27 June 2013

Tom English’s apples and oranges

by Andy McKellar | Deputy Editor

Rangers Football Club is an institution, the flagship of our national game and it was inevitable that our financial collapse was going to prove to be the main story in the crazy little world of Scottish football. 

There was no heartfelt sympathy, there was no compassion. High horses were quickly mounted and moral high grounds were claimed in a period when the result of years of jealousy and envy was unleashed onto the watching world as all and sundry lined up for a kick at a fallen giant. 

We were cheats, we were tax-dodgers and we cost the nation hospitals and schools. Such myths and general conjecture were passed as being factual. The venom and bile with which our Club was attacked still lingers painfully in the memory and even time may not prove to be enough to heal the wounds which are still very much fresh in our minds. 

Heart of Midlothian FC recently suffered the unavoidable plunge into administration as years of unsustainable spending finally caught up with their club following problems with their benefactors in Lithuania. Fortunately for them they managed to delay the insolvency event beyond the end of last season by deceiving and exploiting supporters who have paid substantial money in via share issues and season tickets.

But there has been no talk of cheating, of “match fixing” or of financial doping on an industrial level. Suddenly the fate of creditors seems to matter much less than it did just over a year ago. Or perhaps the blood lust has already been quenched in the continued hunting of Rangers. But I digress, for apparently there is no comparison.

The Scotsman today featured an article written by Tom English, someone I know most of you will be familiar with, which claims that Rangers fans are wrong to expect the same treatment for Hearts as our situations are completely different. It’s apples and oranges apparently and it would appear that it was correct that we were heavily sanctioned while the Jambos escape with minimal damage. The fact that they have continued to trade while insolvent apparently matters little, nor does their continued failure to pay HMRC or even their own staff. Curiously this is omitted from the article in question and instead Tom proceeds to list the various “crimes” of Rangers in some attempt to make his point.

Mr English tells us that Rangers did not disclose Craig Whyte’s disqualification; did not lodge annual accounts; did not hold an AGM; did not pay in excess of £13M of PAYE & VAT; did not pay Dunfermline and Dundee United. The list certainly does not make for good reading regardless of your football allegiances. However, Tom then really dropped an interesting line which I think it worthy of some examination. He states that people shouldn’t “fall for the easy cop-out that Whyte was the only one to blame for the fall of Rangers”. My suggestion would be that he reads the Judicial Panel’s verdict a bit more carefully next time.

English claims that “the Judicial Panel collared many of the directors at Ibrox and held them accountable in varying degrees for not doing enough – or anything at all - to raise an alarm with the authorities, despite being suspicious of what Whyte was up to”. While there is an element of credibility to such claims it must be remembered that John Greig and John McClelland resigned on 17 October 2011, before any stories about non-payment of taxes were circulating. It should also be noted that Dave King had continually requested information but was denied access at the instructions of Craig Whyte. Both of these facts are acknowledged in the Panel’s verdict. In hindsight could they have done more? Most probably, but the same of course can be said of the board of any company who suffers financial troubles. That however does not excuse the actions of the real culprit.

Speaking of doing more, perhaps Tom should be asking the SFA why they did not act upon information given to them which alleged that Craig Whyte was not paying various taxes several months before Rangers entered administration. Perhaps we should all be asking why the governing body ignored such warnings and allowed things to develop in a manner which they obviously felt was extremely serious, “second only to match-fixing” in fact. If you want to discuss culpability, let’s ask whether or not the SFA carried out their duty, and I think we all know the answer. But that of course is not mentioned or discussed, for it would not suit the point he is trying to make.

If I may I’d like to return to my main concern – the role of Craig Whyte. While it can certainly be argued that he isn’t the only one to blame, it would be crass to pretend that he was not almost completely responsible for our downfall. The Judicial Panel noted that Whyte was “the directing mind and will” of the company during the period in question and had “deliberately engaged in a programme of non-payment of taxes due to HMRC”. What followed however was rather curious. Despite acknowledging his “culpable acts and breaches of Disciplinary Rules” it was then decided that Rangers FC were to be held responsible as a result.

The Panel decided to hide behind a historical legal case, Tesco Supermarkets Ltd vs Nattrass, and use it as a means of holding Rangers FC responsible for the actions of its owner. If that is their idea of justice then it certainly warped beyond anything I can comprehend as it is abundantly clear that our club did nothing but suffer at the hands of Whyte and may in fact be the victim of fraudulent and criminal activity. That however rather seems to be all too conveniently ignored. So too does the illegality of the registration embargo enforced upon Rangers and the subsequent blackmailing that followed last summer to ensure it remained.

It would certainly appear to me that Mr English is all too happy to convey only the parts of the story which suit him. He of course seems to believe that we should all be forever ashamed of what happened at Rangers and rather fails to mention the fact that we were the ones putting money in while a shameless shyster raped our club, the same shyster that the Judicial Panel acknowledged as being responsible. But, again, I digress.

Hearts have undoubtedly been a financial basket-case for a number of years. Their financial statements have clearly displayed the lunacy involved at Tynecastle and the precarious situation in which the club found itself. They must by now have a full room solely dedicated to filing the various winding-up orders they have received and that’s before you consider the continued failure to pay their staff in a timely manner. But that’s irrelevant, apparently. As far as English is concerned they’ve suffered an insolvency event and that’s an end to it. They haven’t brought the game into disrepute and they haven’t been guilty of financial doping. And they certainly haven’t been blackmailed into handing back their Scottish Cups.

The authorities have clearly learned their lesson and are now taking a hard-line stance against such issues. I mean, Hearts have been given registration embargos at times when they were not able and could not afford to sign players. That’ll teach them! Oh how they must have laughed when that punishment was conjured up. It’s like telling a man with no money that he’s banned from going on a shopping spree at a time when the shops are closed. The mind boggles.

The madness, the hyperbole and the conjecture that surrounded Rangers rather seems to have disappeared at a very convenient time for Hearts. The likes of Tom English appear to have thrown their moral compass aside, dismounted their high horses and suddenly desire to look at things objectively and without prejudice. Accusations of cheating and such likes appear to be non-existent and genuine sympathy seems to be afforded for the innocent supports. I’d like to suggest that such coverage is perhaps a year too late.

Shane recently explained why we do what we do over here at the CRO. The media are forever peddling inaccuracies and reporting in a manner which makes headlines rather than one which reflects the truth. We’ll continue in our own way to attempt to set the record straight and put over our points of view and while Tom English & co continue to publish such nonsense, I suspect we won’t be short of material to work with.