Eleventh hour bid to resolve Rangers SFA membership as season start looms

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By Bob Duncan
 
The situation regarding newco Rangers participation in the Scottish Football League remains in doubt today [Thursday] after the new clubs application for membership to the SFA remained unresolved.
 
The situation risks throwing Scottish football back into chaos as without a membership of the SFA the new club cannot take part in football matches.

Ally McCoist’s side are due to start their season against Brechin in the Ramsdens Cup on Sunday.  However, agreement between five parties – old Rangers, new Rangers, the SFA, SPL and Scottish Football League – is required for the newco to obtain SFA membership.

The stalemate centres on disagreements over the alleged use of Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) schemes by oldco Rangers, the status of the sanction that the SFA imposed for a breach of the governing body’s rules last season and the need for Rangers’ SFA registration to be transferred to Sevco Scotland.

The first of these relates to the alleged use of Employee Benefit Trust schemes by Rangers between 2001 and 2010. Though the use of EBT’s has not been ruled as tax evasion, the fact that the payments may have been made for footballing activities mean Rangers could still face sanctions.

The SPL has already stated that there is a prima facie case to answer over EBTs and, if Rangers are guilty of breaking the rules over undeclared payments, the sanctions available include the stripping of titles, which Rangers manager Ally McCoist has already stated he would firmly oppose.

The second sticking point is that SFA wanted Rangers to set aside their court ruling and accept the football authority’s sanction of a 12 month transfer embargo.  Other options available to Rangers were to accept a new ruling from the Tribunal or to make a new membership application instead of asking for a transfer.  However, as a new company, the new application would almost certainly fail.

The SFA announced on Friday that it has reached agreement with Sevco Scotland to accept the embargo, albeit on a delayed basis to allow the club to rebuild a squad this summer.  The embargo will take effect from the start of September, allowing the club a brief window in which to hire players.  It was explained that this acceptance was “as a primary condition of a transfer of membership”.

Ordinarily, if Sevco were applying for a brand new membership of the Scottish FA, they would need four years of accounts to become an associate member.  Participation in the SFL is dependant on being either a full or associate member of the Scottish FA.

However, these rules have been waived due to Sevco Scotland applying to have the old company’s registration transferred to them.  As the oldco had submitted historic accounts, with the exception of 2011, the four year rule does not apply.

The SFA has stated accounts are not required from the oldco for 2011 as the club was fined for failing to provide them.  This has been deemed sufficient punishment by the governing body, which is no longer asking for the gap to be filled.

Additionally, Duff and Phelps, administrators of the old Rangers company, have submitted documents to show that they believe Green and his investors to be “fit and proper”, while Sevco Scotland have had to provide business plans and details of their intentions.

The Ibrox newco have to be issued with a licence this week so they can play their first competitive game against Brechin City in the Ramsdens Cup on Sunday.  Another sticking point is believed to be a threat that the club may ‘lose’ some of the historic titles won by the old Rangers during the years relating to allegations of inappropriate payments and tax avoidance.

New owner Charles Green said today he was confident of receivong membership: “We’re making good progress.  I spoke to the chief executive of the SFA this morning and that went very well.  I have also spoken to Neil Doncaster and I’m really hopeful now that within the next 24 hours we can have this thing signed and sealed and Alastair McCoist can start loading his players onto a team coach to go up and try to win a match on Sunday.

“As far as I am concerned now we have no outstanding issues with the SFA.  It’s now purely process and documentation. We have no issues with the Football League and just some minor points to resolve with the SPL and I’m hopeful we can do that.”

At the time of publication talks are continuing with the SPL in an attempt at overcoming the impasse.  Late reports suggest that agreement has been reached most issues but that the possibility that titles, won by old Rangers FC, may be stripped, still exists.