Articles

For Rangers To Have A Good Time … Well, Scottish Society Finally Knows What It Cost Us.

|
Image for For Rangers To Have A Good Time … Well, Scottish Society Finally Knows What It Cost Us.

This week was the anniversary of the administration of Rangers, and it was a strange one. It was a strange one because the media did nothing major on it. There were no retrospectives, there was no detailed study, there was no examination on the full scope of this issue.

I’ve been meaning to do podcasting on this site for a while, and it’s only in the last couple of months that I’ve started to take the idea seriously. I’m not 100% of the way there yet, I’m still in experimental mode, but I thought that this would be a good subject on which to start.

So instead of simply published the text of the piece – and I will publish, for those who prefer to read it – a version of the text, what I wanted to do in addition to that was post an audio version, as my first foray into the podcasting world. If you listen and read you’ll notice some differences, but nothing too dramatic. There are no new facts in the audio version than there in the written words, just a few different ways of phrasing it … but this an experiment which I hopes leads to a success.

I’m going to leave it up to you guys and others to give a verdict on what’s contained herein.

For the moment, please, listen or read, share and enjoy.

“No, no, that’s what you paid for it. 500 pounds is what you paid for it. We don’t know how much it cost us yet. For you two to have a good time, we don’t know the cost of that yet.”

Those words were originally spoken by Christopher Ecclestone’s David Stephens, one of the three central characters of Shallow Grave. It seems fitting to open an article on this subject with a quote from Shallow Grave, because a shallow grave is what we’re peering into here.

And it is even more fitting that we talk about the difference between what someone paid to have a good time, and what something cost … as we stand over the shallow grave of Rangers those things are never more clearly brought home.

Earlier this week, we had the anniversary of the death of Rangers.

You may have missed it because it wasn’t in any of the papers.

Instead, the back pages of those same papers were filled up with stories about who “Rangers” are trying to sign next.

That’s a neat trick that, from beyond the grave.

Sevco is certainly busy trying to bring players in … but that’s not the same thing, and nobody should act as if it is.

A couple of years back I finished an article with a few lines about Scottish football’s weird incestuous culture, and Scottish football’s weird unspoken truths.

These are the lines that I finished that article with;

“Scottish football is like a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else intimately. And so the wife beaters sit and drink with the preachers .. and the fraudsters sit down with the bank managers, and the guy who murdered his former wife sits and sups beer with the school mistress, and the barman keeps on pouring for the not-yet-acknowledged alcoholics and tells them they earned a drink after a long hard day, and the so wheel keeps on turning because although everybody knows nobody ever says it outright and although nothing is a secret everyone acts as though there are no secrets to tell. It’s a town where the word community means that everyone lives in blissful ignorance, although nobody is ignorant of anything.” 

You will never get a better example of that than the story which isn’t in the papers over the last seven days. Oh plenty of Celtic sites – such as Celtic365, Born Celtic, VideoCelts and others have written it. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain has written it, a journalist working in a foreign land who always seems to be one step ahead of the media here at home. A handful of people have highlighted it to great effect on social media.

But where are the mainstream stories? Where are the retrospectives?

This is the biggest scandal in Scottish sporting history. The biggest by far.

A story like this, in a week like the one we’ve just had, a week where nothing else was going on and where media outlets were scraping the bottom of the barrel just to fill copy, it should have been picked apart in every detail by journalists pleased to have something real to do.

And that hasn’t happened at all. Where is the full and frank examination of all the facts in the public domain?

Where is the searing expose of how we got here, whose fault it was, who allowed it to happen on their watch?

And where are the stories setting out the path not taken on reform, to make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again?

On 7 June, the liquidators at BDO published their final report on the full scale of the Rangers tax dodging scandal, you know the one that resulted in “no sporting advantage.” The figure is eye-watering, and as shocking as that figure is, it’s not close to the full measure of what that club deprived the tax payer of … and what it continues to deprive us of.

We’ll get to that in a minute or two.

We are twelve years on from the administration and liquidation of Rangers. Earlier in the week was the anniversary of the formal rejection of their proposed CVA. On the day it happened national newspapers carried stories about how Rangers had died.

The Herald’s front page is still highlighted today by those of us who want to remind people of what they said at the time. Nothing that happened between then and now changed a single objective fact; the death of Rangers is what they reported, because that’s exactly what took place.

What did happen afterwards will one day be regarded as the shabby, two-bob stunt.

The SFA and the SPL got together with Charles Green, who had snapped up the assets, and together they came up with a form of words, and a convenient fiction, and they agreed to tell the same lies, in order to satisfy the Peepul.

We know this was the general thinking, because in the aftermath of the SPL vote to reject the NewCo being given entry to the top flight Stewart Regan of the SFA said this;

“Without Rangers there is social unrest – there is a big problem for Scottish society. I think if you look at the huge fan base Rangers have in this country, to contemplate a situation where those fans don’t have a team to support … I just think that could lead to all sorts of issues and all sorts of problems … people follow their club with pride. It’s passed down from generation to generation and there are thousands of Rangers fans whose fathers have been Rangers fans and whose grandfathers have been Rangers fans. You can’t contemplate a situation without that and if Rangers weren’t to exist, I think that could have real dire consequences.”

It’s almost Trumpian, isn’t it?

The head of Scottish football’s governing body basically telling you straight that some clubs are too big to fail.

Yet the facts don’t change just because a shady group of bullshit artists decided to push a crowd-pleasing fiction, whether to avoid “social unrest” or not. That club did fail. That club did die. Rangers weren’t saved. They went under. They’re dead and gone.

Still the fiction was birthed, the one we call The Survival Lie.

But when you examine the Survival Lie it is immediately apparent that it has more holes than Swiss Cheese.

It’s almost hilariously slapdash, and would never have stood up to real scrutiny. The true scandal was the second lie, the one they constructed to prop up the first, to cover those holes and to paper over the glaring contradictions; we call this the Victim Lie.

It is the Victim Lie, not the Survival Lie, where you see the truly damaging re-writing of history.

Its central claim is that the Ibrox club were not the guilty party, but the put upon ones.

It says that Scottish football acted out of all proportion, and with sectarian viciousness. This says that clubs voted to “relegate” the still-existing Rangers to the lowest tier, although no provision for doing so existed and no such vote took place.

This is much more insidious and vastly more dangerous than the Survival Lie on its own would have been. The Survival Lie would have stood the test of time as an obvious fiction which most parties went along with out of expediency. We would have treated it like a joke.

The Victim Lie toxified the atmosphere. It morphed the disbelief and shock of the Ibrox supporters as to what had happened to Rangers into hatred and paranoia, and right from the start some of us realised that it was manifestly dangerous and said so. Had these lies stayed on the Ibrox forums that would have been one thing, but Charles Green birthed that lie on the pitch before Sevco’s first game, and some in the media irresponsibly pushed it.

So much that is wrong in Scottish football right now can be traced to that afternoon, when Charles Green blamed bigotry and sectarianism for the fate of Rangers. What makes it especially nauseating is that their claim of victimhood flies in the face of every available fact.

They spent an estimated £100 million during the EBT years, to win a handful of trophies.

To go back to the quote I started with, that’s what they paid for those players.

We know what that cost them, and the thing of it is, had they just spent Murray’s money or pissed away what they got from mug investors like Lewis and King, and crashed because they had set themselves up with an unsustainable business model that would be entirely their own affair.

But that’s not how it went at all.

The BDO report lays out the scale of their unpaid commitments to HMRC. The final figure is in excess of £50 million. For them to have a good time, for them to have their parties and supremacist strutting, that’s what it cost us, all of us. But that’s only scratching the surface. The scandal of the malicious prosecutions bled the taxpayer another £50 million … so the tab continues to grow, and we don’t yet know what the final bill will be.

But that’s at least the equal of that £100 million they spent on players.

In 1988, David Murray bought Rangers.

But David Murray didn’t buy Rangers with his own money any more than he later went on to spend that £100 million from his own pocket. David Murray went to the Bank of Scotland and he borrowed the estimated £6 million with which he completed that purchase.

It was the start of a long, and disastrous, relationship.

It was the bank who paid for the “Souness revolution.” It was the bank who helped Murray build his business empire, in an era when cheap loans were available to anyone, but where if you had friends in the right places – at the top of HBOS for example – it was like having your own magic money tree in the back garden.

Those of us who grew up in that shadow should take a special satisfaction from knowing what we know now … but there are good reasons I find that very hard to do, and Lord Nimmo Smith and his shameful verdict is only one of them.

Murray knew what he was doing was risky. Gordon Brown was in the Treasury at the time, and his mantra was “no return to boom and bust”, a frank admission that the adage about seven fat years and seven lean years is right on the nose.

There have always been boom times, and they are always followed by the crash. Always.

Murray’s first problem was that he was a risk taker. He famously said, in 2004, that “if you don’t buy a ticket, you can never win a prize, and what far too many people do is go through life never taking chances.” His second problem is that he’s such an egotist that he acts as if those risks were being taken with his own cash … but he was gambling with someone else’s.

At the time he arrogantly spoke those words, during a now notorious TV interview, Rangers owed the bank £70 million, and the iceberg was just on the horizon.

To understand what happened, you need to look at what the situation was in the US going into 2006, and the unprecedented shockwaves which were about to level the housing market. As detailed in Michael Lewis’ incredible book The Big Short, the replacement of the Glass-Steagall Act by the Gramm-Leach-Billey Act – which was actually signed into law by Bill Clinton, something his avid followers never want to talk about –allowed commercial banks to operate as investment banks even as they were responsible for depositors cash.

A lot of those banks had invested heavily in the sub-prime mortgage market.

When that market collapsed, an interlocking series of bad decisions and outright corrupt ones left massive financial institutions exposed to enormous levels of debt.

The 2007 subprime mortgage crisis led directly to the 2008 banking crisis, and as stupid as the Americans had been, that so many banks here in the UK had gotten in on the act was even more ridiculous.

HBOS had its own set of problems, problems unique to them.

Their too-cosy relationships with a small number of favoured clients – of whom David Murray was just one – had already exposed them to major liquidity issues and although they flatly denied they were in any danger, and were refusing to accept a government-style bailout with all the attached strings, they were perfectly happy to let Gordon Brown himself, by then the Prime Minister, broker a deal allowing Lloyds to take them over. The details of that little arrangement are murky at best … but that takeover was allowed to sail past the regulators even though it technically broke UK competition laws.

From the moment Lloyds got their hands on the asset book, and toted those up and weighed them against HBOS liabilities – finding to their immense horror that they bought a toxic company, drowning in debt – the writing was on the wall for Murray and a good many others. One of the direct consequences of that was that his companies were placed under the direct control of the bank’s personal point men, and one of them, Donald Muir, was put on the Ibrox board.

Rangers were told to start unwinding their position. Murray, who had famously already transferred over £50 million of debts from Rangers to one of his other companies – a controversial move, which HBOS had permitted – had finally run out of road.

The debts at Rangers had climbed again – some say they stood, then, at £30 million or higher – and Lloyds made it clear that they would not be allowed to rise much further, and Muir was there to make sure they didn’t. Even then, he found it difficult to impose sanity on a club which was far too used to spending, even if it couldn’t afford to.

It was Lloyds who forced through the Craig Whyte takeover, and they did so because the first thing he promised to do was immediate clear their debt and let the bank go one way and Rangers the other. He famously found the money by borrowing it from Ticketus.

It was that cash which paid off the bank, who forced Murray to hand over the deeds for £1.

But that’s not where the story ended, as we all know. We know the EBT bomb had dropped, we know that Whyte stopped paying the taxes he owed and we know what happened next … that’s how we got to that £50 million plus at the start.

What most people don’t factor in to their thinking here is what happened next at the bank.

The Lloyds takeover terms were announced on 18 September 2008, and whilst the deal was still being negotiated, it was provisionally approved so that the government could part nationalise the new bank by taking 40% of its shareholding, for a bailout worth £20 billion.

Put simply, Murray’s companies were swallowed up in that deal and those debts were virtually written off.

In short, because the money for bailout came from the public purse, we paid for that too; a minimum of £50 million over and above their £100 million in tax debts and settlements in the malicious prosecution cases … and it’s probably even higher than that.

This is why I can’t take complete satisfaction from the crash of Rangers, and what having a good time cost them, because ultimately virtually all that money came from our pockets in the end. Every player they bought, every dodgy title they won … in one way or another, it all came from cash that belonged to you and me, as tax payers.

What other sporting scandal on this island has ever cost its citizens £150 million and more?

When you say it out loud it is staggering that no-one ever went to jail for it.

Oh, there were inquiries galore, and that’s where the names of Peter Cummings, Ian Robertson and Gavin Masterton came to the fore, the latter being the famous former chairman at Dunfermline who was a senior officer at the Bank of Scotland during its crazy years. He, in fact, is tied to the financial calamities of at least three football clubs in Scotland – Dunfermline, Rangers and Livingston.

But in terms of actual punishments? Very few and far between.

Cummings was banned by the FSA and during Operation Hornet, the Met’s investigation into the bank and allegations of money laundering, sweetheart deals and other forms of corruption, a group of executives in Reading went to prison … but for the mess up in Scotland, not one person ever did … but when you consider that the police and senior members of the CPS here allowed the prosecutions of Green and Whyte and Greer and others to proceed although the evidence was shaky at best, and which has led to that £50 million in compensation to those who stood trial, you do wonder just how deep the roots of all this go.

And perhaps, folks, perhaps that’s why that in the week of the anniversary of the death of Rangers, and as BDO published their long-awaited update, confirming the terms of their settlements and setting forth the final toll, that not one single Scottish newspaper has taken the time or made the effort to lay it all out there in detail.

When I started writing this piece, I wanted to open it, initially, with a poem, one that regulars here will be familiar with; the one by Wallace Stevens, the one about death. The second to last line in the first stanza of the poem is one of the strangest; let be be the finale of seem.

For many years I puzzled as to what that meant. I think I understand it at last; it means let your eyes feed your brain, see what it is, accept what it is with no delusions, no illusions and most of all no lies. The dead are dead. Accept it … and get on with life.

The Ibrox fans have never been able to do it, and one of the reasons why they’ve never been able to do it is that the light is never cast on what happened, and instead the delusions and lies have been allowed to persist.

Of course there was no anniversary retrospective; the media pretends that the dead club still walks the earth.

It’s why we call them zombies.

And so, it falls on us to do the dirty work, to cast that light and look upon what it is and to tell it like it is.

As Wallace Stevens closes that poem as the party goes on around the woman draped in the sheet, so let me close this first podcast, with a message to all my colleagues in Celtic cyberspace; don’t stop shining that light on what is, because this stuff matters.

As Wallace Stevens put it so succinctly;

Let the lamp affix its beam.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Share this article

0 comments

  • M Mc says:

    The Bunnet!!!!

  • Gerry says:

    Firstly, well done on another excellent article James.

    Hopefully the podcast can really take off, as it’s another way of receiving your very insightful information.

    As some have already commented, the scale of this scandal is monumental, and is another national shame. It does make all our bloods boil!
    Unfortunately those that chased greed and success ( Mr Murray et al,) with the assistance of acquiescent bankers, and ultimately with our money ( taxpayer,) have never been brought to justice.

    How or why, will we ever know? Someone mentioned about the menacing tentacles of The Brotherhood. Let none of us be under any illusions that there will some credence in that. The truth is out there, but our compliant, Sevco fawning Smsm will never touch it.

    Shame on all of them.

    If you read this story as a neutral, you’d be filing this story under fiction and fairytales.

    Unfortunately it wasn’t, and huge credit to yourself , James and your cohorts in the blogging world, for keeping this factual and very much alive!!!

  • Fj says:

    Hi James.. new to your site..enjoyed the podcast..hope it takes off for you..for celtic fans like me..I’m in my 50’s..I still carry the scars of the Murray years..in addition to the financial costs you eloquently set out..the damage done to scottish football in general by the souness revolution and the influx of foreign players this brought to our game ..destroying the imputis to bring through home grown talent..at least in the top flight..I think that the whole scottish game carries the scars of his hubris

  • TicToc says:

    James, brilliantly involved and interesting read with the tax-payers true cost brilliantly exposed. Herein ‘lies’ a problem. TBH it’s not, generally, news to me, but good/essential to keep alive until finally the truth is accepted: Rangers FC died in 2012 THAT is truth.
    I have another (missed but crucial) point that is provable. TBH I struggle with the depth of this whole matter, but I WON’T give up nor in. They cheated, they lied, they (almost) got away with it, BUT, they DIED in 2012 and no Media, regardless of their bias, can ultimately refute this.
    Please, contact me, I have ‘tons’ of proof. Add all Tim sites to this agenda and push it successfully through together. No “I broke it” shit, WE joined, as Tims do, and stuffed you turkies, long before Xmas.

Comments are closed.