_85330283_85329713Sustainable and genuine reconciliation after a conflict is built on transparency, contrition and compromise. Intransigent denials or a thirst for punishment from either side usually achieves nothing but frustration and leaves unresolved issues which will make any future relationship very fraught and likely to collapse.

In Scottish football – as with anywhere else – reconciliation needs to start with a willingness to admit hard truths.

The many media commentators, be it ex-players, former managers or journalists, that say that it would be better if everyone could just ‘move on’ from the issues around Rangers’ use of Employee Benefit Trusts, their slow decent into liquidation and the question of whether they are still ‘the same club’ are in one sense absolutely right; it would be beneficial to concentrate solely on footballing matters again.

Actually, if Rangers and other voices proclaiming the benefits of ‘moving along’ are willing to work constructively towards a mutual beneficial solution where that can be achieved, they are likely to find the rest of Scottish football a lot more accommodating towards such a compromise than they perhaps would expect.

The majority of Scottish football fans, even Celtic supporters, who probably enjoy nothing more than to only focus on winning titles and competing with Rangers on the pitch, rather than being subject to endless tax discussions and whether it is still the ‘Old Firm’ or not.

However, to demand that everyone ‘move on’ at this particular point with so many issues clearly unresolved is patronising, shows an utter contempt for supporters of other clubs and is above all unsustainable in terms of the future of Scottish football; like trying to walk again after a broken leg before your bones has healed sufficiently.

The only way to set in motion events that may lead to such a sustainable compromise for all parts is a signal of contrition and acknowledgment of responsibility from Rangers. In short, Scottish football needs a ‘truth and reconciliation process’ and it needs the Ibrox club to be a willing participant.

The only way to set in motion events that may lead to such a sustainable compromise for all parts is a signal of contrition and acknowledgment of responsibility from Rangers. In short, Scottish football needs a ‘truth and reconciliation process’ and it needs the Ibrox club to be a willing participant.

It’s not for me to dictate what an acceptable outcome from such a process would look like and there is certainly no one solution that all sides would be happy to accept fully. But there are at least two main issues that need to be addressed through such a detailed and comprehensive process.

The Titles

The question of the legitimacy of the titles won by Rangers during the seasons they utilised Employee Benefit Trusts as a method of paying employees is likely to be heavily influenced by whether the Supreme Court confirms the decision that the use of such trusts were in fact illegal in terms of tax law. If they do (and at present this seems the most likely outcome) a compromise must be reached on this issue. An added scrutiny should be on the titles won after 2004, the point where the existence of the EBT ‘side letters’ to players and staff were seemingly not revealed to HMRC, even after multiple requests.

Admittance from Rangers that the use of EBTs (and the non-disclosure of the side letters) gave the club a sporting advantage not available to other teams is crucial and necessarily. Whether those titles are then removed and given to another team, the competitions in question are voided without a winner or if Rangers are allowed to keep the title with an ‘asterix in the history books’, is not for me to say. But all parts, including the SFA, would be better off in the long run with a compromise that includes the acknowledgment of this sporting advantage.

The New Club

For everyone’s sanity, Rangers and Scottish football need to come to a fragile peace on this issue. Personally I’m perfectly happy to accept that the Rangers team that will play in the Scottish Premiership next season is the continuation of the club that was liquidated in 2012. They have the same supporters, play in the same ground and in the same colours. They inhabit the position of one of the two biggest clubs in Scotland, and their presence in the top division will undoubtedly generate more interest and probably more commercial revenue. Their games with Celtic will garner world-wide attention and create more interest in Scottish football than any other match would. Grant Russell, the STV journalist who is a sharp and articulate (and in my opinion, very fair) voice in Scottish football media, makes a sensible point when he argues that the term ‘Old Firm’ is Scottish football best recognisable ‘brand’ on an international stage and it should still be utilised as much as possible.

3000What makes it difficult – and perfectly understandable – for so many fans of other teams to accept the reasonable points above is the sense that both Rangers and a lot of the Scottish football media seem to be insisting on revisionist version of such recent history. Something fundamental did happen in 2012. Rangers weren’t demoted or relegated. They were liquidated and lost their SFA license. A new company was awarded the league license made available by Rangers’ liquidation and then admitted into the league system at the bottom tier. That decision was unprecedented; any liquidated club starting up again with a new license would expect to have to do so at the bottom of the non-league structure. It was also a sensible decision; a compromise that gave this new licensee some special treatment based on their potential contribution to Scottish football but which avoided being the serious attack at the integrity of the game it would have been if they had been admitted higher up into the Scottish Football League structure.

If Scottish football is to ‘move on’ from questions and comments around whether the current Rangers is a new club or not, there needs to be a genuine acknowledgement of these events from 2012, especially from the club itself. What such a compromise would look like is again not for me to judge, but the noise around it will never decrease by pretending that nothing happened to the fundamental fabric of the club. At present, this is seen both through Rangers’ insistence on claiming the football history but not the financial debt of the club that was liquidated in 2012 and the general media language that so seldom seem to reflect the full consequences of the events that year, with widely use phrases like ‘relegation’ and ‘demotion’ showing weak journalistic standard and sometimes downright cowardice.

It’s admittedly very naïve to think that Scottish football will happily embrace any such ‘truth and reconciliation process’. Senior figures such as Walter Smith proclaiming that it is actually Rangers that is the real victim only illustrates the ignorance and lack of contrition that makes any sort of reconciliation within the game seemingly impossible. Again, to their credit, STV was one of the few media outlets that openly challenged Smith’s comments in any way.

If the voices within Scottish football that want to ‘move on’ are genuine in their concerns about the game’s wellbeing rather than only the interests of one club, they need to accept that no sustainable solution can come from leaving things the way they currently are; a frustrating and unsatisfactory impasse that ultimately benefits no-one in the Scottish game. The Scottish football media is still too often falling short of their responsibility in these matters, even taking into the consideration the apparently aggressive tactics towards journalists that is still prevalent at Ibrox.

If there is even a grain of concern about Scottish football within Rangers, the club need to acknowledge their responsibility and take the first step towards a compromise. If they do, they might be surprised by the response. If they do not, it would eventually be to the detriment of both Scottish football and to the club itself.

Without truth and contrition, no reconciliation. While Rangers and its supporters might find it, understandably, difficult to accept a compromise which includes having some ‘asterisk years’ as part of their history, without reconciliation, without compromise, they may instead end up becoming nothing more than an asterisk club to the rest of Scottish football. There will be proclamations that they couldn’t care less. I don’t believe them. Compromise and reconciliation is the only sustainable way forward for Rangers and Scottish football. It’s time that all parts actually fully pursued it.


This article was first published by the 90 Minute Cynic. republished with thanks.