Last Sunday’s website statement from the Hibernian Supporters Club (“Hibs Club”) and the Rangers Supporters Trust response to it exposed a chasm in thinking on Scottish football’s current problems. Supporters appear split down the middle between those who see Rangers as persecuted victims (Rangers fans) and those who see them as having taken Scottish football to the brink through their own poor financial management over the last 20 years (everyone else). Club statements have almost become passé in Scotland in recent days. No sooner had SPL clubs finished explaining why they didn’t want Charles Green’s currently league-less new club than SFL clubs were, mostly, doing likewise.
The intricacies of today’s SFL SGM, at which its clubs are due to vote on Green’s club’s membership application, were dealt with in impressive detail by Gavin Saxton on this site earlier this week. Meanwhile, Rangers fan groups and sites have punted their line with impressive consistency and, as various decisions on their fate draw nearer, with increasing passion. The line is that their financial misdemeanours were the fault of individuals no longer at the club, not the club itself; and that all calls for “further” punishment are fuelled by revenge, jealousy, bigotry and, I discovered this week, much, much more.
The “Hibs Club’s” Statement on Rangers and Scottish football pulled no punches criticising Scotland’s football authorities and their treatment of “new Rangers.” The focus of their ire flitted between SPL and SFA “attempts to protect a business model that operates more for the benefit of TV executives than ordinary supporters,” and the “damage being done to the game by Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan,” the respective bodies’ chief executives. They railed against the football authorities’ “favourable” treatment of Rangers, criticising recently-introduced league reconstruction thinking as “aimed solely at rebuilding a strong Rangers” and lambasted their “craven gerrymandering” of the SFL vote “for the sake of one club.”
There were harsh words for “SPL clubs” who “have stood silently on the sidelines as their own Chief Executive has tried to bully and threaten lower division clubs” into voting new Rangers into SFL division one, and for leading Rangers figures, including manager Ally McCoist for his “attempt to destroy a disciplinary process…created to help move the game forward.” The RST were not happy and immediately set about “correcting some of the inaccuracies” in the Hibs club statement, “before others make the same mistakes” thereby avoiding “another myth being perpetuated by those clubs and their fan groups.”
Whilst agreeing that division three was the place to be for new Rangers, the RST labelled as “absurd” the idea that “placing Rangers into division one of the SFL” was “being done to assist Rangers,” suggesting instead that it was “cobbled together for the benefit of clubs in the SPL, like Hibernian, who have based their business model around having Rangers in their league.” “It is being done,” they continued, “so that Rangers can be used as a cash-cow to sustain these clubs whilst inflicting maximum damage on our club’s ability to compete.” And the Hibs Club were taken to task for using “Rangers’ successful court challenge against an unlawful SFA sanction as an excuse to attack our manager” which said “everything about the motives behind their statement.”
“Perhaps,” the RST suggested, “they should address their concerns to the boards of the Scottish football authorities rather than taking it as a further opportunity to attack our club.” It was strong stuff, entirely in keeping with the spirited defence Rangers fans have put up both before and after their club went into administration in February. Unfortunately, also in keeping with this spirited defence, much of it was irretrievable tosh. The Hibs club certainly appear to have misrepresented Doncaster and Regan’s motives. Because while backs have been bent over to “assist” Rangers ever since the old club went bust last month, this has not been to help Rangers per se.
The “craven gerrymandering” was “for the sake of” the finances which Rangers attract, through their large fanbase and the TV and sponsorship deals which flow therefrom. The new reconstruction proposals are “aimed solely” at the finances “a strong Rangers” will attract (and “sporting integrity” didn’t register with them any more than it has with anyone in this tawdry tale. The RST’s point about Rangers as a “cash-cow” was a good one…but not well-made. It came with the arrogance and snobbery which has helped fuel the current antagonism towards their club every bit as much as bigotry and jealousy. The assertion, for instance, that SPL clubs have “based their business model around having Rangers in their league” will be news to Celtic fans.
You can almost hear the sneering tone behind the words: “…the SPL chairmen clearly feel that they can sustain their clubs with reduced, or no, TV revenue and sponsorship and without the patronage of our away support. We wish them the best of luck.” And the RST appear to wilfully misinterpret the Hibs’ club criticism of McCoist. The Hibs club made no mention of “Rangers’ successful challenge of an unlawful SFA sanction.” Their criticism was of McCoist’s well-publicised and equally ill-advised call for the naming of the tribunal members who dared to find Rangers guilty of bringing football into high disrepute. This criticism “said everything” about the “motives behind” one particular paragraph. But the Hibs’ club were less critical of Rangers’ role in Scottish football’s troubles than the football authorities handling of them. They weren’t looking for an “excuse to attack” McCoist, just being critical of him. There is a significant difference between the two.
Throughout the Rangers saga, I had assumed that the RST were representing the most hot-headed defenders of the club. Accusations that the SFA were taking decisions “with the sole purpose of crippling Rangers” or “attempting to blackmail Rangers (by) using a licence document concocted specifically threaten the club” were not, I presumed, the mindset of ordinary Rangers fans. Yet studies of blogs and comments on Rangers fans’ websites such as Gers Net, FollowFollow and Rangers Media suggest that RST views are remarkably in tune with the average Rangers mindset. And, perhaps more disconcertingly, the official “club” web-site is following suit.
Charles Green’s legal advice on TUPE regulations appears to have come from The Simpsons’ Lionel Hutz, or the top of Green’s head – or the side of his back (e.g. “the players had 24 hours to object”). The official website even said the players refusing to transfer to new Rangers were “exploiting a loophole” in the regulations. This is simply nonsense. Green appears to relish his unpopularity – not unlike his fellow controversialist Ken Bates. “Everyone outside of this room and the people we represent” is anti-Rangers, he told a fans’ meeting last week (at least according to minutes which noted that “Charles Green left the meeting to attend another meeting with our enemies”).
And developing a siege mentality among Rangers’ support was no problem, given what Rangers Media this week called the “extraordinary and unprecedented campaign of hatred aimed at” the “total annihilation” and “utter destruction” of Rangers, waged by “chairmen, directors and fans of other clubs.” Not to mention “the vitriol, invective and sheer naked hatred that we have been subjected to.” Oh…and…“not content to simply witness (Rangers) descend into chaos, these people have actively and diligently worked towards our demise at every twist and turn and, in many, many instances they have sought to exacerbate our difficulties, manipulate circumstances to their advantage, deliberately mislead others and bully, intimidate and cajole them into joining the anti-Rangers bandwagon.” Blimey. No wonder I’ve been feeling tired these mornings.
Because much of that “hatred,” sheer naked or clothed, comes from people like me who wish to see Rangers punished for whatever laws they have broken, football, civil or criminal. People like me who refuse to treat the question “haven’t Rangers been punished enough?” as rhetorical, preferring to answer: “I don’t know yet. I don’t yet know how much they’ve done wrong.” In recent weeks wildly varying definitions of “punishment” have emerged, ranging from the 10-point deduction for entering administration – a clearly-defined punishment – to the “humiliation of liquidation” – a clearly-defined punishment if, say, it involved club directors being dragged naked through Glasgow’s streets in a Celtic top. Rangers fans appear to be confusing (again, I would suggest wilfully) punishment with natural consequence. For instance, the 10-point penalty would not have become two punishments if Rangers had finished nine points behind Celtic last season.
The on-and-on-and-ongoing shenanigans surrounding new Rangers’ place in the SFL are a consequence of Rangers going bust. Even Livingston, demoted to division three in 2009 for breaches of SFL insolvency rules, didn’t – quite – do that. And the new Rangers’ ineligibility for European football is similarly a consequence of Rangers going pop. Uefa regards new Rangers as a new club – with the fierce debate about where Rangers’ soul belongs (i.e. the trophies) being of no concern to them. And they have treated them accordingly. On Newsnight Scotland exactly a month ago “blogger” Chris Grahame noted that “Rangers have already been punished quite severely for everything that’s happened.” And that is the line taken by Rangers spokespeople.
At the time of typing, “everything that’s happened” constitutes Rangers entering administration, the failure to file last financial year’s audited accounts and the football rule breaches covered by the SFA’s independent judicial panel in April – the legal responsibility for which was acknowledged by Rangers’ own legal representative. The “severe punishments” have been the standard 10-point deduction for entering administration, the standard denial of the requisite club licence for the European football for not filing audited accounts and the £160,000 fine for the £13m Rangers failed to pass on to the relevant revenue authorities. There is, of course, one genuinely “severe” punishment to come – whatever the SFA’s appellate tribunal deem a replacement for the one-year transfer embargo which was not within their power to impose. So the “severe” punishments remain those imposed, or about to be imposed, for the severe misdemeanour.
Also to come are the findings of the SPL and SFA investigations into potential rule breaches on Employee Benefit Trusts…and the Court Service’s First-tier Tribunal (tax) on Rangers’ appeal against HMRC’s assessment of underpaid tax. I would wish any punishment to arise from them to be…well…standard, or no more or no less than appropriate. If no wrongdoing emerges, no punishment should emerge. And…er…that’s it. These views are common currency among Rangers’ many current critics.
So, maybe I’m “a short-sighted bigot and a bullshitter” (FollowFollow), one of the “New Puritans…seeking out witches in blue” (Gers Net), a bludgeoner, bruiser and belittler who has “brazenly revelled in our downfall and has actively conspired to bring about our demise” (Rangers Media), or among the “wildest and most vile elements” of football fans (FollowFollow)? According to Rangers’ fan sites, yes, because “it is not Rangers FC that has brought ignominy and discredit on the Scottish game.” It’s us, indulging in our “petty jealousies” and “festering hatred” which Rangers fans “will never forgive and never forget.”
This polarisation of supporter opinion will take some forgiving and forgetting. Rangers fans seem surprised at the depth of feeling against their club. And given the language used to describe their “enemies,” it is perhaps a surprise that they are surprised. They should never forget, however, that this period of Scottish football history began because Rangers went into administration having overspent hugely on their team, thanks to huge underpaying of their taxes. So huge, in fact, that their debts even increased despite administrators’ cost-cuts and they will soon go out of business altogether.
And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan, or a bigot, bludgeoner, intimidator, manipulator, bullshitter, witch-hunter, destroyer, annihilator or sheer naked hater to believe that that isn’t right.
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