News reports today about the final toll which HMRC has calculated up in the Rangers Tax Case cast a dark light on the club which once played at Ibrox. But they cast a dark light on our own club too by reminding people once again of the sheer scale of that scandal.
The scope of it still takes your breath away a bit. Tens of millions of pounds – £50 million in total – stolen from the public purse by the first Ibrox operation, and funnelled into the team to help it win games. Had that been all, it would still have been an outrage.
But of course, it wasn’t all. In order to pull it off they had to “paper” their fraud, because most agents and players won’t accept verbal promises or deals done on a handshake. And so a lot of them insisted on written deals, and those written deals were concealed from the SFA. Which made the player contracts invalid. Which made the players ineligible for games.
The rulebook is crystal clear on this. The SFA’s defence, offered later at the Nimmo Smith Inquiry, by Sandy Bryson, was that because no-one knew of the existence of those deals that the players were okay to play. It’s like saying if no-one knew a crime was being committed then it really wasn’t a crime to begin with. The SFA covered its own backside.
They should never have been allowed to though. The case for title stripping was clear-cut and if the SFA was not willing to do it then Celtic should have taken the case to the Court Of Arbitration For Sport and left the matter in their capable hands.
None of us wanted tainted titles, but that should not have been our decision to make or not. CAS should have had the ultimate duty on that front, since the SFA was not prepared to. There can be little doubt that a case taken to them would have delivered the justice that we did not get here at home in Scotland. But who denied us that?
It is easy to blame the SFA itself but we could – and should – have taken it out of their hands. The trouble was, a bad deal had been done, a deal we all call The Five Way Agreement and one of its provisions, enclosed in a sub-document which has since been published online but was never meant to see the light of day, was that there would be no title stripping.
The Five Way Agreement was supposed to bind the Ibrox NewCo to the sins of the OldCo; unfair, and scandalous, but it was the price of their ticket into the league, even though it was at the bottom.
But Ibrox called the SFA’s bluff and refused to accept certain provisions of the deal, the stripping of titles amongst them. (It’s not widely known, but the first draft of the Five Way Agreement was going to strip titles, and Green almost signed it. He was convinced not to, and then used the delay in signing the deal to force the SFA to strip elements out.)
What happened in the end was that Lord Nimmo Smith was established to put a public seal on a grubby deal already done in private, and this went unchallenged by Celtic. Why? Well the answer to that is one we’ll never, ever know.
The person to ask is Peter Lawwell, if you ever get the chance. Non-executive chairman at Celtic Park, the man who told the shareholders he never even saw that document, in spite of it being the one on which this enormous issue pivoted.
If he didn’t see it he was scandalously negligent. If he did then that only makes him a liar, but a liar to the Celtic shareholders at an AGM.
And so justice was denied us. For now.