Stripping the titles – is it worth the hassle and money?

AFTER five years and four separate court rulings, the Supreme Court ruled that Rangers use of EBT’s from period 2001-2010 was illegal, proving once and for all that they dodged paying tax in that 9 year period.

Since then, social media has went into meltdown with fans of other clubs demanding that Rangers are stripped of the titles and trophies they allegedly cheated out of other clubs by bringing in players they, otherwise, may not have been able to attract to Ibrox without the EBT incentive.

With the SFA publicly stating that there is no desire to reopen an investigation into the subject and SPFL likely to follow suit, fans are up in arms and want their clubs to force the issue. So far, Celtic have released a statement calling on the authorities to open an investigation, whereas Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne would rather Scottish Football moves on from this affair, causing outrage amongst many football fans across the country, including his own clubs.

Ever since Rangers went into administration, and subsequent liquidation in 2012 before they started again in Scotland’s fourth tier, calls have been rife for them to be stripped of the 14 trophies that they won in that 9 year period. However, given the five years it took for the “big tax case” to be resolved, is there enough of an appetite for our clubs to go down another lengthy legal battle to take trophies away from Rangers?

The big difficulty is proving that Rangers gained an unfair sporting advantage. It can be argued that they wouldn’t have been able to attract certain players without giving them the tax-free incentive, such as Mikel Arteta, who they bought from Barcelona in 2002, and Dado Prso, who they took on a Bosman after he played a part in helping Monaco to the 2003/04 Champions League Final. However, not every Rangers player during that 9 year period was paid the same way and Rangers had already brought players of sufficient quality like Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, Arthur Numan and Ronald de Boer to Ibrox before Sir David Murray introduced the controversial scheme, therefore it can be argued that Rangers still would’ve been able to entice higher calibre players to the club in any event.

Even if Rangers supposedly gained an unfair sporting advantage, on the pitch they still had to prove it and the evidence suggests they didn’t gain too much in that respect. Of the nine SPL titles available during 2001/02 to 2009/10, the seasons concerning the Big Tax Case, Rangers won four, three of them on the final day of the season, with Celtic taking the other five, two of them with as high as an 18 point winning margin over their Old Firm rivals. Out of the 18 Domestic Cup competitions available in that period, Rangers did win 10 of them but there are still 8 that were shared out between Celtic, Livingston, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United, so it’s not as if it was a period of complete dominance for the Ibrox men unlike their 9 in a row period.

Most people have said that all that should be done is strip Rangers of the titles and trophies they won and declare the result void. That’s all and well but then it opens up a huge can of worms for clubs looking for compensation for prize money they missed out on, for example Hibs, Livingston and Aberdeen claiming that Rangers cheating cost them second place and a Champions League qualifying match. To summarise, we’d be entering a massive legal minefield with the little cash in Scottish Football being spent on lawyers and courts for another few years having already gone through five years to prove that Rangers use of EBT’s was illegal.

Which brings up the next question, what punishment should Rangers get if they’re not being stripped of titles?

It can be argued that they’ve already been through the punishment of administration and liquidation, caused by the reckless spending and running up the big tax bill that pushed them over the edge. Their liquidation caused them to be reformed as a new company and told to start their new chapter in Scotland’s fourth tier, therefore there is enough evidence to say that their fans, players and coaching staff have suffered enough.

More appropriate punishment would be that those who ran Rangers into the ground, i.e. Sir David Murray, never be allowed on the board of another club or governing body ever again. Craig Whyte was banned for life following his involvement in leading Rangers into administration, and rightly so, but others should follow and those at other clubs guilty of leading their clubs into near extinction, i.e. Vladimir Romanov of Hearts and the Marr brothers of Dundee, should also be banned from getting their hands on a football club again. It sent a bad message for Scottish Football that George Peat, the man who steered Airdrieonians towards the gutter before they folded in 2002, was PRESIDENT of the SFA for a five year period!

Speaking of the SFA, and the other governing body the SPFL, their boards should be present with people who are not on the board at their respective clubs. No harm to the likes of Ann Budge, recently elected to the SPFL board, and Peter Lawwell, who’s joined the SFA Development committee, but they are going to be putting their club first, which has been holding back Scottish Football for generations. We need independent and impartial people, with a good football background, on the boards of our governing bodies that will put the best interests of the whole of Scottish Football first. The self-preservation society needs to be eradicated if Scottish Football is to progress again.

There are far more pressing matters ahead in Scottish Football that the little money our clubs have can spend on rather than on legal fees to fight a losing battle over the Rangers fiasco. Scottish Football learned one of the harshest lessons in terms of spending outwith their means and being too reliant on the income of two clubs. The last thing we need is to revisit old ground and go through a bitter process again. Yes, Rangers use of EBT’s was illegal but they’ve been punished in other ways over the last five years and there simply isn’t enough evidence to say that they wouldn’t have won the 14 trophies without the use of them. On the pitch, the other clubs didn’t do enough to stop them!

I may be in the minority of fans outwith Rangers who wants to move on, but it’s something we have to do if Scottish Football is to progress. It took three years for our League to get a sponsor and the TV contract was reduced because of the saga, not helped by Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster talking down our game at the time, and we need more money coming into our game not go out, which a legal route would do.

It was a sorry saga that we should all learn from and move on for the good of our game!

J Bleasdale

I am a football fan with a passion for writing, briefly studied journalism before other priorities got in the way. Enjoy blogging as its my way of expressing my thoughts on Scottish Football. Even though I'm an Aberdeen fan primarily, I'm happy to express my impartial views on other clubs.

18 Comments

  • Posted by Ken on July 25, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    A good article spoiled by twice stating that EBT’s were illegal. I suggest you go back and read Lord Hodges judgement in the Supreme Court ruling. He went out of his way to state that this was not a scam. The case was not about the legality of EBT’s, it was whether they should have been subject to tax and NI at source. Seven years after Rangers stopped using them and 17 years after they started using them the court decided they should have been. This is why it is not possible to remove trophies. There is no legal bass for it.

  • Posted by John Mills on July 25, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    Good article. But it’s worth pointing out that the EBTs were set up on good faith and advice at the time and everyone was doing it not just footballers. I worked in the music and film industries and they were done there too. Rangers may have benefitted from them but it was just good tax planning at the time. It’s only in retrospect that the tax laws have been rewritten. Talk of stripping titles is ridiculous – what already happened to Rangers was draconian and set Scottish football back to an extent it will never recover from.

  • Posted by Paul on July 25, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    As per first comment:

    EBTs were not illegal during the period they were utilised by the company that used to own Rangers Football Club. Indeed, it was open for any other club to use them (in fact one other SPL club did). Hence, there is absolutely no grounds for title stripping as no unfair advantage was gained. It is incredible the amount of mis-reporting there has been using the term “illegal” or “unlawful”. All that has been decided by the Supreme Court is that the remuneration paid via the EBTs attarct tax. This tax bill will now be setttled (albeit at ??pence in the £) by the liquidators.

    Absolutely nothing has changed regarding the issue already decided by Lord Nimmo Smith regarding player registration.

    I concur with the conclusion of the article though in that everyone needs to move on.

  • Posted by ronald on July 25, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    I am sick and tired of this nonsense of title stripping. The real rogues are the clubs who voted for rangers to be regulated to bottom tier of Scottish football.

  • Posted by Matt Crozier on July 25, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    It is mostly Aberdeen, Hibs and CFC fans who are doing the moaning, but it cfc who are the drivers.

    It is interesting to note that for almost a 100 years cfc doctored their fortnightly attendances, much to the amazement of the media at the time, who used to make the odd joke about how little attendance cfc used to declare.

    Wonder if the taxman or the media would like to breach that little nugget, or go down the road of investigating Dermot and his ill begotten gains.

    Oh what a tangle web we weave when first we flattered to deceive!!

  • Posted by John Doak on July 25, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    THE ISSUE IS FALSE PLAYER REGISTRATION.
    In trying to hide the EBTs, Rangers issued side-letters which guaranteed tax-free payments, which is and was illegal. Part of the deceit was failing to register all payments for these players. This rendered their registrations invalid, and a 0-3 loss for each game Rangers fielded any of these players would be the correct decision.
    You know it, and we know it.
    Scottish football will not recover if the truth is not addressed.

  • Posted by Rabmac on July 25, 2017 at 11:07 pm

    What a pile of tosh, as you fail to mention some key points.

    1. Lord Nimmo Smith (LNS) enquiry should not have taken place until the Big Tax case was concluded.

    2. The LNS enquiry considered the DoS scheme used to pay Moore, de Boer and Flo, the same as the EBT scheme. However, it was not the same as it had already been established that this scheme had been used improperly and there was PAYE and NI due. Therefore, these 3 players were not properly registered as their wage payments were not declared when players were registered.

    3. The LNS findings over the use of EBTs is based on a false premise, as they were not loans but payments. Therefore they should have been declared, as was the case with the DOS scheme.

    As a result Rangers fielded ineligible players from 1998 to 2010 and the normal punishment is for the team to forfeit each match 3-0.

    As a Celtic fan I do not want anything to do with these tainted titles but for anyone to have faith in the governing body and for the sake of sporting integrity, all trophies won in this period need to be declared null and void.

    This may get brushed under the carpet for the time being. However, when it comes time for season ticket renewals next season, I fully expect a significant amount of fans from most SPFL clubs to put pressure on their board by not buying season tickets until justice has been done.

  • Posted by Joe h on July 25, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Its very simple really. The players had illegal side-contracts which rendered their own contracts void. All games were therefore 0.3 scores. This in inarguable.

  • Posted by john doak on July 25, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    You are dishonest to the core.
    You are deleting dissenting posts.
    Improper registration is the issue, and you deny it by deleting posts.

  • Posted by C Adey on July 26, 2017 at 8:11 am

    john doak, as long as a comment isn’t overly offensive, I will approve it, whether it agrees or disagrees with the blog. Are you always so angry?

  • Posted by Chris on July 26, 2017 at 9:09 am

    You have totally missed the point.
    Players incorrectly registered means an automatic 3-0 loss.
    Hundreds of matches were played with this scenario.
    Cheats can’t be seen to win.
    The titles will eventually be stripped.
    It’s inevitable.

  • Posted by Paul on July 26, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Issue 3(c): Eligibility of Players
    [84] SPL Rule D1.11, which with its predecessor were in effect from and including 23 May
    2005, provides:
    “Any Club playing an ineligible Player in an Official Match and the Player concerned
    shall be in breach of the Rules.”
    Issue 3(c) alleges that during the period from 23 May 2005 until 3 May 2011 (inclusive) Rangers
    FC, whilst a member of the SPL, breached Rule D1.11 by playing the Specified Players in lists
    3A and 3B in official matches when those players were ineligible so to play. This requires to be
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    read in conjunction with the concluding passage of Issue 3(b) which alleges that Oldco and
    Rangers FC breached SPL Rule D1.13, as discussed above, “such that Rangers FC was in breach
    of a condition of the registration of such players and such players were ineligible to play in
    official matches for Rangers FC”. Reference also requires to be made to SFA Registration
    Procedure Rules 2.2.1 and 4.
    [85] In addressing us on Issue 3(c), Mr McKenzie sought to include a reference to period 2.
    Although there is a passage in the outline written argument for the SPL which may be taken to
    relate to period 2, Issue 3(c) and the relevant passage in Issue 3(b) both relate to period 3, from
    23 May 2005 until 3 May 2011 (inclusive). No notice is given in the Notice of Commission of
    any comparable allegation relating to any earlier period, and for this reason we are not prepared
    to consider this part of the argument.
    [86] Evidence was given by Alexander Bryson, Head of Registrations at the SFA, who
    described the registration process. During the course of his evidence he explained that, once a
    player had been registered with the SFA, he remained registered unless and until his registration
    was revoked. Accordingly, even if there had been a breach of the SFA registration procedures,
    such as a breach of SFA Article 12.3, the registration of a player was not treated as being invalid
    from the outset, and stood unless and until it was revoked.
    [87] Mr McKenzie explained to us that SPL Rule D1.13 had hitherto been understood to mean
    that if, at the time of registration, a document was not lodged as required, the consequence was
    that a condition of registration was broken and the player automatically became ineligible to play
    in terms of SPL Rule D1.11. He accepted however that there was scope for a different
    construction of the rule, to the effect that, as the lodging of the document in question was a
    condition of registration, the registration of the player would be liable to revocation, with the
    consequence that the player would thereafter become ineligible to play. He accepted that no
    provision of the Rules enabled the Board of the SPL retrospectively to terminate the registration
    of the player. It became apparent from his submissions that Mr McKenzie was not pressing for a
    finding that Issue 3(c), together with the concluding words of Issue 3(b), had been proved.
    [88] In our opinion, this was a correct decision by Mr McKenzie. There is every reason why
    the rules of the SFA and the SPL relating to registration should be construed and applied
    consistently with each other. Mr Bryson’s evidence about the position of the SFA in this regard
    was clear. In our view, the Rules of the SPL, which admit of a construction consistent with those
    of the SFA, should be given that construction. All parties concerned – clubs, players and
    footballing authorities – should be able to proceed on the faith of an official register. This means
    that a player’s registration should generally be treated as standing unless and until revoked.
    27
    There may be extreme cases in which there is such a fundamental defect that the registration of a
    player must be treated as having been invalid from the outset. But in the kind of situation that
    we are dealing with here we are satisfied that the registration of the Specified Players with the
    SPL was valid from the outset, and accordingly that they were eligible to play in official
    matches. There was therefore no breach of SPL Rule D1.11.
    [89] For these reasons we are not satisfied that any breach of the Rules has been established in
    terms of Issue 3(c), taken in conjunction with the concluding words of Issue 3(b) quoted above.
    This is an important finding, as it means that there was no instance shown of Rangers FC
    fielding an ineligible player.

    END OF STORY!

    The fact that there was prior agreement that the LNS decision would be full and final was on the basis that Rangers would have titles stripped and wouldn’t be able to appeal it. This (quite rightly as per the above) hasn’t happened and there is of course no right of appeal (one can’t have one’s cake and eat it).

    As said before, the Supreme Court decision is irrelevant and changes nothing since the 2012 enquiry.

    There will be a lot of teeth gnashing and stomping of feet but there really is nothing more to see here. Supporters should get behind their own clubs and stop obsessing abou Rangers.

  • Posted by Alan Blacklaw on July 26, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Unfortunately this farce will never end with the sheer hatred of Rangers within Scottish football. Absolutely no legal basis for titles to be stripped at all.

    Well written article again john

  • Posted by Jamie on July 26, 2017 at 11:43 am
  • Posted by Bilco on July 26, 2017 at 11:45 am

    I thought the issue was about EBTs,now it’s moved onto registration. If you don’t win on registration issue just move on to something else .Why does Celtic not take a court case out and use Dermot Desmond millions he saved when he became a tax exile (look up tax exile ) to fund the case.

  • Posted by Jamie on July 26, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    No the topic is about whether it’s worth the bother to strip titles. And my point is no one raised an issue in 2012 to strip Livingstones title through alleged cheating..

  • Posted by Andy boy on July 26, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    Messi found guilty of £10million tax fraud in Spain yet Real Madrid are NOT calling for title stripping! Juventus and Bayern Munich are NOT calling for Champions League stripping! Makes you wonder whose behind it all! (CFC).

  • Posted by Graham Ross on July 26, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    It is all UTTER tosh.

    If ANYONE is naive enough to believe that most if not all football clubs and companies do not try and get around paying tax etc they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

    There is HUGE difference between Tax AVOIDANCE and tax EVASION. Rangers got advice from tax advisers who suggested EBT’s were “legal” so they took it. Later, it was deemed, after much legal wrangling that it was not. It happens ALL THE TIME. Indeed many clubs down south used the exact same scheme and will probably now be chased for monies.

    At Celtic, they admitted themselves that they had used EBT’s but that, I am guessing after advice, decided to stop (allegedly). Would they have continued to use them but for that advice??? Who knows?

    Players also get offered other “wage enhancing deals” that are NEVER disclosed to footballing authorities… be it sponsorship deals from 3rd parties etc etc. What is the difference?

    As for the side letters etc etc…. Again naivety at its very best from some. If people really think that no club gives players undisclosed incentives they really are deluded. It happens throughout football. It is the norm. THAT of course doesn’t make it right, but its FACT. Other clubs in Scotland, aside Rangers, really do not want things to start “coming out”. Which, if a witch hunt continued against Rangers for merely doing what others do in different ways, I am sure everything will start to come out. I personally know of information sitting waiting to be “launched” if / when Rangers get chased for the “side letters”. The old saying “people in glass houses…….” really is pertinent BIG TIME here.

    I played junior level in my day and was offered “incentives” to join different clubs which NEVER were going to be OR ever WERE disclosed.

    My cousin, who shall remain anonymous made it to the professional level in the Scottish Premiership. He was being chased by two premiership teams. Both offered the official deal and both offered “side incentives”… that is not unusual, it is the norm. Everyone knows it, but nobody in charge, wants to talk about it or for it to be talked about.

    IMHO opinion the biggest protagonists in this is Lawell and co….. Well, well well, It really might not be in there interests for certain information to see the light of day and they know it.

    Just remember one thing, when it comes to preaching rules etc etc…. If you break a rule/law you break a rule/law. The size of it or whatever does not change that fact. If you do NOT divulge the whole deal you break that rule HOWEVER and WHATEVER the “incentive” was.