"I think if you are a wealthy Scot you should live in Scotland and pay tax... I pay a lot of tax. I'm happy to pay. I don't mind sharing that way."
- David Murray, April 2001
It is difficult to believe that the David Murray who could be found spouting the above rhetoric about the importance of paying taxes is the same Sir David Murray who is being cast as the mother of all tax dodgers some 11 years later. In witnessing the scenes in and around Ibrox Stadium on Saturday, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Murray had made off in an armoured van earlier in the day with a few suitcases of the club's national insurance loot holed up in the back.
The main item that is being overlooked in all the hyperbole attached to Rangers' fall into administration a week ago is that a decision has yet to be reached in the 'big tax case' that will decide whether or not the Glasgow club owe HM Revenue and Customs millions of pounds in unpaid taxes. A figure of £43 million plus interest and penalties has been touted over the alleged misuse of Employee Benefit Trusts.
Murray finally spoke out last week to profess his belief that there may be a favourable outcome for the club he oversaw for over 20 years when all of this messy business concludes. Yet he has been hung, drawn and quartered before the outcome of the tax tribunal is known. The devil is in the detail. Rangers-in-administration are none the wiser than Rangers pre-administration of what fate will befall them.
There are calls for Murray's knighthood to be revoked for the haphazard manner in which he has driven Rangers to the brink of ruin. Initially for running up huge debts and fraternising with the practice of financial doping in gaining an unfair advantage over their opponents by recruiting faces they could not afford, but latterly for failing to find a safe pair of hands to run the club.
Is Murray guilty of a criminal act of negligence? Or something approaching a criminal act? That remains to be seen.
It is difficult to offer up an opinion on Rangers or Celtic without being accused of having an agenda. If you use a forum such as these to convey the message that all is not right, you tend to find yourself being castigated for being a "f****n b*****d" or "o****e scum".
There was a slightly bulging postbag last week after I intimated that Rangers may have a problem with parts of their support and the nature of the songs they sing. The SFA are apparently planning to listen to audio of the party tunes trotted out by some fans during the match with Kilmarnock. Did this happen? Or was I making it up?
Likewise, it was over 13 months ago one attracted a fair helping of venom for suggesting that Murray's self-indulgence was leading Rangers to darker times. It is a statement that seems to be ringing truer and truer, but I was apparently imagining such stuff because I was a rabid fan of the other lot.
I have been critical of Celtic in this blog in the past, but they are not part of any debate on Rangers because they have nothing to do with the problems Rangers are facing. For what it is worth, I have several friends who follow Rangers. As always, it is the poor man in the street who suffers. The club has been put in danger by the reckless behaviour of figures with larger egos than their bank balances, but there are bigger issues in life to worry about other than football clubs, whether they play in Glasgow, Manchester or London.
There is little doubt that Scottish football would be an impoverished place without the support which Rangers carry to the provincial clubs, but there is a bigger picture in life of which football is only a small segment.
Health, education, unemployment and housing are infinitely more important issues than how a football club, essentially a private business like any other, is managing to organise its finances. Whether or not you follow Celtic, Rangers, Manchester United or Liverpool, life tends to affect people in similar ways. Failure to pay taxes has a direct effect on others.
Treatment for cancer, the new school being constructed along the road or the erection of new houses are funded by taxes. I read somewhere the other day that Rangers is the glue that keeps many broken communities together. This is very true, but tax is the glue that keeps society together. From that perspective, the taxman is only representing the man in the street whether they prefer a blue, a maroon or a green hue to their football-watching activities.
Wealthy footballers do not need any more than they were or are earning. I remember interviewing the Dutch player Ronald de Boer at Ibrox at the same time the EBTs were apparently being greeted by Murray. Ronald was an enjoyable chap to listen to, especially as he pointed out how he had rejected a move from Barcelona to Manchester United to join Rangers. In retrospect, one wonders what figures such as De Boer were cramming into their wage packets with the aid of an EBT?
Murray's final action as Rangers owner in selling the club to Craig Whyte may see him portrayed as a flawed figure for allowing the club to fall into allegedly disreputable hands, but Whyte's credentials have yet to be fully examined. It would be unfair to pass judgement on Murray's tenure until the tax case is played out.
Just as taxes are the bedrock of society, being innocent until proven guilty are also the moorings on which the British legal system was founded to withstand the buffeting of the typhoons that rage. Fabio Capello walked out on his position as England manager over his perception of what he saw as the flaunting of such a maxim.
What if HMRC lose their case with Rangers? What if Rangers owe the taxman zilch? How will history view David Murray then?
- Sports & Recreation