The Crumbling State Of Sevco Threatens Our National Game

26783406.jpg.galleryOne of the ways in which I like to relax is to immerse myself in computer games. I don’t play the sort most people would associate with de-stressing though. I enjoy war games, the more complex the better. For that, nothing beats the Total War series.

The most misunderstood of these games is Empire, which is a sprawling epic set in or around the Napoleonic Wars. What made that era perfect for a wargame was that it was, historically, locked in almost constant conflict. Diplomacy in that age mostly involved getting out of the way of the guns, and the reasons why countries went to war were myriad.

It was a dangerous time right across the world.

Hindsight means we can look back at that era and spot all the places along the path to the wars which redrew the map. Yet even then it must have been obvious which countries were to be watched, which were to be viewed as potential threats. Empire lets you do that too. A country with a weak government, a history of treachery, and expansionist ideology and which is short on key resources is one you have to be wary of. If you’re one its neighbours and you’re not locked in a formal military or diplomatic alliance then start arming up.

We have one of those in the vicinity; not a rogue nation, but a rogue football club and the things that happen there have a tendency to cast a dark shadow far beyond the environs of Ibrox. This organisation still has the ability to self-detonate, and because our governing bodies haven’t taken the precautions that would limit the damage to the club itself any scenario in which they explode could still take much of the national sport with it.

Sevco really does resemble a rogue state, you know.

They have a weak government, run by a guy so thin skinned he makes Donald Trump look like a model of composure. Their history of backstabbing, concealment, dodgy deeds and bending rules goes back beyond the current incarnation and deep into that of the club who’s identity they’ve assumed. Their ideology is, in many ways, aggressively expansionist. They believe they are the biggest club in the land and they seek to be taken seriously as a continental player too. In spite of that their economic situation is not only dire, it’s desperate.

It is run by unscrupulous leaders who pander to the worst elements of the populace. It also operates largely unscrutinised by the media, and if it was a country it would be one of those Security Council members who can do as they please without incurring sanctions. When Rangers collapsed in 2012 people talked about how they’d been punished; in point of fact, they never actually were. What happened to them was simply the inevitable consequences of administration, and then liquidation. They were never actually held accountable for the various corrupt practices that got them there, and it’s that that still rankles many today.

Officialdom is either terrified of the Ibrox operation or broadly in sympathy with it. That’s one of the things that worries us the most. There are lots of rumours swirling around about the club and it’s future. Some are more than just speculation, some are grounded in hard fact and they are of grave concern to an awful lot of people. But the chances of anything ever being done to get to the bottom of them are virtually zero. A media blackout of anything negative is guaranteed over there; that’s what gave men like Murray, Whyte, Green and King license to do whatever they pleased.

So let’s analyse the situation over there, not as Celtic supporters looking to get a good laugh – although we can do that too – but as dispassionate outsiders.

First, is the club is in financial danger?

For me, yes, I absolutely do believe that it is.

Do we believe the governing bodies and the media are aware of that?

I don’t see how they cannot be. The facts are freely available. The club makes losses year on year and they’ve recently embarked upon a quite crazy transfer spree which although it hasn’t involved spending big on fees has increased the wage bill massively. This kind of spending is wholly unsustainable for a club which, even at the height of its power, never made the kind of money Celtic consistently has. When your running costs are nearly £20 million before you pay a footballer or coach and that’s barely met by what’s coming in via season tickets you simply can’t afford to go out and sign nine players and give others huge wage increases.

But that’s exactly what they’ve done.

They will burn through the season ticket cash insanely quickly, and then the real fun starts when they’ve got to find more.

As I pointed out over on The CelticBlog last week, we’re fortunate that the SPFL elections have given us – albeit narrowly – a board where the majority is in favour of sporting integrity. It’s this organisation that will be responsible for deciding where any Rangers III ended up. Stewart Robertson shamefully finding his way onto the SFA Professional Game board confronts us with another scenario entirely; it’s entirely possible that the SFA would bend over backwards for the NewCo even to the extent where they tried to force the league body’s hand.

Do I think that could happen?

Sadly, I have to conclude that yes, it could happen and probably would happen. When all you have to go on are the lessons of the past, well we can look back four years and see what they did last time. One would imagine they’d view this situation as even more desperate and fraught with dangers than that one was. Because there are issues here above and beyond any that a club at Ibrox has faced before.

There is a very real threat to even the existence of a club calling itself Rangers.

We’re in truly uncharted territory here.

Just the other day I was listening to an ancient Radio Scotland debate, the one where Chick Young and the idiotic Jim Traynor went toe-to-toe over whether or not Alastair Johnson had nodded his head to confirm that Rangers could go bust if the Big Tax Case went against them. It’s beyond dispute that Johnson and the board were fully aware of the likelihood of that and he didn’t need to inform anyone of that fact. But it caused quite the flare up between the two hacks, because back then none of them could grasp the size of the thing in their hands. They still can’t, which is why so many still cling to the Survival Lie like a comfort blanket.

The Tax Case was the sort of crisis that could have closed their doors, and everyone knew it. I once thought that the collapse of David Murray’s companies could have done the same.

Craig Whyte ran up £20 million worth of bad debts, with a huge sum owed to HMRC. They refused the CVA because of non-payment of PAYE; don’t let anyone kid you that the Big Tax Case is what shut Rangers down. It wasn’t part of the equation. HMRC folded that bill into the final sums which were handed to the liquidators, but with the case still pending at the time it was a phantom issue.

Rangers was closed because of those Craig Whyte debts, but even with the Big Tax Case folded in as long as the assets were available in a liquidation sale there was always going to be a club at the end of it, whatever it called itself, just so long as the debts weren’t part of the package.

Those assets were always tremendously undervalued, or at least that was the perception most people had about them. But what if we were wrong? What if the asset valuation was actually right on? There were no debts, sure, but perhaps those assets came with their own, hidden, liabilities? Recent evidence suggests that they did.

Imagine that Sevco, in its present incarnation, was presented with a bill they simply didn’t have the money to pay? They’d go into administration, right? Easy. Whoever the creditors were they’d get pennies in the pound and the debts would vanish. Correct, but what if that bill couldn’t simply be set aside? What if even a third version of Rangers was impossible without it being paid?

There are some bills which wouldn’t be so easy to dodge, such as one for essential stadium repairs. If such a bill ran into eight digits it would be one that administration, even liquidation, would not be able to erase. That’s as bad as it gets.

If Sevco were unable to get Ibrox up to speed, and were rendered incapable of using the ground, where exactly would that leave them? Season tickets would be rendered worthless overnight. Even if they moved to Hampden on a temporary basis – and the SFA would bend over backwards to let them do that – the impact on their supporters would be considerable.

The impact on their finances would be absolutely catastrophic.

The club has just been granted a new safety certificate for the ground. Even the release of that information is suspect, the manner of it and the tone. Yet this news would appear – on the surface of it – to close the story down completely, but like much else it’s nowhere near as simple as that. Glasgow City Council, unprompted, appeared to confirm that there were problems with the matter. They said there was a delay in giving it to them, and that this was the result of a clerical error. That news has been greeted with frank disbelief in many quarters, especially amongst those of us who know there are issues over there which are in dire need of fixing.

I said in a recent article over on The CelticBlog that if a certificate were granted and something went wrong that a lot of people – the club included – would be in the most serious trouble imaginable. There are some suggestions that the certificate has been granted without a proper investigation taking place; a lot of people do not think it remotely likely that the council would take such a glib attitude towards safety at a public venue; that ignores past precedent, financial concerns and that famous old ugly issue of politics.

Do I believe that a safety certificate might have been granted on a nod and a wink? I am not saying that’s what’s been done, but I sadly can’t conclude that it’s impossible or even unlikely, although I wish to God that it was.

For one thing, Sevco’s board would launch their own legal action against the council, for plunging them into financial chaos. That’s why even shutting the ground whilst a full health and safety investigation takes place hasn’t even been considered. That, in itself, would create enormous problems for the club with a new season about to start. A long term closure, enforced by the HSE, would spark a court battle that could expose the council to serious financial risks. For that reason alone it’s not as simple as it probably should be.

But there’s a much more serious issue at stake.

If Ibrox is closed on the evidence of the council, for a series of expensive repairs, Sevco would collapse like a house of cards. In those circumstances it is highly unlikely that the ground would ever be opened again. The effects of that would be enormous, for the local area, for Scottish football, for the council itself. Its officials would be blamed for closing the doors on the club, however unfair that assertion might be, and with elections coming next year that would hammer the final nail into the coffins of the Labour administration.

The dominos do not stop falling in a scenario like that.

But nor do they stop falling in a scenario where someone is hurt, or God forbid killed, in an incident where a structural flaw results in an accident. Then both club and council would be exposed to searing criminal and civil consequences who’s certain, and inevitable, ending would be to wipe Sevco away. That couldn’t fail to have the direst effects on the whole of Scottish football, our own club included, whether we like it or not.

When Rangers was on the edge last time, it was the so-called leaders of our game who talked it into the shredder.

They crushed its commercial viability, collapsing the value of every sponsorship deal we were likely to get and they would have cast sporting integrity itself aside if they thought they could have gotten away with it. God alone knows what they would do faced with a scenario where the Ibrox club looked like it could vanish forever.

When people ask me why I constantly write about Sevco, why I focus such attention on them, why I waste my time on it, the answer is patently obvious. It’s because of stuff like this. The potential for that club going nuclear remains. That creates dangers for every other club in Scotland. The SFA knows there are financial difficulties over there, but they’ve not insured the sport against that, perhaps because they are unable to believe it could all happen again.

It could. It might. The risks are real.

The one thing at Ibrox you can be absolutely assured of is you can’t predict what will happen there. Trouble can come right out of a clear blue sky. The next twelve months could be as momentous as anything we’ve seen in the last four years.

Be ready for anything.

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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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.

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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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Celtic Fans Know The Difference Between Bigotry And Political Expression

Celtic F.C.The charity Nil By Mouth has called on Scottish football clubs to accept “strict liability” when the SFA next puts it up for debate and a vote.

The organisation founded by the fiancé of Mark Scott, the Celtic fan murdered at Bridgeton Cross by the psychotic Jason Campbell has long concentrated its guns on football fans and was a vocal supporter of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which has done little more than criminalise free expression and political singing of a sort much of Scotland doesn’t like.

This statement came on the same day that Stewart Regan is all over the papers trying to push the issue. This suggests more than a little bandwagon jumping going on.

Before we know it, politicians who’ve not been in the papers for a while will be all in favour … just watch.

I want to be clear that I have no issue with Nil By Mouth per se.

How could I have?

The organisation exists to combat sectarianism and hate in our society, but I have a problem with the way in which they and other organisations – including Police Scotland – conflate these matters with legitimate political expression … the kind that supports Irish nationalism as opposed to, say, Scottish independence.

I support Scottish independence, and it infuriates me how some people can make all sorts of allowances for one whilst making none for the other. Granted, that isn’t as widespread as the anti-Irish sentiment which courses through many supporters of the union, but it is definitely there, in small ways, and in big ones too like the SNP’s much hated law.

I get tired of trying to educate people on this.

It seems that some folk just don’t want to bloody well hear it, and I find their attitudes entirely dishonest as a result of that.

Nil By Mouth’s statement was picked up by, amongst other media outlets, The Scotsman, where Andrew Smith’s opening paragraph was “Anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth has backed calls to introduce strict liability rules to Scottish football, with campaign director Dave Scott stating yesterday that “people are fed up to the back teeth” with behaviour that the group maintains fuels religious bigotry.

Let’s separate the fact from the fiction here.

First fact: Celtic fans do not engage in sectarian singing.

There is one song – a so-called version of Roamin’ In The Gloamin’ – who’s lyrics are so excruciating, waxing lyrical about how good it is to “be a Roman Catholic” that it’s certainly offensive (especially to Catholics) but even it doesn’t openly stray into hatred although it is mind-numbingly ignorant.

It’s the kind of thing that once passed for wit and which someone probably made up in a pub fifty years or so ago without any thought as to what the lyrics actually mean.

Listen to them if you don’t believe me.

It’s a collection of words with no coherence.

There’s a reference to St Patrick, who was born in the 5th Century, John Knox, who was born in the 16th Century and to King Billy, who was born in the 17th Century. I don’t know how you feel about a song that mentions all three drawing no connection whatsoever between them, but to me it’s the trademark of barely literate goons.

Most people realise this, and find the song crawl-under-the-bed embarrassing.

I haven’t heard it sung, by more than handfuls of drunk arseholes, for years.

There’s a chant you used to hear a lot, but which has also been on the wane for years, referring to dirty orange people of questionable parentage; I recommend those offended by that speak to the Orange Order, to which it’s a clear reference.

They are a sectarian organisation and a secret society, rabidly unionist and affiliated with the far right of British and Irish politics.

That chant is generally used in relation to referees, a number of whom have been proven to be members of said secret society, and whose professional ranks behave more and more like one with every year that passes.

The key term is “Orange”.

Not Protestant.

There is no sectarian connotation to that chant.

Then there’s the H word, which I rarely use and which has never been a reference to any religious affiliation but more about a set of behavioural norms; rioting, nazi salutes, spreading fear and taking part in general disorder … things for which a certain Scottish club’s fans were once famous. It’s also about having no respect for traditions, or loyalty, or lacking a certain moral character.

I have had long brainstorming sessions with people on this subject, and on the etymology of the word itself, tracing it back to Attila and to the Germans in World War I and 2 … and I’m always asked, in the context of Scottish football, who I regard as fitting the bill.

I once answered thus;

I consider Graham Souness to be one, but Trevor Steven not. I know for a fact Maurice Johnstone is one, but never thought Brian Laudrup was. Davie Provan, Charlie Nicholas and Jim Traynor are definitely amongst their number but I never for one second thought Graham Speirs, Alan Davidson or Ian Crocker were. Large sections of the Sevco support fit the bill. A small section of the Celtic support does too, and there are numbers of them at other clubs like Hearts, Motherwell, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Inverness and elsewhere.

I agree with the general sentiment behind Nil By Mouth’s statement, but that organisation is like so many others in this country; it tiptoes around things when it ought to stride forward with purpose.

There is bigotry in Scotland, sectarian intolerance that is both broad and, in some places, deep.

The fault isn’t to be found in football stadiums, although some of its practitioners go to games.

Anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred is still a profound problem, and one of the reasons it remains so is that those who practice it often hide behind seemingly legitimate initiatives like this one.

Which brings us to the second inconvenient truth: there was no need to pass the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Laws already existed to confront those who engaged in sectarian behaviour; the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act changed nothing except that it placed singing Republican songs into the same bracket as someone singing one of the more horrible hate anthems you’d expect to hear from the people who hailed Jason Campbell a hero.

What that law did is created a moral equivalence between the two, and that’s one of the most tragic features of it.

Because there is none.

The issue is bigger than just Nil By Mouth, but they have a high profile and they get a lot of attention whenever they put out a statement like this. They might not want to further the agendas of the very people they deplore, but I’ll tell you what … they do.

There are people who live in this country who would love to see every expression of Irishness outlawed, who would love every Catholic school closed, who blame us for creating intolerance when, actually, it stares back at them from the mirror.

No other religious or social group in this country is subject to this constant sniping and questioning of its values.

We don’t have a profound problem in this country with anti-Islamic sentiment; in fact, in comparison to certain parts of England things are positively harmonious. We also don’t have a serious issue with anti-Semitism.

Anti-Catholic hatred is Scotland’s own peculiar little fixation, and that has long had its roots deep in anti-Irishness.

The difference is that in some ways it’s now public policy.

Listen, I understand full well that there are people who don’t enjoy hearing the Republican stuff in football grounds. But I don’t mind saying I know those songs by heart, and I defy anyone to tell me where one of them – even one – promotes hate.

Supporting a “proscribed organisation” isn’t the same.

The people who do the proscribing once had the ANC on that list.

The Republican movement now plays an active part in government.

The ANC is the South African government.

The difference is, they were never fighting the British.

You get the point?

You understand why one of those organisations is now feted and the other remains banned to this day?

Here’s a challenge I’ve laid down many, many, many, many times and I do so again with no doubt that the result will be the same as it’s been on all those other occasions; if someone can tell me where in those songs hatred is promoted I’ll close these websites the same day.

No-one will answer that. No-one ever does.

So whilst I do understand that people don’t want to hear this stuff, I’d say to them that, sadly, it’s just too bad because one of the prices we pay for living in a free society is that we often have to tolerate things we don’t actually like. I’m not suggesting they go and look the lyrics up and try and understand the context of them … too much to ask, by far.

I’m asking that they actually embrace understanding of another subject; tolerance itself. Because whether they know it or not, their own attitude is profoundly intolerant. It’s close-minded, insular and yes it’s also arrogant; that the freedoms other people enjoy should be stymied and limited because they dislike certain of their opinions and ideas.

Tolerance means embracing diversity. Hammering everyone into the same mould doesn’t come close to the definition of that. That’s called enforced conformity and I don’t think that’s a country any of us actually wants to live in.

My problem with what Nil By Mouth and other apparently well-meaning organisations are doing stumbling into this minefield is that they aren’t really talking about sectarianism at all … they’re talking about shrinking the definition of what they find “acceptable” and if they don’t understand the danger inherent in that I can’t explain it to them.

The third fiction is that strict liability has been a success for UEFA.

It’s not true.

Strict liability doesn’t reflect well on UEFA at all.

It was introduced to combat right wing extremists using football grounds as recruiting posts. I understand why the sport considered that an issue, but in trying to find a way to ban those groups they did what governing bodies always do when they try to ride the middle lane … they overshot the runway and passed rules where any form of political expression was banned.

Except those which suit them, of course.

One of the recent obscenities was their decision to fine Celtic for our fans flying Palestinian flags. I don’t know what our club’s official response to that was but it was a scandal that UEFA ever considered such a ludicrous action in the first place. Another example was the “F*** UEFA” banner the Celtic fans flew, and which resulted in another sanction.

A refusal to allow criticism is one of the defining characteristics of fascism.

It would be different if they actually took the rule seriously, but they don’t because they can’t.

There are a number of overtly political football clubs in Europe who’s very existence flies in the face of UEFA regulations and there are other clubs whose fans have adopted overtly political views; they stretch across the continent, from France to the farthest corners of Russia.

They are openly ideological and UEFA can’t come close to policing them and doesn’t even try.

Not only does strict liability not work, but it’s barely enforced.

Celtic is not an overtly political club.

Our fans reflect a broad sweep of society, and we pride ourselves on being “open to all”.

Yet some of our own supporters consistently fly in the face of that concept, and make a nonsense of it, trying to tell other fans what they should be singing and what flags they should be flying.

I sympathise with them, to a degree.

Because some of it does get the club into trouble, and that’s wrong.

But it’s the regulations I think are the problem here, and whilst I think they should be obeyed, as long as they last, I think our club should be committed, along with others, to changing them to better reflect the reality; football and politics have always been closely linked and always will be.

This isn’t about flares and smoke bombs.

Those are banned for entirely legitimate reasons and don’t belong in football grounds, and I am wholly supportive of any measure that removes them from the sport entirely.

This is about political expression, and existing UEFA rules on it are as wrong as they can be, and Nil By Mouth and the SFA now want those extended to cover Scottish football too, a country where Irish political expression is already punished enough and where the governing bodies and others don’t even try to hide the intent, which is to restrict the rights of supporters to properly express themselves inside stadiums.

Every Celtic fan should oppose this, and let the club know it, not that they have to because Celtic has never been in favour of it and that hasn’t changed.

This is my last word on this subject for a while.

For the record, I don’t expect “strict liability” to pass.

The clubs in the main don’t want it, because they understand that there will always be idiots in any support and the clubs can only do so much to weed them out. Only someone who doesn’t really understand football could believe otherwise.

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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.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)

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The Internet Bampots: Right From The Start

craig-whyte-rangers-court_3345309Last night, as I was reading over the incredible catalogue of crimes with which former Rangers and Sevco directors are being charged, something dawned on me.

None of this would ever have come to pass – not Whyte, not Green, perhaps not even King – but for the contempt in which many in the media and in the game’s governing bodies once held (and some still hold) the Internet Bampots.

Yet today, I feel more than a small degree of satisfaction; indeed, I feel fully vindicated in almost everything I’ve spent the last few years writing.

In some ways that’s enough.

It’s time we got some acknowledgement though.

I understand that there are legal minefields here in which I don’t want to tread. That’s the reason Part 3 of my overview of how Rangers and the SFA almost destroyed Scottish football has been delayed so long. It’s not that I lost the thread of it or couldn’t be bothered writing it; much of it is already done. The rest … well, the events Part 3 charts are in the court system at the moment and I’m being careful not to write a word that second guesses those proceedings.

I’m going to be careful here too.

But there are things that I can say with absolute certainty.

Not one single person connected to Scottish football is now in even the slightest doubt that Craig Whyte, Charles Green and the cohort that trooped through Ibrox in the years from 2011 – 2015 did enormous harm to the institutions of Rangers and Sevco.

Not one single person does not believe that some sections of an almost overwhelmingly subservient, cheerleading, wholly ineffectual media was not at least partially responsible for the chaos that has followed, by lending credibility to men who otherwise would have had none.

And not one single person with the remotest interest in the sport here is in the slightest doubt that had the SFA and the SPFL taken their own regulatory roles more seriously that none of these guys would have been within miles of a major Scottish football club.

As a lawyer might say, “these are the facts of the case and they are undisputed.”

The only people who can emerge from this with their heads held high are the fans, and in particular the online community who went where the press and the authorities didn’t want to go and who dug into Whyte and then Charles Green.

I’m going to do a few pieces on the coming case, obviously, but for the moment I just want to look at the basic charge sheet, the top sheet, not the more detailed indictment.

In broad terms there are three principle sections to it; 2010 until February 2012, February 2012 until the assets of the liquidated and defunct Rangers were purchased by Green and what followed on afterwards.

From the first, the Internet Bampots were onto Whyte.

Some in the media would rather ignore that.

The governing bodies have turned doing that into an art form.

Some in the media, at least, started nicking our stories and actually pushing them, although claiming exclusives they weren’t entitled to. The governing bodies waited until Whyte had already put on his show, dragged Scottish football through the mud and put a boot print on the national shirt before they did something about it, expressing their surprise the whole while.

According to the indictment, Craig Whyte is being charged with wilfully putting the club into administration, in order to leave behind creditors and emerge debt free.

It would take a neck of solid brass to pretend that comes as a shock to anybody, because he was quite upfront about it right from the beginning, and as the Bampots know well he even told the governing bodies about his plans.

If what he’s done is a criminal offence – and a court will decide that in good time – then it’s not hard to make a case that, based on information in the public domain, Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan should think themselves awful damned lucky they aren’t there in the dock with him, indicted alongside the rest, as co-conspirators.

Above and beyond what he told them himself, Whyte had a string of failed and liquidated businesses behind him, and we pointed this out, with many tweeting Regan at the SFA directly with their findings.

Beyond that, there was actual, verifiable, credible information in the public domain a full four months before the club entered administration, and it was put there by Mark Daly of the BBC, laying out Whyte’s previous MO in some detail.

At the time, not one other media outlet was demanding a fuller exploration of those accusations; indeed, many of his contemporaries in the print media sneered at him, and some of them continue to do so to this day.

But he had the full throated support of, and respect from, the Bampots.

I’ll tell you what I think of Mark Daly;

Scottish football is enormously indebted to him and the team who worked with him on those documentaries, because without them I am convinced – 100% – that Craig Whyte would still be at the helm of a football club calling itself Rangers, whether visibly or working behind the scenes. Oh the hacks might have dug around and found some of it, but Graham Speirs has already told us they knew things they never published because they didn’t want to be seen to have been the people who brought the regime down.

Sure as Hell, nobody in any position of authority wanted to hear us.

We know that because at Hampden they weren’t even really listening to him.

In fact, evidence suggest that not only did our governing bodies know this was going on but they wholeheartedly backed it, as Neil Doncaster himself said on 18 May 2012, when he dismissed the difference between a CVA and a liquidation as an “irrelevance” and said the “attitudes of creditors” should not matter to football governing bodies when dealing with financially stricken clubs.

He went on to say that whilst he didn’t think it was “right” for clubs to dump their debts and emerge unscathed on the other side that “it happens” and he had no problem with it. He had his facts badly wrong when trying to name clubs who had done it – the two examples he gave of clubs which had gone the NewCo route were Leeds and Palace, none of whom actually did – but few can be in any doubt that he wasn’t concerned in the slightest by the sheer immorality of it, or the dangers it posed to Scottish football in the long term.

He ought to have been sacked there and then.

His continued employment is a source of enormous frustration and offence to many people and I long since concluded that he can only be there because he still retains the confidence of our clubs, which means that on some level many of them do support this utter nonsense and don’t want to see him replaced by someone with a different view.

Indeed, this time last year I published a piece called A Moment Of Clarity, after he’d started 2015 with a scandalous interview which turned football reality in Scotland on its head.

I thought, then, that his comments were so absolutely ridiculous that he couldn’t possibly survive them … but a year on down the line, there he is, still in his office.

His presence there is about to heap scandal on disgrace.

He and Regan better understand this; they are our great piece of “unfinished business” and their part in this isn’t going to be simply ignored or airbrushed out of all memory. This is what these two will be remembered for, long after they’ve left office.

We are going to keep on highlighting these issues until they’re both gone, and then far beyond, because their conduct can’t be allowed to escape scrutiny and the verdict of history, otherwise their behaviour becomes a reflection on the wider game here.

They would have flushed sporting integrity down the pan in 2012.

Only the intervention of the fans stopped that.

If Craig Whyte eventually gets up, in open court, and talks about how Doncaster and Regan knew exactly what he was up to the whole time then that’s catastrophic. That’s a FIFA style scandal on our own doorstep, and the world will know it.

The reputational damage to our sport that the allegation itself will do … even if it’s never examined in greater detail … enormous.

The directors of the other clubs have to know some of what we do; are they waiting for legal proceedings before acting to safeguard the game?

Shouldn’t the chairmen themselves be asking for an independent inquiry, not into Whyte and Green but what the governing body CEO’s really knew about events at Ibrox?

I can’t put it more bluntly than to say that these two men and their continuing presence at Hampden represents an existential risk to the reputation of our sport … and the more you dig into the charge sheet the more serious it starts to look for them.

And once again, the Internet Bampots were signposting the way.

There isn’t one Celtic site whose writers and contributors were not asking questions, from the off, about the manner in which Charles Green emerged, as if from nowhere, to bid for the assets of OldCo Rangers. The antennae were twitching from the moment his name was first mentioned and it didn’t take long before numerous links between Whyte and Green were established.

Those links are unmistakably real; there’s not the slightest debate about them and no rational person with a scintilla of knowledge about these matters actually believes these two men didn’t know each other beforehand.

It might not have been Paul McConville who first starting asking questions about Sevco 5088 and its relationship to a company called Sevco Scotland Ltd, but he certainly wrote a series of outstanding, and deadly, pieces on that subject.

Not one newspaper article ever ran asked the questions those articles demanded.

The SFA never once issued a statement on them.

Those question have been ongoing since mid-2012 and were ignored by governing bodies and media outlets alike, although then and now they were enormously significant. I myself posed some of those questions when Green announced the share issue, and Whyte emerged to allege that he’d had some role in setting Sevco up.

Plenty of us were asking those questions.

No-one wanted to answer us.

The media blanked them, or accused of us being fantasists.

The governing bodies … well, I have no idea how they felt about the possibility that they might have assisted in the perpetration of a fraud, but as far as I can see the road would be wide open, in the result of guilty verdicts, for not only the creditors of OldCo Rangers to sue them but for those who bought shares under Green to do so as well.

See, that’s something else no-one else ever explores; the SFA and the SPL/SPFL are regulatory bodies … it is their legal responsibility to assure that the highest standards of corporate governance are being observed by their member clubs.

It’s not enough for them to step back and let those clubs police themselves; this is why fit and proper person criteria exists in the first place, it’s why punishments are handed down for those who violate it.

(Unless those people are connected to Ibrox, which is sort of the point.)

The Pinsent Mason report is an outrage the club should never have been able to get away with, and not one of the Celtic blogs was silent in calling that an embarrassment and a disgrace. That reeked, and it reeks today, especially in light of these court cases.

Anyway, ignorance of these matters – even if we believed they were ignorant – might not be enough to save them from legal consequences, and a judicial inquiry at least.

I repeat; they had, and still have, a duty to do their homework, and not simply abdicate that responsibility to those who run those the clubs. The clubs themselves should be holding them to account for loss of earnings and reputational damage … and I don’t know why they don’t.

And far from learning lessons from those events the SFA continues to ignore its duties, even today.

No-one is asking whether Sevco is technically trading whilst insolvent, and the backgrounds of those who’ve given them the latest loans to keep on the lights aren’t deemed worthy of comment in the press, far less an investigation at Hampden.

Once again, only The Bampots seem interested in what is obviously a major story.

If that money had been dropped off at Ibrox in cash, the proceeds of a heist … Jesus, are we to believe Doncaster and Regan would simply have shrugged their shoulders and deemed that a matter for the club itself to look into?

What kind of people are these?

The technical term for this is “institutional failure”, and on the larger stage it’s what brought us the banking crash of 2008, in which the roots of Rangers’ demise and all these issues can be found.

Ignorance isn’t what happened anyway; what actually happened is partly to be found in the nearly universal contempt for the bloggers that existed then and which will we continue to struggle against in our quest to be taken more seriously.

The governing bodies were well aware of all this stuff at the time, and the media were too.

Enough people on Twitter and elsewhere were sending them links and stories and telling them what we’d found out, and what we were speculating on.

Either the governing bodies decided these issues weren’t worth looking into or they knew more than people were aware, and didn’t like us rocking the boat.

The media refused to take us even remotely seriously, and that was because they didn’t acknowledge us as worthy participants in the debate.

Nobody is laughing at us now.

Nobody underestimates our role.

I’ve been doing this for nearly five years, and I now make a tentative living out of it because of the support some of the readers are able to provide – and I’m beyond grateful to all those who do. Between that and the ads I manage to make this thing work.

As a consequence, I can now devote myself full-time to the task of analysing these issues and others like them, to research and explore evidence no matter where it comes from.

I never expect to make the money a “journalist” at The Daily Record would; if I was interested in that I’d be pursuing it properly as a career, but knowing that I’d have to give up my independence and the right to say what I wanted.

Money isn’t everything. As long as I can pay my bills as they fall due I’m a happy camper, because I’ve come to love this stuff and it gives me the freedom to pursue my grander goal which is to make my way as a writer of fiction. (If I can ever finish the second novel!)

Likewise, I don’t do it for glory because there’s precious little of that when I have to be hypercritical of my own club at times; on those horrible days this feels like shovelling shit uphill … or raking leaves in the rain, if I might use one of my own actual experiences to emphasise the point.

Like other guys, I do this because it’s often fun, it’s intellectually challenging and finally because it’s nice to feel part of a wider endeavour and a community all dedicated to the same stuff.

More than that, I genuinely believe this is important.

What I do, what James Doleman’s been doing, what The Clumpany does, what Paul Brennan has been doing even longer than me, what sites like VideoCelts produce every day … this stuff matters.

This isn’t just a Scottish football story … Rangers was a major social institution, and what happened – what was allowed to happen – within its walls for decades, preceding even these events, was outrageous and an affront to more than just sport.

We’re not PR factories, spinning facts and twisting reality.

We’re in nobody’s pockets and nobody’s employ.

We write what we see in front of us, without fear or favour – and I do this about politics in Scotland as well as on football – without taking our cue from others.

None of us expects to win awards, nor great wealth, nor any special status doing what we do.

We have the respect of our peers and the thanks of a great many people who like to be informed and entertained without the media’s PR filter and that’s enough. On most days.

Beyond that, we don’t ask for or want anything at all.

But today, reading the charge sheets against a bunch of people we’ve spent the better part of five years warning Scottish football against, and seeing the catalogue of offences which bear a striking resemblance to those we were asking questions about before even the Fraud Squad got to them, it would be nice if we got some acknowledgement for it.

It would be nice if we got some credit from those who treated us with such appalling disdain.

Because whether these cases end in guilty verdicts or not, these issues, which we were told weren’t worth bothering about, were serious enough to have warranted a trial.

The questions we were asking, and which so many were ignoring, were prescient enough and forensic enough, to have merited police and judicial attention.

The evidence we were digging for, examining, and highlighting in the hope those with the resources and the reach to do it justice, or in the hope that the governing bodies would take note and move to avert the consequences for our sport – and those consequences are coming – and which those people sneered at or refused to even look at … well they had the substance to start the machinery of legal proceedings.

In short, I do believe, verdicts notwithstanding, that we’ve been vindicated in full.

It would be good if our critics acknowledged that simple truth.

The Internet Bampots.

Right from the start.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)

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Sevco: A Storm Off Starboard

ratsI just got done having watched the final season of Deadliest Catch, perhaps the best reality TV show I’ve seen. It reminded me, in many ways, of having read Sebastian Junger’s wonderful book A Perfect Storm last year.

After I’d finished reading that book I wrote an article for this site on the Sevco crisis in which I used a number of examples from the story to highlight issues relating to the club.

I called it Storm Front Coming, and it was prescient in a number of ways, especially in relation to the intentions of a man named Mike Ashley, who some of the media were telling us wanted Sevco as a valuable asset, to be competitive, that he saw value in “Champions League exposure.”

All nonsense, of course, as most of us were well aware.

That piece was well received by non-Sevco readers; I got a lot of nice emails and good comments about that one.

It went down like a lead weight with their fans, though, who took serious offence to any suggestion theirs wasn’t a sound ship, and to the notion that Ashley was only interested in sucking the marrow off their bones.

Yet look where we are now, on the day before Dodgy Dave King goes head to head with Ashley’s lawyers in court.

Much has changed in the year and a bit since I posted that piece.

Yet much remains exactly the same.

This vessel is still sailing in the stormiest of seas.

There’s little good to say about them on or off the park at the moment; their fans will say that’s ridiculous, when they are top of the second tier and in the third tier cup final, but actually some of them realise things aren’t going terribly well.

For all the “great start” they’ve made to the season, Hibs are perilously close to them in the title race and winning the third tier cup competition at the fourth time of asking – if they do – is not going to satiate the appetites of fans who stupidly bought into the Survival Myth and still expect to see this club playing in Europe in the near future.

Their League Cup exit came as a drastic, and sobering, shock although they and their manager try to laugh it off as though it were a minor matter.

The longer you watch this club, and the more you listen to these gullible fans, the more you come to understand what the Survival Myth really is; not a comfort blanket, as some have stated, but a drug they can’t manage to shake, a continuing act of psychological self-harm that combines the worst elements of obsession, arrogance and delusion.

And of course, it has affected all of Scottish football, with our governing bodies willing to bend over backwards to accommodate those who have a vested interest in promoting it.

The dark clouds on the horizon haunt the SFA as much as Sevco, because a lot of people at Hampden are deeply involved in the goings on up at Ibrox. The water level is rising around them. They are, literally, in this up their necks.

We know they were aware that Craig Whyte intended to crash Rangers, and that this would leave hundreds of creditors, great and small, out of pocket.

We know they looked the other way when allegations surfaced in relation to Green, even giving Sevco a green light to investigate itself.

We know too that they breached their own regulations to allow King a seat on the Ibrox board.

I could go on. And on. And on.

There is no hiding place for them if this Force 12 blows across the deck.

This will overwhelm them.

Yesterday, Roger Mitchell, the former SPL CEO, went public with his view that Sevco will come to regret putting King on the board, that he is “damaged” and ought not to have been granted “fit and proper person” status.

I agree with him, but King is just a symptom of the bigger problem.

The bigger problem is at the SFA itself.

After years of studying this stuff, I often ponder just what kind of state Sevco would be in if we had an association that treated them like any other club.

A big part of what makes the coming storm so destructive is that the SFA are about to be swamped at just the moment the Ibrox operation might need them most.

It is inconceivable to almost all of us that Stewart Regan can survive his own court appearance against Ashley in April next year. The Sports Direct supremo has him in the gun sights and he is a dead shot.

The SFA may try to buy him off, or to get him to quit, by throwing King on the fire as a sacrifice, but this isn’t likely to cut much slack with a man so set on winning.

The hurricane sweeping across the sea towards these people is going to blow away everything in front of it.

By the time it passes, the wreckage will stretch over miles of flat, calm ocean.

The scenario we’re looking at is one where Regan has gone and possibly takes a few others with him; it’s one where the clubs are flexing their muscles; where the league’s governing body is under pressure to play by the rules; where the media has been exposed as complicit in the whole Sevco scandal (as they are) and has no moral authority to even attempt to influence the debate, and where the Ibrox club is impoverished and endangered.

Removed of the association CEO who has protected them, without Ogilvie on hand to offer his own brand of “look the other way”, and with Doncaster exposed to the harsher realities of his own position with a mood amongst the other clubs that is in no way sympathetic to another attempted stitch-up, Sevco will be alone, its leaders standing on the deck of a floundering ship, staring out into the rain.

Reform will be possible then, real reform, and not the phony kind that’s raised its head this week.

I mean a reformatted League Cup, to create a group stage, but one which excludes the clubs playing in Europe?

Why does the cynic in me see a clear motivation of providing “more money for Sevco” in that arrangement?

Why, when I contemplate which club will gain the most out of that, do I think of them first?

Could it be that I see most of the matches in this competition being played in front of three quarters empty grounds?

That I see no real benefit to other clubs except more games?

Some of those clubs are already complaining about this, saying they weren’t consulted. Other clubs say they were, but you know what? Regardless of whether they were consulted or not, I have limited sympathy for the leaders of a lot of our teams right now; Doncaster and others only exist because these people haven’t acted decisively and removed them.

What, precisely, will it take for them to act?

When he and Regan all but destroyed the game here as a commercial endeavour in 2012 with their “Scottish football is worthless without Rangers in the top flight” guff, that ought to have been that; jotters, ta-ta, pack your pencils and beat it.

The fans knew it. The fans wanted it.

The clubs failed us all.

You can’t have followed these events and doubt it.

Today, secure in his job, with the “confidence” of the teams, Doncaster is singing that old familiar song about a 14 team top flight, coincidentally as Sevco and Hibs are within touching distance of each other.

I mean, seriously?

These people will do anything to see their beloved Ibrox club in the top flight, and if the directors of other teams haven’t twigged that yet – that their own wishes and ambitions will be subservient to that one – then I don’t know what to say to them.

This failure is theirs too, and if the day ever comes and the duopoly that almost destroyed them is restored they can explain to their own fans why it was allowed to happen.

Sooner or later the directors of other clubs have to wake up. Stewart Regan standing in court, fumbling his words, whilst Doncaster waits on his own turn in the dock as a witness for Craig Whyte … well, yes, that ought to do it.

In the short term, it will barely matter anyway.

This League Cup wheeze has a shelf life of five minutes, and if clubs are complaining about it before it’s even started I have doubts it’ll be more than a one season wonder. Whatever attraction it does have will wane quickly, once the novelty wears off.

The idea isn’t terrible, by the way, but the costs of putting on these games will be higher, in many instances, than the clubs can bring in at the gate, as fans offer their own verdict on the changes.

At Ibrox this is more acute than elsewhere, as the huge expense of match-day can turn a possible source of profit into a loss-making endeavour before you know it, and that this might not even benefit Sevco financially is hilarious to me.

The governing bodies have bent over backwards for this club in the last few years and not one decision they’ve taken has made life at Ibrox better.

Why should this be any different?

Rangers was like a sword boat that the Department of Fish & Game allowed to leave port overloaded with more gear than any other ship in the fleet. It was against regulations, those which existed to protect other vessels from unfair practices, but it also ran against those safety rules which were in place to protect the boat itself.

For years the captain and crew rode their luck, but when the hurricane swept over them in 2012 they went down like a steel anchor.

In a similar fashion, Sevco is like a ship holed below the waterline, allowed to leave port although the authorities are aware of the cracks in the superstructure. Furthermore, it’s one which is captained by a notorious character who cheated other regulatory bodies and was partly responsible for Rangers’ sinking.

As such, he ought never to have been given command of a boat again.

The authorities know this too, and have spent the last year crossing their fingers that everything would be alright on his watch anyway.

That it’s so swiftly gone bad must be haunting their every waking moment, and when this ship starts to sink they’ll do anything to keep the stink of the scandal from their own door.

Anything, that is, except do the only thing that can save Sevco, which is the spending of copious amounts of money.

Without that, their ability to direct influence events once this ship runs into trouble is much as it was when Rangers began to slide below the surface; in other words, zero.

With no Coast Guard cutter on the horizon, what is this club going to do?

One of the things I learned from Sebastian Junger’s book is that sending out a “mayday” quite literally means that everyone on the ship has given up and they’ve accepted that they’re going down.

The word itself originates from the French, “m’aidez”, which in English means “help me”.

For a while now that signal has been getting pumped out of the Blue Room on a fairly steady rhythm.

King’s wee visit to Hampden last week was either them answering or his making sure it was being properly heard; either way, they’re not the people he really wanted to be talking to.

A little sympathy, and maybe the promise of league reconstruction talks, is all they’re able to offer, and he needs those things, but not as much as he needs the money, and besides a change in the weather and he’ll no longer be able to rely on them.

In the meantime, they just keep on repeating the message;

“Mayday, mayday, this is the HMS Sevco … we are in urgent need of assistance … Mayday, mayday …”

But Jim McColl isn’t picking up the phone.

Brian Kennedy is slinging them a deafy.

The “Rangers minded businessmen” who King talked about, but conveniently didn’t want to name, haven’t been forthcoming.

The current board members are keeping things rolling along with soft loans, but they’ll last only as long as their patience does.

When the next distress flare goes up from Ibrox, the one to signify that there’s water in the engine room, shorting the circuits and turning out the lights as well as silencing the radio, it’s more than possible that storm will already have changed everything around them.

There they’ll be, friendless, alone, in the midst of the big waves, waiting for the ship to go down.

King can’t save them, and no-one else wants to, but what will hurt most of all will be that lengthy wait for the Coast Guard … followed by the realisation that help is no longer going to come.

This is the Perfect Storm.

Hell mend everyone caught in the path of it.

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Sevco, Dark Places & Alien Space Bats

Dave-King-XXX-high-resWe in Scottish football who’ve been following the Sevco story have had one heck of a day already, as we head into what might prove to be a defining week.

First up was the news that the Sevco shareholders have voted against Resolution 10 at their AGM, which was their only visible means of raising money in the short term.

Devastating.

And yet I am less than devastated.

Adrian Durham, who this website slated earlier this year, has written another bizarre article today saying Celtic fans miss a club called Rangers.

Does it sound like we do?

I’d like nothing more than to see Hibs catch them, forcing them into another play-off, and then failure.

You’d think Durham would learn from the slagging he took last time, but in he goes again like a kid who’s been burned once but insists on sticking his hand in the flames again.

There’s just one word for that; idiocy.

He’s not alone, of course. In the Scottish media, just writing nonsense is considered a masterful performance, worthy of awards.

In The Telegraph Roddy Forsyth has written another of his own barmy pieces trying to equate what Rangers did with the numerous legal tax avoidance mechanisms which individuals and companies all across the world exploit.

This comes days after The Evening Times ran a headline suggesting that Sevco’s financial position was “the envy of world football.”

At the same time, Celtic are being spun as in crisis because of a couple of tweets from a malcontented player.

Uhuh.

From the ridiculous to the sublimely ludicrous.

These people live in a parallel universe, I swear to God they do. They believe in things that are so utterly out of step with reality you want to give them a good shake sometimes.

Someone asked me recently if I can see a way of forestalling another administration event at Ibrox.

Today this news about the share issue only reinforces what I’ve long believed; there’s only one possible solution to their ills.

Their fans enjoy alternative history; Hell, they practically live in one.

The Survival Myth, the Victim Myth, this notion of still being a huge club … it’s all unreal, all the stuff of Narnia, but they believe it.

See, part of the problem is the media that publishes this stuff. They’ve proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there’s still a market for “alternative history” fiction … and as most of their stuff appears to fall into this category they’ll understand me when I tell them what I think is the only thing that can save Sevco now.

It’s simple. Alien space bats.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a phrase used in the alternative history genre to describe a plot point or event that is so implausible it almost breaks the narrative structure, as in “Sevco needs five million to see them through the season … they won’t get the money but they can conquer the Earth instead by using alien space bats …”

In other words, it’s going to take something out of left field, something ridiculous, an Arab billionaire with King Billy tattooed on his backside maybe.

Or Dave King finding money under the mattress … you know, large sums of undeclared South African Rand.

Other than that, I think they’re done for.

The Three Bears can loan them all the money they can get out of their pockets in the meantime, but finally that will run out … and then it’s all over.

King is the problem, of course, as most people are all too aware. The Scottish FA might love him, the Scottish media might idolise him, but business people don’t trust him and don’t want to be seen to be involved with a man of his background and reputation.

As long as he’s there, that’s not going to change.

Before Breaking Bad took the title of Greatest Television Show Ever Made, my favourite was a cop show with a difference; Shawn Ryan’s The Shield.

There’s a moment in Season 6 that always makes me laugh and I’ve been thinking about that moment lately in the context of Scottish football, the SFA and Dodgy Dave King.

In the scene, Vic Mackey, the main character, a dirty cop par excellence, is investigating the murder of a society girl. His objective is twofold; to catch the killer and to steer the investigation away from any inconvenient fact that will harm the reputation of her family and particularly her father, a man of some prominence and position.

Vic’s former boss, and candidate for high office, David Aceveda, comes to see him to ask how the investigation is proceeding.

“It’s getting to a dark place,” Vic tells him.

“Meaning?” Aceveda asks.

Vic gives it to him straight; the victim turns out to have been a drug addicted prostitute who paid for her stuff with sexual acts too graphic to go into …

“Other than that,” Vic says, “she was Pippi Longstocking …”

And that’s what we’re dealing with here; a football association which has allowed a criminal convicted on over 40 tax evasion counts, to take over one of its clubs.

This guy is due in court over the next day or two, charged with breaching a high court injunction, and he’s already on a suspended sentence for contempt in the country he calls home.

He’s also a congenital liar, as esteemed law lords in that nation can attest and he has one hand in the pockets of his fellow directors and another in the hands of his club’s own fans … without ever having put one in his own.

Other than that, he’s a perfectly fit and proper person.

And Brutus too is an honourable man …

In the meantime, BDO has announced their intention to appeal the Big Tax decision, which has a lot of people banging drums and celebrating wildly, as well as pointing their fingers at the Internet Bampots as if this decision somehow means the central thrust of what we’ve been saying for the past few years was wrong.

So this saga still has a ways to run. Scottish football’s governors, who are frantically trading manoeuvring space for time, like Soviet soldiers during the Great Patriotic War, have themselves a little room to breathe. No decision on title stripping is imminent, unless the Supreme Court tells BDO to chase themselves, which it well might.

But this delay is a disaster for football governance here.

It’s put off a series of decisions that, sooner or later, absolutely have to be made if we’re going to move the game forward. I don’t believe for one second that the Supreme Court, even if it hears the case, will over-turn this verdict, and that simply means that these issues will be waiting to confront the sport at another time.

In the meantime, chaos reigns.

Later this week, Dave King will face Mike Ashley in court. One suspects yesterday’s appeal decision may well be the best news day Sevco will have for quite a while. The ground ahead looks rocky at best, and they can cling to nonsense stories like Warburton rejecting a possible move to Fulham all they like; this is a club running into big trouble.

The SFA is, sooner or later, going to have to account for why they’ve allowed a guy like King to get his hands on the club. I have a sneaking feeling they know that quite well and they’re getting themselves ready for doing what has to be done.

Want my view on it? I think King will have left the Ibrox boardroom by March.

This guy is now simply a millstone around people’s necks.

With him in charge, Ashley will continue trying to tie them in knots. He’s also got one eye on the SFA now, and they’ve got to be having collective heart failure at Hampden as a consequence of that. The man from Sports Direct knows neither the club nor the association has the cash to fight a series of battles with him in the courts.

King doesn’t even live in this country, so his presence around the club is negligible, and when he does touch down on these shores he has brought trouble with him, and he multiplies it every time he talks to the press. His ego is far bigger than his brain but not quite as big as his mouth.

The only reason to keep King around, at all, was the so-called financial muscle he had at his disposal, but that’s turned out to be a busted flush.

So, I ask you, with the walls closing in on all sides what is the merit in keeping him around, either for Sevco or the association? The SFA must now wish he’d never been granted “fit and proper person” status, and they might even view this week as an opportunity to get rid, and hope that it satisfies Ashley enough to make him go away.

The very worst outcome here, for them, would be for the courts this week to do little or nothing, to slap King on the wrist and tell him not to be a naughty boy. That would leave this thing in flux, and only give Ashley an incentive to drum up trouble elsewhere.

At the same time, it’s become increasingly hard to shake the notion that King himself would love to leave all this behind, that whatever motivated him to get involved has been replaced by the dread certainty that this is all too much for him, that he’s better off away.

I can think of no better scenario for him than for the SFA to change its mind now, and do what it ought to have done in the first place. He can walk away from that clean, blaming all around him, and keeping his “reputation” in the eyes of the dopier Sevco supporters.

Whatever his end game was it’s over now. All that’s left to decide is the manner in which he finally leaves Ibrox behind once and for all.

We live in interesting times.

As Vic Mackey might have said, we’re “getting to a dark place.”

For the SFA and the Ibrox operation, the need for some Alien Space Bats has never been more acute.

The next few weeks are going to be … busy.

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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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No Justice, No Moving On

59cf4bcc9d0a97e18a1085deeb864589Tonight, as I write this, the world of athletics is in uproar over the behaviour of the Russian team in the 2012 Olympics.

It looks certain that Russia will be banned from competing in international competition and that their athletes will face their own sanctions in due course.

These will probably include the removal of all the medals they won during that competition.

Much of the evidence that there was specific wrong-doing has been destroyed. This won’t matter, and is pretty much what guarantees the harshest measures.

The entire national athletics structure appears to have been involved in the offences and that means everyone will suffer the consequences. Consequences are important. When cheating is discovered in professional sport they tend to be rather draconian.

The stripping of titles isn’t unusual. It’s par for the course.

Everyone in Scottish football knows what Rangers did and that it was cheating.

A lot of smoke is being blown to distract people from that simple fact, but it’s undisputable just the same.

Note that no-one is suggesting that what the club did wasn’t wrong. Everyone accepts that. What their defenders are doing instead is trying to square the circle by suggesting that other clubs have done similar stuff. They’re saying that other clubs have spent money they didn’t necessarily have. And they’re suggesting we “just move on.”

Scottish football’s “leaders” – and I say that word with the maximum irony – would do well not to underestimate how angry people are over this.

The incumbents at Hampden, at the SFA and the SPFL, are gutless to their core.

King, as we all know, ought never to have been in a position of football responsibility again in Scotland after his own role in this scandal, to say nothing of his criminal conviction for tax fraud in South Africa, but because our game here is run by little men without a shred of backbone he’s chairman of the club they would have you believe is the same one that caused all this chaos in the first place.

The folk who were at Rangers are now three years past the point where they ought to have atoned, and been punished, for this stuff.

I’ve already laid out the ways in which what Rangers did was a crime against society, and not just against sport, but HMRC took care of that by consigning the club to the graveyard. The SFA has never lived up to its own responsibilities in this case, and it’s imperative that they are now forced to own that failure and act.

The thing is, very few people in Scottish football trust them when it comes to that. We can all too easily imagine a scenario where the SFA or whoever sets up another Lord Nimmo Smith panel, giving it instructions to tread softly and not upset people too much, out of a combination of fear or whatever. Stewart Regan and his “social unrest” comments spring all too readily to mind.

If we’re to truly get to the bottom of this cesspit, this matter needs a public enquiry of the sort not seen in football before. Other sports have them. Athletics is heading for a major one, in the aftermath of the damning report on Russia.

The people in charge of the IAAF have been complacent for a long time, but they’re wide awake now and focussing not only on the integrity of their own competitions but on the reputation of competitive sport as a whole.

In an editorial for The Guardian last night, the journalist Owen Gibson quoted Dick Pound, the boss of Wada, the athletics agency responsible for catching doping, who said “The public is going to move towards the view that all sport is corrupt and that certainly affects the credibility of sport.”

He’s right.

Mark Daly, the man who broke apart the EBT story, did the same with athletics, which led in no small way to the current crisis there. He is one of a handful of world class journalists – and how proud we should be of him – who’s got the intelligence and guts to go after stories like this.

What he found out – that doping for sport, and faking a blood test, is astonishingly simple – has haunted that game ever since, but other games were reeling before this.

Cycling had been devastated by Lance Armstrong. Bloodgate had taken its toll on rugby. Horseracing has been stalked by a variety of allegations. So too has cricket and golf. Even the Paralympics hasn’t been free of this; the 2000 Games saw Spain accused of having won a basketball gold medal in the intellectual disability section, without any of their players actually suffering from one.

In the US, the “biogenesis scandal” saw more than a dozen professional baseball players indicted and suspended for doping.

There have been scandals in American football and hockey.

We know football isn’t clean.

Even if the world governing body was not descending into total chaos under FBI and Justice Department subpoenas there have been scandals in Germany, Brazil, Italy, Turkey and elsewhere.

Associations across the globe have found evidence of corruption at every level.

In Spain just last month, an assistant referee ran to the police, he claims, after his bosses began pressuring him to give decisions in favour of Real Madrid in the coming El Classico match.

In England, they’ve already had the first trial sending people to jail for match fixing in relation to betting syndicates, a subject I’ve written about before.

Scottish football’s scandal eclipses them all.

EBT use itself lasted ten years and the crisis that grew out of it has lasted another four. Rangers went into liquidation more than three years ago, and the governing bodies have mishandled every moment since.

Keith Jackson has said the EBT affair had “scarred the game” here, perhaps in the hope the rest of us will forget that it was the behaviour of one club that caused all this. Yet in one sense he was correct; that event has had serious repercussions and shattered the faith the fans have in the governing bodies, and that has scarred the sport.

We don’t trust these people, and why should we?

The SFA’s own head of registrations, in one of the most perverse moments in this ghastly state of affairs, testified to Lord Nimmo Smith that the player registrations which were with-held from the governing body did not constitute a breach of the rules because no-one knew about them at the time.

This is not just the smoking gun proving the governing bodies are in this up to their necks; this is the smoking ruin of sporting integrity with the Ibrox flag planted on top of it, and messers Doncaster, Ogilvie and Regan posing before it for a photo.

It’s a bit like saying a crime isn’t a crime if no-one actually knows it’s been committed, and that once people find out that it has been it shouldn’t be investigated as one because … no-one knew at the time.

It’s still mind-bending, two years after the fact and that he was allowed to get away with that is almost unbelievable.

The problem he and others have got is that the crime is now public knowledge and the notion that those responsible should get away with what they spent a decade doing is rightly seen as unacceptable.

An “internal inquiry” isn’t going to do it either.

All of this has to be handed over to serious people who can do a serious investigation.

Frankly, I don’t know why UEFA isn’t involved in this. Those footballers played in European games and that has badly compromised their competitions as well as those here in Scotland. All it will take – and I’m shocked it’s not happened already – is for one of the clubs who played Rangers on the continent to complain … and we’re in new territory.

This whole thing reeks, everything about it, from the day the EBT case was uncovered all the way through Whyte and Green and into the disgraced King being given a seat on the board with the SFA seal of approval.

There’s no way in Hell the people who presided over this can be expected to deal with it, honourably, as we go forward.

Who knew what, where and when?

Who got paid and how much?

These are the questions that we most often ask in relation to the EBT drama.

But there are other questions, other things that don’t make sense in all this, potential scandals waiting to be uncovered, and not just the secret list of EBT recipients who’s names were never published, and are known to the BBC and other outlets … but, yes, that too …

Who was on that list? How big is this thing?

Most importantly, these were payments for ‘services rendered’ … and one of the most interesting questions is what, in some cases, did those ‘services’ involve?

There’s barely one of us who isn’t aware, for example, that Graeme Souness got an EBT ten years after leaving Ibrox.

Ten years, friends. That’s not something that can be easily explained away.

What was this cash for?

The name of this scam, after all, was the Employee Benefit Trust … so in exactly what capacity was Souness still employed by Rangers and Murray?

He was at Blackburn from 2000-2004.

In January 2000, Rangers signed Tugay Kerimoğlu.

The following year he went to Rovers in a deal that reunited him with a manager he’d played for in Turkey. That deal appears kosher, but questions have long surrounded what happened three years later, when Souness was in his first season at Newcastle.

Jean Alain Boumsong, a player the Ibrox club signed as an out-of-contract freebie, was at Rangers for less than six month before Souness took him to his new club, paying £8 million for his services.

That transfer was later part of the Stevens Inquiry into bungs and backhanders in transfer deals, with the sting in the tail being that part of that was a raid on Ibrox and the confiscating of computers, and it was on these that the EBT use became known to HMRC.

So, we know what the Geordie side got for their money … and it wasn’t very much.

Boumsong was a dreadful signing for them, playing 40 odd games before they sold him for less than half of what they paid.

What we don’t know for sure is what Rangers got for their cash.

We know too that a number of people who are now journalists got EBT’s.

We don’t know how many did because the full list isn’t known.

Martin Bain got one whilst he was on the Rangers board, but he was also on the SPL Board of Directors at the same time.

That’s a post, similar to that held by Peter Lawwell at the moment, where you’re obliged to act in the best interests of the sport.

Yet he would have known league rules were being breached all the while.

Andrew Dickson, who was at Ibrox at the time, was elected to the SFA Congress this very year … an outrage considering what we know to have been going on whilst he was a club employee, responsible for “Football Adminstration” during the period when the dual contracts were being hidden away from the very body which he now sits on.

How do we know this? We know it because the SFA told us, in their investigation into Craig Whyte, who Dickson had testified to the governing body as being a “fit and proper person.”

He was also the recipient of an EBT, one worth £33,000.

You literally could not make this stuff up.

And then there’s Campbell Ogilvie himself, who left Rangers in 2005, receiving an EBT as a “golden handshake” after departing for Hearts. He was already the SFA treasurer, and two years later he was association Vice President.

Apart from having received a payment from the Ibrox club after he’d left he also held shares in Rangers, whilst at Tynecastle … a clear violation of the regulations he was supposed to enforce.

He knew all of it, along with Dickson and Bain, about the legal advice and the side letters and the non-disclosure and the illegality of the Discounted Options Scheme.

They had to, otherwise you have to surmise that they were absolutely, perhaps even criminally, negligent in their duties.

Their EBT payments compromise all of them in terms of their positions on those boards, and it’s astonishing that Dickson is at the SFA right now with all this swirling around him, but that Ogilvie received part of his after his employment at Ibrox is far worse, and makes me wonder just what that payment represented.

One thing is for sure; he looked the other way on these issues all the way through his tenure at the SFA, and he was still working on the club’s behalf right up to the moment Nimmo Smith gave his verdict in the last so-called “independent inquiry” we had, the one where the frame of reference was all decided in advance by organisations with everything to lose.

A lot of folk in our media have already been caught out as implicated in this.

Billy Dodds had one, Neil McCann had one and so did Stephen Thompson.

Those guys all won medals at the club during the EBT years and their views are still sought today in various media outlets. All are hopelessly compromised, as are the newsrooms in which they’ve spent their time, filled as they’ll be with their mates.

In addition, although he wasn’t at the club itself, Souness frequently appears on Sky Sports as a pundit, although he’s never asked about goings on at Ibrox. He doesn’t need to be. Off-camera, I’m sure he’s pushing the Victim Myth like crack cocaine.

No wonder the media narrative is that title stripping isn’t required, or even wanted.

A lot of former Celtic players have already been lined up to say they’re against it, or so it’s being spun. In fact, many have been asked if they would like the retroactive awarding of titles, which isn’t the same thing, and very few footballers would ever want that.

The campaign being waged on the other side is sneaky, and those behind it are those with far too much to lose to allow an inquiry that’s fully independent of the sport. But that’s what necessary, because the EBT scandal is bigger than it looks and it’s led to other scandals, some of which have the potential to do even more damage.

This thing began with off-the-books payments and concealed contracts but it didn’t end there, of course.

The real scandals came later.

First, the “conflicted” SFA President and the corrupted media, some of whom were in receipt of those payments, fought to see that ten years of cheating went unpunished when Rangers was liquidated and Sevco was born, giving the new owners guarantees of immunity before a shred of evidence had even been heard in the case.

They think we’ve forgotten this, about the secret memo that gave Charles Green his “no title stripping” assurances.

He’s now headed for a courtroom as the people who allowed him to get control pretend none of this is their doing.

They are in this up to their necks.

That’s why what happens next shouldn’t – indeed can’t – be dictated by them.

When these affairs came to light the natural inclination these people had was to sweep it under the carpet.

When it wouldn’t stay there they lied to us all about seeking justice, and gave the offenders a free pass.

An official at the SFA went in front of a tribunal and excused cheating on an industrial scale on the grounds we didn’t know it was cheating at the time.

They did no due diligence on Green.

When evidence of his links to Whyte emerged they let the club investigate itself.

They watched as a share issue was launched on decidedly dicey foundations and then rubber stamped two people who didn’t meet the Fit and Proper Person criteria as it’s laid down in the rules – their own set of rules, which have been used to punish other clubs for offences not even remotely this severe.

We have criminal cases pending.

The tax scam itself has been deemed illegal.

King himself is a convicted crook, running a Scottish club, the same one making threatening noises about not accepting further sanctions, when they haven’t even accepted responsibility for the pathetically ineffectual ones that were imposed on them three years ago.

Our entire national sport is mired in an enormous scandal that would be game-changing in any other national association in Europe.

Yet many of the guilty men still hold office.

In light of all this, a landscape of destruction stretching out for miles, we’re being told to “move on.”

Anybody arguing that needs therapy.

The game needs cleansing from top to bottom, and no-one involved in these affairs should be near its fresh start, which is the bare minimum that’s required before we can even start thinking about putting this in the past.

Dismay was yesterday’s emotion.

Disbelief stopped applying many, many moons ago.

What’s replacing all of that is anger, the anger of fans who’ve had to watch this unfolding, ever evolving shambles for near on three years, which gets worse the deeper into it we go.

I’m not approaching this as a Celtic fan.

I’m approaching it as an outraged football fan who’s more and more convinced that we’re watching something that’s not actually a competitive sport at all.

My girlfriend is a wrestling fan, a staged “sport” which is an interesting spectacle but can’t in any way, shape or form be viewed as a serious undertaking.

If we want to package football in this country on that basis, then great, but let’s acknowledge that fact.

Hibs haven’t won a Scottish Cup since 1902?

Well, wouldn’t that make a wonderful “story”? Let’s fix that for them next year, yeah?

The SPL’s become a one horse race?

Let’s make sure we throw it for Aberdeen, just to create a romantic “narrative.”

Let’s create rivalries between players, between managers, between officials and even fans.

Let’s artificially create heroes and villains, let’s have nothing that’s real.

Let’s remove sporting integrity from the field entirely.

See how many fans go to see it.

I said three years ago, when the initial moves to put Sevco in the SPL were being made, that we’d reached a turning point for our sport.

The fans saved the integrity of the game by lobbying their clubs.

This crisis will require them to do it again, to see that ten years of cheating and all that’s come since doesn’t go unpunished.

I do not trust our governing bodies to do this right.

The inquiry, when it happens, has to be wholly independent with the power to call witnesses and make them answer questions.

This isn’t a joke; the illegal activities of Rangers Football Club cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds and there are a thousand unanswered questions about where the money went, and why.

At the end of all of it, justice has to be done and it has to be seen to be done so that our national sport can begin to recover and heal.

That means title stripping.

That means heads must roll.

That means a complete hollowing out of the structures at the SFA and the SPFL and the creation of robust, and meaningful, regulations to assure none of this can happen again.

Then, and only then, can we finally “move on.”

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The Day After Tomorrow

JS35335867There are people in Scottish football who exist solely to leech off the game.

There are others who pour everything they have into it, whether that’s money or time or attention or support, because they love it.

The people on one side recognise those on the other.

We know who they are, and what they are about, and they know us too.

Scotland is a small country, and as both sides operate largely in the light – whether that’s bloggers or football administrators or players and officials, whatever – there isn’t a lot of spare room in which to keep secrets.

One of the recurring themes I come back to over and over again here is that none of the things people think of as being buried and forgotten here in our game will stay that way.

Folk are digging, folk are investigating, and wheels are in motion.

Indeed, some of these issues are now in the province of the justice system, and I fancy that in the fullness of time we’re going to learn things that no-one involved thought would ever become public knowledge.

The question is; what happens then?

That one should haunt us, all of us who care … and it should also haunt those who don’t, those leeches, those who prey on the game from the side-lines, and I believe that when the time for demanding action comes they will be with us in that.

We don’t like each other.

But we’re united in our common knowledge of one thing; what’s good for the game here is good for us all.

Without it, they’re nothing.

Without it, we have nothing.

They need it as much as we do, and they’re not any keener on seeing it die.

Scottish football is an odd little place, sometimes quite a nasty one. There are a lot of people in it who take a very narrow view of what’s on the horizon, thinking only in terms of how it affects them and their own club. One area where this is evident is in the constant sniggering the fans of some sides do about the failures of others in European competition.

Celtic plays in the Europa League on Thursday, and I know there are fans across the country who will be rooting for Fenerbahce.

This is so bone-headed stupid that it makes me want to hit something.

We’re not the EPL, with four Champions League clubs. We have one, and that club has to play an arduous series of games every year, just to get to the Groups. Our Europa League teams face a similarly daunting task.

With that in mind, it makes zero sense for any one of us to wish our Scottish sides ill when they step out on continental pitches. Every European reversal sees the co-efficient tank and that makes the job even harder the next time around.

Deep down, most fans know this and do understand why it’s daft to be so gleeful when they see Scottish sides crash and burn on the big stage, and that’s just one example of how myopic the thinking around here can be.

It’s not the only one, and at the heart of this matter and others is a simple, difficult, truth.

If we’re going to change Scottish football, fans need to be united.

No-one wants to see things continue as they are and only one set of supporters in this country, that I am aware of, ever wanted to see the whole national sport torched and they were being force-fed endless guff and the Victim Myth by the media.

Even with that, I would question whether they really understood what they were wishing for.

After all, who really wants to be King of the Ashes?

Had they got what they claimed to want they would have inherited a wasteland.

It reminds me, in many ways, of a cartoon I once saw; two guys huddled round a fire. Behind them, the rubble of a nuclear war and one of them is asking the other “Do you think we really could have won?”

The most important work being done among the fans of Scottish football’s clubs is being done by one website, The Scottish Football Monitor, with the objective of bringing supporters together under one campaigning banner.

There’s no money in this, no glory in it, and some will tell you no realistic prospect of victory either, but the real problem is that their stated intention of reforming Scottish football will only come off if the fans can work together and pressure their clubs with certain key objectives in mind. Tribal baggage has to be set aside, and a certain amount of responsibility faced up to and taken on board.

The last few years have been a self evident shambles, but we know the history enough now to know it was a shambles long before that.

No club gets out of this with clean hands; all have, to one degree or another, allowed us to get to this sorry point. All have put self-interest first, whether that was financially, or for influence or simply because their directors couldn’t be bothered getting involved in the politics of the national sport.

All have failed us, the supporters … and we’ve failed each other in turn.

Some supporters have failed themselves, and still won’t learn that.

We know that Sevco fans have blamed everyone for the ills of their club, ignoring the fact that numerous websites were warning them well in advance of what was coming down. They ignored us, preferring to wallow in their own delusions of grandeur, and they’re still doing it today. That hasn’t served them well, and nor has the media’s indulgence.

For real reform to happen the supporters of that club have to accept that lax regulations cost them, and they have to accept what that means.

Had those regulations been robust, Whyte would never have been allowed to run the OldCo and Green would have been subjected to the proper scrutiny when he was putting together his deal to purchase the assets.

The Sevco fans now accept that this would have been for the best … but if someone had tried to stop Whyte or Green at the time those same fans would have brought the house down. They know it and we know it.

They were almost united, save for a few of the smarter fan groups, in welcoming Dave King’s fit and proper person result, which was, and is, a travesty and his appointment ought to have been resisted every bit as much as that of Whyte and Green.

More than any other supporters, they have to start accepting that the good of the game comes first, that it’s not to be subservient to their will, that it works to their benefit in the long term.

The media has to get a grip too, because they’re just as bad.

People like Graham Speirs were opposed to the King decision, but shrugged in the aftermath of it, as if it didn’t matter. Of course it matters, and this washing of the hands that he and others did was deplorable in people who are supposed to scrutinise these affairs.

There isn’t a single person in the media, not even those of a Sevconian persuasion, who isn’t wholly aware that allowing a guy like King to sit on a board of directors makes a mockery of what the regulations are supposed to do, and weakens the whole framework. There is no excuse for it, and simply saying, as many of them have, that the club “needs” King isn’t good enough.

Even if it were true – and I would dispute it, absolutely – the rules can’t simply be bent with that objective in mind.

This nonsense has gone on too long.

The media which covers the game here should be leading the clamour for changes, and I do think that when the Sevco legal cases begin to resolve and the totality of our failures in governance are laid bare that they will have to join us in promoting real, meaningful change.

Fighting for that change is now the most important thing supporters who care about the sport can do.

I’m not pretending I have the answers here, and nor do the guys at the Scottish Football Monitor, but they are looking for them and I’d like to help them with that, and I’d like us all to try and do the same, because that’s important if we’re to avoid Scottish football turning into the wasteland it would have been in the summer of 2012 if it’s leaders had gotten their way.

In the most recent article on the Scottish Football Monitor site, the founder of that blog bemoaned the fact that three years on from that crazy summer the SFA has yet to firm up the regulations on club licensing to assure we never have a repeat of it.

That’s crazy, and it’s scandalous, and it leaves the door wide open for future abuse.

We never move on, because the people who run our sport never learn.

You know, I once wondered if what Scottish football really needed was some form of “truth and reconciliation”.

Once upon a time, I’d have supported a move towards something like that, with all the parties involved getting together and talking openly about the things that have happened, acknowledging past mistakes, even biases, and letting us start again on a clean slate.

Perhaps I’m part of the problem, because I no longer do.

Heads have to roll. It’s as simple as that.

That is essential if we’re to know the game here in Scotland is clean and ready to move forward.

Allowing the likes of Doncaster and Regan to continue profiting from it, to allow them to run it as if they are not discredited, is simply not on. The elasticity of our current regulations is inexcusable considering the events of the last three years and no sing-song around the campfire will make that better. So yes, heads have to roll, and with the potential consequences for everyone involved in the Sevco case mounting up, I trust that they will.

The question is, what happens the following day?

The Scottish Football Monitor guys are trying very hard to answer that question.

As per usual, this site would like to pledge them our full support.

Our magazine All In The Game should be relaunching later this year …. you can download issues 1-3 here.

(This site depends on the support of its readers. If you want to help keep it running, 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.)







Guilt By Association? Did The SFA Help Perpetrate A Fraud?

20205757.JPG-pwrt3Over the last week, I’ve written various pieces in relation to arrests concerning the establishment of Sevco, with the emphasis on looking at how it affects their club, but there’s a bigger issue, by far, that no-one seems to want to touch.

Back in 2012, when the NewCo was being established, there was concern on some of the blogs, this one included, that proper due diligence hadn’t been done by the game’s governing bodies.

Over the course of the next 12 months, that concern grew.

The gravest concerns we had revolved around – and continues to revolve around – the notorious Five Way Agreement and the way it is structured, as well as the people who actually signed it and were party to its creation.

This website has already described that as the most dangerous document in the history of Scottish football, and a phalanx of other sites have been clamouring for its full publication since then.

A version of it has already been leaked online, and distributed widely.

It is a document that has no parallel in our sport.

Nothing like it had been commissioned before or since.

It is, it will remain, wholly unique.

What we had is a group of senior officials in our game sitting down with people who weren’t even football administrators – Duff & Phelps, let’s not forget, were parties to this – as well as the owners of the new club, to bend regulations and ignore others in order to get them a berth in the Scottish football league structure, at a time when that was up in the air.

Back in November last year, this site published an article called Five Way To Hell. We asked a simple, but deadly, question, one the media has still not taken up, as we’d hoped, nearly 10 months later.

Was the SFA, inadvertently or not, party to a fraud?

Let’s be clear; I am neither accussing them of that or even saying that a fraud has been committed.

But these events are subject to legal action, and are going to court. I won’t discuss those events or those who were involved for that very reason.

I am simply asking that if the defendents are found guilty, and those charges proven, was the SFA a party, willingly or not, knowingly or not, to a crime?

And if the answer to this is yes, what might be the consequences for our national sport?

The Five Way Agreement bears the stamp of Duff & Phelps and that of the company calling itself Sevco Scotland Limited.

It seems clear – and it was being debated, openly, even at the time, most notably by the late Paul McConville – that this should have been questioned by those running our game.

The legal agreement to purchase the assets of the club was agreed in a different company name; that of Sevco 5088.

It has been alleged, openly and freely, by people associated with this takeover that those assets ended up in Sevco Scotland Ltd by less than exemplary means.

That’s me being diplomatic, and staying within the confines of legal allowance … but Charles Green himself told a national newspaper that, in fact, he had established Sevco Scotland Ltd as a vehicle by which he could “dupe” Craig Whyte and others.

That’s a matter of public record.

What some of us were asking – and still are – is what steps the SFA took at the time, or has taken since, to establish whether or not they are partly culpable if it turns out that Whyte and Worthington have a legitimate claim here?

A new wave of arrests has been made in connection with this, including that of Green himself.

Imran Ahmad is refusing to set foot in the UK until all this is resolved, fearing the legal consequences if he does.

Whyte himself has been huckled, and was subject to the full lynch mob treatment after being charged.

In spite of people hoping it had gone away this story has exploded all over again as any sensible person could have predicted well in advance.

It’s not going away.

I disagree with almost every single statement that comes out of the Rangers Supporters Trust, but they were 100% right when they said the SFA failed in its responsibilities to football when it allowed men such as Green and Whyte to take positions at Ibrox.

Regardless of the outcome in this case, those men were grossly unfit to have a role in running football here.

In my personal view the SFA exacerbated that failure this year in allowing Dave King on the board.

I’m not even going to dwell on the obvious – that the RST would have reacted with typical hysteria had the SFA board actually done what they’re now suggesting they should have.

The principle remains correct.

It was a failure of football governance and a staggering one at that.

What in God’s name were the SFA and the SPL legal teams doing?

If a blogger like Paul was asking questions, why the Hell were none of them doing the same?

How hard was it to ask for proper clarity on the issues, and to enquire just why the purchase agreement hadn’t been adhered to?

It’s not like it’s a small thing; this was a legally binding piece of paper, directing the disposal of assets in a company liquidated for non-payment of tax and other debts. This was serious business, being conducted in full public view … and the whole lot of it ended up transferred to another company entirely, and in circumstances that are going to be the subject of court proceedings.

The cavalier way in which these people went about this is disgraceful.

None of these issues is new.

No new facts have emerged here.

None of this has been raised just in the last four weeks.

I’m not inventing things or discussing the case itself … there were issues which were being raised at the time which the SFA and others had a duty to get to the bottom of, and it seems they never even bothered to try.

Those of us who’ve followed this have long suspected that the governing bodies were so concerned with getting a club calling itself Rangers into the league structure that they overlooked a lot of things they ought to have been on top of.

They allowed themselves to be rushed, to be bullied, to be so intimidated by threats that the takeover might collapse that they simply let Green and others run over them with a tank.

There’s ample evidence for that, such as the memo that guaranteed no title stripping and the way in which the Sevco “transfer ban” allowed the loophole which saw eight players come into the club during a period when they weren’t supposed to have been able to add to the squad.

The granting of a temporary SFA license before a lot of these issues had been resolved was, in my view, absolutely gutless and a devastating strategic error which put the Sevco owners in the driving seat in terms of any future negotiations.

From that moment on, any threat to prevent the club from playing games unless it agreed to a raft of conditions was as empty as a Dave King promise and everyone involved knew it well.

The people running the game in Scotland have given up any pretence of corporate responsibility in recent years.

That Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan remain in post three years after the scandalous summer of 2012 is an outrage for which all of our clubs are, in part, accountable, and Celtic as much as, if not more, than others.

Celtic’s Peter Lawwell, after all, is the one who continued to lend legitimacy to Neil Doncaster far beyond the point where it made any sense at all to do so. Doncaster is a busted flush, widely regarded as a joke by every supporter of every club in the game. Quite why anyone would wish him to remain in his current role is a mystery only those involved can clear up.

Neither he, nor Stewart Regan, two men who between them publicly declared our national sport worthless without Rangers in it, should be anywhere near Scottish football.

It’s instructive too that Alan McRae, elected SFA President on 9 June this year – months ago – has yet to offer any vision, any blueprint, any guidance or leadership on these or other issues in that time.

If there’s change in the air, there’s scant evidence of it.

We really do tolerate an appallingly dearth of ambition or imagination in the way football is run here in Scotland, and we’ve allowed glaring holes in the regulations to be exploited without even bothering to close them and assuring it can’t happen again.

The decision to grant Fit & Proper Person status to King and Murray, when both were on the board of a liquidated club and the chairman has a string of fraud convictions, was not only weak but dangerous as it proves the authorities have learned precisely nothing from the Whyte and Green cases.

That these things have all gone on at one particular club – the one they told us was “too big to fail” – makes it all the worse, because there’s no disincentive for anyone at the club to take a position there with less than honourable intentions.

Nobody should be under any illusions about the competence, or lack thereof, of those who run football in Scotland.

This isn’t even a debating issue any longer.

To call them useless would be to give them more credit than they deserve, but with these arrests we’re in uncharted waters.

There is surely not a single person in our game who was not fully aware that questions existed in relation to thse matter at the time – as Paul McConville had documented extensively – and certainly no-one in the slightest doubt t after November last year.

These assets were sold dirt-cheap, as has been acknowledged everywhere.

The creditors of OldCo Rangers will probably receive pennies in the pound if they are very, very lucky.

This was an unpardonable series of events, and it was the responsibility of the SFA and the other governing agencies to assure that following Whyte’s running of the club that everything in the aftermath was above board.

All this self regulation stuff is cobblers.

They allowed Sevco Rangers to investigate itself over some of these issues, and that particular scandal tells you just how rotten they know this situation actually is, where they couldn’t afford full and independent scrutiny of any aspect of it.

But now these matters are heading for a courtroom, and don’t be surprised if there are shocking revelations along the way, especially where Whyte is concerned, with his penchant for keeping meticulous records of conversations, including on tape.

The Five Way Agreement is just one aspect of all this that those at the top of our sport thought – hoped – would forever remain a secret, buried from view. Now even they have to conclude that there is not the remotest possibility of that happening.

It’s all going to come out.

We are going to get answers, one way or another.

And when they come heads are going to roll, and that’s the very best people can hope for.

My last article on this site suggested that Peter Lawwell of Celtic consider his position at the club and how he wants to be remembered by history. I said it’s not too late for him to save his reputation.

I think the reputations of the people involved in this scandal are beyond saving.

What they have to worry about now is their freedom.

A lot of people in Scottish football must have serious trouble sleeping at the moment.

If so, then good.

That, at least, is a measure of justice for sins past because a lot of them are guilty, even if it is only by association.

A more definitive form of justice might just be on its way, and in a court of law instead of the one of public opinion.

A verdict there has consequences for us all.

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, 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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