It’s not as easy as it looks, this administration lark. In my time writing on football finance, I have yet to experience any sympathy for an administrator, or believe that maybe senior ones are earning their weekly wage packets-per-hour. But gone is the sense that Dave Clark and Paul Whitehouse would have been better administrators than Paul Clark and David Whitehouse of Duff & Phelps, because whatever their previous faults, most of this week in the legal and political minefield which is 21st-century Rangers has not been their fault.
It is only slowly dawning on pro-Rangers observers of the Ibrox insolvency that dreams of a clean, unpunished exit from administration were piped. However, the labyrinthine complications and regular court cases have surprised few observers who looked, or wanted to look, properly. The wretched Craig Whyte (now rivalling the repugnant Jack Warner as the “worst man in football”) was never going to make his ousting easy. He has made his money for years through involvement in financial basket cases, using insolvency legislation to turn them around at minimum personal cost while securing his position as beneficiary of any onward sale of any debt-free, ahem, “newCo.”
He also remains an inadequate human being, as his initial reaction to his lifetime ban from Scottish football demonstrated. BBC website reports on Tuesday morning quoted him as saying: “It doesn’t affect my life, I’m just disappointed for Rangers,” an inoffensive mix of resignation and selflessness. But before his PR-people got their grubby little hands on the story, the quote was: “Tell me how it is going to affect me, I couldn’t care less. It makes no difference to my life whatsoever…and good luck collecting the money,” a highly offensive mix of sneering and arrogance.
The “quality” of potential bidders has also left much to be desired. Rangers owe a lot of money. But where £11.2m for its assets might once have seemed like a joke bid from some mischievous Celtic fans, it recently emerged as an actual bid from low-truck magnate Bill Miller (for whom low truck-magnate might be a better description). And this wasn’t Miller’s stand-out piece of lunacy. He wanted Rangers’ debts and obligations hived off to an “incubator” company where they would disappear as if by magic before that company – never his in the first place – was “returned” to him and merged with, yes, a “newCo.”. Thus Rangers would keep their history while losing their punishments…or else he’d walk away and then where would we be?
Hibernian supporter and rugby-club owner Brian Kennedy – never knowingly man-of-the-year in certain parts of Greater Manchester – believed that doubling his original offer for Rangers to “a double-digit million figure,” presumably from a “single-digit million figure,” was a boast rather than an embarrassment, worthy of a double-digit response. Consonant magnate Bill Ng supposedly offered £20m. Yet you had to be wary of a “lifelong” Rangers fan whose main focus was the 1972 European Cup Winners Cup win, rather than, say, nine Scottish titles in-a-row; almost as if his “due diligence” was a glance at the Rangers website homepage, where he saw ads for “1972 victory lunches” and assumed that to be the club’s ultimate triumph. And the Blue Knights continue to deliver ‘exclusives’ for the Daily Record newspaper in inverse proportion to practical proposals for Rangers’ creditors. Even their much-trumpeted “deal” with Ticketus, the ticketing agency with a £27m claim on future Rangers season-ticket revenue seems to have collapsed.
Supporters continue to mix common sense and astute analysis with head in hands-inducing stupidity. The Rangers Supporters Trust (RST) issued an excellent dissection of Miller’s bid – “all nonsense.” And it has expertly guided members through the complexities of the administration process. Yet many fans still expect administration to deliver a debt-free, punishment-clear Rangers ready for Champions League action in July, hence the furore over a 12-month transfer embargo on a club which should not be able to afford significant transfer expenditure anyway. And some refuse to believe that keeping Rangers’ history but not its debt is stinking hypocrisy. Yet the widespread assumption is that Rangers’ two-and-a-bit months in administration thus far is somehow “a long time.”
Even with justice on their side, as may be the case with certain punishments imposed by the Judiciary Panel appointed by the Scottish Football Association (SFA), credibility is shattered by certain public responses. Team manager Ally McCoist’s calls to “out” the three-strong panel won the week’s crass stupidity award in a week when Chelsea’s John Terry appeared to have it sewn up. McCoist’s understandably raw emotion at events surrounding “his” club excused little of his public commentary this week. After all, it isn’t as if the panel took evidence from Rangers representatives with their identities concealed.
But there have been some shameful efforts to justify McCoist’s disregard for the panels’ set-up, which was agreed unanimously by the clubs at last year’s AGM – as sections of the Scottish media are in no hurry to remind us. McCoist’s predecessor Walter Smith, a man rightly respected by fans across Scotland’s divides, felt McCoist “frustrations came out quite rightly.” But both he and McCoist should have known that a request to “out” panel members would be taken to unwanted, unwarranted extremes. Smith commented knowing that it had been. Many Rangers fans, even those with no time for the extremes, have taken an increasingly vengeful public stance towards each potential sanction. “Sink us and we’ll sink you” read the banner at one public protest and that seems to be the response to all suggestion that Rangers’ wrongdoing should attract sanction.
Suggested “expressions of opposition” to what the RST called “a shameful decision that has been taken with the sole purpose of crippling Rangers Football Club” include protests at Hampden on the day of the Scottish Cup Final and the boycotting of SFA sponsors. The RST also suggested that “no Rangers player or supporter can credibly play in or support the national side until this ridiculous decision is reversed” and lambasted the SFA for not doing “its job in the first place on Craig Whyte.” It might be wise, therefore, for someone to point out that the decision can only be reversed on appeal to… the SFA. So their anger is likely to surpass that of protests earlier in the season sparked by the “blatant bias” of the “bigoted, biased, corrupt” BBC, in the aftermath of Mark Daly’s “Rangers – The Inside Story” documentary.
Even Sandy Jardine, working “behind-the-scenes” at Ibrox , has condoned moves by fans to take “sanctions against clubs which we deem to have been unfair to ourselves,” adding that “I won’t speculate on what we might do but everything is on the table,” which sounded more sinister than I suspect he intended. Underpinning all of this is a misplaced, unattractive sense of entitlement among Rangers support. And that has seeped into the administrators’ response to the panel decisions. They have leapt into the appeals process even before the panel have issued their explanations, a “note of reasons” which they have promised “in early course.” This is clearly nonsensical. Simple disagreements with legal decisions are only grounds for appeal in the simplest of minds. The administrators’ current argument centres on the panel’s decisions making their job more difficult – “last night’s decisions can only hinder not help,” said Whitehouse.
However, to an extent, that’s tough luck, unless the decisions make it demonstrably impossible to carry out their statutory duties. These remain to rescue the Rangers business as a “going concern” and not a duty to restore Rangers to former greatness. Genuine grounds for appeal could emerge from the “note of reasons.” But until then, the administrators’ complaints are, at best, populist tub-thumping and, at worst – to borrow a phrase – “all nonsense;” especially Whitehouse’s plea that “any potential purchaser or investor must have clarity in relation to future playing capabilities and revenue potential.” That, as noted above, is hardly for a judicial panel to provide. But surely a season-long transfer embargo provides total clarity on one aspect of “revenue potential.” And it is difficult to see how you can prove that a block on spending money in two transfer windows will be detrimental to the current interests of Rangers’ creditors, in whose interests the administrators are working.
The emotion-heavy suggestions that the embargo will “kill” Rangers also need examining. Any form of “senior” player exodus will almost certainly weaken the side. But would it really push Rangers over the proverbial edge? If the world’s most successful club cannot attract a team to survive in the current SPL, it is for reasons other than denying them four months’ transfer activity. Of course, the administrators still have pertinent questions to answer about their conduct. A brief explanation of the phrase “capable of acceptance” would help. Both Clark and Whitehouse appear to believe that if you dismiss the wretched Whyte’s importance often enough it becomes true by some form of linguistic osmosis. And the court action they have taken against Whyte’s erstwhile legal people, Collyer Bristow, whose former partner Gary Withey was Whyte’s Rangers company secretary, has highlighted more inconsistency of approach.
On Monday, joint administrator Whitehouse said Rangers argued to the Judicial Panel that “responsibility for bringing the club into disrepute lay with the actions of one individual – Craig Whyte” And he found it “difficult to comprehend” that the panel decided to “effectively punish the club even more heavily than Mr Whyte.” On the same day, in another part of town, Mark Phillips QC, the joint administrators’ legal representative, told a court there was “no evidence” that anyone at Collyer Bristow other than Withey was involved in alleged “deliberate deception” of Rangers. Yet because “Withey had authority to act for the firm,” it was liable for losses flowing from his “conspiracy.” Someone needs to make their mind up on that.
Rangers are currently in as grim a situation as they have ever been. And when a possibly cheeky caption-writer at the BBC accredited reporter Alasdair Lamont as “Alasdair Lament” with a piece to camera outside Ibrox on Tuesday it was hard not to find it appropriate. Their survival is dependent on the generosity of others; football and company law enforcers, professional football clubs…Craig bloody Whyte; and, to an extent that will only truly be known once the First Tier Tribunal (Tax) produces its findings, HM Revenue and Customs (that you can paint a picture of financial calamity at Ibrox without even a mention of the “big tax case” speaks volumes). Yet there remains an expectation that these bodies not only could help Rangers but should help Rangers… and can be bullied into doing so. The idea that Rangers have done wrong and should be punished is an anathema to large sections of their support. And you don’t have to be a Celtic fan to believe that that isn’t right.
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