The following article from ESPN UK was linked to by Grant Russell of STV.tv on Twitter. Some discussion ensued and he suggested someone could respond to it.
Criticism was expressed that this was an inaccurate opinion piece, being promoted as news on a news site.
I don’t think that is a fair criticism – it is clearly an opinion piece, but Grant said that a reply would be equally welcome.
My purpose in responding is not so much to offer opinion – Mr Gow comes from a stated background as a Rangers supporter and is entirely entitled to hold his opinions – but to address the factual issues arising in his piece.
I should say that many of Mr Gow’s pieces both on ESPN and the Rangers Standard are of great interest, and well worth reading. However this particular one seems to run off the rails factually.
My comments are in bold.
In a recent article about Charles Green, one of his quotes suggested that if the Rangers fans didn’t want to return to the SPL then neither did the club.
He said: “I can’t make up [with the SPL]. If the Rangers fans can make up, get on with it. But Charles Green will never forget what the SPL has done and that’s why I am against going back where we were told we weren’t wanted.”
To be accurate, the SPL clubs refused to allow the transfer of the share in the SPL held by Rangers Football Club PLC, as it then was, to Sevco Scotland Ltd, as it then was.
However, bearing in mind Mr Green’s comments about the returns available to his investors should they buy shares now, he has still to explain how he can make the club worth multi-millions without joining the league which gives access to the Champions League. However, I am sure Mr Green has a plan. Maybe someone will ask him?
Assuming the club gets into a position to re-enter the SPL, which is an assumption most people will make, is it true that Rangers fans would not want to go back?
Without a scientific poll it’s impossible to tell for sure, but if I may be so bold as to believe I have the finger on the pulse of the majority of the Light Blues’ support, then I may be able to give a reasonably intelligent answer.
But, first, it all comes down to the SPL investigation by Lord Nimmo-Smith into allegations Rangers used EBTs as a double-contract.
The SPL investigation has already taken place. It was carried out by Harper MacLeod solicitors on behalf of the SPL on the basis that the lawyers had the expert knowledge allowing them to consider matters fully. This was done despite Duff & Phelps, the administrators of Rangers Football Club PLC not providing the SPL with requested information to the point where one of the charges against Rangers is that the club failed to co-operate with the investigation.
The SPL believe, as stated on its website, that there was a prima facie case that Rangers broke the rules. Therefore the case was referred to the Independent Commission, chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith assisted by two English Senior Counsel.
The “charges” allege that Oldco and Rangers FC breached the relevant Rules of the SPL, and also those of the SFA, by failing to record EBT payments and arrangements in the contracts of service of the Specified Players and/or other Players and by failing to notify them to the SPL and the SFA. There is one Issue directed only against Rangers FC, alleging that the club was in breach of the Rules by playing ineligible players. The fourth chapter alleges that during the period from 15 March 2012 onwards Oldco and Rangers FC failed to co-operate and to respond to requests for documents made by or on behalf of the SPL.
An EBT is defined by the Commission as “Payments made by or for [Oldco] into an employee benefit trust or trusts for the benefit of Players, including the Specified Players, employed by [Oldco] as Professional Players, Registered and/or to be Registered as Professional Players with the Scottish Premier League and Playing and/or to Play for Rangers FC in the Scottish Premier League and payments made by or for [Oldco] into a sub-trust or sub-trusts of such trust or trusts of which such Players were beneficiaries, payments by such trust or trusts and/or sub-trust or sub-trusts to such Players and/or for the benefit of such Players and any and all arrangements, agreements and/or undertakings and the like or similar relating to or concerning any of such Players and payments.”
So the substantive charge, read short, is that payments made to players for football activities were not recorded in the players contracts of service, nor notified to the SPL and SFA. The issue is one of unrecorded payments therefore, rather than “dual contracts”. The “dual contract” issue arises from the allege “side letters” which, it is said, provided the players with a guarantee that “loans” from the trust or sub-trust would not require repayment. It could be argued this was a “second contract” but it is more relevant as evidence of the nature of the EBT payment.
The case is beyond investigation – we are now at the “trial”, which is independent of the SPL, as the Commission explained at length.
If the SPL investigation – which Rangers don’t acknowledge – does not remove SPL titles and finds Rangers with no case to answer, or at worst gives a nominal fine, then it’s very likely that the Rangers fans will enjoy going into the SPL to win it.
I do not doubt what Mr Gow says about the reactions of Rangers fans.
However, Rangers refusing to acknowledge the Commission will not be of use to them, as the Commission considered the arguments at length and rejected them.
As the Commission said:-
As has been seen, one of the main preliminary issues which we have to consider is whether the SPL, and thus this Commission, has jurisdiction in relation to Oldco, Newco and Rangers FC. At the outset, Mr McKenzie accepted – as he was bound to do – that the SPL has no direct jurisdiction in relation to Newco: Newco is not and never has been a member of the SPL, is not and never has been bound by its Rules, and is accordingly not liable to have any sanction imposed on it for any alleged breach of the Rules. It does however, for reasons which we shall explain, have a direct interest in these proceedings.
What we propose to do is to give our reasons for holding that Oldco, as a former member of the SPL, remains subject to the jurisdiction of the SPL and of this Commission in respect of the Issues contained in the Notice of Commission, and is accordingly liable to have sanctions imposed upon it for these alleged breaches of the Rules, committed while it was a member of the SPL, should such breaches be established. We shall also consider the position of a Club in terms of the Articles and Rules of the SPL and explain why in our opinion Rangers FC remains liable to the imposition of sanctions for breaches of the Rules committed while it was owned and operated by Oldco, even though it is now owned and operated by Newco. It is for this reason that Newco has, in our opinion, a direct interest in these proceedings.
Rangers, both oldco and newco, had engaged with the process until pulling out on the day before the initial hearing.
Mr Green has not, to my knowledge, explained why both oldco and newco had engaged with the process until the day before the hearing.
The Commission may find the charges against Rangers unfounded. In that case there will be no penalty. However, if the verdict comes against them, then there are eighteen different penalties which can be imposed, singly or in combination.
One of the arguments put in writing to the Commission by the lawyer acting for both oldco and newco was that the negotiations referred to below showed that the case had already been decided.
The Commission pointed out that an argument about sentence ought properly only come once a guilty verdict had been delivered, and not before.
However, the leaked draft-documents that supposedly show the SPL (and SFA) trying to push Rangers into Division 1 in return for removing titles and cups, even though there had been no investigation and an appeal was not allowed, have removed confidence from Rangers and the fans that the title-stripping has not already been pre-determined.
By the stage referred to by Mr Gow, the SPL investigation by Harper MacLeod had already reached the point where the SPL could declare that a prima facie case existed. There had been, despite what Mr Gow says, an investigation by that point.
As far as the transfer of the SFA membership was concerned, which is the stage of the process Mr Gow is discussing, the SFA has absolute power under its rules to transfer a membership on whatever conditions it saw fit. Bearing in mind that the SPL investigation had revealed a prima facie case clearly it was decided by the football authorities that it was right to propose an agreement towards the penalty, rather than have to pursue the matter through a full disciplinary process. Mr Green and newco refused to accept this.
The SFA could have insisted on it, which would have led either to it being accepted, or Rangers sitting out the season, but elected not to do so. Instead the Rangers membership was transferred to newco, which took its place in SFL3.
What then happened was that the Commission was set up. There is therefore no question of Rangers having been denied any appeal – there is no verdict yet.
In a legal sense, Mr Green was offered a “plea bargain”. He declined to accept it, so the process continues. What is so hard to understand about that?
(In fact, Charles Green was recently cleared by the SFA for bringing the game into disrepute when he himself questioned the SPL investigation.)
He received a “not proven” verdict, to universal surprise, as people expected either a guilty or not guilty. Without detailed reasons being published by the SFA it is difficult to draw any conclusion from the decision. However it does not mean that in some way the SFA Judicial Panel adopted or approved Mr Green’s criticisms, which seems to be the implication of Mr Gow’s comments.
If the SPL investigation does remove titles from Rangers’ history, then I don’t think it too much of an exaggeration to believe the fans will see no way back. Fines and transfer bans can be forgotten about, but removing titles is different.
The former relate to the club and are obstacles that can be overcome, but the latter is an attempt to remove memories. Memories of enjoying moments with your family and friends. Memories of hard-working and honest players or management, winning fair and square on the pitch.
No one is trying to “remove memories”. No one remembers Carl Lewis winning the 100m race in Seoul in 1988. everyone old enough remembers Ben Johnson finishing first. But the gold was taken from Johnson and given to Lewis as the Canadian was found to have broken the rules.
If Rangers are found to have broken the rules, then removal of titles is one option which undoubtedly the Commission would consider. If it is the option chosen, then I am sure the Commission will give full reasons. And if there has been rule-breaking, that suggests that some prizes were not won “fair and square”.
And what of athletics relay teams where medals have been stripped from the 3 innocent team members when one failed a dug test?
To remove those on the basis of an administrative error to a tax scheme, which was legal at the time and was never hidden, is something few fans would ever forget.
Administrative error to a tax scheme?
Legal at the time?
Sorry Mr Gow.
The rules are clear. The contract covering all payment for football related activity has to be copied to the SFA and SPL. If the payment by EBTs is found to have broken that rule, then this is not merely an “administrative error”. And in any event, there are enough examples of teams, such as Spartans in the Scottish Cup a few years back, being thrown out of competition for what undoubtedly was an administrative error.
This was not a case of Rangers forgetting to tick a box, or enclose a stamped addressed envelope. It was a deliberate plan designed to reduce tax bills, seeking to take advantage of the tax rules of the time.
Turning to legality, it is legal to take a Mars Bar from a shop as long as you pay the shopkeeper, but not to take it without paying. The taking of the Mars Bar is legal or not depending on how it is done. The same with the tax scheme.
As far as never being hidden, this is true, but by no means the whole truth. The annual accounts included a figure for payment to EBTs. This was not broken down into payments to players, staff, directors or tea-ladies. Therefore, as far as satisfying the football authorities regarding payments made to each individual player, the reference in the accounts comes nowhere near what was needed.
Maybe, if a guilty verdict is returned and titles stripped, the Rangers fans will forever hold this against the SPL. However such a decision by the Commission will come only after full consideration and careful analysis.
It’s completely plausible that any Rangers board would be forced by the fans not to enter the SPL until any lost titles were given back. The consequences for the Scottish game would be much worse than anything seen lately.
What a choice for the Rangers board in a few years. As mentioned above, how financially will Rangers create the incomes Mr Green foresees if not in the SPL? Could the board persuade the fans to bite the bullet for the financial good of the club, and indeed of the shareholders?
Will the fans desert the club if the Board insists on accepting promotion to the SPL after three years of promotion?
Mr Gow believes that the fans have the power.
Rangers were like a feather in the wind this summer, and were mostly powerless against the wishes of the SPL and SFA as to how the money they generate is used. But in four years’ time, it will be different. Once again, Rangers will be masters of their own destiny.
If this season’s trends continue, with the most TV viewers and highest attendances going to the SFL, then long-term sponsorship in the game will be reduced, split or disappear.
Mr Gow can enlighten me with the TV viewing figures, which I do not have to hand, but the attendance figures whichever way you look at them, show that the attendances are higher in the SPL than in the SFL.
There was not the exodus of sponsors from the SPL anticipated by those who spoke of Armageddon in the summer. That is not to say Mr Gow is wrong this time though. After all, a stopped clock is right twice a day!
There will be two power blocs vying for power and money, and this could leave the SFA with a huge problem over who really is the top football body in Scotland. It will tear the game apart once again and will almost certainly lead to the financial collapse of a few clubs.
So, if Rangers refuse to accept promotion, this will lead to a peer struggle between the SPL and the SFL? Based on what evidence?
By implication therefore Rangers refusal to accept promotion will lead to “the financial collapse of a few clubs.” Is that something Rangers and their fans will be happy to countenance? Mr Gow is best placed to tell us.
Of course, many will just see more Charles Green hyperbole, but even he might not realise that refusing a return to the SPL, in its current form, is no empty gesture from the support.
Good to see Mr Gow accept that Mr Green is guilty of hyperbole occasionally. His implication should give Mr Green a chill – namely that he does not yet realise that the Rangers fans are serious about refusing promotion, despite what this could do to the finances of the company owning the business and assets of Rangers Football Club.
Posted by Paul McConville