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by Tony Attwood
Years back, when I started to work as a journalist, one thing struck me very hard. There was an agenda. No matter what area I worked on, there was an agenda, a message, an approach, a vision.
In football, for example, it was “Liverpool are good”. You couldn’t knock them, suggest that it was odd just how many penalties they got in the last 10 minutes of games, or anything. They were untouchable. “Write another piece like that sunshine,” I was once told, “and there won’t be any need for you to write anything else.”
We see the same today. If there is any suggestion that football is bent, then it must be accompanied by clear evidence that it is the football of these silly foreigners that is bent, not British football. If it becomes too obvious that something is wrong with British football, then we must put it down to foreign gambling syndicates. The notion of an Italian style scandal in which clubs influence which referee they can have refereeing their match, is just not on.
Much the same is true with football finance. Clubs are not run by crooks, even when the people running such clubs (from Portsmouth to Darlington to Rangers) have some unfortunate brushes with the law in the past. Clubs go into administration (that story can’t be ignored) but it is just the British way. Besides it is usually the fault of the greedy Revenue and Customs. Anyway, the clubs always come back. As for football clubs being used for money laundering – that’s just something that Untold Arsenal says. No one else says it, so it can’t be true.
Besides, it has always gone on. Accrington were the first league club to go bust in 1896 – although by then they had resigned from the league, and it has been happening ever since. It even happened to Arsenal in 1910.
But the Arsenal case was different from today’s cases, because the man who took over the club – Henry Norris – paid off every single penny of every debt, football or otherwise, from his own pocket. He even paid off one huge debt concerning the building of one of the stands at the Manor Ground which was not shown on the accounts when he agreed to take on the club. He then invested much of his fortune in the club and built Highbury. That’s called being honourable.
Today it is a little different. Portsmouth are going into admin for the second time in two years. Rangers are going bust owing the tax man (ie you and me) £70m or a lot more.
Rangers have been to the Scottish press what Liverpool were from the 1980s until a couple of months ago. Untouchable. That Craig Whyte, Rangers’ chairman, is under investigation over his acquisition of the club is generally left unsaid.
What’s more, as far as I can see, Rangers have not been paying money owed to other football clubs for quite a while. So the small clubs who get a boost to their crowds when Rangers come to town are massively out of pocket, having had to pay for much bigger than usual police activity in the ground, but getting not a penny back from Rangers. If this is true, paying off the football debts first could be difficult, because the football debts are just too big, even before the tax debts are looked at.
The simplistic notion put about by many Scottish football writers and writers on Scottish football (not always the same thing) is that if Rangers go bust, there can be no league. This is rubbish – for of course there can be a league. There can be a league which is the same as now, but without Rangers, or there can be a completely different sort of league created to deal with this situation. I’ve often suggested that Arsenal Reserves ought to play in the Scottish League, others speak of combining the league with that from other countries. There are many options.
Further we do know that David Grier of Duff & Phelps the administrators of Rangers was with Craig Whyte the Rangers owner at a game last season. Duff & Phelps also own a consultancy firm that did work for Whyte as he bought Rangers.
There is much talk that Rangers will rise from administration within a month or two but I am not 100% sure about this. The people who for the past two years have been saying “Rangers is in very serious trouble here” are now telling me two more things. I can’t verify them, I don’t have the background knowledge, and once again I make no allegations – just pass on the gossip. One group tell me that Rangers will go into liquidation and that gives the SPL a problem. The other group tell me that Craig Whyte will come out of this owning the Rangers ground, but not the club. He will then try and lease the ground to the club for a mega profit.
Which, curiously, is a variation of the story of Arsenal in 1893, as you will be able to read when Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” is published later this year. In Arsenal’s case the ploy failed, the evil baddy didn’t get his way and Arsenal reformed to become Woolwich Arsenal FC. Watch this space.