The Battle of Montevideo: Celtic Under Siege

 

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The Battle of Montevideo: Celtic Under Siege by Brian Belton; The History Press; 159 pages illustrated throughout b/w; £12.99 paperback

If you have “Tears in Argentina” by Tom Campbell, this book would not be out of place beside it on the shelf. Unlike Campbell’s excellent account of the three games that made up the 1967 World Club Championship, Brian Belton’s book, 40 years in gestation, attempts to explain the extraordinarily alien environment the players and management found themselves in when they got to South America and discovered that they had entered a world where they must have imagined themselves, in terms of their football environemnt, “Isolated in a mad place full of boggling insanity and populated by starey-eyed lunatics, foaming with simmering aggression that sporadically and unpredictably boiled over into raw hatred and named violence.”

While this description could apply to Ibrox stadium on a Saturday afternoon, there’s no doubt that in Argentina and Uruguay at that time the Celts were, “Strangers in a strange land, they were surrounded; under siege physically, geographically, spiritually and psychologically.”

Belton accounts for the attitude of Celtic’s hosts – at first a fascination akin to ‘What do they think they are doing coming here’, the “deeply observational gaze of a foe studying an enemy trying to gain clues about how to destroy them from ‘tells’ of demeanour” – by providing us with some background to the nature of South American football, specifically as it developed in Argentina and Uruguay. The early incarnations of the World Cup, the Copa Libertadores and the shaping of football culture in Latin america are covered, as is the history of Racing Club.

No less interesting are Belton’s reflections on the various incarnations of the World Club Championship itself and what it came to represent for South American clubs offered the opportunity to act out “manifestations of the national personality of defiance, independence and solidarity” against what was perceived in many quarters to be representatives of European colonialism. The fervour and passion that South American fans have for their club sides reached fevere pitch when it came to the Copa or the World Club Championship.

As a 12-year-old living in Montevideo at the time of the game Belton is in a better position than most Celtic historians to gauge the mood in the city at the time. He describes his joy at getting his hands on tickets for the deciding match and his unexpected chance of meeting his heroes outside their hotel:

“I spent hours outside the Victoria Plaza Hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of the players’ arrival. But when they did turn up we got more time to look at them than we expected. The Scots got to the hotel to find that their rooms were not available. However, the Celtic directors… were told that an unusual number of prostitutes had recently been seen in the hotel and that there was the potential that the Celtic players would be ‘compromised’ by the call girls. According to the Uruguayan FA they did not ‘put anything past’ Argentine clubs. With the exception of Jock Stein, the Celtic officials were observant Catholics, so the manager made arrangemnts to immediately brief his players of the situation. Quite what they did with the news is anybody’s guess.”

The part played by the head injury to Ronnie Simpson in the first match in Argentina is perhaps a bit over-stated, the premise being that with Ronnie in goal – with his calming influence over his less experienced team mates – in that hostile stadium the result might have been different, but apart from that, this is a fascinating history of a remarkable football match. The accompanying photographs, many of which I hadn’t seen before and which feature the players off the field in Montevideo, enhance the narrative and to me added to the sense of atmosphere conveyed by Belton.

In his conclusion, the author argues that the fall-out from the three games played in 1967, far from being a footnote in the history of Celtic which until fairly recently was spoken of, if at all, in hushed tones, was actually “a catalyst for changing the world game.” The cynicism and gamesmanship employed by Racing Club have, albeit in a watered-down form, been adopted by almost every major club participating in big competitions (and domestic leagues) while the ‘Europeanisation’ of Latin American footballers has in turn diluted the worst excesses of South American hostility towards Europe in a football context: “This is what I think of as the meaning of what Celtic and Racing did just over four decades ago. strange as it may seem it built bridges; it was a start. as all beginnings it was something of a ‘big bang’. Unlike the intercontinental clashes that took place before, northern Europe was brought into the mix, and Britain, the place where football began – the last bastion of the old ways. Games between national sides did not have the same power; they could not wholly represent the roots of tradition that existed in places like Glasgow and Avalleneda.”

The last word goes to Jimmy McGrory, who wrote to the author in 1976 on the subject of the ill-fated South American adventure:
“I am not sure if two teams and two or three games make a World Championship or what being able to say a team are world champions is worth. For Celtic supporters, Celtic will always be the best team in the world and no trophy will prove that better or less. The idea is that if Celtic does not win, the team will win the next time. Football might be about winning, but it is more about the hope of winning. If Celtic were guaranteed to win every game there would not be much point in coming to watch games. Successful teams know that losing is not an end in itself but a lesson in how they might win. That probably is the biggest lesson to be learned from Celtic’s experience in South America in 1967. That is what I hope.”

A lesson a few of us could do well to remember the next time we are on the receiving end of a bad result.

Overall another worthy addition to the Celtic library and an NTV recommendation.

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Resolution 12 Update

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At the last AGM in 2016 Celtic chairman Ian Bankier stated: “We continue to meet with shareholders representatives on resolution 12. We understand they have received communication from UEFA on the issue and we will meet with the shareholders next week to understand that communication and how they are moving forward.”

That communication from UEFA is at the end of this article. It not only contains the reasons why UEFA did not wish to progress the matter further, one of which was UEFA considered the current club/company (TRFC/TRIFC) operating from Ibrox to be a new club under Article 12 of UEFA FFP, itself designed to protect the integrity of UEFA competitions, (a concept seemingly alien to the SFA), it also left the door open for Celtic, as a member of the SFA to raise the matter with UEFA if they so wished.

Accordingly Celtic met a shareholders’ representative in the following week to prepare for a full meeting in December 2016.

At that meeting the shareholders’ representatives, having taken the matter as far as UEFA would allow in further correspondence with them at end of September 2016, passed responsibility to pursue the issue with UEFA to Celtic along with all evidence legitimately gathered during 2016.

They also advised Celtic to wait for both the Craig Whyte trial to run its course as well as the final Supreme Court decision on the use of EBTs by Rangers FC to pay players for their employment with RFC, both due mid-2017.

Roll on the summer of 2017 and the Supreme Court ruled that Rangers had used EBTs in an irregular manner to avoid paying due tax to HMRC, a matter that the SFA wish to draw a curtain over on the basis of not raking over old coals (in spite of those coals still smoldering profusely with the reek of blatant dishonesty, which the SFA were a party to in an attempt to minimise the consequences of more than 10 years of cheating by a member club, which the SFA had indications of from 2009 following questions from HMRC.

Significantly in Resolution12 terms, it emerged in the Craig Whyte trial that Rangers had accepted liability on 21st March 2011 with no dispute for the £2.8m tax due from their use of Discount Option Scheme EBTs in 2000/2002. (The wee tax case.)

This acceptance rendered the £2.8m an overdue payable at 31st March 2011 under UEFA FFP Article 50, a status confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2013 when Greek club Giannina FC appealed against a refusal by UEFA to accept their application for a UEFA license in circumstances that very closely mirrored those in March 2011 at RFC, including Giannina’s use of private agreements, which UEFA deemed breached fair presentation of their accounts and a reason to refuse a license.

This admission at the Craig Whyte trial contrasted with the justification for granting the license quoted by Stewart Regan, SFA CEO, in a draft he sent for clearance to Andrew Dickson at RFC on 7th December 2011 in which Regan’s justification for granting was a letter from RFC Accountants Grant Thornton dated 30th March 2011.

That letter, according to Regan, said: “All the recorded payroll taxes at 31 December 2010 have, according to the accounting records of the Club since that date, been paid in full by 31 March 2011, with the exception of the continuing discussion between the Club and HM Revenue and Customs in relation to a potential liability of £2.8m associated with contributions between 1999 and 2003 into a discounted option scheme. These amounts have been provided for in full within the interim financial statements.”

Regan then added in his draft (that the SFA never published after discussions, at which both Craig Whyte and Campbell Ogilvie were present in mid December2011): “Since the potential liability was under discussion by Rangers FC and HM Revenue & Customs as at 31st March 2011, it could not be considered an overdue payable as defined by Article 50. We are satisfied that the evidence from all parties complied with Article 50 and, on that basis, a licence was awarded for season 2011-12.”

The idea that the liability was potential and under discussion was then carried to RFC Interim Accounts dated 1st April 2011 where the liability was referred to under

Exceptional item (note 1) £1,870. as
Note 1: The exceptional item reflects a provision for a potential tax liability in relation to a Discounted Option Scheme associated with player contributions between 1999 and 2003. A provision for interest of £0.9m has also been included within the interest charge.

In his covering statement Rangers Chairman Alistair Johnson said: “The exceptional item reflects a provision for a potential tax liability in relation to a Discounted Option Scheme associated with player contributions between 1999 and 2003. Discussions are continuing with HMRC to establish a resolution to the assessments raised.”

Neither the Note nor covering statement nor the Grant Thornton letter are a true representation of the circumstances at 31st March 2011.

It was confirmed in the Craig Whyte court testimony that the liability was no longer potential at 31st March, Rangers having accepted on 21st March 2011 that they owed HMRC £2.8M. Any discussions thereafter were not about disputing the liability but agreeing terms to pay a back tax liability with its genesis in 2001. There was no dispute, but this misleading message of ongoing discussions was carried forward in the subsequent monitoring submissions made by RFC under Craig Whyte, after his takeover of RFC in May 2011, on 30th June (Art 66) and 30th September 2011. (Art 67).

When it emerged at the trial that the above justification for granting a licence was questionable, the SFA had no alternative but to instigate an investigation by their Compliance Officer, whose job, it is understood, is to gather together all relevant material and decide if there is a case to answer.

That case should not just focus on the part of RFC in this saga but also that of the SFA in terms of whether they used all their powers to first establish the true status of the liability, then did they cover up the truth when it became evident an overdue payable existed in August 2011 when Sherriff Officers called at Ibrox to collect the£2.8m overdue.

At time of writing on 25th October 2017 that SFA investigation is still underway and Celtic FC are waiting for the due SFA judicial process to run its course in order to be able to respond to Resolution 12 and shareholders.

In 2013 Celtic’s official response to the Resolution, based on what they were told by the SFA at the end of 2011, was that the Resolution was unnecessary.

If no acceptable explanation that clearly demonstrates that neither RFC nor the SFA have a case to answer emerges from the Compliance Officer investigation, pre-or post the AGM on 15th November 2017, then Celtic will have to decide if

a) they are going to stand by their initial stance that the Resolution is unnecessary or

b) pass Resolution 12 and take the matter to UEFA or

c) justify not doing so to their shareholders.

The club are keeping shareholder’s representatives in the picture as matters develop.

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It should be noted with reference to the UEFA response from Andrea Traverso (see pages 8 and 9), Head of Club Licensing at UEFA to the shareholders representative’s lawyers in June 2016 that the five-year period to investigate had elapsed (due in no short measure to the SFA’s reluctance themselves to investigate in 2015) that during the Craig Whyte trial this was stated: “In explaining the law on fraud generally, Mr Prentice Advocate Depute told the jury fraud involved a “ false pretense, dishonestly made in order to bring about some definite practical result” and suggested “it is not necessary that the result should be actual gain to the offender or loss to someone”.

This is a definition that would appear to apply to statements made by RFC in March/April 2011 and thereafter and there is no statute of limitations on investigation where corruption may have occurred, so option (b) is still open although there are other lesson learning reasons why UEFA should be involved.

AULDHEID

For those interested in the details an account of Res12 lawyer’s activity with UEFA prior to and after the Traverso response can be viewed on line at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6uWzxhbIAt9c FU2UVJyVlZXY1k/view?usp=sharing

253 cover front small

Includes paper copy and PDF.