Much Law and Little Justice
You may not have heard of Keith McLeod but he is somewhat symbolic in the light of what happened today. Keith played for Spartans FC against non-league Culter FC in an early round of the Scottish Cup. It transpired that an administrative error in his registration papers meant that he was improperly registered and ineligible to play in the tie. The SFA convened a three man panel and threw Spartans out of the Cup. Harsh you might say but the rules are the rules and should be applied to all without fear or favour. Did we see that today?
Lord Nimmo Smith ruled that Oldco Rangers had fielded numerous players throughout the period 2001-11 who were in receipt of money via EBTs which should have been declared to the SFA. The rule in this respect is quite clear:
‘All payments made to players relating to his playing activities must be clearly recorded upon the relevant contract and/or agreement. No payments for his playing activities should be made to a player via a third party.’ (Section 4 SFA Registration Procedures)
BBC Scotland’s investigation into EBT use at Oldco Rangers found that side letters existed showing that 45 players received payments out-with the amounts admitted to in the contracts sent to the SFA. These amounted to tens of millions of pounds with players such as Peter Lovenkrands (£902,000) Barry Ferguson, (£2.5m) Nacho Novo, (£1.2m) and Lorenzo Amoruso (£639,000) among the beneficiaries. Lord Nimmo Smith appears to have had a very strong case for finding the Oldco guilty as charged and he duly did. However what has caused surprise and some anger in Scottish football is Lord Nimmo Smith’s assertion that Rangers FC (IL) did not accrue any unfair competitive advantage on the field of play from these payments. He stated in today’s report…
"Rangers FC did not gain any unfair competitive advantage from the contraventions of the SPL rules in failing to make proper disclosure of the side-letter arrangements, nor did the non-disclosure have the effect that any of the registered players were ineligible to play, and for this and other reasons no sporting sanction or penalty should be imposed upon Rangers FC."
I would beg to differ on this absolutely crucial point. Paying players with undisclosed (and tax free) EBTs was a huge incentive to attract talented players to Ibrox and did lead to an unfair advantage. Would all of those players still have come to play in the SPL just for the money stated in their contracts which were lodged with the SFA? For instance, if Ferguson’s £2.5m went through the books in the normal manner as part of his declared footballing earnings he may have lost up to 40% of it in tax. The EBT method saved him hundreds of thousands of pounds and thus made it more likely he would continue playing for Rangers. This was repeated with Mendes, Lovenkrands, Amoruso, Novo and many others and clearly gave Rangers an unfair advantage when it came to signing and retaining players. If that isn’t an ‘unfair competitive advantage’ what is?
So what was Lord Nimmo Smith up to today in terms of the sanctions he imposed on the Oldco? Fining Oldco Rangers £250,000 for breaching section 4 of the SFA Registration procedures is a little like fining Napoleon for the damage done at Waterloo. The Oldco is dead and the corpse is merely waiting for the funeral rites. Other Scottish clubs who lost league titles and cups to these improperly registered players, sometimes by the slenderest of margins, must be shaking their heads. How can Spartans be thrown out of the cup for improperly registering a player and yet the Oldco breaks the rules on literally dozens of occasions and are merely fined? The fine in itself is of course a mere gesture as it is money which Lord Nimmo Smith and the SFA knows will likely never be paid. The liquidators of the Oldco, a club whose assets were sold off so cheaply to Green’s Sevco, are unlikely to offer the SFA a penny. The Commission further states that the Newco is not responsible for the actions of the Oldco and not liable for the fine. So the bottom line is that Rangers FC (1872) broke the rules of association on numerous occasions and will escape any meaningful sanctions. Lord Nimmo Smith may feel he has had to tread a fine line here but this stinks to high heaven. The football authorities will no doubt smile thinking the whole sorry saga of Rangers and their shameful collapse will now be over and we can face a future free from more civil war in Scottish Football. Charles Green will smile that the titles the oldco won, fairly or not, remain in the record books. It is interesting that he wants the oldco’s history but not their debt? If it seems we have much law and little justice in this case then those of us astonished at the leniency of today’s judgement can at least console themselves with the fact that the old Rangers is dead, gone forever. Their liquidation ended their list of ‘honours’ and Celtic will, however long it takes, overhaul all their achievements and become what we already know they are, Scotland’s greatest football club.
43-0 We welcome the chase.