin Bain and his lawyer got in front of a judge on 14 September things were already bad and getting worse. The court froze £500,000, money the club simply didn’t have. The judge accepted that there was a “real risk” of them going bust. A month after that, Donald McIntyre, their former finance director, put in a claim for £300,000.

Just six days after McIntyre made his move, on 20 October, the real crash came.

Part Nine: Vindication For The Bampots

At some point over the preceding months, a group of online bloggers and commentators had started to play an actual role in these events. The most famous of them was, and remains, an anonymous fellow who goes by the name The Rangers Tax Case. His blog was the first reference point for all of us who wanted an education in these affairs, and a place where the issues around them could be discussed and dissected.

There has probably never been a more important website in the history of Scottish football. It was where the information on Whyte was slowly, but surely, amassed and exchanged and it was the focal point for some of the campaigns that followed. But above all that, it was the first source of information we had on the scale of what Rangers had done.

RTC, as the site became known, went on to scoop the Orwell Prize for investigative journalism; it was an honour that belonged not only to the sites anonymous founder but to everyone involved in it, everyone who dug out a piece of information or uncovered a trail of breadcrumbs. You had to follow the work these guys were doing to fully get it, but it was, and remains, an extraordinary collective achievement, one that changed the game here forever.

I got involved in commentating on this saga at around about this time, working on a magazine with the team at another famous blog, Celtic Quick News. The magazine’s first issue came out in August 2011, so we were literally on hand to chart the course of the Craig Whyte disaster and all that came after it. Looking back on early issues now, and in the online debates that were going on, it’s incredible to me how far ahead of the media curve we actually were.

Yet for all that, we were disparaged by those same tired hacks.

They even invented a name for us, one we took and pinned on as a badge of honour and which we still wear today; the Internet Bampots.

Yet for that, for all the tremendous work these two sites and others were doing, the whole thing might have stayed an internet joke until the hammer came down in February 2012 had it not been for two brilliant investigative journalists in the mainstream press, Alex Thomson of Channel 4 and BBC Scotland’s Mark Daly.

These guys were on the ball. They brought the story to the attention of a wider audience. They put it on television, and that took it off the net forever. The Scottish mainstream press never admitted that we got this so right and they so wrong, but we’re not so leery of giving credit where it’s due. These two men uncovered much we hadn’t, and they published stuff the Internet Bampots would not have been able to. Without Daly and Thomson so much that was secret might have stayed that way for a long, long time. These guys, literally, shattered the can of worms.

On 18 October, the club made a twin announcement. First, John Grieg and John McLelland, two of the remaining directors on the Ibrox board, resigned, claiming they’d been isolated and marginalised in the boardroom. That was bad enough for Rangers fans to take, but the second announcement was a warning shot across everyone’s bow.

The club announced that it had broken off all relations with the BBC over a documentary that was due to air later that week. This was to be the first time, but not the last, that the club and the national broadcaster would come into conflict.

Two days later, on 20 October, Scotland found out why as the BBC broadcast a stunning documentary; Rangers – The Inside Story, fronted by the brilliant, and soon to be legendry, Mark Daly, a man who later went on to blow the lid off the biggest scandal in athletics.

It was the mainstream media’s first look at the hitherto untold (in their case) tale of Craig Thomas Whyte, and it laid out the story of the man who had taken over, and his early business history.

Whyte was not a billionaire, of course, and even the hacks had long since stopped referring to him as one. It was revealed later that the “Motherwell Born Billionaire” stories had originated with a PR firm who simply gave the Scottish hacks their instructions on what to say when people asked just how much money Whyte actually had.

The show blew the last remaining holes in his credibility, and theirs.

Rangers – The Inside Story was a startling journalistic achievement, for which Daly and his bosses ought to be proud; amongst the allegations it aired were claims that Whyte had been struck off as a director, in 2000, for a period of seven years; that investigators believed he had fraudulently run at least one company, Re-Tex Plastics, from behind the scenes during that time; that the company had been involved in a phony share issue and a tax fraud and that, furthermore, Whyte had even appointed a phantom firm of auditors to do its books!

The Internet Bampots had not found this stuff, but it had fully vindicated our view, held from the start, that Whyte was the dodgiest of dodgy geezers and not someone you’d want within 100 miles of any football club with which you had the slightest interest.

The documentary not only uncovered Whyte’s business history, but the rogues gallery with whom he’d been surrounding himself for years, including a convicted fraudster named Kevin Sykes. The program quoted Sykes during a 2001 courtroom appearance, where he laid out the Whyte MO for posterity. It’s worth pondering for a moment.

“What Whyte will do is buy a stake in a failing UK business, and it will be up to me, then, to assist him in restructuring the business, to be blunt, to be able to leave the unsecured creditors behind. Legally, of course.”

You could not have a wished for a more cogent, coherent, summation of what was about to happen at Ibrox over the next few months.

Whyte was no longer working alongside Sykes, at least as far as anyone’s been able to find out, but he was busying away behind the scenes, nonetheless. He knew, by this point, what the club’s financial situation was like, and he had a fair idea what to do next.

Because Whyte had already had some of the key meetings.

He had already started the ball rolling for what would happen on 14 February 2012.

Those meetings had, in no small part, already laid down the groundwork for the administration, and possible liquidation, of Rangers.

And the people who’d been at them?

The unlikeliest folk imaginable.

Or, at least, they would have been, anywhere but Scotland.

Part Ten: Saviours In The Shadows

Whatever his specific plans for Rangers had been at the start, Craig Whyte had known from the moment the full time whistle blew in the Europa League tie with Maribor that the club was heading for administration, and possibly worse.

Whether or not he’d taken the decision to start with-holding tax revenues at that point is irrelevant; he must have realised that was the logical route of travel. There was little point in paying some bills but not others, and he’d clearly already concluded that, in keeping with his previous strategies, that anything kept from the creditors now would be kept from them for good.

It was the business he was in. He’d been doing it for years.

Yet Whyte was in a slightly unusual position when it came to Rangers. This was not a private company one could simply wipe out and walk away from. This was a massive football club, with massive exposure and media interest, one which David Murray had once described, with typical hubris, as “the second biggest institution in Scotland after the church”.

In order to douse what he knew would be a firestorm Whyte needed friends, people who could help him smooth the path towards his eventual destination, and he needed guarantees that the club itself could emerge on the other side of it.

He reached out to the only people who could give those to him; to the governing bodies.

This is where the Rangers situation, already a scandal involving the club, the bank, Murray and a cast of characters out of a Hollywood movie widened to become one that involved the SFA and the SPL, and became of grave concern to everyone who cares about the game.

In early October, Whyte flew to London and met with two men, Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping, of the Scottish Premier League. By his account, he told those men, at that meeting, that the club was in a dire financial position and that administration was near certain. In addition to that, he says he told them that the issues they faced were so tough that getting a CVA was “unlikely.”

Whyte has a difficult relationship with the truth, but there’s no reason not to believe this version of events. Indeed, emails followed confirming that these discussions had been had, emails in which the SPL CEO suggested that Whyte share with them a “road map” spelling out exactly what he’d do and how the governing bodies should respond.

This document already existed, dated 5 October.

It had been put together by a company called MCR. The code-name for the plan was Project Charlotte.

On 31 October, eleven days after the BBC had stripped Whyte in front of the nation, revealing his background, his business record and his modus operandi, as stated by his long-term business associate, and convicted fraudster Kevin Sykes, the SPL held a meeting to discuss the future of their television deal with Sky.

Neil Doncaster went to that meeting knowing that a plan virtually identical to what Sykes had alleged in court was already underway at Rangers. He knew it would involve debt dumping. He knew it would leave the tax payers millions of pounds out of pocket. He knew too that there were probably some football clubs who would suffer.

He did not share that information with the SPL board.

At that point, the Sky TV deal had three years left to run, but the SPL had an “opt out” option for the following year, and the meeting was to consider whether or not that option should be exercised in light of proposals which had been brought forward for a TV company owned by the league itself. Named Fans TV, it would have ended, once and for all, Scottish football’s dependence on the crumbs from Sky’s table.

The architect of the plan was Hibs chairman Rob Petrie.

At the 31 October meeting, it was decided to put off a decision until 21 November. Petrie and others left believing they had a chance to make the Fans TV case, and further work was done to make sure all the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed.

At some time over the next few days Doncaster got his board together and told them something – we’ve never been able to fully establish what – that provoked fury around the table, and questions about what Doncaster had known, and when.

In addition, it killed the possibility of Fans TV stone dead.

Insiders spoke later of being told about a developing “situation within Scottish football” that would have left the SPL dangerously exposed. Doncaster urged the board to adopt a proposed extension to the Sky TV deal “without delay.”

Why did he do that?

The deal had three years left to run at that point.

What was the urgency?

Why was it necessary to re-negotiate an agreement which was iron clad?

What we know, for sure, is that the revised television deal, which was signed and sealed in short order, committed Sky to a further two years of Scottish football. By the end of the contract the full package would have been worth £80 million.

By this point, the SFA would have been in the know about coming events at Rangers, as Whyte’s roadmap required them to give guidance and support on the mooted “transfer of membership”, as well as information on the legal position of a NewCo.

It helped that the traffic of employees between the governing bodies and the club was working both ways at the time.

In June that year, Whyte had appointed a new CEO at Ibrox. It was Gordon Smith, who had resigned from his post at the SFA just a few weeks before, citing “family reasons”, just as the EBT story had broke.

Smith had departed with the praise of his former bosses, and Rangers manager Walter Smith, ringing in his ears, in spite of a tenure weighted down with gaffes and PR disasters, the last of which was a public spat with Livingston FC who claimed he’d gone around the ordinary procedures to discipline one of their players for diving.

His appointment at Ibrox certainly couldn’t have hurt a club that needed official sanction, and assistance, for its more secretive plans and schemes.

But in November 2011, public disclosure of those was still a ways off.

In the meantime, something else had been going on in the background.

At the meeting on 21 November, the SPL agreed to renew the Sky deal after the member clubs were finally informed of some of what was brewing at Rangers.

Ewing Grahame, a journalist on the The Telegraph, had a meeting with Neil Doncaster on the day the SPL signed the agreement.

In the article he published afterwards, he made a striking claim.

“The Old Firm remain the biggest draw for broadcasters,” he wrote, “and one of the conditions attached to the new document was that the Glasgow giants will continue to play each other four times in the league.”

In case anyone was in doubt as to this being the big story, Grahame’s article was headlined “Recession-beating five-year TV deal binds Celtic and Rangers to SPL.”

Yet in the piece, Doncaster claimed this had been a standard part of Sky’s TV deals “for years.”

Still, Grahame wrote about it as if it was new information.

Indeed, Doncaster’s claim seems ludicrous in light of what the public facts were then.

First, the clause would have been pointless.

Neither club had ever been remotely in danger of relegation. Neither could leave the Scottish league, even if there was somewhere to go, without a lengthy notice period and financial reparations, and the only way both would ever have done so was with the connivance, and probably at the behest, of television itself.

Some have suggested it was a clause to block league reconstruction proposals, the kind that would have expanded Scotland’s top flight and eliminated the prospect of the “four Old Firm games.”

This is nonsense too.

No TV company would ever have inserted itself into the game’s politics in such a manner, and clubs wouldn’t have stood for it.

Anyway, league reconstruction had been mooted literally dozens of times in the years of Sky’s Scottish football involvement, from 2002 onward. At no point was the issue of how it would affect television contracts ever raised in that time.

Besides, as many have pointed out since, the only conceivable circumstances in which this scenario might have occurred would have been Celtic or Rangers having a disastrous year and falling out of the top six; with the SPL’s odd structure, that possibility would have seen them play each other three times and not four.

But for a TV company to withhold cash on that basis would have been a serious risk to sporting integrity which no sane person would ever have allowed in a contract.

There has also long been some doubt about exactly how the clause was worded.

In Grahame’s article, he drew attention to the possibility that it might “save Rangers” in the event they entered administration and faced relegation or demotion from the top flight. Some have suggested that the clause didn’t mention “four Old Firm games” at all; that it was specifically concerned with “circumstances where either Celtic or Rangers were not in the league.”

If that’s the case, how did Sky come to the conclusion that this was likely? Rumours of administration were one thing … but at that point few people thought the club itself was in serious jeapordy. Only a handful of people knew better.

It so happened that Neil Doncaster was one of them.

Whatever the truth, this clause, which appeared to have come out of nowhere, was to prove crucial to the events which followed, and cast serious doubt on the real motives of the men running the league.

That was for the future.

The Big Tax case First Tier Tribunal had kicked off on 7 November, and the club and Murray sent their legal representatives into action. On 30 November, the club published accounts for the last time.

They weren’t properly audited, and never would be. They revealed a miniscule operating profit for the previous year of just £76,000. You didn’t have to be a maths genius to work out that between bills coming due, no European football, a raft of legal expenses and other things going on that the club was in serious peril, and that the cash would soon run out.

A day later, Whyte confirmed that he’d received a directorship ban from the courts.

In the background, the SPL and the SFA were still in talks with him over how best to handle the upcoming carnage at the club; now he’d confirmed the basis of the BBC documentary that had accused him of concealment and even fraud.

The governing body asked for more information.

In the meantime they continued to assist him as he plotted the wholescale dumping of the club’s growing debts.

Based on the announcement itself, they could have opened immediate proceedings against him, on the basis that he had not disclosed this before and was clearly not a “fit and proper person” to hold a position of responsibility at a Scottish football club, but they didn’t.

To do so would have exposed the club, immediately, to the full horrors of administration, without someone at the helm who was willing to go through that, and then beyond, to what would inevitably follow.

So Whyte had to be left in charge, with no official interference, to finish the job, or at least put the restoration of the Ibrox operation on the rails … and it didn’t matter what happened to the creditors, or indeed the game itself, in the meantime.

Up until that point, it was the single most damaging period in the history of Scottish football and one of the most disgraceful series of events in the history of professional sport on this island, and that was based only on what was in the public domain.

One issue that was already raising its head, and scaring the SFA press office stupid, concerned the Wee Tax Case, and the moment when it “crystallised”.

If anyone was in any doubt about the willingness of the governing body to assist the Whyte regime at Ibrox, they only had to look back on the earliest days of it, when a seemingly routine decision was made in relation to club licensing, one that, had it gone the other way, would have doomed Whyte before he started.

That decision still haunts the SFA today.

Part Eleven: Out On License

In October 2013, Celtic shareholders put a remarkable item on the agenda for discussion at the club’s AGM, which was due to take place on 15 November. The board sent an immediate letter out, asking the fans not to support this item, and gave no further comment.

The press interpreted that as the board wanting the issue buried; in fact, they opened up a line of dialogue with the supporters behind the scenes. On the morning of the AGM those who proposed the motion withdrew it from the agenda, after talks with club officials. The matter had not been kicked into the long grass; in fact, it was, and still is, very much on their minds.

The matter was adjourned. The club and the fans kept talking.

The motion was entitled Resolution 12.

Such an innocuous name for something so potentially devastating.

At its heart was a simple, but deadly, question;

On what grounds exactly were Rangers Football Club allowed an SFA license to play European football in the 2011-12 season?

The resolution asked that the club clarify this, not with the SFA but with UEFA, and urged Celtic to support a UEFA led inquiry into not only this affair but the way the governing body had dealt with the whole Rangers situation from the granting of that license until the liquidation in 2012.

The question as to Rangers’ European license had first come to light when the sheriff officers visited Ibrox in August 2011, to serve HMRC’s notice on the club in regards to the Wee Tax Case.

SFA regulations specifically forbid the granting of such a license when the club in question has a “tax liability payable” to Revenue and Customs.

As we’ve already established, this bill was the very definition of that; it was due by summer 2011 and it had been for months.

The club’s own legal advice was that it should be paid.

During those summer months, the SFA was involved in its annual audit of Scotland’s clubs in preparation for the coming season. The relevant paperwork, and all the club declarations, had to be in place by the end of May.

The existence of the Discounted Options Scheme was not a secret any longer. It had been in the public domain from April that year, when Rangers themselves published it in their annual accounts.

The SFA could not have been unaware of its existence.

The license was allowed, provisionally, at least, but by the end of June 2011 they had to meet UEFA’s own deadline and criteria, and at that point the SFA had an obligation to clarify this matter once and for by talking to the club, and if necessary HMRC, and inform UEFA of what they had found.

Again, this clearly hadn’t been done.

Calls to Rangers saw the whole thing put in a holding pattern; the club apparently told the governing body they were “in talks” with HMRC on the matter. A single call to the tax authorities would have clarified what that meant.

Whyte was stalling, and as we’ve seen from his history it was probably on his mind the whole time that he could let this one lie.

As we know, the bill was still unpaid in September that year when HMRC issued its “final warning” on the matter, and it remains unpaid to this day.

As with many other things it was folded into the carnage of the administration and what came afterwards.

By mid-September numerous football websites were already clamouring for the answers the Celtic fans would formally apply for in November 2013. Leading the way was the RTC site, CQN and Scotzine, an all-purpose site on the Scottish game.

By December, Stewart Regan, the Chief Executive of the SFA since Gordon Smith resigned, was forced to talk to the fans about the issue. His answers, given on Twitter, were vague, even contradictory.

He claimed at one point the bill had not come due at the point when the licensing decision was made, using the later oft-quoted phrase “crystallised” to describe the process.

He had his facts badly wrong.

That bill was due from 20 May, at the latest, and by mid June it had certainly become overdue as defined in UEFA FFP articles.

He seemed rattled.

He had reason to be, although none of us knew what they were until November 2013.

The truth is that Celtic’s board had been concerned about this issue going all to way back to the awarding of the license itself, and before the sheriff officers came calling at Ibrox.

They had queried the European license themselves, and received what they regarded as highly unsatisfactory answers.

Following that visit, they sought further clarity and, again, were unimpressed by what they’d heard.

They had never quite given up on the issue, or on others they believed were peripheral to it, and this was why they’d agreed to keep the lines of communication open with the supporter’s who’d raised Resolution 12.

As has clearly been demonstrated already, Rangers was a club floating on an ocean of debt at the time, and even though the bank were no longer holding anything over them anyone who could read a finance statement knew they faced a huge hole in the balance sheet without European football income.

In light of what happened later, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine the SFA denying them an avenue to money which was quite literally keeping on the lights, no matter what the club had done.

Yet had the SFA acted when they should have, and demanded that Rangers settle this bill immediately or accept the revocation of their European license, Whyte would have been faced with coming clean about his plans sooner, or finding the money to pay up.

They either abrogated their responsibility to check out the true status of that bill or they waved the European license through regardless; either way, it was another scandal in a growing series of them.

The ultimate irony of this, of course, is that it was all for naught anyway.

The Promised Land of Champions League income was never to be realised. Ally McCoist’s later maligned managerial incompetence took care of that, and they exited the elite competition against Malmo before Maribor turfed them out of Europe entirely.

It was to become a feature in everything that came to pass; the governing bodies would bend over backwards, even breaking their own rules, to assure the Ibrox operation as smooth as a passage as was possible, and here, as with later, it didn’t help them a bit.

Part Twelve: The Final Mile

On the night of 15 October 2011, the day after Donald McIntyre appeared in court to seize £350,000 of Rangers’ assets, and five days before Mark Daly stunned Scotland with his seismic documentary on Whyte, one of those football matches that, in hindsight, changes the course of the future took place at Rugby Park.

Whilst things off the field were, by now, spiralling out of Craig Whyte’s control things on the pitch had been better than anyone could have dreamed and Celtic appeared to have collapsed completely.

The Parkhead club went into that game ten points behind the Ibrox club, and badly in need of a lift.

Before half time, it all looked over … the league challenge, and the reign of the manager, Neil Lennon.

Kilmarnock had run riot.

The score was 3-0 to the home side.

All of us watching remembered what had happened to Tony Mowbray, caught in a similar storm, on 24 March 2010 when his Celtic team was destroyed 4-0 at Love Street against St Mirren.

He lasted less than 24 hours, being relieved of his duties and Lennon put in charge on the following day.

The second half transformation was extraordinary, made all the more so by an atmosphere in the ground that was electrifying from the moment the teams came out of the tunnel for the 45 minutes. The Celtic fans have rarely given such passionate, vocal, unequivocal backing as they did that night, and it lifted everyone out in the pitch in a club jersey.

The team rallied. They clawed back the deficit and might even have won the game.

They dropped points, but that night Rangers did too and the equation hadn’t changed. But something had. Although Celtic dropped two more points before that month ended, in a match against Hibs, increasing the gap at the top to 12, and pushing us into third, albeit with Celtic having a game in hand, something had irrevocably shifted in the dressing room and out on the park.

From that point on in the league, Celtic barely looked back.

Every match in November was met, and matched. Lennon’s boys were storming just as Rangers began stumbling. As off-field chaos continued to mount, McCoist’s team began reverting to type and blowing it in their own definite style.

Off the pitch, things continued to get worse.

Eight days after Whyte had confirmed to the world that he had, indeed, been banned as a director the club was rocked by yet another financial blow, this time delivered by Celtic themselves.

The clubs were due to meet, at Celtic Park, on 28 December, and it was custom and practice for the away side to receive its tickets and pay for them later. Celtic had been following events at Ibrox closely, more closely than most were aware, and weren’t about to join what was already known to be a rapidly expanding creditors list.

According to the Scottish media, who covered the story with typical hyperbole, on 9 December Celtic asked for the full balance – £350,000 – upfront, or the tickets would be placed on public sale to their own supporters.

Whyte found the cash from somewhere and the tab was duly paid.

Months later, with Rangers circling the drain, the same media shrieked that the Parkhead club was refusing to pay for its own match tickets up front. With their usual lack of grace and respect for the tension of the times they even accused Celtic of putting jobs at risk whilst the club was in the process of an administration.

Celtic refused to comment on such hysterical claims, and three weeks later, with the game out of the way, they paid the cash in full. At the time, they briefed that they were reluctant to part with cash, in advance, for a match that might not take place, and in the circumstances of that time, that position had seemed like nothing but good common sense.

A day after that story broke, Rangers settled with Donald McIntyre out of court.

The details of the final settlement were never published, but it couldn’t have been cheap.

By the time the match at Celtic Park came around everyone at Rangers knew the New Year was going to bring nothing but misery.

They went into the match with their lead at the top of the table reduced to a single point.

In the 56th minute of the match, Charlie Mulgrew whipped a corner into the box. Kirk Broadfoot, the Rangers defender, was the nearest to the ball but Joe Ledley, the Welsh midfielder, was more determined to get there, and he rose above him and nodded it home.

Parkhead erupted.

Celtic had been 15 points behind in early November, and even with two games in hand the psychological advantage Rangers had enjoyed was enormous.

By full time, Celtic were on top of the table.

Ally McCoist and his players were shattered, and in truth they never really recovered.

The whole club was on the brink.

2012 opened with another hammer blow, the news that the club had been banned from the Stock Exchange for not having a set of audited accounts in by the years end. This was, technically, another breach of SFA regulations but again, nothing was done, probably because the governing bodies already knew how this particular story would end.

The Tax Case tribunal, which had paused during the Holiday Season resumed on the 16th. It finished two days later, and the judges retired to ponder the issues and render a verdict.

It wouldn’t come for an age, and in the meantime things ran their course.

On 20 January, Andrew Ellis was appointed to the Rangers board. He had been involved with Whyte in the takeover, and would later tell another BBC documentary he had personally introduced Whyte to David Murray after the Motherwell Born Billionaire had sold him on his vision for the club by giving him the name of a mystery man who wanted to invest.

The man was none other than Prince Albert of Monaco, a man Whyte said he “saw every week.”

He just never elaborated, and Ellis never asked him to.

By then, time was quickly running out.

On 31 January, the intrepid Scottish media, shocked into life by the news that Whyte wasn’t what he’d seemed, and no longer able to rely on PR releases to guide them through the maze, actually ran a major story in the case.

The Daily Record told the country how Craig Whyte had sold four years of future season ticket revenues to a company called Ticketus, in order to obtain the cash that had let him pay off Lloyds Bank in the deal which saw him get control of the club.

Keith Jackson shamelessly claimed this as an exclusive, and he has got a lot of mileage out of it since. Indeed, whenever the mainstream press wants to defend its shattered reputation, this is one of the stories they point to.

In truth, the story itself was months old. Jackson had written a version of it in June 2011, but Whyte had brought in lawyers and successfully spooked The Record into blocking it.

Yet even then, the story wasn’t as “exclusive” as he’d claimed.

In fact, the Ticketus story was broken by the bloggers.

The Rangers Tax Case site and the Celtic fans forum Kerrydale Street were foremost amongst them. The Companies House document from which The Record got their story had already been published on both of those sites, and all the pieces put together, a fortnight before.

The Internet Bampots had made all the crucial connections, with some even scrutinising previous Ticketus deals for clues.

On 6 June, a full week before Jackson’s “exclusive” first ran, one of the KDS posters wrote, with remarkable prescience, “I reckon the probable solution to this is the most obvious. It’s season tickets we’re talking about here. Who gives out loans against future season ticket revenue? Ticketus. How much is involved here? Roughly £52million. What were the total sums pledged by Whyte for his takeover over four years? Roughly £52million. So what’s happened here? Whyte has pledged future Rangers season ticket cash to pay for his takeover.”

The numbers may have been off, but the guy had it right on the nose.

The story hitting the tabloids was, however, a minor turning point.

Rangers’ fans, for a long time asleep at the wheel, finally woke up to the reality of the position, on the same day the club sold its star striker Nikica Jelavic to Everton, for £7 million.

Five days later they crashed out of the Scottish Cup, at a half empty Ibrox, against Dundee Utd.

A day after that, the BBC’s Mark Daly struck again when he revealed that Whyte may have lied in testimony he gave to a Glasgow court.

The allegation centred on a civil case dating back to December where he’d appeared in connection with an unpaid debt to a firm that had done building work at Castle Grant, his lavish country home.

During his testimony the prosecution asked him about his seven year directorship ban. Whyte said he couldn’t remember what it had been for. When asked if it related to his treatment of creditors, Whyte had denied it.

Those records were gone, or so he’d believed.

Actually, Daly had obtained them and within them was a damning paragraph from the judge in his case.

Only one figure connected with this whole saga would ever be subject to such withering criticism from a judicial bench, although time may change that.

“The assets of the company were put out of the reach of the creditors … the degree of recklessness shows Mr Whyte is thoroughly unfit to be a director.”

Whether he’d committed perjury or not, it was another warning to the SFA about the kind of man they were already tucked up in bed with.

The time for robust action, to save the game from further embarrassment, ought to have been there, and then.

The decision to continue dialogue, to wait for Whyte to send them further information, could only have been made by an association that wanted him in place until certain other conditions had been met.

No-one inside or outside Ibrox would have blinked had they convened a hearing that very day and kicked him out of Scottish football at once. That would have left the club rudderless, going into administration without a man at the helm who’d been over the ground before.

Project Charlotte was, to their eyes, the only route through for Rangers.

So, again, they did nothing at all.

The SFA would finally declare Craig Thomas Whyte “unfit and improper” on 23 April 2012.

By then, a lot of things happened that didn’t have to.

On 13 February Rangers announced that they’d enter administration the following day.

For the supporters on both sides of the Glasgow divide Valentine’s Day would never be the same again.

(This site relies on the support of its readers. If you like what you read and are able, you can make a donation at the link below. If everyone who read On Fields of Green did that it would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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A Very Scottish Scandal: How Rangers Almost Wrecked Scottish Football – Part One

ogilvie1This article is the first part of a piece I’m writing for another site I’ve just taken over, one about football in England and across Europe.

I thought it was time we moved the Rangers-Sevco debate outside Scotland, to an audience beyond our borders, perhaps in the hope of interesting the London based media in this sordid, and unbelievable tale …

To do so, it’s necessary to tell it all, exactly as it happened, without inference or bias, as a straightforward presentation of facts. That way we can give investigators their framework.

It is going to be long, easily the longest piece I’ve ever published. It’s also complicated, as the situation has been, and continues to be.

Of course, it was always my intention to publish it here as well.

It’s still being written, but it was getting too long to post as a single article, so I’m splitting it.

Part 2 will be up in the next day or two.

In the meantime, this is the backstory of the scandal that almost destroyed Scottish football.

Part One: The Introduction

Football in England is in good shape. Or bad shape. Or improving. Or getting worse.

Depending on who you are talking to, it’s all of these things and it’s none of them.

From up here in Scotland it looks pretty healthy to me, without necessarily being on a par with how things are in, for example, Germany.

But the game is in safe hands.

You only to have look at the way the FA has dealt with club owners who’ve tried to take the piss to see that.

The folk running football in England get it.

When the game down there suffered the match-fixing/betting scandal in 2013, that sent a number of people to jail, the National Crime Agency was widely praised for their role in it, but in my view the Football Association deserved enormous credit too.

Football didn’t try to cover this up.

The FA co-operated in full. Nothing was with-held and nothing was swept under the carpet.

I envy you guys leadership like that. Up here, we have none.

I’m going to tell you all the story of a cancer eating Scottish football from the inside.

I’m a Celtic blogger, and I’m telling you that upfront because this involves my club’s biggest rivals, and I want it to be clear what my background is before you carry on reading a word.

Everything I’m about to write is the truth.

All of the facts are verifiable and easy to confirm.

Fans in England have maybe heard some of the story, but I’m willing to bet the version of it you’ve been reading or hearing about isn’t exactly … complete.

There are reasons for that.

For one thing, the story isn’t complete yet and it might not be for a long, long time.

It’s also complicated, with roots going back more than fifteen years, involving a Who’s Who of characters right out of a James Bond film.

Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not.

It takes place across four continents, with scenes set in South African mansions, waterfront properties in Monaco, expensive London hotels and grubby back door boozers in Belfast.

It’s a sexy story, involving politicians, dodgy bank officials, money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and a host of other offences, and I can’t even write down all the gory details because some of them are currently the province of the courts.

But it’s also about failures of governance, a compliant and even complicit media, and corrupt practices which are widely known about up here but haven’t yet been accounted for.

It’s about a decade of cheating, and about the concerted efforts of a group of people to make sure that no-one was punished for it.

They first tried to ignore it, then tried to excuse it, then tried to buy off their critics with promises to tackle it before they made it 100 times worse.

It’s the biggest scandal in the history of sport on this island.

It’s torn Scottish football apart, but could yet turn out to be the thing that saves it.

Part Two: 2007 – The Origins Of A Scandal

This story properly begins in 2007, with a police raid on Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, the home of my club’s biggest rivals, Rangers. The purpose of the raid was to obtain information, on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, to aid in their investigations of football corruption, involving backhanders in transfer deals and the tapping of players.

Amongst the evidence collected were computers and financial records.

One of the deals they were looking at involved the sale, by Rangers, to Newcastle United of the French defender Jean Alain Boumsong, for £8 million, a transfer that was somewhat unusual as he’d only been at Ibrox for six months, after arriving on a free.

The Newcastle manager was, of course, former Rangers boss Graeme Souness.

He wasn’t charged with anything, and in a later stage of the inquiry was cleared in relation to the matters at hand. Rangers itself wasn’t implicated in the scandal.

But there was a nasty sting in the tail for the club.

On the computers, and in the club’s books, there were details of dozens of payments made to footballers and club employees – and some ex-employees, as we’ll discuss – totalling tens of millions of pounds, payments which seemed unusual. The Met passed them on to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, who examined them and concluded that they were part of a tax evasion policy the world has come to know as an EBT – an Employee Benefit Trust.

HMRC began an investigation.

It was a bad time for the Treasury, with the first ripples of the coming global financial storm already tingling the antennae of certain economists and politicians, amongst them Vince Cable who was trying to warn his parliamentary colleagues that a catastrophe was just around the corner. They largely ignored him, as a lot of those in the Square Mile ignored their own Cassandra’s.

Reality can be ignored. For a while. Then it comes crashing through the walls.

The tsunami struck less than year later, and Gordon Brown’s government was engulfed as they tried to keep the rising waters from sinking the UK economy.

Alastair Darling, Brown’s Chancellor, was soon having round the clock meetings at Threadneelde Street and the Treasury with bank officials who started out claiming their institutions were sound but eventually were forced to admit this wasn’t true, and that they badly needed government help.

One of the last banks in the UK to admit they had a problem was one of the flagship enterprises Brown and others had been so proud of, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS), which had once been a sleepy, down home conservative high street institution but which over time had turned its backroom into a speculators casino.

At a dinner party, at the height of the crisis, Brown spoke privately with the head of another of Britain’s leading banking companies, Lloyds TSB, which had successfully evaded trouble by staying out of the dicier activities going on in the Square Mile, to find out if they’d be interested in taking over HBOS on the cheap.

In order to smooth the path for the deal, Brown agreed that the merger would be exempted from the UK’s competition regulations.

In one of the worst failures of due diligence in financial history, and with politicians breathing down their necks, determined to avoid a crash, Lloyds completed the deal in jig time, only to discover something appalling; HBOS was sitting on a £10 billion hole.

The big bosses at Lloyds slammed the brakes on at once, as they started to go through the disaster zone with a fine toothed comb.

Of particular interest to them were the goings on of a handful of directors, including Peter Cummings and his predecessor, a guy called Gavin Masterton.

I could write a book on these two, and in years to come others will definitely do so. Their story fits into the picture here and a bigger picture besides, which overlaps with this one. I’m not going into the full scale of it – most if has no bearing on this – but the part that does has to be laid out properly and understood, in order to comprehend how big this is.

Here’s a little history lesson, before we go on.

Part Three: David Murray & The Bank That Couldn’t Say No

Back in the 90’s Gavin Masterton was one of the most powerful individuals in Scottish football, although only a handful of people knew that at the time. His department at what was then the Bank of Scotland had on its books the debts of almost all the Premier League clubs, including Celtic’s.

In fact, in 1994, Masterton’s department came within 24 hours of closing Celtic down over a debt of £5.25 million, cash the old board couldn’t repay.

The club was saved by a Canadian supporter named Fergus McCann, who along with a group of likeminded individuals effectively put up the collateral for that debt and then paid it off entirely. According to McCann, who took over the running of the club, he and his board approached the bank 10 months later, to find out on what terms they’d be granted a loan facility.

The bank offered them £2.5 million, fully securitised, which McCann and his people regarded as an insult. They ended the club’s relationship with Bank of Scotland there and then, and he retained deep distrust of them until the day he stepped down from his role.

As a gauge of how ridiculous the bank’s offer had been, McCann later told a newspaper that shortly afterwards the club was able to obtain a £10 million loan on very favourable terms from the Co-Op bank in Manchester.

Celtic’s issues with the bank were in sharp contrast to the relationship Masterton had with the owner of Rangers, David Murray.

At that time, and for years afterwards, Murray was regarded as a true example of Scottish entrepreneurial genius. He seemed to have a flair for making money, and for courting publicity. Indeed, there’s much in his personal story that should earn him high praise. He prevailed through astonishing adversity in his early career, even coping with the loss of his legs in a car accident, to rise to become one of the shining lights of Thatcher-era business.

He took over Rangers in 1988, and immediately set about transforming the club into the biggest football operation in Scotland. First, he completed the re-development of Ibrox, turning into an all seater stadium the envy of almost every club in Britain. And, at a time when English clubs were banned from Europe, they spent lavishly on bringing the likes of Woods and Butcher and Steven to Scotland in big money deals.

But Fergus McCann and the new Celtic board were about to change the game entirely. They had arrived with a momentous business plan, one which the Canadian set about with aplomb, rebuilding the dilapidated Celtic Park into one of the biggest and best club stadiums on this island – crucially, with 10,000 more seats than at Ibrox.

After nearly a decade of being the biggest club in the land, Rangers saw their hold broken as Celtic stopped them from beating their own club record of nine in a row, on the last day of a breathless season in 1998. It had taken Fergus and his people just three years to rebuild the club into something the fans could again be proud of.

What happened next was staggering, and laden with consequences.

Murray threw more money at his team than had ever been seen in Scottish football. The knock on effects are still difficult to quantify; it ushered in an era of rising transfer fees and over the top spending at many other clubs … and to the crippling debts that came later.

Within a year, the Ibrox debt had swollen to £50 million, as Murray, with typical bombast, told a media that lapped up his every word, that “for every fiver Celtic spend we will spend a ten.”

In point of fact, he exceeded that by quite some way. The spending gap was actually far higher – a ratio of three or four to one, and was actually completely unsustainable.

Everyone assumed – because the media dared not ask – that Murray himself was footing the bill for this outrageous cash splurge. What nobody knew, until much later, was that a good deal of the money to fund these signings had come from the very same bank, and the very same people, that had almost closed Celtic down just a few years before.

In 2001, The Bank of Scotland had merged with Halifax to become HBOS, and Masterton had handed over responsibility to Peter Cummings, his protégé, who had been at his side through much of the insanity of the previous few years.

Over the next 12 months, the debt at Rangers climbed even higher until it topped £80 million. Again, the real facts were largely hidden out of sight, but we know now that in 1999 the bank had taken part ownership of Rangers during “corporate restructuring” at MIH, the umbrella organisation owned by David Murray, and which controlled 85% of the club. The banks £20 million “investment” in MIH entitled them to 12 million shares in that company and a holding in Rangers itself.

On the surface, everything looked calm. But HBOS and Murray were hiding a devastating secret, one which would be uncovered in due course. The Murray “success story” was being funded by bank loans. In 2001, they borrowed £50 million, on extremely good terms, and their exposure only increased in the years that followed.

In 2004, Murray “personally” underwrote a share issue to remove £50 million of the debt burden from the club. The papers lauded him for this largesse, but in actual fact, with the help of the bank and some clever accounting, the debt was simply transferred to another section of MIH.

By 2006, two years before the financial crash, the newly named Murray Group owed the Bank of Scotland £209 million. A year later, the debt stood at £290 million.

When Lloyds took over in 2008, they uncovered the truth, not just about the £10 billion hole but that HBOS had been effectively trading whilst insolvent, and had received a $12.5 billion emergency loan from the US Federal Reserve on the night of the takeover, and a £24.5 billion loan from the Bank of England at Threadneedle Street shortly thereafter.

Lloyds officials started to dig. They soon found out where the money had gone.

Masterton, Cummings and friends had been having a rare old time, lending money at ludicrously generous rates to their pals in business, much of it in Scotland, of whom Murray, through the ownership of Rangers, was the most high profile here.

These loans were generally acknowledged to be ridiculous, but as long as the companies they were investing in seemed solvent – and in Murray’s case high real estate prices, including Ibrox, which he had valued at nearly twice its land worth, were making it seem that way – they were able to keep a lid on the pressure cooker and the lending went on.

The HBOS affair was so toxic – and it wasn’t limited to Scotland – that it became the subject of a major criminal fraud investigation called Operation Hornet. I’ll skip the details of that, as it doesn’t apply to this story, but one fact ought to make the eyes of any reader bulge. A report commissioned by Lloyds Banking Group at the time estimated that fully 69% – worth a mind-bending £80 billion – of the money Cummings and his department lent during its roller coaster existence, fell outside of what the more conservative bank called its “risk appetite.”

The damage had been done. Saddled with this enormous hole in the balance sheet, Lloyds Banking Group – who had hitherto avoided being dragged into the swamp of the financial crash – became one of the organisations part-nationalised by the government in 2009, who took 43.3% of its shares in exchange for a bailout package.

As a consequence, most of the debts from that era were written off, at the taxpayers’ expense. Murray, and Rangers, as it turned out, were quite literally funded from the public purse.

We didn’t know the half of it.

Even as Lloyds was trying to get its house in order, turning off the lending taps and asking the recipients of HBOS loans to see the colour of their money, and as a consequence bringing Rangers into line with the rest of Scottish football, at last, in terms of spending only what they earned, the club was hit with a sledgehammer.

The 2007 investigation into the Jean Alain Boumsong transfer had provided HMRC with evidence of wholescale tax fraud at the club, and in 2010 they sent their tax bill to Ibrox, amounting to a demand for repayment of £40 million plus fines.

When the story broke it send shockwaves through Scotland. A tax bill that size, with HMRC insisting on payment on demand, was capable of wiping out any club overnight. Rangers were appealing it, so it wasn’t imminently due, but that was of little consolation to Murray who, with the bank breathing down his own neck, was no longer able to support the club as lavishly as he had with the use of his flexible friend and an unlimited line of credit.

He put Rangers up for sale, and waited for the offers to flood in.

A few people expressed interest. One was a hard-line Unionist MP, who never made it clear where he was getting the cash to buy a football club. Another was a Russian oligarch who turned out to be a vicious gangster. The News of the World ran an editorial saying Rangers fans were open to anyone, that they didn’t care where the money came from, or who the owners were, as long as the club was able to compete with Celtic.

Financial analysts and people within the club pleaded with Murray to start setting cash aside to indemnify them against a negative outcome in what became known as the Big Tax Case, but he wouldn’t hear of it. The club was still spending every penny that came in the door, as fast as it did, and in order to maintain the liquidity of his corporate empire Lloyds were still allowing him huge overdraft facilities. That allowed a certain leeway.

But the spectre of EBT use hung over the club like a killing weight. To understand how this happened you have to go back to 1999.

Part Four: Ten Years Of EBT’s

Celtic, under Fergus McCann, had just completed the shimmering new Celtic Park and Fergus had announced his departure, as per his “five year plan.”

In that time he had turned around the club, making them financially self-sustainable with the second biggest season ticket base in the UK after Manchester United. Furthermore, with 10,000 seats more than Ibrox the new ground was capable of giving the club a long-term financial advantage, provided both sides were run on a similar basis.

But of course, they weren’t and Murray was chasing more than just Scottish glory. He saw European success as a primary goal too, and that needed to be funded and even with the Bank of Scotland loaning him staggering sums he was looking at other measures.

As Fergus was preparing to exit Celtic Park, Murray told one of his media acolytes that “whoever takes over Celtic next had better have the deepest pockets imaginable.”

To be sure his were deeper still, in 1999 he and the Rangers board set up what became known as the Discounted Options Scheme, what we now refer to as “the wee tax case.” This was a highly complicated way of paying players huge lump sums on top of their salaries, so as to defeat the taxman. It was the dodgiest of dodgy schemes, like EBT’s now absolutely illegal, but at the time … well, borderline, if run right.

The scheme was opened by a Rangers director named Campbell Ogilvie, a man who was to play a huge, and important, role in what was to come. Over the four years of its existence, the Discounted Options Scheme provided remuneration packages for some of the most high-profile players in the club’s recent history, including Ronald DeBoer and Tore Andre Flo.

Part of the trouble, for Murray and his club, was that Celtic were undergoing a remarkable transformation in the early part of the new millennium. Martin O’Neill had arrived as manager and the club was on a sound financial footing, allowing him access to funds no boss at the club had ever been given before. He signed top players, like Chris Sutton, Alan Thompson and Neil Lennon, to augment the talents already at Parkhead, including Lubo Moravcik, Johan Mjallby, Stilian Petrov and, of course, the majestic Henrik Larsson.

In his first year at the club, 2001, O’Neill won the domestic treble.

Murray and the Rangers board then embarked on a level of spending hitherto unseen in football here. Their relationship with the Bank of Scotland was at its zenith, as Masterton made way for Cummings, but even that wasn’t enough. Murray slapped down the gauntlet with his notorious “for every fiver” speech and the crazy days began.

The £12 million purchase of Tore Andre Flo, a Scottish record to this day, sums up the insanity of it all. The deal made no financial sense, because it was designed to rub Celtic’s face in Rangers’ financial muscle, doubling, as promised, the £6 million we had splashed out on Sutton. The media loved it, not wondering where the cash was coming from.

The same year, Murray International opened up the Employee Benefit Trust’s at Ibrox, with the aim of paying players above and beyond their declared earnings.

The man who set up the scheme for them was a lawyer and financial whiz-kid named Paul Baxendale Walker, a colourful character with his finger in many pies, including writing, acting and TV production. He later became a writer, director and star in pornographic movies owned by one of his companies.

At the time, the only people he was interested in shafting were those at HMRC.

Over the next ten years, Rangers paid players an estimated £48 million over and above their declared salaries, through a scheme which was setup to look like it provided “soft loans” to those who applied for them. In fact, these payments were negotiated with the footballers in advance of them signing for the club, and as players and agents don’t trust handshake agreements or directors keeping their word, many of them asked for, and were given, “side contracts” to that effect.

These contracts were to pose problems when HMRC stumbled on the scheme. By their very nature, those contracts turned those “loans” into salary perks, making them taxable. Rangers knew that at the time, and so they were determined to keep them secret from all but those who were working inside the club itself.

So those contracts were stuck in a file cabinet and never declared, either to the tax authorities or to the relevant football governing bodies, whose regulations are pretty clear on the point that all paperwork relating to such matters as salary and remuneration should be presented to them post haste as part of their general licensing criteria.

In other words, without those contracts players were not properly registered.

But of course, Rangers didn’t worry about that.

They had friends in high places.

Part Five: Succulent Lamb & Friends In High Places

From 1989 until 1998, Rangers won nine league titles in a row, all of them with Murray at the helm. During that time, and with help from the bank, he filled the club with phenomenally talented, and hugely expensive, players like Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne. He also courted the media as no other football chairman ever had before.

O’Neill’s success at Celtic, and the new direction of the club, was the first serious challenge to their hegemony in that decade, at least as far as what happened on the pitch went. Off the field, Murray and Rangers’ position was pretty much untouchable for years.

During the glory days, he and Rangers were not so much Scotland’s football superpower as they were a hyperpower, and this extended into the way they were treated by the media and in the influence they held within the governing bodies.

How much influence did they have? Well, by 2007 a former Rangers player ran the Players Union, another was CEO of the SFA, a former director was the Vice President there and others sat on the boards of the Premier League and other agencies of the national association … all at the same time. No other club had so many of its officials and former employees so deeply embedded in the footballing power structure.

And this had huge consequences for the game.

Before the recent scandals, the biggest crisis in our sport had been sparked by the SFA’s failure to properly register a Celtic signing, the Portuguese striker Jorge Cadete, at a crucial stage of the league campaign in 1995-96. The deal had been done just prior to the transfer deadline, but someone inside Hampden didn’t put through the paperwork.

The player missed important games including that year’s Scottish Cup semi-final match against Rangers, which the club lost 2-1. Did it also cost Celtic the league? That’s a difficult question to answer, because he missed four matches, three of which ended in draws. The following year he scored 33 times in 44 games, but then Celtic didn’t win the title that season either.

You could debate that issue all day and all night, but what was important was that McCann was incensed and believed the failure to push through the registration had been deliberate. He focussed his anger in on two men in particular; the SFA chief executive, Jim Farry, and the association’s head of registrations, Sandy Bryson.

He took the matter to the courts, and in the case that followed, Farry destroyed his career with his own words. The SFA relieved him of his duties after Celtic won at the hearing.

Afterwards, McCann told the Scottish media, “I’m not claiming there was malice but there was intent. There was a failure on his part despite the advice of FIFA and Celtic. This is a matter that goes beyond Celtic Football Club, it’s a question of somebody who has failed to follow the rules of football.”

Sandy Bryson remained in his post, and the club settled for the CEO’s head on a spike.

Years later, Scottish football would have ample cause to regret that.

In 1998, with Rangers chasing ten titles in a row, David Murray sat down with a number of senior journalists at the Scottish dailies. One of them, Jim Traynor, wrote a remarkable account of one of the most famous interviews of that era.

The published piece that followed under Traynor’s name ranks as one of the most obsequious ever penned by a supposedly serious reporter. It gave Scottish football a catch-all phrase for the hacks who fluttered around the Rangers chairman, and the stuff that they gushed out onto the page.

We now call such stories “succulent lamb journalism.”

The relevant part of the text reads as follows;

If the past 10 years have taught Murray, who is one of Britain’s wealthiest individuals, anything it is how to win and he believes Rangers will continue to grow and prosper.

“I look upon these last 10 years as a having been a great era, but it is over and Rangers are about to head on into a new era,” he said over a glass of the finest red.

He was about to take in another mouthful of the most succulent lamb – anyone who knows Murray shouldn’t be surprised to learn he is a full-blooded, unashamed red meat eater – when he put down his knife and fork.

It was like a statement of intent and looking directly across the table to make sure I hadn’t yet succumbed to the wine, he said:

“Bring on the next 10 years, there’s more to come for Rangers. Understand that I care passionately about what I’m doing with Rangers and believe that in 10 years’ time we will still be setting the pace. Too many of us have put too much into this club and we won’t let someone come along and take it all away. What I’m saying here is that no matter who buys Celtic from Fergus, they will need to have the deepest of pockets imaginable.”

Speaking, years later, to Channel 4’s crack investigator Alex Thomson, when he embarked on his own coverage of the Rangers administration and liquidation crisis, the veteran journalist Graham Spiers, who was at that famous meeting, spoke about it and the wider atmosphere that pervaded Scottish football reporting at the time.

“Succulent lamb journalism means a culture – and I hold my hand up here too – a culture of sycophantic, unquestioning, puff journalism that went on around Rangers generally and Sir David Murray particularly … Look, you are making a pact with the devil if you like. You get thrown the best scraps. You get something for the back page or whatever. But there’s a tacit deal. You don’t dig too deep. You don’t cause any trouble.”

And that was the way of it, for over ten years. Every one of Murray’s pronouncements was treated as gospel. Even the sheer flight of fancy, in 2008, whilst the financial crisis was gathering pace and his bankers were working round to the clock to stave off disaster, that £280 million was about to spent on Ibrox, making it “the first stadium in Britain to have a retractable roof and a hovering pitch”, was printed and praised without serious questions being asked.

By then, the fans of other Scottish clubs were already calling him David “Moonbeams” Murray after another of his notorious public pronouncements, in 2006, where he’d used the colourful phrase to predict that another era of untrammelled success was just around the corner.

Even when the media had a profound duty to criticise the club, they didn’t do it. For over 70 years, Rangers had operated a sectarian signing policy excluding Catholic players. Murray had shattered that, and signed a number of them, but a section of the support remained wedded to the old times, and in 2007 they were the subject of a UEFA investigation for discriminatory songs at a match in Villarreal. The SFA ignored it, refusing to take any responsibility for what went on inside their own grounds. The response of Scotland’s media was even more astonishing.

First, they tried to paint the issue as being one involving a small number of fans, which clearly it wasn’t as anyone who’d ever been to Ibrox could attest. Then, after a steer from a PR firm with links to the Ibrox club, they tried to drag Celtic into the mire, accusing UEFA of ignoring that club’s fans and their singing about the Irish wars of independence.

Finally, with pressure from Ibrox to close the debate down, some of the media outlets started to question exactly what the Rangers fans had done wrong.

This was too much for some of them to swallow, and even the aforementioned Jim Traynor was past the point of trying to make excuses. In a memorable, and explosive, debate on Radio Scotland with one of his fellow pundits, the journalist, agent and former Rangers player Gordon Smith, who was one of the men pushing this line, Traynor exploded.

“Tell me, Gordon,” he asked, “which part of fuck the Pope do you not find sectarian?”

Smith had no answer for that one, and he stuttered and stammered through an attempted justification for his view. It didn’t wash, and everyone who heard him that day knew it. What few were aware of at the time was that he’d been asked to write a chapter in a book about the club, and he duly did so, in which he accused Scottish football, and its governing agencies, of having an “agenda” against them, a quite laughable assertion.

A few months later, with the resignation of the SFA chief executive David Taylor, the SFA placed an advert in the national press asking for applications to fill the post.

The man who ran the interview process was SFA President George Peat, who a year later would be instrumental in pressuring the SPL to extend the league campaign, for the second time, to accommodate Rangers quest to win the UEFA Cup, and who offered to suspend the showpiece event of the SFA’s season, the Scottish Cup Final, in which the club was taking part, without bothering to consult either his board or Queen of the South, the other finalists.

His most valued colleague during that time was the SFA’s Vice President, former Rangers director Campbell Ogilvie, who had been so active in the creation of EBT’s.

They had a list of criteria which was very detailed and specific, yet when the new CEO was unveiled to the media he ticked precisely none of those boxes.

You’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say next.

Yes, it was Gordon Smith himself.

Of course, none of this was of the slightest concern to the ranks of the Scottish press, who let’s Smith’s scandalous appointment pass without critical comment of any kind.

He resigned the post in April 2010, the very month in which the story about HMRC’s tax demand broke. He cited “family reasons.”

No-one bothered to ask if there was more to it than that.

Probably, that wasn’t considered “real news.”

Part Six: The Motherwell Born Billionaire

By 2010, the Lloyds Banking Group were done with Rangers, and wanted out.

They were so determined to get spending at Ibrox under control they’d placed one of their key point-men, Donald Muir, on the club’s board of directors and with other officials in place at Murray’s other companies a period of cost-cutting was finally getting underway.

Time was running out for the steel magnate, and the bank’s patience was almost at an end. They knew full well the consequences for the whole Murray empire if HMRC’s tax case verdict went against them, and anyway, they were equally sick of the sight of the man who, in 2007, had received a knighthood for “services to business in Scotland.”

He had been searching for a buyer for nearly three years, and had vowed to the club’s supporters that he would only give up control when the “right person” came along, someone with the means to take Rangers forward, someone who would “protect it” as he had.

After Russian mobsters and Unionist MP’s had failed to make their bids, and after a national newspaper had told the world that Rangers fans would accept anyone as long as that person made big promises about spending money, it was perhaps only natural that they’d attract the attention of a man like Craig Thomas Whyte.

He emerged as if from a clear blue sky with headlines screaming the unbelievable news to the world. The Daily Record was the lead-off hitter, telling its readers, on 18 November 2010, “Billionaire Scot Set To Buy Rangers For £30 million.”

As the deal neared completion, the fever inside the newsrooms spiked. Other news outlets rushed to hail the man Record “journalist” Keith Jackson had hailed the “Motherwell born billionaire” with “off the radar wealth.”

Murray’s Moonbeams were replaced by fantasies that the Rangers manager Walter Smith would be handed a “Whyte Knight Warchest” to spark a new series of big money signings.

It’s impossible to over-state how ridiculous some of this coverage was. The reports that Whyte was a billionaire were easy enough to confirm. Every year The Sunday Times extensively trawls tax returns and other financial records in the public domain to compile the definitive guide to the wealthiest people in the country – the annual Rich List. To be on it is considered the ultimate badge of honour, and Whyte had actually featured years before, earning a place on the Young Rich List when he was in his early 20’s, with an estimated wealth of around £20 million.

That year, The Rich List was so extensive that those at the bottom had wealth in the low tens of millions, similar to what his net worth had once been. He didn’t even scrape into this level, and so a lot of us knew early on that he had no “off the radar wealth” and we asked ourselves a couple of simple questions; what else were those big bold headlines hiding, and what else were our fearless crusading journalists equally unaware of?

The answer, as it turned out, was a lot.

With issues relating to the takeover, and what happened afterwards, in the legal system at the moment I’m limited in what I can write about the multi-faceted background and business history of Craig Whyte, but even the earliest, and most basic, enquiries revealed a string of failed companies and contradictions to the media narrative.

To use but one example, The Record had reported that the takeover was being plotted from Whyte’s “bases” in Glasgow and the Virgin Islands. Internet sleuths soon tracked down the registered addresses from which the bid was being run.

One was an office in Glasgow City Centre.

It was visited by an online blogger, who took photographs of a single locked room with grilles on the windows and nothing in it but a single filing cabinet, gathering dust.

The photograph another online investigator published, of Whyte’s Virgin Islands “headquarters”, was equally stunning.

It was a portacabin, in the middle of a field, surrounded by cows. That picture later appeared on the front page of The Daily Record’s sister publication, The Sunday Mail, months after the fact, when the war-chests hadn’t been delivered and everyone was asking questions.

Well before the takeover was completed there was ample information in the public domain to scotch Whyte’s credentials as a very wealthy man. His chequered business history was being discussed openly on the internet, on various Scottish football blogs. There was plenty of serious doubt about his ability to finance the club in the event that something went wrong, and it was generally known that bank was no longer prepared to.

From his “home base” in Monaco, Whyte appeared to be making ever more grandiose promises, issuing statements through a PR firm every other day, which the media was printing without doing any research. Part of the problem was the timeframe.

Rangers’ fans wanted signings made in the January window, and as that deadline came, and went, they wondered where the man with the money was.

The media, still being fed nonsense and still lapping it all up, claimed Whyte had made Murray an offer of £28 million to buy him out, but that it had been vetoed by Lloyds, who wanted the club’s debt erased before they would agree to a sale. As it turned out this, as with most other assertions in the press at the time, was nonsense. The bank hadn’t vetoed anything; what they had done was ask for certain guarantees that they’d be paid back.

The takeover was finally completed on 6 May 2011, and the first seismic shock, which ought to have given the Rangers fans pause was the purchase price; for all the talk of multi-million pound deals their club, stadium, players, history and all changed hands for £1.

Part of the SFA’s licensing regulations, on fit and proper individuals, requires the club itself to certify that its leaders are sound individuals with no blemish on their characters. It is a ludicrous policy, relying on self-policing and dishonest or disreputable individuals confessing that upon taking over and submitting their paperwork.

Whyte was hiding more than just his business history; he had also been banned from being a director at one point. His submission to the SFA included none of this information. They could have done their own digging, but they didn’t bother.

But what few people outside Ibrox were aware of was that certain directors at the club had been suspicious of Whyte from the first, perhaps alerted, in part, by the work being done by online journalists and bloggers. There was a Takeover Panel within the club to scrutinise potential candidates for ownership.

When they met the “Motherwell born billionaire” they were unimpressed by his “plans.” They then hired a private investigator to look into him, and he presented a report before the takeover was signed and sealed. That report found things that even the internet bloggers hadn’t. Did they include his directorship ban? Unknown. But the people on that panel shelved the report once he was in the boardroom. They didn’t share it with the SFA, as they had a duty to.

Boy oh boy, how they were to regret that.

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A Country That Hates Celtic?

15077224_Strathclyde Police Kettle Celtic Green Brigade fans  16-03-2013 Gallowgate GlasgowYesterday, I posted an article here about the coming Remembrance Day match at Ross County, where our fans will be under typical scrutiny, and where a single mistimed fart will result in forum threads and headlines beyond count, all of them casting a bad light on the whole support and, indeed, the whole club.

Last night I posted an article over on the CelticBlog about how Kilmarnock has announced that it intends to implement the excellent “Twenty’s Plenty” policy for the fans of all clubs.

With one exception. Celtic fans.

It pisses me off.

A few days ago, I watched a video of Celtic fans being accosted by police at Hamilton, police who took away their banner despite them having broken no law.

What came across most in that video was the sneering, contemptuous attitude of the officers who stopped them.

They couldn’t tell these guys what crime they had committed.

One actually asked a guy his age and then, like a mother talking to a primary school kid, chided him with the words “you’re old enough to know better.”

“Know better than what?” I wanted to scream at the screen.

Know better, perhaps, to think Celtic fans can walk Scottish streets these days without official harassment and intimidation.

Know better, perhaps, than to think we can do that wearing the colours and the crest of our football club.

Our supporters are targets; it’s as simple as that.

Of unscrupulous club pricing policies. Of the police. Of hacks who twist everything our players, officials and even ex-players and officials, say to paint us in the worst possible light.

We’re also the targets of other fans, many of whom enjoy nothing more than when a small minority of our supporters can let them smear our whole club.

Am I gearing up for a chorus of “no-one likes us, we don’t care”?

Absolutely not, and I’ll tell you why.

This kind of treatment is reserved for us only here at home.

For a long time we’ve fiercely guarded our reputation as the world’s best fans, but it’s not enough for some people and it never will be.

Here, at home, we have enemies.

Here, at home, there are people who will never wish us well.

That asks a hard question of us; how do we respond to that?

Do we change our behaviour?

Because that’s what some in our society say we should do.

Republican anthems, no matter how much they are part of the culture many of our fans come from – in the same way as the Orange Walk is part of the culture of those on the other side – these offend some people; therefore why do our fans sing them?

Our banners, likewise, are often sharply political and can cut close to the bone, as some political expression is supposed to.

But why do we bother flying them?

Because we want to offend people? No, no and thrice no.

That it does offend people ought to be neither here nor there to us. There is no law protecting people from being offended, and God forbid there ever will be. We do it because … it’s who we are. The banners and the songs are about where many of us are from, and the psychic and symbiotic connection between that place and our football club is strong, and deep, no matter who might wish otherwise.

We’re here, and we’re staying.

But in order to better “fit in”, do we become subservient?

Get in with the “accepted norm”?

What if the “accepted norm” is a lot of hypocritical bollocks?

When they are forcing poppies onto the jerseys of every club in the land they have some brass neck telling us they want politics out of the sport.

When our political class is pushing national identity – both at the UK level and here in Scotland – at the same time as denying some of our fans theirs, it makes you wonder if you can ever bring yourself to vote again.

And when the media is calling for more passion in the stands but wants to condemn us for the ways in which express it … then the whole idea of conforming is a bit of a joke, isn’t it?

Because you quickly realise that what they really object to is simply the fact of us.

They don’t like that we exist at all.

If, tomorrow, our fans stopped singing Republican songs, if we agreed to wear the poppies, if we stopped flying the tricolour the very likely result of that would be … no change at all. Nothing short of a winding up order would appease these people.

Knowing that, I wonder why we’d even bother to try to?

Outside of Scotland, none of this applies.

Few other clubs have such a circle of friends across the sport.

Away from here, we’re loved and respected and honoured.

Outside of Scotland we get awards and commendations from towns and cities.

Police forces usually greet us like old friends, with the notable exception being the one in Amsterdam which seemed to want to add us to the list of supporters they’ve terrorised from all across Europe.

Outside of Scotland people judge us on who and what we are, rather than as a social group who others want to hammer into a mould that suits their own prejudices.

UEFA might butt heads with us these days but we know they don’t regard our banners and songs as a major issue, and let’s face it, being moralised to by these guys at the moment is a wee bit like being given marital advice by the folk behind the Ashley Madison site.

If they’re so serious about removing politics from sport I look forward to them telling the Home Associations to get the poppies off the shirts pronto.

So yes, outside of Scotland we have few issues to deal with.

We are not loved here.

Some dislike us with an intensity that almost defies reason, and this isn’t confined only to Sevco fans either.

I read the same preachy, anti-Celtic bollocks on websites belonging to clubs all over Scotland.

These people have myriad reasons why they say they dislike us, but in truth I don’t think any of them stand up to scrutiny.

They hate us … just because.

A lot of it has to do with social conditioning I think.

I had a debate with someone I regard very highly recently, over Catholic school education, which he said encouraged social division, without even thinking that diversity is something to celebrate instead of condemn.

I reminded him that it’s those people who say Catholic kids grow up different who are doing most to cement that view, and many are simply mirroring their own bias, by thinking of those kids as if they are.

He amazed me with his almost unconscious prejudice.

He was, apparently, wholly unaware that these schools exist all over Europe; it’s only here in Scotland that they are the subject of such outrageous attitudes, even hate, and when I told him that he was stunned, and said he’d look into the issue.

I don’t know if he will or not.

I only know that growing up here in a country which is so narrow minded and prejudicial has impacted on his ability to rationally analyse these things, and that applies equally to expressions of Irishness and Irish identity, and perhaps even more so.

Celtic’s support is made up of many diverse groups, and a number of them are highly political in their awareness and outlook.

Our club enjoys that when it brings good publicity with it; the Green Brigade have been, deservedly, lauded for their outstanding contributions to Glasgow’s foodbanks, but when they show the same political awareness to highlight their opposition to poppies on our jerseys or choose to exercise their free speech to make a point about the Offensive Behaviour At Football act, one of the most backward pieces of legislation ever conceived, our club looks the other way and treats them like the bad-tempered step child.

I can sympathise with their position in a sense; it wasn’t the Celtic board that passed the OBAF bill; in fact, our club’s stated position is in clear opposition to that legislation.

Additionally, when UEFA hands down a mandate they’ve got no choice but to accept it.

So the apparent inconsistency of their position is, to a certain extent, something that’s been imposed on them.

They do realise how our fans feel about many of these issues, which is why there will be no poppies on the jersey for the second year in a row.

They also supported the fans who were arrested in Amsterdam last year, and the last I heard they were lobbying UEFA angrily, seeking a clear explanation for why we were fined for the fans flying a Palestinian flag.

I’ve heard nothing about how that particular enquiry went, so if anyone can update me on it I’d be pleased.

In the end, they too realise what we’re dealing with here, what we have to face day in day out.

They get it, when other clubs release inflammatory press statements about our supporters, as Hearts did some years ago, or when we’re accused of “rioting” in Dundee.

I am the very last guy in the world who’d do the rousing chorus of “no-one likes us, we don’t care.”

Neither part of that sentence is true.

But here, in Scotland, we’re constantly on our toes, and some who’ve worn the Celtic strip in the wrong places have paid a savage price for doing so.

Our younger fans continue to be the victims of harassment today, but nowadays it more often than not comes with official sanction and a police uniform.

It’s almost as if certain people are doing everything they can to stop fans going to games at all.

Over on the CelticBlog last night I asked if it’s time our fantastic away fans stopped doing just that, and I was amazed at the number of “yes” replies the article got on Facebook and elsewhere.

Our guys and girls are getting sick fed up with all this; with away fans who treat us with contempt, with their clubs leeching off of us, with the police constantly on our case and with governing bodies which can’t get their act together.

How long before it becomes a critical mass?

I love Scotland, and I voted for independence. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I know there are an awful lot of its citizens who strongly dislike, even hate, Celtic.

Many of them do it reflexively, not even fully aware of the reasons why.

I find that more than a little irritating because I genuinely believe our club has been a force for good in the game.

We were founded on a charitable basis. We continue that tradition today. Since the death of Rangers, we have been more than fair, more than generous, in helping to redistribute wealth down through the leagues.

We did as much as any club to bring forth the new cash settlement which the other sides now enjoy.

I would still like to think that we could yet offer a leading voice towards reform of the whole national sport.

But there are too many who will sneer at that.

We are the best placed and best equipped club for the task, but a lot of others would say we were on a power trip, resorting to the old cliché that it was simply arrogance that was spurring us on.

And so progress is halted, usually at the first step.

I am not asking other clubs and their supporters to bow the knee, because we’ve never been that kind of institution.

No-one will be asked to “render unto Caesar”.

Nor do I expect respect from those who despise us and can’t accept any positive flowing from our existence.

But nor do I think we should change – not one iota – in order to appease them.

That means we’ll always take a little flak.

It means we’ll always eat a little dirt.

It means that in some parts of this fair land we’ll always be thought of as the outsiders.

Fine. So be it.

Let the haters hate, because in the end it’s all they know how to do.

We are, and we’ve always been, so much more than that.

We’ve been here for 127 years, and you know what?

This club, and our traditions, will be here long after many of our enemies and critics have gone the way of the team that was once our greatest rival.

(This site faces many challenges going forward. As you probably gathered, Celtic isn’t the most liked club in the world, and that means I’m constantly having to update servers, protect it from spammers and hackers and various other issues. It’s a full time job, and if you want to support what I do, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)

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Around A Crooked Table

betting_1154763cToday the Scottish Football Monitor site has put up a flag and proposed a brand new cross-club scheme to bring fans together and make big changes within the game. Needless to say, this site wholeheartedly supports that venture.

It is long overdue, and I am glad that I had this article to put up because it might serve as a suggestion for one area in which reform needs to be made, one that doesn’t get enough attention but remains a serious concern for many fans.

There is a certain arrogance that exists in Scottish football that we don’t like.

It never manifests itself amongst the fans, who know the sport they absolutely love has seen enough scandal over the years that anything goes. You are most likely to find it amongst those inside football and on those rare occasions when the subject is raised they don’t want to hear it.

Then the media takes up their cries of denial with a vigour they never apply to defending any other aspect of the game.

There is no corruption in Scottish football, they tell you.

They refuse even to countenance the suggestion that there might be.

When Celtic recently asked for an explanation about the bizarre refereeing decision that may have cost us a domestic treble the hacks were quick to point the finger at Lawwell and the club for trying to ride roughshod over the governing body because we’d lost an important game.

They said that it was motivated by a desire to blow smoke, to cover for our failings on that particular day.

This reaction was not unexpected.

The media never misses a chance to have a sneaky kick at Celtic, and this one wasn’t even partially disguised. Some of the more ridiculous hacks even saw it as a chance to attack our CEO and suggest he step down from his post at the SFA, even bringing the Dave King hearing into it although one had nothing to do with the other.

Thus were their own motivations made crystal clear.

Yet, I wonder now if perhaps the whole Josh Meekings thing was misinterpreted from the off. Were Celtic really seeking an explanation on behalf of the club, or was their concern motivated by something else? A concern for football itself?

Some will scoff at the very suggestion, but even if it wasn’t, I don’t think anyone can dispute (without being biased) that regardless of intent, Celtic may have been doing our national sport a great service in trying to bring into light something a lot of people would rather we didn’t.

I’ll tell you what a lifetime of reading about the dark side of human nature suggests to me about an equally long timeline in watching our national game; I suspect that at least one match in which I have had some kind of emotional interest has been fixed, either partially or wholly.

I am convinced of this, beyond all shadow of a doubt. Although no direct evidence of it exists (it wouldn’t, of course) it would be absolute folly not to believe it has happened.

If you believe the naysayers, Scotland is the only part of the global game in which the honesty of referees is not even in question, where players are so dedicated to their teams that the notion of throwing matches never crosses their minds, where managers play their strongest team every week with the intention of winning every game and where everyone involved in the sport is in it for the glory, for the love of it, and not for financial rewards.

The moment you conclude that any one of these things is in doubt you have to accept that anything might have happened – or be happening now – and that the integrity of our game is only maintained because of the things we don’t know.

A lot of our media commentators are quite open about preferring it that way. Hugh Keevins once famously said we should not investigate corruption in case we found some evidence of it, because, he said, that evidence would destroy football in this country.

Forget the fact that if we’re all sitting around a crooked table the game isn’t worth a damn anyway; this was a journalist, or a self-defined one, talking about the benefits of living in ignorance.

This is but one of the reasons I view much of the press in this country with undisguised contempt. So few of them remember what they are actually for and what the purpose of their profession is. That they would rather let cheating go undiscovered and unpunished is bad enough, but to actually claim they want it that way for the good of the game … well, what can you say?

I do want to know.

I think most football fans would.

In England, last week, the whole game received a proper shock to the system when Delroy Facey was found guilty of match fixing. He faces being sent to jail. It was the second high profile court case to rock the sport down there in recent years, although both trials were focussed on the same scam.

Any complacency that might have existed down there was erased at a stroke by this case and the verdict in it.

They are now alert, vigilant, and watchful for anything which threatens the game further.

The same complacency that exists here in Scotland was, doubtless, equally rampant south of the border for years beyond counting, along with that deep rooted suspicion that only Johnny Foreigner had enough disrespect for the sport to get involved in this kind of thing. Then, in 2013, the match-fixing scandal erupted there and changed things.

But change always happens slowly. Because how could such a thing happen here, on this island, the birthplace of the game itself?

Easy. It happened like it does anywhere else, and it was motivated by the same greed.

Furthermore, in a sport where the players at the very top are paid salaries which boggle the mind it’s not difficult to imagine what drives some young guy who never quite made it, or some old pro who missed out on the days of the big money, to forfeit their love of the game for one big payday. Without condoning it, you can understand the motivation.

What’s worse, if you’ve ever been on a sports betting website you’ll have seen the awesome array of options now available to the gambler. You can stick a quid on everything from the number of corners to whether or not the game will have a penalty kick or a red card. It is heaven for the Saturday afternoon punter who likes to sit and watch Sky Sports News, but it opens the door wide to all manner of possible fixes and scams.

One of the stories that emerged from these court cases was that of Sam Sodje, who had played for Reading and Portsmouth, who told undercover reporters than in one particular game he had twice punched then Oldham striker Jose Baxter, in order to get himself a red card and fulfil his terms of a scam that would have netted £70,000.

On 2 May this year, in an astonishing after-match outburst, the Newcastle United manager, Steve Carver, expressed his disbelief at his own player, Mike Williamson, getting red carded for a second bookable offence, after a ridiculous, un-necessary challenge on a Leicester player during a 3-0 defeat. Although there is no suggestion that Williamson was involved in a scam, Carver was pretty clear when he spoke to the media after the game.

“‘I thought he meant it. When I was standing in the technical area, and the ball went onto that left hand side, after already having a caution, my first reaction, five yards before he made the tackle was: ‘Don’t do it’. He did it.

“Vardy was off the pitch, Williamson was off the pitch, the ball was off the pitch. There is no need to do it. I’m not accepting that, especially the situation we’re in.

“I don’t know why he would do it. It was just my thought, “He’s meant that”. I’ve told him that. I’ve said it to his face.”

That’s how easy it would be. That’s how it could be done.

And even as English football was still reeling from that, another Scottish based player, Steven Lawless, of Partick Thistle, was being charged with betting on games.

It infuriates me to know that if this guy is found guilty the most he will get is a slap on the wrist for it and told not to be such a naughty boy in future.

Those rules exist for a damned good reason, as the above examples very clearly demonstrate. Violations of them threaten the integrity of the sport. Yet we’ve allowed a cavalier, almost contemptuous, attitude to develop towards them.

Without wanting to distract from the actual point of this piece, I have to say that part of that has been fostered by the outlook at Ibrox and the soft-soaping way the SFA dealt with infringements involving two of their players, setting a very bad precedent for the future.

Now I accept that the club was never going to throw its players to the wolves; I would not have expected that at all. But I was shocked, and appalled, when first McCoist and then later Kenny McDougall and Stuart McCall didn’t so much stand up for their footballers but actually questioned the rules themselves.

Craig Swan, at The Daily Record, was but one journalist who not only defended their stance but called upon the SFA to “relax the rules” following the news that Steve Simonson had become the second player at the club to fall foul of the regulations.

Perhaps he didn’t know what was going on in the English match-fixing case. Perhaps he just didn’t give a toss.

But to make such a dangerous suggestion in print – that the SFA basically dump its policy because it had uncovered inconvenient facts, when those rules exist to protect the sport, when, in fact, they are actually mandated by UEFA and FIFA – took media ignorance to brand new levels.

What’s more, in the first case involving a player at Ibrox, that of Ian Black, we are all too aware that McCoist didn’t stop with just condemning the rules themselves but actually waved his famous dossier in the faces of the media claiming to know dozens of people – including officials – who he said were involved in the same thing.

I cannot think of a more serious charge for a manager to have levelled during a press conference. I gasped when I heard that he’d done that.

I said at the time that the SFA should have convened a panel and had him in front of it, to answer serious questions about that claim.

No-one bothered.

Not one newspaper ran a follow up story.

Not one editorial demanded those answers.

It is breath-taking. A complete media silence on an issue of enormous importance.

The SFA ignored the statement, as if they’d not heard it, although it was on every news channel that night and on every back page the following day.

The matter just went away, allowed to die by people with no interest in opening the can of worms.

The can of worms needs to be opened though or what the Hell are we all watching week in, week out? How do we know the game isn’t rigged?

See, what a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge is that if Scottish football is straight, if all of our officials and players really are on the level, that we’re not observing the general rule across football. In fact, we’re one of the rare exceptions to it.

There are a half dozen countries, included amongst them some of the biggest leagues in Europe, like Portugal, Italy and Germany, where referees have fixed matches, been caught, and thrown out of the game and straight into jail.

There are a dozen others where non officials have been involved and, after investigations, evidence has been uncovered which has sent people to prison.

Players, officials, even some managers, have seen their reputations and careers destroyed because of their activities on behalf of betting syndicates or other corrupt institutions.

We now accept, as a matter of fact, that the upper echelons of the sport are reeking with the stink of a half dozen major scandals. In the World Cup after next the whole of the global game will be plunged into total chaos, probably lasting at least two years, due to playing the Qatari World Cup Finals in the winter months instead of in the summer, a decision which makes no logistical sense whatsoever and which was made to protect a group of corrupt men who made a thoroughly corrupt decision to award that country the tournament.

Here in Scotland we have credible evidence to suggest the whole commercial side of our game was crashed, un-necessarily, deliberately, to scare its clubs into accepting a NewCo version of Rangers into the top tier.

We have lived through Lord Nimmo Smith, Jim Farry, Hugh Dallas and sectarian emails and Dougiegate, scandals which would have shook any other national association to its very foundations and resulted in heads rolling everywhere.

But we balk, we draw the line, at thinking someone might have made a killing on the number of free kicks awarded in a big game?

Are you serious?

In October 2011, the Motherwell player Steve Jennings was arrested in connection with a gambling syndicate scam that allegedly involved, amongst others, Wayne Rooney’s father. The investigations related to a Motherwell – Hearts match where the midfielder was red carded, a game that investigators described as having “unusual betting patterns.”

In 2012, he was cleared of any involvement, and his then manager, Stuart McCall, criticised the SFA, saying that “un-named officials” had recommended the player be banned from participating in games until the matter was properly investigated.

On the one hand McCall was right to be critical. Hanging a guy out to dry before any credible evidence is made available would be a disgrace.

But I can’t help thinking that those un-named officials might have had the good of our sport in mind at the time.

A year later, after Ian Black was charged by the SFA for betting on 55 separate matches, including some involving his own team, Kevin Twaddle, the ex St Johnstone midfielder, said that gambling in the Scottish game was “rife”.

He warned of the creep of illegal betting, and of the syndicates who, he said, would be taking an interest in our sport if they weren’t already.

“Gambling is an epidemic within Scottish football,” he said. “People don’t realise how serious an issue it is. What has been alleged so far is only the tip of the iceberg.”

He went on to say that, “It is so easy to do. There will have been players who have bet against their own team … there is no doubt about that. Bearing in mind that players are in a privileged position; they know if key players are going to be out or playing or if your team is going to be weakened. How hard is it for, say a young kid, to put £50 on the opposition thinking it will be easy money? It happens.”

No doubt that it does. But does anyone want to do something about it?

One of the problems, as I’ve said repeatedly, is the media.

We have no standard of investigative journalism in this country, no newspaper of record that wants to look into this situation and see if there’s something going on. Instead we have clubs who occasionally express their disbelief at a situation or moment in a match and we have players who sometimes find themselves on the edge of decisions which stagger them and make them suspicious.

None of those suspicions ever comes to light.

We have regulations which give officials far more protection than they are entitled to or can reasonably justify.

In other words, with a media which would rather not know and an SFA culture which prevents people asking hard questions, and where respect for the regulations has been eroded steadily over years of scandal, we have, by accident or design, created exactly the circumstances under which cheating could not only take place but actually flourish.

And this means, of course, that if it wasn’t going on before there’s no disincentive for someone who wants to start.

Twaddle was bang on about that.

It’s a perfect mix, just waiting for someone to add the ingredient that makes it all go bang.

That’s a matter of time, if it’s not already happening.

So what can we do about all this?

In truth, not a Hell of a lot.

If the media doesn’t want to pursue it and the authorities insist on keeping up walls that offer cover to anyone who wants to get involved in a bit of game rigging, our power to change it is non-existent, at least in the short term.

But a start might be if the fans of all the clubs actually stopped bitching each other out when complaints over bad refereeing arise. I see too much of that, and if cheating is going on this is one of the things the perpetrators rely on to get away with it.

Another would be if the fans pressed the clubs to lobby the governing body for the introduction of TV evidence in key decisions. This would not be difficult to implement; the cameras routinely cover big matches and you could easily leave one or two of them in strategic spots to make sure things out on the pitch are alright.

They won’t catch everything, but they might be enough of a disincentive for officials or players who may be indulging in underhanded behaviour.

Clubs could start treating gambling amongst players more seriously than they appear to. Those footballers who are caught should be subject to heavy SFA sanctions and internal fines that actually act as some kind of deterrent, instead of looking like a slap on the wrist.

The enormous range of potential bets means it would be easy enough for a group of players to come together and spread the money around, influencing their own games whilst the others bet on those matches, giving the appearance of being “clean” because they didn’t bet on ones they played in.

Yeah, that easy, right? And if a guy like me can come up with that, on the cuff, sitting in front of the computer one day, think what the professionals could get away with.

Once again, problems facing the game in this country are going to require efforts by the fans because the will to get stuck in apparently doesn’t exist elsewhere.

Maybe we’re wrong though. Maybe there are genuine leaders at the clubs who want to see changes made and who will push for those. Maybe they’ll surprise us all.

In the meantime, the supporters are picking up the slack.

This is why I’m delighted to see that the guys over at the Scottish Football Monitor are putting together something that will cross the boundaries between fans of different sides and build a truly inclusive, all encompassing supporters representative body.

I’ve said before, many times, that I believe the work that site is doing is the most important anywhere in Scottish football.

I await their next steps with enormous interest.

In the meantime, I’m watching the referees.

We all should be.

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Obstacles To Progress

Ronny DeilaAs many of you will doubtless be aware, and have seen, I have spent the last few weeks focussed almost solely on the political situation as we entered the General Election, so I’ve not been able to devote much time to the football.

In the interim, Celtic has won its fourth title in a row (and congratulations to Ronny Deila and everyone at the club for it) and we can now begin to accurately measure his progress.

He is now a title winning coach with a League Cup on the side, a man who was robbed of a potential treble by an insipid performance from his team and a scandalous refereeing decision.

Progress, yes … good progress. Lots of progress.

But how do we measure it?

I laughed the other day when I heard Hugh Keevins give his verdict on our manager. Not Proven, he said.

Keevins is unintentionally hilarious. He believes comments like that are controversial. They are simply stupid; fundamentally, irrefutably stupid and he doesn’t come across as anything other than a clown.

Yet, in a certain sense he may not be wrong.

Ronny will not really have proved himself until he competes again on the Champions League stage.

We all accept that. It’s the ultimate challenge.

But how do you measure progress in as unforgiving an environement as that?

You cannot have watched the semi-finals this week without being acutely aware that an enormous gulf in class exists between the major clubs and the rest of football.

Damage limitation is probably the best most sides can expect against the colossal powers of the European game like Bayern, like Juventus, like Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Yet that’s not our biggest problem, or the biggest factor counting against us in terms of our ability to advance.

For that, you need look no further than the border and the green and pleasant land of England, which just re-elected David Cameron and whose top league is awash in wealth that enables even the likes of Wigan to spend millions we could not afford.

There are some Celtic minded individuals who are so blinkered in their passion to see us play in that league that they actually advocated voting No in the independence referendum last year, in part because that would have ended our chances of ever taking that stage.

They continue to believe that there is a place in that league, just waiting for us, and that market forces and historical trends will see us assume a position there before long.

In that land of milk and honey, which has sent wages soaring, ticket prices rocketing and has cast a dark cloud over the rest of the European game, with knock-on effects everywhere that remove it further from the fans with every television deal, they say we will realise our ambitions.

Their belief is misplaced. Their hope is nothing but a shadow on the wall.

Giving us the financial wherewithal to compete with Hull City is not what will unlock the enormous potential of our football club.

Let us, for one moment, look at how we might get there.

One possible route is to lobby the UK government, or our new crop of MP’s, to re-examine the financial arrangements by which this league essentially sucks money from the supporters of all the clubs in the game, with the aim of spreading it around more.

That would require redistributive measures to be forced on the EPL or the broadcasters.

I don’t think any of us sees the remotest prospect of success in that endeavour.

Another route is by a legal challenge, to crack open the qualification route.

I have long heard rumours that Celtic do believe they could successfully pursue this matter in the courts if UEFA or English FA regulations tried to stop us, but even if they succeeded, we’d need to start in the lowest tier of the game unless an invite came from within the leagues themselves.

That, too, appears unlikely.

I have long argued that this most likely way into the English game is via the franchise route – buying a lower league English club and transforming them into Celtic – and I don’t believe the FA would have any legal standing in trying to stop us.

Their one regulation – that clubs need to be based in England or Wales – would not stand up for a second in a courtroom and that would give us a ready-made place in the structure.

Yet we would have to leave behind our history and our Scottish roots.

To leave the game in this country would mean liquidating our club.

In short, our way in is not clear or even presently within the rules.

That we could challenge it – and probably successfully – is certainly true too, but any scenario would inflict huge damage on the sport.

That’s assuming all of us wanted to go in the first place, either by direct invite or by one of the hare-brained schemes I just looked at.

I, personally, think it would be an enormous mistake.

The English model is as badly broken as the union itself.

The cash that has flooded the game has changed it beyond recognition and whether it continues to be built on untrammelled greed or the oft-predicted crash comes, that road leads to disaster.

Because those are the possibilities, it is not a league in which I want our club to have a place.

There are other – there are better – options.

One of those options is to use our position at the SFA to push for wide ranging reforms in the European game.

We should be pursuing some form of regionalised league set up.

UEFA knows there is a problem with English football, and the growing financial strength of the EPL.

Their own flagship competitions – the Champions League and the newly formatted Europa League – were supposed to provide clubs from around the continent the chance to grow the game. The relentless flow of money to England is contracting it instead.

Outside of a few super-clubs, the EPL is now European football’s centre of gravity.

No-one wants that to continue.

Gross over-spending on top players is one thing, but almost all the English clubs are now spending vast sums of money on youth recruitment too and if they are able to succeed in securing the best young players in the world with the promise of huge earnings then the game really is going to crash, sooner or later.

Regionalised leagues need not necessarily impact on the two top competitions.

If they were UEFA organised and licensed (and they would be) they could be folded into those easily enough.

The Atlantic League proposals, when I first read them, legislated for the domestic season to be played alongside the regional one, and there would be ways of making it work.

Celtic has to start using its clout within the governing body in Scotland, and its wider reputation as a European side, to start pushing for these reforms or we are going to find ourselves in a far worse position than we are in today, where players already view moving to clubs like Norwich and Southampton as a career step forward.

This isn’t just about money. They want to play against top players every single week, and much as this season has been entertaining and interesting we know the likes of Adam Rooney and Nadir Cfiti aren’t that.

Guys like Van Dijk and Johansen will only stay here so long.

The lure of Celtic will keep them beyond what is normal or to be expected, but developing a squad takes years and we’re clearly never going to get that if things continue on the present course.

So we go into the European tournaments badly outgunned.

How can we examine the progress of Ronny Deila until that actually changes? What is a good result in Europe these days?

Just getting to the Champions League Groups?

Or do we need to go beyond that? Is it even possible in the growing insantiy of a sport drowning in greed?

It hardly seems fair.

There’s one other option, course; to chase the dream. To spend stupid money.

Not even I advocate that.

Like Hugh Keevins’ version of journalism, it’s a mugs game.

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A Tissue Of Lies?

23734723Welcome to Day Five of the Josh Meekings handball debate.

Today, it appears clear that every single question the fans have been asking, in the course of the last week, has been fully justified and vindicated.

The final confirmation of it came last night, when the BBC Scotland website obtained information on what was in the referee’s report that was presented to Inverness and their lawyers at Hampden yesterday.

According to that report, Alan Muir told Steve McLean that he had seen the ball hit Meekings on the head, and that McLean had decided, on that basis, not to award the spot kick and send the player off.

This story, although certainly plausible, flatly contradicts the version of events the SFA has been pushing all week, and which they used in their justification for bringing a case against Meekings in the first place.

It suggests that at some point between Sunday and now a bunch of people sat down and fabricated a cover story.

It suggests that one of two people is lying; either John Fleming was when he briefed the media on Monday, telling them the officials had all missed the incident, or Steve McLean is lying in the version of the match report he handed over for yesterday’s hearing.

I am going to assume that Fleming will have read McLean’s initial report, or at least spoke to him at length for his version of events prior to the head of referees talking to the media earlier in the week.

Based on that, I can only assume that he either read or heard that same story as was in McLean’s report yesterday, and which he miscommunicated, for reasons unknown, or he heard a different story, one in which none of the officials had witnessed the incident.

It’s important to understand the significance of this.

Since the start of the week, incredulity has been growing amongst football fans over what the official line is here.

I said yesterday that I suspected that Celtic had queried this decision and were initially told the officials hadn’t seen it.

Once the outcry on Twitter exploded and Celtic were made aware that footage demonstrated, clearly, that Muir had seen something they then queried this matter with the SFA. That’s how it would have started.

Let’s forget, for a day, the bunch of hacks who used this as an easy excuse to have a kick at Celtic.

There will be time, later, for scrutinising the behaviour of Messer’s Durham and Spiers, amongst others.

For now I want to present a challenge to the rest of our journalists.

I know you guys read the blogs. I know some of you read this one. You might not like everything we say, but you’re not intellectually dishonest. You know a story when you see one. You know what will sell papers. You know what will stir the soup.

You also know that as much as you might have disdain for us (and we for you, who am I kidding?) that it comes from the fact that a lot of bloggers see shadows that aren’t there and write everything whether true or not.

(Much as some of you have in the past. Off the high horse, right?)

But you know (as we do) that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

When we’re on to something you know it, and on occasion you’ve nicked inspiration from us.

We all know it happens. None of us minds it, really.

There are times when we do all want the same thing.

I know some of you can smell the stink on this.

For once just write the fucking news.

Don’t pick sides or worry about who you’re going to piss off. This is what you got into the gig to do. Some of you know that the issues we’re raising are right. Some of you know that something really major might actually have happened here.

Work with the bloggers for once instead of seeing us as shit stirrers.

We’ve been presented with stories that don’t fit. With facts that don’t add up.

Those facts, by the way, have largely come from you.

We’re not all conspiracy theorists. Sometimes there are conspiracies and sometimes we spot them first. Hey, I’m even willing to acknowledge that it may be a symptom of paranoia in itself. We see them first because we’re always watching for them …

Regardless; you can get back to calling us nutjobs later.

For now, there’s business to be done.

And there’s a story here, and you know it as well as we do.

You have access many of us don’t have. Use it. Write what you find out.

If we’re wrong, if somehow we’ve missed something, fill us in on what that is.

If we’re right, all we can ask is that you join us in demanding reform.

So get the reports. Talk to the officials. Speak to the clubs.

Ask the SFA to explain their actions here, to explain these contradictory stories.

Satisfy yourselves, fully, that what you’re hearing is on the level and present the facts without fear or favour.

First, what actually did pass between Alan Muir and Steve McLean out on the pitch? What did Muir tell him he’d seen?

Secondly, when did Celtic ask for clarity on this matter and what prompted them to do so?

If anyone believes it was simply a case of the supporters being outraged on social media then I have a big bridge spanning the Clyde to sell those people. If Celtic were in the habit of responding to supporter demands on Twitter Lionel Messi would be in a hooped shirt and the media and legal offices would be on continuous shifts, “24/7, we never close.”

No, Celtic had a more compelling reason for what they did than just fans being cheesed off.

Something didn’t add up here, and they wanted answers.

Third, when Fleming spoke to the media on Monday and told them none of the officials had seen the incident, what information did he have that led him to say that? Who did he speak to? What reports did he read? Was he guessing? Making it up as he went along?

Fourth, when did Fleming receive the final reports from the match officials, and what was in those?

If the same information is in those as was disclosed to the BBC then the SFA has one of many problems here, because unless the system of governance is completely arse over head Fleming and the rest of the hierarchy must have known, prior to the filing of a charge against Josh Meekings, that the referee had been informed that there was nothing to the incident and made a judgement on it at the time.

Fifth, if Fleming was telling the media on Monday that no-one saw anything, and this was based on what he had been told by the match officials, when did they change their story, and was it changed for them at the suggestion of Fleming or others when it became clear that Inverness were going to involve lawyers in this case?

Sixth, if Fleming coerced their story or was involved in helping them craft it, does the SFA really believe he is fit to be head of referees?

If Fleming was misled by his officials, on the other hand, what sanctions will be imposed on them, and will the SFA explain why they felt they had to lie to their superiors, and apologise to both clubs, the press and the fans for allowing this to become a week of back and forth allegations?

If this is simply a mistake of some horrendous nature, a missed translation if you will, then tell us how that happened.

Seventh, was the decision to discipline Josh Meekings taken when John Fleming and others were in possession of a report which rendered the charge groundless, and if so who took the decision to proceed with the case anyway, and why?

Or did the officials persist in the “we saw nothing” story right up until the day of the hearing itself?

Is it the officials who almost cost the player a place in the final?

Eighth, at some point in this affair FIFA got involved.

What representations did they make to the SFA, what assurances did they seek, what advice did they give and what was the result?

Nine, what information did the SFA present to them regarding the charge, and was it different from that which they were still telling the media and the player before the hearing began?

Ten, at what point did it become obvious to the press itself that this was becoming a scandal?

These are just some of the questions that need to be answered here.

The SFA has spent the past week telling us that nobody this incident clearly. Had the official SFA line been what it is today – that Muir saw what he thought was a ball hitting a player’s face, and communicated that to the referee – this thing would have died in a day.

Instead, Fleming said no-one had gotten a proper look at the incident.

Television evidence proved that to be false before they admitted as much when they dismissed the case that they had, themselves, brought about as a result of that twisted version of events.

It looks, to many people, as if Josh Meekings was to be the scapegoat for God knows what, to protect God knows who.

Inverness rightly resisted that railroad job and when they involved their legal team it was clear to everyone the SFA was in big bother.

Do they really think dismissing this case changes that?

Give Neil Doncaster his due anyway – and this is the only time you will ever read those words on this page, I guarantee it – when this site and others hammered at his organisation over their ridiculous decision to move the Hearts – Sevco game, they saw the writing on the wall pretty damned quick and reversed the decision within 48 hours, albeit only after they had made it 100 times worse with a ludicrous press statement that made jaws drop everywhere.

In this case the SFA appears to have clung to a cover story that was never going to hold, and they did this for four full days before, under the scrutiny of Harper and McLeod, it all fell apart.

We need to get to the bottom of this, and right quick.

I really don’t want to still be writing about it a week from today.

There are other stories out there, after all.

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A Dangerous Game

stewart_reganSo the SFA has dismissed the Josh Meekings case. He has been cleared of deliberate handball on the grounds that … well … that it wasn’t deliberate.

Some now want a line drawn under the whole affair. They’ve got to be joking. It is more important than ever that this be got to the bottom of.

Inverness will take the victory and move forward to the final. I would understand if they wanted nothing more to do with this, but I hope they are going to press for answers. Celtic certainly has to, because this reeks more than it ever did.

Whilst some in the media already want Celtic to sit down and shut up, accusing us of arrogance or spite, or simply trying to deflect from a bad result, others in the game are looking at what has happened in the aftermath of Sunday’s game, and they are concerned.

The SFA is now being watched by bigger people than those at Celtic Park.

Hell mend them if the potentially enormous consequences of the last week come to pass.

They deserve it for the way they’ve handled this.

You know, people have asked me, this week, what I reckon the real issue is here.

I’ve written a half dozen articles on it now, covering everything from the handball to the way Celtic’s reaction to it has been misrepresented by the media.

To me it’s simple. The incident itself has paled into insignificance in light of the near certainty that something much bigger happened on the pitch.

Right now the SFA is expecting us to believe that not one of their officials saw this incident on the day. According to the official record none of them did, and this is not just the three closest to it.

They had six observers at Hampden on Sunday and, if you believe what you’re hearing, they all missed it.

Credible? I think not.

So I’m moved to ask myself, as Celtic must be, as Inverness certainly were, why the SFA were determined to go to draconian, and probably illegitimate, lengths to prop up this obvious fiction?

What truth could be so unpalatable that you try to cover it up with such a transparent lie, a lie that can be shot down easily, just by studying some TV footage?

That’s what this issue is about now.

It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s a conspiracy.

The SFA’s conduct in this case gives us absolutely no reason to believe that it’s not.

They need to explain, and in one big hurry, what it was Alan Muir communicated to the referee Steve McLean at the moment the ball bounced off Meekings hand.

And if that was related to what he saw, or even thought he did, someone inside Hampden is going to have to explain to Celtic, and especially to Inverness, why the official version of events is that nobody saw a thing … because that is the basis on which the SFA protected its officials and turned the heat on the player instead.

Perhaps that is too complicated for some people to grasp.

Perhaps it’s just too scary a concept for them to wrap their brains around; that the SFA should be covering somebody for something and lying to the clubs and to the rest of the game.

But it would not be the first time it has happened.

It’s now beyond any dispute that there are serious questions to answer here.

I will be amazed if the clubs allow this matter to drop.

All the smoke in the world will not cover this, and when the stink of it has reached FIFA then you know that it’s more than just another example of the SFA blundering into a bear trap.

They had absolutely no legitimate grounds on which to discipline Josh Meekings, even if you accept the official version of events.

Yet they tried to do it anyway. Why?

The media has been whipped up into a typical frenzy of finger pointing at Celtic when we’re not the guilty party, simply asking for clarification on a matter which needs it more than ever. Why?

What is really going on here? What are people afraid of finding out?

Their decision to discipline Meekings, was a clear violation of UEFA and FIFA statutes that had these governing bodies asking why in God’s name they were trying to.

That the SFA doesn’t care about these rules makes people at UEFA and FIFA wonder what else it allows.

We could give them an education on that subject, all right.

The more UEFA and FIFA looked, the more they, too, could see that this whole thing doesn’t stack up. I can fully understand why the SFA and others want this to just go away.

Craig Swan, in The Record, was even demanding that FIFA keep its nose out things.

What’s he worried about?

What exactly is his problem with FIFA telling the SFA that they can’t just make it up as they go along?

They do that a lot, as we’re all well aware.

Let me put it in terms so simple even John Brown would get it.

If the SFA has fabricated a disciplinary case against a player to protect officials from their own stupidity or even misconduct then we are in uncharted territory and there will be blood up every wall before this situation is finally put to bed.

It will be a scandal to make “Dougie Dougie” look like a matter of no consequence.

And I ask you; would you go to these lengths to cover up a simple refereeing mistake?

Of course you wouldn’t. Mistakes are made. They are accidents.

Creating a smokescreen is not accidental.

Tonight they have ruled that Meekings was not guilty because there was “no intent.”

Had they said that in the first place none of this outcry would have been necessary.

Yet that is not the line they have pursued. I cannot accentuate that enough. Their central claim is no-one saw anything despite television footage which makes an absolute nonsense of that argument.

See, in truth no-one wants to allege bias or match fixing here, because those allegations have a habit of inspiring only contempt in this country (they shouldn’t; they have happened in almost every major league in Europe before), but they are only a handful of possible explanations, and those are amongst them. What else are we supposed to infer?

For the third time since Sunday, the SFA has taken action that they hope will see this situation put aside.

They want it to go away. I have rarely seen more desperation from an organisation that wants an issue put to bed.

Yet very hard questions still remain.

Your move, Celtic.

We can keep allowing the Three Wise Monkeys to run our game or we can clear the gutters out once and for all.

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In Defence Of The Worlds Greatest Fans

celtic-fans_1806391bA few weeks ago, I got an email from one of the readers of this blog.

He’s a pensioner, and in the message he said he thought it was important to keep alive what Celtic means, and to keep on highlighting our “contribution to world football.” He was right.

As time goes by, as I get older, I think about what Celtic has meant to me all my life. I think about the way it has affected everything I do.

I strongly suspect I got my personality from Celtic, everything from my optimistic outlook to the way I handle adversity. I know, for sure, that no other institution, from the church to the political organisations I’ve been a member of along the way, has had as profound an impact on the way I view the world. Celtic is part of who I am.

I do believe this club has made a major contribution to world football, and we continue to.

The Celtic supporters have also had a major effect on the world around them, as the Thai Tims can attest, as the kids from the Kano Foundation know well, as the children of a hundred African villages will grow up to respect. We have changed lives. No doubt about it.

Like every other successful football club we have enemies and it’s probably not exactly unusual to find that the bulk of ours exist in our own country. Whereas Celtic fans can go just about anywhere in the world and be made to feel welcome, here at home we have to run a gauntlet of criticism and spite that we simply don’t get elsewhere.

Right now, the opposition are in paroxysms of joy at the prospect of us getting into trouble at UEFA for our latest wee indiscretion, where a group of morons decided to bring flares into the San Siro not giving a damn what the consequences were.

I say to those fans first that your behaviour is disgusting. You’re not Celtic supporters, and I don’t care that you flew over there on your own dime. You weren’t representing us, you were representing yourselves and you made that quite clear. The club is going to weed you out, and that’s a fact. It will be better off without you.

But to those who would use this event to beat us … well, you’re barking up the wrong tree. A few idiots aside we are what we have always been; the best supporters in the world. You won’t change that. UEFA fines won’t change it. A few halfwits on Sevco sites pointing to our “record” won’t change it. I don’t give a damn what they think … because the rest of the world knows better.

Celtic fans are amongst the moved loved and respected on the planet.

Our reputation wasn’t built on the back of the way we’re viewed in Scotland. It was built on the way we’re perceived by those friends we’ve made across the world … and that part of our reputation will be forever beyond the reach of those who hate us.

Our friends know who we are, just as we do, and they are everywhere; in Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Holland, England and elsewhere … wherever we have played in recent years, we have built relationships with the fans of other clubs.

You know, about five years ago I read a Rangers fan site actually mocking Celtic fans for going out of the way to make friends wherever we went.

We had just been invited to Villarreal for a tournament, cementing a bond which goes back a while now.

The writer was expressing his opinion on that.

I would love to say the piece in question reeked of jealousy, because that would be semi-rational, but in fact it was worse than that; it was written in a tone that was honestly hostile to the very idea that a club’s fans should go abroad and try to make friends.

The writer had his own ideas about what a European city should expect from a visiting club’s supporters; mayhem. Chaos. “I want them to be terrified when we are in town,” he said … and I found that the most profoundly revealing statement of all.

It was something they made good on time and time again.

Villarreal didn’t forget them any more than it forgot us.

Likewise Pamplona.

Manchester would probably rather it was never visited by them this side of Armageddon.

We have a few recidivists in our support, a small group who continue to engage in behaviour that I’d call moronic except that morons would be offended, but without defending these people – I wouldn’t even try, they ought to be outcasts – I ask you; what exactly are these terrible crimes of which the Celtic support stands accused by our friends here at home?

Letting off fireworks. Songs UEFA doesn’t like. A couple of banners pointing to the hypocrisy of our the Scottish Government, and telling the game’s governing body what a section of support thought of their decision making.

UEFA takes this stuff seriously; pyrotechnics in grounds, political banners and singing … but without trying to downplay the significance of this, we’re not talking about rioting in the stands here. Celtic’s crime count is the equivalent of loitering, of being drunk and incapable, of peeing in public. This is hardly a list of the most heinous sins ever seen in a football ground.

UEFA charges are bad news. We could find ourselves with a stand closed, or having our fans banned from travelling to away games. Indeed, Peter Lawwell must be tempted to refuse our next European ticket allocation … but that would punish the best fans in the world for the actions of a few and I doubt it will ever come to that.

Celtic fans have always been self-policing. No-one is any doubt that our club is being harmed by the actions of a few idiots. That will not be allowed to continue.

But the damage to the club does not impact on the esteem in which we are held.

Never forget that. Our contribution to world football, the good we have done, will forever outweigh the bad when it comes to how the rest of the sport views us.

On a day like today, with anger replacing our justifiable pride after the heroics on the pitch last night we should have been buzzing and eagerly awaiting the big match against Aberdeen at the weekend.

It is all too easy to be disheartened by negative headlines and a gleeful media who will milk this as much as the Sevco supporters who have been dying for something like this to deflect from their own scandalous behaviour of late … but nothing has changed here.

We are still special supporters. We are still welcome everywhere we go. The Celtic Park atmosphere is the best in Europe, by far, and the vast, vast majority of our away fans continue to do us credit, as magnificent ambassadors.

The respect others have for us, the affection many feel across the continent whenever they see the green and white hooped shirt … it is the same as it was yesterday. A few halfwits will not wreck that, no matter what the press here would have you believe.

Our football club has improved out of sight since this season began. The name “Celtic” rung out across Europe over these two legs. We did more than just regain our pride, we started to rebuild our reputation on the pitch … and that work stands us in good stead as we look ahead to the rest of the domestic season and our next European campaign.

My pride in this football club is undimmed. My pride at being a Celtic fan will never fade. We are what we have always been. The special fans of a special club.

How does the song go? “When you walk through a storm hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark.”

Whatever the media might tell you, this is no more than a light shower.

We know who we are, and so do those friends we have everywhere, because that is what we’ve always been about. Our club will be forced to defend that reputation in the halls of UEFA and that is sad, because this organisation was giving us awards not long ago, but that reputation was not made there and it will not be harmed there.

We are – still, and always will be – the greatest fans in the world.

Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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A Moment Of Clarity?

Neil-DoncasterWell, the New Year has barely begun and already Neil Doncaster is demonstrating to the world his total ineptitude and unsuitability for the job he holds.

Today, completely unprompted, he gave an interview to the BBC Sports hack Chris McLaughlin, where he flat out said that Sevco and Rangers are the same club. Although McLaughlin asked him to repeat the assertion, to get it properly on the record, he did not challenge Doncaster on it.

As it stands then, it is now the official position of the SPFL to support the Survival Myth, in spite of the numerous contradictions inherent within it and regardless of the reputational damage it does to our league competitions, and the sport as a whole.

Already the statements are being condemned on websites such as Video Celts. The CQN Facebook page is asking for an official statement from Celtic, and even the politics blog Wings Over Scotland has jumped into the debate.

Stuart Campbell has chosen to focus on McLaughlin’s failure to tackle what is a blatant lie, and to echo sentiments I have on this site and others before; that the way in which the media bows to power, and helps to maintain cushy relationships, including those which are harmful, even dangerous, is absolutely scandalous. He is right to do so, and his article lays out a cogent argument against Doncaster’s nonsense.

I, of course, want to concentrate on the footballing aspect of it.

Doncaster spoke today in his role as the head of the SPFL and so this goes way beyond McLaughlin’s failure to highlight the contradictions in what he has said. If those remarks are not disavowed, then the game in this country is now unmistakably run by men who have no problem with corruption being allowed to flourish.

Doncaster’s comments go much further than merely getting his facts wrong. Today he has legitimised debt dumping and fraud, and because his role is that of the figurehead for all the member clubs he has spoken for them and tied them to this statement, which is precisely why the CQN Facebook moderators are so concerned. And they are right to be.

For the part three years, this matter has been the subject of much discussion and debate, but the governing bodies have resisted comment, and this has been a deliberate policy and one that has allowed the issue to go unresolved, at least officially.

The people running our governing bodies are weak, and they were too afraid of the Ibrox club and its reach. They believed their own nonsense about Rangers being “too big to fail”.

They decided that the supporters of that club would never accept the truth, although there was a point when every sports writer in Scotland, and even people within the club itself, were stating, for the record, that if the club failed to gain a CVA that liquidation would mean the end.

Every decision that was taken in the aftermath of that, from the members making them start from the bottom, to the decision to place Sevco in preliminary rounds in the cup competitions instead of seeding them as should have been the case (seeding is based on the prior year’s league position, not on the current one), as well as UEFA’s three year ban, not to mention giving oldco Rangers a vote on which league the newco played in– it all pointed to the clear truth, that the club which plays out of Ibrox is a different entity to that which did before.

The whole notion that football clubs “cannot die” has been disproved again and again and again, from Ireland to the former Eastern Bloc countries.

It is a nonsense, and it insults the intelligence of fans to pretend otherwise. Ask Gretna supporters how they feel about it. Ask the fans of Hearts, who fought like tigers to prevent their own club sliding into the abyss. Why did they bother?

Doncaster has gone on the record and made a highly contentious set of statements today, which are legally dicey and procedurally nonsensical, and he has stated that these are the official positions of the organisations he represents. If that’s the case then the clubs should have no problem standing behind them when supporters start emailing to ask, right?

I’d like to see the official minutes where this issue was discussed and the vote on it was taken.

When did it become fact that clubs are separate from the companies that own them?

If it’s true, how was it legal for virtually every member of the Rangers first team squad to leave their contracts and go and play somewhere else?

Where is the piece of paper, where is the agreement from the clubs he is there to represent, on which he is basing these spurious, contemptible claims?

Was it passed with a big majority? A small one? Was legal opinion sought?

Doncaster is saying that football clubs in Scotland are immune from paying what they owe. He’s saying they can run up huge debts, liquidate and start again. This isn’t a small matter. This is fundamental to the way our sport is run, and on what basis clubs exist.

He is not mandated to take a decision like that on his own … so I repeat, if he is not simply giving his own opinion – and one would think doing so in this way is a sacking offence – then when did this become fact?

The decision to make Sevco start in the lower leagues is solely based on them being a new football club, one which starts at the bottom because that’s how it has to be. Without that, there was no legal basis for what happened to them.

Is that what he’s claiming? That what the SPL and then the SFL did was illegal?

Because that, too, is surely a sacking offence unless he’s clarified it with the clubs.

It also feeds into the Victim Myth, which, as we all know, is one of the most divisive and pervasive, dangerous falsehoods currently running riot in the game. He is legitmising the views of the lunatic fringe of the Rangers support who claim the rest of Scottish football acted out of spite and hate. Does he have any idea what that does to the image of our game? Does he care?

Doncaster says that the issue was “put to bed” by the Lord Nimmo Smith Commission, which itself is completely discredited in the way it arrived at its decisions, and ought to be the subject of a review and possible re-sit based on the evidence the guys on The Scottish Football Monitor, in particular Auldheid, uncovered, and which I summarised on this site in the article Justice Undone.

Yet even if the Lord Nimmo Smith commissions were still regarded as credible by the vast majority of football fans, Doncaster has actually misrepresented its stated position, and I am sure he’s done so quite wilfully.

Page 32 of the Smith Commission report makes it quite clear where they stand.

“We see no room or need for separate findings of breaches by Rangers FC, which was not a separate legal entity and was then part (although clearly in football and financial terms the key part) of the undertaking of Oldco.”

Doncaster is not only stating, as fact, a change in policy he is not authorised to make but he is doing so hiding behind a report who’s words he has twisted into the very opposite of what they say.

Are we really going to stand for this?

Are we really going to let this stay on the record, as the “official position” of one of the governing bodies of our game?

The clubs make up the membership of that body, and the fans are the lifeblood of the clubs. We are entitled to answers on this issue and I would hope that every supporter in Scotland is writing to his or her club in order to get them.

Today’s interview was an attempt to justify the catastrophic failures of governance in our top flight, which had led to the leagues not having a sponsor. It’s been over a year since the SPFL was founded, and to have not gotten the job done in that time is disgraceful.

What exactly are the clubs waiting for before they convene a meeting and chase this guy? Only in Scottish football could we continue to put up with rank incompetence on this level, allowing a halfwit like this to make such statements unchallenged on a day when he should be getting raked over the coals for the magnitude of his own mistakes.

McLaughlin even gave him an out, seeking to put the blame for Doncaster’s failures on the “uncertainty at Rangers”.

I might accuse the Sevco board of many things, but I will not accuse them of that. Our leagues do not have a sponsor because no-one will negotiate terms with a man who is on the record as having said the product he’s selling is worthless.

When is the media going to get off the fence when it comes to this guy and Regan and call them what they are?

In order to do it, of course, the media would have to come to terms with its own failings.

At one point in the interview Doncaster said “”It’s vital for everyone within the game – clubs, the league, the association, the media – to help talk the game up as best we can.”

I laughed listening to that, at the sheer brass neck of it, and it’s even more amazing to me that McLaughlin didn’t see the irony in his own question, the kind of question that perpetuates the falsehood that the prosperity of the game here is dependent on a club calling itself Rangers.

We are three years down the line, and the success stories we’re seeing everywhere in our sport have happened with the Ibrox NewCo in free-fall. The one club that has been affected – Celtic – is still posting record profits, albeit suffering slightly on the park.

It’s time this ridiculous and dangerous notion was put to bed once and for all.

There’s one other thing that bothers me about these statements today and it’s this; if you watched the interview or read the transcript it is quite clear that Doncaster was not asked a direct question on the issue of the NewCo-OldCo debate. He very deliberately steered the discussion in that direction himself, with no prompting at all.

I find that extremely suspicious, and I worry about why he did that.

It looks to me as if Doncaster has been tipped the wink about what is coming next at Ibrox. Is he laying the tracks for Sevco II? I would urge everyone reading this article to think very carefully about that, and to consider what it might mean.

If Doncaster is right, and the position of the SPFL is that clubs do not die, then there is no legal basis on which a liquidated team which started up again could be denied its place in the league … which is what brought us to the edge the last time.

There is nothing in the rule book covering this. I cannot articulate that enough.

It is at the “discretion of the SPFL Board” what to do with a phoenix club now; the decision will not be left to the members. Despite lengthy debates on what to do with clubs which enter administration, and despite a very clear need to actually put down in writing what will happen to phoenix clubs, the governing bodies has dithered and nothing has been set in stone.

I wrote at some length in a previous piece about how the SPFL and the SFA had automatic relegation for clubs in administration voted down … and this is an even bigger issue than that. That piece was a warning against complaceny, and yet here we are, sleepwalking into it, and having the people who failed us last time dictating the terms of the debate.

Neil Doncaster’s comments today have started 2015 by lobbing a hand grenade into the room. He either doesn’t realise that – in which case he’s too incompetent to stay – or he knew exactly what he was doing and there’s an agenda being pursued.

Either way, how much longer are our clubs going to put up with it?

Or to ask a different question … is he, after all, speaking for them too?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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