Ah, yes, the rule of three. From the Latin “omne trium perfectum,” (all that comes in threes is perfect), the rule is a comedy staple. So… a fortnight ago, we were treated to thirty-three minutes of the wit and wisdom of Craig Whyte – which the former Rangers owner padded out with thirty-two minutes and fifty seconds of his alternative version of recent Rangers events. Doubtless sometime soon Whyte’s predecessor David Murray will have thirty-three minutes of tales to tell about the financing of his era. The findings of the First Tier Tribunal (Tax) examining Rangers’ use of Employee Benefit Trusts are, genuinely, really, honestly on the way. And this might frighten Murray… and hacks like myself who promised to read the findings thoroughly before making comment and have been disturbed by internet reports of page numbers higher than 246.
In the meantime, current Ibrox supremo Charles Green gave thirty-three minutes of his precious time to the well-researched grilling of Talksport presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray, the two Sky TV ex-employees trying to rehabilitate their careers after their yobbish sexism was caught on camera and disseminated to the world. I say “well-researched” as I am prone to sarcastic tendencies. Rangers fans may choose to disagree, whether they read it or not, but this article is far better researched than any questions from Keys, or the few asides from an uncharacteristically subdued Gray, though that might not be saying much. The reality is, to use one of Green’s stock phrases, that the interview was designed to allow Green to run through a combination of his version of recent events and some PR-puffery for the forthcoming Rangers share issue,”in support of which Green has toured the world in recent weeks.
Part of Green’s problem – apart from referring to himself in the third person – is now that he has said so much about Rangers since becoming involved in May… or February (see below) that he often seems to have lost track of what he has or hasn’t previously claimed. And consistency can prove elusive when you never shut up. So it was that Green’s interview was peppered with, ahem, inconsistencies, although Keys and Gray showed a reluctance to question these which bordered on allergy. Rangers were “thrown out of the SPL,” even though “we have never been a member of the SPL.” One of them has to be wrong, unless we are talking about two different clubs. “We would have paid £3m more” if the attempted voluntary arrangement to pay old company debts had not failed. No, you wouldn’t. The arrangement (the ‘CVA’) would have been funded by an £8.5m loan which, “together with any interest on it” was to be repaid by “the Company.”
Green’s further claim, “In August, I was being accused of going to use season-ticket money to buy the club,” was incorrect, chronologically and factually. The accusation came from ex-director Dave King in June and referred to the £8.5m loan, not to the £5.5m Green and/or his investors paid “two months before we’d even put season-tickets on sale.” The old lies about the forthcoming Independent Commission, set to rule on whether Rangers breached SPL rules on player payment disclosure, resurfaced. The three-judge panel were “pursuing title-stripping,” Green said (having referenced “the challenge to the titles from the SPL,” in an interview with Skys Jeff Randall three weeks ago). He denied “questioning the integrity of the judges,” despite previously stating, frequently, that the Commission had a “predetermined outcome,” which required the connivance of said judges – a fundamental “questioning” of “their integrity.”
“If the SPL wanted to do something, they should have done it when oldCo Rangers was a member of the SPL,” he noted, correctly. “They didn’t take any action at that point,” he added, incorrectly. The SPL, of course, took action in March and might have completed their work before the CVA, had the administrators co-operated with them. Such nuances, however, seemed far beyond the understanding of either Keys or Gray. They must also have been beyond their remit, as they appeared to need Green’s permission to broach even uncontroversial subjects (“Tell us what you fond when you walked into Rangers… if you don’t mind”). And Keys even said: “Charles, if I’m blundering into areas of controversy, please forgive me.” Imagine Paxman saying that. Keys had his reasons for such “blunders” though. “It’s just that I don’t understand and neither does Andy.”
This lack of understanding may have contributed, as much as any obsequiousness, to their inability to challenge so many of Green’s more questionable comments. Green declared that Rangers is in “a fantastically strong” financial position as “in our current financial year we’ll have had two seasons’ season-tickets because next year’s season tickets will go on sale in May.” This, of course, is just a quirk of timing. There’ll be “two seasons’ season-ticket money” for… er… two seasons. There was more of this sort of sleight of phrase when Green travelled the well-trodden path of money being withheld from Rangers that Green “bought” for his £5.5m, utilising one of his pet theories, that “when it suits the (football) authorities, I’m oldCo and when it doesn’t suit them I’m newCo.”
“Where’s YOUR money,” asked Keys, blindly accepting Green’s claim on all kinds of cash – transfer fees for players who had never even had a contract with, let alone played for, Green’s Rangers (Stephen Davis); compensation to old Rangers for providing players to Scotland; sell-on fees linked to transfers pre-dating administration (Charlie Adam). Keys failed to ask any of the questions that Green’s “it’s all my money” assumptions raised. And when Gray, in a moment of clarity, did ask the right question, he failed to spot the glaring omissions and inconsistencies in the answer. Green complained that “the sell-on due to Rangers Football Club for Charlie Adam as a result of his move from Liverpool to Stoke” was paid “direct to Duff and Phelps” to help pay the old company’s creditors. “Why not?” asked Gray, a flicker of journalistic instinct nudging him into action. “Adam was part of the old administration. Shouldn’t it go to the administrators?”
Apparently not. “In the Sale and Purchase agreement I bought certain assets,” claimed Green. “Things were excluded, like Jelavic’s money that was due in from Everton, but I’m paying Rapid Vienna for Jelavic. Tell me the sense in that one.” The sense was that Green had “agreed” to both. But even this obvious point was over Gray’s and Keys’ heads. So anyone waiting for Green to be asked how much transfer money he had “bought” for £5.5m is still waiting. And hopes that Green would be tested on the thorny legal question of “gratuitous alienation” (the transfer of these assets for inadequate consideration) vanished. This latter gap in the Talksport two’s research was particularly fortunate for Green, as he nearly talked himself into more “gratuitous alienation” troubles when dismissing as “just rubbish” the idea that he would “enter into a sale and leaseback for Murray Park and Ibrox for £8m or £8.5m.”
“We’ve got a valuation that will go in the (share offer) prospectus… of in excess of £80m,” he noted. “Why would we even talk…” he began to add, before remembering that he had bought said properties for less than £1.5m, in June. The £80m valuation could be dismissed as a mere “book value” (apparently). Rubbishing the £8.5m sale price would seriously question the idea that £1.5m was “adequate consideration,” something Green would have to prove to anyone challenging his purchase. To Keys and Gray, however, “gratuitous alienation” could have been a Star Trek episode with Klingons and Tribbles, for all that they knew… or cared. Green has also made great play of all share issue money being reinvested in the club – even for “squad strengthening” when Rangers can register players again, in January 2014. So when Keys asked: “why are you floating now?”, Green’s casual remark, “my investors have got a good return,” ought to have raised eyebrows than it seemed to. Perhaps Keys had an psychedelic album called “Why are you floating now?” in his music collection and was momentarily distracted.
But the key question, “from where are your investors getting this return?” remained unasked. Likewise, Green was allowed some blatant contradiction within the interview. Keys said: “You’re not leaving until Rangers are playing in the Champions League (“absolutely” – Green). You will not play in the SPL, as it currently exists, ever again, while you’re Chief Executive (“quite” – Green). Gray, momentarily awake again, did ask Green what would happen if Rangers “won Division One and the only option is the SPL?” Green said he would “go to the fans” but that “my position wouldn’t change… if the fans said we should go back in the SPL, then fine, but I wouldn’t be Chief Executive.” We shall see when push comes to shove on that matter – there is little prospect of a breakaway European Super League at present, and the presumption of their invitation feels premature to the point of arrogance.
Green may have a legitimate way to stay at Rangers until they were “playing in the Champions League” despite this principled stand. But we weren’t about to hear it. Instead, Green was allowed a touch of revisionism about his support for the “majority of over 78%” of the Rangers fans who this summer said they wanted the club in SFL Division Three. “And we… listened to the fans and we were happy to start our life again in the third division,” Green added, conveniently overlooking the fact that he said at the time: “we will play where we are told to play” which then meant the First Division or the Third. He was also allowed to claim that: “I’m now for the first time, last month and the month before, on a salary… I’ve had no wages since February,” as if this was some sort of sacrifice. But he’s been on a salary since August, when his company first owned a football team that had a licence to play football. And what wages should he have had “since February” – and from whom? Another unasked question. Indeed, his very opening remark, “it started in February,” should have started a train of questions, given that he said three weeks ago that he’d only met the administrators “in a Chinese restaurant in May.” It didn’t. Instead, Green got licence to drone on about European Super Leagues, curiously claim that Everton were “up for sale for £3/400m,” and repeat his whinge that clubs like Aston Villa (who he recently called “useless”) were “valued at such high numbers and Rangers are only valued at £30m.”
“Because Rangers play in Scotland,” noted Gray, correctly, pricking all Green’s European Super League pretentions in five words (if only Gray had had a few more moments of such clarity) and possibly saving Green from more gratuitously alienating words about Rangers “true” price. This interview, like Whyte’s before it, was part of a PR campaign. But where Whyte was actually asked some searching questions, Keys and Gray were a mere conduit for Green’s polemics. Yet the Tax Tribunal’s findings into Rangers tax “strategy” throughout the ‘noughties’ are a potential spanner in Green’s PR works unless he can distance himself from David Murray. Whyte’s revelations about the close relationships between those involved in both his takeover and Green’s succession similarly disprove the theory that all publicity is good publicity.
Most tellingly, though, Green claimed Rangers fans had pledged £21m to the share issue, £1m over his previously-stated target. But he then offered a stream of excuses, unprompted, for the final figure quite possibly – some might argue probably – being somewhat lower than this. And he didn’t even ‘budget for’ the “interest” shown in the shares by Celtic fans and dozens of Craig Whytes. Fortunately for Green, a vocal of his target audience remain unprepared to ask the questions about his motives or strategy raised by this interview – just as they had given free rides to Whyte and Murray before truths emerged. Unfortunately for Green, those questions have been raised by more vigilant observers. And more determined and important interviewers than Keys and Gray may well be forced to ask them soon. Murray will be that hoping his thirty-three minutes prove more effective than Greens were.
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