Rangers and their EBTs

The Rangers saga is almost never-ending, and this week’s ruling that their infamous EBT use could well have helped them on the way to their league titles is not a surprise.  Rangers cheated the system off-the-field and of course that meant they were able to sign and keep some talented players that helped them on the way to league championships.

EBTs (Employer Benefit Trusts) were used by Rangers to pay their players huge sums of money and to do so by avoiding the usual PAYE tax system.  This saved their players millions and was likely a crucial factor in Rangers being able to sign them in the first place.  Of course Rangers were a big club, but when they come with a guarantee of a bumper pay packet compared to what Celtic and other clubs in England and Europe could offer by the book, of course it meant that they were able to get some players that they otherwise wouldn’t have done.

While the legal rulings this week hinge upon the business side of the club, with the millions owed to HMRC being a key factor in Rangers’ liquidation and subsequent revival, the attention of Scottish football fans is more on the football side of things.  Rangers were cheating and did well on the park because of it.  Surely that’s something that needs to be looked at?

There have been repeated calls this week for the SFA and SPFL to investigate the effect that Rangers’ EBTs had on their league performance during 2001 and 2010, when they were able to win 5 league titles.  With two “helicopter Sundays” it’s clear that even the slightest change in circumstances at the club, say one player not being there over the course of the season or perhaps not being as motivated by money whilst playing, could have made a fundamental impact on the course of these seasons, and of Scottish football history in general.

The extreme response that some are calling for is to strip Rangers of their titles earned during this time.  This is somewhat akin to what happened to Lance Armstrong after he was found guilty of doping during his 7 Tour de France wins.  A famous figure within the sport found to be using illegal means to help them towards success.

But stripping the team of title wins is a hasty and rather difficult decision to make.  This isn’t a Lance Armstrong case where a sole person’s endeavour (and as we know now, doping) was what won him his victories.  A football team and it’s league season is far more complicated when taking into consideration how exactly Rangers’ EBT dealings affected them on the pitch.  How can you measure the “sporting advantage” that their tax dodging scheme gave them in football terms?  The simple answer is you can’t.

While an investigation is definitely warranted, and some action in light of the recent ruling is perhaps due as well, it might just be time to draw a line over a dark period in a club, and Scottish football’s history.  Rangers are not now a fabled institution in our game but a warning to any club in world football who overreaches, showing even the mightiest can fall.  That damning truth will haunt the club forever more, and their titles will forever be tainted.  You don’t need to take the titles away, but keep them as an ominous reminder of how football in our country once used to be cheated.

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