21 November 2012

The Finger of Blame

By Andy McGowan | CRO Contributor

The announcement that the ‘Big Tax Case’ had gone in favour of Rangers was a bittersweet moment for fans of the club. For years the story grew with continuous lies, sensationalism and half-truths published as full facts by both the main stream media and the undercurrent of East-end bloggers. As the story gathered momentum the liability grew with it ending in a journey from £25-30 million to £75-100 million. Even the BBC, a beacon of journalistic integrity, reported that Rangers were £130 million in debt with a hypothetical tax bill making up almost all of this.
Wrapped up in all the rumours and whispers was the truth that was unavoidable for Rangers and more importantly for potential investors in the club – Rangers did potentially owe a huge tax bill that no one, not even the club itself truly knew the extent of.  The tax case hung over the club like a dark storm cloud. Walter Smith and Ally McCoist brought us success on the park and the balance sheet continued to look better and better as Rangers recorded profits and slashed millions from the club’s overdraft with Lloyds Bank who had taken control of David Murray’s vast crumbling empire.

But despite the success on and off the park the club simply wasn’t attractive enough to a buyer with the tax bill unresolved. Many flirted with the idea of bidding for the club but no serious offer was tabled, leaving an increasingly frustrated Lloyds TSB willing to consider any offer that would see them get their money back and the club off their books.

This offer came from Craig Whyte who declared interest in the club in December 2010 before going on a charm offensive that had some of Scotland’s most senior journalists falling over themselves for several months. The Daily Record even went as far as to describe Mr. Whyte as a ‘Billionaire Whiz kid.’ 

While the media were increasingly falling in love with Whyte the current board at Ibrox were becoming increasingly alarmed by his now long and drawn out bid for the club, leading both Alastair Johnston and Martin Bain to speak out before the deal was concluded. Paul Murray was also alarmed enough by what he had seen to launch a last minute bid to buy the club himself. 

What became apparent in the days following Whyte’s takeover of the club was that Lloyds TSB had left David Murray and the Rangers’ boardroom between a rock and a hard place – Sell to Whyte, or face our wrath.
Whyte’s ownership of the club went sour, as AJ, Martin Bain and Paul Murray expected it would. Throughout the whole process – as Duff and Phelps were brought in, as bids were welcomed for the club, as CVA proposals were rejected and as Charles Green set about rebuilding - Craig Whyte stood on the side lines telling us this wasn’t his mess, that he may have been driving the train but it was David Murray who had set it on its course. Even in his statement on the 12th February as the club were plunged into administration Craig Whyte told us that a £75 million tax bill was inevitable.

The announcement that Rangers have won the Big Tax Case has left Craig Whyte with nowhere to hide. Make no mistake, every inch of the pain felt by Rangers fans over the last 9 months lies squarely at the door of Craig Whyte. He inherited a healthy football club and in the space of only a few months plunged it into a chaos which we may now never know the full extent of. I also suspect we will never hear from Mr. Whyte again following the outcome of the tax tribunal. A coward only speaks out when he is shielded and now that his defence has been stripped away he will disappear like a thief in the night, never giving the fans the closure or apology they deserve for his reign at Ibrox.

The roles of David Murray, Lloyds Banking Group and the SFA in this matter should not be downplayed however. The events that led to our administration and eventual collapse may have been caused by Craig Whyte but the man he inherited the club from set the conditions for these events to unfold. 

David Murray ran Rangers into debt time and again as his ego continually ruled his head and was quite simply too big for his wallet. His disastrous practises left MIH and Rangers in the hands of a banking group who cared not a jot what happened to the club once they had their money. Lloyds were well aware of what was to come; no one involved at the top table there will have been shocked by the current mess at Ibrox one suspects.

And as the Rangers board lobbied furiously for the sale to be blocked the SFA looked on, in full knowledge of the man who was taking over and did nothing. They stood idly by as a man they had deemed not to be fit and proper took over the biggest club in Scotland and only sought to act when Whyte was long gone. The damage was done and the club was in no position to ask why they hadn’t acted sooner. If Craig Whyte knocked the dominos over, Murray, Lloyds and the SFA had set them up for him.

All of the blame for Rangers liquidation now belongs to the man many of us always blamed but the tax tribunal decision only makes the actions of David Murray, Lloyds and the SFA much harder to take. Questions need to be asked especially at the SFA why they allowed this to happen and Charles Green, with Rangers now on their way back to full strength, is the man who has to ask these questions and get what little justice Rangers can by holding the people in question accountable, morally and financially.

Andy is a regular contributor to the CRO. You can find him rambling on Twitter at @iEmpire_Andy or via email at: amcgowan@thecoplandroad.org