THE Rangers manager, Ally McCoist, issued an angry criticism of the Scottish Football Association last night and demanded to know the names of those who had imposed a year-long transfer ban on the club.
Rangers were also fined £160,000 by an SFA Judicial Panel Tribunal on Monday night as the governing body imposed its penalties after an independent inquiry, chaired by Lord William Nimmo Smith, into rule breaches by owner Craig Whyte and the club.
Rangers submitted an appeal yesterday – even before receiving the findings in writing – and if administrators Duff & Phelps and the SFA can clear space in their diaries that could be held as early as next week. The three-man Judicial Panel Tribunal works in anonymity and so will the different indepdendent panel, probably chaired by a Law Lord, which is selected to hear the appeal. Those involved are picked from a pool of around 100 ex-players, managers, officials and other football or legal figures. Rangers will hope to have the transfer embargo – which applies to all players over 18 – suspended or lifted entirely.
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Duff & Phelps administrator David Whitehouse said the transfer ban was "extraordinary" and would make it harder to secure a takeover with either Paul Murray's Blue Knights or American Bill Miller. The bidders are now likely to step back until the appeal is heard.
Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive, vigorously defended the disciplinary process last night and pointed out that Rangers themselves had signed up to it when new procedures were unanimously approved by all member clubs last year. But that did not prevent McCoist referring to the "supposedly independent" process in withering comments on the Rangers official website.
"I was shocked and absolutely appalled by the way this supposedly independent judicial panel was coming down on us in this form," said the manager. "Who are these people? I want to know who these people are. 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? I think we have a right to know who is handing out this punishment to us, I really do.
"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 decision could kill our football club, simple as that. Make no mistake about it. This panel is not totally to blame for the death of our football club if it happens but this particular decision could kill our football club," he added.
"You would hope there would be sympathetic ears within the SFA over an appeals process, but you just don't know what is coming next. It is complete and utter guesswork. In terms of our supporters, again they have received another kicking and we just feel it's time to start fighting back. You can guarantee we will be fighting back."
McCoist also claimed to be warming to the idea of Rangers starting again in the third division next season, even though the transfer ban which angered him had nothing to do with the SPL.
"Some fans have been suggesting this and I am leaning towards it myself. Make no mistake about it, it would be an unbelievably drastic measure and it will have an incredible impact on Scottish football, and not for the good. But if they are going to continue to impose sanctions on us and make things extremely difficult for us to defend ourselves, then maybe, just maybe, it might be the right thing. We are hanging by our fingertips. We're really at the do-or-die stage."
Regan said the SFA had a responsibility to all member clubs, not just Rangers, to implement its rules "without fear or favour". But he also appeared to give Rangers some grounds for optimism that an appeal could have some success.
"It is important the SFA, as the governing body, works in association with the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League to reinvigorate the national sport," he said. "Rangers have been part of the fabric of Scottish football's history and are integral to its future prosperity. The SFA must act with integrity and with the best interests of the game at heart. It is with this in mind that we await any appeal from the club.
"The implementation of the Judicial Panel process was approved unanimously by all member clubs at last year's annual meeting to bring efficiency, transparency and independence to the execution of football rules. I can fully understand the fear and frustration felt by all Rangers fans throughout the most difficult period in the club's history."
Rangers' position is that the club should not be excessively punished for wrongdoing which was the work of Whyte alone. Whitehouse said: "We are unsure as to whether the judicial panel fully understood or considered the commercial impact upon both the club and Scottish football of these measures, nor are we satisfied . . . as to whether these sanctions are indeed lawful.
"We are urging both football authorities to adopt a more pragmatic approach to sanctions to ensure that the administration of Rangers Football Club can be brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible date for the good of the club and Scottish football generally. There has been widespread support . . . across the political spectrum and in the football world for Rangers to be saved as a club and a viable business. Last night's decision hinders rather than helps."
"I think the prospect of winning the appeal is high. But it's a question of timing. We need to accelerate the process. An appeal hearing in August won't be any help to us – we need to deal with these issues now. We need to have a resolution by the end of the season. That's a cash deadline. We are funded until then."
In response to the revelation that in return for relinquishing Rangers owner Whyte wanted to retain a 25 per cent shareholding and have a representative on the board, among other conditions, Whitehouse said he seemed to have "completely unrealistic and unpalatable expectations."
Rangers supporters' groups mobilised in response to the SFA punishment yesterday. Some will hold a protest march to Hampden on Saturday. "The combination of a huge fine and the ban on signing players for 12 months is a devastating blow," said Andy Kerr, president of the Rangers Supporters Assembly. "Surely the role of a governing body is to help and support member clubs as best they can? We do not want to run away from our responsibilities and we accept that any wrong-doing needs to be dealt with. But to do it now, when we are trying desperately to exit administration, is brutal in the extreme.
"We are considering what action we can take to make our feelings known – fans are already targeting SFA sponsors like William Hill, Vauxhall Motors and others. We are discussing what specific actions we can take to show the SFA we are disgusted by their actions."