...Rangers fielded a vast number of improperly registered players in Scottish competitions from 2001/02 to 2011/12.
On Wednesday night BBC Scotland aired what could be a very significant documentary in the history of Scottish football. For some much of the content confirmed what they had suspected or believed for some time, for others it was confirmation of their fears and some, no doubt, will still choose not to believe the evidence that has now been brought forth into the unavoidably public domain.
For those of you not in the know, the hour length programme hosted by investigative journalist Mark Daly outlined the extent of the tax scam Rangers Football Club has been running for over a decade and the sporting regulations they have breached. The broadcast also explored various curious aspects of Craig Whyte’s takeover of Rangers from Sir David Murray.
It is common knowledge that Rangers are currently awaiting the outcome of a First Tier Tax Tribunal for their use of Employee Benefit Trusts which could see them hit with a bill of well in excess of £50m – a figure that would almost certainly push them inescapably close to liquidation – but let’s set aside the legal wrangles for now and focus on sporting integrity.
Evidence seen by the BBC suggests that 111 persons benefited from Rangers’ EBT scheme and, crucially, of these, 53 Rangers players and staff had side letters, or second contracts, promising them funds from the scheme, often as a significant proportion of their overall wages.
This is where Rangers fell foul of the rules of the Scottish Premier League, which state that any payments made to players for football or football associated activities must be declared. However, these side letters were kept hidden from the SPL meaning that any player issued with one was improperly registered and thus leaving Rangers liable to forfeit every game in which such a player took part.
This is serious, no doubt about it. The big question is when did the scheme first come into play and when did it end? The BBC has published names and figures for all the EBT beneficiaries (or all the ones it knows about anyway) and, while many of those benefitting were at the club prior to 2001, the Orwell Prize winning Rangers Tax Case blogger has revealed that the first player to have a second contract was Christian Nerlinger at the start of the 2001/02 season. The rest of the table, available on the BBC website, tells us that the most recent beneficiaries with side letters include the recently departed Sasa Papac and current captain Steven Davis.
So, seemingly, there is our answer: Rangers fielded a vast number of improperly registered players in Scottish competitions from 2001/02 to 2011/12.
It would seem at this juncture merely a matter of course that the club would have to be stripped of all titles won in that period, namely: 5 SPL titles, 4 Scottish Cups and 6 Scottish League Cups.
That, surely, should be the minimum censure we should expect to see exacted upon the Ibrox club who have cheated Scottish football, its clubs and its fans for more than a decade.
But should the punishment end there? Considering the extent of rule breaking and the period of time in question here, a fair minded observer would have to deduce that expulsion from the SPL could – nay, should – be a very real prospect for Rangers FC.
Ignoring the fact that the EBT payments to players were illegal tax swindles, these second contracts reveal over a decade of deception and deceit on the part of Rangers towards the SFA, SPL and all those associated with Scottish football. There has been a blatant disregard for rules and fair competition from those at Rangers and that should not be underplayed when it comes to deciding the club’s fate.
There has been a lot of debate recently over whether a potential Rangers newco, in the event of liquidation, should be immediately readmitted to the SPL but the debate now should be whether Rangers should be allowed to compete in the the SPL next season even if they win the tax case and do not have to form a newco.
Rangers and their sympathisers have been keen to stress how Scottish football “needs” them but why should they be afforded a shred of sympathy from those whom they showed no respect for in cheating them for so long?
Whichever way you look at it, Rangers’ position in the SPL has become untenable.
The SPL has no power to demote Rangers but, let’s face it, if an expelled Rangers applied for the vacant spot that would appear at the foot of the Scottish Football League, the SFL would hardly turn them down.
Starting anew from the Third Division would be fair penance for Rangers and a shot in the arm for the SFL, drawing much needed interest and money to the lower leagues, even if just for a brief while.
Here’s hoping that the SPL and SFA are seen by the world to do the right thing and show zero tolerance to flagrant rule breaking and cheating.
The gravity of what we are dealing with here must not be underestimated. Many eyes are on Scottish football right now and a wrong move from Neil Doncaster (SPL Chief Executive) or Stewart Regan (SFA Chief Executive) could see it shamed forever.