ONE OF Scottish football’s most senior figures has launched a scathing attack on Rangers chairman Craig Whyte after it was announced he is to vacate his executive role at the beleaguered club as part of a cost-cutting drive.
Gordon Smith, director of football at Ibrox, seen as a key lieutenant of Mr Whyte’s regime, said he felt “undermined by association” with the controversial businessman, adding that he had been “very frustrated” in his role.
Meanwhile, Strathclyde Police last night confirmed they had received a dossier on Rangers’ finances which had been passed to them by the club’s administrators Duff and Phelps. The force said it was examining the new tranche of information and intends to contact the Crown Office in due course.
Further damaging disclosures suggested the overall “wee” tax bill facing the club stands at about £15 million, some £6m higher than previously thought.
Mr Smith, a former chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, will step down from Rangers alongside Ali Russell, the club’s chief operating officer, as administrators seek to pare costs.
However, no decisions on the future of playing staff will be made until next week.
The club was forced into administration last Tuesday over an unpaid tax bill accrued during Mr Whyte’s tenure, with Duff and Phelps appointed to take control of the business.
The latest dramatic developments followed a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament, where First Minister Alex Salmond described the job facing the administrators as a “very difficult” task, adding that a “series of revelations” in recent days ought to be “very, very concerning indeed”. Mr Salmond also said the inquiry into the club’s recent business should be supported “regardless of how difficult are some of the facts that may emerge”.
He said now that Rangers FC was in administration, it was “clearly a hugely difficult time, particularly for [its] 331 employees”.
He said administrators Duff and Phelps had stated they wanted to take Rangers out of administration as soon as possible, adding that, in those circumstances, the “economic impact will be lessened”.
Mr Salmond declared: “I very much hope a way forward can be found which allows Rangers to meet its obligations to the taxpayer, to continue in business and to save jobs.
“However, it should be said that given the revelations of the last few days, the task facing the administrator is a very, very difficult one indeed.”
In a statement released through Duff and Phelps, Mr Smith, a former Rangers player, said it was a “great thrill” to be appointed director of football last summer at the club he supports, but described his departure as “a tremendous wrench” and said he feared his position had been “undermined” by association with Mr Whyte.
“I admit that under the current circumstances [my departure] has not come as a major surprise to me. I was brought in by Craig Whyte but because his control and reputation has been damaged by recent disclosures, I feel my own position has been undermined by association.
“However, I would make the point that I was very frustrated in my job as I was unable to fulfil the job specification which was originally outlined for me. This was to control the major aspects of the football department outwith the first team operations. These were to include recruitment, scouting, transfer negotiations and youth development.
“I wasn’t in control of any of these activities despite constantly making it clear to Craig Whyte that this was to be my remit. I outlined my medium- to long-term strategies … on numerous occasions to no avail.
“There’s no point in being a director of football unless you can control these areas, so, in that respect I’m totally comfortable with being made redundant at this time.”
He added: “The main thing for me is that Rangers survives and continues as a great football club and I offer my full support going forward to ensure this happens.”
Mr Russell, a former commercial director with Hearts who was also brought in last year by Mr Whyte, said: “It has been a great honour to have worked for Rangers. I only wish the circumstances could have been better. I would like to offer special thanks to [coach] Ally McCoist and Gordon Smith who have been tremendous throughout all of this.
“This is a difficult time for Rangers and I hope my departure will help others keep their jobs. The most important thing in this whole saga is the club’s future is secured and Rangers looks forward to better days. I am sure that will happen and my support will always be there.”
Paul Clark, joint administrator for Duff and Phelps, said both executives had expressed “deep disappointment” regarding the situation in which the club finds itself, and emphasised they had done all they could to improve matters.
“Since our appointment as administrators on 14 February, it has been essential to review the cost structure of the club’s operations and make every effort to achieve efficiencies to help improve the trading position,” Mr Clark said.
“As part of this programme, Ali Russell, the club’s chief operating officer and Gordon Smith, director of football, have agreed to leave the club.
“At our request, both agreed to stay on and assist the club until the end of this month and we are very grateful for their co-operation and willingness to do what they can during this difficult period for Rangers.”
Mr Clark added: “Meetings have also been held with Ally McCoist and we had discussions regarding the potential impact of the administration process on the football department and we will continue to consult fully with him.
“It is clearly understood by all, including the players, that the football department costs will come under review as is the case with all departments within the business. No decisions regarding staffing in any department have been taken at this point and will not be taken until next week.”
As Strathclyde Police continue to look into the ongoing situation at the Glasgow club, the force confirmed that it was investigating information it had received from Duff and Phelps. As administrators, the firm is duty bound to pass any matters of concern to the police.
A spokeswoman for the force said: “We have received information from the administrators of Rangers FC. This is currently being examined. Once we have examined this information we will liaise with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”
A spokesman for Duff and Phelps said it would not comment on reports that the club’s tax bill was in the region of £15m, not the £9m previously reported.
The bill includes about £7m of unpaid PAYE and £2m in VAT which had been deducted from employees’ wages but not handed over to HM Revenue and Customs, but it is understood the new, larger sum includes around £4.3m owed to HMRC in relation to the outstanding ‘wee tax case’ along with related penalties.
The club is also facing a potential bill for £49m as part of a separate tax case it is contesting against HMRC.
Amid ongoing doubt as the future ownership of the club, there are growing doubts as to whether Rangers will come out of administration in time to be eligible to compete in European football next season.