The finding for HMRC in the Rangers Big Tax Case has reignited the entire issue of EBTs and so-called sporting advantages enjoyed by Rangers during the period when EBTs were used by the club.
Let me say right away that I personally believe that Sir David Murray’s Rangers were wrong to deploy EBTs as a means of remuneration for players – wrong because anything so dodgy and controversial should not be anywhere near a club or company where integrity and probity must be of a very high standard.
So oldco Rangers were guilty of poor judgement and now, it appears, guilty of using EBTs in an illegal manner.
That said, something must be borne in mind by people intent on embarking upon a moral crusade, whether that be motivated by deep-seated hatred of Rangers or some other impulse.
It is this:Football has always been a brown envelope culture. By that I mean clubs have always looked for ways to pay players in what could be described as “off-book” means. It has gone on for years and it includes both individuals and clubs that would make any jaw drop to the floor. It includes giving players taxable perks, offshore payments, money through third parties and yes, even brown envelopes stuffed with readies.
Many fans howling for blood in the Rangers EBT matter would be shocked at how much their own club has been involved in “bunging” players and other people in the game.
In today’s electronic age, it is far easier to prove these things, although that in itself has made many realise that the old days of bungs and envelopes cannot continue.
Football needs cleansed from top to bottom. The latest revelations of the shenanigans going on at FIFA amply demonstrates the need for root and branch reform of the beautiful game’s financial side. If the men at the top are corrupt, what chance for the rest? A fish rots from the head, as the old saying goes.
Corruption would not be a word I would use in reference to Rangers’ use of EBTs. Not because I am a Rangers fan but because it is way too severe. Those who are engaging in wild-eyed ranting about Rangers’ deep-seated corruption really need to wind their necks in. Apart from the fact that during the years Rangers had the EBT scheme Celtic won more titles, then Celtic boss Martin O’Neill has wisely said titles and games lost by his team were lost on the pitch, not by what happened off it.
However, the main argument against those who say RFC benefited from EBTs is the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The EBT issue has hung like the Sword of Damocles over the Ibrox club for years and helped propel Sir David Murray into the infamous Pound Shop deal with Craig Whyte. The agonising years of hell endured by the Rangers support since is proof beyond question that EBTs were of no benefit whatsoever.
Rangers should never have gone down the EBT route. But to retrospectively seek to take silverware away because of the HMRC victory would be trying to right a wrong with a worse one. I don’t agree that these titles should have an asterix put beside them as one journo said. They were won on the field of play, not by backroom staff.
If you start opening cans of worms, all you end up with is worms. Seeking to prove unfair advantage because of off-field issues is a very dangerous road to go down. Those who wish to better realise it could be a one-way street. It would be very eay, for instance, to come up with all kinds of unfair advantages some teams enjoy e.g. “helpful” local councils, unduly favourable banking terms, political influence etc.
Employee Benefit Trusts were a gigantic error of judgement that helped bring years of pain and misery to all connected with Rangers. The knock-on effect has rocked Scottish football to the core. But a line needs to be drawn under the whole episode and everybody move on.
Unless, of course, punishing Rangers is more important than steering our game back to calmer, safer waters. If that is the case, then such a self-destructive ethos will prove to be the undoing of Scottish football.