Rangers: Not Relegated After All

by | Apr 10, 2017

The ruling took longer than expected but was simpler than expected. Rangers were not relegated in 2012. Don’t take my word for it (oh…you weren’t). Lord Bannatyne says so.

The Scottish Court of Session judge’s decision in the Albert Ian Kinloch (AP) (Pursuer) v Coral Racing Limited (Defender) case was to “sustain the defenders third plea in law, repel the pursuer’s pleas in law and grant decree of absolvitor.” Which was obvious when you think about it.

It is remarkable and reassuring that the law makes the answer to a superficially simple question such as were Rangers “relegated from the Scottish Premier League?” over eighteen THOUSAND words long. Remarkable because Rangers were demonstrably NOT relegated by ANY definition of the word. And reassuring because the law takes every care to ensure that such answers are definitive.

If only, to pick an example PURELY at random, Glasgow’s football press sought remotely as much. The polite legalese verbal booting they, indirectly, received from Lord Bannatyne was reassuring.

Despite the “absolvitor” stuff (trans: the defender won the case), the judgment is a readable account of Kinloch’s September 5th 2011 bet, with Coral Bookmakers on Glasgow’s Tollcross Road, of £100 at 2,500-to-1 on the grammatically-clumsy “From the SPL Rangers to be relegated.”

The main factor in it being a losing bet was the clumsy prefix of “From the SPL,” to what he wrote on the betting slip: “Rangers to be relegated.” Lord Bannatyne also rejected the dictionary definition of “relegation” as a basis for his decision (relying on the far sounder “WTF does Murphy know?” principle). And he accepted Coral’s claim that Kinloch was a professional gambler, not an ordinary punter.

Kinloch might have been unlucky, as the prefix wasn’t his. Instead, he stood idly by as “the young lady who was the cashier…(called) her head office” to ask for the odds, having “made a remark to me that there was no chance RFC would be relegated.” She then “put on the slip ‘From SPL’ and didn’t raise any issues with the bet I had written down at all.” Kinloch “didn’t raise any issues” with what she had “written down” either. Big mistake.

His counsel, Ms Anna Poole QC argued that the “key question” was “What the words ‘Rangers to be Relegated’ mean”? However, Lord Bannatyne ruled that “The correct question” was “What is the proper construction of “From SPL Rangers to be relegated”? as “that is what is said in the betting slip.”

“The court,” he added, “cannot approach the construction of the bet without having regard to the fact that it related to relegation from the SPL.” And he did not “believe the dictionary definitions provide support for the view that what happened to Rangers was:  that they were relegated from the SPL.”

Coral’s counsel, Mr Craig Sandison QC, believed he had struggled to establish relegation as “a transitive verb, where something was done to someone,” as opposed to my argument that relegation was from somewhere to somewhere, which Poole called “the ordinary natural meaning of…the bet…based on dictionary definitions (to move to a lower division of a league…or move down/demote.”

Sandison continued: “It could not support a position where…the club moved itself to a lower league. Rangers…were not moved to a lower league. They were…rendered ineligible to play in the SPL. They thereafter by means of an agreement ended up in a lower league.”

But his point had got across. “Relegate is a transitive verb,” Bannatyne agreed.  “A transitive verb…is an action verb (which) has a direct object. Applying that understanding to the phrase ‘From SPL Rangers to be relegated’ means that a body performed an action which moved or demoted Rangers to a lower league. That is not what happened to Rangers. The dictionary definitions are not apt to cover what happened to Rangers. I am satisfied that what did not happen was that the SPL moved or demoted Rangers to a lower division.”

Bannatyne found the SPL rules more “apt,” although he wasn’t entirely helped to this conclusion by Coral’s rules witness, one “Mr Roderick McKenzie.” The court was advised that he was “the principal solicitor acting for the SPL since 1988” and advised them “on the legal issues surrounding the administration and later liquidation of The Rangers Football Club Plc in 2012.” “Roderick’s” later involvement with the “Lord Nimmo Smith Commission” investigation into Rangers’ “improper” registration of players was not detailed. Possibly wisely.

McKenzie said “there was no definition of relegation or relegated in the SPL rules,” leaving Lord Bannatyne to draw his own conclusion: “There is no definition section where relegation is defined. However, there is a single rule, Rule A2.1 where relegation is referred to and on a sound reading of that rule…it is clear what relegation means in terms of the SPL Rules. No other rule refers to relegation.” And McKenzie’s “position” on Rule A2.1 was “RFC did not leave the SPL pursuant” to it.

Kinloch protested that Coral’s “(reliance) on the rules of the SPL, that he had not seen” was “very unfair.” But Lord Bannatyne was “persuaded that the reasonable man is not only directed but driven to the rules of a sport when placing a bet in a sporting context” and, as the SPL rules “were available on-line,” Kinloch should have known them, especially as his “own expert…accepted that people would not bet on sports unless they knew the rules.”

Especially people such as Kinloch. Coral’s insistence that he tried to conceal his professional gambling seemed like uncalled-for character-assassination during the hearing. However, it became another key component of their success. Again, Kinloch didn’t help himself, calling “the average guy in a betting shop…a complete mug” while claiming he was “not a mug punter.” Which was rather Coral’s point.

And it surely wasn’t helpful either that his extensive gambling industry connections only emerged, bit-by-bit, under Sandison’s insistent cross-examination. He told the hearing that “he attended Shawfield Racing on two nights per week. He worked there as a bookmaker at the weekend. He set odds for dog racing. The week before the (hearing) he was acting as a bookmaker’s clerk at the above course.”

Oh…and “His father was a bookmaker. He had acted as a clerk for a bookmaker since he was about 14.  For the best part of 60 years he had been a bookmaker’s clerk. Between 1987 and 1996 he was a bookmaker.” And…and “In 2011 he was taking part in Texas Hold’em Poker tournaments, playing four nights per week and making a profit.”

He could have added: “But apart from that, what has gambling ever done for me?” and been no less credible. Little wonder Lord Bannatyne was “persuaded” by “the evidence of the pursuer himself” that “he was anything but an ordinary person placing a bet.”

Much less credible still was Kinloch’s reliance on Scottish press references to Rangers’ relegation. Lord Bannatyne said that “the small and self-selected sample” offered as evidence that Rangers were relegated “(added) no significant support” to Kinloch, as he accepted “in his evidence that “very many articles” would not have said relegation. “That a few journalists described this as relegation is nothing to the point,” Lord Bannatyne added, summing up Scotland’s football press for many people.

Coral’s expert witness, Professor Leighton Vaughan Williams, said “journalists use words with abandon” and their relegation references were merely “convenient journalistic shorthand.” Lord Bannatyne believed this point had “some force” (“it is often figurative use of language”). And, as if to rub it in, Sandison claimed: “With respect to each article there were question marks. If the outcome (of sporting bets) was to be left to journalists, rather than the rules of the game, business could not be run on that basis.” So much for newspapers as journals of historical record?

Inevitably when what happened to Rangers in 2012 is the subject, outside observers crave reinforcement of their unshakeable views on whether the current Rangers is the old Rangers or a new one. Indeed, it would have saved the court three days, and Lord Bannaytne 17,000 words, if Rangers was acknowledged as a new club.

McKenzie was predictably silent on the matter, though nothing in the judgment suggested he was asked to address the issue. John Fox, president of the Scottish Bookmakers Protection Association and vice-president of the National Association of Bookmakers “took into consideration that Rangers are the same club before and after liquidation,” based on “my experience of the betting industry.” But Lord Bannatyne “did not believe the evidence of Mr Fox to be soundly-based.”

Meanwhile, Lord Bannatyne also said that “until 2000, Rangers was owned by the Rangers Football Club Ltd and thereafter by Rangers Football Club PLC.” He then defined Rangers as “the team” and the liquidated entity as “the company owning the football team.”

So, these arguments will rage on and on (and on…and…etc…). The only argument this ruling addressed was whether Rangers were relegated in 2012. It said “no.” Yet journalistic shorthand continues to rear its ugly, misleading head.

In his Racing Post report on the judgment, James Doleman, referenced a “’relegated’ from the Scottish Premiership,” recalling years of English journalistic confusion over the regular rebranding of England’s top-tier as the “Premier League” or “Premiership.” And, as I typed, execrable ex-Sky pundit and worse (so many criticisms, so little time), Richard Keys, said Rangers were “sent down to the bottom tier” of Scottish football.

The law HAS solved this argument. That it will rage on-and-on-times-infinity is solely the responsibility of those who maintain that Rangers WERE relegated. Albert Ian Kinloch would be £250,000 richer if they were. He isn’t. Because they weren’t.