WASN'T the Nimmo Smith report supposed to be all about "title-stripping"?
Isn't that the line everyone has been force-fed since the Independent Commission was created back in August? What a sore disappointment it must have been for those who had the time and inclination to pore through its 18,000 words, sprawling over 42 pages, yesterday lunchtime. Not a stripped title anywhere. The phrase didn't even get a mention.
This being Scotland, and this being the Old Firm, the reaction to the Commission's findings was as predictable as it was laughable. For the past seven months just about anyone with a platform to speak for Rangers – led by club chief executive Charles Green – has whipped themselves up about the supposed inevitability of the club being stripped of Scottish Premier League titles won in the "EBT years".
Loading article content
The line from Green was quite unequivocal: this was a kangaroo court, a Mickey Mouse operation, the verdict was preordained and title-stripping was being aggressively pursued by Rangers' enemies within the SPL. Any quiet protestations from Nimmo Smith or the SPL itself were lost in the din. When they said there was a range of sanctions, or that Rangers could as easily be found guilty as innocent, it didn't seem as if anyone wanted to listen.
So for seven months Rangers belittled the investigation while everyone else, or so it seemed, licked their lips at the idea of a independent outsider riding into town to administer justice. And then, as soon as the findings were digested within a few seconds yesterday, the inevitable 180 degree turn: Rangers doing high-fives, everyone else pouring vitriol on Nimmo Smith and anyone else involved for bottling it. Thus, Rangers were able to embrace Nimmo Smith's verdict as a vindication, even a victory. Plenty were laughing at the idea of being fined £250,000, not least because there isn't a cat-in-hell's chance of even that modest sum being coughed up.
The thing is, yesterday's report found that there were years of rule-breaking under Sir David Murray. It was deliberate and the "seriousness, extent and duration" of it merited a substantial financial penalty, said Nimmo Smith. The findings gloss over the complaint held by rival fans that only by using EBTs and saving on tax could Rangers afford all the big-name players who helped win them so many trophies in the first place.
There is only one line which talks to that: "If it had not been intended that the player would directly benefit from the EBT arrangements then there is no reason to believe that the player would have agreed to accept the overall financial package offered by Oldco." Doesn't that sound like trying to secure sporting advantage? The Commission thought not.
Relief at keeping the titles was understandable, but otherwise the findings were nothing to be proud of. The investigation was satisfied that the covering up of information wasn't done to gain any sporting advantage – and that it didn't – but was instead intended to keep things from the taxman. The Big Tax Case and the SPL's EBT probe effectively went in Rangers' favour, but there has been nothing for Murray to crow about in this. What a damaging ordeal he subjected Rangers to by plunging into EBTs.
Amid the inevitable forest fire of reaction, Green released a statement which, while not free of grandstanding, did make one sound point. If the SFA and SPL had their way he would have signed up to title-stripping as part of the deal offered to secure SFA membership for his Newco regime last summer. Instead he resisted and secured membership anyway, a holding of nerve which has been emphatically vindicated.
The SPL's own Commission ruled that title-stripping – or any sporting sanction – would have been disproportionate. SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and his SPL counterpart, Neil Doncaster, now have some explaining to do about why they wanted Rangers to sign up to that when it turned out not to have been necessary. The SFA and SPL rules on registrations and eligibility also looked flawed if a condition of registration can be breached for years without any consequence for the player or players involved.
Spare a thought, too, for the wee fellows at Spartans and East Stirlingshire. Spartans were thrown out of the Scottish Cup in 2011 because Keith McLeod was ruled ineligible by the SFA. The offence? The contract he had signed was dated only once, not twice. East Stirlingshire were chucked out in the same year because details of his loan extension had not been received by the SFA. Good luck to anyone trying to convince those clubs that justice is equally dispensed.