Bonfire of the Vanities
Far too many football blog sites are exercises in confirmation bias and often fail to distinguish between what is factual and what they would like to be true. Of course, we all know that football is a game of fierce passions and rivalries and supporters often only see the best in themselves and the worst in their rivals. In the never-ending war of words, truth is often the first casualty.
Few things have been debated as fiercely or with as much passion as the liquidation of Rangers FC in 2012. It was a staggering event at the time and looking back it remains incredible that such a well-supported club could be so badly mismanaged that it crashed and burned on the bonfire of David Murray’s vanity. The hubris of the Murray years should have been brought to a halt by the world financial crash of 2008. With banks failing, a debt-ridden business like Rangers FC should have heeded the warnings. Some were comforted by the idea that Rangers were too big, too important to fail but as many big High Street businesses found, no one is too big to fail.
The repercussions of Rangers’ liquidation are still felt today as supporters argue over what it actually meant for the club itself. One of the gambling companies which advertises its dubious wares on social media got more than it bargained for when it posted an add showing Steven Gerrard in front of the number 55 with the accompanying text; ‘Just 9 years after being demoted to the lowest tier of Scottish football Rangers are champions.’ Fans of Celtic and other clubs were quick to tell the firm involved that Rangers were not demoted but rather the Ibrox club was liquidated. The summer of 2012 saw the assets of the dead organisation purchased Charles Green’s Sevco company as many players exercised their right to walk away and join other clubs.
We then had a period where the governing bodies of Scottish football tied themselves in knots trying to accommodate the new Rangers into the league. When revelations about the use of EBTs and the attempts to hide them from the relevant authorities came to light, there was understandable anger among many in Scottish football. What some saw as industrial scale cheating and financial doping was seemingly being swept under the carpet in the haste to place the new Rangers in the top division. Supporters from Annan to Aberdeen were in open revolt and there was a vote on whether the ‘phoenix’ club should be allowed into the top division. When this vote came down firmly on the ‘No’ side, it was then suggested they were placed in the second tier of Scottish football. Once more there was a groundswell of opinion that the new entity should start in the bottom tier of the game as any other new club would. Money though seemed to be trumping morality and at a meeting at Hampden to discuss this proposal, the football authorities tried to force the issue. Raith Rovers Chairman, the late Turnbull Hutton, spoke for many when he said to the waiting press outside Hampden…
‘We are being bullied, railroaded and lied to. We are being lied to by the Scottish FA and the SPL. We are being threatened and bullied. It is not football as I know it. It was a ridiculous document which came out last week whereby the threat was there that if you don’t vote for an acceptance into the First Division, a breakaway SPL2 will come along and those who didn’t vote wouldn’t be invited. What kind of game are we running here? It is corrupt.’
Elements in the Scottish media printed scare storied of ‘financial meltdown’ and one even talked in hugely exaggerated terms of several clubs dying within weeks if the new Rangers were refused entry to the championship. The tattered credibility of the sporting press in Scotland suffered greatly in that era as elements couldn’t or wouldn’t present a balanced view of what was occurring in Scottish football. Yes, there was intimidation of journalists and even threats to their safety but with some honourable exceptions, they really were posted missing at a vital time in the history of Scottish football. Within a year of Rangers demise which was heralded with headlines about the death of the club and the end of its history, the fourth estate was engaged in historical revisionism of the sort holocaust deniers would be proud of.
Jim Traynor, a bellicose pressman of the time, summed up this patently hypocritical revisionism when he had a change of heart after the new Rangers employed him. He said in 2012…
‘No matter how Charles Green tries to dress it up a newco equals a new club. When the CVA was thrown out Rangers as we know them died.’
Once employed at Ibrox and with his monthly salary dependent on towing the party line, he stated without any hint of embarrassment..
‘Why is it so many are continuing to write and broadcast that this is a new club when it is just the owners who are new. Is it a basic lack of intelligence or something more sinister?’
One fan who saw the plight Rangers were in before their eventual liquidation in 2012, bet that the club would be relegated with bookmakers Coral. When Coral refused to pay out in the aftermath of Rangers collapse and the new entity beginning life in the fourth tier of Scottish football, the matter ended up in the courts. After a hearing which looked into circumstances of Rangers demise and how the new entity ended up beginning life in the fourth tier of Scottish football, the judge ruled that Rangers had not been relegated and found in favour of the bookmakers.
All of these arguments about whether Rangers as it currently exists is a new or old club are in some respects a smoke screen hiding the real issue here. The EBT scheme which saw Rangers pay tens of millions of tax-free pounds to players they might not otherwise have tempted to Ibrox was and remains the real bone of contention. To be clear, these payments were not illegal but as the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled, they were payments for playing for Rangers and as such should have been subject to tax. For Rangers to pay players in such a manner and to record it in side letters they subsequently hid from the SFA, broke player registration rules. As such players who represented Rangers whilst receiving EBT cash were in breach of SFA rules which state all contracts and payments be recorded with the governing body. It stretches credulity to ask us to believe that Rangers expected scores of footballers to pay back the EBT money they received. The money paid was not loans but wages, and those at in control at Ibrox at the time knew that.
The failure of the Scottish Football authorities to accept the magnitude and gravity of the EBT scandal and to apply the rules on playing improperly registered players demonstrated, at best, a lack of moral fibre. Perhaps they just wanted it all to go away and engage in damage limitation.
The new club/old club debate will probably rumble on for years. There are so many contradictions and vested interests which muddy the waters. Rangers will doubtless celebrate ‘150’ years of the club next year but when sued by a man abused as a boy by former coach Gordon Neely, referred him to the administrators of the old Rangers. If they are the same club then perhaps they should accept moral responsibility for what went on at the old club?
I hesitated to use the above example as I abhor the point scoring which goes on in Scottish football in relation to abuse scandals at various clubs. Let me therefore balance that paragraph by adding that Celtic too has a moral duty to those affected by what occurred at the Celtic Boys Club.
In the final analysis the dichotomy is a simple one; supporters will say that the soul of their club lies with them and can never die. Legally clubs can die as Third Lanark and others proved but what happened to Rangers in 2012 will probably be argued over forever. The mythology of a famous old club being kicked when it was down appeals to some, just as the idea of an arrogant and corrupt institution collapsing under the weight of its own arrogance and greed appeals to others. There is no doubt that many Rangers fans are of the opinion that they were unjustly treated in 2012 and a myth of jealousy, hatred and victimhood has grown in their minds.
In a post truth world where objective facts seem less persuasive than appeals to emotion, it remains for each of us to make up our own minds about the past. As time moves on it may become less important whether Rangers are a new club or remain the club Moses McNeill knew in 1872. There is little doubt though that those who argue that Rangers are the same club would be arguing the complete opposite had Celtic gone under in 2012 and that lack of objectivity makes honest discussion difficult.
The building of trust in those who run our game is an ongoing process which is far from complete though. They faced a very difficult situation in 2012 and didn’t handle it particularly well. Let’s hope our game revives and should we ever face the same situation again that the protocols and rules are clear and transparent as the confusion of 2012 added to the mess.