Now That Rangers Are Saved (Redux)
We are delighted to announce today that 200% has received an unconditional bid for the Rangers opinion piece from Mr Mark Murphy which has been accepted and he is now the preferred author. Mr Murphy now proposes to complete his article by the end of this weekend. Mr Murphy’s proposal involves the use of a specially-created article and the retention of the initial reaction piece. The strident opinions he proposes to express will be sheltered in an article and returned to the initial piece once that has been “written.” He sees this route as a necessity rather than a choice and in our view this is an entirely workable strategy. Indeed, to ensure the continuing sound operation of Mr Murphy’s mind beyond the end of today, it is in our view a compelling strategy.
Christ on a bike, where to start??? Well, whoever wrote the line in a recent Rangers Supporters Trust statement which said that the football authorities in Scotland were taking decisions “with the sole purpose of crippling Rangers” ought to be feeling pretty stupid after this midweek’s events. They won’t, of course, now that Rangers are saved. And you can bet they won’t be issuing a retraction, or thanking those football authorities for their work this week, especially Mr Neil Doncaster, the Scottish Premier League’s chief executive. Doncaster is the Scottish game’s equivalent of the EPL’s much-loved football romantic Richard Scudamore. And the comparison between the two was never more direct than during this past week.
It was certainly a more direct comparison than, to pick an example purely at random, the exits from administration by English Football League clubs Crystal Palace and Plymouth Argyle and the exit from administration proposed for Rangers by Tennessee tow-trucker Bill Miller. The first sign that Miller’s “unorthodox,” sanctions-busting bid was not only being taken seriously but set up as the way forward for the Ibrox insolvents came in Doncaster’s Monday night interview on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound programme. In attempting to justify Miller’s now (in)famous “newCo” concept, Doncaster portrayed it as something approaching a “norm” in English football insolvencies. And he added that such an entity could be set up at Rangers by May 11th, the last working day of this SPL season.
He neglected to offer an example of such a speedy company set-up in English football. But then he couldn’t; because there wasn’t one. And Doncaster was relying on his Scottish interrogators knowing too little of English league football to notice what was immediately apparent to closer observers of the game – that his justification of Miller’s “newco” was based on what I believe to be a lie. I was tempted to portray Doncaster’s claims for a newco – “the accepted way that clubs emerge from administration” – as “at best, disingenuous” or “misleading” or “more significant for what it didn’t say that what it did.”
All of those are correct. But Doncaster was using this idea as a central justification for Miller’s proposals. He was involved enough in English football at the time of insolvencies identical to Palace and Plymouth (as Norwich City chief executive, Football League board member and Football League rep on the FA board) to know that such clubs did not emerge from administration BY forming a newco. And he isn’t so stupid as to have misunderstood events in England. He simply could not find a justification for Miller’s proposals, other than a wilful misrepresentation of the course of those events. And if this is the professional advice he gives fellow board members when they come to “new” Rangers’ application for the old club’s SPL share (the right to play in the league), the issue become rather more important than the mystified ramblings of an unimportant blogger.
The differences between the Palace, Argyle and Rangers situations are key. At Palace and Argyle, new companies were formed to take over the running of the club. And, as Doncaster noted, the Football League share was transferred to the new company “without any penalty.” But there the analogy ends; because the transfer of the share was dependent upon the successful outcome of a voluntary arrangement to deal with the old company’s debts – our friend the “CVA.” Had the CVA not been accepted by the requisite majority of creditors, the transfer of the share would not have taken place “without any penalty.” When Ken Bates attempted to exit Leeds United from administration in 2007, his proposals to pay creditors were challenged left, right and centre – for reasons with which I won’t detain you here. The upshot of it was that Leeds’ new company was granted the Football League share, with further sanctions applied. Leeds/Bates were given the choice of a 15-points deduction or demotion. They chose the former.
At both Palace and Plymouth, the transfer of the share from old company (in administration) to new company took place as a consequence of the acceptance of a CVA. Miller’s proposals involve that transfer taking place an indeterminate time before the acceptance of a CVA (joint administrator Paul Clark said yesterday that this could be “some months into the future”), in fact regardless of whether there is a CVA accepted or not. Doncaster’s Monday night interrogators, the two Jims Spence and Traynor, may not have picked up on Doncaster’s disinformation. And there is no reason why they should, I do not offer this as a criticism. Indeed, they were quick to pick up on Doncaster’s main motivation and gave him a properly thorough interrogation on that subject.
In England, reports from the SPL’s annual general meeting (AGM) last Monday focused exclusively on the postponement of the vote on new financial regulations governing insolvency situations. This postponement, Doncaster told the two Jims, was because “a lot of passions… are running high” and in order to “let some more clarity” (I.e. some clarity) emerge from Ibrox over the next few days” before the SPL could “think again” (very Scottish, Neil). (Handily, of course, this also meant that Miller’s clarity-camouflaging proposals had an extra week to enter fait accompli territory before any new rules could make the headlines again).
But even in Scotland, the key issue to deciding Rangers future in the SPL was tucked away a little. As the Scotsman reported on Tuesday: “Doncaster has admitted that continuing uncertainty over Rangers’ participation next season is hampering efforts to finalise the new £80m TV contracts with SKY and ESPN.” The Scotsman quoted Doncaster’s reference to “long-form commercial contracts following the initial agreement” after he had said that the SPL had “agreed terms for a new five-year deal from the summer.” Traynor had a translation for this: “Is there a written clause in that contract with SKY and ESPN that says that Celtic and Rangers must meet four times a year?” “Yeah, we’ve been clear about that situation,” Doncaster replied, referencing the current deal. But pressed on whether the Rangers uncertainties put the new deal under threat, Doncaster got exceptionally evasive, adding: “I think it’s your job to speculate, it’s my job to solve the problem.”
He made a curious statement for the time of year: “Speculating about where we might be next season doesn’t do anyone any good” (it might not be harmful a fortnight before the end of this season, though. And Spence and Traynor segued into the then-potential application for membership from a Miller-concocted newco. Forgiving Traynor his, well, Traynor-esque reference to the all-new financial prospect of “further liquidation,” he hit the proverbial nail full-on with: “Provided (a newco emerges) before the end of the season, there will be no further sanctions and they will remain in the SPL?” Doncaster did nothing to correct the impression that that was, indeed, the plan. “The new rules that were due to have been discussed today would have imposed certain sanctions,” Doncaster noted. “Even if they do it before the end of the season?” Traynor inquired. “Well, no, but that would have come in on the first day after the season.”
I haven’t inferred from Doncaster’s use of “would have” that the postponement of the vote on the new rules will delay them beyond day one of the close season. Nonetheless, however long the interim period until they do take effect, Doncaster stressed that sanctions were at the SPL board’s discretion “under the current rules.” And this will tell a tale. At the time of writing, the SPL clubs are due to vote on the new rules on Monday May 7th. Between now and the season’s end, we are being led to expect by financial and football administrators alike, the SPL will receive an application for one of its shares from Miller’s new stand-alone entity (joint administrator David Whitehouse’s words, not mine).
It would make sense, of course, for the board to apply its discretion in favour of whatever the clubs decide. And even if the vote comes after Miller’s membership application, you would expect a consistency of thinking from an organisation ruling “without fear or favour” – Doncaster’s words not mine. But this begs the question as to why Doncaster’s media briefings earlier this week, in the aftermath of Monday’s meetings and radio interview, so stressed the idea of a “newco” taking a league share without sanction. Especially when that “idea” was “at best, disingenuous” or “misleading” or “more significant for what it didn’t say that what it did.” Miller has, of course, told the administrators that he has been given “comfort” by the “football authorities” over Rangers’ SPL place next season – although joint administrator Clark offered the somewhat vague “it is my belief that that is one of the assurances he has received, yes.” The tow-trucker’s “demand” for no further football penalties was dropped as part of yesterday’s events.
And, as noted above, Doncaster will, presumably, be offering his “professional” advice on newcos in England to the board as it applies its discretion to new Rangers’ application for SPL entry. You suspect, then, that there may be a key difference between the board’s discretion and the clubs’ decision, despite the two being applied to identical situations. And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan to believe that that isn’t right.
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