Published on 28 February 2013
February 28 will be remembered as a day of glee and disbelief for Scottish football fans.
Rangers Football Club, which was liquidated in 2012 after running up 276 bills it couldn’t pay, was deemed guilty of breaching SPL player registration rules by Lord Nimmo Smith’s independent commission.
However, that breach – which referred to the club’s unwillingness to declare ‘side letters’ relating to payments to players – was declared not to have given the club an unfair competitive advantage. Therefore, punishment was set at a £250,000 fine. The club will not be stripped of the titles it won while failing to properly register players.
The £250,000 fine won’t be paid, it’s purely symbolic. Why? Because Rangers went out of business.
The club that now plays at Ibrox and calls itself Rangers chose to pay a few of the old club’s footballing debts in a deal with the Scottish Football Association which saw the old club’s share transferred to the new club. Charles Green’s Sevco also agreed to inherit a one-year transfer embargo imposed on the old club during final owner Craig Whyte’s tenure.
A very tiny sacrifice was made by Charles Green’s Sevco consortium – when the size of the old club’s multimillion pound debt is considered – to be able to lay a claim to the old club’s trophies and history.
For Scottish football fans this says two things: 1. The old club was able to breach player registration rules and continue to win titles while all other Scottish clubs played by the rules, and 2. Charles Green’s new Rangers, founded in 2012 and without debt, has been enabled by Scottish football’s governing body to claim he owns the trophies won by Rangers during its 140 year history.
For Rangers fans, the Third Division now doesn’t look like such a bad deal; they have an (almost) debt-free club they can claim is still Rangers which will not pay any real consequence for breaching fundamental competition rules.
The outcome of Rangers’ big tax case is still to come, a case related to the subject of Lord Nimmo Smith’s enquiry. Indeed, that is where it all started. The dubious EBT payments were not only – eventually – questioned by the SPL, but have been subject to an ongoing battle with HMRC, who claim they are owed millions of pounds in tax from the scheme which enabled Rangers to bring in massive names to the club without paying full tax.
Rangers, owned by Sir David Murray during the contested period, were said by judges in the first-tier tribunal judgement to have “withheld or actively concealed” documents relating to the case. Lord Nimmo Smith’s enquiry has ruled that the club withheld documentation from the footballing authorities. And yet, Scottish football fans are told that none of this led to an unfair competitive advantage.
The SFA and SPL have blundered through the crisis, apparently unsure of their own rules and, occasionally, appearing to make them up – the temporary membership granted to Charles Green’s new club to guarantee its entry into Scottish football this season, a type of membership previously unheard of, for example.
A restructuring of the existing set-up will make no difference to the farce that has unfolded in Scottish football over several years. The damage has been done and new Rangers will likely work their way through the leagues into the Premier over the next few years, with even Charles Green wondering how he managed to pull it off.
It’s difficult to see how anything short of a sporting revolution will now see Scottish football become a thrilling, competitive, trustworthy game. The fans feel cheated – player registration rules were trampled over by Rangers and there seems to be no facility to do very much about it.
The titles won during the EBT period, we are told, now belong to new Rangers, a club which does not have to pay the £250,000 fine or any of the 276 creditors left behind by Rangers.
Scottish football fans have been left stunned and in disbelief. Rangers fans feel victorious and vindicated. Both ends are at their extremes and it’s difficult to imagine how, if, the game can ever move forward.