His overwhelming reaction was one of relief, since his fear had been that Rangers might be stripped of titles. This was how the commission's inquiry had been framed, and so naturally became the way that its judgment was received.
The first reports of the commission's verdict came in the two hours before its publication last Thursday, but it took some time before it was revealed that Rangers had contravened SPL rules.
The directors of Rangers Football Club plc – oldco – the company that previously owned the club, had not fully disclosed information relating to players' financial entitlement during the club's use of the Employee Benefit Trust tax-avoidance scheme. Lord Nimmo Smith and his fellow commission members, Nicholas Stewart QC and Charles Flint QC, applied a proportionate sanction, fining the oldco £250,000.
What followed was typical of the past 12 months. Opposing views became extreme and entrenched, with the nuance and detail of the issue lost in the clamour. The written judgement and its reasoning were unequivocal, but the responses were less composed, often wilfully so.
Rangers fans celebrated, even though the old board, under the leadership of Sir David Murray, failed to fully disclose information they were obliged to under the SPL's rules. Since the support's concern was that the club might lose titles, the relief was understandable, but the EBT scheme run for 10 years by Murray Group had exposed Rangers to an unacceptable level of risk and raised questions about corporate governance.
The club paid the price for this, since the potential tax liability from the EBT scheme was prohibitive to potential buyers, leading to the financial calamity of Craig Whyte's ownership and the subsequent liquidation of Rangers Football Club plc.
Murray has argued his case, stating that the EBTs were in the accounts filed annually to the SPL, and the monthly expenditure on EBTs was included in the financial information disclosed to the Scottish Football Association for the purposes of the club's UEFA licence. However, the commission was adamant that under the SPL's rules, the side-letters detailing EBT obligations to players ought to have been included in their registration documents.
"The apparent assumption that the side-letter arrangements were entirely discretionary, and that they did not form part of any player's contractual entitlement, was seriously misconceived," said Lord Nimmo Smith in his judgment. "There is no evidence that the board of directors of oldco took any steps to obtain proper external legal or accountancy advice as to the risks inherent in agreeing to pay players through the EBT arrangements without disclosure to the football authorities. While there is no question of dishonesty, individual or corporate, we nevertheless take the view that the non-disclosure must be regarded as deliberate."
The accusation had been that Rangers cheated, if non-disclosure ruled the affected players ineligible. This was, presumably, the justification within the SPL to demand Rangers accept the stripping of five titles in return for their licence to play last summer. That was a prejudicial and misguided decision, and the commission's verdict calls much else into question. Rod McKenzie, the Harper McLeod lawyer who presented the case against Rangers, had to accept during the hearing there was a different interpretation to SPL rules than his own.
Harper McLeod have been central to the SPL, as the league's law firm. They have also represented Celtic on several occasions and though that did not constitute a direct conflict of interest, it added to the sense of persecution felt amongst Rangers fans. In a statement last Friday night, Celtic "noted" that Lord Nimmo Smith did not find that Rangers gained a competitive advantage.
This was a gentle questioning, to reflect the outrage among their fans, yet the commission's reasoning was perfectly clear.
It was self-evident that the use of EBTs was to gain a financial advantage by minimising tax liabilities – which Rangers, and anybody else, are entitled to do so long as it is lawful, and which many in Scottish football will surely have done in the past – but also that non-disclosure brought no competitive or sporting advantage. Had the club disclosed the side-letter obligations to players, there would have been no difference to the outcomes on the field.
"Given that we have held that Rangers FC did not breach Rule D1.11 by playing ineligible players, it did not secure any direct competitive advantage," said Lord Nimmo Smith in the verdict. "Although it is clear to us from [Douglas] Odam's evidence that oldco's failure to disclose the side-letters to the SPL and the SFA was at least partly motivated by a wish not to risk prejudicing the tax advantages of the EBT scheme, we are unable to reach the conclusion that this led to any competitive advantage.
"Moreover, we have received no evidence from which we could possibly say that oldco could not or would not have entered into the EBT arrangements with players if it had been required to comply with the requirement to disclose the arrangements. It is entirely possible that the EBT arrangements could have been disclosed to the SPL and SFA without prejudicing the argument – accepted by the majority of the [First Tier] Tax Tribunal – that such arrangements, resulting in loans made to the players, did not give rise to payments absolutely or unreservedly held for or to the order of the individual players.
"On that basis, the EBT arrangements could have been disclosed as contractual arrangements giving rise to a facility for the player to receive loans, and there would have been no breach of the disclosure rules."
Just as some Rangers supporters had branded the commission a kangaroo court before its verdict, supporters of other clubs railed against its judgment afterwards. In reality, the scale of the wrongdoing had been assessed without prejudice, and an appropriate sanction delivered.
Scottish football continues to resemble a conflict zone because no conclusion will ever satisfy both pro and anti-Rangers camps. Time might heal, and a clean break from the past 12 months would help, but it should be a grave concern for Scottish football that such a schism has been created. It is self-defeating for the game, yet there seems no willingness within the SPL to address it. Some had effectively branded Rangers cheats for the past 12 months, yet now it turns out that they were wrong. So why had they pursued it so vehemently?
It was mystifying that Neil Doncaster was not even in the country when the verdict was delivered, and it represented a continuing lack of leadership in the top flight. If league reconstruction occurs, it will be a hindrance to simply rebrand the SPL and retain the chief executive. There needs to be reconciliation, too, among the clubs, since the game cannot thrive amid back-biting.
"We've certainly not been at loggerheads with everybody," said McCoist. "We've had more allies than a lot of people would think. We've made some fantastic new friends in the third division, and they'll be with us all the way forward, and I just hope we can build the bridges again with all the friends that we had before, but whose respect and friendship probably isn't just as strong as it was before. We've got to move on."
Rangers paid the price for the club's use of EBTs, but so has Scottish football. The past 12 months has sent groups of supporters and others into conflict, and positions continue to be so strongly held that even when three eminent legal minds cast judgment on an issue, it prompts further hostility. The implication, for instance, that the evidence of Sandy Bryson, head of the SFA's registration department, somehow assisted Rangers is also wrong, since he was merely presenting the governing body's rules on registration. The rules cannot be changed retrospectively to pursue a certain sanction. This verdict should, though, provide an opportunity to move on.
"I feel that this was the last big thing that was hanging over us," said McCoist, who also apologised on behalf of the club for the rule breach. "There have been some strange things and some strange decisions. But I'm just relieved because to be accused of trying to gain an unfair sporting advantage – in other words, cheating – is the biggest accusation you can level at any sportsperson."
All parties have five days in which to appeal, but there are no indications that either side will. The game, now, needs a period of unity. It is also evident that the registration rules need to be more robust, since, as Lord Nimmo Smith pointed out, they are not designed to provide financial regulation. Those who accused Rangers of cheating misinterpreted the rules. But has anybody "won" here? Scottish football certainly hasn't.