Tax return

wsc302The assumption that Rangers are integral to Scottish football is both flawed and patronising, argues Dianne Millen

While the announcement of Rangers’ administration on February 14 was initially an amusing distraction from compulsory romance for fans of other clubs, it did not take long for the souffle of schadenfreude to subside into tedium. The days of semi-obsessive coverage that ensued were perhaps understandable in a media market where the most banal acts of the so-called “Glasgow Giants” are reported exhaustively.

As well as outlining the facts and (increasingly appalling) figures, the media have also speculated endlessly on “what the demise of Rangers means for the rest of Scottish football”. But should fans of other clubs even care about the fate of Rangers? That the question is even asked indicates the state we are in after years of the distorted twin-track universe of Scottish top-tier football. Was the future of the game pored over to quite the same extent when Motherwell, Livingston and Dundee went into administration, or when Gretna went out of business altogether? While such fiscal fiascos naturally warranted coverage, nobody seemed to think that the doom experienced by these clubs presaged the end of Scottish football as we know it.

Naturally, the rest of the country has laughed long and hard as the details of Rangers’ general fiscal mayhem have emerged. Alternative shirt sponsors (although I am not sure HMRC will actually be signing up), lyrically revamped Ibrox playlists and the inevitable YouTube videos have abounded. Some of them are even funny. All but the most blinkered of Rangers fans would admit that the deluge of mockery was inevitable.

Some fans will be crossing their fingers behind their backs while they chortle. At the other end of the M8, Hearts fans fresh from a scandal over unpaid wages will be only too aware of HMRC’s recent interest in their own affairs, although their tax bill was eventually paid in full. Aberdeen and Dundee United are carrying more debt than is good for them. Given the wrong combination of circumstances, they too could find themselves staring insolvency in the face.

Less amusing still is the thought of the many seasons over which Rangers’ newly revealed accounting indiscretions have presumably enabled them to invest cash in the playing staff that should been directed into the public purse. Not only have these tax arrangements given Rangers a competitive advantage over their more honest rivals, in the current environment of straitened government finances, their cash could have been contributing to public services rather than the players’ retirement funds.

Given that Rangers were not on course to win the title, the points deduction was a relatively painless sanction in footballing terms. Even if liquidation follows, unless it has an impact on the club’s registration with the SPL and UEFA (a point on which cynicism abounds) many predict normal service may more or less resume at some stage.

If it does not, there is no shortage of pessimists predicting that Rangers’ demise will take the rest of the Scottish game with it. The sports minister, Shona Robison, was not alone in suggesting there would be “big implications” if Rangers ceased to exist.

The automatic assumption seems to be that the SPL needs Rangers – partly for their sizeable away support, but mainly because the league’s TV and sponsorship deals are based primarily on the draw of Old Firm games. If those dubious spectacles are no longer available, some fear the cash will disappear faster than if it had been paid into an employee benefit trust.

While these views make a certain amount of sense, the financial evidence being put forward for them is about as transparent as, well, Rangers’ tax returns. We do not know what a post-Rangers league would look like. The assumption that the SPL “needs” Rangers seems to emanate from the establishment mindset that has long resisted league restructuring. This concept needs proper evaluation. Most Celtic fans have been quick to reject the idea that Rangers are the inevitable yin to their yang, so if they are sanguine about life without their rivals, we could all look forward to a different, not necessarily worse, future.

Rangers’ gate receipts might not outweigh the cost of policing their fans and the absence of home fans who hate the atmosphere at those games. What if a league no longer dominated by the tussle between green and blue was actually more competitive and interesting? While recent events may signify a dark future for Rangers fans, the rest of us could just be heading into the light.

From WSC 302 April 2012