The reaction to HMRC’s victory at the Court of Session in respect of the action against Murray Group Holdings and others, has been a mixture of both expected and unexpected. I think many of us Rangers fans expected the implosion from fans of other clubs, most notably Celtic, calling for titles to be stripped and cups to be taken away. Perhaps the unexpected element came from some sections of the media, with the exception of course, of some of the usual suspects.
The notion being promoted is that not only were we “cheats” with “tainted titles” but Rangers, through use of EBT’s, and failure to disclose side letters, gained an unfair sporting advantage – a notion previously dismissed by the SPL Independent Commission chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith.
“Rangers FC did not gain any unfair competitive advantage from the contraventions of the SPL Rules in failing to make proper disclosure of the side-letter arrangements, nor did the non-disclosure have the effect that any of the registered players were ineligible to play, and for this and other reasons no sporting sanction or penalty should be imposed upon Rangers FC.”
There is a particularly Scottish flavour to this clamour for retrospective punishment by way of honours forfeited. Rangers are not the only club to have fallen foul of HMRC over use of EBT’s with Arsenal previously coming to their attention, resulting in a considerable dent in their 2005 accounts as they paid back monies HMRC deemed they were due.
Arsenal’s use of the EBT scheme came to light in July 2004 during Ray Parlour’s fairly acrimonious divorce from his wife Karen. During the course of the court proceedings it was discovered that Ray Parlour had only paid 22% on a salary of £1.5 million in season 2000/01.
The merits of this case and the considerable contrast in reactions to Arsenal and Rangers use of EBT’s were discussed in detail in an excellent article by Colin Armstrong writing for the Rangers Standard in 2013.
As Colin points out in that article Ray Parlour was not the only Arsenal player with an EBT, with the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and Dennis Bergkamp also recipients.
Whilst it may well be that Arsenal were operating EBT schemes prior to the 2000/01 season, for the purpose of this article we will only review the honours won by Arsenal between that season and 2005 when the bill was settled. These were as follows:-
2 League Championships (2002, 2004)
3 FA Cups (2002, 2003, 2005)
2 Charity/Community Shields (2002, 2004)
Despite the fact that during this period Arsenal did not pay what was due HMRC there are no demands for them to be stripped of the honours won during this period. They are not accused of cheating or gaining an unfair sporting advantage. No journalists were snubbed by the FA. No children were deprived of schoolbooks nor soldiers sent into battle without the necessary equipment. No, this appears to be an issue exclusive to Scotland. Which of course will come as no surprise to many of us after all…
It’s all about the Rangers.