Last June, amid the desperate rancour of the Rangers debacle, Dave King visited Glasgow with a number of things on his mind.
He wanted to speak with Charles Green and get reassurances that he wasn’t just a front man for Craig Whyte. He wanted to dynamite David Murray and his hubris and single him out as the main cause of the collapse of the club. Whyte had merely accelerated the decline, he said. And, also, he wanted to show some contrition on behalf of Rangers. He was the first one to do so.
A week earlier, the new chairman, Malcolm Murray, had issued a statement that typified the Ibrox mindset at the time. Murray said that if Rangers were not welcomed back into the SPL then the other clubs in the league would be signing a “mass suicide pact”. That arrogance and sense of entitlement was not lost on King, who took a different tack when he flew in from his home in South Africa.
King said that Rangers needed to take their medicine and advised that an illustration of penitence wouldn’t be a bad idea. “There’s not been enough, in my view, humility with the way the football authorities have been dealt with,” he said. “I think Rangers have been a bit arrogant. We did make mistakes. It’s not Charles Green’s fault, it’s the previous owners. I was part of that board at the time. I think we should be a bit more helpful than we have been.”
In the space of an interview that lasted just short of 12 minutes, King mentioned the word ‘humility’ three times. “Scottish football needs a strong Rangers,” he said. “But what Scottish football also needs is a level of humility and a level of reparation from Rangers and either that’s going to come from Rangers or it’s going to be extracted from Rangers… The conversation that Rangers should have had with the authorities was a quiet conversation, from the point of humility.”
That conversation never took place in the way King would have wanted. It was a pity, because he was right. And no matter what you thought about King you had to have respect for him for swimming against the Rangers tide and calling for an expression of regret rather than Malcolm Murray’s objectionable, and self-defeating, conceit and condescension. If it was Murray’s contention that Rangers were “the people” then it was his air of supremacy that prevented him from seeing that “the people” didn’t have a leg to stand on at the time and that an apology rather than an attack was the most sensible approach.
King could see it, but his voice was drowned out by all the noise of a fractious summer. The enormous contradiction in all of this, of course, is that at that precise moment the South African Revenue Service (SARS) were not only accusing King of a lack of humility but were also threatening to get him stuck in the slammer for upwards of 15 years. When told of King’s call for contrition at Rangers, a source close to SARS was not exactly impressed. “What about practising what he preaches?” said the source.
This is where the analysis of King becomes mind-bending. A year earlier, the man who wanted Rangers to express regret for the things they had done wrong was denounced as a “glib and shameless” liar by a judge in a South African tax court. In his epic battle with the authorities, King was described, by Justice Southwood, as a “mendacious witness” who had “no respect for the truth” and who “does not hesitate to lie.” King versus SARS lasted 14 years and it was the biggest tax case in the history of the country. In the beginning the revenue service were chasing him for 2.7bn rand (about £230m) but recently the entire affair, including the 322 criminal charges, were settled for around £44m.
King accepted that he had not been compliant with South African tax law and expressed regret at the way he had behaved. It took him long enough, but he got there in the end. There is now something of a rush to install him as the new King of Ibrox, the great redeemer who can replace chaos with order on the back of his undoubted wealth. Rand off the radar, or something like that.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Rangers if there weren’t multiple layers to the story. There’s the moral argument and whether an accepted tax cheat should be welcomed into Scottish football. The flip-side of that is that he has fronted up and paid his dues. All matters have been settled. The moral argument is less important than the technical argument. The SFA’s improper person rules are a bit like their rules on gambling. They exist, but the question is how rigorously they will be enforced.
King’s involvement in Whyte’s board should be an insurmountable obstacle to the notion that he can become Rangers chairman. King was no acolyte of Whyte’s, far from it. But he still had a degree of culpability. For confirmation, all the SFA have to do is re-read the report of their own judicial panel investigation into Whyte’s regime. King, it said, had asked a few questions and griped a little about the lack of information coming from Whyte, but beyond that, the report concluded, he hadn’t done a whole lot to challenge the former owner. In essence, he should have done more.
None of that should stop him investing, though. Even if he is denied the tag of chairman, as he should be, he can still bring his cash and his influence to bear, can still attempt to bring order where there is now chaos, can still plot a future for Rangers that involves proper governance instead of the current circus act.
King doesn’t need to be on the board in order to invest and stabilise Rangers. What he needs is to be welcomed, not so much by those who reign at Hampden, but by those who control things at Ibrox. He needs the warring factions to behave themselves. He needs them to stop kidding themselves that they are doing a good job at Ibrox, that the club is safe in their hands. If they can’t do that, then this club is heading for the poor house again.
You’d hesitate to buy into all those headlines about the “Return of the King” and the “King and Aye” and all the other trumpeting of the exiled Scot as the great redeemer. It’s too early. Regardless of his shameful tax history in South Africa and despite the SFA’s rulebook that ought to preclude him from being chairman, nobody can stop him from investing in Rangers if he is given sufficient opportunity. It’s not the SFA he should be worried about. It’s the guys wearing the club tie and smiling gormlessly as the ship heads for the rocks again.