NO SURRENDER was the cry, from the grandstands if not the pitch. Defiance at four ends, but little to be found on the terrain that mattered most.
Banners, flags, songs. And, lord, what singing there was at times. Old favourites re-emerged when Killie were running amok and the thunder was at its peak. They sang of “Fenian bastards” and sang “Who’s the Fenian in the black?” at referee Iain Brines, not just in small clusters but in vast numbers and with a carefree abandon.
It was as if someone had given them special dispensation to revisit such embarrassments, given the week that was. What could be done to them by way of punishment that hadn’t already been done? A points deduction? “Who cares?”. A fine? “Yeah, right. Join the queue.” It was wretched. Truly wretched.
At other times they displayed messages of motivation for the team and their manager and sent signals of anger to the men who brought them to this feeble point. Sir David Murray, Craig Whyte and Martin Bain were lacerated in giant letters – their sins against RFC will never be forgotten was the gist. One group raised a banner that de-knighted Murray while saying the big tax bill howitzer, should it come, is his debt. The “ebt” in debt became EBT just in case we missed the point.
At half-time there was a visit from God’s man in Govan, Marvin Andrews, but still there was no end to the epic scale of Rangers’ horrors. A basket case away from the pitch and a beaten docket on it. Killie didn’t so much win this match as coast it. It was a wonder the thing wasn’t done and dusted by the break, such were the chances the visitors created against a Rangers side that was as vulnerable to Killie’s clever movement as Whyte is to investigation.
It was grim, oh so grim. An early goal conceded, a red card, some disgraceful chanting and another defeat, their second of the season to Killie. At the end, they sang “Rangers till I die” like men and women who have been considering their club’s mortality this past week.
Better news? Well, it came far away from the pitch. Before kick-off, the club’s administrators gave their latest update from the frontline of the crisis and they were keen to get one specific message across. HMRC, they stated, do not want to drive Rangers into extinction. Clearly, they might have been contacted by some disgruntled Bears in the last week, angry citizens accusing them of all sorts. Through Duff & Phelps, the administrators, they wanted to send a conciliatory message to the anxious faithful.
“There’s been consideration in the media that HMRC has somehow got it in for Rangers and wants to close the club,” said Paul Clark, the joint administrator. “We’ve spoken at some length to HMRC and that includes a call just today to reinforce this message [don’t close the club] and we have their agreement at senior level that we can say the following.
“If HMRC had been looking to close Rangers football club then last week they wouldn’t have issued an administration application, they’d have issued a winding-up petition because a winding-up petition would have resulted in liquidation and it’s liquidation that brings the closure of a club.
“The message from HMRC is that they would like to work with us to make sure Rangers FC survives. It’s important to change the tone [of the coverage] because I think there’s been some unfortunate reporting partly because there’s been a bit of a vacuum. We really want to get that point out there on their behalf.
“The club is worth more as a club on an ongoing basis. There is an alignment here in keeping the football club alive. We were a bit confused at times why there was so much negativity around HMRC because to our mind it is quite obvious that the football club is worth more if it is kept alive.”
The message here appears to be that once Whyte is out of the picture, everything else might start falling into place, including the settlement of any tax bill due on account of the EBTs. If the club enters new hands then the heat from HMRC might ease somewhat and a deal may be struck. With Whyte still around, there is too much animosity and bad blood in the air for HMRC to countenance any brinkmanship.
The administrators, this time through Whitehouse, praised the support of HMRC and in doing so they trashed Whyte. “Their work before administration, it is fair to say, was very, very supportive of the club. If you set aside the big tax case they agreed several pay arrangements which the club didn’t meet. There’s only so long you can fund a loss-making business through non-payment of taxes. The position was unsustainable. There comes a point where HMRC have to say enough is enough.”
Whitehouse attempted to shed light on the great mystery of “where has all the money gone?” “The key issue that’s been talked about is the whole financing of the original acquisition and the role of Ticketus in that and the level of capital that was introduced into the club. We got a load of information yesterday evening [Friday] from the company’s former lawyers and we have got a pretty full understanding of what has happened. But until we get firm legal advice on that, which will be over the next couple of days, we can’t put that into the press. There will be clarity on that next week.
“The whole role of the previous management is something that will take a little while to understand but we are clearer about what has happened around the purchase and how the company has been capitalised. It was a bearpit on Thursday [their first press conference] and the comment I made about the Ticketus money was that the payment was not made into a Rangers FC bank account and that’s really the point. It went through a lawyer’s account. We now have some visibility of the money.”
So the money hasn’t been spent? “We can clarify that next week,” responded the administrator.
They spoke of the £9m in unpaid tax and whether they have discovered anything that proves illegality on Whyte’s part. “It’s a grey area,” said Whitehouse.
Could this fall into illegality? “It could do,” he replied.
“The simplest way to explain it,” said Clark, “is that these taxes would ordinarily be paid one month after they were due. It’s a bit more complicated than that but that’s the simplest way to explain it. And some of these taxes go back many, many months.”
Responding to a suggestion that their optimism for the future wellbeing of the club was hard to understand given there are still so many unknowns in the Rangers finances, Clark said: “Over the next week we have a series of meetings with potential investors/new owners and I guess this club is a tremendous institution and it seems to us unlikely if not inconceivable that steps won’t be taken to save it.”
There are, indeed, parties expressing interest in taking over a club free of HMRC debt and all the uncertainty that goes with it. Paul Murray, a former director, went public with his intentions last week. Yesterday, another potential player emerged.
Brian Kennedy, the successful Scottish businessman more associated with rugby but who once attempted to buy Hibs, spoke of a tentative interest in getting involved. He was at pains to point out that he has barely got out of the blocks in terms of researching the possibilities at Rangers but he sees it as an opportunity for somebody.
“It’s a tragedy,” Kennedy said of Rangers’ plight. “On a journey of 100 miles I’ve probably advanced one millimetre. Yes, we’ve requested information but it’s very much tentative at this stage. I wouldn’t want it to come across as anything more than that. It has to make commercial sense. If it didn’t I would have no interest whatsoever.
“Commonsense tells me that if Celtic can break even then so can Rangers. The whole club will have to be cleaned up but the administrators know that. I don’t think anybody would be stupid enough to take on a lot of debt in a business that already loses £10m. It needs cleaning up, restructure it and then launch it again. The brand is incredible.
“There will be loads of people interested in buying it. Consortiums and individuals, but there’s a lot of cleaning-up to do first. It has to be based on commerce and not emotion, that’s what the fans will want. They don’t want to be in this position again, don’t want to be reliant on somebody writing a cheque every year because if that somebody is run over by a bus it leaves them in a dangerous position. I’m keeping a watching brief.”
There were 50,000 at Ibrox doing the same. They left as they arrived, confused and angry and not a little fearful of what may lie ahead.