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Archive for April, 2012

Will Sunday be the last time that Celtic will ever play Rangers in a Scottish Premier League match?

The notion may have been quite unthinkable at one time, but with the crisis ridden Ibrox club sitting on the very edge of liquidation it could well be the case.

In footballing terms this match means nothing at all. Celtic are the champions. The league title was clinched several weeks ago. Rangers will finish their final SPL campaign in second place. So there is only pride to play for. But in Glasgow footballing pride means an awful lot.

This is also a clash between two managers who have been much in the news of late.

In the green corner will be Neil Lennon. The Celtic manager has been much vilified for actions like arguing with a referee, stating that officials make mistakes and having death threats and bombs sent to him. Well, he brings it on himself, doesn’t he? That’s what we read in the media anyway – if we bother anymore.

But Neil Lennon will have the last laugh, as he will be the one celebrating a championship win before scouting for summer signings and looking forward to planning a Champions’ League campaign.

In the blue corner is Ally McCoist. The former Question of Sport captain and oldest apprentice boy in town finally got himself a real job. And the result has been failure all round. His team has entered five competitions, winning none and making little mark on any of them.

And his cowardly remarks in midweek about the need to reveal SFA tribunal members’ identities resulted in the Neanderthal element of his club’s fans issuing more threats of violence against those who refused to accept that one club should be above all of football’s laws. McCoist didn’t even have the courage to apologise for his outburst. No, instead he claimed that he didn’t really expect the obvious outcome. But then he never was that good at the What Happens Next round, was he?

McCoist’s attention has clearly been on the mess that his club has got itself into. Note to the mainstream media – this crisis is not something that has happened to Rangers. They are not victims of some malevolent external force. They got themselves into this mess by their own actions.

Now let’s not forget that as well as the lengthy administration process that continues to achieve little apart from make money for the administrators, McCoist’s club has still to hear the results of the SPL inquiry into the illegal contracts that accompanied EBTs.

And the gorilla of the Big Tax Case is still sitting in the corner, waiting to have its say.

Failure on the field, near liquidation off it. SFA penalties, SPL penalties to come. HMRC waiting to pounce. Sounds like an omnishambles to me.

Yet administrators Duff and Phelps wonder why the list of potential buyers for the club seems to keep shrinking? If you were looking to buy a boat, would you go for one covered in rust and with a massive hole below the water line? Thought not.

Come to think of it, where are the two remaining bidders for the club? Both have been awfully quiet this week. I thought there was yet another deadline to be met? Or have the Blue Knights stepped back again? Has Bill Miller driven off back to Tennessee in his tow truck?

Still there was some good news for the beleaguered Ibrox club.

Should they somehow manage to form a new club before too long, it was confirmed this week that there might be a place in the SPL’s third division going spare. If, that is, they can manage to prove that their facilities are up to the required standards and then win a vote against any other club that fancies applying.

But what are the chances of the current club being successfully liquidated quickly enough to allow its assets to be sold off to a new entity?

Never mind all of the creditors and their demands for a share of whatever the eventual garage sale will bring. First there are issues like Ticketus’ claims against the club or perhaps against Craig Whyte, the Motherwell non-billionaire’s own position as secured creditor and Andrew Ellis’ case against Whyte for the quarter of the club he says he was promised.

I can see the whole thing ending up in a series of costly and time consuming legal battles. And that would mean that assets would be tied up until everything could be resolved to the satisfaction of the courts. Add in the inevitable appeals against whatever decisions are reached and the whole saga could drag on for months, if not years.

It is entirely possible that Ibrox will lie fallow next season.

So back to the football. Who will win the last (for now) Glasgow derby? Well obviously I’m going to go for a home win. But more than anything I just hope that Celtic’s players manage to escape serious injury against thugs like McCulloch who have nothing at all left to lose.

Come Monday we can all go back to discussing matters of finance and law. But for a couple of hours on Sunday we can concentrate on matters taking place on the football field. It could well be a historic occasion.

 

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The coalition government is planning to reform the House of Lords. On the face of it that’s a bloody good idea. After all why should a bunch of unelected old men and (a few) women in ermine cloaks have the right to play a part in the governance of our county?

But the politics of the situation are likely to get in the way of the type of radical reform that is required.

For a start the current moves towards reform as seen very much as a Nick Clegg project. After failing so spectacularly with his Alternative Vote plans, which were roundly defeated in a referendum, he is keen to accomplish some sort of constitutional change during his time in government.

Does he have the support of his coalition partners, David Cameron and the Conservatives? Well in theory he does. The Tories were elected on a manifesto that said, “We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of radical reform but a commitment nevertheless.

Many backbench Tory MPs are set against reform though. The Lords is traditional don’t you know? It’s part of our heritage. There are a few in the lowest ranks of the government who might be prepared to resign over the issue. And several cabinet ministers are said to be arguing against giving parliamentary time to the issue.

There is also likely to be a disagreement over whether the House of Commons can reform the House of Lords without a referendum. A public vote is the standard practice for all major constitutional changes. Nick Clegg however feels there is no need as reform was in all three major parties’ manifestos and therefore has the express consent of the electorate already.

So what exactly would a new upper house look like?

The government’s 2011 draft bill proposed a much reduced second chamber of 300 members. 240 of these would be elected by the single transferable vote (STV) system for terms of fifteen years with the rest to be appointed, including 12 bishops from the Church of England.

A joint committee of the two Houses has studied the issue over the past few months and come up with a report. It is pretty much along the same lines, although it does recommend a 450 member house. But the committee was split – nine of its twenty six members voted against elected peers and eight opposed a referendum.

The argument for abolishing the House of Lords is clear. It is an anachronism with no democratic legitimacy or accountability. Its members either inherit their seats or are appointed through various processes and they cannot be removed except by an Act of Parliament. Even a jail sentence doesn’t mean the end for a Noble Lord.

There is a case for a second house as a revising chamber. But there has to be a clear separation of powers between it and the Commons, or gridlock could result. My argument has always been that this should be part of a full review of our political processes that would result in a written Constitution.

Let’s get some new names while we are at it. Lord and Commons in the twenty first century? Come on.

But why propose an upper house that is partially elected? Such a half baked compromise makes no sense at all. If it is undemocratic for all of them to be appointed then surely it is equally wrong for some to be appointed? And just who would select the Appointments Commission that would make the choices?

In particular, there can be no justification for Church of England Bishops retaining seats in a new upper chamber by right. The Church and state should be totally separate. Why should representatives of one religion have a special place in our political system?

A reduction in the number of members from the current 800 or so (117 appointed by the current Prime Minister) to a more manageable number makes perfect sense. But terms of fifteen years each is much too long. And the proposal is that no one can stand for a second term. So once elected they would know that they never need face another election. There must be accountability to the electorate and that means renewing the mandate on a regular basis.

A modern, fully elected upper house could be part of a much more democratic structure. Let’s hope that our politicians can find a way to resolve this issue without resorting to the type of fudged design that could introduce fatal flaws before the new system is even on the statute books.

One final thought: if we can manage to get rid of the unelected and unaccountable throwback to bygone times that is the House of Lords, let’s put the royal family next on the abolition list.

 

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The footballing media is spending a lot of time discussing the most ludicrous question in Scottish football right now: what happens to Rangers after they are liquidated? The thing is, it is basically an illogical question.

The simple answer to it is that nothing at all will happen. To liquidate is defined as “to wind up the affairs of a business by ascertaining liabilities and apportioning assets”.

A company that has been liquidated is gone. Wound up. Finished. It is, to paraphrase, an ex-company. And so when Rangers FC PLC (in administration) is liquidated it will be gone forever.

So asking what happens to Rangers after liquidation makes as much sense as wondering who Third Lanark are playing next weekend or looking for a Woolworth’s store on the high street.

The most interesting thing in this discussion though is the realisation that the Ibrox club going into liquidation is now seen as inevitable. The discussion is around what might happen when, and not if, the end comes.

When I first wrote about liquidation for Rangers FC PLC (in administration) I was called a paranoid Celtic fan, amongst many other things that I won’t repeat. But then there were those who laughed at me for predicting that the club’s debts could be as high as £125,000,000. Admittedly I did underestimate a little.

Anyone with a brain knows that the £134,000,000 or so of debt identified by administrators Duff and Phelps will never be paid off. Most people now also accept that the tax authorities will not agree to receive a mere fraction of the debts run up over so many years. And so the club will certainly would up.

Now we all know that a new club will be formed: the Zombie Rangers will be born. It will probably buy or lease Ibrox and Murray Park, will inherit the players who don’t leave in the summer and look to find a league to play football in.

Two questions stand out when we discuss the Zombie Rangers: who will own it and where will it play?

There are several possible answers to the first question. It might be one of the current bidders: Bill Miller, Bill Ng or Paul Murray and his band of (absurdly named) Blue Knights. It could even be Craig Whyte. And it might take a few court cases before the whole thing is sorted out. I think that particular soap opera will run for a while yet.

The second question, where the new club could play, brings us to Scottish football’s proposed Cheats’ Charter.

This is the series of amendments to football’s rules that have been proposed to create something called an Insolvency Transfer Event, which might just allow the new Zombie Rangers straight into the SPL.

Not surprisingly fans of all other SPL clubs have expressed outrage at this most naked form of gerrymandering. Various internet polls are running, and while none of these could ever be called a scientific test of opinion, all show over 80% of football fans are in opposition.

The thing that must be emphasised once again here is that we are not talking about Rangers “staying” in the top flight or the club being “readmitted” to the SPL.

We are talking about a brand new football team being simply handed a place in the Premier League – an act that would be unprecedented in Scottish footballing history.

Every other football club that has joined the league set up has had to apply to enter at the bottom level in open competition with any other club that wants the place. That’s how Inverness Caledonian Thistle got its start. It’s how Ross County, Annan Athletic and Peterhead came into league football.

So why should the Zombie Rangers be given special treatment? Why should the rules be changed now for the benefit of one particular new club?

To rewrite the rule book for one team, to allow a place in the top division to be gifted rather than earned on the football field, simply throws any notion of sporting integrity right out of the window. It would be like giving a sprinter who hasn’t taken part in any previous rounds a bye into the Olympic 100m final. It turns a sporting contest into a farce.

But there are those who argue that the minimal sanctions contained in the Cheats’ Charter would make everything alright.

Frankly I see no sense in this argument. How can a brand new team be punished for the sins of a club that has been liquidated? Zombie Rangers would be a totally separate legal entity from the side that has cheated football for so long. That one would be dead and buried.

And no sanction or penalty could restore the integrity of football in any case. The principle has always been that the only way a football team can advance is through its league position. The top division is made up of teams whose results have earned them the right to be there. Gifting a place to a brand new club, regardless of any conditions attached, is quite simply wrong in principle.

Scottish football is now at a crossroads. It has been placed there by the deliberate actions of one football club, which has ignored the rules of football and the laws of the land with reckless abandon over many years. Its sense of entitlement has brought that club to the point of extinction.

Those who run our national game will now decide which path to take. They must show the backbone to stand up for the basic sporting principles that underpin our national sport and reject the Cheats’ Charter.

To do anything else would be to sound the death knell for the game.

 

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In previous posts I’ve talked about the process by which a Newco formed from the ashes of the dying Rangers FC PLC (in administration) could not possibly be parachuted straight into the Scottish Premier League.

But now Scottish football has come up with a way around that. It’s simple really when you think about it.

If the rules don’t suit, then change the rules.

Yes folks, the fix is in. The Scottish Premier League has devised its very own Cheats’ Charter. A series of rule changes has been proposed that would allow a bankrupt club simply to transfer its league membership to a new phoenix company.

What does that mean in practice? It establishes a process by which a club can write off its debts (which would stay with the old company) and then quite happily carry on as before.

Yes folks, a club could operate an illegal tax scheme, stop paying any money to the tax authorities and run up debts to hundreds of public bodies and private companies. It could then conveniently leave this £100,000,000 + of debt in the old company and create a new one that is debt free. And this new company can then play on as if nothing had ever happened.

Does this sound like something from through the looking glass? A Tammany Hall version of integrity? Or perhaps a North Korean version of sporting fair play?

Yet it is exactly how the Scottish Premier League is trying to rewrite its rules – and for the sole benefit of Rangers Football Club.

A whole series of amendments to SPL rules will be voted on by clubs at the end of this month. Some of them are uncontentious, indeed are actually closing the stable door after the blue horse has already bolted. Like the one which, with no irony at all, proposes that a club defaulting on its tax payments should inform the SPL.

But the proposed amendments also invent something called an “Insolvency Transfer Event”. This is the backdoor means by which a bankrupt club can pass its share in the SPL, its top division membership card in effect, to a Newco.

Here’s how it might work:

The current company Rangers FC PLC (in administration) has debts of £134,000,000 or so. It passes its SPL share to a newly formed company, let’s call it Rangers FC 2012 Ltd. The old company is then liquidated, selling off its assets, which is pretty much a football stadium, some players and a training complex.

Now our brand new Rangers 2012 needs a football stadium, some players and a training complex. So it buys the ones that the old company is selling. To keep the maths simple, let’s say that it pays £13.4M.

So the old company now has enough money to pay 10% of what it owes. All of the creditors get a tenth of what they are actually owed and then the old company is wound up.

And that leaves Rangers 2012 with no debts, a football stadium, some players and a training ground. It also owns that crucial place in the SPL and can play on. Its home games will be at Ibrox, it will probably wear blue strips and it could even call itself Rangers.

To sum up then: Rangers goes on having paid 10% of its debts. Everyone from the taxpayer to the newsagents on Copeland Road is stiffed for 90% of what they are owed but Rangers goes on as before.

And, in true 1984 fashion, all of this is proposed in the name of Financial Fair Play!

How can this scenario be allowed to happen?

Well, the simple answer is that it will occur if the current members of the SPL agree to the fix. If they vote through the proposed changes on 30 April then all of this will happen.

Celtic will vote against these proposals. The administrators running Rangers will vote in favour – after all they benefit from the changes! Of course the clear conflict of interests means that the club should not be allowed to vote at all, but don’t expect that to matter too much.

So Scotland’s other top football teams now have a big decision to make. Do they stand up for sporting integrity and reject the fix? Or do they decide, as we are often told, that the league needs Rangers under any circumstances, regardless of everything?

Will they allow years of a combination of financial mismanagement and downright cheating to be rewarded or will they act stand up against it?

Frankly I have no confidence in the men who run these clubs up and down the country. I think that they will throw any principles they might have out of the window and support the fix. I expect them all to vote in favour and usher the Cheats’ Charter into place.

I think they have no principles at all and will act in their own narrow self-interest rather than supporting integrity and fairness.

Will any of them prove me wrong?

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It seems to have been a long time coming, but Neil Lennon and his Celtic team are now officially the Champions of Scotland.

The Scottish Premier League title for 2011/ 12 was finally clinched with a fine 6 – 0 win at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park this afternoon. Quick headed goals by Charlie Mulgrew and Glen Loovens, from a Mulgrew cross, meant that the party started early for the thousands of Celtic fans lucky enough to secure tickets. A second from Mulgrew (with his right foot no less!) and one from Gary Hooper, set up by man of the match Mulgrew of course, made it 4- 0 before half time.

The second half didn’t produce quite the same excitement, not that the travelling support cared too much. The full repertoire of party songs was heard as the fans gave their favourites tremendous backing. And Joe Ledley and Gary Hooper ended the day in real style with superb late goals to give a superb 6 – 0 win.

The cheer that went up when the final whistle was blown would probably have been heard back at Celtic Park.

It feels like the vast majority of Celtic’s recent titles have been clinched at away venues. There have been exceptions of course, with Celts like Harald Brattback and John Hartson remembered for goals that clinched championships at home. But there have been many more clinched at Tannadice or Love Street or the various other away venues.

Nice as it would have been to win this one at home in front of a larger crowd, there is something symbolic about the venue. Lennon’s men first visited Rugby Park in October and were three goals down at half time. Whatever Lennon said to inspire the comeback for a second half draw kick started a long unbeaten run of more than twenty matches that saw Celtic go well clear of their rivals.

It’s been quite a season for manager Neil Lennon, to say the least. What other manager has been attacked on the pitch then seen his attacker found not proven by a jury, been vilified in the press, come close to resigning, faced death threats and a bomb in the post, and suffered everything from SFA bans to the loss of a close friend – yet still ended up as the manager of the Champions?

It says everything about the strength of Neil Lennon’s character and his commitment to the club he loves that he has come through all of those trials and tribulations and ultimately led his men to triumph.

It has not been an easy season on the pitch either. Early losses to St Johnstone and Hearts together with defeat in the opening Glasgow derby saw a large points deficit build up. Many concluded that the league was already lost – before Christmas. But that ridiculously premature view has been well and truly put in its place.

To secure the championship with five games still left to play after being written off is quite an achievement.

And there have been injury worries too. The loss of last year’s player of the year Emilio Izaguirre to a broken ankle in only the second league game of the season was a big blow to Celtic. Club captain Scott Brown and Kirs Commons missed much of the first half of the season, while Biram Kayal and Dan Majstorovic have both been out injured over recent months.

In fact I would doubt that Neil Lennon has managed to get his strongest team selection on the pitch at the same time at all this season!

So this title triumph has been very much a squad effort. Young players like Adam Matthews, Victor Wanyama and James Forrest have stepped up and the consistency of Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew and Fraser Forster has been very important, while the resurgent Georgios Samaras has contributed much in attack along with top scorers Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper.

The season isn’t yet over of course: there is still the Scottish Cup to play for as Celtic try to secure the Double. A semi-final tie with Hearts is on the horizon, to be followed with a possible final against either Hibs or Aberdeen if all goes to plan.

But for now let’s all enjoy the well deserved title party. Congratulations to Neil Lennon’s Celtic: Scottish Premier League Champions, 2011/ 12.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 

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It’s another deadline day at Ibrox – this time for Best and Final Offers to be submitted to administrators Duff and Phelps by those wishing to buy Rangers FC PLC (in administration). But has anything actually changed in the long running saga?

The simple answer is no.

For students of the business world, which many football fans have become in recent times, there is an interesting comparison to be made between the recent administration processes of two companies: Rangers and computer games retailer Game.

In the case of Game, within a week of entering administration the appointed administrators from PricewaterhouseCoopers had restructured the company, closed half the shops, made a large number of employees redundant and sold off the balance of the shops to a new investor in a deal agreed with the creditors, mainly banks. Job done in six days.

Makes you wonder exactly what Duff and Phelps are doing over at Ibrox to justify the fees of several hundred pounds per hour per person they have been racking up since February 14, doesn’t it?

Still, there has been some progress. Initial indicative bids were submitted at, around or after a previous deadline and some were invited to take part in this next stage, including, we are told, consortia from Singapore and the USA. There is talk of being down to two bidders soon and possibly even one with preferred status.

Now remember that the gorilla is still in the room. The Tax Tribunal has still to report on the appeal submitted against the £50M+ owed by the club through what everyone now knows as the Big Tax Case. And when it does report it is likely to increase the total amount the, already insolvent, club, owes quite considerably.

So the question that remains is why would anyone buy a company with massive debts that can only get larger? Well, that’s where the L word comes in: Liquidation.

There are three ways that Rangers FC PLC (in administration) can get out of the financial mess it has got itself into. Firstly someone could volunteer to donate £150,000,000 or so to clear everything and provide enough working capital to get things back onto a firm footing. Stop laughing at the back. Secondly, the creditors could agree to take 1p in the £ or so for their troubles. Again, this isn’t likely, is it? Especially as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs wouldn’t want to be seen to reward a company that refused to pay its taxes. And thirdly, there is liquidation.

Liquidation, is simple terms, means the end of the company. It is not a process it is a full stop. The company incorporated in 1899 would sell off its assets (subject to charges and secured creditors’ status) and whatever money might be left would be divided amongst the creditors. And that is the end of Rangers.

Ignore anyone who talks about hybrid liquidation, coming out of liquidation or what happens to a company after liquidation. It’s all a mixture of wishful thinking and ignorance. A company that is liquidated ceases to be. It is an ex-company.

So cue massive the parties and sales of ice cream and jelly reaching record levels, even if it is still snowing.

We all know that a Newco will be formed at that stage. A new club, with no pedigree and no history will try to pretend it is Rangers so that it inherits the dead club’s fans. A Zombie Rangers if you like. But it will also need the basics that any football club needs: some players, somewhere to play and a league to play in.

So what the current bidders would actually be looking to do is to buy the assets of the old club once it is liquidated rather than to buy the club itself and be saddled with all of the debts that come along with it.

Now, from the beginning of this saga I have made a simple prediction: Craig Whyte will make money out of the whole sorry mess.

Remember that he has put only £1 of his own money into the club (at least I presume it was his own money). And, despite the inconvenience it seems to cause the media, he still owns 85% of the club through his complex web of companies. There has been talk of him somehow being forced to give up his shares, but that simply couldn’t happen without a long and complex legal process that no one has the time or money to pursue. And he certainly isn’t going to give them away for nothing, as one Scottish “journalist” suggested yesterday before hastily backtracking.

It is difficult to tell exactly how things will all end up. Whyte could exit the scene with a large cheque. Or he could conceivably end up owning Ibrox and leasing it to a suitable tenant, such as the Zombie Rangers. And then he would make money for years to come.

But what about the footballing position of the Newco?

I remain convinced that liquidation will happen. But for footballing rather than tax or legal reasons I think that it is likely to come after the end of the season.

It was announced yesterday by the administrators that they will make a report to creditors this week, as they are legally obliged to do. But they also stated clearly that no proposals regarding actually paying any money out will be made until the bids to come in tomorrow have been looked at in detail. So a further delay then.

As I’ve reported previously, the SPL Rules state that if a club goes bust during the season it ceases to be a member of the league and there will be no relegation. The eleven teams would play on until the end of the season when Ross County (barring a collapse) will be promoted to bring the league back to its full twelve members.

And that would not leave a space for the Newco to apply to join the top division.

However if the current club can hold out until the season ends Ross County will take the place of relegated Dunfermline (or conceivably Hibs). And that leaves one vacant space that the Newco would target.

There are many in the media and within Scottish football who seem to believe that some form of Ibrox club is so important that it must be allowed into the SPL no matter what.

I’ve outlined my objections to this scenario several times already. There is no sporting case to be made for a new club to be allowed to enter the top division ahead of every other lower league and non league team in the country. It must be made to apply to join the league structures at the bottom tier – and in competition with every other club that wishes to apply.

I’m sure that this is a point I will be returning to over the coming weeks, as events play out.

It will also be interesting to see the media’s perception of events when the Tax Tribunal finally reports. Will Craig Whyte remain as the pantomime villain or will David Murray’s role in the club’s demise at last be discussed in full? Let’s not forget that the EBTs originated while he was the owner, indeed on the advice of Murray’s people.

Who would ever have thought that company law would become the main topic of so many football fans?

 

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