x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Taxing time for Rangers before Old Firm clash with Celtic

The Scottish giants face their bitter rivals on Sunday in a precarious financial predicament.

When Celtic fans visited Ibrox Stadium in April 2003, immediately after their team had reached the Uefa Cup final in Spain, many of them dressed as bullfighters and took beach balls to the game in a bid to annoy Rangers fans.

Eight years later, the Celtic support tomorrow will again travel to their old Glasgow rivals' home in fancy dress, the pinstripe suit and bowler of a banker.

Rangers are in big financial trouble. Not trouble of the sort surrounding the rogue City trader Kweku Adoboli, who is alleged to have lost Swiss Bank UBS £1.3 billion (Dh7.5bn). But enough trouble to deeply concern the club, even without a meeting with Celtic to contend with tomorrow.

Only this week Judge Lord Hodge, while deliberating an unfair dismissal complaint by the former Rangers director Martin Bain, said there was a "real and substantial risk of insolvency" if the club were to lose its battle with the taxman.

Rangers actually are involved in two cases with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, hence the Celtic fans' conservative attire. (Some are even taking briefcases.)

The Glasgow club has not paid a £2.8m tax bill on payments made to staff from 1999 to 2003, and an ongoing tax tribunal, which reportedly could cost the club up to £49m, will resume in November.

A statement released by Rangers tried to allay fears.

"First, the board would like to make it absolutely clear that, at Ibrox, it is business as usual. The club is trading normally and has a strong balance sheet," it read.

"The board finds it reprehensible that the law courts have been used in recent days to suggest the club is on the brink of insolvency. It is not."

Later, it said: "The focus of all of us with Rangers at heart is this weekend's Old Firm game and I'm sure I speak for every Rangers fan in wishing [manager] Ally McCoist and the team the very best for Sunday."

Rangers, who are top of the league, are slight favourites. Celtic had a Europa League game on Thursday, losing 2-0 in Spain to Atletico Madrid, and have a number of injury concerns.

"I'm hoping the players take something from their performance in Madrid," said Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. "The game at Ibrox is one they're relishing, and I'm looking for a similar kind of performance.

"I don't think there will be any hangover for Sunday's game. We had to be careful with a few players like Scott Brown and Anthony Stokes, who didn't travel. But we also had a couple of players who hadn't played for five or six weeks like Mark Wilson and Glenn Loovens, but they acquitted themselves very well.

"We'll have the players in on Saturday morning but it will be very light, and the momentum from the game on Thursday should be there for them to take into Sunday."

Meanwhile, the Rangers manager McCoist concentrates on things he can control.

"We all know what has been said, and is being said, about the club, but I can do nothing about that," he said.

"What I can do is get the players ready for a massive football match."

Rangers will just be glad to get back to some normality, or as close to normal as this fixture gets.