Rangers: Promises, Promises
Charles Green bought the business, assets and – according to some, but not all, of paragraphs in last week’s report to creditors from administrators Duff and Phelps – the history of Rangers Football Club for a pittance in June. But he’s really paying for it now. “New Rangers’” placement in Scottish Football’s fourth tier means that what Channel 4 journalist Alex Thomson last week called the “voodoo economics” of old Rangers is part of that history.
Amid all the superfluous focus on Green “paying” £2.7m for player contracts and the under-attention on the £1.5m paid for Ibrox, Murray Park and other “heritable properties”, it got lost that the club haemorrhaged FOUR… MILLION… POUNDS while in administration.
One good thing emerged, for Green, from players objecting to their TUPE transfer to new Rangers. The quality of the playing staff diminished – enough to question whether new Rangers would have won promotion from division one. But the salary bill also diminished. Despite that, however, Green looks and sounds short of required funding. It’s no surprise that the £30m Green claimed would arrive from his still publicity-shy investors hasn’t emerged. But the scrabble for funding, especially the begging for season-ticket sales, smells of desperation. And now that attention has turned to new Rangers’ application for SFA membership, it appears that the Scottish game’s governing body is following the line punted by anti-Rangers factions – if the history transfers to new Rangers, everything must go.
Green’s frustration was evident on Monday evening, when he spoke of £3m owed to European clubs (including £1m to Austrian club Rapid Vienna, whose vote against the failed CVA suggests they won’t negotiate any of that away easily). “These are oldco debts newco has to face up to,” Green noted, adding acerbically that “at times we’re a newco…however when it is convenient, we are still oldco.” His frustration has split origins. Firstly, oldco’s liabilities were not among the items his company bought “immediately” after the CVA failed. Only the assets were, and the history…when the drafters of creditors report remembered to insert the word. I Secondly, SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan’s now-infamous June 23rd e-mail, outlining the masterplan to shoe-horn new Rangers into Scottish football’s second-tier, revealed that Green was an accessory almost from the start. And the e-mail implied that extensive sanctions would be the price of that shoe-horn.Green’s briefings from Hibernian Chairman and SFA Vice-president Rod Petrie were to ensure “that there were no surprises” and that “there is a general acceptance of the plan, plus all of the other conditions discussed, e.g. transfer embargo, fines, repayment of football debt, waiving rights to legal challenge, acceptance of relegation and so on.”
Green’s already limited credibility with Rangers fans would have shrunk further with the revelation that he was prepared to accept such “conditions” for a division one place, especially when he continued to suggest he’d be OK with division three. “Rangers will play in whichever division the SFL sees fit,” said Green, on July 4th, still assuming that the “plan” was going to plan and that SFL clubs would think it “fit” to see them in division one, with sanctions. So when the plan dissolved, Green probably expected the sanctions to dissolve. Tuesday’s SFA “guidance” on “remaining (Rangers) issues to be resolved” suggested not. The SFA outlined in, for them, impressive detail the issues surrounding new Rangers’ SFA membership bid.
Transfer of oldco punishments (EBTs, registration embargoes) and debts (to other clubs), plus assessments of the fitness and propriety of new directors – once identified, that is (to satisfy an as yet non-existent “fit and proper persons test”). And, in typical style, the Daily Record newspaper upped the temperature with a “bombshell” document revealing that ‘Rangers’ could be stripped of all their league titles and Scottish Cup wins between 2001 and 2010, when their “EBT tax dodge” allegedly operated. Scottish Television (STV) later “learned that the draft document was… an (explanation) of the worst case scenario across several issues as information” and not, as the Record suggested, the price of Rangers’ division one membership, which the rag paper then noted, “does not mean (they) will never be imposed” now that Rangers are in division three. That Rangers have yet to be found guilty of… anything on EBTs was largely overlooked.
Green’s will feel that the football authorities failed spectacularly to deliver their side of the bargain, yet still insist that he deliver his. But that won’t register with Rangers’ mistrustful fanbase. Having learned from their Craig Whyte experience, they want to know all about Green’s people. And, commendably, many are asking the right questions about them. This week’s introduction of Nottingham-based sports development company owner Craig Mather was uniquely transparent. His recollection of childhood visits to “a number of the Old Firm clashes” and “the roar of the Old Firm” were as vague as anything Whyte “recalled” from his Rangers-supporting days. But everything else was at least to some extent informative; his investment – £1m or “somewhere around that magnitude”; his company, Simply Sports Management, and his role at the club – “on the youth development side”: and his motivation – “my legal advisors stated quite clearly: ‘if you are doing this for a quick buck…don’t do it.’ I’ve classed this as a long-term investment.”
But other Green investors must become as visible. And Green’s claims that he supplied the SFA with all the required investor information by their 29th June deadline were refuted by the SFA’s request for further information. Meanwhile, confidence in him is being dented further by what Green himself described as “these rumbling issues with John Brown.”The “takeover bid” by Rangers ex-midfielder ‘Bomber’ Brown ought to be mildly irritating, easily dismissed. And Green has had chances to do so. That he has yet to take any is hugely concerning. Brown’s focus has been on what he knows about, and has been told by, Green (something nasty, apparently) and what Green’s company actually own (not as many of Rangers’ inheritable properties as Green claims). Brown cuts an unimpressive public figure – like most in this saga. And only this week, after much public posturing, has he started to formalise a bid of sorts, putting up £40,000 of his own money and the public support of Rangers ex-captain Barry Ferguson for a “fans’ takeover.” He has also linked this to on-going demands to see the “title deeds” for Ibrox and the Murray Park training ground.
This, and a private conversation with Green last month, is what brought Brown into the limelight. Brown resigned as club scout after being shocked by something Green said to him… his continued horror suggesting it might have involved a goat, a condom and a camcorder. “What he told me he would do to my football club,” Brown said on July 4th, “made me pack my bags and get out.” Briefly, revelation threatened: “He told me that if the SPL, SFL and SFA put us down to the third division,” (this was nine days before that happened) “and they think they can hurt Rangers…” But he left that sentence tantalisingly unfinished, re-iterating instead that “he made a comment to me about what he would do to Rangers and I walked out there and then.”
Brown denied that Green promised to ‘turn Ibrox to dust’ (“nonsense”). But otherwise he declined to “use your propaganda ace in the hole and tell the Rangers supporters what he said.” “It would put his safety at risk,” Brown added. Maybe goats were involved.More tangibly important, has been the kerfuffle over the title deeds to Ibrox and Murray Park. Brown strongly hinted for weeks, before confirming last weekend, that Craig Whyte was still “100%” involved in the club’s affairs. There was widespread talk of Whyte’s “floating charges over Ibrox” during debates on what Whyte could get “out of” Rangers’ administration.
And to the legally untrained, Whyte still owning, or having a say in the use of, Ibrox and Murray Park, seemed conceivable. “There is no money attached to this charge,” was the mantra-like reassurance offered by financial experts. Brown’s doubts, however, have been about the names on the title deeds. He has started to bore Rangers fans rigid with repeated requests to allow Donald Findlay QC, Cowdenbeath chairman and former Rangers vice-chairman, to examine the deeds. He has refused offers from new Rangers finance chief Brian Stockbridge to see the deeds for himself. They were seen by the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund (RFFF) chairman Andrew McCormick (Brown’s own accountant). And they are satisfied that the deeds show Whyte isn’t involved.
Brown, then, should be easily dismissed. He has demanded that Findlay view the deeds at a secure location. Yet it has proved beyond anybody’s wit and wisdom to facilitate this. New Rangers chairman Murray cancelled a July 2nd meeting with Brown. And while Murray would have been busy preparing the brochure for Rangers’ disastrous presentation to SPL club chairmen two days later, he failed to re-arrange the meeting as promised. And the RFFF, for all their terrific work for the club, are not independent of it. Brown himself noted that “They are not lawyers. Our lawyer knows what he is looking for. Why has he not been allowed to see them?” Brown may have answered his own question there. And last weekend he responded to the critics call for specifics of Whyte’s alleged involvement, referencing a floating charge over Ibrox and Murray Park registered by Whyte on March 21st.
This charge caused a stir at the time. Whyte wanted to consolidate his hold on Rangers after his plans for a quick administration went awry. And STV reported on April 3rd that: “Whyte has filed legal documents protecting his hold over the club,” adding that “the document… puts Whyte at the head of the queue to benefit from the proceeds of any sale of the club.” The report also noted, however, that “Whyte’s position is not guaranteed if Rangers went into liquidation in the next two years,” concluding that “the new charge might then be struck down,” but that “would likely be the subject of a lengthy and expensive legal battle.” Brown has interpreted this as keeping Whyte “100% still involved,” which is not incompatible with what Green said this week about revealing “proof of title for Murray Park and Ibrox that showed Sevco owned them – and that Craig Whyte was not an investor.” “It is a serious and genuinely terrifying prospect for all supporters,” the Rangers Media website noted, correctly. “These things are distractions and we need to end them,” said Green this week, correctly. Well, get on with it, then.
Green has acted the Thatcherite bully-boy on the employment rights of the players who TUPE-transferred. But he has never mentioned those players’ value to the squad – only their value on the transfer market. He still insists that the players breached their contracts when they left. And last week’s story about Green paying £2.7m for all the player contracts was designed to give the – erroneous – impression that this purchase superseded TUPE. This, and nonsense assertions about players having 24 hours to object, is now under FIFA scrutiny after the SFA had to refuse international clearance for the players, because of Green’s objections. New Rangers have even requested an SFA Arbitration Panel to rule on the dispute which, given Rangers’ record of accepting such rulings, isn’t encouraging. But even an organisation as disposed to…er…money-making schemes as FIFA might rule that Green is “pushing it a bit.”Meanwhile, “old and new Rangers clash over cash” ran one playful headline over a story that old Rangers’ administrators might be sued by the new Rangers administration. In early June, Duff and Phelps airily dismissed claims that Rangers would struggle to pay the newly-restored salaries of players who had accepted swingeing cuts in March.
“The funding is in place for the club to operate normally until the sale is completed,” said a spokesman – co-administrators Paul Clark and David Whitehouse suffering a rare attack of publicity-shyness which in hindsight showed something was amiss. Green’s Sevco consortium – still not club owners – had to stump up half-a-million quid to cover running costs from June 1st to June 14th – the day of the CVA vote. And a “consortium source” this week told the Beeb that they were promised any unspent money back “a couple of days” later. Duff and Phelps said most of the money was spent. But the balance still hasn’t arrived, with Duff and Phelps, via another un-named spokesperson, claiming that “costs and liabilities are still being finalised” and that it was “happening within a perfectly normal timeframe.” Five weeks to reconcile a fortnight’s expenditure would be annoying enough. But Green’s people need this money, however relatively small an amount.
Given the lavish financial promises that Green made on arrival at Ibrox, this is a dramatic comedown. Rangers fans might claim their away draw in the Ramsden Cup and non-seeding in the League Cup as “further punishments.” Other fans wonder how new Rangers can beat Airdrie United 2-1 in a friendly when their lack of SFA membership precludes them from playing games.“I hope it will be the end but I’m not convinced it will,” Green sighed after last Friday’s SFL vote. But I doubt whether he thought we were this far from “the end.”
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