I’ve written a great deal about the various financial and legal troubles of Rangers FC PLC (in administration) recently. But I have to say I’m now getting bored with the slow death of the club, and wish that someone would just finish the job and get it over and done with, once and for all.
The next few weeks will be crucial, and with a bit of luck will bring it all to a climax, as a number of financial and legal matters are likely to come to a head during June.
Financially, the administration saga has now reached the stage of a CVA being offered to the many creditors. This farce, where no confirmed amount is actually being offered, can only end one way: in rejection. What creditor is going to vote in favour of a proposal with so many holes in it? With so many TBCs where figures should be? Where the sum they would actually receive – after a number of specified delays – would be 9% of the debt owed at the absolute maximum, and in all likelihood much less?
No, the CVA proposal will be rejected. The club will then be liquidated. But unfortunately that isn’t the end of the story.
Remember phoenixing? Newcos and transfer of assets? That will be the next chapter in a story that has more twists than the latest Swedish noir novel.
Charles Green is the next in a long line to make it to the front of the queue. We’ve had Whyte and the Blue Knights, and now it’s Green’s turn. He is either the saviour of the club or another chancer who sees the chance of a quick buck depending on your view. And he hopes he can get his hands on all of the assets of the dying club for just £5.5M.
Yes, that’s the same assets that were routinely valued at over £100M back in the days when Rangers used to produce annual accounts.
These assets (Ibrox, Murray Park and some land around the stadium) are basically only of any use to someone who wants to run a football team. Green’s plan therefore is much like others before him: ditch the debt, start a new club and persuade the SPL to give it the place that used to belong to the old club.
Now that might all work in financial terms. And he could just win the support of the eight clubs required under recently agreed changes to the SPL’s rules. But this is where the legal issues come into play.
The fall out from the club’s recent court action against the SFA will be twofold. Firstly, the Pyrrhic victory that resulted in the original twelve month transfer ban being ruled by Lord Glennie as outside the powers of the SFA’s independent disciplinary process could well lead to a more severe punishment being imposed. And secondly there is likely to be an additional punishment for breaking one of world football’s basic rules: taking a disciplinary matter to the civil courts in the first place.
It was initially thought that a reconvened Appeal Tribunal under Lord Carloway would meet fairly quickly. But as either side has the right of appeal against Lord Glennie’s decision (to reclaim is apparently the Scots law term), it is likely to be a couple of weeks yet.
This meeting will not discuss whether Rangers are guilty of the original charge of bringing the game into disrepute by failing to pay taxes. It will simply decide whether a new punishment should be put in place of the transfer ban.
There are few options available to Lord Carloway and his two colleagues. To reduce the punishment would be perverse and would be seen by the footballing authorities at home and at European and world level to reward the court action. An increase in punishment is the most likely outcome – and this can only mean the expulsion of Rangers from football entirely or a period of suspension.
My view is that a time limited suspension will be the outcome, probably for one season. A suspension for a period other than a full season raises far too many questions about league structures to make it a sensible proposition.
But where would this leave Green’s plans? A club that has been suspended cannot pass its membership to a newco, can it? Surely other SPL clubs would not buy an argument that only the oldco should be punished leaving the newco to play on?
It has been noticeable that other clubs have turned against Rangers since the court action against the SFA. The chairmen of both St Mirren and Inverness have made public statements condemning the club and others must be thinking along the same lines. So it could be that the rejection of a newco comes because of the club’s own actions. That’s a nice irony.
And even of this doesn’t happen, the SFA must also punish the club for breaking rules by taking court action. That’s a whole new disciplinary process.
Then there’s the matter of Employee Benefit Trusts. The result of the so called Big Tax Case appeal is still awaited. But no one expects the club to win and exactly when the result will eventually be announced seems to be the only uncertainty. In financial terms it is almost irrelevant whether an extra £70M or £90M is added to a debt that will never be paid.
But the case leads us to another ongoing legal matter. Solicitors Harper MacLoed, acting on behalf of the SPL, have been investigating for some time now whether payments made to Rangers’ players through EBTs breached football’s registration rules. In brief, these state that all payments made to footballers must be detailed in a contract lodged with the authorities. Payments made over and above this contact, through an EBT for example, would breach the rules.
It appears that administrators Duff and Phelps were rather remiss at supplying the SPL’s solicitors with information, and delays mean that the investigation will not report for some time. If a case is found, and it is hard to believe that it won’t be, a disciplinary hearing will then be arranged.
What would the appropriate penalty for a club found guilty of many years of illegal payments? Surely such a severe infraction of the rules, one which was carried out for in excess of ten years and involved over 50 players, could only result in expulsion from the game?
Taking financial and legal matters together, the key issue now for Rangers FC PLC (in administration) is one of timing. Could all of these matters possibly be resolved in a manner that allows the club to continue to compete in Scotland’s top flight come next season? Frankly I doubt it.
But another irony presents itself. If there were to be no Rangers, old or new, in Scottish football next season then there is the time to kill it off entirely and instead build a genuinely new club. One that does not have the toxic history of the Ibrox club, its years of sectarian employment policies and rioting fans, and that’s even before all of the current financial shenanigans.
A brand new club, starting afresh, properly constituted and managed. Now that could be a solution to this sorry mess that is truly in the best interests of Scottish football.