Thursday, March 08, 2012

Rangers: Another week of questions


Football attracts wideboys and chancers.

Over the years most supporters will have questioned the morality or legality of this director or that chairman.

But the collection of charlatans and chancers who seem to have attached themselves to Rangers in recent years must take some beating.

Take Dave King, a man still being chased by South Africa's tax authorities over unpaid bills and associated charges that stretch to over £220 million pounds.

King has announced plans to sue David Murray. That's David Murray, the man who presided over the club as it ran up the unresolved £49 million that continues to spew a noxious smog over Ibrox.

Somebody throw the bald men a comb to scrap over.

How about Craig Whyte? The much derided new owner, the fantasy billionaire, who is still - or so events in the High Court today would suggest - determined to get his hands on some of the money that it appears he never had any intention of investing in the club.

He wants to be remembered as the man who saved Rangers even while royally screwing them, a man so discredited that the SFA have belatedly discovered he doesn't even measure up to their own overly generous fit and proper person procedures.

Gary Withey, the company secretary and lawyer with the firm which played a key role in the massively damaging Ticketus deal? Well, he's quit his law partnership and disappeared.

Some would argue that administrators David Whitehouse and Paul Clark deserve to join this gallery of guilt.

Maybe, maybe not. I'll try to keep the last vestige of faith I have in decency and say they're not guilty of crapping on Rangers' doorstep. They've just got the unpleasant task of looking constipated while wading through someone else's shit.

Where now? The lack of consensus shows the complexity of this financial funk.

The administrators are looking for a quick sale. But what is there to buy? A club that's shuffled on it's knees to the block, a £49 million guillotine ready to fall?

I'm not a businessman but that doesn't seem like the sort of investment many accountants would be chuffed about.

So liquidation? Looks like it.

And then a conflagration in Scottish football like we've never seen before.

Rangers delivered from the murderous attentions of that parcel of rogues into the hands of the cowerin', timorous beasties of the SPL.

Will that august institution be ready?

Possibly not.

Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPL, has taken to saying that he never predicts the future. He says it with the crazed look of a man who has just realised that his only real job now is to try and prepare for the very future he never predicts.

What happens now if Rangers, newly liquidated and newly "newco-ed" come knocking on the SPL's door?

The SPL could let them in - and if the rules dictate they can't then the wonderful thing about the SPL, its central conceit, is that it can change its own rules to suit its members - and get on with things.

Getting on with things would offer some comforts - I've already explored the pull of the TV deal - but it would also be hugely uncomfortable.

There will be clubs - majority, minority, lone voice? - who claim that the sporting integrity of the league would never recover from such a move.

This is a league where the vast majority of clubs start the season thinking that third place is the best they can do. It's not a league where sporting integrity has tended to reign supreme.

Yet with each passing day public opinion would seem to be hardening. The easy fix for a lot of clubs - ignore what's right and do what's best for them - might now prove so unpopular that it drives their own fans away.

Timing will also matter. If Rangers are forced to ask the newco question before the SPL's investigation into second contracts - an investigation stretching back to the birth of the league in 1998 - has delivered its findings can the league even entertain the question of re-admittance?

And what planning has been done for life without Rangers? I've mentioned before that some clubs might see that life as a double punishment: the injurious distorting of the playing field and then a further whack as Rangers fantasy finances come crashing down.

What contingency plans does the SPL have in place to cushion the blow?

It's easy to rant about the league never recovering from the moral blow of letting Rangers back in. It's easy to theorise about the Scottish football boom that would - and there's absolutely zero guarantee - be sparked by the disappearance of Rangers.

But there are top flight clubs used to living a hand to mouth existence, clubs that find comfort in the peculiar world of the SPL as they know it, clubs that don't see where the benefit is for them in painting this as a simple battle between "good" and "bad."

How will they be protected?

All of which, as the tide surely turns against the readmittance of Rangers, means we need some sort of plan.

What we have instead is Neil Doncaster hoping that if he shuts his eyes it will all just go away.

And I'm not sure that's enough of a plan.

Where do Rangers go without the SPL?

I've seen a lot recently from Rangers fans arguing "well, screw the SPL, let's just go to the Third Division."

Fair enough. A lack of humility isn't really what's needed right now, but if it was an available option it might prove cathartic for all involved.

Would it work?

Doncaster has tried to sell everyone a dummy this week by saying that it's the SPL or nothing for Rangers. The weakness of the diversion is best illustrated by the confirmation that the BBC's Chick Young was the only person to fall for it.

No Rangers in the SPL would mean promotion for the First Division champions but no relegation for Dunfermline, Hibs or anyone else.

That would leave a gap in the SFL.

The new Rangers could apply to fill that position. There would be no guarantees they'd get in but one would expect the SFL clubs would see them as a gift horse rather than a Trojan horse and welcome them with open arms.

Again though timing would be important. Rangers, in whatever form, would need to be in a position to apply for the free spot and be good to go for the start of next season.

It's likely that they would be but their readiness could still depend on timing of liquidation and what assets the newco has to start with.

Both these eventualities - SPL or SFL - would look to depend on somebody being able to exert some control over events. Nobody seems to be able to do that.

That's why the unlikely scenario of a total, scorched earth collapse remains just about visible on the horizon.

I'd not bet on any outcome. The liquidation of Rangers as we know them I fully expect.

Then?

I'm still not sure.

We will get a brutal period of briefing, counter-briefing and hysteria as the SPL make a decision on which the lives of some clubs - not just Rangers - could depend.

After that I think it's now more likely - but miles away from being absolutely certain - that we'll see a new Rangers starting up from scratch in the Third Division.

But I'm guessing.

Another week on and we're still just following as Rangers continue their journey into the unknown.