05 November 2015

Tax case seems lost, but what exactly was the sporting advantage?


by James Black | Guest Contributor

The taxman finally won.

After years of going to and fro with investigations and appeals HMRC finally received a judgement in their favour at the Court of Session yesterday.

The masses were right. Rangers had cheated the public purse. Sir David Murray, who the claim was ultimately against, and BDO could still appeal the decision to the Supreme Court however either party are yet to comment on their next move.

Unsurprisingly, Twitter went into meltdown. Rangers fans discussed what this meant for the club going forward and the implications for the liquidators of the Oldco whilst fans of every other club sniffed blood. It felt like the summer of 2012 all over again with some fans demanding "justice" and others hatching plots to see Rangers stripped of any and all trophies won in the spell that EBT's were used.

This wasn't limited to just fans though. Several prominent members of the Scottish football press pack saw this as an opportunity to revive an old favourite of theirs. Rangers were "cheats" and deserved to have titles removed due to an unfair sporting advantage caused by having different tax schemes in operation. Yeah, I don't quite get it either.

Anyway, this continued into today and now there are special "Twibbons" bearing the hashtag #stripthetitles, a Channel 4 journalist (or should that be stenographer?) wanted to know if recently retired Scottish FA president, and former Rangers secretary, Campbell Ogilvie planned to resign his presidency, and there's no doubt an online petition demanding some kind of title stripping too.

There seemed to be a real notion that Rangers had gained some of sporting advantage by managing their tax affairs in this way. Some suggested it allowed the club to bring in players that would perhaps be beyond their financial reach and the judgement yesterday even suggest players "might" have taken their services elsewhere if they didn't receive a suitable financial package.

So I decided to take a look.

Rangers spent £47m on EBT's between 2001 and 2010 so roughly £5.25m per year. Not a massive sum really. Particularly not when you look at the club's transfer spending in the early part of that spell.

The staff who received EBT's were; Alan Hutton, Alex McLeish, Alex Rae, Andrei Kanchelskis, Andrew Dickson*, Arthur Numan, Barry Ferguson, Bert Konterman*, Bert van Lingen, Billy DoddsBob Malcolm, Carlos Cuellar*, Chris Burke, Christian Nerlinger*, Claudio Caniggia, Craig Moore, Dado Prso*, Dan Eggen*, Sir David Murray, Dick Advocaat, Douglas Odam, Egil Ostenstad*, Fernando Ricksen, Federico Nieto*, Gavin Rae, George Adams, Graeme Souness, Gregory Vignal*, Ian McGuinness, Ian Murray, Jan Wouters, Jean-­Alain Boumsong*, Jerome Bonnissel*, Jesper Christiansen, Joel le Hir*, John Greig, John McClelland, Julien Rodriguez*, Kevin Muscat*, Kris Boyd, Libor Sionko*, Lorenzo Amoruso, Martin Bain, Marvin Andrews, Mo Ross, Michael Ball*, Michael Mols, Mikel Arteta*, Nacho Novo, Neil McCann, Nuno Capucho*, Olivier Bernard*, Paolo Vanoli*, Paul le Guen*, Pedro Mendes*, Peter Lovenkrands, Ronald de Boer, Ronald Wattereus*, Sasa Papac*, Soti Kyrgiakos*, Stefan Klos, Stephane Wiertelak*, Steve Davis, Stevie Smith, Stevie Thompson, Tero Penttila, Thomas Buffel*, Tore Andre Flo, Yves Colleu* and Zurab Khizanishvili.

The names in bold are staff who were either already at the club before the EBT scheme started in 2001 or they are players who came through the club's youth system. Of the £47m spent by the club £20.7m was spent on staff already at the club. They "might" have taken their talent's elsewhere however all were under contract to the club prior to the first EBT being set up. 

Big names like Ronald de Boer, Arthur Numan, Dick Advocaat and Barry Ferguson all benefited from the scheme however all of them were already at Rangers before the Murray Group decided to reduce it's tax liabilities. Again, they might have gone elsewhere but this would have need the club to sell them or the players to run down their contracts.

Watch the incredible events of Helicopter Sunday in 2005:


The remaining staff all joined the club at some point in 2001 or beyond. Looking at the list there's very few who anyone could make a reasonable argument for that they wouldn't either join Rangers without an EBT as part of their deal OR were that good a player that Rangers would have looked a hugely different side without them. Many of them came from Scottish clubs before moving to Ibrox and some were self­-confessed fans. 

Nacho Novo, Claudio Caniggia, Marvin Andrews and a few others all joined from Scottish clubs. Were these players only moving to Ibrox for a tax-free loan? 

Could Rangers have out­muscled the likes of Dundee financially? Yeah, probably. Rangers supporters Alex Rae and Steve Davis also moved to the club and received an EBT. Both players were well-known as fans of the club. Rae was coming to the end of his career, Davis had just completed a successful loan spell at Ibrox.

Adding players (in italics) who joined Rangers from other Scottish sides or who were known as fans of the club takes the total to £26.6m out of £47m.

What we're left with(*) is a group of fairly average players, with some exceptions, who hardly set the world alight in their time in Scotland. Guys like Soti Kyrgiakos, Olivier Bernard, Paolo Vanoli and Dan Eggen. That's an unfair "sporting advantage" to Rangers? 

There are others like Dado Prso and Carlos Cuellar who were fantastic players during their time at Ibrox but could you seriously argue that an EBT was what brought them to Scotland? It wasn't Champions League football, 50,000 fans idolising them every other Saturday and the opportunity to live very comfortably indeed in a country we like to trump as one of the most beautiful on the planet? 

It definitely wasn't any of that but it was the possibility of a tax free loan that might not really be a loan? None of them were hugely sought after and the better ones tended to move on fairly quickly. Arteta, Boumsong, Cuellar all spent short spells in Govan with Arteta being to only one to lift a league trophy. 

Others, like Sasa Papac, had longer spells at the club and while being successful on the pitch weren't highly rewarded via EBTs. Papac, for example, earned £319k through his EBT. 

Watch highlights of the 2002 Scottish Cup Final win over Celtic:



So that's the money aspect of it. Now let's look at what Rangers actually won between 2001 and 2010. I'll start at the 2001/02 season since any player playing in the previous season would have had a contract signed in 2000 which is before the Murray Group began using EBTs.

2001/02: ­ Scottish Cup & League Cup Double (Celtic won the league)

2002/03: ­ Treble (Rangers win the league by one goal)

2003/04: ­ Nothing (Celtic win league and Scottish Cup)

2004/05: ­ League & League Cup Double (Celtic win Scottish Cup, Rangers win league by one point)

2005/06: ­ Nothing (Celtic win league & League Cup)

2006/07: ­ Nothing (Celtic win league & Scottish Cup)

2007/08: ­ Scottish Cup & League Cup Double (Celtic win league)

2008/09: ­ League & Scottish Cup Double (Celtic win League Cup)

2009/10: ­ League & League Cup Double

In nine seasons Rangers won four league titles, four Scottish Cups and five League Cups. By comparison Celtic won five league titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups. Hibs and Livingston were the two other sides to win a League Cup during the spell, Dundee United and Hearts both lifted the Scottish Cup.

Now that it is broken down a bit, I challenge anyone to pick a year and explain to me exactly what unfair "sporting advantage" Rangers gained. Celtic won just about as much as Rangers did, which compared to the ten years previous is a damn sight better than they had been doing, and regularly beat Rangers during the time of EBT's. 

Alex McLeish had the longest run of defeats to Celtic of any Rangers manager in history right in the middle of the EBT scheme. Maybe it's just me but I'm really struggling to see where there's any unfair "sporting advantage".

Then again, maybe this isn't "sporting" after all...