SO WHERE are we at in the business of Rangers’ tumble into disgrace? A police investigation and an SFA inquiry, a brazen £9 million tax dodge, administrators in the building looking for missing money, an owner so in fear for his safety that he daren’t turn up at a game, a former owner in hiding, government intervention, a Prime Minister, a First Minister and a porn star all passing comment on the plight of the beleaguered Bears. There is an epic sweep to this story and it’s only just begun.
Given the stunning events of the week at Rangers it might seem a little peculiar to begin any cataloguing of the shame that has befallen the club with a tale about Daniel Cousin, but it is a revealing one all the same. On Friday afternoon, Rangers were, in their own words, “very, very hopeful” of signing the Gabon striker on a reported salary of £7,500 a week. There was talk of “bits of red tape” to get through, but the club seemed confident the deal would happen.
Bizarrely, the representatives of Duff & Phelps, the club’s administrators, said nothing. There was no mention, for instance, of the signing ban imposed on the club as of last Tuesday’s descent into administration. There was no mention either of the ethics of the situation, no chat about the morality of bringing a new footballer to the club just 24 hours after the administrators spoke publicly about an unpaid HMRC bill of £9m and the fact that staff at Ibrox may lose their jobs in the coming weeks as a result of the financial mismanagement of Rangers going back many years.
A point of order was required from the administrators, but it never arrived. A principled stance from the club, then? No. Somebody in authority and in possession of a conscience needed to say: “Apart from being against the rules, it’s also not right to sign anybody when redundancies are in the air and the taxman needs paying.”.
If they had a spare £7,500 a week then the decent thing to do would have been to meet some bills and try to ease some tension in the lives of those fearful of losing their jobs.
But, no. The plan was to give it to Cousin in an attempt to sort out their “problems up front”. Crass and insensitive, but also curious. Rangers went into administration on Tuesday. On Friday, the SPL were presented with a contract between Cousin and Rangers which was signed by the player and by Paul Clark, the joint administrator of the club. The date on the contract was 17 February, a full three days after Rangers’ ability to sign players ought to have been revoked. Now, even if Clark was entitled to ease that restriction, why would he want to? In what way was Cousin’s attempted signing a sensible decision for an administrator to make given the revelations about the state of this club’s finances?
It was only right that the SPL dynamited Cousin’s registration, but all sorts of questions remain about why it was even presented in the first place. The administrators cancelled a Rangers Hall of Fame dinner scheduled for this evening because they didn’t deem it appropriate and yet they give the move for Cousin their imprimatur. Like a lot of other things at Rangers, it needs some explaining.
God knows, there are enough villains in this farce without picking on the administrators, but some of the things that have happened since Tuesday demand an airing. For instance, their apparent certainty that liquidation is not a likely outcome and that Rangers “will continue as a football club”. Given that they don’t know the extent of Rangers’ current debt, don’t know what the HMRC bill may be, don’t know, either, what the situation is with the club’s assets and who actually owns them then it is a total puzzler as to how they can be so confident of anything right now. Craig Whyte has retreated for the moment. The advice would be that he keeps retreating until he’s away in the distance – and then he should turn on his heels and leg it. But he won’t. He firmly believes he has nothing to apologise for, that everything he has done has been in the best interests of the club. If his grand plan was to torch creditors and re-establish Rangers in a debt-free world he reckoned without the damage it would cause to the credibility of the club and the vengeance that might be visited upon him by supporters who now wear the colours of a humiliated institution. There is no way Whyte can lead this club forward. He is about as welcome at Ibrox as Sir David Murray, a man whose way of facing up to his own culpability in the ruination of Rangers is to go to ground.
So many people share the blame, but instead of humility at Rangers we get the objectionable attempt to slip the millionaire Cousin in the front door while preparing to usher the redundant out the back.
Celtic people have been rejoicing at the fall of Rangers. Some of the celebrations have been excessive and distasteful, but you can understand where they’re coming from. In 1994, when Celtic had their own brush with mortality, there was a revelry going on across Glasgow that none of these people will ever forget. Why should they? At death’s door they could hear the party music in Govan drifting in on the city breeze.
Maybe for some this is about vengeance, but for most it’s about justice. Rangers’ own administrator has spoken of Whyte withholding £9m from the taxman to fund the running of the club. How much of the £9m was spent on signing, and paying, players they had no legal right to sign? That’s not just the view of one-eyed Celtic supporters, it is surely the view of anybody with even a loose grasp of the concept of a moral code. A ten-point deduction for tax evasion? It’s like giving a criminal three months for robbing a bank.
Alex Salmond has had his say. If – and when – the “big” tax bill arrives, the First Minister wants understanding for the stricken club. “Obviously HMRC have got to pursue in the public interest, taxation,” he said. “Equally, they’ve got to have cognisance of the fact that we’re talking about a huge institution, part of the fabric of the Scottish nation as well as Scottish football and everyone realises that.”
Everyone, First Minister?
What everyone understands, surely, is that the First Minister appears to making allowances for tax evasion – £9m – and possible tax evasion – £49m – just because Rangers are a football club (with lots of voters). It was a cynical grasp, an apologia for dodgy practices. He’s affording Rangers a level of sympathy that would not be forthcoming for any other business facing the charges Rangers are facing. They haven’t paid £9m in tax and yet the leader of the land talks of HMRC’s need to take cognisance of their important place in Scottish society. Special pleading should be reserved for those who are worthy of it, Mr Salmond.
The Rangers story has become a circus and it is a show with many clowns. It’s just impossible to take your eyes off it.