Scottish football journalist Jim Spence has been hung out to dry by his employers, the BBC. His crime? Making reference to the fact that the former Rangers Football Club (in liquidation) is called, by some people, “the club that died”.
Now this statement led to some 400 complaints being made, presumably by deluded fans of Scotland’s newest league club, SPFL League One side The Rangers, who are apparently under the misapprehension that they follow a club that is more than two years old.
The BBC’s shameful response was not to point out the facts of the situation, but to apologise for any offence caused. Quite how stating that a club in liquidation and no longer involved in football has died is offensive is beyond me. And, more importantly, why the Corporation did not back up its employee is difficult to understand.
There have been reports that Spence, respected by many in Scotland for his forthright views on the game, is seeking to leave the BBC because of the total lack of the support that he should have been able to depend on from his bosses. It would be a great loss to Scottish football if true.
Now we all know that the situation around the status of Rangers FC, The Rangers FC, Sevco 5088 Ltd. Sevco Scotland Ltd et al stirs up high emotions. The response of the media has largely been to buy the myth that “it wasn’t the club that was liquidated, just the holding company” without any forensic examination of the legal situation. And, as Jim Spence has found out, anyone who dares to comment on the proverbial emperor’s nakedness finds himself in hot water.
So, in an attempt to bring some clarity, let’s just remind ourselves of the history of the former football club.
Rangers Football Club was formed in 1872 as a sporting club with members who probably paid subscriptions and elected a committee according to a constitution. Such a club has no legal identity in law. In modern parlance it is an unincorporated voluntary organisation.
That club incorporated in 1899; that is it became a company, Rangers Football Club Ltd. Same club, new legal status and new name. Later it changed again from a limited company to a public limited company, a slightly different legal status, and therefore its name became Rangers Football Club PLC. But it was still the same club, with a history reaching back to its founding in 1872.
But then Rangers Football Club PLC, as we all know, built up debts so large that it could not ever expect to pay them off. It went into administration. Creditors refused a deal that would have seen them paid a fraction of what they were owed and therefore liquidation was the only solution left. The assets of the club were sold off, its employees transferred to a new employer or left entirely and it is now in the process of being wound up.
Now, to me, dead sounds like a pretty good description of that former football club. Like Third Lanark and other who used to be part of Scottish football, it is an ex football club. It has ceased to be.
But, those who believe the myth will say, the club didn’t die, just the company that owned it.
My answer? They were one and the same thing. As I’ve outlined, the football club formed in 1872 became a company a long time ago. There were never two separate and legally distinct entities in existence at the same time.
Or, to put it another way, “A football club, once incorporated, is indistinguishable in Scots law from its corporate identity.” Who said that? BBC Scotland did in response to a BBC Trust enquiry into previous issues around reporting of the dead club.
Think back through the years when Rangers Football Club was in operation.
Can anyone ever remember there being reference to a separation between club and company before the smelly stiff hit the rotating object? Were the Directors who (mis)managed the organisation ever referred to as representing a company that just happened to own a football club? Or were they Directors of Rangers Football Club?
What about those fans who bought shares? Did they refer to themselves as shareholders of the football club? Of course they did. I can’t ever recall anyone describing themselves as holding shares in the company that owned the club. They were proud to own a part of the club itself.
So clearly no separation was ever mentioned until the point that the fiction was required to maintain the myth of the club that did not die.
And can anyone cite a single example of club and company being reported as separate in relation to any other club that went bust? Ardrieonians? Gretna? Didn’t think so.
Jim Spence is a respected football journalist. He deserves far better treatment from the BBC. His employers should have defended his journalistic freedom of speech and supported his right to express a view – and in fact to report an accurate and legally consistent version of the situation. That is after all what they pay him for.
The BBC now has a choice. It can let Jim Spence walk away and hope that the matter will be soon forgotten. Or it can stand up and support him.
I’m sure that many in Scottish football, and indeed many other employees of the corporation will be looking on with interest to see what happens next.
Over to you, BBC.