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Rangers face probe over fans' sectarian chants

By Richard Wilson

Rangers 0 Kilmarnock 1: The crowd gathered in front of the Ibrox main stand out of a sense of duty. There was little organisation, and the affair seemed haphazard. A ragged bedsheet hung from railings, bearing the message: "Sold To A Spiv. Give Us Our Club."

The point was not to express a cogent argument, but just to be there. The strength of feeling could be measured by the fact that Craig Whyte, the owner, was advised not to attend.

The movement of people towards the stadium contained a subdued pride. It was the first occasion for the supporters to react en masse to the club falling into administration. The songs were familiar, but delivered with an edge. It was not wholly uplifting, though, and there was a rendition of the banned "Billy Boys", with its lyric "up to our knees in Fenian blood", during the first half. The stadium then chanted at the referee, Iain Brines, "Who's the Fenian in the black?"

These outbursts could lead to disciplinary action from the SPL, and they were a betrayal of the notion that the fans are doing their best for the beleaguered club. Those fans had come to prove their support, but instead succumbed to some old anti-Catholic sentiments, and so caused another self-inflicted blow.

The other emotions of the week, the shock, the fear, the angst, the indignation, might have been draining. What Ibrox bore witness to, though, was a culmination of passion.

Crises have occurred before during 140 years of history, but this is a contemporary predicament, shaped by reckless financial mismanagement, egotism and greed.

The current generation of Rangers fans measure their disgruntlement in the number of trophies that the team fails to capture, so the past six days must have been disorientating, as the very existence of their club was called into question.

Financial calamity has become commonplace in football. Yet Rangers' downfall was a traumatic moment, even if the club have been teetering on the brink for several years. This is a team who are part of the fabric of Scottish life, a social as well as a sporting institution, but history and tradition are no defences against hubris.

As much as Rangers' plight is self-inflicted, it has ramifications for the rest of Scottish football. Uncertainty is rife, but events have had a galvanising effect. Supporters have rallied together, and renewed their emotional connection with the club. Funds are to be raised for any staff made redundant, and attendance at Ibrox was a pledge of devotion. Anecdotes spread, such as the story of fans living abroad buying tickets and sending them to relatives or former neighbours in Scotland so that there would be no empty seats.

Solidarity has been shown by the players; it is understood the squad is prepared to take a collective pay cut in an attempt to stave off job losses at the club as a whole.

The manager, Ally McCoist, too, is thought to be prepared to work for less. He has a natural empathy with the club's support, since his own affection for Rangers stretches back into childhood, but also a gift for capturing the moment.

"This is my club, the same as it is for thousands and thousands of Rangers supporters," he said last week, "and we don't do walking away."

The latter remark has become a slogan. In the moments before kick-off, Ibrox was alive with commotion. The appearance of the players was a further release, and the noise began to soar.

A banner in the stand blamed Sir David Murray for the predicament, with the former owner guilty ofreckless ambition in the money that he spent.

The intensity could never be sustained, and Kilmarnock exploited the respite by scoring, when Paul Heffernan scurried through the Rangers defence to cross for Dean Shiels, who finished crisply.

The crowd briefly rallied, but when Sasa Papac was then sent off for a dangerous tackle the mood turned sombre.

"It hurts an awful lot that we couldn't get three points for the fans," McCoist said. "But we need to get our sleeves rolled up and get on with it."

In the second half, the Kilmarnock fans could be heard singing "There's only one Craig Whyte". Perhaps a sense of desolation prompted the Rangers fans to reach for the old offensive language. The sheer size of their following is the club's greatest asset, but they could have done more for their team.

Rangers (4-4-2): McGregor; Broadfoot (Kerkar, 55), Goian (Perry, 21), Bocanegra, Wallace; Aluko, Edu, Davis, Papac; McCulloch, Healy (Celik, 45).

Kilmarnock (4-3-3): Bell; Toshney, Sissoko, Nelson, Gordon; Kelly, Fowler, Hay; Shiels (Racchi, 90), Heffernan, Johnson (Dayton, 74).

Referee Iain Brines.

Man of the match Shiels (Kilmarnock).

Match rating 4/10.

What the administrators said yesterday on...

The missing money

They know what happened to the £24.4m borrowed from Ticketus against future season ticket sales, and how Craig Whyte funded his purchase of the club. "We have a pretty full understanding of what has happened," said Whitehouse. "Until we get firm legal advice, we can't put it out, but there will be clarity next week."

Open and shut case?

HMRC are not intent on closing Rangers down. "We've spoken at length with HMRC," said Paul Clark. "If they had been looking to close Rangers, they would have issued a winding up petition last week. They would like to work with us to make sure that Rangers survive."

She short-term future

They are confident the club can come out of administration. "Effectively, the position of HMRC on behalf of the taxpayer - to collect as much as tax as they can - and the position of the club are likely to be aligned," said Clark. "The football club is worth more if it keeps alive."

Buyers on the horizon

Several parties are interested in buying the club. "Over the next week, we will have a series of meetings with potential new owners," said David Whitehouse. "This club is a tremendous institution and it seems to us inconceivable that steps wouldn't be taken to save it."

Taxing matters

Since Whyte bought the club last May, £9m in PAYE and VAT has not been paid. The money was deducted from wages and should have been paid to HMRC each month. "Definition [of illegality] is when you knew company couldn't avoid insolvency. It's a grey area. Could be [borderline illegal].

Belfast Telegraph


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