One of the major problems with journalism in this country is how we treat news around sport.
For one thing, the idea of a “Sports Writer” makes me laugh. All sport? Really? Are people that interchangeable when it comes to sport that, say, an expert in football one week is just as good an expert in tennis the next and then lawn bowls the week after?
Maybe I’m doing them a disservice, maybe they really are that quick at learning. I work in IT, I know that if I ask an iOS developer then they probably could write an Android app but it would take them time to get up to speed with the technology. But given that time then I’d be confident they could do it.
There’s a limit to that though. I wouldn’t expect them to pick up loads of other programming languages, one after the other, and expect them to be some kind of expert in them all.
But that’s switching within their own discipline. What about going beyond that? I can safely say I wouldn’t want any of my colleagues defending me in a court of law!
So why then do we insist on asking sports writers to tell us what’s happening with things involving names well known down at Ibrox like Craig Whyte, Sports Direct and HMRC?
This must be the only industry where this happens. That guy that used to do the weather on Good Morning was up in court a few months ago, did anyone ask Judith Ralston for her hot take on it? Of course not, people who actually have a clue about how the law works did that.
So why is football different? What on Earth makes anyone think the likes of Keith Jackson or Chris McLaughlin or Robert Collins or quite literally anyone who spends their day job writing about sport are in any way the right person to inform us on the intricacies of corporate tax law?
Given they’ve spent the last five years trying to convince everyone that “the club” and “the company” are separate entities, by their own twisted logic this is literally nothing to do with them!
This week’s verdict of the Supreme Court to reject the latest appeal means that HMRC won the Big Tax Case. Rangers use of EBTs was illegal, and the full tax bill now falls on the liquidated company and massively dilutes things for the other creditors in there. I don’t think the face painter is getting much now – not that I ever thought they would.
It means that Rangers, for pretty much a whole decade, illegally used money they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to. They used that money to pay players for short term success, players they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford.
Or to put that in simple terms – they cheated.
And that doesn’t account for the wee tax case which they at least admitted liability for but never paid. Or any of the other dodgy dealings they had with the bank that let them spend outwith their means. Sadly, spending outwith your means for short term success is something sport likes to sweep under the carpet with odd penalties like fines and points deductions. I often wonder why clubs who fleece creditors through administration and ultimately liquidation are able to keep their honours despite that. At least in liquidation the club dies as a consequence. That’s the price you pay.
Well, except at Ibrox apparently.
The difficult part now is to find the rules that Rangers broke in their illegal tax dealings. Previously, Lord Nimmo Smith was tasked to do that in terms of the side letters relating to the EBTs by the SPFL. He found that while Rangers were guilty in terms of the non-disclosure of side letters, the SPL rules as they were at the time were so fag-packet based that improper registration of players wasn’t actually a problem until after it was found out.
Or so we were told by the SFA’s Sandy Bryson.
The Bryson defence is what gave rise to the infamous “no sporting advantage” phrase. Because the improper registration wasn’t discovered until well after the event, there was nothing wrong with the registrations at the time. Because there was nothing wrong at the time, Rangers could wriggle out of it and keep their SPL titles.
You can think what you want about that ruling and the Bryson defence that enabled it, but I for one wasn’t surprised that the SPL’s rules were abject. Them being a farce is perfectly believable.
What did surprise me though was that somehow that means Rangers got to keep their cups as well. I don’t know what the SFL’s rules were at the time so I couldn’t say how the League Cups that Rangers won could be affected, but we all know for a fact that player registration has caught out many teams in the SFA’s own Scottish Cup. How many times have we seen teams win on the park, only to be kicked out of the cup soon after the event because the paperwork wasn’t right?
So if that’s the case, how come no one has questioned the Scottish Cups won by Rangers in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009? Celtic, Dundee, Queen of the South and Falkirk would all have a good case to question that standing even before we consider the final result of the Big Tax Case. Certainly the League Cups in 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2007/08 and 2009/10 must all be worth questioning as well – your move Ayr United, Celtic, Motherwell, Dundee United, and St Mirren respectively.
But the Lord Nimmo Smith ruling also crucially made the assumption that the payments themselves were legal. Now we know from the Supreme Court that they were not. That once again raise the question as to whether the league titles of 2002/03, 2004/05, 2008/09 and 2009/10 were won fairly.
For those counting, that’s thirteen titles in all. I have no idea where the number fourteen has come from because if it extends to 2010/11 then there’s another SPL title and an SFL League Cup to consider taking it to fifteen.
Of course, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if there’s a similar issue with the SPL financial rules as there were with player registration rules. Sandy Bryson to the rescue again no doubt.
Incidentally, Bryson was also involved in the Jorge Cadete registration scandal that ended Jim Farry’s time at the SFA. There always was a suspicion that he fell on the sword to protect others. Or at least was pushed onto that sword.
Certainly, the newer SPFL don’t seem to have any problems with dealing with tax breaches after the event. When Livingston defaulted on tax payment in 2010/11, a time when they were under the SFL, Livingston were deducted five points from their 2014/15 league season. So maybe we can look forward to the “same club” argument being touted once again when so called Rangers start the 2017/18 Premiership season on about minus 700.
Like the sports writers of Scotland, I don’t have the answers. Unlike the sports writers, I’m not going to pretend I do or be told what to say by PR men who are paid to have agendas. But there are questions here that need to be answered, and it should be the clubs affected pushing for the answers. If they won’t, then it’s down to the fans to push their clubs.
I suspect that will be required. The sports writers who make a living reporting on the goings on at Ibrox don’t want that to end, and so they are doing whatever they can to protect that livelihood already. The SFA are so embroiled in this scandal that they have little appetite to rock the boat lest it come back on them. The SPFL aren’t exactly immune from that either. For real justice to be seen to be done, I rather suspect heads will have to roll first.
And roll they should. Many of the men involved in this scandal still work in Scottish Football even now. Campbell Ogilvie, Andrew Dickson, Dave King, Paul Murray, Alistair Johnston… They should be banned from football in this country yet two of them are at the SFA! Ogilvie was the President of it for a while and still represents us at UEFA! If nothing else, this aspect of the scandal absolutely has to be addressed for the good of our game.
And that’s to say nothing of the worst of them all – David Murray. Even Dave King has chucked him under the bus in an attempt to keep Rangers titles. He is undoubtedly the man who killed Rangers, through a series of devious means. The mess as Murray Group as a whole should see further action against him if there’s any justice. And of course I’d probably strip him of his knighthood if I actually had any respect for that outdated nonsense.
As far as I can see, the titles that Rangers won across that decade of cheating were not won fairly. We all know it, it’s just a case of finding the right way to represent that. They are not Rangers’ titles to claim, and they should all be stripped accordingly.
I wouldn’t give them to anyone, no one actually won them, just take them off Rangers.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg for me. Those titles have been asterisked for some time as far as I’m concerned. Of much bigger concern is the hold that these cheats appear to have over our game. That needs addressed far more than the history books – although that’s hardly an either/or scenario.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)