Friday, June 29, 2012

Neil Doncaster must go!

There will be no Rangers/newco/Sevco 5088/whatever you want to call them playing in the SPL next season - that much is clear.  At the time of writing, Aberdeen, Dundee Utd, Hearts, Hibs, Inverness, St. Johnstone and St. Mirren have made it clear that, on 4th July, they will vote 'no' on whether they should be allowed into the top flight next year.  The million-dollar question is now "In what division will Rangers play next season?".

Or should I call that the £16 million question?  For that was the figure used by a document sent by the Scottish Premier League to Scottish Football League clubs yesterday.  The SPL board claimed it was providing vital info on what would happen to the national game if Rangers played in the first division next year, compared to what would happen if they were dumped into division three and sent to play the likes of Elgin, Peterhead and Montrose.

What it actually amounted to was a feeble and blatant attempt to coerce, bully and blackmail the lower league clubs into taking Rangers two tiers higher in their pyramid than the rulebook allows.

If you want to read it, STV published, in written form, the power point presentation that was sent to the clubs.

Channel 4 investigative journalist Alex Thomson claims that a Hampden insider told him "it should be met with utter contempt by all decent football fans".  That sounds just about right.

It can be summarized as thus - the SFL will finally get it's extra promotion place from the first division, plus a bit more cash, in exchange for taking newco Rangers in the first division.  If they don't agree, then the SPL will start an SPL2, containing newco Rangers, and invite who they like (presumably the more sympathetic clubs) to come under their umbrella and leave those who want Rangers dumped in the third division to rot.

Reassuringly, it has quickly met with opposition, particularly from first division teams and fans.  Several years have been spent debating how to reorganize the professional leagues, so there is an understandable scepticism about creating and implementing a solution in just over five weeks before the new season starts.

But whose idea was this shambolic plan?

As regards the SPL clubs, we already know that seven have declined to support the newco, and pretty much all have cited the views of their fans as having a huge impact on their decision.  It would seem to be business suicide if they were to then turn around and kick their customers in the teeth by claiming this solution protected the integrity of the game.

Of the other clubs, Motherwell are holding a fans' consultation, while Ross County have only just turned up.  Several comments by Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston suggest he would have moved heaven and earth to get the newco into the SPL, to the horror of the Killie faithful.  But it seems unlikely that they would have the clout to push such a plan.

Which, of course, leaves the Old Firm.

Celtic's silence over the last few months has been deafening.  Their support, of course, would love to see their deadly rivals hit as hard as they possibly can be.  But, even though the result of the newco vote is now certain, the Parkhead club have refused to reveal which side they would take.  Could it be that they feel the loss of Old Firm games and the resultant revenue streams would hurt them too much?

Since the reconstruction proposal must have come from the SPL board, and Celtic are members of that board, it doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to wonder if the Hoops are at least partly behind it.

But the one person who seems certain to have a finger (or a big fat hand) in this pie is the SPL's chief executive Neil Doncaster.  For it seems like Doncaster has done everything to champion Rangers and their bastard son Newco.  He failed to push on the 'dual contracts' investigation until, three months after it had started, Mark Daly and the BBC forced him to admit that Rangers had failed to cooperate up to that point.  He claimed to the press (and incredulous supporters) that a CVA and a Newco were basically the same thing, and that a Newco is a normal way for a football club to come out of administration - try telling that to fans of Motherwell, Dundee and Livingston.  And those of Darlington, who were relegated four divisions by the English FA for trying to pull the Newco trick.

Then he went on Newsnight Scotland and tried to justify the lack of a Fit and Proper Persons test by claiming "It would stop someone like Gandhi from owning a football club".

To give you an idea of this man's mindset, he claimed that the infamous 2010-11 Scottish Cup tie between the Old Firm, where McCoist and Lennon had a huge spat on the touchline and several players did just about enough to justify 'breach of the peace' charges, was excellent for the Scottish game as it brought more publicity.

With the SFA's own reconstruction plans involving bringing the SPL and the SFL under their own wing, Doncaster's own job is on the brink of becoming extinct.  He might not even last till Hampden Park get their act together.  His actions in his current post are already enough to justify sacking him.  If he indeed was the champion of the SPL's pathetic power point, then he should clear his desk immediately.  And if he wasn't?  Well, he is still the figurehead for this shameful action, and I still demand his resignation.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Six weeks to sort out the mess

The 2012-13 Scottish Premier League season kicks off on July 4th.  At the time of writing, that is only six weeks away.

Rangers FC are in the process of being liquidated.  Their 'assets' (the training ground and the stadium, effectively) have been sold to a consortium led by chap called Charles Green for £5.5 million.  From his comments to the press over the last few weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking that Del Boy Trotter had shown up in his Trabant and talked the administrators into passing the club over to him.

Green has, so far, refused to reveal the names of many of his investors.  One of those he named promptly denied it within hours.  There are rumours flying around that, so far, he hasn't actually managed to raise the money.  What he has done is attempted to transfer the contracts of the staff to his Newco without actually bothering to inform them.  Employment law allows employees to walk away if they wish rather than to transfer to a Newco.  In the last 24 hours two Rangers players, Sone Aluko and Rhys McCabe, have apparently announced their intentions to walk.

As for the administrators, they're still hanging around like a bad smell.  Duff & Phelps had claimed, when they 'sold' to Green's bunch, that they would be around for a few weeks yet; some cynics wondered whether this was an attempt to keep the HMRC-appointed liquidators, BDO, from disrupting the sale of the assets.  They won't be able to leave for a while, even if they want to; Lord Hodge has demanded that they produce documentation to disprove the claims by Mark Daly's BBC documentary that senior figures at D&P were in cahoots with Whyte long before the Shyster-extraordinaire even bought the club in the first place.  Hodge has insisted that they remain in place at Ibrox for another three weeks at least, until those questions are answered.

So, at the moment, it seems unclear exactly how the club will come up with cash - season ticket money is apparently still going to the Oldco - and it is uncertain how many of the players will hang around, particularly as it seems unlikely they will be paid in full come payday on Thursday.

And that's just some of the problems the club face.

For a start, it's not even clear which division they will play in next season.

We're still waiting for the SFA to reconvene the Appelate Tribunal to come up with an alternative (and, possibly, more severe) punishment than the transfer embargo that the Court of Session deemed illegal.

And of course, the SPL will, on 4th July, vote on whether to accept the Newco into the SPL directly in place of Rangers.  Whilst a few months ago the idea of them being thrown out was unthinkable (despite the fact that it is the only punishment that justifies the offences they have committed), clubs appear to have been turned by fan power; supporters have been putting forward their views in droves, and the overwhelming majority not only want the book to be thrown at Rangers, but the opportunity to kick them while they are down.  There is now a very big chance that at least five clubs (the minimum required to stop the Newco getting in) will tell Mr Green where he can shove his application.

In that case, SPL rules dictate that Dundee would be promoted, and the SFL is left with a decision on where to stick the Newco.  Some (mostly those writers of outrageous, unbelievable fiction who continue to pollute the back pages of the Scottish red-tops with ridiculous pro-Rangers drivel) have claimed they will be 'invited' to join the first division.  I can't help feeling that this would be met by opposition by the sides in the second and third division, who would miss out on the revenue generated by matches against the Newco as the inevitably rose through the leagues.  In particular, sticking Rangers into the second tier would surely be protested by Airdrie United, who would be otherwise have been promoted to that level, and Stranraer, who would have taken Airdrie's place in the second division.

And, given the shambolic nature of the whole administration process, it seems likely that, when the liquidators do get their hands on the Oldco, a number of D&P decisions will be protested by BDO, and by creditors.

There are, in short, a huge list of reasons why the Rangers situation could end up being sorted out in a courtroom.  And if you ask a lawyer what they think of the whole fiasco, they reply by saying "It's very interesting", which is legal-speak for "that'll be a hundred pounds an hour for several months, please".

We don't have several months.  We have six weeks.

It seems to me that it is increasingly likely that the 2012-13 season will not involve a team called, or related to, Rangers FC.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Battle lines are drawn

There's a long way to go in the Rangers saga.

Charles Green and his Sevco group has apparently bought the club's assets after HMRC told suggested that the Worst CVA In The History Of The Universe be inserted where the sun does not shine, but the knockdown fee of £5.5 million - which will effectively pay off administrators Duff and Phelps and no more, yet apparently buys the stadium, the ground and possibly (though possibly not) the contracts of the staff - appears sufficiently dodgy that I wouldn't be surprised if the liquidators attempted to derail it.

Green has another problem with the emergence of a consortium fronted by Walter Smith, who now want to buy the assets from Green for, well, not much more than Sevco paid for them. Green of course wants much more cash, but Smith is likely to be backed to the hilt by fans groups and has the power, through encouraging fans to boycott games and delay season ticket renewals, to make life very difficult for Mr. Green.

The shyster-in-chief, Craig Whyte, has been very quiet in the last week or so - surely he will be mouthing off to journalists again soon enough.

All this means that it is very possible that the Rangers situation will not become clear for some time yet; if there is some sort of legal action involved, it could be months, not weeks.

The SPL season starts in less than eight weeks.
A long, drawn-out saga might help a newco Rangers - the closer we get to the start of the new campaign, the less time there is for the authorities to get together and come up with a punishment for all their misdemeanours, and letting the newco in the SPL will increasingly become the easiest, simplest option. But a drawn-out process in the courts would be a disaster and possibly prevent them from starting the new season. We shall see.

What everyone has forgotten, with all the attention on the failed CVA and the start of the liquidation process, is the fact that the SPL investigation into dual-contracts, and the reconvening of the SFA tribunal are still to take place.

It is unthinkable that the SPL and SFA will now turn around and say "these were the actions of Old Rangers, we can't do anything to New Rangers"...though depressingly I expect Neil Doncaster, chief exec of the SPL, to try to hint at this. The SFA were of course told by the Court of Session that they could not impose a transfer embargo, and that the only punishment options are Exclusion, suspension, a one year Scottish Cup ban, and a fine. Rangers can't pay the fine. A cup ban would be laughably soft, not least because an SFL club got the same punishment this season for forgetting to sign a player registration in the correct place (and because, given Rangers' early cup exits the last few years, it would only be a 1 match ban!). So Rangers' attempts to circumvent football justice by crying to the civil courts may well backfire and result in a more severe sanction than they got first time round, simply because only those punishments even vaguely fit their crimes.

As for the SPL, it might try to push the whole dual contracts thing under the carpet, but they will definitely have to vote on whether a newco Rangers can be dropped straight into the SPL. It needs an eight-to-four majority (and scandalously, Rangers get to vote on their own punishment!). A few weeks ago it looked like a sure thing that the chairmen would bend over and take it, But there has been a dramatic hardening of attitudes.

Part of this is down to Rangers' own actions in the last few weeks. Going to the Court of Session threatened bringing the wrath of UEFA and FIFA on Scottish football (and might yet do if the SFA bottles punishing them properly). By doing so the Gers made it clear that, if they were to be hit heavily, they were willing to take Scottish football down with them. Moreover, it was revealed by the chairmen of Inverness and Ross County this week that Duff and Phelps had made it clear at recent meetings that the CVA would be expected and that liquidation would absolutely not happen...even though, in hindsight, the CVA could not possibly have been accepted. Rangers, in short, have displayed breathtaking arrogance in misleading their fellow clubs and in being willing to threaten the wellbeing of others in a desperate attempt to save themselves.

The other big factor has been the supporters. As has been constantly pointed out, a Bluenose-free SPL will probably command a less lucrative TV deal, and clubs will take a hit from not having the Rangers away support turning up once or twice a season. There might be less interest from sponsors too. But it's become increasingly apparent that this loss of income might be dwarved by the loss of home fans who can't stomach the prospect of the Gers getting off with no more than a slap on the wrist. Season ticket sales at all clubs are sluggish at best. With tickets hideously overpriced considering the entertainment value, and the economic situation difficult for many folk, people are ready to look for an excuse to give up season tickets; this could be it.
Aberdeen were the first to raise their heads above the parapet earlier this week - such has been the backlash from their supporters (who detest Rangers more than anyone else except Celtic) that they are coming out on the 'no to newco' side in order to prevent Pittodrie, already rarely half-full, from becoming as empty on matchday as a graveyard on Christmas Day. Dundee United have made it clear that they are going to talk at length to their supporters trust about what decision to make - it's safe to say the fans want the book thrown at Rangers. Inverness have said the same thing, and their chairman is well-known for close links with the fans - he knows that an SPL with newco Rangers in it would go down like a lead balloon. And Celtic? Whilst they probably stand to lose the most in absolute terms from Rangers being demoted/destroyed, a decision to collude in the survival and rapid return to prosperity of their deadliest rivals would be nothing short of commerical suicide and would surely result in the biggest supporter backlash of them all.

Rangers have already entered liquidation, and they have already been found guilty of serious offences by an SFA tribunal. These events alone would have been enough to see any other club slung out of the league. They are still under investigation for their EBTs, and they are still awaiting the result of the Big Tax Case...though a newco will not be liable for the cash should the tribunal find in favour of HMRC. But it is quite fair to say that newco Rangers will be incredibly fortunate if they do not find themselves travelling to Elgin and Peterhead next season. If they find themselves travelling to Dingwall and Inverness, then Scottish football will be, or might as well be, dead.