This was not a vintage week for many in the Scottish media; indeed, looking back on it in years to come, there should be an element of shame to it. The press exists to educate and inform. It does not exist to disseminate PR and spin. Yet that has become its function.
The story which broke in The Times this week was a case of spin over substance if ever I’ve seen one. It is still generating heat over on the Sevco forums, in spite of being wholly discredited. This is to be expected. There are so few brain cells rattling around on most of their fan sites that, collectively, they couldn’t power a hamster’s wheel to turn. The blame doesn’t lie with the gormless fools who bought into this nonsense, it lies with the people who published it.
It’s also the fault of the media outlets which ran shrieking into the daylight with this story, claiming that it fully vindicated Rangers. There are more of them than, in future, they will admit to. So many of them wanted this to be true that they couldn’t wait to get it into print. It’s spectacular, and rapid, unravelling has forced many onto the back foot. They can deflect all they want. It would have taken no time at all to check the facts. They didn’t bother.
Other outlets were more circumspect. They actually went out and asked experts for their view, and those experts were almost unanimous in blowing the story to smithereens. The Sun’s writer tried hard to get the expert they spoke to on the record confirming some of the story, but he stuck to his guns admirably and dismissed all of it as fantasy land stuff.
Before long, most of the outlets which had initially trumpeted this tale, which had Rangers as the innocent party unfairly maligned by the taxman, were changing their tune. But the shame is theirs for ever trying to push such a demented narrative in the first place.
Rangers, the victims? In what parallel universe is that even remotely true? Even if the taxman had screwed up his initial estimate – monumentally screwed it up – the facts of what that club was up to do not change one bit.
They put tens of millions of pounds into the EBT scheme over the years … that’s a fact which no-one disputes. They did it so as to gain a football advantage. They hid documentation. They lied when challenged about this. Their behaviour was corrupt. It was fraudulent. The raw numbers are not the issue here and they never were … that club was cheating both the football authorities and the taxpayer. The idea that they were victims is offensive.
HMRC’s intervention surprised the Hell out of a lot of the press corps; they held it as an article of faith that they could get away with this nonsense because the tax man rarely comments on individual cases. But when large swathes of the media are misconstruing events – some of them very deliberately – and casting their organisation in a negative light, of course they were going to respond to set the record straight, and only absolute mugs would have thought otherwise.
Their public slap-down of the story has pretty much killed it off. But there will still be a lot of hysteria surrounding it, with people like McCoist making noise in the newspapers about how the taxman has murdered a Scottish institution, which to me is strange language when you consider that these folk have spent such a long time telling us the club isn’t actually dead.
There has been no “miscalculation” on the part of the Hector’s organisation. These people aren’t in the least bit interested in the over-emotional wailing and whining from Scotland. They deal in cold hard numbers and the risk-reward analysis of this situation was as straightforward as any they will ever do. There was no profit to arguing the points BDO made regarding the bill and the penalties; the taxpayer will not see a penny either way, and to have spent more chasing this down would have been counter to what the Revenue sees as its role.
They didn’t make a “mistake” of any sort; they simply chose not to enter into legal proceedings which would have cost time and money to no benefit at all. If you or I were in a similar position, we would make exactly the same decision. This should not be complicated for even the dumbest patron of the Ibrox crowd. But daft ideas grow like weeds over there.
As a consequence, some are finding this difficult to accept. Their paranoia and hate was stoked by this news and once off and running it is impossible to call some of these Peepul back to the land of the rational and sane, land they aren’t terribly familiar with anyway.
Take our old friend, Chris Graham, who is as howling at the moon over this as he ever was, claiming this was not a mistake but part of an agenda. These people live in perpetual terror of the Unseen Fenian Hand, crediting our club with the ability to move governments and agencies at will. That this is clearly foam-spitting lunacy hardly needs pointing out to rational people; if we were half as dangerous as they think they’d have no club to follow right now.
As I’ve said, I don’t mind them their fantasies and drifts into irrationality. If they want to buy beanstalk beans from any peddler who passes their way that’s up to them. But the media should not be in on the act. The media should be a voice of reason. Instead, many in the press corps ran with it and went hog-wild trying to present it as proof of the Grand Conspiracy.
We should not be terribly surprised. This is the media that has, for years, denied that which we all know; that Rangers died in 2012 and that the club currently playing out of Ibrox has a history that stretches back a mere seven years. The toxic lie they deny this reality with – the Survival Lie – is second only to the original Victim Lie; Scottish football could not afford to have another of their dangerous myths foisted onto it. It was important this story be killed.
There are places, of course, like the mad-hatter’s galleries of the Ibrox fan forums, where this will never really die, of course. In those places it will fester like something stinking left in a corner to rot. It has already entered the folklore, creating with it another stab-in-the-back dark fantasy to go with all the others.
Even HMRC’s statement is viewed with the suspicion of the paranoid; “If they don’t comment on individual cases, why are they doing it here?” You try not to dwell on it. If you produced the evidence that HRMC has, in fact, commented on individual cases dozens, if not hundreds, of times they would find a way to twist this in their minds.
They believe only what they want to, and truth and facts and rationality be damned. It sooths them to imagine a world where none of this had happened, where the disaster that struck them in 2012 never took place. They believe our club would be languishing in their shadows right now … but this is the biggest denial of reality of them all.
Their European knock-out that year proved how vulnerable they were. The bank which had financed them had been taken over by a less tolerant one, and part of the takeover conditions they imposed on Murray were that they would get the last of the money they were due before rubber stamping any deal. Whyte bought them for a quid, but he took that debt on and getting Lloyds out of the picture was the reason he went to Ticketus.
Lloyds wanted out. They wanted no more to do with a spendthrift club which resisted all calls for fiscal sanity. It is telling that no high street bank has gone near Ibrox since.
Rangers was finished as a major force the second the bank was gone. That’s the reality. That’s what none of their fans has ever been willing to face. The club they supported, and which they regarded as a superpower, was built on debt. It was never a sustainable operation. Their “success” was all built on sand. It was destined to come tumbling down.
Even if administration had never come, their future was living in our shadow. They’d have had to start cutting in the summer of the following year, and those cuts would have been extreme and lasting. Their ability to challenge us would have been seriously impaired at best, if not outright routed.
Their fans want to believe that the Unseen Hand did it, or HRMC did it, or Lloyds did it or Scottish football did it; the truth is, their club was on the brink since at least 2008 and the banking crisis, when Murray’s backers were no longer able, or willing, to fund the madness. I know this because I wrote my first article on their coming downfall – The End Of Rangers? – in 2009. Phil had been writing about it before that. Paul Brennan at CQN frequently blogged on the same subject. If you were clear-headed and looked at the landscape you could see it coming.
None of us knew, then, about EBT’s. All we knew is that Murray had been over indulged by the bank and that the bank was no longer in a position to prop him up. His empire was crumbling and it was obvious that any further spending at Ibrox would entail enormous risks. The appetite for such risks was no longer to be found on the Square Mile.
It is not difficult to see the same fate befalling Sevco.
Their club is built on exactly the same unstable foundations. They are not long for this world unless those in charge put the brakes on quick. One year without European Group Stage football will be catastrophic. Administration would be a certainty. There are no guarantees that they’d emerge from it; indeed, I reckon the odds are probably against it, faced, as they are, with Ashley’s demands and other issues.
This has been a dismal week for those of us who want to see integrity in Scottish journalism, and yet it has not been without hope. This story was fed to a newspaper for a reason, and far from providing the distraction someone had hoped, it has everyone asking the same question; “why now?” What is in the air over there that they would promote this?
Everyone’s now waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everyone’s waiting for the hard rain to start to fall. We know something big lies behind this story … it’s a matter of being patient now as the dominos start to tumble.
All eyes on the big picture, folks. All eyes on Ibrox for the next chapter in the Banter Years.
As Warren Zevon once wrote, “Just when I thought it was safe to be bored … trouble waiting to happen.”
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