Rangers are more worried about losing their previous titles than winning this season's SPL, writes Alex Anderson
First Minister Alex Salmond spoke to Sir David Frost on Al Jazeera on the need to keep Rangers going. While visiting Scotland, prime minister David Cameron made a painfully opportunistic plea that the club should not disappear. By the time Sir Alex of Govan demanded the club be saved, the sponsors pledged their continued support and the next fixture became a 50,000 Ibrox sell-out, it was difficult to imagine why Rangers had lurched into administration at all.
The possibility had been mooted for over a year. The case for unpaid taxes brought against the club by HM Revenue and Customs could result in a £49 million bill for the club when the final judgement is delivered in April. When Craig Whyte took over last May, he claimed to have plan to deal with this worst case scenario – a legacy of previous owner Sir David Murray's reign. After months of hinting about such a move, Whyte filed his intention to take Rangers into administration on February 13.
It seemed premature, but the chairman claimed HMRC would continually appeal the large tax case even if Rangers won the tribunal. Strangely, though, Whyte began insisting the bill could rise to £75m. Former chairman Alastair Johnston was puzzled by this figure. On February 14, HMRC attempted to impose their own administrators at Ibrox. Whyte's retort was to forgo the usual ten-day grace period and begin the process that afternoon. Watching it all unfold on TV, it seemed momentarily like a triumph when Whyte's appeal won Rangers some token control over their own financial disintegration.
For once, a Rangers story justified the Scottish hype. Having always believed a Conference club sacking their physio would be more newsworthy in London than an SPL team winning the Champions League, the ensuing media storm was as overpowering as it was revealing. Within hours, HMRC revealed they were pursuing Rangers for a previously unpublicised £9m in PAYE and VAT payments, which had gone unpaid in the period after Whyte took over. He had been trying to hide massive short-term debts behind the larger case.
BBC Scotland had already exposed Whyte's track record of asset-stripping ailing companies and his previous disqualification as a company director. As he sold players on the cheap, bought no replacements and mortgaged £24m of future season ticket sales, Whyte's claim to be a specialist in "financial restructuring" looked increasingly euphemistic. The tax authorities emphasised they had sought administration, not a winding-up order. The only person who seemed to think the club could go under was Whyte, an assured creditor on assets such as Ibrox and the Murray Park training facility.
Administration brought a ten-point penalty, killing Rangers' title defence. As fans realised he had used their money to rack up in nine months at least half the possible debt Murray had left after 23 years, Whyte disappeared quickly from Ibrox. No one knew where these funds had gone. The administrators offered no conclusive answers during their first press conference, but they did confirm that they did not think liquidation and the closure of the club was likely. They had already received several expressions of interest from parties wishing to buy the club. Former director Paul Murray began publicly garnering a "Blue Knights" consortium.
A week later, as the SFA appointed a former High Court judge to investigate the affair, Whyte admitted he had used the season ticket money to finance his takeover and pledged to step down. Strathclyde Police began looking into his takeover. For the first time in years, the players were applauded from the pitch after losing, at home to Kilmarnock. The only empty seat belonged to Whyte. Ater decades of being painted as hateful, it was moving to feel the club so loved. By Rangers fans, at least.
Politicians appreciate the club's part in Scotland's infrastructure and its financial value to the rest of the SPL is understood by rival boardrooms – Celtic's refusal to admit this was, in itself, totally venal. But Rangers have rarely been as despised by rival fans. There was not so much gloating over the club's near-extinction as demands to see Rangers stripped of previous titles. I would rather we sold our stars and sunk to the third division to pay the large tax bill, should it arrive.
With broadcasters demanding four Old Firm derbies each season, it has become clear that Rangers will not be allowed out of the top six, far less the league. True competition in the SPL may be the only thing being liquidated.
From WSC 302 April 2012