So…farewell, then, Bill Miller. Executive members of Scotland’s football authorities spent much of the weekend with their backs bent over – those that had spines in the first place – in order to facilitate his acquisition of Rangers. But the only progress to be made anywhere was newspapers’ discovery of a second picture of the now Rangers ex-preferred bidder – a grainy effort which looked transferred from a television image. Those who judge the unfeasibility of football club bidders by the number of different images available (think Ali Al-Faraj at Portsmouth) had their suspicions of Miller unscientifically heightened by the media’s use of the one tow-truck-based image of him. They are vindicated by his withdrawal from the “race” to buy the Ibrox insolvents. Miller’s few days as the new Mr Rangers took on a depressingly familiar pattern for seasoned West Glasgow watchers.
The administrators announced a preferred bidder, a plan which freed the club of all its financial woes inside a week-and-a-bit while keeping the 1980 Drybrough Cup on the honours board and Rangers were saved again. Then came the awkward questions. Not from the Daily Record newspaper, whose blatant pro-Paul Murray agenda was torn to shreds, or indeed most of the mainstream Scottish media, but from the articulate internet cynics. Some of them were Celtic fans rather too keen on the death of Rangers for subjective analysis. Most of them, though, were…well…right. And even Rangers fans, not keen at all on the death of Rangers, thought Miller’s bid was “all nonsense.” Miller’s bid crossed the lines of feasibility, financial logic and football regulation so often that you wonder how much “thinking-through” the administrators did. For example, it envisaged a new club talking to the fields of Perth on Sunday for the last game of the 2011/12 season… with 70 points to its name.
The bid also airbrushed majority shareholder Craig Whyte out of the picture – a popular but legally-challengeable move. And the movement of Rangers assets into an “incubator” company was in such direct conflict with Uefa’s stated policy on “newCos” that you’d think Miller had a copy in front of him when he was concocting his plan. “Clubs are not allowed to change their legal form or structure, in order to obtain a licence,” UEFA noted, “simply by ‘cleaning up’ their balance sheet by offloading debts – thus harming creditors (including employees and social/tax authorities), as well as threatening the integrity of sporting competition.” How more succinct a summary of the Miller plan could there be?
So when tow-truck magnate Miller viewed Rangers as “a car crash he’s decided not to salvage” (STV Scotland Tonight reporter Peter Smith), citing duff information from aptly-named administrators Duff & Phelps and fans’ ability to write “Yanks go home!” on a bedsheet, the cry of “I told you so” from the articulate internetters could have been heard in deepest Tennessee. And a mischievous headline writer could entitle articles from the BBC’s Scottish business and economics editor Douglas Fraser with puns to make us all wince – from “Another Bill arrives at Ibrox” to “Lone Rangers bid goes Tonto” in the space of five days. It’s what you pay your licence fee for. Miller’s excuses for getting the first proverbial plane out of Glasgow (not having caught an actual one IN to Glasgow – being bereft of a passport and all) were at least consistent, in that they beggared belief. As did the very fact that he went from front runner to non-runner in the space of a bank holiday weekend.
The administrators almost stand accused of lying. Miller described “preliminary information, discussions and analysis” as “unfortunately more optimistic than reality,” a phrase which could be seamlessly translated as “the figures were rubbish,” when the lawyers aren’t looking. And these figures had to be worse than the real horror show we already know about for him to depart so abruptly. Jon Pritchett, the CEO of “sports investment advisers” Club 9 Sports “credited” with bringing Rangers into Miller’s field of vision, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that “the hole” in Rangers’ finances was “a little deeper” than Miller thought. But such a view was a masterclass in understatement. “It’s worse from the inside than it appears to be from the outside,” suggested Stirling University’s Stephen Morrow, later in the same programme. “Some bombshell hit him after his people got access to the books,” suggested Paul McConville, offering more ‘Random Thoughts on Scots Law’ on his exceptional weblog of that name.
Even the Rangers Supporters Trust’s media face Mark Dingwall, sat in his now-regular spot on the Scotland Tonight sofa, had to admit to a “large discrepancy between the picture painted by (Duff & Phelps) and the actuality of the club’s finances.” Given the potential £134m debt picture the administrators painted to creditors in early April, you have to wonder what the “actual” picture is – a fifth, hitherto undiscovered, version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, perhaps? Miller himself hasn’t escape emotive censure, with former Times journalist Graham Spiers declaring that he has “acted like a complete ass” (Miller, that is, not Spiers – in case you were wondering). And one can imagine that both the SPL and SFA will have staff thinking just that just now.
Still, THREE new potential bidders, eh? None of them are Paul Murray and the Blue Knights but all of them have “come forward…as a consequence of Mr. Miller’s bid being accepted”, which is one of those phrases which at first glance makes no sense and on further, deeper inspection, makes no sense whatsoever. And whether the mystery three are expressing an interest or have already made offers of sorts depends, rather shamefully, on which bit of the penultimate paragraph of David “HMRC have voted in favour” Whitehouse’s latest statement first catches your eye. The statement was a bit rushed, I suppose; and drafted in a state of some shock and desperation. But a bit of proof-reading wouldn’t have delayed the process unduly. And without it, you are left with the sense that the administrators really have lost track of the truth.
If the “Flat Earth Society” need to kick start a membership drive, a short video of Whitehouse explaining why ships sail over horizons would surely do the trick. And the curiously-worded claim has met with widespread incredulity. “Certainly surprising,” noted Morrow. “It seems strange that they have come out of the woodwork at this stage,” said Neil Patey of global accountancy firm Ernst & Young. “A little peculiar,” added Dingwall, sinking deeper into his sofa with every disbelieving question thrown his way. Even assuming that these new bidders are not as fictional as HMRC’s vote for Miller’s bid, Rangers would now appear to be back to insolvency square one. The dramatic life-support machine imagery of Scotland Tonight sat comfortably with Dingwall’s closing suggestion that the choice had been between “Miller and the club essentially ceasing to exist.” And even that most Rangers-friendly of experts, Strathclyde University Business School’s David Hillier, couldn’t stop shaking his head during the latter half of his contribution to Scotland Tonight.
Pretty much every aspect of yesterday’s events commands deep scrutiny. But in the almost certain absence of time before the next game-changing revelation, that will have to wait for the book – or, at least, the Administration – and how not to do it manual that is surely in a pipeline somewhere by now. So, what next? If one tangible thing emerges from these grimly farcical events, it should be that the football authorities tire of accommodating Rangers to the edges of their rules and beyond. For a start, the SPL’s oft-adjourned General Meeting needs to be re-arranged by SPL people, not Rangers’ administrators. The most dispiriting read of the weekend was the SPL’s formal report of Monday’s (non-)events, which revealed that every issue up for discussion, debate and decision was adjourned or postponed “at the request of Rangers’ administrators,” who, it has been noted darkly by a welter of commentators, didn’t even have the common decency to show up.
The football authorities have bent themselves and their rules double to allow Rangers opportunities to avoid all sorts of unpalatable issues such as football sanctions and debts. Between them, over this weekend, Miller and Rangers FC – in the form of their current representatives or, to put it another way, what’s left of those that we might have described as its senior management – have responded to this generosity with a mixture of incompetence and contempt. And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan to believe that that isn’t right.
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