Last night, if you were watching the second part of the BBC’s documentary on the Scottish game you’ll have heard Alex McLeish make a somewhat stunning admission. There’s been nothing about it in the mainstream press, of course, who don’t seem to consider it worthy of further comment, but it’s one that has tipped the balance of debate over Lord Nimmo Smith, to hand us a very formidable weapon when the issue of title stripping arises again.
McLeish told the BBC that his successes would not have been possible without the club being able to pay players through the Employee Benefit Trusts.
This is hardly earth-shattering news; it’s common currency amongst the fans of Scottish football that what Rangers did was financial doping, but this is the first time a high profile beneficiary of that has said so since David Murray stated the obvious some years back and admitted the purpose was to buy players that “we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.”
Some people, myself included, believe Alex McLeish to have been the best Rangers manager of their last 20 years in existence. He won two league titles, three League Cups and two Scottish Cups in his time there and he did this whilst Celtic was managed by the great Martin O’Neill. Those are achievements which deserve to be taken seriously.
I’ve always liked McLeish. I never thought of him as a bad guy; certainly we never saw him become the sneering goon McCoist turned into, and he was not as arrogant and full of himself as his predecessor Advocaat. He wasn’t revered like the over-rated cynical fraud Smith and he didn’t bitch and moan, unlike Warburton. I thought he always handled himself with a certain dignity and class. He’s a guy I was glad to see the back of over there.
It’s no surprise to me to hear McLeish tell the truth about these things.
He was under-appreciated at that club, and made the scapegoat for failings elsewhere. It is typically modest of him now, looking back, to ascribe his successes to the underhanded and corrupt way the club was run. A lesser man would have looked the other way, and never invited those kind of questions.
I actually think he sells himself a little short, because whilst I agree with him when he says the club would not have won those titles without cheating (their winning margins, on both occasions, were staggering small; a single goal in 2002-03 and a single point in 2004-05) it’s clear he’d have run us closer than most, regardless.
It is an amazing admission for any number of reasons, but first and foremost amongst them is that it destroys, utterly, the central reason why titles weren’t stripped during the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry, which now stands as one of the most dishonest exercises in the history of sport. A no title stripping guarantee was given, in secret, to people at Ibrox as an ancillary to the disgraceful Five Way Agreement, and the scope of the inquiry itself was deliberately restricted so as to exclude the Wee Tax Case, with all the damaging connotations of that.
There are some of us who’ve long argued the LNS verdict should be set aside and the Court of Arbitration for Sport should get to give the final, irrevocable verdict on this matter. When the Big Tax Case reaches the Supreme Court, a lot of us will be watching it carefully.
At this moment in time, the verdict, as written, says Rangers won those titles by fraud.
If that’s upheld then McLeish’s comments last night drive a wrecking ball through the “official” version of those years, and the issue of removing those tainted titles from the record will, once again, be back up for discussion and debate.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to McLeish for bringing this issue front and centre in the way he’s done it. I would have hoped some in the media would acknowledge the same, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for them.