14 February ~ You know things are bad when the baseball metaphors start flying about. Since assuming ownership of Rangers in May of last year, Craig Whyte has continually reminded his growing band of critics that he was the only man willing to "step up to the plate" and buy a club dogged by existing and projected debts. Now he has filed his intention to appoint administrators, Rangers fans are worried their club is about to become Scottish football's Brooklyn Dodgers. The franchise is not about to leave town, but it is on the cusp of reverting to the minor leagues.
As with every other financial announcement from Ibrox over the last decade, the only thing made perfectly clear today is that Rangers are in dire straits. Whyte's statement sums up his nine-month tenure as chairman. It is characterised by obfuscation, fear tactics, nebulous reassurances and infantile digs at the previous board and owner.
The statement makes it plain the club will go into administration in ten days' time unless a financial miracle intervenes. Yet it places great emphasis on the notion that, until February 22, everything is just hunkydory on and off the pitch. Then it continues to tell every Rangers fan that administration is the best way for the club to proceed.
When Whyte attempted to rally the supporters on the steps of Ibrox on Monday night he was roundly abused by the concerned crowd on Edmiston Drive. Having bought the club on a ticket of saving it from financial meltdown, he is increasingly viewed as the man who has taken Rangers one step closer to oblivion. This is not entirely fair or accurate.
The massive tax bill hanging over the club is the legacy of the previous owner, Sir David Murray. It was widely reported if Rangers lose the tribunal the bill would be anything up to £49 million. Whyte admitted on Monday that it could be far larger. A bill of any such size would necessitate administration, purely in order for a club with so many other outstanding debts to have any chance of avoiding outright liquidation.
Whyte has done himself no PR favours. In January he was revealed to have mortgaged £24m worth of future season ticket sales, possibly to fund his takeover. He then sold top scorer Nikica Jelavic to Everton for a knock-down price, while making a bogus attempt to buy Norwich's Grant Holt. Signing out-of-contract Daniel Cousin just hours before announcing the move towards administration seemed like one final dodgy deal from a man who was struck off as a company director for seven years. The SFA are currently investigating whether he is a fit and proper person to run one of their clubs.
Whyte's wars with the BBC and the Daily Record have not helped Rangers' traditional image, however apocryphal, as the nation's "establishment" club. Administration could strengthen Whyte's position as owner as he is also one of the club's larger creditors. He is failing to win trophies - one of the many positives Murray kept supplying no matter the accounting anomalies.
The early move towards administration, which will incur a title-surrendering ten-point deduction, seems to be changing the game to one Whyte knows how to play. He is primarily aiming to circumvent the HM Revenue and Customs, who have been bleeding the club dry by delaying the final ruling of the tax tribunal.
When all is considered – history, trophies, media coverage, attendances – Rangers make up a third of Scottish football. This is probably an underestimate of the kind that put us in such trouble with the tax authorities. But Rangers fans expect and want no sympathy. We have won one third of the domestic trophies available in the last four seasons. We have won more league titles than any other club in the world. We had the party and now we have to deal with the hangover. The schadenfreude is deserved.
If Rangers cannot satisfy the HMRC, they will go bust. The club would reform, but they would lose a swathe of support. Not least because Rangers' identity is so entwined with the ridiculous amount of success they have enjoyed over the past 140 years. The Rangers community would be decimated by having those trophies removed from the records. At a time when Hearts are on the brink and both Hibs and Aberdeen are continually fighting relegation, Celtic will be left with no one to play and no TV deal.
A gridiron metaphor may be more appropriate when it comes to Rangers hopes of avoiding administration. Previous chairman, Alastair Johnston, has spoken about the "Monday morning quarterbacks" who slate him for allowing Whyte to take over. What Rangers need now is the long, desperate throw up the pitch which characterises the last-ditch attempt of an NFL side to recover a seemingly lost game.
We are blindly hoping Murray will protect his reputation with the fans by buying the club back this week. Hail Marys have never been so popular down Ibrox way. Alex Anderson