Monday, 31 December 2012

Sporting Picks of 2012, Part 1 - February 14th

Rangers Enter Administration
Craig Whyte Announces that Rangers have gone into administration

Rangers Football Club has entered administration - meaning it has been docked 10 points, effectively ending its Scottish Premier League challenge.  The club appointed London firm Duff and Phelps as administrators at 14:50.  The move followed an unsuccessful legal bid by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) at the Court of Session in Edinburgh to appoint its own administrator.

HMRC lodged its petition over alleged non-payment of about £9m in PAYE and VAT following Craig Whyte's takeover.  Mr Whyte confirmed on Monday that the club had filed legal papers to appoint administrators. He insisted Rangers would "come out stronger" and "always be here".  It was initially thought that the club had 10 days to make a decision on whether to proceed, but the HMRC action on Tuesday changed the dynamic of the situation.”

This story was by far and away the biggest football story in this country, with repercussions that will be felt for the next few years.  For people outside of Scotland, it will be astonishing to think that the Rangers story kept Euro 2012, Wimbledon and the build up to the London Olympics off the back pages of almost all of the Scottish newspapers.

Rangers had been in financial trouble over the course of the last decade.  What had put them on to the road to liquidation has been an investigation by HMRC into the administration by Rangers of Employee Benefit Trusts (or EBT’s) that they had set up for their players towards the end of the 1990’s.

The impending tax case and the financial woes was the issues that saw the majority share holder David Murray decide to sell his stake.  By the spring of 2011 there looked to be two contenders for Murray’s share.  Dave King was a South African born businessman who had long had an interest in Rangers – he also had form in tax avoidance having been wanted by the South African authorities for such a charge.  The person who won was Craig Whyte, a Scottish businessman who had, to put it mildly, an extraordinarily chequered history. 

He had been disqualified as a company director for seven years, while most of the companies he had been involved with had gone into administration.  In short, Craig Whyte was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the ideal candidate to take over Rangers.  Had any of this been exposed by the Scottish media, in particular the red top tabloids, then Whyte would not have received the hero’s welcome that he got on the last day of the 2010/11 season when he had all but taken ownership of the Scottish Champions.  Yet while these stories had been circulating – mostly in Private Eye – at the time, they did not reach the mainstream Scottish Media until Mark Daly’s investigation was broadcast by BBC Scotland in October 2011 – five months after Whyte’s takeover.

Other little facts that failed to reach the mainstream media until it was too late was Whyte’s failure to pay either PAYE or NI to HMRC and the theory that Rangers were trading insolvent.  When Rangers filed the papers to go into administration, many people didn’t see what happened next when it came.  Essentially due to the ineptitude of the Scottish press to report the facts.

Rangers limped on to the end of the season.  The close season though was filled with the fall-out from Rangers administration and subsequent liquidation, with the question of where the newly constituted Rangers would play dominating the Scottish Sports media (keeping Euro 2012, Wimbledon & the build up to the Olympics off the back pages).  The SFA & SPL hierarchy wanted (for commercial reasons) New-co Rangers to begin life as an SPL member.  The supporters (initially of Aberdeen, Hearts & Hibernian) wanted Rangers to receive the treatment that they believed that, given the same set of circumstances befalling their clubs, their clubs would receive.  When those supporters began to talk of boycotts and non renewal of season tickets, the SPL clubs took notice and blocked New-co Rangers application to join the SPL.  One suspects that the corporate sponsors that were supposedly planning on pulling out of Scottish Football took note of the new found supporter-power and changed their plans.

Likewise, when the re-constituted Rangers submitted their application for entry to the SFL, despite the despicable pressure put on them by the SPL & SFA hierarchy (remember, for purely “commercial reasons), the clubs voted to admit Newco Rangers to the bottom rung of the SFL.  Six months on, parts of the Scottish footballing landscape are still the same.  There are lots of differences thought, mostly in the contrasting reputations of the governing bodies, the Scottish sports media, Rangers themselves and the fans.

Rangers, now owned by Yorkshire businessman Charles Green, have started in the Third Division and are only now living up to the tag of favourites for the Third Division crown.  To the surprise of many tax experts HMRC lost the “big” tax case against Rangers, many of the same tax experts believe that HMRC will appeal this decision in the New Year.  Both the SPL & the SFL have kept with the Murdoch shilling by striking reduced Television deals with BSkyB (and with ESPN) – so much for talking up Scottish Football.  Meanwhile both the SPL & The SFL have unveiled their own vision for the future structure of league football in Scotland.  The SFL see a top league of 16, while the SPL see two leagues with invites for SPL2 to go out (hands up who thinks Newco Rangers will get an invite?).

The implosion of Rangers did not come out of the blue, so to speak.  The ramifications of the decisions made this summer will probably be still reverberating around the game when Rangers return to the SPL.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Introducing This Years Sporting Picks

So with 2012 almost at an end, it’s nearly time to say goodbye to a truly vintage sporting year.  Before we do though there is the (almost) annual sporting picks posts.

Last years picks included Barcelona’s European Cup triumph at Wembley, the high point of Novak Djokavic’s incredible year, the deciding stage of Le Tour De France, England’s demoralising defeat of India in the Trent Bridge test and at that point the lowest ebb of Scottish Football

This years picks has been difficult to choose, but I have somehow managed to pick five moments.  There is staggeringly only one from this years Olympics, however there was a separate moments of the Olympics post that i compiled at the time.   However there are two moments of sporting history related to victorious Olympians.  The last two moments are from Football, including the biggest football story of the year, one shamefully glossed over during the BBC’s “Sports Personality…” programme.

So before those posts are published, may I wish you a happy new year..

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Olympic SPOTY... If You Please!

Sunday sees the annual BBC smug-fest that is Sport’s Personality of the Year.  Unlike in previous years, where there was a problem with the quality of sporting achievements by British Sportsmen & women, this year sees a high standard of contenders for this award.  Most of the contenders were Olympic Champions, the Olympics being the one bright point in the BBC’s year given the continued decline of their Football coverage and the perceived decline in other broadcasting standards.
2011 Sports Personality winner Mark Cavendish flanked by Darren Clarke & Mo Farrah

So, there are no footballers because of England’s failure to get beyond the quarter finals of the European Championships while there is just the one Golfer – Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy – nominated.  There are no professional boxers nominated, while the first female Olympic Champion in boxing – Nicola Adams – is nominated.  You could quibble about the exemption of the likes of Alistair Brownlee, Victoria Pendleton or Greg Rutherford but honestly who would you leave out.  The question is, who will win the award that has tendril like taken over the old “Sports Review of the Year”?

Of the twelve, there are probably four contenders slightly ahead of the rest.  Jessica Ennis has been here before, this time however she is nominated as the Olympic Champion at the Heptathlon.  Having come close when she added the European Championship to her World Championship gold medal, she will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Mary Peters, who won the equivalent event at the Munich Olympics and then became Sports Personality of the year in 1972.

Having also been previously nominated, Mo Farrah was nominated last year for his heroics in winning the 5,000m at the World Championships in Dageu.  Farrah “doubled up” for the Olympics, going for gold in both the 5,000m and the 10,000m.  He won both, becoming only the 7th man to become Olympic champion at both the 5,000m and the 10,000m (Lassie Viren managed the feat twice – in Munich in 1972 and again four years later in Montreal).  Farrah also became the first Brit to win Olympic gold at those events. While these two contenders represent sports that had been in the doldrums recently, the next two contenders represent sports that have had their best year.  For British Cycling and British Tennis, 2012 will go down as their Annus Mirabilis.

The spearhead of British Tennis’ great year has been Andy Murray.  When he was nominated in 2009 and 2011, there were slam sized holes in his CV.  This year the knocking at the door became louder and louder until the door opened at Flushing Meadow’s.  His performance against Djokavic in the Australian Open semi final hinted that Murray was going in the right direction – it took Djokavic just under 5 hours to defeat Murray.  After defeat in the Quarters at Roland Garros, Murray’s season then took off at Wimbledon.  It wasn’t just that Murray became the first Brit to reach the final since 1938 that generated momentum, but that until Federer snatched the second set to level at 1-1 Murray was on top.

Murray’s season then went from strength to strength.  He won Gold at the Olympics, beating both Djokovic and Federer on the way and also picked up a Silver in the mixed doubles partnering Laura Robson.  His high point though was his US Open triumph in September – the first British Slam winner in 35 years and the first male Slam winner in 76 years – reversing the result when he faced Djokavic in Australia.

The last of the main contenders won Olympic gold after their historic victory.   Bradley Wiggins had previously won three Olympic gold’s, but before the Olympics began took part in Le Tour de France.  Justifying the tag of favourite, he finished 3 minutes and 21 seconds ahead of compatriot and team-mate Chris Froome in the annual jaunt across France, becoming the first Brit to win Le Tour.  As an encore, Wiggins won gold in the Olympic Time trial.

Ennis, Farrah, Murray and Wiggins to my mind are the four front runners.  That’s not to say that they are the only contenders, the Golf constituency could easily rally behind McIlroy and see him home – miffed at the exclusion of the Ryder Cup hero Ian Polter, while the status of Ellie Simmonds – at times the face of the Paralympic Games – could enhance her popularity.   I however suspect that Wiggins will prevail out of that group of four, following in the pedals of Tommy Simpson, Chris Hoy and Mark Cavendish as Sports Personality winners from the world of Cycling.  If only the BBC extended their awards-fest to Villain of the year, then I would confidently predict that award would be won jointly by Craig Whyte, David Murray, Stuart Regan and Neil Doncaster.