A couple of weeks ago, I questioned whether there existed within the governing body of Scottish soccer the will to meaningfully punish Rangers FC for their many transgressions against the spirit of sporting integrity.
That question was partly answered this week, with what has been portrayed as a quite severe punishment for charges of bringing the game into disrepute, dating only to May 2011, and the takeover of the club by Craig Whyte.
For their failure to pay PAYE and National Insurance contributions to the tax authorities; failure to disclose to the SFA Whyte’s previous seven-year ban from being a company director; obstruction of an SFA inquiry into whether Whyte was a “fit and proper person,” to hold office with a member club; and failure to pay debts to other member clubs, Rangers has been fined £160,000 ($258,000) and banned from signing any players over the age of 17 for one year.
Craig Whyte was personally fined the sum of £200,000 ($322,700) and banned for life from holding office with any Scottish football club.
It should not be forgotten in assessing the severity of these sanctions that Rangers cannot pay, and Craig Whyte will not pay, the fines. Being in administration, Rangers are already banned from signing players anyway.
Despite this, news of these punishments met with an angry reaction from Rangers.
“The thrust of the charges against the club focused on non-payment of payroll taxes and evidence was produced that all such decisions in this area were taken by Craig Whyte during his tenure.
"Given this evidence, it is difficult to comprehend that the disciplinary panel has seen fit to effectively punish the club even more heavily than Mr Whyte.
"As everyone knows, it has already been decided he is not a fit and proper person to run a football club and any further punishment on him will have little or no impact.
"However, for Rangers, a ban on signing players will seriously undermine the club's efforts to rebuild after being rendered insolvent.
"Furthermore, we do not know how bidders for the club will react to these sanctions and what affect they will have on their proposals.
"The club has asked for full written reasons for these decisions and intend to appeal against the findings."
Duff & Phelps then consider it a harsh punishment. They seem to think that Rangers the club should not be held accountable for the actions of their owner and chairman.
In a way, this is beside the point anyway. It is not for the panel to consider the impact of the punishment. Their job is to apply an appropriate punishment for the crime.
Leaving aside the fact that the chairman acts on behalf of the company, the administrators at least were moderate in tone in their criticisms of the punishment meted out by the SFA.
Not so Rangers manager Alistair McCoist.
McCoist has for long enjoyed an extremely positive presentation in the Scottish press, more positive perhaps than any other figure still active in the Scottish game.
Throughout a long playing career, he was universally portrayed as the “Cheeky Chappie,” in Glasgow parlance—an amiable, jovial character loved by all.
On retiring as a player, McCoist carved out a niche for himself in the media, appearing as a team captain on the long-running BBC quiz show, A Question of Sport, which relentlessly played on his public image of jocularity and bon homie.
McCoist’s reputation has rather counterintuitively been enhanced by his short stint in charge of Rangers. A sympathetic press has lauded his leadership of the club through troubled times and Rangers fans have rallied around his “we don’t do walking away” soundbite.
This despite the quite shambolic nature of his time in charge.
Eliminated from the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Scottish League Cup at the first hurdles, and the Scottish Cup at the fourth round stage (SPL clubs enter in the third round), McCoist has also presided over a quite astonishing collapse.
He saw a 15-point SPL lead over Celtic on the morning of November 5, 2011 turn into a four-point deficit by the close of play on December 28.
By any standards, McCoist has spectacularly fluffed his lines this season, yet the club entering administration on February 14 seems to have handed him a free pass.
McCoist may have overstepped the mark though with his outburst in response to the SFA punishment handed out to Rangers.
Actually, he has overstepped the mark, but maybe even the Scottish media are beginning to realise it.
“I found out the decision last night and I was shocked and absolutely appalled by the way this supposedly independent judicial panel was coming down on us in this form. I’m a Rangers supporter and the Rangers supporters and the Scottish public deserve to know who these people are, people who are working for the SFA.
“Make no mistake about it, this is an SFA decision. They have appointed the panel so therefore they are working for the SFA, but who are they?
“Like everyone else involved – our team, our supporters, our staff and a lot of neutrals – I am staggered at the severity of the punishment.”
This statement is remarkable on many levels.
First of all, McCoist declares that the panel were appointed by the SFA, so were working on their behalf. Wasn’t Craig Whyte operating on Rangers’ behalf when he withheld taxes and failed to pay debts for other clubs?
Secondly, McCoist demands to know the identities of the judicial panel members. Rangers were represented at the hearing, so McCoist already knows the identities of the panel members. Why is he asking who they are?
Lastly, by calling for their names to be made public, McCoist acted with a reckless disregard for the personal safety of the panel members.
Lest anyone think that last point is slightly melodramatic, on March 30, two Rangers supporters were found guilty of attempting to assault Celtic manager Neil Lennon with a bomb sent through the post.
Yes, that’s right, in Scotland, sending a bomb to someone through the mail lands you with an assault charge. Or maybe only if the intended recipient is Neil Lennon.
Anyway, I digress. In calling for the judicial panel members to be outed, McCoist pandered to the lowest common denominator amongst the Rangers support, playing to the gallery in his desperation to curry favour with the fanbase.
There is, of course, no suggestion that McCoist wished any harm to come to the panel members. However, in the powder-keg atmosphere that surrounds football in Glasgow even at the best of times, he should know better.
He should have known the effect his words would have on the more combustible sections of the Rangers support, who are already agitated enough by the club’s impending implosion.
The names of all three panel members have, somehow, been leaked on the Internet, and they have all been the subject of death threats and have received security advice from Strathclyde Police.
“I would not for one moment want anyone to interpret my remarks as a signal to engage in any form of threatening behaviour.
"Such activity disgusts me and anyone who engages in it does Rangers Football Club nothing but harm. No Rangers supporter should get themselves involved in it—not now nor at any time.”
The question must be asked: How did McCoist think his remarks would be interpreted?
Of course he doesn’t want the panel members to be threatened, but why was he asking who they were when he already knew? What did he think would be gained from identifying them?
Inadvertently or not, Alistair McCoist has put the safety of three people at risk. He should be asking some serious questions of himself.
When the SPL investigation into Rangers’ use of improperly registered players presents its findings—and the potentially far greater punishment it will hand down to Rangers is known—it is to be hoped that McCoist will be far more sensible and restrained in his reaction.
Peoples’ lives may well depend upon it.
In the meantime, Rangers have appealed the fine and transfer ban, and against a backdrop of intimidation and threats, it would be a brave panel who uphold the decision of the judicial panel.
Follow Daniel O'Connell on Twitter @DanielOConnel18