A three man commission is this week looking into potential breaches of Scottish football’s rules on payments to players by the former Rangers FC. The Nimmo Smith Commission will rule on whether the club made payments to players between 2000 and 2011 without declaring them to the footballing authorities.
Now it has to be stressed that this is a different issue from that considered in the so called Big Tax Case, where the former club won an appeal against HMRC in a first tier tribunal. That one related to whether tax should have been paid on payments made to players. This one is considering the rules of football rather than the laws on tax.
In simple terms, all payments made to football players for what are defined as footballing activities must be included in a contract submitted to the footballing authorities. This includes basic wages, bonuses and any other moneys paid to them. And any additions or amendments later made to the contract must also be notified to the authorities. The allegations made against Rangers FC relate to payments allegedly made over and above their registered contracts.
The three members of the Commission – Lord William Nimmo Smith, Nicholas Stewart QC and Charles Flint QC – act for the Scottish Premier League. An initial investigation by the SPL’s solicitors found that there was a case to answer, and the evidence gathered is now being considered in detail by the Commission.
It is also worth remembering that in some of the individual cases involved in the Big Tax Case, Rangers admitted that tax should have been paid. So if these players’ contracts lodged with the authorities don’t include those payments then there is automatic guilt in the Commission case.
And where any of the charges are found to be proven, it would mean that player played while his contract was not properly registered with the league – in effect making him an ineligible player. And the rules of football mean that the result of a game in which an ineligible player takes part is usually amended to a 3 – 0 defeat.
There are plenty of precedents for this. In some cases of very minor discrepancies – a date missed out, a signature in the wrong place – the results of games have been amended and clubs thrown out of cup competitions as a result.
It should be stressed that Charles Green, chairman of the current third division club The Rangers FC, is refusing to recognise the Commission and its inquiry. And, as he is chairman of an entirely different football club, I can see why he feels that it is nothing to do with him.
Yet Green has always claimed that as well as buying the assets of the former club, the stadium and training ground, he also bought the titles it won. Now I’ve always seen that as a rather ridiculous position. How can a new club claim to “own” titles won by an entirely different club?
However should the Commission rule that ineligible players played in games that the former club won, and their results are therefore amended to defeats, then the final league tables for several seasons may look very different. And that means the footballing record books will require amendment to remove titles from the former Rangers FC – in exactly the same manner as Lance Armstrong has had titles stripped from his record.
This is not a sanction or a punishment but simply the inevitable result of a ruling that ineligible players were fielded. The commission would decide on punishment separately should it come to a guilty verdict. Although what the point of fining a club that is already in liquidation with massive debts that will never be paid would be, I’m not quite sure.
Rangers’ fans are being represented at the hearing by lawyers paid for by the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund. They claim to have amassed a sum of half a million pounds to fight any attempts to have titles won by their former club removed. And they will, in all likelihood, go to court should that happen.
The Commission is likely to announce its findings next week.
It seems that the saga around the activities of the former Rangers Football Club will continue to run and run. As well as this commission, HMRC is still likely to appeal against the decision in the Big Tax Case and take the matter to an upper tier tribunal.
Rangers FC may be in liquidation. But the issues surrounding it will continue to keep the lawyers busy for a long time to come.