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Neil Rankine: the man accused of holding sway over three Scottish clubs


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To be in the position to call the shots over one football club is the stuff of many football fans' dreams. To potentially exert control over three, however, is a matter for concern.

 

That's the accusation that the Scottish Football Association is levelling at Neil Rankine, a 62-year-old businessman who has a long association with game in the country.

 

Mr Rankine owns 50 per cent of the shares in the company which owns Livingston Football Club, who play in the Scottish Championship.

 

But the Scottish FA feel they have evidence which proves he has undue influence over League Two side East Fife Football Club as well. They also allege he can affect matters at Dumbarton Football Club, through a £200,000 loan owed by the company's owners.

 

Scottish football's governing body have called for an independent panel to rule on its evidence on October 22. But as even Mr Rankine's involvement with Livingston is, on paper, at arm's length, the Scottish FA charge is levied against the club, rather than the individual.

 

Their compliance officer Tony McGlennan has taken on a case initiated by his predecessor Vincent Lunny in which it is accused four separate rules have been broken through Mr Rankine's alleged link to the other two clubs.

 

If found guilty, the punishment for Livingston could range from a financial penalty, through to a suspension from the Scottish Cup, or even a ban or expulsion from fielding teams in this country altogether.

 

There is also an alleged rule breach relating to Mr Rankine's eligibility as a fit and proper person after Livingston named him on a document sent to the Scottish FA last year which was subsequently withdrawn. This relates again to his alleged interest in more than one club but it is also unclear whether it also relates to his bankruptcy in 1989 and whether it was declared to the governing body.

 

So who is Neil Rankine and what is his interest in Scottish football?

 

Mr Rankine was part of the group who rescued Livingston from liquidation in 2009 from the Italian businessman Angelo Massone. He owns 50 per cent of the shares in Livingston 5 Limited, which in turn holds just under 91 per cent of the shares in Livingston Football Club Limited.

 

Previously he was the owner of Dumbarton, but crucially he left over £200,000 when he sold up in 2008, agreeing for the money to be repaid within five years.

 

His link to East Fife, it is alleged, comes through his links to Lorraine Twigg, their biggest shareholder, and her daughter Samantha.

 

Neil Rankine's role at Livingston

 

In addition to his shareholding, Mr Rankine also claims he is owed around £500,000 from the club in loans he has paid to cover running costs. These loans are not currently repayable as part of an agreement struck by all directors at the time of the club's purchase.

 

Rankine also claims he paid an emergency loan of £150,000 in September 2013 after being called in to evaluate the club's spiraling running costs, £100,000 of which has been repaid. He also states that other directors - namely Carolyn Sumner and Robert Wilson - have had their combined loan of approximately £75,000 returned.

 

Allegations of involvement in East Fife

 

Lorraine Twigg and her daughter Samantha currently own between them 58% of the total shares in East Fife. Mr Rankine says he advised Mrs Twigg to purchase the shares in the early 2000s as an "investment".

 

Speaking of his advice to Ms Twigg, Mr Rankine said: "They had no money. They were going to go out of business. There was a bill from the Anglian Water Group, who owned Morrison Construction. They were going to foreclose on them for £280,000. That was a long time, so bear with me if the figures are a bit out.

 

"I encouraged Mrs Twigg and her father that would be a sensible investment because at the time, I was sitting on a large offer for Dumbarton Football Club, which fortunately I didn't take because I sold it for three times more in 2008 to the current owners.

 

"It's purely an investment. Mrs Twigg and myself have never been at any board meetings or had anything to do with the running of East Fife Football Club."

 

Mr Rankine does not deny having a personal relationship with Mrs Twigg during a period of time when she was the biggest shareholder in East Fife. He does deny having any "involvement or shares" in the club but says he loaned the club £5,000 in 2003.

 

In a follow-up interview with Mr Rankine, he stated he is now an advisor to Mrs Twigg. He stated he recommended the installation of Sid Columbine as chairman several years ago.

 

He also outlined how he acted as an advisor for Mrs Twigg when a potential bidder for her shares came to the table. Mr Rankine didn't outline the date of the talks but the group in question are on public record as having given sponsorship money to the club from 2011 onwards.

 

Mr Rankine made clear how he held discussions with the group over a £1.2m offer for the shares, advising Mrs Twigg he was unconvinced by their long-term plans.

 

He also advised East Fife, on behalf of Mrs Twigg, to put £100,000 earned from a cup match with Rangers into a bond "for rainy days".

 

We spoke to Jim Stevenson, the current interim chairman at East Fife FC. "He's certainly not running East Fife nor knows what's happening at East Fife," he said of Mr Rankine. "I've known Neil for a long time. I know a lot about him. But I've been in football a long time. Any dealings have been through football at Livingston and Dumbarton."

 

East Fife's alleged financial assistance to Livingston

 

Mr Rankine has alleged to STV that he facilitated a loan to be paid by Mrs Twigg to Livingston Football Club to help them urgently meet their running costs.

 

"Ged Nixon sourced [a loan] directly from Mrs Twigg for £40,000 in 2012. The loan was directly sourced by Mr Nixon from Mrs Twigg.

 

"He was desperate at that time and the person who was paying the bills at that time. I told him then I was giving him no more money.

 

"If he needed money, Mrs Twigg is a wealthy woman. Mrs Twigg may have some money but he would need to pay any penalties she had for lifting that money and he would need to pay any interest on that money. He sourced that money directly from Mrs Twigg."

 

Mr Nixon does not deny sourcing the loan. "Both Gordon McDougall [Livingston chairman] and myself collectively contacted Neil Rankine regarding a loan to the club," he told STV. "[Rankine] was on holiday at the time and couldn't access funds.

 

"He suggested and arranged the loan through Mrs Twigg and we agreed to meet the penalty she incurred for lifting the funds from her account. That penalty was paid in cash to Mrs Twigg and Mr Rankine together on a subsequent visit to the club.

 

"The agreed repayment of the loan was met whilst I was still at the club although one installment had still to be met after my departure. I can only assume it has since been met.

 

"The loan was added to Neil Rankine's director loan account as lodged in SAGE and subsequently reduced on SAGE as repayments met and fully audited.

 

"Mr Rankine signed his director's loan account at every subsequent year end as being an accurate reflection of his outstanding loan figure and Mr Rankine, at no time up until my departure, questioned it being overstated as a result of the loan in question not being attributable to him."

 

Allegations of involvement in Dumbarton

 

Mr Rankine by his own admission is still owed £200,000 by Brabco 736 Limited, who through a myriad of similarly named accounts, own Dumbarton Football Club.

 

The money was loaned at the time he sold his interest in the club in 2008.

 

"There's no question I got lucky at Dumbarton," he said of his time there. "I made a lot of money at Dumbarton. I've made money nearly everywhere I've gone. I've had a couple that have went wrong but in general terms when I put money into something, it usually succeeds.

 

"When I bought Livingston Football Club, it was all over the papers. Every newspaper. I was on the telly sitting beside Gordon McDougall. At that time, Dumbarton Football Club owed me, and still owe me, £200,000. I didn't see that as a conflict of interest.

 

"Dumbarton have been asked if I have had any influence on them. I have not called up that loan. The five years have elapsed. I could have sued in April of last year. I could sue in April of this year."

 

Gilbert Lawrie, Dumbarton's chief executive, clarified the position from his club's perspective. "He is owed £200,000 by Brabco. There was a legal agreement until March 2015 for that to be repaid.

 

"He could have have sued one person within Brabco. I am not willing to say who. It's a personal security between that individual and Mr Rankine.

 

"It definitely has nothing to do with the football club. It's a private transaction between Mr Rankine and a private individual."

 

Asked if he rejected the allegation that Mr Rankine could exert control over Dumbarton, Mr Lawrie responded: "Absolutely".

 

What links the three clubs?

 

There are three things in common between Dumbarton, East Fife and Livingston. All have stadiums which are on expanses of land potentially ripe for sale and development by another party.

 

So is that what attracts Neil Rankine to football?

 

In summary

 

The Scottish FA will present their case to a judicial panel, after various delays, on October 22. A guilty verdict on any count will see a punishment meted to Livingston, rather than Mr Rankine himself.

 

Whatever the outcome it will signal only part one in what is likely to be an unravelling of affairs at the club. The next big date will come in the Court of Session next year when their former chief executive Ged Nixon attempts to sue for the immediate repayment of £311,000 he says he put in to the company through director's loans.

 

If he's successful, it could potentially lead to other directors calling in their debts. Either way, it's likely to lead to a ugly public battle as both sides lodge accusations about each other's conduct.

 

The club are also facing sanctions from the Scottish Professional Football League over allegations they themselves have made against Mr Nixon over cash payments made to players which were not declared to the league or HM Revenue and Customs.

 

http://sport.stv.tv/football/clubs/livingston/294837-neil-rankine-his-dealings-with-dumbarton-east-fife-and-livingston/

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