Counting the Cost of the Last Year

The last few months have been positive for Rangers fans: a clear majority verdict in the First Tier Tax Tribunal, a conclusive decision in the SPL commission, over £20million raised in the company’s IPO, a clear run to the SFL3 title and even two new sponsorship deals announced last week. I think it’s safe to say we deserve to be smiling after all the trials and tribulations since we entered administration last February.

Most recently, the result of the SPL commission has prompted much debate. Although Rangers were found guilty of failing to disclose the side-letters involved in their controversial EBT tax scheme, a £250,000 fine is viewed as a good result given Lord Nimmo Smith’s independent panel could just have easily stripped the club of honours won during the period these letters were utilised by the old company. Certainly those who are not fans of Rangers clearly feel that’s what should have happened.  And who can blame them when large sections of the media misled us all with irresponsible suggestion that was the only likely result 1?

Thus, it’s been no surprise to see many people react with undisguised horror at Lord Nimmo Smith’s ruling.  As well as the usual feral lynch mob of Celtic bloggers and mischief-fuelled media pundits, we even had the strange sight of Celtic and their manager embarrassing themselves by questioning the logic of the Commission.  Celtic, like Rangers in fact, may well ‘operate within the rules of the governing body and the law of land’ but they, like Rangers and others, will also take the opportunity to minimise their tax obligations.  Indeed, while Lennon’s hypocrisy shouldn’t be a surprise to any football observer, it is worth pointing out his personal tax avoidance scheme was ruled illegal last year 2.  And, of course, if any club has gained most out of Rangers’ misfortunes it is Celtic.

It’s these kinds of double standards that really frustrate Rangers supporters.  We’re told by many that it’s time to move on but as long as the usual detractors continue to perpetuate myths about ‘cheating’ while working with ‘sectarian tarred’ pseudo-journalists, it is difficult for anyone to try and leave the mess of the last year behind.  After all, let’s not forget that despite all the repeated calls for further punishment and supporter ‘contrition’, Rangers and their fans have lost most.

Not only will our company of over 100 years be liquidated, our club’s reputation and profile have been damaged badly through no fault of our support.  Sure, Sir David Murray’s tax risks may attract deserved criticism but, so far, these risks have been shown to have been lawful ones.  Of course, legal or not, the EBT tribunal eventually proved to be so much of a weight, he had to sell (or was forced to sell?) Rangers to the nefarious Craig Whyte.  Whyte’s deliberate non-payment of PAYE and NI then directly led the club to administration and if anyone must be culpable, he is the main perpetrator - though others also neglected their responsibility to one of Scotland’s greatest institutions.

In that respect, that’s where it’s difficult for Rangers fans to move on.  Not only did we have the sham of SPL Commissions, the disgrace of five-way agreements and the (continuing) corporate challenges of HMRC tribunals but also lies and hyperbole in the media based on anonymous blogs and illegally obtained documents.  Even Lord Nimmo Smith referred to such issues in his judgement but that has been skipped over in the haste for hypocrisy.  

All in all, when counting the cost of the last year we need to be sound of mind to examine the true scale of what has happened.  Rangers are now in the Third Division – the lowest they’ve ever been as a club and, by association, cannot play in Europe for at least another three seasons.  Meanwhile, the SPL has already been won a canter by Celtic amidst decreasing crowds, reconstruction chaos and short-lived supporter led ‘Scottish Springs’.  Add in the dreadful performance of the international team, Scottish football has never been in a worse state.

To that end, if we are to move forward (and we must actually) then we can only do so by having all the relevant parties take a step back and consider their position.  Can Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster really lead us into a brave new era? How can the SPL’s lawyers be trusted to re-write our rules when they can’t interpret the existing ones correctly?  Should we really reconstruct our systems and authorities so hastily?  At what point will vocal elements of the Scottish media be more positive in their approach?

These questions aren’t all that difficult to answer but until they are acknowledged then there will be no amicable solution and the national game will remain a laughing stock. Ironically by their statements over the last few days, Rangers have been the most conciliatory and it was interesting to note that no other Scottish club commented on the Commission outcome.  That does indicate we can find common ground but only when all involved accept their part in what has happened.

Rangers may have been at the centre of this maelstrom of misfortune but most of us (though certainly not Celtic) have lost out.  The quicker some realise that true cost, the quicker we can all get back to normal.  Just don’t hold your breath…

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