Yesterday’s draw in Monaco was not kind to Brendan Rodgers. Bayern Munich, Paris St-Germain and Anderlecht stand in his way to a much coveted spot in the last 16. Hollywood would be challenging enough but the degree of difficulty shifted to a different paradigm with the inclusion of PSG. These teams will anticipate taking 4-6 points from the pot 4 team. The superior country coefficient of Belgium did not do Anderlecht any favours. The Europa Cup spot will be fiercely contested.
I don’t claim to be a fly on the wall in the Ibrox boardroom. I cannot tell you of the demeanour of the career criminal who has patched into the meeting from south of the Limpopo. Frankly speaking I’m surprised that anyone can as it would not be difficult to identify the leak by a process of elimination. But as one will have noticed from yesterday’s blog I have some of the best sources in social media. A third party who is close to a senior player at Celtic provided the player’s analysis of the qualication process as follows:
Forrest played striker twice in qualifiers. Should never ever happen.
Ajer started 2 games in qualifiers. Should never ever happen.
Bitton is a 6th choice midfield player who played centre back in 3 qualifiers. Should never ever happen.
Shambles really but got away with it.
Needless to say they won’t get away with it against Bayern, PSG and Anderlecht. Rodgers of course will know this but with the first group stage game only 18/19 days away will he risk his new acquisition from Ajax Cape Town at centre half? Can he get Dembele match fit to at the very least start from the bench as Griffiths leads a 4-5-1 formation? Will the mercurial Roberts, who reminds one of a young Pat Nevin, continue to add value to the squad? I remain unconvinced on Hayes but I may have judged Ntcham too quickly. If the latter continues his understanding with Sinclair, Dembele’s absence will not be as conspicuous.
Call me Mr. Bright Side but I sense that this squad will make a better fist of the group stages than was the case last year. Rodgers wishes to rejuvenate his career at Celtic. If he took his charges to the last 16, or perish the thought the last 8, of Europe’s Premier Competition, the chairman of the largest English clubs would engage in a bidding war to secure his services. Rodgers is not only a great coach. He is a wonderful ambassador for Celtic.
The stark contrast between Rodgers and Primark Pedro is there for all to see. Primark could not get a tune out of O’Halloran and Waghorn who are now scoring for fun elsewhere. Primark, who is constantly being undermined by Miller and the WhatsApp crew, has filled his team with seasoned pros who he he hopes will be loyal to him. Sadly Pena’s laissez-faire attitude to training and his penchant for pie suppers is doing nothing for team morale. Even the world class breakfasts seem to have passed him by as he does not do mornings.
I digress. Yesterday’s piece on the blue balloon that is ‘gorgeous’ Jim Ballanyne elicited many informed and thoughtful comments on our Speakeasy board. From this point onwards if one has a good point to make, but has not made a contribution to the site, I will be minded to approve your comment in the true spirit of a speakeasy.
I also received several comments by personal message from someone with a firm grasp of his subject matter. He drew my attention to the following piece from the authors of The Offshore Game which, given the report on celticminded.com, now has even more resonance:
“The Scottish Football Association, in seeking to defend itself from allegations that it unfairly awarded Rangers a licence to play in Europe in 2011/2012, appears to have admitted that it withheld evidence from the Lord Nimmo Smith inquiry into rule breaking by the club in its use of tax avoidance schemes.
In 2013, a commission headed by Lord Nimmo Smith decided that sanctions should be imposed on Rangers in respect of tax avoidance schemes that involved the non-declaration of payments to players, contrary to the rules of the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Premier League. The commission could have decided to impose a points penalty on Rangers, which would have meant the club lost titles. They did not, instead a fine was imposed.
The decision not to strip league titles was based on the finding that no advantage had accrued to Rangers, since any other club could in theory have conducted the same, legal schemes.
As we explained in our report “Doing SFA for fair play”, that judgement was clearly wrong on the facts. One of the tax avoidance schemes run by Rangers was unlawful and had been accepted as unlawful by both the club and HMRC before the start of the commission’s inquiry. The question remains, how did the commission get this so badly wrong?
Now, in a letter to Celtic shareholders, it appears that the SFA has admitted that at that time of the inquiry 2012 it was in possession of a letter from HMRC describing the behaviour of the club as ‘fraudulent’. But the SFA appears to have made no attempt to bring this to the attention of the inquiry, who continued on the basis that all of the Rangers tax avoidance schemes were lawful.
The commission decision not to consider title-stripping turned on the following points. First, they considered the two schemes (or rather, the trusts through which they operated) together and stated they did not know of any difference between the two, not realising that one had already been declared unlawful and was therefore fundamentally different from the other.
Second, the commission ruled that other clubs could equally have used such schemes; that there was therefore no sporting advantage to Rangers; and so the commission do not consider sanctions ‘of a sporting nature’ such as reversing results.
In our report we showed how Campbell Ogilvie, the then President of the Scottish Football Association, and the only person to give evidence in person on the tax avoidance schemes had originally set up one of the companies that was used to operate a tax avoidance scheme in favour of Craig Moore. That scheme was the same ‘Discounted Options Scheme’ that was later found to be unlawful in the case of two other players, although HMRC did not pursue the Craig Moore case. This evidence seemed to directly contradict Mr Ogilvie’s own claim to the inquiry that he had ‘nothing to do’ with the tax avoidance schemes used by the club. Mr Ogilvie has never responded to repeated requests for comment.
The report also dealt with a second issue, that was the granting of a licence by the Scottish Football Association to Rangers to play European Football in the 2011/2012 season despite the fact that UEFA rules require clubs to be up to date with tax payments.
The assumption of many has been that the club misled the SFA about the nature of the ‘Wee Tax Case’ in order to get their licence, not telling them that they had admitted liability for the bill (again, the SFA chose not to answer repeated requests for comment in advance of the publication of the report).
However, in order to defend their position, the SFA appears to have inadvertently admitted that they in fact withheld evidence from the Nimmo Smith inquiry.
Following the publication of the Offshore Game report earlier this year the SFA told David Conn that the federation was well aware of the ‘Wee Tax Case’ and was in fact in possession of further documentation that showed that the club had been given time to pay by HMRC, which meant that the club would be allowed to play in Europe under UEFA rules (that explanation in itself is suspicious, given further evidence available to the report writers, but is not the subject of this article).
The problem was that in the end, Rangers never did pay, and HMRC pursued the club for repayment through the courts, which was a significant cause of the club’s later bankruptcy proceedings which triggered the Nimmo Smith commission.
This raises the question, if the SFA knew all about the “Wee Tax Case”, and in fact had even more documentation about it than anyone else has seen, why did they not alert the Nimmo Smith commission to this?
Now, the SFA have been digging further. Writing to representatives of Celtic shareholders about the process of awarding Rangers a licence for European football in 2011-12, SFA chief operating officer Andrew McKinlay appears to have admitted that not only did the SFA know about the ‘Wee Tax Case’, but they had the 20 May 2011 letter from HMRC to Rangers in their possession before the Lord Nimmo Smith commission began its work. That is the same letter which described the club’s behaviour as fraudulent.
The correspondence from the shareholders to the SFA included a copy of the May 20th letter and in his response to lawyers representing the shareholders Mr McKinlay says:
“Even if the information that your clients have brought to our attention was not before us in 2011, and we do not accept that, it is arguable that the process for that season has been completed and is closed on the basis of the information provided by the licensee club”
The Offshore Game contacted the SFA repeatedly over the last week to seek specific clarification on this point. The SFA spokesperson repeatedly acknowledged the question, but has failed to provide any response.
This points to one of the many governance failures of football. Who can hold the football authorities to account? If a football association cannot be trusted to ensure fair play over issues as fundamental as the awarding of league titles, and investigating allegations of foul play, fans may as well give up and watch the wrestling instead.
With the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport select committee now firmly focused on football governance, this could finally be the time for a long overdue, external intervention.”
Old Bill Nimmo Smith asserted that there was no question of dishonesty yet HMRC are suggesting fraud. Stewart Regan was on the panel of the LNS commission. He would have been aware of HMRC’s position and Ogilvie’s duplicity. Yet as McKenzie scrambled to collate redacted documents from a reluctant MIH, Regan and his cronies buried the smoking gun.
It’s difficult to discern which is worse: The Cover-Up or the initial corruption?