True Blue Treachery
“Rangers fans deserve to know the truth about what happened to their club. A fraud was committed – but not by me. And football fans in general will be fascinated to read what really goes on behind the scenes of a top club.”
He’s the man once hailed as the saviour of Rangers who became Public Enemy No 1 among Ibrox fans when the club went bust. In the eyes of Celtic fans he is a hero – as the last man in charge before their fiercest rivals called in the liquidators.
Few people in British sporting history have polarised opinion like Craig Whyte.
In May 2011 Rangers fans greeted his arrival on a wave of optimism, hoping he would transform their fortunes and maintain the club’s dominance over their Glasgow rivals. Ten months later Craig was the subject of death threats as enraged fans bayed for his blood. Yet by the time he was cleared in court of any wrongdoing the tide was beginning to turn. True Rangers fans realised Craig was not the man who should have been in the dock. They suspected many others had conspired to ruin their once proud club – they just had no idea what really went on… until now.
In his explosive book, Craig tells for the first time what really went on inside Ibrox during those turbulent ten months. Not only does he give a full and frank account of what went wrong at Rangers but also he provides a fascinating insight into not just the workings of a top flight football club but one of Britain’s biggest oldest – and most secretive – sporting institutions. And fans of other football teams will be fascinated – and at times appalled – by the antics of players, directors and the behaviour of other clubs.
As the first businessman in the UK to be charged with financial assistance – a charge now facing the former Barclays bosses – Craig’s ordeal at times resembles a Kafkaesque nightmare in which his every attempt to get to the truth of what was happening was met with double-crossing, persecution and obfuscation.
The revelations in Craig’s book include:
• What outgoing owner David Murray hid from the new investors
• How Craig’s attempts to get the club on an even keel were thwarted
• Who stood to gain from Rangers going into administration
• His dismay at the antics of his footballers – on and off the field
• How Rangers are still very much under Masonic influence
• How Scotland’s First Minister offered to help Rangers in their £50 million tax battle with HMRC
• How the DUP – now major players in the UK government – tried to get Craig a seat in the House of Lords
• How one Scottish Premiership side offered to throw a match for money
There is already huge media interest in Craig’s story. National newspaper serialisation is guaranteed. True Blue Treachery will be 75,000 words and delivered three months from signature of contract.
True Blue Treachery
Mexico City Airport, 26 November 2014
Davie Cooper. Now there was a player. In those early days of watching Rangers at Ibrox there were games when he was the only player worth watching. He was such a talent I’d have paid the admission just to see him weave his magic down the left wing.
Rangers didn’t have a good team in the mid-Eighties. Under John Greig they struggled to keep pace with Alex Ferguson’s revolution at Aberdeen. The Dons and Dundee United, under the legendary Jim McLean, had created a ‘New Firm’ to challenge the traditional dominance of the two Glasgow giants, Rangers and their ‘Old Firm’ rivals Celtic.
The arrival of first Graeme Souness and then David Murray transformed Rangers’ fortunes. Suddenly they were back, supping at Europe’s top table, only one match away from the first Champions League final in 1993. Under Walter Smith’s management the team matched Celtic’s long-standing feat of nine-in-a-row domestic league titles and – during his second stint in charge – reached the UEFA Cup final in 2008.
I had watched much of this drama unfold, as a teenager in the Copland Road stand, then as a businessman from the hospitality seats – even catching them turn over Monaco, in what for me at the time was a home match, in 2000.
Success, however, had come at a cost. Over-reaching and over-spending had left the club struggling, not just to hold off the ever-present challenge from their rivals from the east end of Glasgow, but the taxman. Murray had taken them so far. They needed a saviour. I needed a new challenge.
What had I been thinking?
These are the kind of thoughts going through my head as my flight begins its descent into Mexico City. That and what yet lies in store for me.
I am a wanted man.
A warrant has been issued for my arrest – for failing to appear in court. My crime? Being the scapegoat. In the absence of any evidence, it would appear the Scottish Crown Office are operating on a policy of finding a guy they think has done something wrong and then trying to find a crime to stick on him.
The irony is that while there are many who have the blood of Rangers on their hands following the club’s liquidation in 2012, I am not one of them. I am the only person not to take a penny out of the club during this sorry saga. Yet I’m the bad guy, apparently.
I have never known a deal like it. Since I took over control of Rangers in May 2011 I can’t believe how many people have been out and out crooks. So many have conned me. Surreal doesn’t come close – I’m living a nightmare. And it’s only going to get worse.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are commencing our descent. Please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Thank you.’
The announcement is repeated in Spanish. Some of the Japanese passengers around me look bemused at both.
Japan is where I have been for the last few weeks – quite conveniently, it has proved, to be in a country with no formal extradition treaty with the UK when prosecutors are trying to arrest you.
What was supposed to have been my first extended holiday since I began my working life has turned into a game of cat and mouse. When the police first informed my lawyer of their intention to arrest me, they made it clear I was in for some special treatment. They were determined, not only to arrest me but also to hold me in a cell overnight for a court appearance the following day. I have argued that, while I was out of their reach in Japan, I would only agree to return if I could arrive in Glasgow by my own steam. They can arrest me and take me to court but there is no need to hold me for a night. They are desperate to make a show of things. I am public enemy number one, in their eyes, obviously, but eventually, after the date of my original court hearing came and went, they agreed.
So here I am, flying from Japan to Mexico. My intention? To spend a few days exploring some business opportunities, then onto Miami, to London and finally to Glasgow to face the music. I need to make the most of the freedom I still have. Once they arrest me the chances of foreign travel might be severely limited, if they confiscate my passport.
I am the only person who knows my travel plans. Even my understanding girlfriend Charlotte in England doesn’t precisely know when I’m returning. I hold the upper hand, for now anyway.
We land and begin the taxi to the terminal. Another announcement: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, as you disembark this aircraft, could you have your passports ready please. Police are carrying out an inspection.’
I freeze. More confusion on the faces of my Japanese travel companions but this can only mean one thing. They are here for me.
It is two Mexican police officers. As soon as one checks my passport my fear is confirmed. Through broken English, he explains: ‘You are Craig Whyte? Come with us. This probably a mistake – something to do with a football club in Scotland.’
A football club in Scotland. The same words my business colleague George Cadbury had used in my office in London four years earlier when he mentioned he was putting together a takeover deal. When my interest was first peaked. If only I’d not followed that up by asking, ‘Which club?’ If only I’d not been going through a marriage break up, suffering one hell of a midlife crisis and seeking a fresh challenge. If only.
They lead me to a holding room and explain Interpol has instructed them to detain me. Clearly the Scottish police are more on the ball than I’d thought.
‘We can’t allow you to go into Mexico. You have two choices. Either we can put you on a flight back to Japan. Or you can fly to London.’
They are almost apologetic for detaining me. This isn’t an arrest, they say. The choice is mine. The thought of going back to Japan is very tempting. I could hide out there. What would they do then?
To hell with it.
‘Put me on the flight to London.’
The cops are obviously determined to get me for something. It is time to go back and deal with it.
They take me to a holding room with several other people that aren’t being allowed into the country. I look at them all. It’s a sorry bunch. I wonder what they’ve done. Is it any worse than buying a football club? It wasn’t just any football club, was it? We are Rangers. How many times had I hear that – either as a reason for doing something, or used as an excuse not to do something? I thought I knew. I thought I was one of them. How wrong can a person be?
After a short time, they tell me to come. I must be a rarity – a Brit being deported from Mexico.
The Mexican police are polite throughout. They’ve paid for my flight to Heathrow. I am allowed access to my suitcase, so I look out a suit and change from my casual clothes. If the Glasgow cops want their grandstand arrest I better look the part. No one is escorting me from Mexico. No doubt the police will meet me on arrival at Heathrow.
I can only imagine what awaits me. Will I get to speak to a lawyer at any point, or will they whisk me straight to Barlinnie Prison, that big Victorian hellhole on the outskirts of the city, for the next few months while I await a trial? Given everything else that has happened since I’d got involved with Rangers I can’t rule anything out. I am stepping into the unknown. I have no idea what is going to happen. I only know it’s going to be bad.
For a moment, during the flight, I wonder whether there is a chance the police will be so disorganised they might miss me. Perhaps I can sail through passport control as normal.
That thought vanishes the moment I see two uniformed police officers step onto the plane seconds after we grind to a halt. I am right at the back and their slow march up the aisle seems to take an eternity.
‘Craig Whyte? You’re coming with us.’
Hauled off a plane, right in front of everybody. That’s got to be one of life’s most embarrassing moments.
Three more police officers wait to greet me. One tall man with a beard and moustache and a slim blonde woman introduce themselves as Detective Chief Inspector Jim Robertson and his colleague Jacqui O’Neill. The third man appears to be their boss. They seem excited to see me. Clearly this is a big moment for them.
‘Craig Whyte. You’re under arrest.’
I wonder how long DCI Robertson has been waiting to say these words. The formalities over, they escort me through passport control. No queues for detained fugitives. Then it is into a police van to switch terminals for the connecting flight to Glasgow. Once on board we sit at the back of the plane. I am relieved there are no cuffs. This is a ridiculous enough situation without needing to get silly.
I am surprised at how chatty the police are. Robertson tells me what a huge Rangers fan he is. He’s been enjoying investigating this case, meeting all his Rangers heroes.
‘When this is all over,’ he says, smiling,’ maybe we could go for a drink together.’
Bizarre doesn’t even come close.
They have it all arranged so from the moment we touch down and come to a standstill there is transport all the way from the runway to the police station at Mount Florida. All of this for me? I am a special case. It didn’t need to be like this. I would have turned up for questioning, appeared in court on an agreed date, whatever. They are obviously desperate to take me to court in a van.
We arrive at Mount Florida, coincidentally the one closest to Hampden Park, the home of Scottish football. My fear, as the only one charged with any offence in connection with the Rangers inquiry, is how far will they go to make an example of me. Robertson’s admission of his allegiance confirms my suspicions. The police is full of Rangers fans. They are desperate for so-called justice to be seen to be done, regardless of whether they find evidence of wrong-doing or not.
Before I am put in the cell I finally get my phone call. I speak to my lawyer Paul Kavanagh. The night in the cell I accept. What worries me is not getting bail and being held in prison.
‘Don’t worry, you’ll definitely get bail.’
This eases my mind.
When I finally see the inside of the cell it isn’t as bad as I’d feared. I have a blanket and some water. They let me read my book and although it is hardly five-star accommodation I am so tired I actually doze off. I might have been able to get a full night’s rest but an officer appears on the hour every hour to make sure I haven’t topped myself.
In the morning they cuff me for the transfer to the Sheriff Court, where I am held in a cell in the bowels of the building before my appearance before the judge. Within seconds I start pining for the police cell. By comparison this is bloody horrible, just a urinal and a thin wooden bench not big enough to lie on. I am not allowed my book. All I can do is read the graffiti on the walls. Thankfully there is nothing about me on there.
I am still in the same suit I’ve travelled in and I sit there for eight hours. Eventually Paul Kavanagh appears and I am allowed out of the cell to speak to him. A guard helpfully tells me the police are warning that even if I am granted bail they are to arrest me again for an outstanding warrant in England over money I owe over the original purchase of Rangers. This is a separate issue. As I’d been out of the country I hadn’t appeared in court and the judge found me in contempt and had given me a four-week prison sentence. There is now a another warrant out on me. Can the day get any worse?
I’m never getting out. These guys are really out to get me. If they can find a way to keep me locked up they’ll do it.
Paul dismisses these fears in a second: ‘The police don’t have the powers to arrest you. It is an English civil case, not criminal.’
The hearing lasts about twenty minutes. As the police hadn’t been allowed to interview me on my arrest, the prosecutor, or procurator fiscal, now ask me questions on their behalf.
My answer to every one is the same: ‘On the advice of my solicitor I have no comment to make.’
Then come the words I’ve been waiting for all day. ‘You are free to leave.’ The sheriff has granted me bail. I give Charlotte’s address in Lancashire as a bail address as I don’t have anywhere in the UK to live. The police say they will drive me south.
‘Don’t trust the cops,’ Paul says as I prepare to leave. ‘Don’t let them drive you into England just in case they do something with that other warrant.’
Charlotte heads north of the border and the police agree to drop me at a service station on the M74 motorway several miles before we reach England. I am not taking any chances. On the way down the road, DCI Robertson seems more interested in checking himself out on TV. He replays the television coverage of my appearance at court, showing him by my side.
What baffles and infuriates me further is that he calls the lawyer acting for Ticketus, the other party in the English court case. They are like best buddies. How cosy that Police Scotland is cooperating so fully with an English lawyer in a civil matter.
By the time we reach the services and Charlotte greets me the exhaustion of three days on the go finally catches up. Relieved to be away from the police, I nearly collapse when we reach her house.
I have survived the most traumatic day of my life. However, although I can relax, the relief will only be temporary. I have to go to London next week to appear in court over the civil case and the small matter of being sued for the £27.5 million I’d guaranteed for the purchase of Rangers Football Club in 2011. There is a real danger I could go to prison over that.
I sink into the sofa trying to process why I – and not the number of crooks who have profited from the demise of a once proud institution – am the scapegoat.
I drift into a fitful sleep.
The nightmare is just beginning.
True Blue Treachery