29 Jan 2013

Why Rangers face a massive re-writing of football club history

By the nature of these things, there will not be any kind of fanfare. It’s not the way of law lords. The Scottish Premier League (SPL) says merely that the room at Hampden is booked through till the end of the week, and that is about it.

Low-key stuff for the stadium setting for a decision at last on what may – or may not – be the biggest cheating scandal in UK football history and, if a guilty decision is returned, beyond question one of the biggest cheating scandals in the history of British sport.

At issue, did the old (pre-liquidation) Rangers FC fail to tell the football authorities all about the money it was paying players as part of an elaborate tax avoidance scheme – a scheme which may yet be found to be illegal if HMRC wins its appeal?

If they did not tell all, then Lord Nimmo Smith and his deputies, Charles Flint QC and Nicholas Stewart QC, can pretty much pass any and every sanction under the sun upon the old club, from expelling them from the league to asking them politely if they wouldn’t mind stop cheating.

Since the old club is liquidated, this is somewhat academic . But it is all laid out in section G6 of the SPL rulebook.

What the trio can very much do – if they find that the authorities were not informed about full payments – is rule that every time any of the players concerned kicked a football in earnest for Rangers, that match is forfeit because that player’s papers were not in order.

This would clearly involve a massive and unprecedented re-writing of club history, re-engraving of a lot of silverware, and Rangers would be saddled with the reputation of being the biggest cheats in football history – in sporting history.

So rather a lot is at stake.

The positive note for fans of Rangers and others, is that the first part of the process is simple and self-contained. The trio of the learned simply hear the arguments and submissions. They go away. They ponder. They judge. They punish. It is the Nimmo Smith independent commission which hands down sanctions upon the old club.

According to the SPL, the club can then appeal, and this would be to the Scottish FA. It would seem on the face of it that the SFA have few options but to go along with the findings of the independent commission, or the independent commission would very soon end up looking not very independent. A reasonable outsider might make that observation. But in the cauldron of Glasgow football, nothing is quite so simple or clear cut.

It’s high-tension stuff. Lord Nimmo Smith has already had to put out a statement pointing out that he is independent and objective. It’s rather like a polar bear pointing out that he’s white and furry. Yet in Glasgow football, such things are deemed necessary in the miasma of suspicion that never lifts far from the Clyde.

Equally Charles Green, the new boss of the new club at Ibrox, has gone out of his way to be rude about the independent commission, telling anybody who wants to listen that Rangers will boycott the entire process and yah boo sucks. Some might observe this is not the most tactically astute approach with regard to a law lord entrusted to investigate case where the lawyers say there is “a case to answer”. But that is a matter for Mr Green.

The independent commission nevertheless extends a welcome to Mr Green or his staff to attend at Hampden Park from today, should they so wish:

“Newco, as the current owner and operator of Rangers FC, although not alleged by the SPL to have committed any breach of SPL rules, will also have the right to appear and be represented at all hearings of the commission and to make such submissions as it thinks fit.”

We do not, of course, know how long it will take the Hampden Three to reach a decision on whether or not Rangers were cheats on a massive or occasional scale, or indeed wholly innocent of the allegations put to them.

But the odds are, it will be less agonising than the apparently unending tax case which continues to hang over the club. And it’s potentially all about titles, cups, championships, history, culture, reputation – the things fans care a hell of a lot more about.

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