The Scottish Premier League’s Commission led by Lord Nimmo Smith has found Rangers FC (in liquidation) guilty of playing ineligible players in matches going back many years.
But Nimmo Smith and his colleagues Nicholas Stewart QC and Charles Flint QC decided that a metaphorical slap on the wrist was all that the former football club deserved.
A £250,000 fine was imposed on the club in liquidation – an entirely meaningless amount for an organisation in the process of being liquidated because it will never be able to pay its many millions of pounds of debts.
It had been widely predicted that the normal footballing process would follow any guilty decision. Where a club plays an ineligible player the result of that match is always amended to a 3 – 0 defeat. Edinburgh non league club Spartans fell foul of this rule some years back, when a missing date on a contract led to a player being technically ineligible and the club was therefore eliminated from the Scottish Cup. Sion of Switzerland were similarly removed from European competition because ineligible players were fielded.
So in the case of Rangers (in liquidation), years of 3-0 defeats should have been imposed, leading directly to league tables being recalculated and tainted titles won with ineligible players being removed from the records of the former club.
But, once again, we find that the rules of Scottish football are not uniformly applied. We find that any club with the word “Rangers” in its name is treated differently.
So just how can a panel have come to the conclusion that there was evidence of guilt but no need to follow through to the normal and logical conclusion? Well, there are two main reasons given.
Firstly we are expected to believe that the former club gained no competitive advantage from playing over fifty ineligible players in matches over many seasons!
And secondly evidence from the SFA stated that once a player is ruled to be eligible he remains eligible even if rules have been broken!
Let’s look at those two contentions in more detail.
Was any advantage gained by paying players vast sums over and above what the contracts lodged with the footballing authorities stipulated? Well clearly paying more money should get you better players. And better players should give you an advantage in football matches. All rather obvious, isn’t it?
And in fact this very point was considered by the Tax Tribunal that looked into the former Rangers’ use of EBTS recently. Its conclusion was:
“So far as Rangers was concerned it enabled the Club to attract players who would not otherwise have been obtainable” (article 36, p9 First Tier Tax Chamber Decision 2012)
There you have it. The club itself thought that it gained an advantage from the acts that it has now been found guilty of.
And, in any case, does a lack of consequences of an illegal act really constitute a defence? Surely it is the very act of breaking the rules or laws that constitutes an offence? What the consequences of that act might be is a separate issue.
“I know I was driving at 90mph going past a school, but I didn’t kill anyone, did I?”
“I know I shot a gun into a crowded room but I didn’t kill anyone, did I?”
Are these illegal acts? Or is the fact that there were no consequences enough to form a defence? I know what most people would say – and indeed how any court in the land would react.
Now the Commission’s second point is equally easily challenged. Here’s how it was explained:
” … Alexander Bryson, Head of Registrations at the SFA, who described the registration process. During the course of his evidence he explained that, once a player had been registered with the SFA, he remained registered unless and until his registration was revoked.” (page 26)
So it’s alright to break the rules as long as you don’t get caught! It’s perfectly fine to register a player in a manner that the Commission has ruled breached SFA regulations, but that somehow doesn’t negate the registration until the breach is found out.
If you were stopped by the police because your tax disc ran out eleven months ago you would be arrested. Could you argue that there had been no offence committed until today because no one had noticed that you did not have a valid disc on display? Of course not.
It’s like Lance Armstrong being allowed to retain his Tour de France titles because no one actually caught him using drugs at the time.
Lord Nimmo Smith and his colleagues have produced a finding that is in essence very simple. Rules were broken, deliberately and maliciously. The club didn’t merely forget to submit some paperwork, it took a deliberate and calculated decision that it was in its best interests to break the rules.
By failing to make the former club face the consequences of its actions the Commission has actually validated the decision that Rangers Football Club (in liquidation) took. It won league titles by breaking the rules. The fine imposed is meaningless.
It seems that sometimes crime does pay.