At the end of a week when Rangers achieved considerable vindication over their use of Employee Benefit Trusts, manager Ally McCoist has made an appeal for supporters to reassess Sir David Murray’s contribution to the Ibrox club.
The former owner’s decision to embark on the EBT payment scheme has, prior to Tuesday’s judgment, been variously described as “ruinous” and “catastrophic”. According to McCoist, there is now “no doubt” why the club went into administration, triggering a sequence of events that led to liquidation.
“Some of the madness, and it was madness, spoken about £120 million tax bills and things like that, it actually looks a bit silly now,” he added.
McCoist also expressed the hope that the First Tier Tax Tribunal decision might impact on the Scottish Premier League’s independent investigation into alleged undisclosed payments to Rangers players. However, shortly after he called for it to be “scrapped” came confirmation that the probe, which centres on the use of EBTs and the issue of ‘side-letters’, will begin on 29 January.
The hearing will be chaired by The Rt Hon Lord Nimmo Smith. The stripping away of titles won while the club used the EBT scheme is the most extreme sanction available. “It would be great if we could move on, but having been privy to a few meetings and situations with SPL chairmen and things like that, I wouldn’t be holding my breath,” said McCoist.
The Rangers manager stressed that he knows as well as anyone that mistakes were made during Murray’s reign. However, he added that the former chairman deserved to feel “ecstatic” after the judgment of the tribunal, who, while not reaching a unanimous decision, found 2-1 in favour of the oldco Rangers.
It has been described in some quarters as the club’s greatest-ever victory, while in others, it has been deemed to be their most hollow. Ultimately, however, it must be viewed as a Pyrrhic success. As well as reflecting on the week’s major story in Scottish football, the Rangers manager should have spent yesterday preparing for tomorrow’s match at Elgin. However, the table-topping Third Division fixture was postponed yesterday afternoon on safety grounds because the Borough Briggs club had sold about 1,100 tickets more than its 4,520 capacity.
In the opinion of most Rangers supporters, this once-unthinkable scenario would have remained unthinkable were it not for the so-called ‘Big Tax case’ that loomed over the club while Murray sought to identify credible potential buyers. Craig Whyte, who took advantage of the mounting desperation to buy the club for just £1, was plainly not one of these.
McCoist said that he sympathised with Murray as the pillars at Rangers came crashing down. He supported the view that he had been ill-treated during the long EBT saga, with a series of leaks having encouraged some to pre-judge the case. McCoist backed his former chairman in his call for there to be an investigation into how sensitive information came to be released into the public domain during the tribunal.
“I would imagine Sir David will be in heavy discussion with his lawyers and with his legal team,” he said. “It is a decision he will have to make. But certainly, having known Sir David as I have done for a long, long time, I would hazard a guess that he would want justice, as did the rest of Scottish football for the last four or five years.”
McCoist described himself as “disappointed, saddened, shocked, surprised” at the ill-feeling directed towards the club during the tax investigation process. McCoist was particularly dismayed at having to fend off accusations of cheating.
“I’m a big enough boy, I can handle it, but I was genuinely surprised at the reaction by a lot of people who perhaps pre-judged the situation,” he said. “To use the word cheat is possibly as strong a word in sport or in
life that you can use against somebody.”
Although he served under Whyte and was forced on occasion to defend the owner, McCoist is now even more certain where blame for the club’s woes should lie.
“History and facts are what will determine the majority of level-headed people’s decisions on what they think about people, and how they handled situations,” he said. “I have always been of the opinion – and I don’t care what anybody says – that any mistakes I feel David Murray made were made in trying to do the best for the club. He will tell you himself that he has made mistakes, of course he has. This has been hanging over the old chairman for a long, long time now – eight years – and it’s a massive part of his life.
“I don’t doubt – he has never told me – that he has had sleepless night after sleepless night. But right now he is quite entitled to feel very content with this week’s decision.
“In my opinion, David Murray has kept his silence and kept his dignity until the result came through,” he added. “He always believed the verdict would go his way and he has been proved right.
“So I do have a degree of sympathy for David Murray for the stick and the questions that were put to him without the evidence being 100 per cent known. I think he’ll be sitting absolutely ecstatic with the result. So he should be.”
McCoist recalled being aware of the warning signs that developed during Whyte’s short reign. Offers were made for players, such as Dundee United’s David Goodwillie, that everyone knew did not have a hope of being accepted. “I wouldn’t say it was a pointless exercise, but it was pretty much a pointless
exercise,” he said.
As for Whyte, who sought to negotiate six tickets for the directors’ box at Ibrox when he sold his shares to Charles Green, McCoist said that he stood by his previously aired view that it would be “ill-advised” for him to return to Ibrox again.