Scottish sports comment: So Rangers have won their biggest match ever 2-1, though the result of the Big Tax Case comes long after the final whistle.
That split verdict from the three-person tribunal, far from drawing a line under collapse of the club — the single most tumultuous episode in the history of the Scottish game — has now raised a myriad of supplementary questions.
For instance, had the case been done and dusted before now disgraced former owner Craig Whyte swept into Ibrox in May of last year would he have acted differently during his time in charge?
Indeed might other, more suitable, buyers have emerged without the threat of liability for debts in the tens of millions of pounds hanging around Govan? Had they done so both administration and liquidation would have been avoided.
What’s for sure is that on appeal the legal eagles have delivered a substantial (but hollow) victory for the “Oldco,” ruling that Rangers were right to argue that nearly £50 million pounds in Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) payments were loans and therefore exempt from PAYE and National Insurance.
However it should be noted that in a few cases the verdict went against Rangers FC, effectively concluding that these EBTs — a controversial accounting device outlawed last year — amounted to salary.
Overall perhaps the most important thing to stress is it was not — I repeat NOT — the Big Tax Case which sucked Rangers under the financial waves and into administration.
The sole reason HM Revenue and Customs acted in the Court of Session was that Whyte had refused, or not attempted, to pay in the region of £25 million in tax.
None of us, especially in the current economic climate, can argue that the taxman was wrong to go for the jugular.
But I’d also suggest that it’s highly likely that HMRC plumped for administration with the Big Tax Case very much in their thoughts, the mood music being that Rangers were wildly out of control financially.
Gers supporters have made their feelings plain, complaining that the club was unjustly treated and in the light of last week’s ruling should never have been consigned to the lower reaches of the game. That is to ignore what we might call the moral dimension concerning EBTs.
When the Scottish Premier and Scottish Football leagues considered the fate of the reconstituted The Rangers FC, the overwhelming feeling was that the old club — the wealthiest in the land — had sought to systematically dope the SPL with under-the-counter payments for nearly a decade.
There will be many who continue to hold to that view, arguing still that between 2001 and 2010 Rangers acted out of self-interest with no regard whatsoever for any social or sporting consequences.
On the other hand it is also fair to say that others — some chairmen at clubs large and small — may now reflect that they would have voted to keep Rangers in the top flight had the tribunal’s 145-page verdict been before them four months ago.
We may not be finished with this tortuously long saga even yet. The SPL is continuing its own investigation into these undeclared payments. Don’t be too surprised if — just like John Terry over the Anton Ferdinand case — the football authorities reach a different outcome to that provided by the judiciary.
It is also worth remembering that HMRC pursued their aggressive strategy against the Ibrox club not for any ideological reason but because they saw it as a test case for grievous tax avoidance by some businesses around Britain.
With that in mind and having come this far I have no doubt that the appeal being considered by Revenue and Customs will be viewed as well worthwhile.
I for one had been keen to see Andy Robinson remain in post as Scotland’s rugby coach right through to the World Cup in 2015 and said as much in these pages just a week ago.
However, as in politics, a week in sport can seem like an age. Having asked his players to win at least two of their three autumn Test matches, he has decided to walk after watching them crumble against New Zealand, South Africa and the final nail Tonga 21-15 at the weekend.
Robinson is an honourable guy and concluded that after three and half years in the job he’d given it his best shot, which turned out not to be good enough.
This is both sad and surprising since his side’s win over Australia Down Under in the summer suggested a leap of progress.
However the defeat in Aberdeen on Saturday was nothing short of a humiliation and has shooed Scotland down to 10th in the world rankings — their worst ever — when they had been gunning for 8th place at the start of the month.
But for the defeat to the south sea islanders Robinson would have ploughed on. Now they must start again with a new man — Scott Johnson, Nick Mallett, Todd Blackadder or whomever — with new ideas and all the upheaval that entails.
The one saving grace — and this I’d imagine was part of Robinson’s logic — is that with the finals in England three years away there is time to build and tae think again.
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