Cheeky Charlie & The Revenge of Craig Whyte

There is a truly great story about the American entrepreneur and scam artist P.T. Barnum and a truck full of fish. Barnum had, by some means or another, acquired an entire lorry load of white salmon. Whereas some men would have been concerned, and sweated over how to sell this stuff, Barnum was not dissuaded. Instead, he made signs reading “Fresh salmon. Guaranteed not to turn pink in the can.” He sold the lot. He is sometimes credited with coining the phrase “A sucker born every minute.” As Roscoe Lee Browne says in The Cowboys “If it ain’t true, it oughta be.” Barnum certainly knew how to spot one.

It is tempting to see a little of Craig Whyte in that tale.

If Charles Green has been at the printers lately, consider his visit as having a dual purpose. First, he’s having his share prospectus mass produced. But, as evidenced by his most recent remarks, following the worst press conference since Comical Ali said the Americans were being halted outside Bagdhad, it’s entirely possible he too is going down the Barnum road and having labels for the cover done saying “Guaranteed not to play in the SPL.” It doesn’t matter that this bizarre notion clashes, heavily, with his stated intent to stay until he hears the Champions League theme tune at Ibrox. This guy knows that fools and their money are easily parted, and that like taxis in the town it doesn’t matter if you miss one. Another will be coming along shortly.

Yesterday we were treated to the quite amazing spectacle of Green on Sky Sports News. I hesitate to use the term “being interviewed”, because in actual fact what we witnessed from Jim White was not a professional display from a seasoned journalist, but something a drooling fanboy might produce. White is no stranger to such gushing behaviour when confronted by anyone wearing Rangers colours; who can forget his absolutely sickening Brian Laudrup “How come you’re so good?” piece in 1995, one of the most sycophantic television interviews ever broadcast?

White’s display was especially awful, coming on the same day they showed a mind-bending piece where Jeff Winter was dragged into the light to talk about racism. Sky Sports News has not had its finest year, with the Scottish desk routinely taking its lead from the discredited media here which the bloggers have seriously routed, but this was a brand new low. Standards on there have now plateaued completely. From his seat opposite White, Green was allowed to slander the SPL board, accusing them of theft, as well as publicising the coming Rangers share issue with more ludicrous talk of making Manchester United style money within a few years. Not a single thing he said was challenged by White, not even when he began talking in sinister terms about “black books” and remembering the names of those who wronged the club.

This is more fodder for the lunatic fringe at Ibrox, which journalists far braver than White have already exposed and continue to hammer again and again.

Whilst top broadcasters are telling the world that this is a club with a dangerously unhinged section of its support, Green just keeps pouring fuel onto the flames, and it cannot be said he is ignorant of what can happen. Before having to backtrack in spectacular fashion a week or so ago, Green himself gave an interview to the press where he talked about how that psychotic minority had terrorised him so completely he had to constantly change address in his early days in the city.

From running scared, he is now embracing those people, and he does not care that his words are putting other folks in their crosshairs. His apology last week was more than just scandalously cowardly. It was deeply worrying. He has decided he wants to kiss and make up rather than confront these people. He has twigged, as many before him did, that the best way to control your crazies is to give them fresh targets to go after.

This is way beyond irresponsible. This is pandering and could be seen as incitement. It is that bad, and I refuse to believe he is not aware of what he is doing. In any other part of the country, this man would be condemned for it. In Scotland he gets unlimited airtime, and more space in the papers than the First Minister, with which to stir the soup.

That the SFA considers this man a Fit & Proper Person to operate a football club becomes less tenable by the day. Their decision earlier in the month to clear him of bringing the game into disrepute after a previous rant is now being exposed as pure madness. It has encouraged him to go back on the offensive, and now he is throwing around allegations of theft and fraud. This is the predictable result of showing weakness.

On the subject of the share issue, Charles Green claims that nearly £20 million worth of pledges have already been registered by individuals.

Talking up the thing beforehand is all very well, but questions must surely be asked if that turns out not to be wholly accurate. The media, and the fans, will be expecting that money to be there … and Hell mend him if it’s not.

He also slammed Paul67’s excellent CQN Exclusive which detailed the plans to sell Rangers’ property assets in a lease-back agreement. I found those comments especially illuminating, as it seemed to me that he wasn’t rejecting the idea out of hand but rather the figures involved. That piqued my interest because a few weeks ago I had heard through an independent source that Rangers were considering a lease-back deal, and  it was being held up over complications regarding Ibrox and certain health & safety related matters.

Which brings me to Craig Whyte and something that’s long bothered me.

Do you remember where you were when you heard Craig Whyte had bought Rangers for a quid? I was in a bar about to have a spot of dinner. It was a breaking story on Sky Sports News, one of those stories that stops everything in its tracks. I hadn’t expected Whyte to do a deal for the club, as I knew, if the numbers being talked about were accurate that he didn’t have the means to carry it off. Had Murray been demanding even the £5 million or so Charles Green’s consortium later paid, Whyte would have been out of the game.

I was surprised it had happened, surprised because it was abundantly clear that it was David Murray who had pushed the deal through, accepting way less than he had originally stated he wanted, in order to get it over the line. It was patently obvious to me that he didn’t believe Whyte had the kind of money needed to run Rangers, or he’d have asked for more than just spare change. I was honestly baffled. The whole thing seemed wrong.

Murray denies it now, claiming he was duped, but the £1 buy-out makes it clear he knew Whyte wasn’t exactly loaded down with wealth, and there is compelling evidence that he knew about the Ticketus deal as well. When Craig Whyte was putting that deal together, Murray was on hand to offer advice. Did no-one in the media ever find it odd that Whyte, who knew nothing about football or football finance, had the foresight to approach a company who were experts in the field, and who Rangers had dealt with before? Who gave him their name? Who suggested they talk? Who made the introductions, and brokered the deal?

The £1 purchase price was the first indication that something about the whole affair was plainly wrong. How wrong? I thought the balance of probabilities was slanted heavily against the club avoiding, at best, a messy and destructive period of administration. We now know that Whyte’s whole plan, such as it was, depended on European income, which means, effectively, he was betting on the managerial abilities of Ally McCoist.

That was never going to end well.

When the club crashed out of first the Champions League and then the Europa League, and then the League Cup, that was the start of the unravelling. Ally McCoist ruined everything … and yet had McCoist been better at the job, I strongly suspect the whole house of cards was just one push away from coming down anyway.

Craig Whyte did have a plan. On the basis of what we know, he intended to do exactly what Charles Green is presently trying to. Whyte knew the club was doomed at the First Tier Tribunal. He had no plan for getting a CVA, knowing it was unlikely at best. His intention was to make sure his appointed administrators were on hand to sell the company back to him, at low cost and with zero debt, and without the thermonuclear fallout that came with diddling HMRC out of their PAYE cash, it is just possible he would have found enough support for his NewCo club to remain in the SPL, albeit with serious penalties. Indeed, he claims to have talked to senior officials in the league, and was confident that’s exactly how it would have gone.

There is a common thread linking all the events so far, everything from the £1 Whyte paid for the club to the £5.5 million Green paid for the “debt-free” version. When the NewCo route was always wide open, why didn’t Murray himself pursue that path? He could have done it, easily, either himself or through intermediaries. At £5.5 million, the club is a snap, for the property values alone. Rangers directors have admitted that, and yet only Charles Green was willing to take the punt. Why wasn’t there a queue of people lined up at the door? When you consider that a sale and lease-back agreement is a perfectly valid business proposal, why didn’t someone take a crack at it before now? Furthermore, why did Rangers end up in this state in the first place if Craig Whyte himself could have arranged a deal like this, brought in the working capital he needed, and carried on with his plans? Over on CQN, we were talking about a sale and lease-back agreement as a likely strategy almost from the day Whyte stepped through the doors.

He opted, instead, to screw the tax man, exposing himself to the full glare of officialdom and the press which had, until then, believed every word he said, in the same way they now shower their affections on Charles Green.

How does that make sense?

I think it all does, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Whyte has broken cover recently, and it’s been revealed that he secretly tape recorded a long conversation with a Duff and Phelps executive. This is a wonderful example of low-order sneakiness, and illustrative of what this man is capable of. The people who worked with him on the deal, everyone from David Grier to David Murray, must be terrified of what other little tit-bits the man from Motherwell has hidden away. The media has breathlessly reported on the brilliant work (yet again) of BBC journalist Mark Daly, but so far no-one has picked up and run with the idea the leak of this tape is any more than a one off. Yet to me, it seems abundantly clear that his resurfacing now is not coincidental, and that the leak of this tape, as devastating as it is, is little more than a warning shot. I am willing to bet that there’s more, perhaps a lot more, sitting in a safe deposit box or desk drawer somewhere.

Craig Whyte believes he has been cut out of the action, and wants his piece of it. Craig Whyte believes he is owed something, and is determined to get it. He is angry, and probably desperate, due to the large numbers of people lining up to take shots, and even mount legal actions. He has been abused and slandered by, and in, a media which worshiped him only a year ago, and he will have serious issues ever setting foot in Ibrox again, especially as that paragon of decency and good behaviour Ally McCoist has advised against it. Craig Whyte has good reasons to be pissed off, and a man who is pissed off and who has the means to destroy people is a man I would fear.

The Revenge of Craig Whyte could be spectacular, and destructive. But what form might it take? Well, it could take any form at all from raising a legal challenge to the share issue to actually trying to unravel the Charles Green takeover.

He could target David Murray, or go after Duff & Phelps again. If there is a connection between himself and Charles Green, or proof that Ticketus are involved in the consortium, he could reveal it, at the moment it will do the most damage.

The one thing I do not expect him to do is make an issue out of Ibrox.

Ibrox is the thread that ties it all together. Let me give you a simple analogy.

Imagine you had your eye on a car, for years, but it was always financially out of your reach. Imagine pining for it, wanting it, but never being able to afford it.

One day you are walking by the showroom and you see a sign. You misread it at first, as saying 20% off. You go inside the showroom for a wee look, not because you can actually afford this, but because the dream is a wee bit nearer being real.

You go inside and you find the car is not being sold for 20% off, as you had originally read, but for 1/20th the value you thought the car was worth.

You stand looking at it. Dare you believe it? This car is now within your price range. You would have to finance it, but it could, conceivably, be done, and Hell, 1/20th the price? If you could sell it for, say, even 10% of what it was worth you would double your money.

So you talk to the salesman, who tells you he can see you’re taken with the vehicle. He gives you the keys, offers you a test-drive. You take it around the block.

Boy, she runs like a dream.

You drive back in. “One question,” you say. “Why the Hell is this beauty so goddamned cheap?”

“Aaaah,” he says, and takes you over to the book keeping department, who pull out the ownership slips, and the financials. The guy who previously owned this car is in ridiculous hock. You look through these files. You are getting this car so cheaply because it’s being sold at liquidation prices. One man’s misfortune and all that ….

You go home, you sweat it out, you obsess about how to get the money. You finally scrape it together, and you go and you slam it down.

You take the car home. You look at it with wonderment. You remind yourself that, although expensive, you can sell it for a tidy profit if needs be, if you can’t keep up the payments.

Two days in, you are driving along the road and a door falls off. You are shocked, and dismayed, but you got the car cheap, and there is enough in the budget to fix a door.

You get the door fixed, although it’s not as cheap as you had hoped it would be, but your car is as good as new, and it still cost you much less than normal.

A week later, the other door falls off. You are horrified, but you get it fixed, scraping up the cash by selling something. At this point you are no longer enjoying the car. You start to worry every time you get behind the wheel.

A month after you bought it, you are idling along and the windows all fall into their fittings and shatter and the engine explodes.

You furiously go back to the showroom, and demand a meeting with the smooth salesman who sold you the car. But he’s gone, promoted, having skinned a few folk during this “liquidation” business, and you realise you should have asked to see all the documents, and not just the ones relating to the previous owner and his financial mishaps.

So you ask for the log-book, the one you never got to see. In the meantime, the guy you are talking to asks you a very simple, yet slightly shocking, question:

“If a guy needed money this badly, to pay off his creditors, do you really think he’d have sold this car for 1/20th its worth?”

You shake your head and open the log book.

And what you find is … devastating.

There are cracks in the engine. There are holes in the fuel system. You find rust which has been painted over. You find that what you thought was one car is actually the welded bits of three or four vehicles, and that the entire thing is falling apart.

“But this can’t be right …” you say … “This is a con job ….”

“Not really,” says this honest man, who would have told you all this had he been the guy you dealt with, instead of a fly by night chancer, put in place by the previous owner ….

“This is actually a perfectly good car. It just needs some work.”

“And how much work are we talking?” you ask.

“You mean how much will it cost, right?” he says.

You nod, your tongue frozen to the top of your mouth.

“Let’s see …” he says, and goes through the figures.

Long before he reaches the end you realise two things; you’re still getting this vehicle cheaper than if you’d bought it brand new, but a long way before you hit the real price tag, and swallow what it’s going to cost, you, and the car, will be a financial write off …. and you might have to start liquidation proceedings of your own ….

I believe the key to the Rangers saga so far lies in the purchase price, and the state of Ibrox Stadium. Murray knew something, and once Whyte knew it too there was no way in Hell he was ever going to pay millions, even if he’d had them. So the club was sold for a quid. Bill Miller was going to buy Rangers until he looked at the books, and they were enough to make him walk away, although his plan was virtually identical to the one Green implemented. What was really in those books? Was it just projected profit and loss, or was there an enormous hole that couldn’t be plugged? Liquidation proceedings can clear debt at the stroke of a pen, but infrastructure costs will be there long after the lawyers have written off amounts outstanding.

We know that after a certain point in his time at Rangers Craig Whyte decided not to pay any of the bills. We know that he claims to have done some upgrading work to the stadium, including some in the kitchens. We can also speculate that this was essential to the deal where he sold off the club’s catering revenues. We know some cosmetic work was done, as well as fixing pipes in one of the stands. In a crowd pleasing stunt, he fixed the big screens. What else did he do to Ibrox? The answer is nothing. Nothing substantial anyway. Indeed, standard repairs and maintenance was left completely alone, to the extent fans actually considered doing it themselves … and indeed, the Rangers Fans Fighting fund actually did pay for certain upgrades.

Charles Green says independent valuations of the real estate put the value at £80 million. This is disingenuous. Ibrox is only worth that if football is being played at the stadium. This is not a real terms valuation, nor does it tell you anything about the present state of repair at the ground. If the club is playing football there, and the stadium is up to par, then I have no doubt the valuation is around that figure.

Any company that wanted to buy the stadium from the club and lease it back to them on a long term deal would need to pay an enormous sum of money for the privilege. In that sense, Green is correct when he dismisses the CQN story on the grounds that the cash on offer appears to be ridiculous. Yet, it’s instructive that he never denied the story itself, but merely stated he would not accept that number.

How ridiculous is the number? On the surface of it, there’s no way those figures should even be entertained. Yet, when we take things in context it appears clear the offer has been made on the basis that it’s one the club would be willing to consider, if not accept. And on what basis would they be willing to consider such a paltry sum?

When Craig Whyte re-appeared last week, most people thought his move would be to announce his ownership, or at least control of, Ibrox and Murray Park. Speculation still swirls around the issue of who owns the property. John Brown, amongst others, is absolutely convinced that the Sevco consortium does not own any of it, and Green’s valuation is surely high enough that if someone out there felt he had a legitimate claim that person would have stepped forward by now. The people who walked away from the table this summer all knew more than the press has ever let on, and yet there are ways of squeezing money out of Rangers, in the short term, if one is creatively minded enough to explore all the avenues. One of those avenues is exactly what Paul67 suggested was on the table. And it’s still on the table, perhaps not at the price that’s been offered, but sure as Hell it will not be at the price Green says its worth.

Ibrox is the hot potato. To have it is to have to pay for it, to maintain it, to revamp it and eventually make sure it’s up to snuff. I believe Ibrox is the key to the low prices, and the big red herring at the centre of both the takeover saga and the coming share issue.

Whoever owns the ground is responsible for it. Rangers exists separate of the stadium, and as long as they can still play football somewhere, on a long-term timeline, there will be no SFA licensing issues. I find it interesting that Green wants to sit down and talk to the SFA, after a summer in which most Rangers fans think they did the club no favours. It makes more sense when you consider that whoever owns Ibrox, there is a chance that the ground itself will not be useable for a while, as repairs are carried out, or the money to start them is raised. In that case, there is always Hampden.

I am sure Charles Green and the SFA would not find it hard to come to a nice, easy, and reasonable agreement in those circumstances. I would not expect the authorities to take advantage of the situation.

Charles Green talks a good game, but I’ve seen it all before, with David Murray and Craig Whyte before him. The media’s love affair with all things Rangers guarantees anyone in the Ibrox hot-seat a forum from which to peddle propaganda and lies with total impunity, and it hasn’t taken Green long to realise, as the others did, that the old political aphorism about “feeding the beast” to keep it from feeding on you is as accurate, and effective, as it ever was. Giving the media a steady stream of quotes, staying “current”, and helping them sell papers, stops them asking real questions and doing real journalism. It keeps them lazy, and spoon-fed.

Craig Whyte is no longer their best buddy, but his recent re-surfacing is a sign that there are power plays going on behind the scenes. Games are being played in the background, and the future of the club is not yet in safe hands.

In the meantime, the media continues to chase its tail whilst the bloggers get on with what they do best. The biggest story involving Rangers this week broke on a Celtic website, and congratulations to Paul67 at CQN for publishing it. It is a fantastic scoop, and all the better that the press which ignored it is now being forced to write about it. I find it amusing they are only mentioning it because Green thought it worthy of comment yesterday. Methinks he doth protest too much. If the story had no legs, he’d have been better ignoring it completely, and then the press would have continued to do the same. He has given it new life, and got others digging.

There is trouble ahead, and the Revenge of Craig Whyte may yet play itself out in ways no-one at Rangers, or anywhere else for that matter, might have expected.

The French playwright, actor and director Sacha Guitry once said “When a man steals your wife there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.”

Leaving Charles Green in charge of Ibrox (for the moment) might well be the cheekiest, and smartest, thing Craig Whyte has done since he took the whole club for a pound.

Time, and Mark Daly, will undoubtedly tell …

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

3 thoughts on “Cheeky Charlie & The Revenge of Craig Whyte

  • 30 October, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    James absolutely brilliant,hit the nail on the head,journalism is Scotland is at an all time low for me,i have not bought a newspaper for the last four years because of the one sided rangers spin from jabba, keevens, et al. And hell mend them they deserve everything they get for pandering to the dregs of Scotland,they would do well if someone as informative,and as good a writer as yourself was working beside them.liked your anology of the old car 😉 you put it into words which even i could understand..keep up the good work always like reading your stuff..good luck and take care

  • 31 October, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Fantastic article – well written, insightful, fascinating, well referenced, and thoroughly entertaining. More power to your digital pen!

  • 31 October, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Very good
    (apart from “there’s always Hampden”.)

    Hasn’t Hampden already shut down one stand as work begins for Commonwealth Games in 2014?

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