More Than A Sports Story

There cannot be a single football fan in Scotland, indeed there can barely be any person in Scotland, who is not aware that this summer marked the moment where a decade of financial skullduggery came to an end at Rangers, and sent our game into what some said was a death spiral.

Luckily, they were wrong, but as the full scale of what has happened at one of the biggest clubs in the land has become clearer, the enormity of it begins to sink in. This scandal transcends sport.

Football empires rise and fall. It is the nature of the game. Brian Clough, in his first autobiography, wrote about how Derby County should have been a dynasty, that they should have done what Liverpool eventually did, and what Manchester United have done in the last fifteen or so years, filling a trophy room with riches, including the European Cup. He blamed himself for the fact it didn’t happen, but he was never able to build such a lasting monument to his skills at Forest, despite winning that sought after trophy twice. Football empires rise and fall. It is a fact.

Football, you see, is a true meritocracy. The best do rise to the top. Those clubs which build on strong foundations realise chasing dreams proves costly in the end. Clubs may buck the system for a short time – like Blackburn did, the only club, until Man City, outside the Big Three, to ever win the English Premiership – but in this sport you don’t built a house on sand. Time, and circumstances, catch up with you in the end. Reality breaks down the door. Hard truth becomes apparent to all but the most blind.

What has happened at Rangers is nothing new. It’s happened to clubs across the world. Clubs need to be self-sustaining. If they are not, they go under. Debts have been bringing down teams as long as the game itself has been around. What makes Rangers’ situation unique is the size of what has happened. For in the annals of football there has never been anything quite like this. In sports terms it is shocking. In social terms, with the winds of an economic crisis still swirling around us, it is appalling.

Duff and Phelps final report into the scale of this has just been published, and one number above all stands out in that document, like a big flashing neon sign. Rangers’ total debts to Revenue and Customs stand at over £94,400,000. In his outstanding blog, Paul McConville claims that this is the equal to 0.8% of the total bad tax debt provision of the UK, and actually 0.3% of the total tax outstanding – truly staggering figures, which we have no reason at all to doubt are accurate. None of this money, not one penny, will ever be paid back. All of it is being written off at the Exchequer’s expense.

And in case you missed what that truly means, let me put it as bluntly as I can for you.

That is your money, my money, our money. Tax payers money. This is money that should have been used to pay for social services, for hospitals, for police officers, for schools, for the army, for investment in housing.

Whereas Paul’s numbers seem abstract, the human cost of this is enormous, and very, very real. One Celtic supporters site has produced a graphic which helps to illustrate the size of this, and it is instructive to look at that, and to take the numbers in it and crunch them down until we see what it is we’re really talking about here, stripped of all the extraneous issues surrounding it. The graph says £93,000,000. In fact, it was over £94,000,000, but that is a small thing in the bigger picture.

The graphic shows UK public spending in each sector, by percentage. The creator has then used those percentages and calculated how much has been lost to each one by the actions of the company that used to operate out of Ibrox. When taken like this the numbers begin to seem more tangible, more real.

Yet those numbers are still so enormous, it helps to break them down ever further, to examine what it means in practical terms when we remove so much cash from all these areas of our public life.

Take pensions. That share of the tax bill could cover the annual state pension for 2980 people. If we consider fuel poverty, and were able to give a £50 weekly payment based on that number we would be able to give 6852 of them that cash. This is more than just abstract. That kind of money would literally be the difference between life and death. It doesn’t get more real than that.

Let’s talk now about sick people, about losses to the National Hearth Service, and their percentage of this cash. The £15,810,000 which has been lost to this sector is another life-or-death matter. Let’s take average earnings in the sector, and let’s imagine we’re dealing with the very top of the wage scale. That money could pay for 158 top class consultants, the people who can spot early cancer, the people who can plan the best way forward for those in the greatest need. It could pay for 195 GP’s. It could pay for 225 specialist doctors, the people who actually work on the sharp end, and, perhaps most shockingly, it could pay for more than 700 first year trainee doctors, without whom there would be no NHS at all.

The share marked poverty, or welfare, is even more damning. Let’s view that in terms not of state payments but in state support for the poorest people. Take support workers, who’s average earnings top out at about £17,000 per year. These people can genuinely change lives. Their contribution to the community is incalculable, and far exceeds mere issues of finance. The “poverty” share  would pay for 875 of them, earning the top rate.

£12,090,000 is allocated to schools. If we’re talking about Early Years teachers, the people who get to our little ones the soonest, who literally build the skills which are required before our kids can achieve any level of learning at all, this money could have secured the salaries of more than 350 of them. It would pay for 263 educational psychologists – a job whose importance does not need stating, as these are the people who can spot child-hood problems like dyslexia and autism, those who are best placed to spot, and deal with, evidence of abuse and who, more and more, have to shepherd very young children through the traumas of death, parental splits and other issues. The same money would also pay for over 300 Higher Education teachers, and with more and more schools struggling to meet IT costs, we could actually kit out entire classrooms with the modern technology to give every kid the very best. At a little over £325 a pop we could actually get 37,200 of our kids their very own in class IPad. And if the tech side doesn’t float your boat try this; that money could pay for a lot of £50 text book packs.

How many? 241,810 of them.

Still think these are just abstract numbers?

Over £6,500,000 is allocated to defence spending, on the soldiers who defend this country, and the equipment which protects them. Lives have been lost in theaters of war around the world because the Ministry of Defence is cutting back. A full set of body armour – which would have saved over a dozen lives in the last few years alone – costs a mere £1000, and for the military’s take of the Rangers tax debt that armour could have been made available to an extra 6510 of them. This is the team which takes pride in its “patriotism.” This is the club which celebrates its dedication to this country, wearing it like a badge of honour. This statistic, as much as any other here, damns them. It makes them look like hypocrites at best.

£4,650,000 is allocated to the police and fire services, and we can split that cash evenly between them. Again, the numbers are truly shocking; it would have paid for 66 police officers and 83 firefighters. Think of the lives that could be saved, the crimes prevented or solved, by those dedicated professionals, who’s sectors, like the rest of the economy, are facing savage cuts in the near future.

There is a chunk of money allocated to public transport too, something which I would presume refers to infrastructure as much as anything else. But let’s take it literally. An annual SPT subway zonecard, covering every zone, costs just over £2000. For the £2,790,000 of the public transport budget we could buy 1395 of them and give them as freebies to pensioner, or students, or voluntary organisations or anyone else thought worthy of such largesse.

Believe it or not, as devastating as the above is, there is a significant disparity between what is on that graph and the final numbers. Hard as it is to believe, this is not a minor disparity but a huge one. Those numbers do not account for an enormous sum – £20,000,000 or thereabouts – which needs to be taken into consideration if we are to have an accurate gauge of these figures. Ten percent of that total comes via what the graph refers to as General Government and Interest. The rest isn’t on the chart, and some investigation reveals that it comes under the somewhat vague heading of “other spending”. The scope of it is unknown, but the rough numbers don’t lie. Take your favourite cause of above, whether it’s pensions, or whatever. Double it, and the effects of it, and you still have plenty of cash leftover, to invest in something else.

Taken in sections, you can see how scandalous this situation is. But we can go even further, and take the whole number, that almost incomprehensible figure of over £94,000,000, and see what we get.

The money Rangers have cost the country could have fully funded the Sure Start Scotland program. It would have paid for three years investment into the Future Jobs Fund. It would have brought the legacy costs of the PFI school building scheme in Scotland down by 40%. It could have hired 4400 fireman, instead of the 83 we talked about above. It could have fully funded the Scottish government’s pledge to put 1000 new police officers on the beat …. nearly five times over. Can you even imagine the effects on healthcare had it gone into hospitals, or test results had it gone into schools?

You don’t have to. The numbers are there to be seen. There are 2153 primary schools in Scotland. Each of them could have benefited to the tune of £43,600. There are 376 secondary schools. Each of them could have received a whopping £250,000. There are 370,000 children in primary school education. An extra £254 could have been made available for them all. There are 304,000 kids in secondary education. Each of them could have been given over £300 for books, or a computer.

The National Children’s Music fund stands at £10,000,000 annually. It could have been fully funded for the better part of a decade. The entire Culture and External Affairs budget for the Scottish Parliament in this fiscal year was £240,000,000. It could, at worst, have been increased by 30%. Late last month the Scottish government released £10,000,000 in funds for building “hundreds of affordable houses.” Had this club paid its tax bill there could have been thousands of them instead.

This is a story that goes beyond football. It is a financial and social scandal of incredible magnitude. The numbers are not an abstraction. They represent real things, tangibles, differences in lives, in the quality of life, and in the prospects for our community. To those who say “Rangers have suffered enough”, I ask you how much we have suffered, how much we have all paid, how much this society has sacrificed so that they could win football matches? Too much. And we’re still paying.

The law says the dumping of these enormous debts was legal. Companies do it all the time, and cannot be held to account. That is a problem which government has to tackle, which legislation has to stop, and which robust regulations have to punish or prevent. Under normal circumstances, we would be powerless in the face of it, but because this is football another standard could be applied. Regulations were in place, and were acted upon, and because of those the club has faced at least some consequences. For this small measure of justice, we should all be grateful.

What Murray, Whyte and others did here, above and beyond any of the arguments about football matches, hidden contracts or anything else was simply this;

They took money from you, and from me, and from our friends and our families, from our schools and our hospitals, from our frontline services and from our children.

This was not a crime against sport. It was a crime against society.

Shame on those who would have us forget it.

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Comments on More Than A Sports Story

  • Síomón Bipolariompróidh Scot

    Ive read your jaw dropping blog with disbelief this morning James and let me tell you mate, as one of the above mentioned support workers I am deeply shocked by some of the figures quoted. I work on the front line everyday helping poor souls and I mean the poorest souls you could imagine and this money would have changed so many lives in our city. Take the orginisation I work, even if we were allocated just .1 percent of this money it would have furnished 16 temporary furnished flats or redecorated and furnished nearly 32 rooms taking between 16-32 poor vunerable homeless people off the streets of our city and would have given them a fair crack at reintegrating into society. It could have provided a range of services essential to living independantly . This mere 0.1 percent could have provided food parcels and hope to 100’s of homeless in our city, yes thats right people do still go hungry in Glasgow in 2012 as shocking as that may seem. 0.1 percent……thats 3200 food parcels, to put folk in the picture that would feed the 25 guys I have the pleasure of supporting for 128 days. As a guy who watches everyday, people scraping thru life below the breadline, a guy who watches while good mothers have to place there kids in care because they simply cant provide basic essentials I find it makes me sick to my stomach that no one will ultimately be accountable for the levels of cash stolen from the public purse. IMHO take messers Murray, Whyte Et Al and show them what they have done, make it as clear as the noses on there petulant faces, the difference this money would have made to so many and hope they have a consience that gets the better of them. May god forgive them…….

  • Justafan

    18880000000, that’s the total of what’s owed to the coffers if you calculate up the way mate,funny number that lol, just in the balance of fairness, New Scotland Yard has been told to cut their budget by HALF A BILLION in the next three years,
    You the look at state help for the poor, but don’t say anything about them but instead talk about carers who help mostly the sick or pensioners who need their help and they earn £17,000 per year, that’s a helluva lot more than I earn but by no way begrudge them that but I digress.
    The total defence budget for 2013 is £80,000,000,000 that’s 80 billion and I’m only talking about defence home and abroad that’s defence and civil defence, if I add the rest of what comes under that flag it comes in just over £93 billion.
    Honestly buddy you know me I’m not saying what was done wasn’t heinous but you are writing in a way that makes us look as if we have brung this country to its knees, and the pie chart taken from a Celtic supporters web site, really? Need to shoot and take Jp and Marc to school but I will be back lol

  • James Forrest

    John, first up fella, the graph actually comes from a government website, so as percentages those are pretty close to the mark.

    I am not saying the scandal at Rangers brought the country to its knees. I wanted to find out what £94,000,000 could have bought us, and I thought basing it on government spending percentages was a nice way to do it.

    What has happened here is a scandal, and one that isn’t about football. Murray International has actually deprived the tax man of TEN TIMES what is written down here, by way of what they owe the publicly owned banks ….

    That’s for another day. My point is, because this happened in football there was some punishment handed out, some consequences for this action, and we need to be grateful for that. But that money is gone, and that is a disgrace which no amount of bluster will erase.

  • Justafan

    Hardly bluster my friend, just a point of view

  • James Forrest

    I meant from Charlie Green haha.

  • Mark

    Justafan what has a carer’s wages & the fact you earn less got to do with anything..? Unless your trying to make the point that the money could have been spent on better education so that people like you could get better wages.. i volunteer two days a week teaching the older generation how to use computers, & most organisations only survive because of volunteers as they cannot afford to pay people. In this time of cuts, the money that has been lost is making more of an impact than it would have in past years.. It would be good if more fans of the club could at least relise this & stop making pointless excuses, for the past & present owners & directors..

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  • Barry M

    Very good article, however it misses a key fact. The total cost to the taxpayer was significantly more than this figure. The reason, because back in our around 2005 (I can\’t remember the exact year) Murray transferred around £50m of ranger debt to MIH in a share scheme. As we know these businesses were liquidated this year leaving a hole around £650m that was underwritten by RBS (& and subsequently us). Not to mention the pensions shortfall also. So we paid fairly significantly more than this sum.

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