As we awaited the initial judgement in the Big Tax Case, and as we were all expected ‘common sense’ to prevail from the beginning and not only from the second appeal to the Court of Session, CQN Magazine in an earlier edition looked at the FEAR OF CONSEQUENCES…
Rules are rules but implementing them in Scotland may cause “mayhem” – Henry Clarson considers the consequences of applying the rules…
I have noticed that a recurring theme in the debate about awarding league titles that are stripped from Rangers to the runner-up is fear of the consequences.
It was fear of the consequences of standing up to wrongdoing that got Scottish football into this almighty mess in the first place.
For the purposes of this piece, we proceed on the assumption that Rangers were guilty of routinely fielding improperly registered players over the course of many seasons. We have already seen more than enough evidence to justify that assumption. One single competitor stands accused of cheating and is almost certainly guilty. That competitor must pay the penalty.
Yes, even when it’s Rangers.
There is no case for allowing those guilty of breaking the rules to negotiate further breaches of the rules in order to spare themselves the punishment that they deserve. We are not yet so far through the looking glass that we are going to permit cheats to guide us about what is fair and what is unfair.
If somebody wants to grab hold of a non-insulated electrical cable that is plugged into a live mains supply, they don’t negotiate a compromise with the laws of physics about just how much electrocution they suffer. When Rangers decided to ignore the rules, they took the risk that they would get burned. Now they’re getting totally fried and it serves them right. They knew the danger, they took the risk, they lost out, and they’re toast. All the blame is theirs and theirs alone.
There is no question in my mind that if Rangers are found to have been fielding ineligible players, the results of their matches should firstly be corrected to read as defeats, in accordance with the rules. Consequently the final league standings in each of the seasons to which this applies should also be corrected to reveal who the true champions were, according to the rules. Based on precedents from similar cases where improperly registered players participated in official matches, every game in which Rangers fielded ineligible players should be recorded as a 3-0 victory for their opponents. The points are totalled up for the season. The team that has the most points is awarded the title. The team with the fewest points is placed at the bottom of the table.
Yes, even if it is Rangers.
This could scarcely be simpler. Ask Spartans FC, who paid a severe penalty for a careless administrative error on a team-line. They did not complain, they did not whine. They took full responsibility for their own transgression, accepted the defeat and paid the whopping fine. They did so with good grace because they accepted that they had inadvertently breached the rules.
Why, even FC Sion had to accept the rules eventually.
Let’s be clear about this – taking away from Rangers anything, which was never rightfully, theirs in the first place is not a punishment. It’s merely the first step in undoing some of the damage. The next step is to restore to the rightful owners that which was stolen from them. The third step is to punish the guilty parties for their crimes. We’re not even close to that third stage yet so any hint of backsliding on the first two steps must not be tolerated. The very first principle of atonement is to make restitution as far as that is possible. The very minimum requirement is to return what has been stolen to its rightful owners. In the case of at least five titles, that means presenting those titles to the team which won the most points in accordance with the Laws of the Game of Association Football and in line with the rules and regulations of the SFA and SPL. Absolutely nothing less than that will do. And that should only be a starting point.
Once the appropriate corrections have been made, the separate matter of what punishment should be meted out to the offending parties can finally be addressed.
I argue that expulsion is entirely appropriate. We are dealing with unprecedented levels of rule breaking (probably in collusion with office-bearers at Hampden Park), incalculable damage to the reputation and development of Scottish football and, even now, chaos and turmoil which is destabilising the entire structure of the game. I, like many others, paid tens of thousands of pounds over the years to see my team competing for the championship title and I’ll be damned if I’m going to settle for seeing an asterisk taking the place of a title which my team won fair and square. The only reason that those titles weren’t awarded to the correct team at the end of each season is because the game was so riddled with corruption that nobody enforced rules that would have deprived Rangers of their unfair advantage.
Successive SFA and SPL officials came from Ibrox and allowed this cheating to go unchecked. Successive directors at Rangers FC, at best neglected their responsibilities to ensure that their business was on the straight and narrow. At worst, they actively perpetuated the cheating.
What can be done and now must be done is that the record is at least set straight wherever possible. The records must show in perpetuity that all matches in which Rangers FC fielded ineligible players were 3-0 victories for their opponents. In league competitions, where the outcomes can be accurately recalculated, the medals and titles must be awarded to the correct winners. There is a strong probability that these recalculated tables will also show that Rangers ought to have been relegated so the injustice suffered by the clubs who actually were relegated should be admitted by the SPL and SFA and formally recognised with an apology. The supposed leaders of the game are still ignoring too many injustices. Until they stop turning a deliberate blind eye to these wrongs, they will never be able to earn any trust or respect from Scottish football supporters.
The rules must be applied to the transgressions of Rangers just as strictly as they were to any other club. Rangers have no right to be treated differently. If anything, they should be hammered even harder because they have relentlessly puffed themselves up as the country’s greatest club, with a monopoly on dignity, the standard to which everyone else should aspire (“we welcome the chase”) and a giant of the global game. If any club should have taken extra care to ensure that it was playing the game by the rules, it was this one with its ludicrous sense of self-importance and its arrogant evaluation of its own stature. However, I’d quite happily settle for seeing them treated like ordinary cheats rather than as elite cheats.
But fear of the consequences appears to have induced a paralysis that is preventing the correct response from even being recognised, never mind being enacted. There is a constant creep in the mainstream media towards an assumption that Rangers have suffered enough and that those who want to see them pay in full for their colossal wrongdoing are being vindictive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The issue is purely about fairness. It is fundamentally unfair that hardened, habitual cheats should receive any leniency when those who did nothing wrong whatsoever were seriously disadvantaged, suffered considerable loss of prestige, were wrongly deprived of sporting honours and were financially damaged. In some cases, the financial damage was a mortal blow.
A club that has been found guilty of consistently fielding ineligible players on a massive scale and, furthermore, actively concealed the paperwork that would have exposed that Ineligibility is simply not fit to be a member of any organised league. Nor is it fit to have SFA membership. Thus the record should clearly show that its punishment is either expulsion or, at the very least, a sine die suspension which cannot be lifted unless satisfactory restitution has been made for the damage suffered by other footballing parties. The victims of the offence can only make the decision about what is and is not acceptable restitution, not by its perpetrators.
There is much to atone for and compromise is neither necessary nor desirable in this case. Anyone who cannot understand the fundamentals of fair play in sport is never going to be able to understand why the prizes should be awarded to the highest placed competitor who didn’t cheat rather than merely taken away from the cheat who wasn’t found out for a while. When I was forking out over a thousand pounds per season to see my team competing in tournaments that were supposed to be fair, it was bad enough to be seething with frustration at what I identified at the time as biased refereeing performances. Now that it is apparent that the beneficiaries of this bias were not even eligible to be on the field of play in order to benefit from the “honest mistakes”, the frustration has hardened into a righteous and completely justified anger.
It is in the self-interest of every Scottish football supporter to be able to pay money to watch a Scottish football match which isn’t rigged and in a competition that isn’t fixed. Since an incalculable number of us have been denied such a right for many, many years, the football authorities now have a duty to recognise that fact in unequivocal terms. There has to be official recognition of the truth that countless people have already been defrauded to the tune of thousands upon thousands of pounds. There must be recognition of how wrong that was and we must see unambiguous evidence that the authorities not only regret that they allowed that fraud to take place but also that they are determined that it shall never be allowed to happen again. Even if that means that their favoured team has to find its true level somewhere other than at the pinnacle of the domestic game, that remains what they have to do. So far, everything they have attempted to do indicates that they still want to take the opposite approach and that their first priority is to protect Rangers, even at the expense of the rest of Scottish football.
So if a future club wishes to trade as Rangers FC and portray itself as the continuation of the expelled Rangers FC, it should only do so if it fulfils certain stringent conditions imposed by the SFA and the Leagues.
Firstly, it must unequivocally recognise and accept that it is inheriting the culpability of the original Rangers FC for breaking football rules over many successive years. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. If they want to call themselves Rangers, they have to take the punishment that should have been meted out to Rangers long ago. This is not to please blinkered supporters of the cheating club or their sympathisers; it is not to please those who are too dull of wit to follow simple logic; it’s not going to please people whose concept of sport doesn’t hold honesty, fairness or justice in high regard; it won’t please those who are too cowardly to stand up to the myth of the mighty Rangers; it can not please those who are so corrupt that they are still trying to promote any argument for a perverse compromise.
But, by God, it will please anyone who thinks sport should be built upon a foundation of fairness. It will satisfy those who believe that the sport is well rid of cheats who would bring football to its knees rather than miss out on prizes that they haven’t earned. And it will delight those who see unrepentant supporters of a rotten, disgraced club hoping and praying that half a dozen SPL clubs will go to the wall as a direct result of Rangers finally being held to account for corrupting Scottish football. So if the pill is too bitter to swallow, the suspension should not be ended.
Secondly, it will never make any claim to titles that have been stripped from it in accordance with the game’s rules nor will it ever dispute or question the justice of awarding those titles to any other club that did compete within the rules. It will return all trophies, medals and other campaign spoils to the appropriate bodies and strike them from their club records and history.
Thirdly, in recognition of the financial damage which original Rangers caused to its peers in the Scottish game, the new club which elects to trade as Rangers FC will forfeit a percentage of its future earnings and prize money for a period of time and at a level which is acceptable to all the clubs which it is found to have disadvantaged. In terms of atoning for receiving prize-money to which they were not entitled, I don’t have a specific figure in mind for the new club trading as Rangers, though it ought to be an affordable but very significant slice of its income. Of course, there’s no reason for it not to be levied for a long time to come. It is effectively a massive fine to reflect massive wrongdoing. Like most fines, it can be paid up over a period of time after taking into account the offender’s means and essential outgoings. If they can’t compete at the top level with what’s left in the coffers, that’s just too bad. These are simply the consequences of cheating your way to success.
Finally, if – and only if – these conditions are satisfied, then everyone else in Scottish football can agree to see the new club as a continuation of the old Rangers, albeit with a break in its history from the time to which the suspension is backdated up until it resumes trading as a suitably penitent and chastised member club. It could then legitimately include its forty-odd titles in its honours roll while acknowledging a period of misconduct which is a colossal stain on its history but which it also apologises for, condemns and undertakes never to repeat.
The consequences for Scottish football in this scenario would be that a line could finally be drawn under the entire episode. Honour would be restored all around and a fresh start would finally be possible.