At virtually all clubs in crisis, supporters are portrayed as victims, with lashings of sympathetic media coverage coming their way. So it has been with Rangers fans. Fans are occasionally admonished for not caring about financial recklessness while it funds success. But such a charge is nothing compared to the mismanagement of their clubs. People are paid – very highly, naturally, which is part of the problem – to care about club finances. And fans should be able to trust them. Football is a leisure activity for supporters, after all, although doubtless that concept would currently produce hollow laughter in Burslem, Portsmouth… and Govan.
When Portsmouth collapsed in a financial heap in 2010 it was merely the venue for a high-stakes financial battle entirely separate from football. And one individual’s financial strategy landed Rangers in administration, while another man’s strategy may yet keep them there. So it is partly understandable that Rangers fans have had victimhood bestowed upon them in the traditional, clichéd manner – the usual tales of ‘the greatest fans in the world’ flocking to support their team, determined that their club “will never die.” To be fair, the Rangers reality has nearly fitted this narrative. Their first game in administration, at home to Kilmarnock, did sell out… eventually. There were only 1500 tickets unsold for the Hearts game two weeks later. And the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund (RFFF) has been a well-organised, well-supported and helpful entity.
But this fund has been at the centre of one of the controversies which haven’t fitted the narrative and have shown Rangers’ fanbase in a more sour, cynically opportunistic light. One well-publicised side-effect of Rangers’ money troubles was the temporary financial hardship it caused SPL strugglers Dunfermline Athletic. Short of £86,000 Rangers owed them for tickets to the sides’ league game at East End Park on February 11th, the Pars could not meet their payroll commitments for the month. The RFFF committee agreed to pay Dunfermline this money, a considerable cut of the £250,000 donated by Rangers fans in the fund’s early weeks. This was an honourable act, worthy of the highest praise, if matters had been left there.
However, Dunfermline were not the only club owed ticket money. Dundee United were six days ahead of the Pars in the queue for ticket cash, owed their £22,000 share of the relatively paltry gate receipts for their Scottish Cup triumph at Ibrox on February 5th, the semi-empty stands that day a sign of dark days to follow. The RFFF committee did not agree to pay the Arabs their money, a smaller cut of the fund. This was not an honourable act. Or, at least, that was the impression that was allowed to be created by the press statement from the fund. In itself, there was nothing at all wrong with paying Dunfermline and not United. Offering to pay out at all was a terrific display of what a football league should be about. And paying out to Dunfermline and not United was wholly justifiable on the grounds of need – United weren’t facing a payroll shortfall for the want of their £22,000.
In the statement fund chairman Andrew McCormick said the RFFF had “agreed to use some of the money collected by our fans to pay off this outstanding debt.” And had he left matters there, that would have been fine. But McCormick continued: “This is a debt of honour to a club of honour,” which was probably milking it a bit, however true it was. And worse followed. The RFFF “rejected” the idea of paying United because of “strong views that in recent times Dundee United had treated Rangers and their fans with disdain.” McCormick explained the dispute, which revolved around United “(levying) an extra charge on Rangers ticket holders” for attending the replay of an abandoned SPL fixture at United’s Tannadice ground. Rather than their original tickets being wholly valid for the replay, fans of both clubs were charged just under half-price admission on top.
It was an unusual course of action, although it withstood a legal challenge from a Rangers Supporters Club. But even assuming that Rangers fans were right to be “angry”, as McCormick said, there remained no need to bring the issue up at all. This merely exposed what could easily be perceived as Rangers fans’ sourness, which was very unwise given the impression they were trying to create. Because the press statement continued: “We are aware of Rangers’ responsibilities to the rest of the game in Scotland,” (bar certain parts of Dundee, apparently). And it also revealed, again wholly un-necessarily, the RFFF’s other motive for their actions:
“The RFFF believes (paying Dunfermline) is the proper course of action. We would hope that this is not only noted by the Scottish football authorities but will have a strong impact when certain charges against the club are debated by the SFA.”
So, it was not only about honour, but also about looking good to the SFA so that they wouldn’t punish the club quite so hard, or at all, if Rangers were found guilty of numerous alleged misdemeanours and alleged breaches of the football authorities’ rules. This linked in with a previous statement from the Rangers Supporters Trust. On March 23rd, RST chairman Gordon Dinnie called for investigations into contractual issues surrounding past Rangers players to be delayed until after administration. He also raised a potential conflict of interest arising from the identity of the investigating solicitors. Again, Dinnie’s points were sound. With Rangers being run by somewhat preoccupied administrators, the RST was right to ask how the club could “be expected to mount a robust case when it has no proper executive leadership.” And the solicitors, Harper MacLeod, “acted as solicitors” of other SPL clubs, i.e.“those who would benefit from any potential punishment meted out.”
But, again, other parts of the statement fatally undermined the Trust’s claim to be “not looking for special treatment, just fair play.” Dinnie claimed Rangers’ inability to fully defend itself would “turn this process into a kangaroo court.” He called the investigation “a short-term witch hunt… at the whim of an individual.” And he added “major concern as to the impartiality” of Harper MacLeod to the genuine “potential conflict of interest,” doubting the firm’s ability to “honestly investigate the spurious claims being made against our club.” – a phrase bringing to mind the trial of “Captain Edmund Blackadder, the notorious Flanders pigeon murderer.” So much, then, for just looking for fair play.
And so much for supporters’ genuine actions and concerns. Rangers fans very generously helped Dunfermline in an hour of great need and raised entirely proper concerns about SPL investigations into the club’s alleged breaches of Scottish football regulations. But they couldn’t stop there. They had to expose their distaste for Dundee United fans and their ability to hold grudges, even one confirmed by a court as unfair. They had to accuse the football authorities of organising a kangaroo court to rule on a witch-hunt simply because they had decided Rangers were innocent regardless of any evidence produced by investigations. And even when they did the right and honourable thing, they did it for some wrong and dishonourable reasons. And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan to believe that that isn’t right.
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The fact that what Dundee United’s owners did wasn’t illegal doesn’t mean it wasn’t unfair, it was. I’d rather they’d said nothing about Utd too, but a lot of the support felt strongly about it and they’d have been asked to clarify their position afterwards.
I’m not quite sure what your point is regarding Harper McLoed, Rangers are innocent until provan otherwise, that’s the law, even in Scottish football. I can’t comment on Harper McLoed’s impartiality, but the SFA should know better, both timing and choice of firm are worthy of criticism.