By Mark McWilliams, Trainee Solicitor at Leathes Prior
Glasgow Rangers are the biggest club that this has happened to. Winners of no less than 54 Scottish League Championships, 33 Scottish Cups, and 27 Scottish League Cups, they have completed a domestic treble (League, Cup and League Cup) on 7 separate occasions. It is a spectacularly successful history, part of a pattern of continuity almost unrivalled in European soccer. And it is not parochial success either. They won the Cup Winner’s Cup in 1972 and were finalists in the UEFA Cup only 4 years ago, in 2008. Ibrox has been home to some of the game’s truly great players: John Greig, Graeme Souness, Ally McCoist, Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup. They appointed their first manager in 1899 and since then 13 men – yes, only 13 – have held the post on a full time basis. Success, continuity, stability – or so it seemed.
Sir David Murray was the majority shareholder at the club from November 1988 until May 2011 and served as chairman for most of that time. Murray’s predecessor, Lawrence Marlborough, had bought Rangers a few years earlier with the plan of returning them to the peak of Scottish football after a barren spell, then selling the club for a profit. In those days, success and profit were not mutually exclusive to big football clubs and owners were able to balance the interests of the club with commercial gain. English clubs were banned from European competition for five years in 1985 following the Heysel disaster, and Marlborough’s chairman at Rangers, David Holmes, took advantage. Scotland now presented a venue for the top British players to play on the continent and, under Graham Souness, Rangers signed Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, Ray Wilkins, Trevor Francis, Mark Hately and Mo’ Johnson. Murray bought the club in the middle of that success and sought to continue it through the nineties and into the new century.
On the pitch, it was continued. Between 1989 and 1988, Rangers completed a coveted nine-in-a-row of Scottish League Championships, repeating Celtic’s achievement of the same feat between 1966 and 1974. Their participation in the 1992-93 Champions’ League included a run of ten games unbeaten and under the modern format might be considered equivalent to a semi-final place. Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne, Frank de Boer, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Genarro Gattusso participated under the stewardship of Walter Smith and Dick Advocaat. David Murray pledged that for every ?5 spent by Celtic, Rangers would spend ?10. After the turn of the century, the club began to slow down its spending policy. By 2001, the club was heavily in debt and adopted a more frugal policy, including the tax plan that is now central to an investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and a tipping point for the club’s financial woes.
Murray owned of around 85% of the shares in Rangers FC, through his company, Murray International Holdings. By the time Murray International Holdings sold its interest to Craig Whyte in May 2011, the company had been making massive losses for years and were essentially owned by Lloyds. The club had been under the control of the bank for nearly two years.
Craig Whyte, who was later found by the Scottish Football Association not to be a person fit and proper to run a football club, failed to pay VAT and PAYE of ?9 million and the club entered administration in February 2012. With Rangers still the subject of an investigation by HMRC that may result in a tax liability of up to ?93 million, administrators Duff and Phelps estimate the total debts might reach ?134 million. The team was docked ten points from its SPL total for the 2011-12 championship, is subject to a 12 month transfer embargo that the SPL has refused to lift and is ineligible for European competition next season. Players took a massive pay cut after the club entered administration and the club will surely lose many this summer to more remunerative offers. Rangers must enter a company voluntary agreement to reduce the debts to survive, or the new owners must create a newco to begin again. What that means for the future of Scottish football, remains to be seen but with an eye on the legal and commercial implications for other clubs, directors, coaches and players, we at Full Contact will be documenting the developments for you.« Giggs and the Olympic Football dilemma? Going Dutch : Financial Regulation of clubs »
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