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I would prefer that all my pieces were free to air but there is a hard-core majority who refuse to contribute. They all want to read about Madeleine McCann but they wish to do so for free. I have decided to release the Craig Whyte file, not for the lurkers, but for those who could not open the piece when it was originally available.
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I will emphasise the major takeaways in bold italics. In the premium piece I provided my detailed analysis. On this occasion I will let readers draw their own conclusions and make comments.
Craig recounts the dramatic moment of his arrest – and the odd attitude of Scottish police – which is the basis for the sample chapter in this proposal.
1: Scotland’s Youngest Self-Made Millionaire
Craig Whyte’s love for business deals formed at fifteen when he began trading in the financial markets. From an early age he had been interested in making money and he began reading books on how to trade. Before he left school he’d made £20,000.
Craig grew up in Motherwell, the home of Scotland’s steel industry but a place on the cusp of a catastrophic collapse. He started life as a fan of his local team Motherwell – the Steelmen – and went to games at Fir Park with his grandfather. His father owned a plant hire company and his mother ran a baby wear shop. In a time of industrial decline and mass unemployment, the Whytes were a striving middle class entrepreneurial family. Craig attended a private school in Glasgow and it was there that his affection for Rangers FC developed. As a teenager he had a season ticket at Ibrox in the Copland Road stand as Rangers struggled to keep pace with Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering Aberdeen. Craig left school at sixteen and worked for his father, continuing to trade shares on the side. When his dad sold the firm in the late 1980s, Craig started his own plant hire business. He was just nineteen but, bolstered by a £60,000 bank loan, set up his business in the beating heart of Glasgow’s market trading heritage – the Barras. For two years he enjoyed success, making £100,000-a-year. Then the recession of the early 1990s hit and Craig got his first taste of failure. Over-borrowed and capital starved, he became a victim of the construction industry downturn and was forced to wind up the company. From the ashes rose a small debt free company and Craig had learned valuable lessons in corporate turnarounds.
He formed a second a plant hire company but diversified into service businesses, providing cleaning, security and labour under the banner of the Custom Group. By the late 1990s the firm boasted an eight-figure turnover, he had an apartment in Monaco and drove luxury cars. Now, when he visited Ibrox to watch Rangers, it was from the comfort of the hospitality lounge and a box in the club deck, as David Murray’s revolution of the team turned them into a domestic powerhouse that strived to compete with Europe’s finest. By the time Craig sold the Custom Group in 2003 his business acumen had attracted attention. He had been included in a book on business and the Sunday Times labelled him Scotland’s youngest self-made millionaire. Recalling those days as a young entrepreneur, Craig tells how these were boom times. But at the same time, his minor involvement with another firm that went bust was to have major repercussions years later.
Chapter 2: Sliding Door Moments
A company in which Craig had been a shareholder, not a director, went bust owing money to the tax office. In the fallout from that case, Craig was disqualified as a company director for seven years, even though he hadn’t even held the position. The debt involved in the case amounted only to around £20,000 but to fight the legal action would have cost him £100,000. Recounting the first of two ‘Sliding Door’ moments, where his future fortunes seemingly hung on inconsequential decisions, Craig tells why he didn’t fight the judgement. At the time he thought little of it. It did not curtail his activities and he considered it part of the rough and tumble of business. However, his decision not to contest the judgement would come back to haunt him. On a personal level, Craig was, by this time, a settled family man. He had married partner Kim and they were the proud parents of two daughters. The arrival of a son would complete the family in 2008. Craig continued to specialise in taking over failing businesses. In some cases it was a messy practise. Several firms he was unable to save but he grew a reputation as someone able to turnaround failing companies. A colleague offered him a deal to join Merchant House Group, a stockbroker and asset management in London. From 2008 to 2010 he built up a substantial financial services business that boasted a billion pounds under management. In June 2010 Craig was in his office overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral talking to George Cadbury, of the chocolate making family, about a deal he was doing for a client to buy a club in Scotland. Craig’s interest was peaked. In the second moment that would change the course of his life, he asked: ‘Which club?’
From that moment on life would never be the same again.
Chapter 3: Mid Life Crisis?
At the moment Craig first heard about a potential deal to buy Rangers from David Murray, his contacts were trying to raise money in the Middle East. He asked George Cadbury to keep him informed. When Cadbury informed Craig the deal had fallen through Craig told him he might be interested in putting something together.
Craig explains here how at the time his marriage had collapsed. He admits he might have been experiencing some kind of mid-life crisis to want to get involved with a football club, but he couldn’t resist. Through Cadbury, Craig was introduced to property developer Andrew Ellis, the son of a former QPR Chairman, in a pub in Knightsbridge. Ellis was enthusiastic about the deal. For Craig, who had watched Rangers play in the Champions League at Monaco, it was a chance to build on and further the fortunes of his boyhood team. That Rangers had been experiencing financial problems and were having problems with the bank was well documented but what Craig didn’t fully appreciate was precisely how perilous were the club’s financial straits. The issue for Craig was how to find the money to finance such a deal. He enlisted the help of a broker colleague, Phil Betts, an expert in asset financing. The deal to buy Rangers consisted of £5.5 million for the equity and £27 million to pay the club’s debts.
Initially Phil Betts couldn’t find anyone willing to fund it. Craig thought that was the end of it. A week later however he came back and said he had found the finance required. The source of the funds was Octopus Investments, the parent company of Ticketus – a name that would soon be synonymous with Rangers FC.
Chapter 4: ‘My Deal’
As soon as Craig met with representatives from Octopus and the Ticketus model of using future season ticket sales to fund investments, seemed reasonably familiar to him. In the past he had used invoices – borrowing money against the sales ledger – to buy companies. Initially, Octopus agreed to Craig’s request to raise £10 million. Craig believed he could raise another £10 million from Rangers’ bank Lloyds. When he concluded it would better to remove the bank, Octopus agreed a further request to provide £20 million. Craig, here, explains why, on paper, the Ticketus model wasn’t as controversial as would later be made out. As fund managers, Octopus was duty bound to find ways to give investors returns on their money. The firm seemed relaxed about staking its investment on the future of a football club, with a loyal fanbase and guaranteed income for years to come. However, they did ask for a personal guarantee from Craig to the tune of £27.5 million (funds advanced plus Ticketus’ profit margin), his net worth at the time. Again, Craig explains his thinking behind the deal and the model used to finance it. As long as there was a team called Rangers playing at Ibrox their investments were secure. As the deal progressed, Craig’s enthusiasm grew. He took over the reins from Andrew Ellis telling him: ‘This is my deal.’
A meeting with David Murray was arranged at his home in the south of France in autumn 2010. Craig found in Murray a man desperately keen to progress a deal and someone not remotely interested in where the money was coming from.
As is normal in such negotiations, the source of funds was not disclosed. Neither was the scale of Rangers debts. Craig’s enthusiasm grew as the prospect of running the club edged closer to becoming a reality. Control of Rangers seemed within his grasp. However, he had no idea what was waiting for him around the corner.
Chapter 5: You Must Be Mad
When Craig appointed professional advisors, one corporate lawyer, Gary Withey, had previous experience of buying Crystal Palace. On hearing that Craig wanted to own his own club, Gary said: ‘If you’re buying a football club you’re mad.’
Craig was to discover several people shared that view. In hindsight he knows he should have listened to them. Yet, from a business perspective, Craig felt it made sense. Rangers was a brand recognised the world over, with a loyal support, effectively 40,0000 paying subscribers through season tickets meaning a guaranteed income. If he could control the cost base he believed it could be possible to turn a profit out of a football club.
The Rangers team, at that stage, was performing well on the pitch. Managed by Walter Smith, it was on its way to winning a third league title in a row. Rangers had qualified for the money-spinning Champions League group stages and although it hadn’t progressed in Europe’s top tournament, the team had made it through to the last sixteen of the Europa League.
However, Smith had made it clear the 2010/11 season would be his last, with his assistant, former Ibrox legend Ally McCoist, taking over. Craig knew that although the team was heading into a period of transition, if McCoist could guide the club to European Champions League football it could bring in an additional £8 million next season. Even without European football – which could have meant a £10 million loss – Craig was confident that once he got his hands on the club he could make the necessary savings vital if they were to turn profit.
What he didn’t realise, however, was that out-going owner David Murray was not being entirely forthcoming about the financial health of the club.
Chapter 6: Red Flags
Shortly before the deal concluded, details emerged that showed the Murray group had hidden vital information from Craig’s lawyers in the ‘data room’ of disclosures.
Craig’s team found out about several liabilities, such as the ‘small tax case’ of £2.8 million that needed to be paid. They then found out that Ibrox Stadium wouldn’t be allowed to open for the next season unless a new public address system was installed and the catering facilities were upgraded, costs that were estimated at £1.7 million.
Craig was aware of a potential issue with a liability known as the ‘big tax case’. He explains the background to the case, where the club avoided paying tax on salaries by instead paying many players through an Employee Benefit Trust (EBT). Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had been pursuing the club over the scheme, which it believed was unlawful. Rivals Celtic have since called for Rangers to be stripped of all titles won during the EBT period claiming the Ibrox club had an unfair advantage by offering higher salaries to attract better players. Potentially, the liability from the fallout could have been as much as £75 million. Craig says Murray’s team downplayed the seriousness of the case, suggesting it might only mean a tax payment of between £2-5 million.
Craig now accepts his team vastly underestimated not only the quantum of what might become due but also the pressure that was going to be put on by that information becoming publicly available.
Ordinarily, such revelations would be red flags to delay proceedings or ask to analyse matters more closely. However, Craig felt under increasing pressure to complete the deal. In all his business experience he had never encountered such a deal where the seller was the party piling on the pressure. The previously undisclosed liabilities allowed Craig’s team to negotiate the purchase price down from £5 million to just £1. At last every obstacle was removed and the deal went ahead. Craig Whyte was going to be the new owner of Rangers FC.
Chapter 7: Great Expectations
On 6 May 2011, David Murray sold his 85.3% controlling interest in Rangers to Wavetower Ltd, a subsidiary of Craig’s holding company Liberty Capital. After signing the deal Craig was surprised when Murray picked up the phone and said he wanted him to speak to a friend of his. He was further surprised when he discovered the person at the other end of the phone was the editor of the Daily Record. It showed what a shrewd media operator his predecessor had been. And, as Craig was to discover, support from Scotland’s tabloid press was not something he could rely on.
Despite Craig’s natural instinct to be cautious the new owner was encouraged to release a statement outlining his bold vision for the new Rangers. The fans, who believed inaccurate Press reports that Whyte was a billionaire here to save the club, lapped it up. As Craig arrived at Ibrox the following day for the first time as owner to watch them take on Hearts as they closed in on the title, he was greeted with applause from fans, with many shaking his hand. Although the reception was warm and unexpected he feared then that expectations were so high they were most likely not going to be met.
Looking back he realises Murray’s prime concern was his legacy but not being honest with fans from the outset would come back to haunt the new owner.
A convincing Rangers win that day suggested the future was rosy. However, once Craig started to assess the club he had just bought he realised the reality was far different from the vision he had been sold.
Only three first team players were under contract for the next season. The captain, David Weir, who was older than Whyte, did not have much longer at the top. The new manager, Ally McCoist, was untested but was on such a lucrative deal that it was almost impossible to sack him.
Lloyds Bank had withdrawn all credit. The full reality of the shambolic way the club had been run in the years before the takeover would soon be laid bare. As Craig would later come to realise, he should have run a mile.
Chapter 8: From Private Jets to EasyJet
Craig hit the ground running. His arrival buoyed season ticket sales, boosting the club’s accounts and he set about over the close season to rectify the most pressing urgent issues. The stadium was made ready and out of contract players were signed up.
Craig Whyte’s tenure was often criticised for lack of transfer action but he signed Lee Wallace, who remains club captain to this day, from Hearts and sanctioned other transfers. Craig knew the club had to seriously tighten its belt, however, and the new approach to transfers was an eye opener for both the new owner and the club’s old guard. He tells how club legend Sandy Jardine was used to a private jet being laid on to entice new players from the continent. ‘They can fly by EasyJet,’ was Craig’s response. By contrast, Craig was stunned when one player was signed even though McCoist admitted he hadn’t seen him in action.
However, Craig was to face a huge setback in his plans when Rangers were knocked out of the Champions League in their first qualifier. Already trailing 1-0 from a home defeat to Swedish side Malmo they faced an uphill battle in the away leg as Rangers fans had been banned because of sectarian singing the season before. Their cause was made even harder when two players were sent off, one for throwing the ball at an opponent, one for swinging an elbow. To make matters worse the club was hit with a €6000 fine for one player’s behaviour. In an unprecedented move, Craig wanted to take the fine out of the offending player’s wages. McCoist had to talk him out of it as to fine the player could make him unhappy. It was another early introduction to how football differed dramatically from the business world.
One stalwart told Craig it was his job to maintain the ‘smoke and mirrors’ illusion that Rangers was a big time football club. The reality was that, compared to other businesses Craig had taken over, it was a reasonably small business. An impression had to be created otherwise for the fans.
When Rangers suffered another devastating setback by not qualifying for the Europa League, thus depriving the club of more much needed funds, Craig realised just what a conjuring act was going to be required.
Chapter 9: Inside the Blue Room
After a stuttering start to the league season, Rangers moved to the top of the table as on the field the team started to click. Off the pitch, Craig was investigating the full extent of the two tax case liabilities and discovering more issues with the way the club had previously been run which could hamper his ability to generate funds.
Match days, however, proved welcome respite to the day-to-day shenanigans, and he gives a unique insight into the inner workings of Scotland’s biggest club and what being the owner meant in wider Scottish life.
Rangers had always been Scotland’s ‘establishment club’, with a history rooted in protestant sectarianism and Masonic tradition and historically the favourite team of the police, lawmakers and professionals.
Inside Ibrox, at the top of a marble staircase, was the most exclusive hospitality lounge the Blue Room where only esteemed guests were admitted. Craig gives the uninitiated a glimpse inside and reveals his dismay when he encountered a host of ‘funny handshakes’. ‘Almost everybody seemed to be part of a secret society apart from me. Maybe I should have been,’ he says.
Craig was concerned that the directors’ guests appeared to be freeloaders, ex-players and managers who enjoyed the club’s hospitality for free. Instead he extended invitations to paying customers as a perk of their support. It made sound business sense, something he was to discover was in short supply at Ibrox.
Rangers had strong links with Northern Ireland with hundreds of fans coming over to watch games. Among these were some senior figures from the Democratic Unionist Party, now propping up the Conservative UK government.
Craig was astonished when the then DUP leader Peter Robinson offered him a peerage in the House of Lords in return for a £250,000 donation and a promise to support them in Northern Ireland.
Craig also met with Alex Salmond, then First Minister of Scotland. However, while his new position was opening doors for him, he was quickly to discover how prickly and sensitive to criticism the country’s most senior politician could be.
Confirming what fans of other Scottish clubs have suspected for years, Craig tells how many of the referees were Rangers fans and enjoyed some favouritism from officials.
Chapter 10: Across the Divide
Rangers and Celtic fans might like to think theirs is the fiercest rivalry in football but at board level the relationship between the two Glasgow giants is harmonious. Within days of taking over Craig was contacted by Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell and the two enjoyed a good working relationship during his tenure.
Craig reveals that almost immediately after taking over Lawwell was keen to talk about how both clubs could leave Scottish football to join the English league.
Craig’s idea was to buy a non-league side, rebranding them as Rangers and progress them through the leagues before ultimately merging the clubs.
Both clubs work together on sponsorship deals and wherever there is shared interest. Before he took over Craig had been advised by David Murray not to engage with Rangers’ own supporters clubs. The former owner had been disparaging about his own fans. Craig’s approach was engage with the core support. He was dismayed, however, when the fans’ chiefs said they wanted the club to bring back notorious sectarian songs that had already seen them banned from a European away game. Having seen the detrimental affect that had had on the team, Craig was keen to look to the future but was getting a glimpse at the out-dated attitudes he was up against.
Football is a results-based business, though, and in the league a fifteen-game unbeaten start to the league season took them to the top of the table. The highlight of the run – and of Craig’s entire time in charge – was a memorable 4-2 thumping of Celtic at Ibrox.
If Craig could just get on top of the club’s finances, there was hope he might be able to turn things around.
Chapter 11: The Beautiful Game?
Craig enjoyed a good relationship with manager Ally McCoist but the anointing of the former legend as Smith’s successor meant the owner’s hands were tied should results start to dip. Craig had brought in Gordon Smith as director of football, someone who could be his eyes and ears at the Murray Park training ground. McCoist, however, was hostile to Smith and made it clear he didn’t want him there.
Nevertheless, Craig was still privy to some of the antics of his players – some of which left him gobsmacked.
He tells of one player whose performances dipped after he had picked up a sexually transmitted disease after playing away from home in more ways than one. Another star player, who has recently admitted his gambling addiction, had sheriff’s officers turning up at the ground to repossess cars because of debts he had accrued – despite earning nearly £20,000-a-week.
The cosseted life of a football player was something Craig couldn’t get used to. He describes turning up at Murray Park, the club’s state-of-the-art training facility in the afternoon to find it deserted. After a light training session, free breakfast and free lunch, the players disappeared. To a hardnosed businessman, it was frustrating. One player who was agitating for a lucrative transfer effectively refused to play until it was granted.
Craig heard other stories that made his toes curl – like a rival team owner who had previously offered to throw a match for cash against Rangers in order to help them win the league.
It all made Craig wonder into what world he had entered.
Chapter 12. A Perfect Storm
Between May and October 2011, Craig was confident of turning Rangers’ fortunes around. By the middle of autumn, however, he faced serious trouble. Although the team were twelve points clear in the league, failure to qualify for Europe meant that money raised from season ticket sales was running dry.
Lloyds bank wanted to cut all ties and Craig struggled to find any bank that would touch a struggling football club.
With no credit facilities and options to raise funds limited, he sought meetings with HMRC to try and settle the outstanding dispute over the EBT scheme. In Craig’s experience, HMRC was always willing to accept a tax repayment plan, so he had had no reason to doubt David Murray’s prediction that the same could be done in Rangers’ case. When he met with HMRC officials, however, it was clear they wanted to make an example of the Glasgow club. Although court hearings to decide whether the EBT scheme was unlawful had yet to be heard, Craig’s offer to settle was rejected. He was told if Rangers won in court, HMRC would appeal until it won – something which proved to be true. If HMRC won it could mean the club having to find £75 million.
At the same time, a BBC documentary into Craig’s previous business dealings revealed the history of his director disqualification. Although he tried to dismiss the allegations in the Press, the programme damaged his ability to raise much needed money.
In addition, hostility he’d felt from existing board members at the club who hadn’t wanted Craig to win control in the first place came to a head.
Several people within the club, quite simply, wanted Rangers to fail so the club could be put into administration and they could assume control. They began leaking further damaging material to the media.
A perfect storm was looming.
Chapter 13: Administration
Administration had been discussed as a possible option for Rangers during the share purchase agreement. But HMRC’s intransigence over the EBT case made such an outcome increasingly likely.
In fact, Craig reveals that his team had a conversation early on with the Scottish Premier League about a ‘solvent restructure’, which could have seen Rangers putting all their assets into a new company so it could continue if the tax case went against them. The lawyer for the SPL seemed to agree such a move could work, without the club incurring any financial or points penalties. All Craig would have needed was a vote from the other member clubs for that to happen.
Craig also tells how David Murray kept in regular contact throughout his early months in charge, keen, it seemed, to ensure his legacy was intact. When Craig told his predecessor he thought administration was unavoidable Murray was horrified and urged him to do all his could to prevent it.
Murray tried to claim HMRC’s desire to punish Rangers was due to the person leading the case being a Celtic fan – a charge the man in question later denied.
Although Craig would have preferred not to enter administration, he came round to thinking it might not be the worst thing in the world. It would allow Rangers to clear their debts and free themselves of retail, catering and Internet contracts that to Craig made no sense. With Rangers twelve points clear in the league, Craig asked Ally McCoist what he would think about administration. League rules at the time would have meant the club would have been deducted ten points. They could enter administration, exit debt free and still be top of the league. ‘Let’s do it,’ Ally said.
Despite the potential upsides of administration, Craig was doing all he could to avoid it. A stand-by facility of an American hedge fund to cover £50 million of the debt was being negotiated. He looked at a sale and lease back agreement for Murray Park, which could have raised £10 million.
Yet, the more options he looked at for saving the club, the more obstacles seemed to be in his way. Former directors started legal action, while HMRC froze the club’s accounts for money that was due. No other bank wanted to touch the club.
Craig felt he was fighting a losing battle, yet the worst was to come. What he didn’t realise was that the people who claimed to be acting in the club’s best interest were the very ones trying to bring Rangers down.
Chapter 14: Treachery
A company called MCR had been helping with the financial management of the club. During the course of Craig’s dealings with the firm, its partners were negotiating to sell MCR to the American investment bank Duff and Phelps. What Craig didn’t know was the same partners stood to earn millions from the sale providing Rangers went into administration.
Therefore, at the same time MCR partners claimed to be acting on Craig’s behalf during negotiations with HMRC, they were actually telling the tax office to put the club into administration and appoint them as administrators.
‘It was utter, utter treachery,’ Craig says. ‘They shafted Rangers.’
Just as he was trying to get clarity over the ‘big tax case’ and what it could mean going forward, his hands were effectively tied. With HMRC refusing to accept any compromise, Rangers were edging closer to administration. Duff and Phelps, as MCR became, manipulated the situation, which Craig can show in court papers. Yet all the time he trusted them completely.
This development was crucial to the future of the club because if HMRC had been fed a more positive line about Rangers’ ability to pay its debts, the tax office might have been more willing to compromise. Craig was unable to further his own plans for investment. If he had been able to, the club would have survived.
To make matters worse, results on the pitch started to slide and Rangers saw their lead slip away. As it was HMRC refused Rangers’ offer to pay outstanding PAYE and VAT debt and the club entered administration – with Duff and Phelps administrators.
In all his time in business, Craig had never seen anything like it. It was a decision even HMRC would live to regret.
Chapter 15: Public Enemy Number One
In addition to their other double dealings, Duff and Phelps also told Craig HMRC would not be allowed a vote on the company voluntary arrangement (CVA), which would help Craig remain in control of Rangers even after administration. This was false – and hugely significant.
On the pitch Rangers plight mirrored Craig’s, as they limped out of the league cup to Falkirk and then crashed out of the Scottish Cup to Dundee United at home.
In February with Rangers on the brink of administration, Craig thought he could survive as owner when Duff and Phelps informed him they were to be the administrators. As soon as he saw the expressions on their faces he knew it meant once the club entered administration, as it did that month, they would do all they could to force him out.
Craig’s woes continued as wave upon wave of damaging publicity threatened to engulf him. News broke about the Ticketus deal and this, on top of the revelations about his directorship ban, made Craig feel like public enemy number one. The damaging coverage severely hampered his attempts play a meaningful part in the process.
In March, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) deemed Craig not to be a ‘fit and proper person’ to be in charge of a football club, an unprecedented move he claims was unfairly based on biased press reports and not from any of its own investigations. Damaging defeats to Celtic and the ten-point deduction for entering administration effectively killed Rangers’ chances of winning the league title.
His credibility undermined by both those inside Ibrox, those claiming to act on the club’s behalf and external forces, Craig was seemingly helpless as his short-lived football empire looked to be crashing down. What his detractors hadn’t appreciated, however, was that he wasn’t going to relinquish control without a fight.
Chapter 16: The Battle for Rangers
The issue with Duff and Phelps centres on a fee its partners had agreed with Craig for administration. He had capped it at £500,000. However, at the time they were selling their former MCR business they were looking for fees up to £3 million. In the end, they received over £5 million in fees.
Despite having a financial incentive to force Craig out, the administrators still needed him as majority shareholder. No one else could assume control without Craig’s agreement. While other consortiums jostled for position, Craig met with former Sale Sharks owner Brian Kennedy, a friend of hugely successful former manager Graeme Souness, who put together a serious bid for his shares but ultimately was considered too low by Duff and Phelps.
Another key development saw Duff and Phelps go to court for a ruling on the Ticketus finance model. Craig’s deal with Ticketus had been portrayed in the media as a scam or underhand deal, using future fans’ money to buy the club, whereas in England it had been a complete normal financing method, utilised at several clubs.
Rangers had even used it on previous occasions to raise capital. Compared to Malcolm Glazer’s controversial takeover of Manchester United, using loans secured against the club’s assets, it could be argued that Craig’s model was far less aggressive. The difference, he now accepts, was that the Glazers were up front about how they were financing their deal.
If the judge agreed the model was acceptable, Craig would have been the only person who could have taken control of Rangers as no one else would have taken on the liability to Ticketus. The judge declared the season ticket deal to be void because it is illegal to sell a personal right in Scotland, something that Craig’s lawyers and those for Ticketus should have explored before the takeover.
With the court ruling going against him and his options all but exhausted, Craig had one last throw of the dice. If he could get someone to front a bid on his behalf he still had a chance not only to save the club but to minimise his own losses, which would top £20 million should Rangers go under.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. But for Craig a route out of the heat of the frying pan would lead directly into the fire.
Chapter 17: Shafted
With his options running out, Craig spoke to a contact in London called Imran Ahmad. He introduced Craig to Charles Green, a former footballer-turned-businessman who had caused controversy at Sheffield United. Craig asked Green if he was willing to raise funds and front up a bid to take control of the club.
Due to the antipathy towards him from Duff and Phelps, HMRC and the SFA, Craig had to remain in the background. Green agreed. Craig bought a shelf company called Sevco 5088 that made an offer to the administrators of £7.5 million to buy Rangers through a CVA, or £5.5 million for the assets if the club was liquidated.
When no bidder was accepted – and despite a last gasp offer from former manager Walter Smith – the club was liquidated and the assets sold to Sevco in June 2012.
Unbeknownst to Craig, Green set up another shelf company Sevco Scotland Ltd and transferred everything – fraudulently – from Sevco 5088 to the new company.
Craig had been cut out of his own deal.
The new Rangers had to apply to be re-admitted into the football league but the other premier league clubs, under pressure from their outraged fans, voted down their application. Instead the new Rangers had to start life at the bottom of the third division, a decision Craig describes as ‘suicidal’.
As fans vented their fury, Craig received death threats from Rangers’ supporters, while rival Celtic fans hailed him as some sort of hero. Despite the actions of others, he was the one blamed for Rangers’ demise.
Yet he writes: ‘I was trying to save the club. I appreciate some fans might not see it that way and maybe never will, but that is the truth.’ Once again mirroring the plight of the team he loved, Craig found himself in the wilderness.
He had only one option left – get revenge on Charles Green.
Chapter 18: ‘You Are Sevco’
When Charles Green acquired Rangers no one knew he was originally supposed to be a front for Craig’s bid. That all changed when Craig supplied The Sun newspaper with recordings of Charles Green admitting: ‘Don’t worry Craig, I’ll look after your interests. You are Sevco.’
Green tried to deny the claims but admitted publicly he had ‘shafted’ Craig. Once those revelations came out, Green’s position was untenable. He sold his shares, which Craig disputes were still acquired fraudulently.
Meanwhile, Craig didn’t have his troubles to seek. He retreated to Monaco to escape the furore but back in Scotland the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland ordered an investigation into the takeover. Even though no evidence existed that any crime had been committed, the Crown Office seemed intent on finding something to pin on anyone. Ticketus began legal proceedings against Craig to recoup the £27 million personal guarantee he had given on their investment. To make matters worse, Craig was also given a lengthy ban from being a company director. Castle Grant was sold to help pay his debts. For the first time in his adult life, Craig did not have work commitments so took advantage of his enforced business break to go travelling.
However much he tried to escape his recent past however his ill-fated time at Rangers would always catch up with him.
Chapter 19: Not Guilty
Picking up the story from where the Prologue left off, Craig was arrested again in September 2015. This time it looked like he would be joined in the dock with Charles Green and David Whitehouse and others, who were also arrested and charged with various offences. A warrant was also issued for the arrest of Imran Ahmad, who had fled overseas.
Among Craig’s charges was the alleged crime of financial assistance. At the time he was the first person to face such charges in the UK. A month later Craig was declared bankrupt for failure to pay the Ticketus debts. In all Ticketus managed to recoup about £5 million of their losses.
As Craig prepared for trial, the Crown decided not to pursue the case against his co-accused. Not for the first time Craig found himself the fall guy.
He instructed Donald Findlay QC, former vice-chairman of Rangers to fight his case, which Craig maintains was only brought for political reasons. He relives his experience in court but explains that as the Crown case developed his confidence that justice and sense would prevail never wavered.
Yet, he recounts his dismay at some of the evidence, by people who blatantly lied in the witness box to protect their own shattered reputations.
Craig was confronted by so-called Rangers fans who said they were monitoring his movements.
By contrast, an incident where Celtic fans leapt to his defence in the face of some abuse from other Rangers’ supporters illustrates just what a peculiar situation he found himself – and how unique a football city Glasgow is.
After the Crown concluded its evidence, Craig took the unusual step of not taking to the stand, or presenting any evidence in his defence. Some observers might have thought it a risky strategy but he was confident his team had demolished the Crown’s case. So it proved when he was acquitted by the jury and walked free from court, his ordeal finally over.
Craig feels disappointment that to this day he remains the only person connected with Rangers during the blackest period in its history that has been brought to trial, when others committed clear fraud in taking over the club.
Potential legal routes are open to him to right the wrongs put upon him by the SFA and current members of the Rangers’ board. He considers his options in this closing chapter.
As he reflects on the most tortuous period of his life, he acknowledges that he was doomed from the start. Rangers will always be considered an establishment club and he was never considered part of the establishment.
He assesses what he could have done differently and says but for a few small episodes that went against him, he could still have been Rangers’ chief executive to this day.
Looking at the wider picture, as Celtic and fans of rival clubs cling to hopes that Rangers might be stripped of titles won during the period when the EBT scheme was in operation, he insists Rangers have been punished enough – and he pours scorn on the clubs who voted for his old club’s demotion from the Premiership.
And as he picks up the pieces of his career, which only now is he slowly starting to rebuild, he explains his reasons for wanting his story finally to be heard.