Whilst it is understandable that the continuing events at Ibrox remain a hot topic among all Scottish Football Fans — especially given the views of some sections of the press on such events– the never ending rush down the marble staircase is certainly not the only show in town.
The other morning we were treated to the “scoop” that Alistair Johnstone is afraid that Craig Whyte– the once proclaimed Multi Billionaire from Motherwell- may well still be pulling all the strings at Ibrox! This is a fear which is shared by those who walk the corridors of Hampden Park as they, too, are terrified of the prospect of Whyte returning in some shape or form and coming back to haunt them, especially as he has been deemed unfit and proper, banned sine die, and generally ridiculed for his past actions.
However, the Hampden jackets know fine well that their realm only stretches so far and that if by means of the proper application of company law, contract or some other piece of paper Whyte controls the shareholding of the self proclaimed “parent company” to the football club then they are in a fix. In fact, I will wager that they just would not know how to deal with such a situation as after all RIFC PLC neither holds a licence to play football nor is a member of the SFA and so, on the face of it, who owns it has nothing to do with them.
At this juncture, no one in authority knows who Blue Pitch Holdings are and, strangely, no one in authority knows who Margarita Holdings are either! Yet these two “holdings” whoever they may be, may well hold all the power down Govan way…… with the SFA completely powerless to find out who they are let alone get into any dialogue with them. All the SFA can do is talk to the appointed Directors and officers of The Rangers Football Club Ltd.
This, is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Meanwhile, they will have no difficulty in finding out who the new shareholders of Dunfermline Athletic are. Those shareholders will come from the fanbase and will be clearly registered at Companies House, with the result that ultimately those fans/shareholders will appoint Directors who will then attend meetings and speak and opine on their behalf and in essence be the ” Voice of Dunfermline” at Hampden.
Perhaps, similar will follow from Heart of Midlothian?
However, those at Hampden — if they have any sense at all– will be most wary of events happening in the east end of Glasgow come November.
In the middle of the month, Celtic PLC will hold its AGM and amidst the items on the agenda is the fan driven notion that the Club— through its Directors—- should go further in holding the SFA to account and enquire into the granting of club licences, and in particular how it granted Rangers a club licence that allowed entry to the Champions League in 2011 when the small tax case was outstanding.
The Celtic board have deemed this motion as “Unnecessary” and in support of that contention have released documentation showing that they raised this very issue with the SFA on behalf of the shareholders and fans. Further– and here is the rub— The Directors reveal that they were not satisfied with the SFA response and have disclosed that they took the matter further and wrote to UEFA.
Ultimately, UEFA also provided a reply, which backed the SFA approach and which Celtic had little option but to accept in the absence of admissible contradicting evidence..
It is on this basis, that Peter Lawell and Co say the AGM motion is not necessary. Note that saying that the motion is not necessary, is not at all the same thing as saying that what the motion seeks to achieve is not necessary or does not have the support of the board!
There will be those at Hampden who severely hope that the Celtic Board are successful in voting this measure down as obviously they deem their original reply sufficient and would like to end the discussion there.
However, my own view, is that whether the motion is successful or not, there are those within the SFA who will recognise there is trouble staring them in the face here. Real Trouble!
Let’s recap for a moment and draw some threads together.
Celtic’s past Chairman, Dr John Reid, said only a couple of years ago that the SFA was clearly not fit for purpose. He did so in the context of events surrounding Neil Lennon and other matters, but was unshakably robust in his condemnation of an institutionalised uselessness which he saw pervaded the Hampden ranks.
Prior to that, Henry McLeish produced a report which stated that he too had concerns about the Governance of Scottish Football and called for openness and transparency.
In the intervening period, we have seen Mr David Longmuir, former Chief Executive of the Scottish Football League, find himelf without a position following reconstruction– and this partly as a result of club chairmen being apparently kept in the dark about his payment, bonuses and expenes. I understand that there was considerable anger from some at the way in which they had been treated by Mr Longmuir.
Then there is Mr Campbell Ogilvie, El Presidente, who himself benefited from a Rangers EBT and who held sway at Ibrox during a period of time when Rangers– by their own admission— made unlawful and illegal payments to three high profile players in breach of tax laws and SFA/SPL rules. It is these breaches and the consequent Wee Tax Bill which has caused all the angst among Celtic fans and has lead to the highly regulated legal step of tabling a motion at the club’s AGM.
Basically, the position seems to be, that as at the due date when the appropriate documents and declarations were made for a Euro Licence by Rangers for 2011, the wee tax bill was outstanding and due. If it was overdue, then the SFA could not and should not have granted them a licence……. and potentially Celtic should then have been put forward as Scotland’s representatives in the Champion’s League.
However, that did not happen, and Ranger’s were granted a licence– something that the Celtic Directors clearly felt was not correct.
They may have disagreed with the awarding of the licence because there were those at Rangers at the time who declared that a payment to account had been made to the tax office– allegedly £500,000– and that they had entered into an agreement to make payment of the balance by instalments. Had that been so, then all would have been hunky dory and no more would have been said.
Alas, however, no such payment appears to have been made at all, and no such agreement was entered into and so, on that basis, the tax bill was overdue and outstanding as at 30th June in terms of Article 66 and as such no Euro Licence should have been granted.
However, the argument does not end there.
Auldheid, has posted frequently on these pages about the ins and outs of the licensing provisions and the mechanism and so I will leave that detail to him as he is far more expert in these areas than me.
Now, one of the SFA functions is to have an auditor– someone who can check books, contracts, paper work and so on, and it is part of the SFA licensing function to be satisfied that all the paperwork is of course correct and in proper fashion before they issue any licence.
In this case, it is alleged that the SFA did not perform their function properly.
In relation to the wee tax case, it is said that either they did not make sufficient enquiry of Rangers re the payment to account or the agreement which they were told was in place. At the time it was mooted in the press that no such agreement was in place as at the relevant date ( June 30th ) and a simple check with the revenue would have shown the truth of the matter.
Yet, for whatever reason, no such check appears to have been made, and if you recall a Radio Scotland interview with Alistair Johnstone, Rangers submitted the forms, the SFA replied with one or two enquiries about the BIG tax case which were answered, and thereafter the Licence appears to have simply dropped through the letter box without further ado.
You will also recall that the existence of the wee tax case became known BEFORE Craig Whyte bought David Murray’s shareholding in May 2011. In fact it was the subject of News Paper headlines weeks before the deal was completed, and so the fact that there was a wee tax bill was well and truly in the public domain.
When it came to filling in the appropriate forms,either, the SFA were mislead by those then at Rangers with regard to that tax bill, OR, they simply failed to do the requisite checks and make reasonable enquiries before they issued the licence.
However, the uncomfortable fact also remains, that one of the chaps who must have been in the know re the admittedly unlawful and offending side letters, contracts and payments to the three players concerned was Campbell Ogilivie who was on the Rangers Board at the relevant time when the contracts and irregular payments were made under the Discount Options Scheme from 1999 to 2002/3. Indeed he may even have initiated the first payment to Craig Moore in 1999. I reiterate that no one has ever contested that this was an unlawful scheme, and the irregular payments and paperwork are not denied in relation to that scheme.
There are Celtic shareholders who believe, rightly or wrongly, that when it came to the granting of the Euro Licence, the SFA did not play them fair on this occasion and that the wheels within Hampden were oiled in such a way that Rangers were favoured and Celtic were disadvantaged. It is a point that looks to have already been considered by the Celtic Directors in 2011, with the result that they concluded that they should formally write to the SFA and seek clarification.
However, we now have the prospect of those same directors having to go back to Hampden and say ” Sorry, but I am forced to bring this up by my shareholders. I have a legal duty to them to enquire further”. Even if the motion is refused, the point has been made– there are shareholders who are demanding answers– just as shareholders of other clubs demand answers about the ever so secret 5 way agreement and other matters which have hitherto been not for public consumption.
The SFA have nothing to fear of course as they can simply repeat their previous answers,demonstrate that all was above board, and rest easy in their beds.
Except that answer did not satisfy the Celtic Directors on a previous occasion as they decided to take the matter to UEFA, and it would appear that some Celtic shareholders remain dissatisfied with the known stance of the SFA and so they want the Directors of the club to delve further. Without wishing to point out the obvious, if it turns out that the 2011 Licensing process was somehow fudged and not conducted rigorously or that those at Hampden were in any way economical with the truth or omitted certain details from the previous explanation, or covered up a failure in procedures—- well such omissions have a habit of becoming public these days whether that be through the internet or otherwise.
The point here is that the actions of Hampden officials are coming under organised, legal and planned corporate scrutiny over which they have no control. The Blazer and club mentality that was once so widespread within the governing bodies is under increasing attack and is being rendered a thing of the past.
In short, the move by Celtic shareholders, is making it plain that they will demand proper corporate governance from their club in ensuring that any alleged failure in corporate governance by the SFA or SPFL is properly investigated and reported on.
Of course, if it turns out that the 2011 Licensing process was somehow fudged and not conducted properly for whatever reason, then it could be argued that Celtic were disadvantaged in monetary terms along with other clubs who may have been awarded Europa League licences, then the consequences could be cataclysmic. Hence a tendency to circle the wagons rather than admit to failures in the process that need addressing.
It is this reluctance to come out and accept that the licensing process appears to have failed, say at what point the process failed and what needs to be done to address those failures that in many ways has driven the resolution. It is clear to all that something is amiss but the SFA will not admit it, probably from fear of the consequences of doing so? Perhaps some form of indemnity, a lessons learned enquiry with no prejudice might help?
It would come as no surprise to me at all if there were those at Hampden who live in dreaded fear of admitting that their processes were flawed and that a grave mistake was made. Under these circumstances, there may well be those at Hampden who simply wish that Celtic and their fans would just go away!