RANGERS’ administrators have revealed that they have received “several expressions of interest from parties not connected to the club” since they took control at Ibrox three days ago.
No potential buyers are expected to show their hand at present, but those intimations of interest have increased hopes that the champions can find a viable future without Craig Whyte.
Administrators Duff and Phelps were appointed by Whyte, the club’s current owner, on Tuesday. Rangers’ move into administration triggered a ten-point penalty which leaves them 14 points behind Celtic in the SPL, but of more fundamental concern to the administrators is the financial state of the club. Rangers owe £9 million in PAYE and VAT to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs – a sum accrued since Whyte bought the club from Sir David Murray last year – and are also awaiting the verdict from a tax tribunal which could saddle them with a bill for an additional £50m.
“As administrators, we have to look at all other expressions of interest in the club and to date we have received several expressions of interest from parties not connected to the club,” Paul Clark of Duff and Phelps said at an Ibrox press conference yesterday, conducted by himself and colleague David Whitehouse. “These will be subject to ongoing discussions and examined in the forthcoming days.”
Former club director Paul Murray has talked of his hopes of reviving an offer he made last year in opposition to Whyte, in which he planned to involve a small group of like-minded individuals. A significant number of Rangers supporters favour a venture which would open the club up to mass ownership, but Murray regards it as more practical to have a small number of large investors rather than a large number of small ones.
Murray believes that the level of debt carried by the club before the Whyte takeover was sustainable, and that analysis is shared by one other interested group who contacted The Scotsman yesterday. They are willing to work with Murray and others to form a consortium, and think it crucial that an “institutionally acceptable” board is formed.
Their argument is that Whyte and his colleagues lacked sufficient standing in the business world to make a go of Rangers, even before the news emerged this week that the chairman had failed to pass on that £9m to HMRC. They are open to negotiations with Murray and any other parties, and envisage coming to an agreement with Duff and Phelps by providing proof of working capital, then opening the club up to wider investment with a rights issue.
Any moves will almost certainly not take place until it is learned whether Rangers enter a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA). Meanwhile, the administrators’ immediate concern is to determine if Rangers can come out of administration by the end of next month.
If that happens, and if accounts can be filed, the club will have accorded with Uefa licensing requirements in time to be allowed to take part in European football next season. If it does not, they will be confined to domestic competition.
Duff and Phelps think they have made progress since moving in on Tuesday, but could offer no more than hope when asked how confident they were of taking the club out of administration on time. Hitting the deadline was described as possible but optimistic - although they did imply that such a move was far more likely than liquidation which, they said, HMRC did not see as desirable. “In broad terms, supporters can be reassured that Rangers will continue as a football club and we hope to reach a stage as soon as possible where the club can emerge from administration,” Clark added.
“We have had expressions of support across the political spectrum in Scotland within the last 24 hours and there is clearly a desire to see Rangers come through this situation successfully. We are confident that, based on what we have seen, we will be able to achieve a successful result, which is that Rangers Football Club will continue.”
Administrators also held talks with the SPL and with the SFA yesterday.
“Our first priority has been to ensure that the football club continues to function and this is being achieved with the help of staff, players and management at the club,” said Clark.
“In particular, we would like to thank the club’s business partners who are going the extra mile to ensure that Saturday’s home match against Kilmarnock goes ahead.”
Asked about the unpaid £9m, Whitehouse said it had been used to help run the club. “They were deductions that were made at source that were fundamentally used as a funding tool for the club,” he said. He confirmed that the pending tax-tribunal verdict had not been the cause of Rangers’ going into administration. “Insolvency came about because of the consequences of losses since the takeover,” he said.