For a long time, Scottish football has only been tangentially about the football. Instead, it’s been about tax cases and liquidation and fit and proper person tests (or a lack thereof) and share issues and the ‘Armageddon’ former Scottish FA chief Stewart Regan warned could be coming for the game north of the border.
Indeed, Rangers’ financial meltdown plunged Scottish football into perpetual cycle of misery and conflict for a number of years. It’s a cycle that the sport had only just started to escape from, with the developing title race between Celtic and Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership finally putting eyes and minds back on what is happening on the pitch rather than in the boardroom.
A multimillion-pound blunder by the tax authorities is being blamed for the financial implosion that wrecked Rangers Football Club and sent shockwaves through the sporting world https://t.co/1LmM9I5DC7 pic.twitter.com/YolFhPFNuy
— The Times Scotland (@thetimesscot) November 14, 2019
That was until claims of a multi-million tax blunder blamed for the downfall of the Ibrox club came to light. According to The Times, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) had admitted to over-estimating the debts and penalties due by Rangers by as much as £50 million. This bill, which was originally calculated at around £70 million, played a major role in the club’s liquidation in 2012.
Now, the question is being asked – was Rangers’ demise unnecessary?
Would a tax burden of just £20 million compared to £70 million have attracted a higher calibre of suitors willing to foot the bill and save the club from suffering in the way it did? Was HMRC’s reported mistake the biggest factor in what happened to Rangers?
Solid answers will almost certainly be a while in forthcoming, but this new episode threatens to open up old wounds just at the point that the battles of the past few years had started to fade. It could turn the game north of the border into a war zone again.
Whichever way it is viewed, Rangers’ demise did untold damage to Scottish football. Fans may have understandably enjoyed the opportunity afforded by having one of the country’s two biggest clubs reapply to the bottom tier, Celtic supporters might have revelled in the schadenfreude, but financially and even in terms of things like Scotland’s coefficient, there is little counter-argument to be made – Rangers’ fall hurt the Scottish game.
But none of this damage compares to the effect it had on the country’s footballing discourse. The rivalry between Celtic and Rangers had always been a fierce one, but in the years following 2012 it reached new levels. Of course, the two teams went three years without facing each on the pitch, but off the pitch, and in particular on social media, things were downright toxic.
It was open season for conspiracy theorists and paranoia merchants on both sides. Boom time for the anonymous blogger with dubious sources on the inside. For a number of years, nothing happened in Scottish football without it being linked in some way to Rangers’ meltdown. Both sides felt wronged and they blamed the other side for inflicting such injustice.
Untangling this mess was never truly feasible and so Scottish football needed the passing of time in order to move on. This process was happening. And yet reports of HMRC’s blunder risks raking it all up again. While there was once talk of Rangers’ ‘tainted titles,’ there could be debate over Celtic’s eight league titles in a row and whether they mean less than previous titles?
If the allegations made against HMRC prove to be true, Rangers fans will want justice to be served, but what would that possibly look like some eight years after the fact?
This isn’t to say answers shouldn’t be sought, but merely to bemoan that such a situation has arisen again. The issue of Rangers’ demise and its knock-on effect dominated Scottish football for years at a time when other problems needed urgently addressed.
Just when it seemed that such self-flagellation had been left behind, we might be set for another dose of it.