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!