Tom English: Hearts and Rangers are no comparison

Rangers fans protest against sanctions imposed on the club by the SFA in 2012. Picture: PA
Rangers fans protest against sanctions imposed on the club by the SFA in 2012. Picture: PA
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SINCE Hearts went into administration there has been an uprising in parts of the country where Rangers fans sit with long memories of their own horrors from last summer.

In the eyes of some of these Bears, the narrative is strangely different this time around. Barely a day goes by without some – or many – getting in touch via social networking to accuse the media and the SFA of double standards in the twin administrations. The bludgeon for Rangers a year ago but sympathy for Hearts now. What is the difference, they ask. Why hammer Rangers and then go easy on their counterparts in Edinburgh when they both fell foul of the same thing?

The aggrieved Rangers fans remember the findings of the SFA’s judicial panel. The headlines were a whopping fine of £160,000 for the club plus a 12-month transfer embargo (later over-ruled by Lord Glennie, but still in force now on account of the agreement that saw Rangers’ entry into the Third Division). There is lingering resentment over all of that among Rangers folk plus a feeling that the treatment doled out to them last year should be repeated now that Hearts are in administration, too. Time and again Rangers people ask: “What is the difference between us then and Hearts now?” Truth be told, the difference, as it stands, is stark.

Some remember the judicial panel’s bottom line in 2012 but forget the many steps the panel took to get there. It is surprising the number of Rangers fans who have it in their heads that their club was fined £160,000 and banned from signing players for a year simply because they were in administration. That is not the case. Far from it. The overall fine constituted a number of different fines for different offences that Hearts have not been charged with. Maybe the landscape will change a little once the SFA pull up the bonnet and have a look at what was gone in recent times at Tynecastle, but it is an almighty stretch to demand the same punishment for Hearts now as was handed down to Rangers then. That is what some Rangers people want. They claim that there is one rule for their put-upon club and another for Hearts. Yes, there is. Because their stories are different.

Consider what Rangers were found guilty of by the judicial panel. Apart from being guilty of an insolvency event, they were found guilty of not disclosing the fact that Craig Whyte had been disqualified from being a company director. They were found guilty of failing to comply with the rules of the PLUS Stock Exchange by not disclosing Whyte’s disqualification. They were found guilty of failing to lodge annual accounts by 31 December, 2001 as required by the Companies Act 2006. They were found guilty of failing to hold an annual general meeting by 1 January, 2012 as required by the Companies Act 2012. They were found guilty of non-payment of PAYE, VAT and National Insurance contributions in excess of £13 million. They were found guilty of failing to pay money due to Dunfermline as per the rules of the Scottish Premier League. They were found guilty of non-payment of money due to Dundee United for a Scottish Cup tie as per the rules of the SFA. They were guilty of non-payment of money to the SFA in relation to the rules of competition in the Scottish Cup.

When you bracket all of these breaches together you get to £160,000. Of that number, only £50,000 relates to the insolvency act. Most of the rest of it comes under the banner of bringing the game into disrepute. How many of these offences are Hearts guilty of and what is their rightful punishment? That’s what must be mulled over in the coming weeks.

Did they have a director who failed to declare that he’d been struck off? No. Did they publish their accounts? Yes. Did they have an annual general meeting? Yes. Did they – or do they – owe monies to other clubs? As far as we are aware, no. For sure, they need to be punished for the things they are guilty of, but you’re not comparing apples with apples when you lump Hearts’ offences in with the myriad breaches perpetrated by Whyte’s Rangers. And let’s not fall for the easy cop-out that Whyte was the only one to blame for the fall of Rangers. The jJudicial panel report collared many of the directors at Ibrox and held them accountable in varying degrees for not doing enough – or anything at all – to raise the alarm with the authorities, despite being suspicious of what Whyte was up to.

Importantly, the judicial panel’s findings were endorsed by Lord Carloway and Lord Glennie. Glennie had a major problem with the legality of the transfer embargo imposed on Rangers, which he ditched, but in no sense did he disagree with the rest of the report, nor the grave tone of it. Remember, the panel found that only match-fixing could constitute a more serious offence than the collective violations of the Whyte era.

Hearts failed to comply with HMRC and that is to their shame. But the contravention is of a different order to the brazen defiance displayed by Whyte, is it not? Hearts had come to an arrangement to pay up previous arrears with the taxman – a state of affairs that HMRC appeared to be content with. They had fallen foul again lately with a bill of about £100,000 dropping on the doorstep at Tynecastle. Around half of that has already been paid, with huge credit due to the supporters (and credit also to the Rangers fans who worked tirelessly to try to pay off the entire football debt of their club). We’ll have to wait for BDO to crunch the numbers to find out precisely how much Hearts will end up shafting HMRC for but it’s not going to be in the same ball-park – or the same country – as the £13m-plus that Whyte’s regime at Rangers stiffed them for.

All of this has to be factored into the reckoning. And it is the reason why Hearts’ administration is being reported differently. It’s not so much sympathy as an understanding of two distinct and sad stories.