Big Swindle Leaves Legendary Soccer Team Struggling to Stay Afloat

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Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Steven Davies of the Glasgow Rangers tackles Ian Black of Hearts during the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League match on March 3, 2012 in Glasgow,Scotland.

And now the score from the Sports Crime League:

  • Irving Picard $83 million, Mets $0
  • HM Revenue & Customs $24 million, Glasgow Rangers, $0
  • U.S. Attorney 13, R. Allen Stanford, 1

As the New York Mets sun themselves at spring training and contemplate another season as New York City’s minor league baseball team, its owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz are on the hook for $83 million—the sum they owe Irving Picard as trustee for the victims of all-world scamster Bernie Madoff.  A judge ruled their Madoff profits were illusory, a lot like their pitching staff. The pair face trial over an additional $303 million in allegedly phony profits that Picard is claiming.

(MORE: English Soccer Tackles High Taxes and a Weak Pound)

As bad as that is, at least the Mets will field a team this season—Major League Baseball will see to that. In Scotland, Glasgow Rangers are becoming more like the Glasgow Mets, only the team is in such a crisis they the may not survive their season. To be more accurate, Rangers are actually more akin to the Yankees going bust. Like the Bronx Bombers, Rangers are a legendary club having won Scotland’s championship some 50 times.

But unlike the wealthy Yankees, the Rangers are flat broke. A couple of weeks ago Rangers were in their annual death match atop the Scottish Premier League with their hated and equally legendary rival Glasgow Celtic. Then the tax man showed up demanding $24 million (a little more than CC Sabathia’s salary) that the team couldn’t cough up. Rangers had basically spent itself to death in its arms race with Celtic.  So the team was taken into administration—that is, declared bankrupt. Having suffered a 10-point penalty deduction from the standings for going broke, Rangers are out of the running for the championship, which Celtic will win in a walk.  The Old Firm rivalry is closed for business. “The reality is that the perilous cash position of the Club meant that even staging games was a major challenge,” noted the club’s caretaker management. The team has fired some players, and negotiated pay cuts of up to 75% with the rest, including American defender Carlos Bocanegra. The team has even appealed to fans for funding to stay in business while it cobbles together a new investment group, called the “Blue Knights,” to pull a buyout offer together.

(MORE: Lionel Messi: The Greatest Soccer Player On Earth, Except in His Home Country)

Unlike the Mets owners, who are being sued for turning a blind eye to Madoff’s ripoff, Rangers owner Craig Whyte is in the middle of the mischief, and was declared by the Scottish Football Association “not fit and proper person” to hold such a position. Investigations are now under way into Whyte’s purchase of the team—using money borrowed against future ticket revenues— and his management of the team’s finances. It’s kind of interesting that Whyte is now “not fit” but less than a year ago was the toast of the Protestant part of Glasgow, which worships Rangers. It’s not the first time that a scheming financier with a bloated ego wanted a sports team as a trophy.

Bernie Madoff never had any interest in buying a sports franchise—he wanted to stay well below the radar—but that wasn’t the case of R. Allen Stanford, convicted of running a $7 billion ponzi scheme through his Stanford International Bank in Antigua. Stanford lived Texas-large and made big splash in cricket by promoting a fast-action version of the game called Twenty20. Stanford proposed to revitalize cricket in the Caribbean with things like a $20 million winner-take-all Twenty20 championship game in Antigua. It made him a local hero—which is what most sports team owners seem to crave. Guess we know where the money came from.

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