Neil Lennon: Rangers cheated us if they are guilty of financial doping
NEIL Lennon believes Rangers will have been guilty of cheating if failure to emerge victorious from what has become known as the big tax case is added to the Ibrox club’s current woes.
Although already in administration, Rangers await the verdict of a top-tier tax tribunal which could cost the club as much as £75 million in the final reckoning. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) case centres around the use of employee benefits trusts (EBTs) which were in place for a decade before Craig Whyte took over from Sir David Murray last May. The Ibrox side lifted the league title in 2003 and 2005, as well as emerging triumphant in each of the last three seasons. The period in question is reported to date back to the 2000-2001 financial year.
Lennon was among the Celtic players left deflated after finishing runners-up behind Rangers in 2003 and 2005. In the former case Celtic were pipped on goal difference, and in the latter they finished only a single point behind the Ibrox side after Motherwell scored two late goals against Lennon’s side on the final day of the campaign.
The Celtic manager contends that it will be necessary to review the honours Rangers won during the period in which the club are being investigated for alleged tax evasion. The Celtic manager has also reacted strongly to the suggestion that there might be a tainted element to the success if, as expected, his side win the Scottish Premier League championship this year. “If we do win it and people want to throw that at me, I will have plenty to say about devalued titles over the years,” he said. “That’s if we win it.”
He knows he and his side will have few excuses if they fail to press home their advantage now. Celtic have moved 14 points clear of their rivals as a result of the ten-point sanction imposed on Rangers following confirmation on Tuesday that the club have gone into administration, after being pursued by HMRC over an unpaid PAYE bill of £9 million.
Lennon, when asked his position on the call from some Celtic supporters to strip Rangers of their titles in the event of the club being found guilty of tax evasion, referred to use of the expression “financial doping”. The manager explained that he didn’t know the club’s position on the matter, but in his eyes “doping is a sporting term for cheating”. He added: “In athletics, if you are caught doping you are banned. Alberto Contador got stripped of his Tour de France win in 2010, so there are precedents.
“It’s all hearsay and hot air at the minute. I don’t want to comment on it until all the results and all the findings are out. But if it has had a direct effect on me in my playing days, I will come out and say something at that time. As it is now, it hasn’t been proved.
“They [Rangers] are in administration for a reason and I am sure you guys will get to the bottom of it. It’s not my business, not our club’s business, but it will be my business if it has affected me as a player, or previous managers, and has denied us titles and trophies in the past.”
Pressed further about the prospect of Rangers having achievements taken from them, Lennon admitted that it would cause him no elation. However, “it doesn’t mean to say we won’t be angry about it [losing championships to an unfairly advantaged club]”.
All Celtic can now is concentrate on winning the championship in front of them. Lennon’s side travel to face Hibernian tomorrow afternoon and he has already gathered his players together and told them of the need to remain professional. “We have to get the job done,” he said. “We’ve put in a lot of work this year and there is still a lot of work to be done. Obviously, a ten point bonus is a huge gift for us at this stage of the season. I don’t think the players will ease off the throttle.”
He was equally adamant when denying the suggestion that Celtic will be robbed of some of the glory should they seal a first championship win in four years. Indeed, there is now pressure on them to ensure that they finish at least ten points ahead of Rangers in May.
“If we win it by a point, or even goal difference, I’ll celebrate like it’s 1999,” remarked Lennon. “We’ve waited a long time for a championship win.”
“I don’t think you can overshadow what we’ve done,” he added. “When they went into administration we were four points clear. It might have been different if they had done so when they were 15 points clear. But they haven’t. If we win the title it won’t be overshadowed by what’s happened this week.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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