THE phone rang mid-morning on Thursday, February 2.
Craig Whyte was on the blower to The Herald, not at all happy. I had written that HMRC were "all over" Rangers not just because of the big tax case he inherited from Sir David Murray but also due to things that made them suspicious about Whyte himself.
Loading article content
The article also speculated about whether the Ticketus deal meant he may not be the preferred creditor when Rangers went into administration. The chairman and owner of Rangers Football Club, custodian of the oak-panelled boardroom and the marble staircase, described the article as "complete pish". There was the usual talk of us maybe hearing from his lawyers, but that went without saying. We've heard from them before and so have plenty of others. They must have some papers and BBC Scotland on speed dial. Whyte has held only two press conferences with daily newspaper reporters during his chairmanship of Rangers and The Herald was banned from one of them. He hadn't liked a story saying that Rangers would appear in court because of a dispute over a small, unpaid legal bill. It was true, and within hours they did, but that wasn't the point as far as Whyte was concerned.
Plenty has been said about the slipperiness, the ability to tell a bare-faced lie, the empty promises, the sheer brass neck of this guy, but another unappealing aspect of his character has been a tendency to bully and be aggressively controlling when it came to criticism, scrutiny or investigation. Now we know why. In the epic, sweeping drama of Rangers' collapse and his individual downfall it is the little things which sometimes seem most revealing. Whyte spoke to a BBC reporter on Thursday. For months the BBC has been in Siberia as far as Rangers were concerned, banned by Whyte for the documentary which shot to pieces his claim to have "nothing to hide" by revealing he had been disqualified from being a company director for seven years. Now, with his reputation in tatters, he took the BBC's call and spouted that nonsense about coming back to finish what he'd started.
If that wasn't so laughable it would be chilling.
He's behaving like a fugitive rather than a chairman. After a week in London, he flew to Nice and he's holed up in his apartment in Monaco, declining to talk when a journalist arrived from Glasgow to buzz his intercom over the weekend. "I'm not doing interviews" were four words more than Ally McCoist has had out of him for nearly a fortnight. Whyte looks like a guy who's been rumbled and has fled with Strathclyde Police, HMRC, Duff and Phelps administrators and a SFA inquiry on his tail. If he has nothing to hide, he shouldn't be acting like a guy in hiding.
Whyte's threats and writs have no power now. In fact, what fun the newspaper or BBC solicitors could have if they ever got him in a witness box. While Duff and Phelps desperately try to find a way to save Rangers, HMRC contemplates whether deals can be done with a new regime, and Paul Murray, Dave King and others try to guess how big a black hole their cash will disappear into if they take over, the police are rummaging through the figures trying to find out if Whyte did things which could result in him being prosecuted and even jailed.
It's up to the Crown Office to decide whether what he did was illegal or simply immoral, but it's reasonable to suspect that as a venture capitalist the basis of his approach to Rangers was similar to his modus operandi at untold other companies in the past, many of which collapsed. With due respect to creditors and anyone who lost their jobs in those cases, the wider world didn't care. Rangers are different. What madness possessed him to think he could get away with not paying VAT and PAYE while lying to thousands of people about what he'd done with season-ticket money? At the centre of all of this is the fact Whyte seems to have had no comprehension of the enormity of what he was getting himself into by owning Rangers.
As for that article of "complete pish" at the start of this month: HMRC soon confirmed they were all over Whyte and his status as preferred creditor has been questioned even by Duff and Phelps. The phone call, like so much else, was hot air.
And Another Thing . . .
Way, way down the list of things Rangers need to concern themselves with, but something they'll have to address in time, is the name of their training ground. It may be absurd to talk of Murray being stripped of his knighthood over what's happened to Rangers but there is something jarringly inappropriate about the players' headquarters being named in his honour while fans are carrying banners saying they'll never forgive or forget his "crimes against RFC".
Name it after Walter Smith, or Bill Struth, or umpteen other candidates – or even raise a few quid by flogging off naming rights – but one way or another it has to change. And it would be a nice gesture if Murray came out and said so himself.