Tom English: ‘We need to know what happened, when and how it happened and whether it was dodgy’

Banner headlines? The SFA and SPL with their attempts to bypass justice have made it easy for Rangers and their fans to feel victimised
Banner headlines? The SFA and SPL with their attempts to bypass justice have made it easy for Rangers and their fans to feel victimised
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WHEN Lord Nimmo Smith and the panel of distinguished legal minds who are adjudicating on Rangers and the endless saga of EBTs and double contracts deliver their findings, you would hope that a section of their report would deal with not just what happened (or didn’t happen) at Ibrox but also what appears to have happened at the SFA and the SPL these past few months.

As surely as possible rule-breaking payments need to be investigated so, too, does the accusation that the football authorities in Scotland attempted to broker some kind of deal to get Rangers back into the First Division instead of the Third. The details that have emerged are grubby and demand exploring.

Among a list of “Agreements and Undertakings” that the SFA and SPL were dangling under Rangers’ nose were: “(i) accept and agree to be bound by each and all of the EBT Sanctions; (ii) the SFA and the SPL agree that no further sanctions will be imposed with respect to or concerning the EBT Payments and Arrangements; and (iii) RFC and Sevco shall not directly or indirectly make any claim and/or representation to have won any of the Championships and/or Cups which are the subject of any and all of the EBT Sanctions”.

The SFA and the SPL – both lamentable in this entire affair – looked to have sidled up to Rangers and whispered in their ear: “Hey listen chaps, why don’t you admit guilt on the whole EBT front, give up a heap of titles to appease the masses and we’ll slip you back into the First Division with no more questions asked. How about it? Give us your trophies and we can all move on. Nirvana awaits. Just sign here.”

If this is what was proposed – and it certainly looks that way – then it is an affront to justice. Rangers may or may not be guilty but, whatever your stance, they have an inalienable right to be deemed innocent unless Lord Nimmo Smith finds otherwise. Were the SFA and the SPL trying to circumvent this process? Were they looking for a confession before hearing the evidence? “Admit everything and we’ll make your life easier.” What about fairness? What about integrity? Such a devalued word in this farrago.

The bottom line in the EBT case is that we need a conclusion, not the kind of half-arsed solution that the SFA and SPL were shovelling at Rangers. As a football nation, we need to know what happened, when it happened, how it happened and whether it was dodgy or not. We need to know if there is substance to the world of rumour. We need to know precisely how Rangers applied their EBTs and precisely what they did or didn’t do with the double contracts.

If the SFA and SPL had their way then Rangers would have accepted punishment and we would never truly know what exactly happened here. We’d be condemned to a lifetime of EBT debate, one side saying there was nothing wrong, the other side saying Rangers were at it, when all we need is the truth as established by some of the finest legal minds in the country. A kangaroo court, this is not. Yes, the commission was set up by the football authorities but it is not in thrall to them. Lord Nimmo Smith, below, and Co. don’t give a toss what Stewart Regan or Neil Doncaster think. If anybody thinks they would put their professional reputations – and careers – on the line by being dictated to it the SFA and the SPL then they really need to think again. Their verdict, one way or another, will be respected by all bar those whose opinions are so entrenched as to be unreachable by logic.

Only when the commission has examined every scrap of information can innocence or guilt be established. Only then can possible punishment be discussed and meted out. Not before.

Charles Green has thrown the toys out of the pram so often now that it’s easy to dismiss pretty much everything he says given how infantile some of his comments have been but, amid the wall of noise and the pathetic attempt to paint Lord Nimmo Smith’s commission as a collection of patsies for Regan and Doncaster, there is some truth and the truth is that the SFA and the SPL were spectacularly out of line when attempting to cut a deal. It’s not dissimilar to a High Court judge opening court proceedings by telling the accused: “Right son, you say you’re innocent of this crime and blah-de-blah but, before we hear the evidence I’m going to propose a solution. I’ll tuck you up in the shovel for a three-year stretch and we can all get out of here pronto. How about it?”

The SFA and the SPL have made it easy for Green to walk away from the commission, to throw his hands up in the air and cry foul. In attempting to force through a lousy compromise that would have done an enormous disservice to the game, the authorities came across as a hanging party busily constructing the gallows before a word had been heard from the defence.

Green’s interpretation is nonsense, of course. The commission is beyond reproach, but the behaviour of the SFA and the SPL gave Green an easy way out. “They’ve already found us guilty. They want our trophies. What chance have we got? We’re walking away.”

Nobody should be walking away. If Rangers truly believe that they have done nothing wrong then they should have nothing to fear from this commission, respected by all except by these who see conspiracy around every corner. If the verdict comes in and they are deemed innocent, then nobody can ever throw this mud at them again. Surely that is in their interest.

If the verdict goes the other way then a scandal will have been exposed and the game will be better for it.

The rush to judgment does nobody any favours, though.

Let justice be done – in the business of the EBTs and in the behaviour of the SFA and the SPL.

Rangers is not the only institution that has questions to answer.