RANGERS were brought to their knees a year ago today, and it had nothing to do with ruthless Italian defending. If only the Ibrox club’s darkest chapter since the stadium disaster of 1971 was something so paltry as a defeat suffered on a football pitch.
Instead, the sad scenes were played out in a room just off the cobbled Royal Mile, in Edinburgh of all places. Judge Lord Menzies had given the club until 3.30pm on St Valentine’s Day to appoint an administrator. They managed to do so by 2.50pm. The appointment of Duff & Phelps – against the wishes of HMRC, who had lodged a petition for an administrator to be appointed by the court – was then greeted as some kind of victory by Craig Whyte, the then-not-very-careful owner. A quote by Winston Churchill seems appropriate: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
A year ago James Traynor was executive sports editor at a Scottish daily newspaper. A year ago Charles Green was dimly recalled as a straight-talking chairman at Sheffield United. A year ago Craig Whyte was a businessman whose notoriety had just jumped several levels. The Business Insider website published the results of a new survey yesterday, revealing that Whyte is able to revel in the title of “most searched for UK company director of 2012”.
Whyte duly went into exile post administration. He has barely been seen since. Instead, he was wont to release infrequent mealy-mouthed statements. One of these appeared a year ago today. Rangers were in administration, he explained, because he hadn’t wanted to pour “good money after bad”. He didn’t outline why he had in fact withheld payment of up to £9 million worth of PAYE and tax; he didn’t outline why he believed it was acceptable to mortgage the season ticket money of tens of thousands of Rangers fans to Ticketus, another name which, a year ago, had yet to enter the Scottish football lexicon, but is now firmly associated with the saga of the club’s downfall.
A year on, and Rangers yesterday hosted a press conference in which a documentary entitled The Rising, due to be shown on Rangers TV today, was being promoted. Why not take control of the situation? If an anniversary is to be marked, Rangers appear to be saying, then we will damn well do it ourselves. The programme highlights the remarkable loyalty on which they can continue to count, despite their current lowly league status.
How quickly the story developed. Twelve months ago, even given the extent of the meltdown, it was still hard to imagine that Rangers would not somehow pull through; that they would not be lining up in the Scottish Premier League come July, that the Old Firm derbies, which underpin broadcast deals, would continue to ward off Scottish football’s impending ‘financial Armageddon’ – or so the scaremongerers wanted people to believe. In a football sense, the greatest impact for Rangers seemed set to be a three-season ban from European football.
And yet, just over six months later, dozens of reporters found themselves re-setting their satnav devices for Glebe Park, Brechin. I still remember searching for a parking spot in a little cul-de-sac to the north of the Angus town, and being almost nudged off the road as the Rangers team bus swept by, ahead of their first competitive fixture as a Third Division club. Surreal.
But it still isn’t etched in the brain as firmly as the moment when it first became apparent that administration was now an inevitable prospect. A year ago yesterday papers were first lodged at the Court of Session. As tends to happen, the news “snapped” on the Press Association wire. That very morning Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell and chairman Ian Bankier had been completing a swift round of interviews with reporters, following the publication of Celtic’s interim results for the six months to 31 December, 2011.
There’s never a good time to file for administration, but doing so on the day your rivals are outlining their financial independence served to highlight the contrasting paths that two clubs forever bound by their shared “Old Firm” motif were now embarked upon. Gordon Smith, who had operated uneasily in the role of Director of Football under Whyte, yesterday recalled hearing the news of administration for the first time.
“I was there when he [Whyte] took the call to say that HMRC had initiated the whole thing; and he went into a panic at that point,” he said. “He took a phone call and went away and came back and said: ‘there is something I have to deal with’. He didn’t even tell us what it was he was dealing with but what he had to ‘deal with’ was the fight to bring in his own administrators.”
The players played on, though they failed to benefit as expected from the defiant spirit engendered. Their first game in a post-administration world saw Rangers fall at home to Kilmarnock. The end of the season came just hours after Charles Green’s whirlwind arrival, but there was still further pain to come. On 12 June HMRC decided not to approve Green’s Company Voluntary Arrangement offer to creditors.
If administration had been unthinkable; then this was something else, as oldco Rangers followed Gretna into liquidation.
There are still battles to be fought; the SPL’s independent commission are still to release their written judgement on matters relating to the payment of Ibrox players between 2001 and 2010, while HMRC are still intent on proving that oldco Rangers’ use of EBTs [Employment Benefit Trusts] is a breach of tax law. The club celebrated a rare high point in recent times with victory in the original case, although HMRC have appealed the judgement, delivered by a majority of 2-1 in favour of the old Rangers, then under the ownership of Sir David Murray.
Has it been a cautionary tale? You hope so. For some it might have come too late. Hearts continue to linger on the precipice. Their fans secured the club’s short-term future in the run-up to Christmas, while Rangers’ aggregate crowd is the fifth highest in Britain. As ever, the burden created by the excessive spending – or the determined non-payment – of others has been transferred into the hands of the supporters, who have risen to the occasion.
It is this spirit that deserves to be saluted today.