1 May 2012

Rangers: crime and punishment, and survival?

As night follows day, whenever the Scottish Premier League (SPL) boss Neil Doncaster opens his mouth, the storm of controversy will follow. So it is that overnight and into today, there’s been a storm after Mr Doncaster took his mouth along to the BBC yesterday – and opened it. Cue another firestorm of internet and non-internet comment, bampottery and unbampottery alike.

His thesis is pretty straightforward without getting into the niceties of company insolvency law. He cited two English clubs who made it back into the land of the living via a CVA. However these two clubs, Crystal Palace and Plymouth Argyle, had two key things that Rangers, at present, do not.

The CVA lifeline

First they had a workable vehicle – known as a CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement) – in place, which Rangers do not. This is simply a legally binding agreement with creditors as a means of moving the company forward this side of liquidation. Second, they had more than 75 per cent of creditors’ agreeing to the CVA.

That meant for Palace and for Argyle the agreement was there and that was all the football authorities needed to go forward. So Rangers are going to need that 75 per cent agreement from creditors to have any hope of getting a CVA going.

So Mr Doncaster is right – there is precedent and there is a way of doing things which satisfies creditors. It has happened and it has worked for the good of football and for creditors. The catch it that those two things – CVA and agreement of creditors have to be in place.

Terms and conditions apply

So what is the SPL really saying here? Sources there indicate the following scenario. Bill Miller or Blue Knights come in and buy the club. Suddenly there are at least a few million to satisfy 75 per cent of creditors and the CVA becomes something that can be agreed. Or even the beginnings of a process to a NEWCO. The word within the SPL seems to be there’s a good chance of getting the 75 per cent needed to move forward.

Of course there are one or two slight difficulties here, like it might not happen with the taxman being the biggest of creditors and with the Big Tax Case hanging over everything like the proverbial Sword of …etc.

One thing is clearly emerging though and that is Bill Miller – one of the two Rangers bidders – will get absolutely nowhere with his demands that the SPL drops further rule changes with possibly increased points penalties on clubs that go bust and drop its investigation into whether or not Rangers registered players properly with the SPL.

So will Bill still want in? It seems so, since this point will by now have been made to him clearly by the SPL, in words that leave no room for trans-Atlantic misinterpretation.

Then there is UEFA. Oh yes – them. They need three years’ trading figures from a NEWCO – a new company following liquidation – which was well known but here’s the key thing: they are considering the same for a CVA. In effect this means a three year ban from European football because no CVA could provide such figures until three years trading have elapsed. Nor could any NEWCO for equally obvious reasons.

Could Rangers stay in the SPL?

So the SPL case runs thus when it actually gets round to the matter of football: yes – Rangers could feasibly stay in the SPL, but they will have had the 10 point deduction already, and if they are still in administration come August they face another 10 point deduction next season (a stronger sanction than in England).

They may well also face a year-long ban on buying any player over the age of 17, and it looks like UEFA will want three years of accounts which means a ban from Europe. They could also face increased points penalties to be voted on next week by the SPL and having much of their silverware cancelled as a result of the SPL investigation into player registration.

You have to say, if Rangers remain in the SPL it is difficult to see it happening without a fair gamut of sanctions and punishment. But there are many ifs and buts here at this stage.

The wider world watches

Then there’s the problem of possibly owing the taxman up to £75m. Nobody, frankly, has many answers to that, given the £75m ain’t there. Should Rangers go down on the tax case, the public demand for punishment (for not being able to walk away as it were) will come into play in a way we have not yet seen I suspect. We are post-banking, post-sub-prime, post-RBS here and the wider world watches from the Treasury to UEFA.

Things are not as before. Expect big politics and heavy lobbying to come into play at that stage.

So in factual terms that is where we are at. Some of the above sanctions are under appeal, in negotiation or simply in complete abject secrecy (like the player registration probe).

But the key here is to watch UEFA – if they are serious about making no distinction between a CVA and a NEWCO then a three-year ban on European competition looks a certainty and no amount of dealing or horse-trading around Glasgow will be able to affect that.

Let’s see if Bill Miller will attempt to put his pistol to UEFA’s head in the way he has just tried to do with the SPL – ‘drop your sanctions and I will buy your club!’ Sorry Bill, it won’t wash these days in Glasgow. I somehow can’t see M Platini over there in Switzerland getting out the cognac and sitting down to hear your plan, either.

Follow @alextomo on Twitter

Tweets by @alextomo