Media, Scottish Football

Surprise Surprise!

It’s all getting a bit Cilla…
Good Morning.

Far be it from me to use a Daily Record headline as the title for a blog, but on this occasion it is entirely appropriate.

Following yesterday’s dignified statement from Celtic about the latest Big Tax Case judgement, the Record has been unable to help itself.

Hat-tip to @moo_ted for the picture
And here is the electronic version of the article:

Celtic wade into Rangers EBT row but Hampden source says: They have already been found guilty.. title stripping cannot happen

And as you might expect, emotive language isn’t far away…

“CELTIC last night waded into the Rangers EBT row”.


“The Parkhead club issued a statement which stopped short of calling for the five titles won when EBTs were used at Ibrox from 2001-2010 to be wiped from the record books.”

‘Stopped short’ almost gives the impression that Celtic could barely contain their lust for seeing trophies stripped from the rotting corpse of Rangers (IL)!

“But Celtic made clear that they were unhappy with the verdict of the Lord Nimmo Smith Commission into the matter two years ago – and remain so now.”

No they didn’t. Celtic said they remained surprised “over the findings of the SPL commission that no competitive or sporting advantage had resulted.”

And on it goes:

“Celtic’s intervention will do nothing to calm a situation already inflamed by Rangers chairman Dave King”.

Do you see what the Record has (inadvertently) done there? Asserted some sort of equivalence between the measured comments by Celtic and Dave King’s rambling irritation and veiled threats?

And now we get to the really interesting part of the piece. Unsubstantiated assertions from a ‘Hampden source’ that there is little appetite for title-stripping among other clubs, and even if there was, there is no mechanism to ‘revisit’ the issues previously considered by Lord Nimmo Smith.

Here is the extract in full

 “But according to a source close to the situation at Hampden, Rangers cannot be stripped of the titles they won during the EBT years – because they’ve already been found guilty of failing to disclose side letters issued to players who used the tax avoidance scheme and were fined £250,000 by the Lord Nimmo Smith Commission in December 2013.

It has been claimed that there is no mechanism to allow a ‘retrial’ in the wake of last week’s victory for HMRC in relation to the Employment Benefit Trust scheme operated by Sir David Murray between 2001 and 2010 – a period in which five titles were won by the Ibrox club.

Last week’s decision, which could yet be the subject of an appeal by liquidators BDO before December 2 and could see the saga drag on for months or years, sparked an outcry on social media for Rangers to be stripped of those championships – and a furious response from new current Ibrox regime, which claims it is ready to go to war to defend its history.

But the source told Record Sport: ‘There is no need for Rangers to take such a stance and there is no point in people calling for titles to be stripped because it can’t happen.

‘There is no legal vehicle for it to happen. They’ve already been found guilty – it’s double jeopardy, if you like. They can’t be re-tried for something they’ve been found guilty of.’

‘So many people on both sides of this argument are speaking without knowing the facts or the legalities.’

‘And on top of that, it is my understanding that there is little appetite from other clubs to strip Rangers of their titles, even if they are not coming out and saying it.’

The independent Nimmo Smith Commission, appointed by the SPL at the time, found that Rangers gained ‘no competitive advantage’ by failing to disclose the side-letters. It stated: “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 on Rangers.”

So that’s us told, isn’t it?

Err, no actually.

As I said previously, the narrative around Rangers’ activities which was used to inform LNS’s deliberations appears utterly changed.

LNS considered the use (and non-disclosure) of side-letters, and proceeded on the basis of the First Tier Tax Tribunal concluding that EBTs were not taxable. The Court of Session has overturned that (subject to appeal to the Supreme Court). Consequently, there is inevitably a big question over the validity of LNS’s view. Add to that

  • the fact that the Discounted Options Scheme – which Rangers long-ago conceded as taxable and yet failed to pay the bill – was not put before LNS for consideration; and
  • the frankly bizarre interpretation of registration and eligibility rules advanced to him by one Sandy Bryson…

…and the SPFL Board has ample grounds to set aside the LNS Commission and ask someone to take a fresh, independent look at all of these issues.

And if you still aren’t convinced, take a look at what LNS said himself in paragraph 88 of his decision

“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”. [NB see more of @Auldheid’s excellent work for further details on this]

If the above-listed matters don’t give you cause to think a fundamental defect may have occurred in the registration of a large number of Rangers players, then you may want to check whether you are still asleep! But if you are awake, then the chances are that you can see why the SPFL really ought to go back and consider them all IN FULL (subject to the final outcome of Big Tax Case).

This isn’t rocket science, it isn’t vindictive, and it wouldn’t be a ‘second trial for the same offence’. It is about truth and consequences. It is about doing things properly to get to the bottom of what happened, imposing any appropriate sanctions and then (and ONLY then) moving on.

Who in their right mind wouldn’t want that to happen for the good of the game?

No matter how many ‘whispers from Hampden’ we read about, how many curious tales we hear of players who would have signed  without an EBT, or how many times it is asserted that there is ‘no appetite’ for title stripping, this issue simply isn’t going to go away.

On the face of it, the entire game was effectively rigged for a decade and we were unwittingly paying in to a grotesque parody of sport. If that isn’t worth getting to the bottom of then we may as well all go home.

Including those who are at risk of appearing as though they are only masquerading as ‘sports’ journalists.



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