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Astounding revelations

This week's North of the Border discusses the latest developments on the biggest sports news story in Scotland: Rangers.

DOUBLE DEALING AT IBROX?

The past week, the biggest sports news story Scotland has seen, "the financial implosion of Rangers", has been driven by astounding revelations made by a former director, Hugh Adam, that some players had two contracts with the club, and secret payments remained undisclosed to the Scottish Football Association.

An interview with Adam with Scottish Daily Mail journalist John McGarry opened up a new front in a battle that looks increasingly lopsided. "They weren't included in the contracts," said Adam. "They definitely weren't. That was the whole point of them. If they'd been included in the contracts, they would have had to have paid tax on them.

"I don't think a lot of the other directors knew an awful lot about it. David Murray [the former owner of Rangers] kept everything to himself. The directors just wanted to sit in the directors' box. That's all. When I was on the board, I knew all about them. I just didn't know the details of them. They became accepted."

As a result of these claims, the Scottish Premier League joined the growing list of authorities investigating Rangers. This week, the SPL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, spoke of a wide range of punishments available to the governing body if Rangers are found to have withheld details of player payments. This list of 18 options ranged from expulsion from the league to a warning.

Should the SPL find Rangers guilty and get to them before the SFA, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs or anyone else, their choice of sanction may be limited by pragmatism.

Doncaster has already spoken this season of the financial necessity of maintaining the four Old Firm fixtures that drive the television rights deals struck by the league. This was one of the roadblocks in league reconstruction talks last year. Given 17 alternatives, surely the SPL will not be the ones to sacrifice their cash cow.

WYLDE GESTURE

This week also saw the first redundancies on the playing staff, after negotiations between Rangers' administrators, Duff and Phelps, and PFA Scotland, the footballers' union, failed to conclude in an agreement over salary cuts.

What was reported as "offers of voluntary redundancy with no pay-off" from two first team squad members, Gregg Wylde and Mervan Celik, were accepted by Duff and Phelps, as the administrators seek to save £1 million per month to keep the club afloat.

"I volunteered to walk with no redundancy package today to help the other people in the club who have families, like the kitchen staff," said Wylde, a graduate of the club's academy. "At the moment I have nowhere to go and I don't have another club. I don't know what is going to happen next but I thought it was important to play my part in saving Rangers."

His team-mates spent Tuesday night in talks over proposed sliding salary cuts that could range from 75% for top earners to 25% for those at the other end of the pay scale. These negotiations went in to Wednesday as some of the players taking the biggest hits sought to balance their pay cuts with guarantees of a free or fixed transfer fee in the summer. While the administrators need to take the biggest wages - some around the £20,000-per-week mark - off the bill, they are also keen to retain the transfer valuation of their best players. The result is a stand-off that could yet lead to higher profile redundancies on the playing staff.

Wylde, a Scotland under-21 international, made 21 appearances this season and should find another club soon, but his words remain a stark reminder of the gap between the first teamers and the majority of non-football employees at Ibrox.

WEATHERING THE STORM

More successful in agreeing a satisfactory deal with the administrators at Ibrox were Dunfermline, who received part of the £84,000 they were due for gate receipts from a February fixture with Rangers and have been promised the rest by April 13.

The late payment contributed to Dunfermline's own financial problems. They could only pay 60% of wages after being short-changed by Rangers, having a fixture postponed and suffering storm damage to their East End Park stadium. Staff are now paid in full, but the Scottish weather and the future of Rangers now appear to be equally unpredictable.

JUST SEVENTEEN

On the pitch, Rangers suffered their third successive home defeat, blowing a 1-0 lead against Hearts, having lost their last two against Kilmarnock and Dundee United.

There were stats worthy of a raised eyebrow elsewhere, too. You can close the book on Celtic's SPL winning streak at 17. Aberdeen ended that sequence by holding Neil Lennon's side to a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie. A run that began with Rangers firmly in control of the title race, and with the Celtic manager under serious pressure, ended with Lennon certain of a first championship as manager in the bag.

Discounting Rangers' 10-point penalty, Celtic would still be 11 points clear with a game more played. Their streak was always going to be under threat in Aberdeen. Craig Brown's team have now drawn seven of their last nine as they try to sneak into the top six, one point at a time.

RETURN OF THE SQUIGGLER

Dundee United won on Monday night to make it five wins in six, and took their total goals for those victories to 16. Their run to fourth place in the SPL has been clouded by events elsewhere, but has been remarkable.

This is a team that lost three starting midfielders and their best striker in the summer as Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben, Craig Conway and David Goodwillie went to teams in England. In every case, they have been replaced from within the squad at Tannadice. Two players who have stepped up caught the eye in their latest win, against Inverness Caledonian Thistle and both their goals are worth catching up with.

John Rankin is the author of the 'squiggler', an impossibly swerving shot that he debuted as a Hibs player, embarrassing the then-Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc some years ago. He did it again this week, striking across a bouncing ball with such horrible stuff that his own manager, Peter Houston, thought the ball "was going nowhere near the goal".

The beauty of Johnny Russell's strike was more conventional. The striker that has stepped into the Goodwillie-sized gulf in the United frontline took a deft first touch on a fiercely struck cross, stepped outside one challenge, inside another and flicked a cute finish across the keeper with the outside of his left boot.

The big news may be elsewhere, but in the SPL such fleeting moments of quality are to be savoured.

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