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Feb 14, 2012

Blue gloom

As reigning champions Rangers officially enter administration, this week's North of the Border assesses the damage at Ibrox.

ADMINISTRATION CHARGE

On Monday, Rangers lodged papers in the Court of Session, announcing their intention to move into administration within ten days. Their chairman and owner, Craig Whyte, confirmed the news to supporters outside the main entrance to Ibrox stadium, flanked by policemen and faced by a jeering crowd. The following morning, the UK tax authority lodged its own papers, asking for an immediate, court-appointed administration. A few hours later, Rangers responded again, rushing into administration under their own appointment, Duff and Phelps. After a lot of hype, the biggest match Rangers have ever played has finally kicked off.

This outcome was well trailed, the ground prepared by Whyte and his board for most of his nine months in charge of the SPL champions, yet it still had a mighty impact.

Administration costs Rangers ten points in the SPL. It is also likely they will lose experienced, high-earning players with little resale value. Combined with Celtic putting together a 13-game winning streak in the league, you can close the book on the championship. Should they remain in administration into April, their participation in European football will be jeopardised.

Rangers believe administration will only last "a few weeks" but then even on Tuesday morning they were telling supporters that their intent was not administration, and only opened a ten-day window in which they could negotiate their way out of the mess they are in.

This may all have been a colossal act of brinksmanship. Rangers will, by the end of this month, learn the outcome of a tax case that Whyte claimed on Monday could leave them with a £75 million bill. They may have wanted to use the ten-day notice period as leverage in their fight for a deal with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs that allows them to pay a fraction of that total while minimising any term of administration. Instead the tax authority tried to force their hand and, faced with the possibility of a court-appointed administrator entering Ibrox, Rangers rushed in a friendlier firm.

In a fuzzy Q&A on the club's website, the most bullish line relates to the wrestling match between the club and HMRC: "If the tribunal rules in favour of HMRC then any claim they may have against the club will be unsecured and will rank alongside other unsecured creditors."

This appears to be Rangers' only ace: the threat that HMRC could end up with a pennies-in-the-pound deal.

However, the tax authority has appeared just as tough in these exchanges. The timeline of this whole sorry mess - which has its roots in payments made to players via Employee Benefit Trusts and dates back to the club's glory days under their previous owner, David Murray - reveals HMRC as the snake slowly constricting Rangers' financial airways.

This season's title race may be all but concluded in February, but what is happening at Rangers is likely to affect the competition for years to come.

LOOK, NO HANDS

A few hours after Luis Suarez walked by the outstretched hand of Patrice Evra and shook Western civilisation to its core, an aftershock took place in Ayrshire that observers further afield, perhaps yet to regain their bearings after Old Trafford was all shook up, may have missed.

The build-up was, in its way, just as riveting. Kenny Shiels, manager of Kilmarnock, has, since his arrival in Scottish football, given good press conferences. They throw just about any question at him and he comes up with interesting answers free from the dreadful cliché that makes you want to throw things at the television. This time he was asked about Marian Kello, the Hearts goalkeeper who was dropped on instruction of the club's owner, Vladimir Romanov, after he turned down a transfer to Austria Vienna. Shiels said he would have played his best 'keeper regardless and that if the Hearts manager, Paulo Sergio, had any self-respect he would resign from his position in protest at this outside interference.

Sergio was subsequently asked about Shiels' comments and he described the Kilmarnock manager as being "like a clown". Would he shake his hand? Yes, the Portuguese said. "His hand, his neck, everything." Now that would have been special viewing. Instead, Sergio just walked past Shiels, who was left holding his lonely hand high in the air and chuckling lightly at the absurdity of it all.

The match? Two red cards, an injury-time equaliser, 1-1. But who cares about stuff like that when there are people not shaking other people's hands?

LIVVY'S DREAM TEAM

Prowling a First Division touchline very soon will be John 'Yogi' Hughes, the former manager of Falkirk and Hibs, who this week took charge of Livingston. Also arriving at Almondvale is another former Hibs manager, the former Scotland midfielder John Collins, who will be director of football.

Livingston sacked Gary Bollan, the manager who gave them successive championships in his two full seasons in charge, apparently for not giving the club's academy players enough game time.

Hughes, particularly in a long and successful spell at Falkirk, promoted young players into a team that played a passing game. Collins is evangelical about the way he thinks the game should be played and, as long as they show considerably more patience with the new management team than they did with the previous one, Livingston may be on to something with this model. It should enable gifted young players to achieve first-team football quickly, and the sale of these players is essential to the maintenance of any full-time club outside the SPL.

By the way, Hughes, a bone-crushing centre-back in his day, has a killer handshake. If opposition managers knock him back, don't think ill of them.

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