Media, Scottish Football, SPFL

Dick Dastardly: He Never Stood A Chance

Good Evening.

A few days ago, following the latest ruling in the Big Tax Case, The Clumpany wrote a piece on how some commentators had started to sound the ‘all-too-difficult’, ‘let bygones be bygones’, and ‘time to move on’ alarms.

Regular readers will know that The Clumpany has no truck with these arguments. I believe that the very future of our game as an actual sport depends on the football authorities putting in place a proper process to consider the outcome and implications of the BTC, and to ensue that any appropriate sanctions are imposed without fear or favour. 

And trophy-stripping should definitely be on the table as an option when this is done.

No one was surprised to see the howls of anguish and the use of deflection that quickly appeared in some (but not all) quarters of the media.

The Derek Johnstone column in Friday’s Evening Shark-Jump was truly spectacular, but has subsequently been complemented by other pieces.

Special mention should be given to this outstanding contribution from Gavin Berry in the Daily Record.

Gavin Berry: A block on EBTs would not have stopped David Murray

Mr Berry begins the piece by making a squirrel-tastic and entirely irrelevant point about how Hibs actually won the 2012 Scottish Cup final despite losing 5-1 to Hearts, who went into administration owing substantial sums a year later.

He then attempts to demolish “the argument that [Rangers’ EBT] tax-free payments – around £48million worth between 2001 and 2010 – attracted players they otherwise could not have signed”.

He asks whether “the fact Murray tried to use the EBT scheme – of which he was the single biggest beneficiary – really make it any worse than the wild spending of Hearts under Vladimir Romanov when they won two Cups and reached Champions League qualifiers?”

And continues…

“Livingston, Dundee (twice), Motherwell, Airdrie, Gretna and Dunfermline lived outwith their means and rivals would have faced players they couldn’t afford.

In terms of gaining a sporting advantage, what difference does the legality of EBTs make? If Murray hadn’t looked to avoid paying tax, he could have racked up debts in the way other clubs have by signing the same players and accelerated their fall into financial ruin.”

This ‘argument’ is a masterpiece of sorts. And it was partly reinforced by Gordon Waddell today who (in an otherwise-interesting piece about Sir David Murray) released another squirrel by suggesting that we can’t know that Rangers wouldn’t have signed players without using EBTs. 

This is – of course – a point which is undermined by both the latest Big Tax Case judgement and evidence submitted to earlier hearings. These were quite clear that without the use of EBTs, Rangers couldn’t have competed for players with richer clubs.

But back to the specifics of Gavin Berry’s piece…

Hearts spent big, but they didn’t systematically avoid paying their social taxes. They didn’t leave themselves in a position where they were beyond the understanding of their creditors. And they didn’t get themselves into a postion where the validity of many of their player registrations for the best part of a decade is open to question. 

Hearts may have foolishly and wilfully got into debt, but they didn’t trample all over the football rule book and play fast and loose with the norms of tax-paying society. In short, they didn’t seek to give themselves a whopping great sporting advantage over their rivals by any means and at any cost. And they didn’t end up making the sport little more than a grotesque parody.

That’s the difference between Hearts and Rangers, Mr Berry.

And as for the ‘argument’ that had Murray not used EBTs he could have overspent money like other clubs did…

Firstly, you could argue that Rangers did that anyway, with disastrous consequences  (see for example the numerous bank loans that headed in their direction, and the eventual debt-clearing sale to Craig Whyte). 

Secondly, you could also argue that EBTs were essentially an exercise in stretching that loan ‘income’ as far as it possibly could.

And thirdly, the unavoidable fact is that Rangers DID use EBTs. Consequently, any consideration of their apparent wrongdoing absolutely must focus on the details and implications of it. 

Whataboutery simply won’t wash in this instance, Mr Berry.

Given some of the guff that has already been committed to print in response to the (still distant) prospect of Rangers having trophies stripped, The Clumpany looks forward to various parts of the Scottish media running further ‘supportive’ headlines in coming days…

“Lance Armstrong: No Case To Answer. Other people rode their bikes quickly too.”

“Ben Johnson: No Case To Answer. Other people wore running spikes too”

“Eric Cantona: No Case To Answer. Martial arts were an increasingly popular pastime in the 1990s”

“Al Capone: No Case To Answer. He was too busy doing good works to pay his taxes”

“Dracula: No Case To Answer. We all get really thirsty sometimes”

“Dick Dastardly: No Case To Answer. He never stood a chance with a name like that”

Still, no matter how anguished some of the Big Tax Case-related commentary gets, I am sure we could never get a headline like this:

“Rangers: give them a break. Their only so-called ‘crime’ was getting caught”?

Could we?