Media, Scottish Football

Stupidity And Subversion

Good Evening.

I genuinely feared for my ethereal sides earlier today. They neared total rupture following the Daily Record’s story (or was it STV’s story?) about former ‘Old Firm’ stars being pursued by the taxman.

Celtic and Rangers heroes among football stars facing financial ruin as HMRC send cash demands over tax avoidance schemes

Here is the start of the piece:

“SOME of Scottish football’s biggest names are facing the threat of disaster as George Osborne’s tough new rules has seen a clampdown on tax avoidance schemes used by the wealthy.

SCOTS football stars are facing a fresh threat of financial ruin from the taxman. Cash demands totalling millions have been issued over tax avoidance schemes in a new blow following the Employee Benefit Trusts row surrounding Rangers.

The targets of the crippling new demands include some of the biggest names in Scottish football. Recent legislation put in place by Chancellor George Osborne allowed the authorities to re-examine the legality of more than 1000 tax avoidance schemes used by the rich and famous.

Many of the schemes had been officially approved by HM Revenue and Customs but a retrospective change in the law means those who used them are now personally liable. And this has led to hundreds of accelerated payment notices being served on former and current professional footballers.

The bombshell demands have been dropped on at least three Scotland captains as well as a host of their international teammates. Former big earners from across the Old Firm divide have been targeted, as well as at least one player who is likely to feature in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final between the Glasgow rivals.

And a string of current SPFL stars from clubs across the country have been left urgently seeking legal and financial advice after being placed on taxman Hector’s hitlist.

The controversial APNs demand full repayment of all disputed amounts. And only once that money has been deposited can the sums involved be subject to appeal.”

My sides were NOT placed in mortal peril by the piece itself (although later paragraphs repeating what we already know about EBTs seemed superfluous and  therefore rather curious…). The issues raised by HMRC’s actions are serious ones. As far as I am concerned everyone should pay their ‘fair share’ into the UK public purse (or that of other countries) to fund the public services upon which we all rely. 

Clearly, if there is an opportunity to reduce the tax you pay through legitimate means, then no right-thinking person is likely to completely ignore it. No one ever really wants to pay out more money than is absolutely necessary.

However, if you try and ‘beat the system’ through clever or complex mechanisms then you lay yourself wide open to any consequences which follow. And I have no sympathy for you, regardless of whether you are a singer, film star or football player with any ‘club’.

I’ll repeat that for the hard-of-thinking: For. Any. Club.

As I have said before, every pound wrongly denied to the taxman is a pound that either has to be raised from someone else, or cut from public services. So no one should be allowed to get a free pass away from their responsibilities towards the rest of society.

Death, Hypocrisy and Taxes

Personally, as a matter of principle I think there is something rather troubling about the use of retrospective legislation. It effectively allows the government to criminalise or victimise citizens who were acting perfectly within the law at the time their ‘offence’ was committed. The idea of clarifying the legitimacy of tax avoidance schemes, closing loopholes and making people pay penalties prior to an appeal may be attractive, and it is difficult to feel sympathy for those caught by it. However it is the thin end of a rather disturbing wedge, and it is to be hoped that retrospective legislation does not become a routine tool of government in the UK.

Now I have got that off my ethereal chest, allow me to remark upon the comedy I enjoyed this morning.

There is a certain part of Sevconia which is home to some very ‘committed’ People. People who simply cannot accept that Rangers destroyed itself by 

  • spending money it didn’t have; and  
  • leaving itself open (via the use of EBTs) to a tax demand which no potential buyer wanted to take on. 

These folk have convinced themselves that a conspiracy brought the indestructible ‘club’ to its knees, and believe that someone should be made to pay [NB Pay! Isn’t that ironic?!].
In particular, the fact that Celtic paid all its bills, survived Rangers’ death and continues to thrive seems to trouble every fibre of their being. Their train of thought seems to be that if Rangers drowned in a swamp of infamy and debt, then Celtic must too. There HAS to be some sort of ‘equaliser’. 

The idea that Celtic might simply be running a sustainable business and playing by the rules is so utterly unconscionable to them that it appears to fry their brains.

Still, it is very entertaining to watch…

And so it was that today’s tax-related news was seized upon with almost unprecedented gleeful wibbling. Celtic players are being pursued by the taxman and so therefore Celtic must have been up to no good! They obviously cheated, and should face sanctions.

The number of people I witnessed squealing to journalists like a child telling   a teacher made-up tales to get someone into trouble was quite something to behold:

“Miss! Miss! Timmy Celtic hasn’t been paying his taxes and now the school has to close down!”

You could almost feel the desperation and agonising need for Celtic FC to be implicated in some way. To be fair, I can imagine that the swamp in which Rangers died can be quite lonely, and it might make a welcome change to wade in Fenian Blood against a dead Celtic rather than the usual foul water of creditors’ tears.

Sadly however, that isn’t going to happen. Any Celtic players on the hook for tax demands are there because they made a personal decision about what to do with their own money. Celtic didn’t set up the schemes into which players may have paid, and they did not employ clever tax avoidance methods as a routine way of ‘incentivising’ players. [NB the Juninho EBT was settled with HMRC long ago, and formed part of his severance package. Celtic have no case to answer about it]. 

Nae luck Sevco fans!

There’s a big difference between stupid personal financial decisions and systematic efforts to incentivise players through EBTs and hidden side-letters which arguably subverted an entire sport for a decade.

The latter is why dead Rangers ended up in the swamp from which they can never return.