Desmond Kane

Why would anyone buy a Scottish football club?

Desmond Kane

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It is perhaps a bit rich, literally when you think of how many bags he made out of the game, for Alan Sugar to offer some sort of frank solution to the financial problems football faces. The BBC programme 'Lord Sugar Tackles Football' was watchable, but rambling without ever building to a taut conclusion.

The English actor David Morrissey has recovered sufficiently from his role in Basic Instinct 2 to sound convincing in narrating an 'investigation' that felt as predictable as an episode of Midsomer Murders, i.e., we find out who commits the murder, with or without a cricket bat, but it is weirdly passed off as the norm in those parts. 

The former barrow boy Sugar spoke to various figures - including a few other local boys made good in stuffing a few quid under the mattress - in discussing the direction in which football is heading. There was nothing new gleaned from the programme apart from the misuse of new money.

Sugar got in and out of football at the right time. He sold his shares in Tottenham for a nice little earner of £50 million 16 years after buying the club for £8m in 1991. His public persona was enhanced by running the North London club to such an extent that he is now the UK's version of Donald Trump on the ego-ridden and slightly depressing reality programme The Apprentice.

Sugar is calling for salary caps on players' wages, points deductions for clubs in administration, an end to investors buying controlling interests in clubs using borrowed money and leaving once-healthy clubs dripping in pools of debt - the dark art of leveraged buyouts. He similarly seeks redistribution of wealth from television income to be shone back on the grass-roots level of the game. All admirable enough, but nothing new.

Such solutions would be welcomed in Scotland, but at least the English Premier League with its £3 billion debt has large dollops of TV money to fall back on. Crucially, it is also in demand. The gulf in class and finance between England and its next door neighbour has never been greater. The Scottish Premier League receives about £13m annually from TV with each English Premier League club snaring roughly £45m from the world's most-watched league. This has impacted upon the well-being of the Scottish game.

Falling attendances, a winner's trophy that no longer guarantees automatic access to the Champions League, dwindling standards that have failed to help Scotland qualify for a World Cup since 1998 and a lop-sided little set-up that has not encouraged a winner outside of Rangers and Celtic since Sir Alex Ferguson ran Aberdeen in 1986 are the most visible ailments.

A net debt of £167m among the SPL clubs on the last calculations suggests buying into Scottish football is an act of folly on the same level of madness as Montgomery Brewster. It may be harsh comparing the SPL to the EPL, but Rangers and Celtic annually host vast numbers.

Only Manchester United and Arsenal in the UK attract more fans to their home games than Celtic - who average 47,874 fans. Rangers' average of 45,085 outstrips Chelsea, but is narrowly behind Newcastle United and Manchester City. Both are well inside the top 10 of attendances in the UK. They are inside the top 20 in Europe.

Would EPL clubs command such levels of popularity if they had Hamilton and Inverness visiting with such regularity? If the BBC wanted to get involved in some real fun and games, they should have sent Lord Sugar north in his Roller.

It would have been an idea, but then there is little appetite in England for the happenings in Scotland. With attendances on the wane over the past decade, there is a fading appetite in Scotland for the happenings in Scotland. This is a league where the St Johnstone manager Derek McInnes is contemplating a move to Brentford in League One, probably because he will have more money to spend on players while catching an increase in his salary.

It is difficult to understand why seemingly successful businessmen continue to feel the need to throw money upon the financial bonfire that is Scottish football. The Celtic owner Dermot Desmond has been listed inside the richest 800 people in the world with estimated personal wealth of £1bn. He remains quite grounded in his approach. This makes business sense, but does not help to sell season books.

Celtic have lost about 9,000 supporters attending home games over the past decade. The reasons for this are clear: people simply do not have the funds to commit their earnings to watch what is essentially poor value for money. It is not blaspheming to question the intentions of Craig Whyte (pictured, back right) as the new owner of Rangers.

This is a subject that has already been aired by the club's board, the Independent Board Committee, who appear to remain doubtful about where Rangers are heading under the new man. According to various depictions of the story, Rangers could owe somewhere north of £30m if they are deemed to have acted illegally over wages paid into offshore accounts to club employees over the past decade. 

The board stated: "The IBC have differing views on the future revenue generation and cash requirements of the club. The IBC is concerned about a lack of clarity on how future cash requirements would be met, particularly any liability arising from the outstanding HMRC case."

Whyte has described such sentiments as nonsense. He spoke yesterday about the HMRC tax case against Rangers that he is confident of winning. What happens if they do not win the case? What happens if Rangers are forced to pay £30m or upwards to the tax people? Will Rangers or Whyte be burdened with the bill?

For a man who addressed a fawning press in Scotland at every opportunity, Sir David Murray's final days as Rangers owner were not exactly ripe for an episode of This Is Your Life. He finally passed on his majority shareholding in the Glasgow club of 85 per cent before stepping aside. It can only be hoped he has not sold Rangers down the river. 

Depending on whatever reports or propaganda you read, Whyte is a London-based billionaire/millionaire/tycoon/venture capitalist/entrepreneur, but there is no widely available public record of his business credentials. The Rangers fans who politely welcomed Whyte on Saturday resisted the temptation to get the bunting out. They are wise to remain inquisitive. In football terms, would they be happy if an unknown coach from England succeeded Walter Smith during the summer?

There are various questions that have yet to be answered in relation to this takeover, namely who is Craig Whyte? Where is his money coming from? If he is overflowing with the level of money needed to lead a club as large as Rangers, why has it taken six months for him to conclude a deal? Why would he want to buy Rangers when there is a threat of a heavy tax bill hanging over the club?

It is not known whether or not Whyte is going to ply Rangers with his own money. The stated commitment of £25m over five years for player purchases is paltry in modern times. This is not the expenditure of a Scottish Sheikh.

Is Whyte in this for the long haul or a quick killing? If the tax case falls in his favour, will he look to sell on his shareholding? These are the sort of questions that need answers, but actions rather than sound bites will dictate his long game.

Without scaremongering, try to get hold of a book called The Football Business. Read about some of the impostors who gained control of protruding sporting organisations in England. Whyte is not the first so-called 'fan' to wash up on the doorstep of a football club promising the world. Whyte maintains that he has been a lifelong Rangers fan, that he relished watching the wonderful Davie Cooper.

This sounds true, because only a football fan would invest in Scottish football. There has been serious decay in every orifice of the Scottish game since Cooper charmed the sport. As a football fan, one sincerely hopes Whyte has pockets as big as the main stand at Ibrox, that he has cleared the club's debts and that he will duly deal with any liability arising from the tax investigation. This is right and proper, but does not seem to be the modern way.  

We seem to be in the age of the unethical owner, of Barbarians at the gate. Rangers look like being stuck in the financially-challenged SPL for the foreseeable future. They would need someone on the make like a hole in the head. 

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