Rangers: Resolution & Race

by | Jun 30, 2020

Rangers make regular appearances in these pages. And I know that some would say “over-regular.” But I say they appear with regular good reason, given my more-than-occasional focus on football governance and finance.

The old Rangers were so bad at both that they died, nine years and a fortnight ago. And the new Rangers have spent so much time pretending to BE the old Rangers that they’ve fallen into their old governance and finance (bad) habits, with potentially similar consequences, which are being as partly or completely ignored now by a Rangers-compliant media as they were nine years ago. Here’s three.

On 19th May, Rangers’ demand for independent investigation into the Scottish Professional Football League’s (SPFL’s) conduct of the vote to end last season early was voted down by over two-thirds of their SPFL club colleagues. This was much to the disappointment of a media pack who had campaigned for said investigation, so that Celtic would be denied a record-breaking second run of nine consecutive national titles in the interests of Scottish football’s proper governance.

The next day, Scotland’s Football Association (SFA) released the following curious sequence of words: “A Judicial Panel, convened to consider a Notice of Complaint raised against Rangers FC in 2018 in relation to alleged new evidence regarding representations received prior to the awarding of a European licence for season 2011/12, determined at a preliminary hearing that it did not have jurisdiction to determine the matter. Instead, it concluded that jurisdiction lay with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“Following consideration of the implications of such a referral, including legal opinion, it was the board’s unanimous position that this matter should not be referred to CAS. The Scottish FA now considers the matter to be closed.”

This was an SFA Notice of Complaint (NoC), so the statement’s wording should have piqued the football media pack’s new-found governance interest. The SFA raised a complaint against Rangers for breach of SFA rules. An SFA Judicial Panel determined that the SFA could not enforce *checks notes* SFA rules. And the SFA decided not to enforce *checks notes again* SFA rules because of the legal implications of so doing.

Now, you might wonder, pretty immediately, why the SFA had no “jurisdiction” to “determine” a “matter” raised by *rechecks notes* SFA rules. Or how the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) obtained that jurisdiction. Or what the “implications” of referring this case to CAS were. Or why “legal opinion” was an “implication” at all of the SFA determining a matter under *rechecks notes again* SFA rules. Or why those implications persuaded the entire SFA board to vote to not even attempt to enforce *rechecks notes one last time* SFA rules.

Football journalists earning their money under true pretenses would promptly ask the same things. And maybe more. Yet, having reported the words, the pack also considered “the matter closed.” The Scotsman newspaper offered cost as the determining issue. Others reverted to inanity. Some asked Andy bleedin’ Halliday if he thought Rangers could have won a league from 13 points behind with nine games left. And others still, such as BBC Chief Sportswriter Tom English, a leading campaigner for Rangers’ independent investigation, asked no-one about anything.

The biggest question, though, with damning “implications” for Scottish football governance integrity, is whether this SFA inability to attempt enforcement of SFA rules is general, in which case the SFA is by definition unfit-for-purpose, or applies to SFA enforcement of SFA rules on certain clubs, in which case…unfit-for-purpose. But we, and Scotland’s football media pack, know that this exemption from rule-enforcement applies solely to Rangers. And the pack have no visible problem with this.

Would England’s football press, including big Manchester City fan and Guardian journo David Conn, be so accepting if England’s second club had such exemption from rule-enforcement? Well, we might soon find out, given City’s current run-in with Uefa over Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. But I would be dismayed if the answer was ‘yes.’

The SFA’s “closed” matter was Rangers’ licence to play in Uefa competitions in 2011/12. Both knew that Rangers’ possibly fatal financial bother would be probably fatal without Champions/Europa League money. And Rangers were deemed too important to Scottish football’s business model to be let fail. So, they were licenced, despite owing “social taxes,” a disqualifying breach of FFP rules. The SFA complained that they licenced Rangers based on misinformation FROM Rangers. But they are now unwilling to legally demonstrate this.

This originates in the 2012 efforts to shoehorn a ‘Rangers’ into Scottish league football, after Rangers went pop. Part of this shoehorn was a “Five-Way Agreement” (5WA), between Scotland’s then two professional leagues, it’s then two Rangers (BTW) and it’s one-and-only FA. The 5WA was suspiciously confidential. And this was arguably both despite AND due to its rather fundamental effect on Scottish football governance. Because in June 2018, Rangers won the above-mentioned determination from an SFA Judicial Panel Disciplinary Tribunal as a direct result of the provisions of the 5WA. Almost as if the accused had the right to determine who could prosecute them. And hold the “almost.”

So, the SFA is duty-and-legally-bound to treat Rangers very arguably more favourably than any other club under its jurisdiction. There is, literally, one law for Rangers and another for all other Scottish clubs. This has been accepted by a number of bodies. For instance, Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell claims to have never seen the 5WA, which seems all-but-impossible, as Celtic’s Eric Riley attended league board meetings, and CHAIRED one, at which specific 5WA provisions were discussed. But it explains Celtic’s passivity towards calls from its own shareholders (via ‘Resolution 12’ to Celtic’s 2013 AGM)

Of course, Scotland’s football media are just as accepting. This is, after all, football (mis)governance designed to benefit Rangers. And that, it seems, is fine. Whether this institutional indifference will help the new Rangers survive its financial bother remains uncertain, though. It is public record that the club has annually lost multi-millions since its 2012 inception; that it owes multi-millions to high-interest lenders Close Leasing Limited and that it is thus ill-equipped for the financial impact of the ‘Covid crisis,’ even without accounting for further multi-millions potentially owed to various court opponents and actually owed to former parent company chairman Dave King.

Yet Scotland’s Rangers-compliant football media dutifully reported current interim chairman Douglas Park’s insistence that the additional £10m Rangers last accounts stated they needed to “cover the season”, had already been covered by “existing investors.” They did so without question, even basic ones such as “who, when and how much interest?” Indeed, just as with adherence to SFA disciplinary rules, Rangers alone seem exempt from media-pack scrutiny of the Covid-19 impact on the above-mentioned £10m requirement.

And Rangers seem determined, just as in 2011/12, to spend money they don’t have on increasing an already unmeetable wage bill. Just as in 2011/12, Rangers are acting in the transfer market like there was nothing wrong, with naïve manager Steven Gerrard “content with what I am hearing” about playing budgets. Park’s claims and 32,000 season ticket renewals are big drops in their ocean of debt… but drops nonetheless. And no-one with paid responsibility to ask where the rest of the money is coming from is asking. What else has to happen “just as in 2011/12,” before anyone will?

Meanwhile, a less clear-cut Rangers story emerged recently. Mixed-race Rangers fan Robert MacDonald addressed a Black Lives Matter (BLM) demo in Glasgow on 7th June and said: “Rangers as an institution needs to change but I am here to see it change.” This point has been made about, and accepted by, football clubs generally, and countless other ‘institutions.’ But Rangers fans weren’t having it.

Their ire was exacerbated when the Morning Star newspaper’s Scotland editor Niall Christie called MacDonald the “creator” of Rangers’ “Everyone, Anyone” (EA) inclusivity initiative, which began this season, when he is only “part” of it. Thus McDonald was accused of calling Rangers a racist club, while acting as a Rangers employee. And there were swift calls for his dismissal from a job he didn’t hold, because of something he never said.

Nonetheless, on 9th June, Chace PR, the EA project managers, facilitated a multi-tweet apologia from MacDonald. The “proud to be a lifelong Rangers supporter” said he attended the demo “in a personal capacity on behalf of my mixed-race family” and not as a Rangers “representative or spokesman.” And he was “delighted to be one of a number of fans from a wide variety of backgrounds” involved with EA, “such a ground-breaking and worthy initiative” (the tweets came from a PR company, remember).

But he then walked back his insistence that Rangers needed to change: “In response to an interjection from the crowd which referenced Rangers FC, I should have said ‘society needs to change’ and we can all do better.” And he added: “I know some fellow supporters believed I was being critical of Rangers. That was not my intention.” Anyone hearing the song “Billy Boys” at Ibrox matchdays, and aware that Rangers have twice been punished by Uefa for their fans’ racist behaviour, would wonder why not.

Singling out Rangers as an institution requiring change is wrong, as they are one of very, VERY many. But they ARE one. They have seemed reluctant to be associated with BLM and to accept their fans’ racism as…well…racist. “Please keep in mind that Uefa’s definition of racism is wide-ranging,” an official club statement instructed fans last October, as if a stray Uefa thesaurus was the problem. When other clubs were tweeting BLM support, Rangers stuck with their EA initiative, as if the campaigns were competitors.

And then there’s the “Vanguard Bears,” the “official Rangers lottery agent,” who seem to regard repugnance as a raison d’etre. They retweeted sarcastically about “the innocent George Floyd” when his filmed murder reignited BLM, as if what Floyd was accused of in the discredited article beneath their sarcasm were capital offences, or remotely the fcuking point.

The Vanguard Bigots are tolerated at Ibrox; they reluctantly deleted the retweet after pressure from the Scottish Sun newspaper (NOT the sports desk, natch), rather than the club. And fans were this week tested by striker Jermaine Defoe’s hope that when the new Scottish season starts, “we will take a knee and be part of this powerful movement.” And his words angered many fans along predictable lines (all lives matter, BLM are Marxist thugs, only take the knee for the Queen).

As long as that is the case, as long as right-minded fans such as MacDonald are pilloried for speaking truths and as long as fans such as MacDonald (are forced to?) walk back such truths, EA will be a meaningless, if well-meaning PR stunt. And Rangers will remain an institution very much requiring of change.