Last season, Scotland’s footballing authorities brought shame and disgrace to our national sport when they tried to promote the cause of granting Newco Rangers an automatic place in the SPL. When it failed, they tried to find a compromise, and give them a spot in SFL Division 1.
A revolt of first fans and then clubs prevented a scandalous deal that would have destroyed the integrity of the sport. The proposals weren’t passed, but that they were even mooted in the first place still leaves a bad taste, and has caused widespread distrust amongst fans.
There was a perception at the time, aided in no small part by official remarks out of the SPL and the SFA, that the Rangers franchise was to be sustained at any cost.
Journalists who were supposed to be giving an impartial view were cheerleaders for the idea, some going as far as to say the game could not afford to treat Rangers like any other club. These people wrote such nonsense without a flicker of doubt, and continue to hold that view. There are people within the SFA and the SPL who are wholeheartedly of the belief that what happened last season was a calamitous mistake, and they would “rectify it” if they could.
They had hoped for a sea change in attitude over the last 12 months. They’d hoped a year without Rangers in the top flight would convince everyone that, yes, indeed, a dreadful error had been made and the club needed to be fast-tracked to the SPL. No such drastic change of opinion has taken place here.
The fans of all the clubs are still as one with the view that Newco Rangers should earn their place in the top division, and make the long climb back.
The powers that be would certainly build league reconstruction around the fast-tracking idea if they were in a position to get it past the clubs. They would push for it if they thought doing so had any chance of succeeding. I long ago stopped caring whether this attitude was a result of an inherent Rangers bias or the product of small-minded, narrow thinking. Either way, it is damaging to the game because it seeks to treat the club as if it were more important than any other. It seeks to have two separate rule books in place; one for them, and one for everyone else.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Despite their failure to secure the Newco a place in the top flight, the SFA stand accused of bending over backwards to help the club no matter what. There are serious doubts as to whether Rangers Newco should have been granted an SFA license last year, and the hollering from certain quarters for a full-scale investigation into how that license was granted is now reaching crescendo.
It is not going to go away.
In the meantime, Neil Doncaster, still smarting from being beaten in the reconstruction vote, ought to be breathing a sigh of relief that the latest scandal at Ibrox is not happening within the confines of his organisation. One can’t help but look at Rangers and the perilous state they are in and think Doncaster the luckiest man in football. His position would be untenable if the latest spiralling scandal was happening on his doorstep.
As it is, this one belongs to the SFA, and they are kidding themselves on if they think they can ride this out. This is bigger, by far, than a decision about how to handle Rangers in administration and then liquidation. This is a scandal that dwarfs even EBT’s.
It’s becoming increasingly hard to feel anything but contempt for the people who run our national sport. They will hound Neil Lennon for saying naughty words, and force him to sit in the stand. They will fast-track cases involving players, and managers, and pretend to be operating on principle, yet when it comes to dealing with the really big issues they remove themselves from view. The petty, small-minded way they went after the manager of Celtic recently was pathetic, and contemptible at a time when an entire football club is operating under a huge cloud of doubt, and quite possibly in violation of the law of the land.
I cannot make it more clear than that. If those at Hampden believe they can shy away from making a decision here – and there is only one decision to make, I’m sorry to say – then they are living in an alternate reality. There is bad trouble coming down, a meteorite of trouble, and when it hits the devastation is going to be transformative.
The reek of the EBT scandal already permeates the air and has left lasting wounds in the psyche of the game. The Lord Nimmo Smith verdict, in which Rangers were resoundingly found guilty of breaching multiple SFA statutes relating to player registration, would have been a game changer had it resulted in title stripping, but the SFA “evidence” made certain that was never going to happen. The statements given by SFA members to the independent panel left Nimmo Smith no other choice than to impose the smallest punishment on the club.
For all the process was supposed to be independent, we forgot it was going to rely on how the SFA chooses to interpret its own rules and regulations, and Nimmo Smith was perfectly happy to accept those interpretations at face value. And what are those interpretations? Well, foremost amongst them is the staggering assertion that rule breaking is okay unless you get caught, and once you do get caught the violations of the rules which happened until that point have to be set aside.
This is actually almost unbelievable. To grasp it fully you have to understand that the SFA admitted Rangers were guilty of illegally registering dozens of players over a period of eleven years. They accept that this took place not only in Scotland but in European football too. Yet their “evidence” to the committee is that because the paperwork was filed and no-one noticed the “mistake” there was no breach of the rules.
In other words; it doesn’t matter how egregious the violation was. Until they actually spotted it, the offence itself didn’t take place. Imagine trying that defence in a murder trial. “The guy is dead, no-one saw me do it … so all this other evidence is irrelevant.”
In other words, this is a charter for cheating. It’s a nudge and a wink to clubs which want to bend the rules, knowing there will be no consequences if they do.
It is offensive to me that they even attempted this whitewash. It insults clubs like Spartans, fined, suspended and banned from competitions because one piece of paper was wrongly dated. It is a blatant attempt to excuse wrong-doing on an industrial scale. It throws the entire association into disrepute and shame.
The Lord Nimmo Smith verdict is that Rangers were guilty. What that club did over an 11 year period, both in Scotland and in Europe, was outrageous. It was cheating, pure and simple, and every result within that timeframe is illegitimate. Every trophy they won, they won by fraud. These are the inescapable conclusions you draw when you examine what happened. These things are simply facts.
Yet if what Rangers did was appalling, and it was, the SFA “fix” which allowed them to escape serious censure was 100 times worse, that and the abject spinelessness of the SPL board, including Peter Lawwell of Celtic, who did not appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration in Sport.
The governing bodies not only failed to govern, but they were complicit in a despicable backroom deal which allowed the most serious breaches of football regulations in Europe – effectively league fixing, not match fixing – to go utterly unpunished.
What started out as a scandal involving Rangers was thus allowed to become a scandal touching on the SFA itself, and it has cast doubt on whether or not we can trust the association to handle the latest situation at the club.
I really don’t think we can. I see no appetite at the SFA for making sure the rules are followed in regards the latest rumblings in Govan.
Furthermore, having studied the matter in some detail, let me say that I believe the football season which is just about to end was, as far as the SFL goes, inherently corrupt and is thereby largely invalid.
I don’t believe for one second that Rangers were granted a license legitimately.
What the SFA did in “transferring” membership was ignore UEFA and FIFA statutes on the legal status of clubs and their holding companies (the European and world governing bodies make no distinction between the two). They went even further than this when they insisted that there was no requirement for the Oldco to produce historic accounts. In other words, in that regard they were perfectly happy to treat Rangers as a club that had “died”, except that clubs which die don’t get a membership transfer, but have to apply for brand new membership. That particular exemption, that flagrant breach of their own rules, has been utterly forgotten by the passage of time, but remains one of the most fundamentally dishonest acts in this entire shabby series of events.
This, of course, doesn’t even address whether or not Newco Rangers lied to the SFA in its application when it came to the legal status of the assets, the makeup of the board of directors and full disclosure of who exactly owned the shares.
It is this latter issue which should give the SFA and the SFL pause.
Here’s the truth. Here’s what the press won’t write. Here’s what our stupid, gutless hacks either don’t realise or won’t come out and say.
If Craig Whyte is telling the truth about being behind the takeover, through the Sevco 5088 vehicle, then the owners of Rangers not only lied to the SFA in the membership application but they lied to HMRC, to senior judges and to the liquidators, and they defrauded the taxpayer and the creditors. It means Craig Whyte engaged Charles Green in a criminal conspiracy to acquire the assets, at fire sale prices, for a company liquidated by HMRC for withholding tax revenues.
In granting them a license, and membership, under those circumstances, the SFA has allowed itself to become party to a fraud. Its public statements about the two companies, yet its insistence on them being the same club; its predictions of doom; its statements that the financial welfare of the game needed Rangers whatever the price; its insistence on leaving in place a man as egregiously unfit for office as Campbell Ogilvie and the secretive “five way agreement”, could all be taken as indicators that the Association was either prepared to allow the takeover come what may, or at the very least were happy to play deaf, dumb and blind. They were either happy to look the other way, or they carried out so little due diligence as to make no difference.
Yet, life hardly looks any better for the SFA and Rangers Newco if Charles Green is telling the truth, and he actually led Whyte down the garden path. In this case, it appears that Green has committed a fraud against Whyte, and in doing so lied to the administrators, lied to the SFA, acquired a company unlawfully, floated them on the stock exchange illegally and now seeks to sell shares obtained by fraud at a vastly inflated price, on the basis of a share prospectus filled to the brim with lies.
There is no other word to describe this than criminal.
And the SFA has allowed this to happen on their watch, and with their blessing, making them party to the whole sordid thing.
No matter which way this spins out, potentially criminal acts have been committed here, and the rubber stamp of the Scottish Football Association is on them all.
There is even worse to come. If the press is to be believed, today we’re on the verge of two separate attempted takeovers of Newco Rangers, and both are being led by men of dubious background who will, themselves, have to secure “fit and proper person” status with the SFA.
I cannot put this more strongly (because the lawyers, and others, may be watching), but to grant “fit and proper person” status to either Dave King or the Easdale’s is fraught with danger even more acute than allowing the present incumbents at Ibrox to maintain a position in the sport.
Our game has suffered enough trauma. Are we really going to invite more disaster? Are we really going to risk the future and the stability of our national sport on the off-chance that some “unknowns” will stay unknown forever? Or will those in positions of responsibility in this game actually show real leadership and take steps, now, to prevent further disgrace?
You could start with tightening up our regulations on “fit and proper persons”, by making it a mandatory ban from the boardroom for anyone found to have a criminal conviction which resulted in jail time. If the same were applied on the pitch that would not be a disaster.
It would make our game purer than that in England, where a convicted rapist can pull on a jersey and draw in a huge salary. Football makes its own rules, so some people say, so why not start with rules like these?
Who would complain? The clubs? I think not. The fans? No chance.
You could insist on full disclosure of business history. One newspaper says Dave King has reached a “confidential agreement” with the South African government over fraud charges. What this means, of course, is that he’s pled guilty and cut a deal. The “confidential” nature of the agreement could see him yet sit in the directors box at Ibrox again … but only if the SFA is content to have our game run by the kind of people who treat the law as if it was optional. As much as the Scottish press might want to gloss over the details, King has actually been hit hard here, and a number of his assets have been sold by the government. He came within an ace, at the end of February, of being jailed for contempt of court for failing to meet his legal requirements under an earlier court order. To pass this man as “fit and proper” would insult the process.
Is it too much to ask that the SFA demand the next owner of Newco Rangers be 100% legitimate? Why is that too demanding a view to take? What is it about Rangers that attracts these people in the first place? Which special ingredient is found in the Ibrox pies which brings men like Whyte, Green, Easdale and King to the forefront?
If we cut out the nonsense, strip the truth of all the adornments the press likes to hang on them, if we look past the self-pitying whining of the Rangers support and its management team – who for too long have used the cover of all this chaos and mayhem to excuse their own abject failings – we see this club for what it is; a continuing blight on our game.
Is there is something fundamentally and inherently wrong with Rangers? Why can no-one of good character get their hands on this club? Is the DNA of Rangers now wholly infused by ego, arrogance, spite, envy and hate? The self-serving behaviour of its last three boardrooms, its apparent disregard for proper conventions, for rules, for the regulations which govern the rest of the sport, for the law of the land even, are not the behaviours one would normally associate with a football club.
They are, instead, the actions of a crime family.
The more one examines what has gone on, from the very moment David Murray sold the club to Craig Whyte for £1, and probably for some time before, the more one sees that we’re not looking at a series of different events here but a single threaded pattern. The identities of those behind Craig Whyte are no clearer to us now than they were when he purchased Rangers two years ago. The identities of those behind Charles Green and the many “investors” are equally unclear. It is not beyond the realms of possibility, or stretching the imagination too much, to suggest that they are perhaps one in the same and that the same process is continuing now, with new figures stepping out of the shadows to carry on running the show.
Football clubs across the world are being used as legitimate fronts for illegal businesses. This is an unquestionable fact, and we are naïve and stupid if we think it couldn’t happen here in Scotland. Just because this whole thing so far has been done under the eyes of “official” firms like Duff and Phelps, and BDO, and now Deloitte, it doesn’t mean the process is clean. Organised crime syndicates use firms like these every day.
They have accountants. They have lawyers. All the better to put a legitimate face on the things they get up to.
Do we know – do we know for a fact – that Rangers is not being run in such a manner? That it hasn’t been for the past 24 months, maybe even longer? Can we say with certainty that no laws have been broken, that no criminal act has been committed?
Of course not. Quite the opposite. It appears as near certain as it can be that some of what’s happened at Ibrox has not been unethical but wholly illegal. This saga will probably end in people going to jail.
Forget about internal enquiries. It’s like appointing mob lawyers to investigate mob businesses. Outside agencies would never allow it. When they bring back a report that gives them a clean bill of health, would that be good enough for federal prosecutors? Of course not. The idea the whole world should step back and let the nice people at Rangers just get on with investigating themselves is not laughable, but only because I can’t see that there’s anything funny about it.
Whatever the result of that investigation, it has no legitimacy at all. It is tainted by its very own nature. No-one at Ibrox can pretend their hands are clean. When Walter Smith joined the board he gave full legitimacy to Charles Green’s running of the club, and it is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt for him to be talking to his pals in the press now and feigning outrage and disbelief. It simply will not wash.
No-one is going to convince me that he was ignorant of the rumours about Whyte’s involvement. We all knew about it. This website has mentioned them time and time again, as have others. There are entire sites dedicated to exploring nothing else. If we knew, why didn’t he? He had the inside track. He had the contacts.
He will have spoken to John Brown. He could have put out feelers to people close to Whyte, even if he didn’t like what he was going to hear. To pretend ignorance is a nonsense. To sit on the board alongside Green’s henchman and pretend things are fine because Green is gone is in an insult to the Rangers fans.
By the same token, no-one will convince me that the SFA does not know Rangers Newco has a case to answer, and one that puts the legitimacy of the whole Third Division title in doubt. The five way agreement might never be made public, but many of the key points which Rangers had to satisfy could not have been met, based on what we now know.
Having said that, I have to clarify it. So let me go out on a limb.
I don’t believe Rangers met the criteria, I believe the SFA knows full well Rangers did not meet the criteria, and I think they agreed to grant them a license regardless. I think the SFA has, inadvertently or not, put itself on the wrong side of the law.
Why do I believe this? There are two principle reasons why.
First, one of the things the SFA asked for was a detailed breakdown on who owned the shares in Rangers Newco. I don’t believe Charles Green submitted that paperwork to them. I don’t think he gave the kind of detail which would have allowed them to fully satisfy themselves that everything was out in the open and above board.
I think they were given partial information, and I think they accepted it without asking too many questions. The shares prospectus lists holding companies and corporate shells without naming individuals involved in them. If the stock market wasn’t given full disclosure there is no way in Hell the SFA was.
Secondly, Paul McConville has already done a sterling job identifying the key areas where Rangers has failed to submit official paperwork to the stock exchange regarding various matters, and he has latterly taken to reviewing documentation which has only been made available for view. Rangers have been deliberately with-holding documents from the moment Charles Green took over, and past that, back to the era of Craig Whyte.
The SFA’s waiving of three years accounts from the Oldco was disgraceful and instructive of an organisation which decided early that it would not dig too deep. This is never more apparent than in the drip-drip of new material which is finding its way to the public domain.
Every link between Sevco 5088 and Whyte, every revelation about the company’s link to the club, every detail we learn about the complex relationship between Sevco 5088 and Sevco Scotland, every link we uncover between Whyte and Green, all of it documented, all of it written down, all of it where it can now be seen in its totality, makes a mockery of the SFA’s claim to have investigated fully the business activities, the business plan, and the background of the takeover in the days before they granted Rangers the license.
They did no such thing, and that is now an undisputable fact.
They did not have a clear picture of which company owned the club. They did not have a clear picture of who sat on the board. The ownership of the stadium and Rangers legal right to play there was never completely established.
We know Craig Whyte and Charles Green jointly signed company documents. Those documents are online for all to see at Companies House, and they would not be there if there was the slightest doubt about their validity.
Those documents should have been part of the package the SFA studied in making their fit and proper person determination.
They either didn’t ask for the full documentation or they didn’t get it. These pieces of paper were crucial to establishing the legal foundations of the football club, and regardless of whether it was non-disclosure on the part of Rangers, or the SFA simply not bothering to ask, they rubber-stamped the application without them, in direct contravention of their rules. They granted a license to a club who’s ownership and legal status is now severely in doubt, and that assures that the fallout from this will contaminate Hampden too. In any organisation which holds itself accountable, heads would roll.
The legal ramifications of all this will take years to unfold. The consequences for football will be felt much sooner, and much more keenly. The SFA has already demonstrated a willingness to look the other way, and excuse Rangers crimes against sporting integrity. They dare not even attempt the same strategy when it comes to issues of the law.
The SFA cannot stand by and let this be handled in-house at Ibrox. But nor can they conduct an investigation of their own whilst Campbell Ogilvie and others continue to draw a salary. The SFA, in allowing these men to continue to play roles in the running of our game, has ruled itself out as an impartial body, because here perception really is reality, and not even the appearance of impropriety can be allowed.
The game demands better. The courts certainly do.
The only course of action for the SFA to take is to recuse itself from the process completely. To get the answers, to get real answers, and to put the judgement in the hands of people who will not fear the consequences and the “social disorder” of a verdict certain quarters of our population won’t like, they have to take this matter out of the country and put it in the hands of UEFA or FIFA.
Some will say this will render the Scottish game a shambles, and will be an implicit admission to the world that we cannot handle our own internal affairs.
I have news for those people. The game here is a shambles, and everyone who lives here knows that when it comes to Rangers the people running the sport cannot handle their own internal affairs.
Furthermore, I think the idea would be broadly backed by the supporters. To do it any other way would be a nonsense, and utterly self-defeating. On one hand, the Celtic fans will scream that those carrying out the process are too easily subject to intimidation (which is true) and the Rangers fans will scream that history has rendered the SFA unfit to deal with them (which is also true, but not in the manner they’d allege.) Both will allege bias.
The easy answer to that is to do what I suggest, and move the matter where those examining it can be render a truly impartial verdict. Taking this matter outside these borders would result in little, if any, criticism from the fans.
In the meantime, I don’t see how they have a choice but to suspend Rangers membership pending the full results of the investigation, and any subsequent legal actions which arise.
This will have a twofold effect. First, it will allow the game to move on from this appalling and damaging series of events. It will be a clean break with all that has come to pass, and it will limit the disruption of whatever comes next to one club, and one not playing in the league. It will insulate our governing bodies from further allegations, and protect the legal standing of the leagues and give some protection to the rest of the sport.
Secondly, and most importantly, it will result in an expedited process.
It will focus everyone’s minds on the task of getting things sorted out sooner rather than later, so everyone can get back to business and the club can play football. Without that, the shares and everything else are worthless anyway and the legal battles are reduced to a scramble for some unsellable buildings and valueless player contracts not worth the paper they are printed on.
That way, whatever version of Rangers emerges at the end will be, as Ally McCoist has said, “purged”. It will be free of the whiff of scandal. It will be owned by people with not only the good of the club but the good of the sport at heart.
There would, of course, be consequences. Money would be taken out of the game. We might even hear people whine again about “social disorder.” The sad truth is, clubs might pay the ultimate price and go to the wall. But you know what? Those are things we would just have to confront. They are problems we would just have to best.
They are catastrophes we would just have to survive, as best we could, because the only other choice is to allow the scandal at Rangers to define our game. To allow what we know to be wrong – criminally wrong – to continue, at the heart of our national sport. To do that not only devalues football in Scotland, it destroys it.
The people who run our game cannot sit back and allow this to go on. We have already spent one long, dark summer where everything was up for grabs, and their conduct shamed the offices they hold and almost annihilated the integrity of the sport.
This is a bigger issue by far. They cannot sit this one out.
Action – firm action, robust action, no matter the results – must be taken.
Someone must step up to the plate and do what’s right.
Stewart Regan, it’s over to you.
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