Rangers & Resolution 12: Testing Dave King’s Resolve
It was history-ish. On 15th May, Scotland’s football association (SFA) admitted that, maybe-just-maybe, ‘Rangers FC’ had been economical with the integrity in recent years. And that seemed to rile chairman of Rangers International Football Club (RIFC), Rangers’ parent company, David (Dave) Cunningham King.
An SFA ‘Notice of Complaint’ (NoC) alleged breaches by ‘Rangers FC’ of one of the SFA’s Articles of Association and two of its disciplinary rules. The NoC doesn’t specify the venue for these breaches but the subject of the investigation which produced it was Rangers’ application to the SFA for a licence to enter European club competitions in 2011/12, the SFA’s granting of which was the subject of ‘Resolution 12’ to Celtic plc’s 2013 AGM.
Regular readers will know, and/or be fed up with the details. To be very brief (you’ll miss it if you are caught in one of those sneezes which just won’t come out), Rangers were granted the licence despite an outstanding £2.8m tax bill, dating back years. The SFA said their part of the licence-granting process was tickety-boo. However, in April 2017, in court, under oath, former Rangers finance director Donald McIntyre cast considerable doubt on the SFA’s version of events.
And in September, the SFA told its member clubs that “alleged statements” in “media reports” of McIntyre’s evidence “might have implications in the context of the Uefa licence granted in 2011,” noting possible “contradictions between those statements and written representations made at the time.” The “matter” was “referred to the compliance officer for further investigation following receipt of information of a written opinion from senior counsel.”
However, this was in the context of Scotland’s football authorities resisting calls to sanction Rangers, despite the UK Supreme Court effectively ruling last July that Rangers improperly body-swerved a separate £24m tax-bill, with Rangers not disputing HMRC’s assessment of a “deliberate and concealed” tax dodge. It was therefore seen as a sop to campaigners for those sanctions.
It is unclear what took compliance officer, Tony McGlennan, eight months to investigate. Rangers face a “principal hearing” on 26th June, in front of an independent panel. However, ‘Resolution 12’ was about the SFA’s role in the process, not ‘Rangers FC.’
Rangers, being Rangers, issued an official statement containing the sort of bilious claptrap which would be deemed ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ by any governing body governing ‘without fear or favour.’
They seemed to reference a different NoC, stating that “after an eight-and-a-half-month investigation, the SFA will not be proceeding” with a complaint about “the submission made by the club to the SFA at the end of March 2011” about “the issue of the Club’s Uefa licence for the following season.” They were “unsurprised that it has finally been accepted by the SFA that the accusations made against the club were groundless.”
Rangers being Rangers, they pompously sought the moral high ground, questioning “whether the time, cost and expense of this investigation was justified and was a good use of the SFA’s limited resources.” And “disappointingly, and presumably rather than accept that the investigation was a waste of all parties’ time and resources, the club has been served with a new revised NoC relating to the monitoring period subsequent to the grant of the Uefa licence.”
Naturally, they “will fiercely resist” the “reconstructed” NoC. But Rangers, being Rangers, didn’t so much play the victim card as deal out the whole bloody pack, declaring a previously unheralded concern that “monies that should be available to Scottish youth and grassroots football will be diverted” and claiming: “that Scottish Football is, once again, being directed by individuals intent on harming the Scottish game, Rangers and its supporters by pursuing a course that has no sensible purpose or reasonable prospect of success.”
This garbage was trademark ‘Level 5’, Rangers’ hysteria-fuelled PR firm, run by large, hysteria-fuelled ex-journalist Jim Traynor. But they further confused uninvolved observers by complaining that the ‘new’ complaint “neglects to properly capture the provisions of prior agreements between the Club and the SFA.”
This is assumed to mean the ‘secret,’ and (in)famous “Five-way agreement,” reached in late 2012 between the individual Scottish football authorities of the day and the two ‘Rangers’ of the day. The agreement specified ‘new’ Rangers’ obligations for selected ‘old’ Rangers sins, some of which, it appears, investigations have uncovered. ‘New’ Rangers haven’t taken this well (notwithstanding the fact that they consider themselves the ‘same’ Rangers, at least when convenient).
And Dave King is worried. Or he’s a lunatic. The two most rational explanations for Rangers’ ‘official’ behaviour. King appears to believe that if the SFA can instigate independent scrutiny of Rangers, Rangers can instigate independent scrutiny back, however inconsequential the activity.
On May 24th, the Daily Record ran a story by Gary Ralston, headlined “SFA director who ruled on Rangers called Ibrox fans ‘the great unwashed.’” Ralston claimed Hughes was “fighting for his future in football” and “facing the axe” as “last night the SFA confirmed they would be launching a probe” into his comments.
Nothing about Hughes’ comments is in dispute. On 8th August 2006, Hughes wrote an article in ‘The Publican’ magazine, entitled ‘What I love about Glasgow pubs.’ (Hughes was CEO of the magazine’s publishers, CNPI), in which he suggested that “only the great unwashed venture to Ibrox.” And…er…that was it.
Hughes’ Celtic support is public knowledge. And his ‘rule’ on Rangers was to have “no qualms whatsoever about what the association did and how it managed its matters” when Rangers used their illegally-funded tax dodge and to oppose calls for an independent review of that period. Calls which, Ralston emphasised, were “led by Celtic.”
So, despite the headline, Hughes’ ‘ruling’ on Rangers was in no way influenced by his Celtic-support, or his ‘belief’ in Rangers’ fans’ “great” commitment to personal non-hygiene, a daft comment which, any SFA probe would quickly discover, is always taken absolutely literally whenever it is made about fans of any club anywhere. Because of course it is.
And, like the article wasn’t already a crass-enough hatchet-job on SFA credibility, Ralston noted “disquiet at Ibrox at the comments…with the SFA’s compliance officer currently probing issues around the club’s Uefa licence from 2011.” This, of course, was the sort of shoddy journalism to which Scotland’s football media seem so prone when covering Rangers. The ‘Notice of Complaint, published nine days earlier, was the end of the probe. Not that Ralston had his hatchet-job ready since the probe began and forgot to update it…oh no.
King was convinced, mind. Asked by the Record for a response, he confirmed “receipt of information, that would appear to be credible, and which merits immediate and thorough investigation.” This suggested that he knew about Ralston’s story before Ralston, somehow, or was a w*nkily pretentious version of “I read the article.”
Either way, King said Hughes “should be suspended pending this investigation” and believed “steps must be taken to ascertain whether any other individuals were aware of what he said about Rangers supporters before he was appointed a non-executive director of the governing body in 2015.”
Yes. 2015. Hughes was appointed that April, THREE years during which Rangers’ ‘deliberate and concealed’ tax-dodging was confirmed by Scotland’s and the UK’s highest courts but went entirely unpunished by each of Scotland’s football authorities. An inactivity suggesting King was right to stress the “importance” of discovering “if there has been a breach of the SFA duties and responsibilities to all clubs.” Although I suspect he just meant Rangers.
With no sign of the SFA’s probe launch, and the time limit on ‘immediate’ looming, the Record’s Gavin Berry evoked the painful-sounding image of King’s hopes for an immediate probe being “scuppered” because various SFA bigwigs were all over the place (literally for once) on football business; president Alan McRae at the Champions League final in Kiev and others in Lima for the national team friendly, commemorating the 40 years since Peru gubbed Scotland in the World Cup finals by repeating the margin of defeat.
So…Plan B. On Tuesday, the Daily Record’s Keith Jackson ran a story, about SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan with as many basic journalistic errors as Ralston’s. It was headlined “SPFL insist Murdoch MacLennan’s links to Celtic chief Dermot Desmond isn’t a conflict of interest” and sub-headlined “MacLennan is a non-executive of Irish media giant INM which is owned by Celtic supermo Desmond but the SPFL say they aren’t concerned.”
The mis-spelling of ‘supremo’ was the smallest error. Desmond isn’t even INM’s (Independent News and Media PLC’s) major shareholder. That’s Denis O’Brien, INM’s public, extremely controversial face. Jackson’s errors soon followed (assuming the headlines weren’t his): “Record Sport can reveal” MacLennan’s appointment as INM’s non-executive chairman. While “news of his role at INM” came “just days after” King’s calls for Hughes to be “top-level” probed by the SFA.
This, forgive my lapse into jargon, was bollocks. “News” of MacLennan’s non-executive chairmanship was “revealed” on March 7th and while it only made national headlines in Ireland, it still would have registered with proper football journos in Scotland, given MacLennan was SPFL chairman.
King responded again like he’d known what was coming, noting Rangers’ “concern with the latest disclosure through the media” about MacLennan’s “business relationship” with “leading shareholders” (plural) of a fellow SPFL club” which had “given rise to allegations of non-disclosure” from…well…him. He largely echoed his Hughes spiel, “immediate suspension,” “independent investigation,” “other parties within the SPFL may have co-operated” etc…
He added that “Unfortunately for Scottish football, this incident immediately follows a similar call by myself for an independent non-executive director of the SFA to be suspended under similar circumstances.” Of course, he was repeating Jackson’s fundamental chronological errors. Somehow. But he at least admitted that his suspension calls were “unfortunate.” Or did he not mean that?
The SPFL responded like THEY’D known what was coming. And, hey, didn’t we all? They were “definitive” that “a non-executive position on a PLC does not constitute a business relationship” (Kings’ words) “between that individual and a minority shareholder” (no more than, say, MacLennan’s deputy chairmanship of Telegraph Media Group was a business relationship with Telegraph footy writer and former Rangers debenture holder Roddy Forsyth). “So, no investigation is warranted.”
And board members “were each informed of Murdoch’s appointment” (as a non-executive board member from March 1st) “on January 19th, the same day it was publicly announced in a press release from (INM). That release was also circulated to the entire SPFL board that day.” And “no director raised this issue subsequently and it was not the subject of any board discussions.” So, “each” member of the “entire” board knew and didn’t seem to mind. Including Stewart Robertson, managing director of… er… Rangers.
King, of course, wasn’t happy with this. Outwardly, because it didn’t answer his non-disclosure allegations. Inwardly, because it did. Instead, he focused on a “conflict of interest”, asking if, and to whom, MacLennan disclosed it and why “SPFL board members were not told” of it. But that was because this ‘conflict’ didn’t exist outside the governing voices inside his head.
Quite how he will react to the SPFL’s confident dismantling of his claims and his media campaigning remains to be seen (as I type, anyway). “Rather than attempt to communicate through the media,” the SPFL said (through the media), “it is far more appropriate that any substantive issues are presented to the SPFL Board for careful and detailed consideration, based on a sound legal analysis of the facts.”
The league noted that “within the space of 24 hours, two different and very public allegations have been made” against MacLennan “without, in either case, an approach first being made to the SPFL.” And, mischievously, given his well-documented disregard for laws, it pointed King in the direction of the 2006 Companies Act, and the SFA’s own articles of association, adding: “There has been no attempt to explain the factual basis” of King’s ‘conflict of interest’ claims.
And, with the words ‘unlike you, Mr King’ clearly implied, it said MacLennan had “behaved impeccably in this matter and in keeping with good corporate governance.” To be continued, doubtless.
King demanding independent investigations as a media strategy to undermine independent investigations into Rangers, is a grim irony which would be lost on no credible journalist. Likewise, the irony of King, who can be labelled a convicted criminal without being libelled, mithering about “good governance” not being an SPFL “priority.” But credible journalists would have spoken to Robertson three days into the story. And…well…
King has many issues from which to deflect. Steven Gerrard will have formally begun work at Ibrox by the time you read this. And the “share issue” that King said on 7th May was “to commence immediately,” to fund the “Stevie G revolution”? Awaited. Then, directly linked to that, there’s the very takeover of Rangers with which he was involved. Sneak up behind him and whisper ‘Takeover Panel’ in his ear and see how high he jumps before affecting unconcern.
But the SFA’s Notice of Complaint started him off in public. Resolution 12. You did that. Still, one man offered reassurance for King this week, noting that anyone who “has behaved properly would welcome an independent and transparent review.” And I’m sure you can guess whose wise words they were.