Today is D-Day for Scottish football – time to do or die

I’ve given up trying to make sense of the Rangers saga.  Suffice to say, it’s beyond mess.  Schadenfreude is in plentiful supply, but so too is sympathy.  Fellow fans recognise that for those individuals and families who have passed the mantle of supporting Rangers down through the generations, the pain is visceral and tangible.

But a view from the sidelines.  Duff and Phelps might well go down in history as the worst administators ever:  even an insolvency novice like me can sense that lots of things don’t add up in their handling of this affair.   Craig Whyte might have been the catalyst but the rotten, tax-avoiding practices were well embedded in the club’s operating culture long before he arrived.   Charles Green is not quite what he appears to be and far too many loose ends exist in his model for any fan to find anything but cold comfort.

Anyone who has played a role either as a Director or a senior employee in the club since the turn of the century does not have clean hands.  Indeed, it’s almost worse for most of them – and that includes you, Gordon Smith, with your wide-eyed protestations of innocence – to claim that they knew nothing of what was going on.  That suggests incompetence and the lot of them should be drummed out of Scottish football for good.

And then there’s the rest of Scottish football – the clubs and the governing bodies.  Some of us warned, some time ago, that failure to grasp the mettle and deal decisively with Rangers might result in the downfall of other clubs and the whole precarious edifice.  And lo, it has very nearly come to pass.

For months, dithering has been the order of the day, in the hope that somehow a miracle would transpire and clubs and authorities would not have to take the crucial decisions.  Here we are, months on and only now is an end in sight.  Yet, even though few hiding places remain, still they dither.

The SFL and SPL – the sum of football’s constituent parts, one month exactly from the start of the new season – are now contriving to pass the parcel.  The SFL met yesterday to consider whether or not to allow a New Rangers entry to Division 1 rather than Division 3 – a grubby compromise no one appears to want but everyone feels obliged to accept – blethered a while and came away with a commitment to meet again on 12 July.

Today, it’s the SPL’s turn and the wires suggest that it is minded to agree nothing until the SFL has met again on the 12th and reached its decision.  This ain’t no magic roundabout.

Now, it is not clubs, nor money men, nor key officials driving us to the denouement.  Thank goodness for the fans.  People power has at least focused the minds of chairmen and chief executives across the land and will hopefully force their hand.  Good on us.

Clubs have been pushed into doing the unthinkable in recent weeks and consulted their supporter bases.  Supporters have given their clubs their steer – No to Newco – and yet, the clubs still feel unable to act and compelled to dither.

Fans have not reached these decisions lightly.  They are well aware of the financial consequences of burying Rangers deep in Division three and they are mindful of their role as custodians of their institutions.  But it is exactly that sense of responsibility which has driven their opinion-forming.  Even if those running the game in Scotland still cling to hope that somehow, a solution will fall out of the sky, supporters have reached the inevitable conclusion that the gemme is indeed a bogey.

The only way to sort the morass, of which Rangers is the prime messy suspect but not the only one, is to start afresh.  Kicking Rangers into touch might well cause other clubs to go to the wall but a fresh start all round might be what is needed.

My own club, Kilmarnock, is one such standing at the precipice.  The wee chicklet is a Killie shareholder, courtesy of an inheritance from his late and very great Uncle Danny.  And on account of acting in proxy, me and the wee man took the last minute consultation launched last week very seriously indeed.  In trying to explain to him what the club was asking of fans and what the decision might mean for the club and for Scottish football, I found myself wondering what Danny would do.

A pragmatist, he would have been uneasy at the thought of voting potentially for his beloved club’s demise and he would have been very mindful of the economic consequences of voting No to the Newco.  But he would also have believed – as so many of us do – that fans would rally round.  Kilmarnock might face a shortfall of £300,000 in income this year if a new version of Rangers is not in the SPL, and it might require an additional 1000 season tickets to be sold to come close to plugging the gap but the Chairman has to hear his core supporters and trust in their judgement that making the right decision for the right reasons will cause the community to rally to the club’s aid.

Ultimately, Danny, like the rest of us, would opt for integrity, for the rules to be followed, for justice to be applied.  He was that kind of a man.

As so many other fans and supporters of clubs have proven to be.  Indeed, it has been life-affirming to see supporters take charge of this rudderless ship and lead the clubs where they do not want to go.  One rule for all is the core premise and by standing together, we have a chance to clean up Scottish football and put it on a footing that gives it a future.  It might not be a comfortable future but none of us is afraid of hard work.  In any event, living beyond our means – collectively and individually – has long since been unsustainable, on an emotional and a practical level.

So the fans have decided that Rangers must be allowed to die and rise again, if the club can, from the ashes of the third division.  Today, their clubs must decide;  there can be no more dithering.  They must follow their fans’ lead.  Today, it is time to do or die.

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Rangers: never mind the club, what about the tax?

So, Rangers.  Sorted then huh?

A take over by Charles Green, the former Chief Executive of Sheffield United, who left that club in less than rude health in the 90s, leading a global consortium of 20 wealthy and so far, nameless individuals.  What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, those nice chairmen at the SPL have postponed their meeting to decide if the club gets to stay in the wee-est, biggest, most important league in the world.  So that, they can, even though they shouldn’t, but what are rules if not to be broken.

And the SFA has somehow managed to achieve the impossible:  an early date for the appeal hearing against the punishment of a transfer ban and six figure sum fine.  Conspiracy theorists:  prepare to have a field day.

The only ones crying are the entirety of the Scottish media who now have to find something else to report.  And that’s only the front page journos.  The boys from the back pages will witter away throughout the summer about the club and its prospects whatever happens.  But then they’d do that anyway.

And maybe now, me and Ian Smart won’t get bumped from the Sunday Politics Show.  Unless of course, news breaks next Sunday that it was all a hoax.

So, we can all get back to normal, now our footballing world is guaranteed to continue revolving on its axis of self-interest.

Actually, no.

For there’s the small matter of monies owed to the bank of you and I.  Or the taxman as he/she is more commonly known.

Ever since the possible demise of Rangers began dominating our news schedules, we’ve been treated to speculation as to how HMRC might proceed.  Precedents for breathtakingly outrageous knock-downs of tax owed have been cited.  Portsmouth for one, Leeds United for another.  Heck, even wee Airdrie United has been mentioned in dispatches.

Apparently, the optimists have been misreading the signals, for the HMRC has been getting tough on clubs which fail to pay their tax bills.  It’s how Rangers got itself into this mess in the first place with the taxman calling time and I should think so too.

For in these straitened times, the lolly that the likes of Rangers owes the common people could pay for a lot of libraries.  Or school teachers.  Or road repairs.

The issue which does appear to have faded from view, however, is that of the tax avoided by Rangers players through the Employee Benefit Trusts or EBTs.  It is suggested that Rangers had been offering this wheeze to players for up to ten years before HMRC caught up with the club.  And while legal, HMRC decided it wasn’t on: the £49m sought by the taxman represents tax underpaid and penalties applied.   Of course, Rangers wasn’t the only club at it – up to eight current or former Premiership clubs were/are also being investigated by HMRC for its use of EBTs.

I can’t pretend to have a scooby about any of this.  Particularly not whether the Green deal involves a NewCo and Rangers rising like a phoenix from the ashes, leaving behind a trail of debt and destruction.

But I do know this.

Those players should pay the tax they avoided.  And this, all along, should have been the focus of everyone’s attention, instead of being the matter that has been ignored while a lather was being worked up over the future of the club.

Whoever they are – and isn’t it time they were named and roundly shamed – one supposes that they lived for at least some of the time, in our ain wee best country in the world.  They’ll have had houses.  With street lighting, pavements and tarmac’d roads.  Some of them might have had bairns that went to nursery and school.  They’ll have had bins emptied.  A few might even have had a cooncil uplift and not recoiled from recycling the empty Cristal bottles.

Some will have availed themselves of art galleries, museums and Christmas festivals.  Others – perhaps all too frequently – will have visited licensed premises.  A fair few might have been among those Rangers’ players who have benefited (sic) from the attentions of our police forces and court systems.  Some will even have got their breakfast in the morning.

Water was on tap.  Gritters will have visited their cul de sacs.  Hospitals might have attended to their families’ needs.  Dear god, some of them might even have been entitled to vote, and done so.

All of which is paid for by tax in some form or another.  Tax which we pay and which they did not.  Money that we, in the universal sense, need more than they do.

Bad enough that we have had to put up with them on our pitches, golf clubs and telly screens all these years.  Worse, that most other players were taking pay cuts or having to move down the leagues, as squads were reduced when our ain clubs started having to live within their means, while this lot were still demanding and getting big money and allowing Rangers to effectively cheat its way to trophies and titles by helping everyone to avoid paying their fair share of tax.

Worse still that we were effectively keeping these players in the style to which they became accustomed.

It’s time they paid up.  And it will be a disgrace if they get away with it.

Aye ready? Enough already

Day after day, the saga continues, with only desperate fans and even more desperate journalists enthralled.  The rest of us would just like it all to end.

Today’s instalment?  Apparently the administrator at Glasgow Rangers FC has three options – “none of them palatable” according to the sages (sic) that witter on about football stuff on Radio Scotland every evening.

I’ve avoided blogging on it until now, despite being a keen football fan, largely because others have said all that I would say – opportunity for supporters’ buyback, Whyte and Murray to blame both, they should pay their tax like everyone else has to – but a burd can only keep her beak shut for so long.

I have broken my silence simply because – as with the banks that were supposedly too big to fail – the limping, wounded beast that is Rangers FC is threatening to bring down other teams.  And the rest of us, who care passionately about Scottish football must start demanding action from the footballing authorities to prevent this from happening.

Rangers, as the club it is now, is finished.  And despite what some might think, I take no pleasure in writing that statement.  But no club that needs an astonishing £10 million to make it to the end of the season and has a hole of £4.5 million to plug to do so can be considered anything like a going concern.  The longer Rangers is allowed, by everyone, to continue in its current form, the more likely it is that other dominoes will be toppled.  Far better to cut the club adrift now, enabling the possibility of it returning one day, some day.

Already, with Dunfermline Athletic’s plight, we are seeing the whole of the top flight in Scottish football begin to unravel.  It is unforgiveable and unconscionable for Rangers to take ticket money for games and keep the share that rightly belongs to other clubs.  Surely the laws that govern the game have something to say about that?  And even if not, isn’t there a moral code that allows the SPL and SFA to step in and prevent it happening?  Okay, how about the criminal law of the land then?

Of course, the clubs could act on this themselves, and simply start refusing to play Rangers.  In the past, when a show of solidarity has been required, on anything, someone somewhere has always broken ranks.  But surely self-preservation demands a different response this time?

The fact is that Rangers’ success in recent years has been achieved by duplicity and by operating a financial chimera that made it seem like the club had plenty of money to slosh about for player transfers and wages.  It did not: it helped itself to Scottish silverware by not paying its way nor its fair share.  It created a scheme to help itself and its players avoid paying tax in this country.

And this revelation, becoming clear only with Craig Whyte’s purchase of the club, begs a question.  If tax-avoidance on a grand scale was being practised by Rangers, was it – is it – also happening at other clubs in Scotland?  Or indeed, across the UK?

This is what needs to be investigated by er, someone.  Anyone, in fact.  It is unacceptable at any time, never mind in these times, for wealthy footballers to ply their trades in our communities and pay not a penny of tax, or at least pay far less than their fair share.  It is also unacceptable for clubs to enable and condone such behaviour, given that they rely on the hard-earned cash of fans, most of it handed over after having tax deducted (in the main), to continue.

Not in a monetary sense, for as the clubs are wont to remind us, our ticket money doesn’t pay for diddly squat, but in a continuity sense.  It is fans, not TV money, nor big names, nor shirt sponsors, nor even managers which have kept Scottish clubs going, sometimes for over a century.  Without fans, and the baton of support being passed on from generation to generation, clubs have no soul.  They would shrivel and die, as many have done in the past when local support dried up.

And if Scottish football wants to keep fans coming back for more, then it needs to take itself by the scruff of its neck and sort itself out.  Otherwise the whole of the game as it is currently structured is at risk.  If those in charge of clubs feel even a twinge of responsibility for the duty of care they owe to the supporter base and the communities within which they exist, then they must act in their clubs’ interests first.  And that must mean that they all turn their backs on Rangers.

This is one occasion where the clubs are not stronger together.  Many of the SPL clubs are already tottering on the brink.  Protecting Rangers and colluding in its supposed right to continue to exist as a football club, will add to their debt and their woes, and constitutes living badly, madly and dangerously.

And some of us would prefer it if the football governing bodies, authorities and clubs themselves did not proceed lemming-like to follow Rangers over the cliff edge.