Yesterday’s news, that Celtic is still pressing ahead with calls for an inquiry into what went on in the crazy years 2011-2012 and beyond, has sparked predictable fury amongst the Sevco supporters. In some ways I understand it; many of them have been lied to, consistently, for years by everyone from the media to their own so-called fan reps.
And because of those lies they believe they are surrounded by enemies.
Look, their club fell into financial peril because it overspent. The 2008 financial crash had negative impacts all across the world. Businesses great and small fell before it. It wiped away titans of finance. It was always going to hurt, but their club was in uniquely perilous circumstances because David Murray had funded them, for years, on bank debt and when that was no longer enough he put in place the Employee Benefit Trusts.
Failures of governance at Ibrox put that club in a position where it was vulnerable to the slightest dip in the wind.
Their peril was such that they were ripe for a man like Whyte to come along. David Murray (I will never call him sir, in my view that man is a crook and deserves to be stripped of his knighthood every bit as much as Fred Goodwin was) was responsible for that, and for selling the club to such a man in the first place but the Category Five hurricane which slammed into Ibrox in 2011 was not down to David Murray alone.
If the supporters of the club that was Rangers want to know the truth about what happened next, and if they want, at last, to see some measure of justice done for it then Celtic’s call for an inquiry is something they should welcome, and something they should support.
I have never been shy about stating my view that the club that has been worst served by the laxity and corrupt practices at Hampden was not Celtic nor Aberdeen nor Hearts, Hibs or any other … it was the Ibrox club itself.
The SFA allowed a man like Whyte into the game, despite a mountain of evidence as to who and what he was.
I collected some of that evidence. Myself and others put it in the public domain. Rangers fans, and the governing bodies, were warned from the moment Whyte appeared on the scene, from before he even had the keys in his hands. And it wasn’t difficult to do.
The first thing Rangers fans “knew” about Whyte was that he was a billionaire. I was able to disprove that within hours of hearing it claimed, and I put that information online. Every year, The Sunday Times produces The Rich List; it is an overview of where the wealth in Britain is. They go through public records, tax returns, corporate charters, publications … it is well researched, extensive and detailed. Being on the Rich List is, of course, something that’s sought after. Even gangsters, who are normally cagey about how much cash they have sloshing around, want to be on it. It’s like a league table for money. No-one ever asks not to be included.
In 2011, The Rich List was extended so it no longer covered those with what we might call “liquid wealth”; I’m talking money of £100 million or more. In fact, that year The Rich List went down to bog-standard millionaires (I use that term ironically, of course), with those at the bottom in the £20 million bracket. That’s how extensive it was.
And of course, Craig Thomas Whyte was nowhere on the list.
I continued to dig. Because I thought he must surely have that kind of money; no-one would buy a football club the size of Rangers if their net worth was a mere one third of the annual salary requirements. It would be insane.
But the deeper I dug the less sense it all made.
Because Whyte’s name did appear on a Rich List search, but from years before when he made The Scottish Rich List in the early period of his career, when he was just making his name; net worth at the time, around that £20 million mark.
Even a cursory internet search would have demonstrated, clearly, as it did for myself and others, that the years in between had been bumpy. Details of at least two failed businesses were available in news reports which charted his fall.
A search of Companies House records showed there were more … many, many, many, many more. And something else; there was more than one Craig Whyte.
(I won’t even get into that in this piece, it would take forever. But amongst the stories you never got to read in the MSM were tales of his days as a gold trader investigated by the FBI, the way he and his father seemed to have interchangeable names on business documents, his numerous shady friends above and beyond those named in recent years … a lot more.)
Online researchers visited the office in Glasgow from which he was launching his “takeover bid”, which at that time was alleged to be worth some £56 million; it was an empty room save for dusty file cabinets and the grilles on the windows. His British Virgin Islands “headquarters” was photographed by a globetrotting Bampot; that picture was so widely shared, and derided, I was amazed that it took the media many months to publish it. It was a portacabin, in a field, surrounded by cows.
You could not make this stuff up.
We were later to find that an internal investigation at Ibrox had uncovered all of this and more; that information did not scupper the deal. Murray let it go through, and I still remember the exact moment when I heard that the final purchase price was £1.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as giddy as I did then because the writing was on the wall.
And all of this was publicly available information; nobody in the blogosphere who found something on this guy kept that information to themselves. Everyone posted what they had, to allow the rest to sift through it and build a complete picture.
Most of the Twitterati – and kudos to The CelticResearch guys especially – knew the measure of the man who had bought Rangers and what was going to happen from at least the point of his takeover and for many months before.
The SFA claims to have done due diligence. I would argue with that. I would strongly argue with that. They could have found it all out by reading one website; The Rangers Tax Case blog, whose interest in Whyte started early, and whose host, and readers, never let up.
That blog would later go on to win the prestigious Orwell Prize.
Following McCoist’s floundering in Europe, with the club knocked out of the Champions League and the Europa League in quick succession, they were on the downslope to administration at the very least. Whyte didn’t have the external finance to fund massive losses, which were inevitable from that point on. That’s when he personally went to the governing bodies and laid it all out for them; the club was in financial danger … and he had plans for that.
The simple truth is that the plan to liquidate the club was hatched at a meeting between Scottish football’s administrators and Craig Thomas Whyte in October 2011. After that point, the SFA and the SPL knew exactly what Whyte was up to and where he was taking the club. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. Not only did they not stand in his way, they helped him to do it. They gave him the go-ahead and promised him the “political cover.”
At that meeting, he told Neil Doncaster and Ralph Topping that Rangers had run out of money and that administration was coming. Furthermore, he told them that it was “highly unlikely” that the club would be able to exit administration via a CVA.
The SFA, in the person of Stewart Regan, knew all this shortly thereafter, if he wasn’t in the loop from the start.
Do you remember the month of February 2012? How can you not? How many times did you hear Doncaster or Regan tell the media that they were “confident” that Rangers would get a favourable outcome, that their creditors, including the tax man, would be satisfied with pennies in the pound, and that the process would go smoothly?
Lies, all of it. Not mistaken information; lies.
All the while the Bampots were pointing out that HRMC’s policy – their non-negotiable policy – is to reject any CVA offer in cases where they alleged deliberate with-holding of monies that they were due; that applied to Rangers in spades.
The SFA and the SPL knew there would be no CVA. They understood the law. They had also heard it, months before, from Craig Whyte himself, and they had been planning for that outcome – the club being put into liquidation – from at least November 2011.
It is my considered opinion, based on information both in the public domain and which I have seen in private, that this was the reason the “four Old Firm games” clause wound up in the TV contract. They intended to use that to blackmail clubs into allowing a Rangers NewCo into the SPL.
I cannot accentuate this point enough; they knew the club would be liquidated.
They planned for what they would do next. They manipulated opinion, lied to chairmen, placed landmines all around their own commercial contracts, misled the media and withheld crucial information from the fans, at a time when they were still spending money following their team.
The governing bodies convinced themselves that it would work out, that the ends justified the means, that Rangers was “too big to fail” and that this kind of drastic action was necessary to keep a club of that name playing in the top flight.
They paid no heed to the trauma it would inflict on the game, and on the club’s supporters. They didn’t care about the enormous damage it would do to the integrity of the sport. They made a calculation that was all about money, and nothing else mattered.
They convinced themselves that they could let Rangers die, allow a phoenix club to be born and shoehorn it into the top flight. It required the wholescale breaking of their own rules, it required keeping their own clubs in the dark as to the full extent of what they were doing, and it required the telling of lie upon lie upon lie upon lie and this is why both associations are playing pass-the-parcel on the issue of an inquiry, and why neither wants one to happen.
Because their own venality will be uncovered by it.
This has nothing to do with “moving on.” It has nothing to do with wiping the slate clean. It is a cover-up. It is an attempt to keep the dark heart of this affair from full public exposure. It is another lie, on top of the mountain of lies.
Theirs was the most colossal failure of governance imaginable, and in terms of how corrupt it was I believe it was easily the greatest act of wilful destruction, and subsequent cover-up, in the history of sport on this island and possibly beyond.
No club suffered more from the venality at Hampden than Rangers; the SFA and the SPL helped kill the club and I don’t mean by inaction, or a simple misunderstanding of events. They helped Craig Whyte. They sharpened the knife and they knew exactly what he intended to do with it.
I consider them full and willing accomplices in the act.
I cannot put it more plainly than that.
The irony here is that it is Celtic, the club Rangers fans believe benefited most from these events that is pushing the hardest to uncover the truth behind them. Our reasons are selfish and have nothing to do with wanting titles stripped; we don’t get those titles, we don’t want those titles, either way. Strike them from the record, remove them from Rangers’ history, but do not give them to us. We have no desire to claim them.
But those events cost Scottish football clubs, Celtic included, money in lost revenues, sponsorship deals, investment … and the credibility of our sport was massively damaged by them. Celtic has never believed the governing bodies played it straight. Celtic has always believed that Whyte should have been stopped in his tracks by officialdom long before the hammer fell in February 2012. We knew, as other clubs did, the manner of man he was.
This was not just a failure of governance of epic proportions, it was a crime.
It is this, not the EBT years, which stands tall at the greatest scandal in the history of Scottish sport.
I understand the reluctance Rangers fans have about opening all this up again, because they do believe that an inquiry might find they cheated by using EBT’s; if this were my club, I would view those titles as forever questionable anyway – they will be questioned forever more, no matter what happens here – and I would look to the bigger picture, and it’s clear what that is.
When Alastair Johnston says Rangers were “murdered” he was right in so much as that what happened there was not an accident but a deliberate act.
Craig Whyte was part of it, but he did not – he could not – do it alone.
The co-conspirators can still be found at Hampden.
Rangers fans can take Celtic’s letters at face value – that we’re interested in good governance rather than revenge – or believe this is all about them as they like; but the incontrovertible truth here is that only an inquiry, a full and open, unprejudiced one, that can go wherever it needs to, will get to the bottom of what actually happened, and if they care about their club, the one that died, as well as the one they support today, this is the only way they will ever get to know.
In case they haven’t twigged yet, no-one else is interested in finding out who knew what, and when. No-one else wants to know what actually transpired throughout the course of season 2011-12, the season their club effectively died, and in the immediate aftermath.
Only this inquiry will bring those fans closure and some measure of the justice they want, and get them the answers that they unarguably deserve.
Not only should they support the idea, they should be demanding it.