Rangers, Hearts and the Case of Wee Thistle

Hearts administration has raised many questions regarding the comparability of treatment against that of Rangers. This is fundamentally problematic given the unique nature of any insolvency and the difficulties most fans and pundits have in setting aside club loyalties to engage in any form of rational debate. Let us imagine then a hypothetical scenario…

  • Wee Thistle are pursued by HMRC for an amount equivalent to double their annual turnover. This is a mistake on HMRC’s part as they ultimately lose the case. None the less it creates a fundamental uncertainty on a scale which would cripple any business.
  • The owner of Wee Thistle is extremely worried as he can’t pay the potential liability. The wider economy is in turmoil, the other companies in his group are struggling and HMRC are also taking action against some of these related entities.
  • Wee Thistle and the rest of the companies in the owner’s group owe their bank a lot of money. They begin to exert extreme pressure.
  • These factors all combine to create an unsustainable situation and the owner sells Wee Thistle.
  • The new owner has no money. He buys Wee Thistle by taking a loan against future season ticket money. This is in effect using the company’s assets which he does not yet own to buy the company. This transaction will subsequently be subject to a police investigation to determine whether a fraudulent act has occurred.
  • This transaction yields the former owner a whole one pound.
  • The bank, effectively owned by the tax payer after a huge Govt. bail-out, receive their debt in full (Wee Thistle having already successfully cut this in half over the last couple of years to the detriment of the quality of player they can field).
  • The new owner, having no money, does what every businessman in this situation should to help their cash flow and stops paying all unnecessary expenses. A harsh reality of business is the first such payments that should cease when any company has cash shortages are anything to HMRC.
  • This non-payment is though only ever a short-term measure and administrators are inevitably called in.

How do we imagine the football authorities would react to the plight of Wee Thistle FC?

Is it correct that the bank, which was after all bailed out by taxpayers, have received their money in full yet their actions have directly contributed to HMRC and many other creditors losing out?

In the event of the sale of the business and assets followed by the liquidation of Wee Thistle Ltd would Wee Thistle’s supporters willingly accept the club dropping from the top tier to the bottom?

How culpable are HMRC in this scenario? Are their initial actions not ultimately the reason for the non-payment of taxes by the new owner? He would never have been in the position to withhold those taxes had they not wrongly pursued their initial case.

Do the fans of Wee Thistle deserve to be subjected to a campaign of vilification and a concerted effort to see them lose their team by fellow fans of every other club in the land?

Of course we all know the reaction to the above events would have been different if we were really talking about Wee Thistle not Rangers. The treatment of Hearts, and in particular the puzzling revelation they have already received £690,000 of their total £790,000 “prize” money for finishing bottom of the league, illustrates this point perfectly. For all that, I still genuinely don’t want Hearts to cease to exist. I’m not so bitter I would wish to deny any football supporter the opportunity to go see their team and share in the collective joys and despair this brings with their family and friends. If £100,000 really will make a difference in ensuring they do not disappear entirely then, on reflection, who amongst us would realistically begrudge it being advanced?

It is not that simple, though, because that is not the proposition in hand. The SPFL can and will dress it up but this £100,000 is to stave off immediate liquidation and in all likelihood prevent the club starting over in the bottom division next season. How can that be remotely justified when set against what happened to Rangers?

I realise I will be in the minority regarding sympathy for other clubs or accepting there are any circumstances under which assistance can be provided by the authorities. Let me be clear though, assistance in the form of this additional £100,000 from the football authorities must be accompanied by an unambiguous statement openly and publicly acknowledging the inherent inequity in their preferential efforts to aid Hearts against their punishment of Rangers.

Unless they do so there remains no option but to conclude… witch hunt then, witch hunt now, witch hunt forever.

Douglas Cameron is an accountant working specifically on the sale/acquisition of companies.