Green, Whyte and the Never-ending Story

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Last week we were informed that Charles Green and friends will face no further criminal proceedings with regard to their dealings after they bought Rangers. So there we go, another fraud chapter closed. A lot of bears are happy to leave these things in the past – it was a painful time so I understand that. The feel good factor currently on and off the pitch certainly helps to erase bad memories. But for me too many questions remain unanswered and that’s not just confined to Charles Green.

This is a subject I’ve attempted to write about before but each time I’ve given up. The depth of content and number of threads involved is huge. The cast of characters (or villains) is legion. Much of the narrative is also simply beyond my understanding and such was the quantity and rate of change that I lost track of much of it years ago. It was also difficult to put thoughts into words without being aware that reality may be disappearing over the horizon. However, the story is very important to Rangers’ history, and should be to all Rangers fans, and I strongly feel it needs more attention. Hopefully it eventually gets the coverage it deserves and will be dissected and commented on by people with the appropriate knowledge and expertise. We need to continue to discuss it, join the dots and improve our understanding of what happened. As such, I’ve thrown some thoughts together that represent my patchy understanding of events and I’m happy to correct any facts that I may have misrepresented or recalled incorrectly.

A recurring thought I had during the EBT appeals, the admin turmoil and beyond was that there’s a lot happening here and I really hope it gets revisited and explained at some point. Dark days turned to months, which turned to years and Rangers-related news got buried under further avalanches of Rangers related news – which often had to be seen to be believed. At the time there was a feeling that a lot of it didn’t feel right; be it the source and trajectory of the stories, the points to prosecute on and some of the stops along the way. It didn’t feel natural or normal. Added to this it was the issue that it was never presented or discussed in the right manner – many of Scotland’s sports media simply weren’t up to the task and I don’t think we even got half the story, but then we were probably never going to be given the whole story from some. Indeed, even when you thought that an ‘external’ journalist may have the dispassionate background to approach the issue, it quickly became clear they too lacked objectivity.

Where incomplete information exists then people will fill the gaps with their own explanations as to how something came about. Likewise, where a given explanation is lacking or insufficient then a more plausible explanation is preferred. The Rangers story is riddled with examples of that, where anomalies in actions or procedures occurred that had no real precedent and we can be pretty sure wouldn’t be allowed to occur that way again. We were told what to think throughout the whole saga and there were a couple of reasons for that. One, the Rangers Tax case (RTC) site planned and drove much of the story. Two, the media willingly went along with that anonymous narrative and many happily improvised and weighed in once the avalanche had started.

This bit isn’t up for debate - we know that the RTC website was full of people who wanted to damage Rangers (and may well have had contributions from folk in the media itself). They dubiously obtained a lot of information about Rangers tax business from within HMRC. Through a lot of hard work, planning and no lack of ingenuity, RTC were then able to shape their ill-gotten information into a weapon to damage the company and club. It was also delivered in such a way that guilt was automatically assumed and that to anyone listening it would seem like a steady stream of shocking revelations. However, it’s probable that this scheme was years in the making and shaping before it was unleashed.

And that leads to a question. Murray’s actions with EBTs weren’t a secret, they were in the accounts, and the way he was running them wouldn’t have been unknown to people in the right circles. Someone saw this as an opportunity. How much work or influence was required to make things happen? One thing we have learned from the behaviour of the media is that some are no friends of Rangers. But more than that, some do forsake their professionalism to have a dig at Rangers. It happened with alarming regularity throughout the Rangers story. It happened at reputable broadcasters too, and those free of the commercial pressures of tabloids, and often without any apparent consequence for the perpetrator. In fact, such was the mood and feeding frenzy at the time that some appeared to be outdoing each other for hyperbole, including straight-out lying. Knowing this, it is not too much of a leap to imagine that similar minded professionals in place at other organisations would willingly help out when the call or opportunity came.

Hence, more unknowns and with it even more questions. Did the first information come from within HMRC or someone connected to Rangers? Or did the request come from outwith and someone reciprocated by providing the private documents? Either way, one of those seemed to happen. Which means someone held and collated the information. Other persons were involved and contributed. Knowing this, then furthers actions and scheming is probable. Were other friendly helpers then searched out at different places of influence? Did they voluntarily answer a call to arms? Were points of weakness identified that could be leaned on or manipulated? Were people put in place at other governing bodies who could then help out later when the call came? Would there be people with sufficient stake in the game, sufficient power and political nous to pull some of these levers? If possible, then this would certainly explain why some seemingly improbable coincidences started to mount up, why the media was happy to keep to script and why not too many awkward questions were asked, and still haven’t been asked. Most doubters could get a pass at the time because few probably knew what the hell was actually going on.

Now before I disappear down the rabbit-hole all together some of what occurred may well have transpired eventually to some degree. Rangers had a tax related liability (though manageable/solvable) and yet it seemed there was little or no negotiation on this. Further, David Murray had lost interest it’s claimed wanted to sell Rangers to maintain his other family business interests – pressurised by a bank that were exposed themselves by their own crisis of 2008. Add to this Rangers is a polarising figure; its success and associated envy means we have plenty who wouldn’t mourn our fall, as a fan-base we aren’t without this self-awareness (nor our faults). However, without negative interference I’m certain that another route could’ve been found that would have not been remotely close to the extremes and damage we actually experienced.

My view has flipped back and forth on many of the incidents over the years, from desperation to downright denial and back again, but the one point that has crystallised is that the sale to Craig Whyte was the key to inflicting maximum damage. If you could control that then the events that could cascade from there would be crippling. Again, Murray’s situation was known. His desire to sell was known. The impasse with the HMRC was known. The information RTC had and how that could be used was known. Again, not a leap of faith to suggest some people could make big gains from bringing Rangers down and would do something about it. After all, a network of experts and willing, connected contributors was already in place.

In my view, once Whyte was in then liquidation was inevitable. And during his nine months in charge things went from bad to worse for Rangers. Once in the hot seat he had access to all sorts of private documents and information. The opportunity was used to cause more havoc with HMRC through non-payment of PAYE. Meanwhile the club lost key staff who warned against his purchase. Selling sentimental heirlooms like our Arsenal shares was probably a happy accident for him and others. According to current director Alastair Johnston, who was also chairman at the time of its sale, Whyte “should have been charged with murder, murder of an institution.” Prosecutors, instead, charged him with fraud relating to his takeover of the club but a jury acquitted him last year. With last week’s announcement about Green et al, Craig Whyte is one of only a few to face a jury but he’s clearly far from the only villain.

So once again the questions pile up. Administration - despite what people say there’s not much anyone, especially Rangers supporters, could’ve done to prevent this course of events. Police Scotland also felt Duff and Phelps were part of the plan. Liquidation would be the Holy Grail and effectively checkmate. Whyte’s tenure had stripped the club of any personnel on the inside who could actively defend it and effectively left it prone and unconscious. Open season. With Whyte at the controls and HMRC the major creditor the club’s fate was sealed. And so it went.

It would then have been known that liquidation would’ve resulted in suspension of the SFA license. Was the referee strikes of 2008 a ruse to get the rulebook poured over, amended and put people in place? Rangers were then voted out of the SPL (not voted in, whatever). The lack of leadership in the face of the “no to newco” campaign was laughable and should be an eternal embarrassment to the SFA for its treatment of a member club. As was the behaviour of the media – where every point of discussion or action appeared to default to the maximum punishment. The course of justice was shelved given guilt was assumed and the possible censures discussed freely across the nation. Five way agreements were formed, changed, challenged and formed again. Legal or not.

A distinct memory for myself was the lack of Rangers fans brought into the media to discuss their club’s affairs and travails – and yet others were – I believe STV once managed a panel of Celtic fans yet never extended Rangers fans the same courtesy. It was something to behold and some of the “experts” allowed airtime and column inches should have seen Editors fired, especially with hindsight. And on and on… The other clubs merrily voting to be part of their own Christmas dinner based upon a handful of their more vocal fans. TV companies, sponsors and fans deserting Scottish football. The curious case of the SFL and SPFL's panicked rush to merge should be a story on its own.

Bizarrely as Rangers fans were ordered to show contrition to help heal wounds they had caused, scabs continued to appear and be picked at. Internet forum accounts of directors. Penny shares. Family businesses. Bank representatives. Detestable shareholders. And the seemingly anything-goes world these people inhabit. Board members wreaking havoc and embarrassing everyone but themselves. Mike Ashley’s involvement. And with it, onerous contracts with tentacles reaching years into the future. Again, whom did these benefit? Neither party directly involved apparently.

Outside the Rangers circus and the world kept on turning. Focus on Rangers meant that other stories got scant mention or simply a free pass. The 2014 Commonwealth Games. Claims of State Aid against Lennoxtown. Other clubs’ extra-curricular tax affairs. Hearts’ CVA. The Penn State scandal and its Scottish parallels. None were given the gravity or wide-ranging debate of the Rangers story. Mention them now and you’re just a bigot!

For fans concerned primarily with football it’s initially unsettling to think that people were so driven to put that time and energy into RTC and the associated spin-offs that remain now. But then the rewards were huge. Rangers lost hundreds of millions of pounds. Not to mention the humble tax-payer – the supposed real victim – won’t receive anything like the sum they could have had if a more common sense approach was taken to negotiation ten years ago. Back on the pitch, we lost a full team of title winners, we lost the right to fight for at least four top flight titles and to compete in Europe. Of course, the converse is also true and one team has benefited from our plight. Each year we pay £40m to compete for the title but it’s easier to remove the competition, right?

The other SPL teams thought they could reap the rewards too but ultimately haven’t (and were never really going to) and Scottish football is poorer because of it. Yes, Aberdeen might have had a triumphant few years as vice-champions but Hearts, Hibs and Dundee Utd certainly don’t have their troubles to seek. Was a Scottish Cup worth it for some well-connected St Johnstone fans? In saying that, I have the feeling that those involved with RTC and behind the scenes would’ve done what they did for no reward, just to satiate their hatred of Rangers. Don’t believe me? There’s plenty of willing combatants still out there throwing mud at our club. Just remember to donate…

All the above is only the tip of the iceberg as far as I’m concerned. Volume after volume could be written on each aspect of the story, the characters involved and who is to blame. Myself? I’m fairly satisfied with the conclusion that pressure was applied in many places throughout the timeline to allow the chips to fall the way they did. Maybe there are simple explanations and maybe we caught some bad luck, but then again maybe not. We need to examine what we know and decide what this means if true? Because let’s be honest, no-one else is going to do it for us and others would rather we just forget it ever happened.

In conclusion, Rangers’ fans need to keep asking these questions. We may not like all the answers and sometimes the mirror doesn’t reflect well either but it’s our story, and we shouldn’t be afraid to tell it. We need and deserve the truth.

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