Interview: Craig Whyte, chairman of Rangers FC
Craig Whyte ends a difficult week with a candid discussion with Tom English, on where the season ticket money has gone, the Jelavic deal and the future of Rangers
Q: It’s been a bruising week for you. Tickets and tax and rumours and innuendo. Your manager was on the verge of walking out. Or maybe not...
A: Yeah, you hear all these stories that he’s ready to pack it in and it’s total crap. These rumours got so strong during the week that even my sister called me and said she’d heard that Ally had resigned. I told her it was rubbish. Ally and I talk regularly and he’s very, very determined and very, very focused. I don’t know why people don’t want to believe that.
Q: OK, let’s kick-off with one of the questions of the week. It’s been revealed that you raised £24.4 million in much-needed funds by pre-selling tranches of Rangers season tickets for the next four seasons...
A: It was closer to £20m, but carry on.
Q: Right, £20m then. What have you done with the money? Where is it?
A: We’ve got running costs somewhere in the region of £3.5m a month. That’s what it costs to keep the lights on. People don’t understand the business side of football. They’re all very quick to go and criticise but nobody else was prepared to step up to the plate and I guess if you look over the last week you can understand why.
Q: People want to know where the ticket money has gone...
A: Well, OK, I won’t do it line by line but I’ll give you some examples. There’s a £10m funding hole that needs to be filled. I’ve said that before. I have nothing to apologise for. This is the reality of the club. There was several million that had to be repaid from an old ticket arrangement from the previous board. There were things like transfer payments. We still owed £1m to Rapid Vienna from when we bought Nikica Jelavic. We owed £1m on the James Beattie signing. Believe me, every single penny of the Ticketus money has stayed in the club. What I want to get across is that the fans’ money is safe, it’s underwritten by one of my companies and everything I do is in the best long-term interests of the club.
Q: Mortgaging season tickets is a high-risk strategy, though. Clubs do it, but on this scale? What if season tickets sales plummet? Do you fear a season ticket boycott?
A: No, why would there be?
Q: It would be understandable if Rangers fans were spooked. This is the allegation, that you used the Ticketus money to fund your takeover of the club...
A: No, from the messages I’ve had I don’t think people believe that. The occasional person, maybe. I know Ally said on Friday that this is the time to rally round the club. This is going to be a tough few weeks and we need everybody with us and on the whole that’s what people are doing. The allegation is wrong. Anybody with half a brain would figure that one out. The sale of the club went through prior to the arrangement for the tickets. It’s absurd. Do you think Lloyds and Sir David Murray would have given me the time of day if I hadn’t proved I had the money?
Q: You say you lodged £28m in a bank account as proof of funds during the negotiating process?
A: I think it was closer to £33m actually.
Q: Your own money from your own personal wealth?
A: Yes, that was done as far back as November 2010.
Q: Can you prove it?
A: I can, yes.
Q: Can you e-mail me the documents and kill some conspiracies?
A: I see what you’re getting at and there might be some benefit in doing that. Let me think about it. I’ll give it some consideration.
Q: I’ve asked you before about your personal wealth and you told me to get lost. Fair enough. But can you blame people for being suspicious when they see you selling off chunks of season tickets just to keep the club going? You’ve been described – hysterically – as a billionaire with wealth off the radar. Why are you selling your chief goal-scorer?
A: The billionaire thing has caused me no end of problems in all sorts of areas. It didn’t come from me. I can promise you that. It was reported last week that my PR people once tried to tell newspapers that I’m a billionaire but I just don’t believe that. I don’t talk about my personal wealth to anybody and so I didn’t tell a PR company to go and say that. It’s been used against me now. It’s making me look silly. People assume that I said it and I didn’t say it. I would never say it. I never claimed to be any such thing, but even if I was I wouldn’t necessarily handle the situation any differently. Rangers needs to be a long-term sustainable business and that’s the bottom line. The club needs to change.
Q: Do you rue the day you darkened Sir David Murray’s door?
A: There are days where you say “Why did I bother!” On the whole, though, I think it’s going to be tremendously satisfying to pull this through and achieve what I set out to do. I’ve made mistakes. We all do. When I look at it with hindsight there are things I would do differently. I should have spoken about the magnitude of the problem earlier, but on the other hand we were challenging to win the title and I didn’t want to be Mr Negative.
Q: The magnitude of the problem. Ally spoke on Friday about the club’s “serious, serious predicament” with HMRC and about how “the welfare of the club is the most important thing – greater than getting results”. That’s a fairly profound statement...
A: Yeah, I agree with him. This has the potential to be the toughest few weeks in the club’s history.
Q: You’re expecting a verdict from HMRC in the next few weeks?
Q: So you’re in full-on crisis mode?
A: I wouldn’t say crisis is the right word. Not at the moment. But we’re certainly in the toughest time in the club’s history. The next few weeks. I’d definitely say that much.
Q: Ally has said that he doesn’t know what your battle plan is in the event of the HMRC verdict going against the club. Why not tell him?
A: Well, you know I play my cards close to my chest. Ally and I work closely together and if that situation arises he’ll be the first to know about it. We’re talking about hypotheticals here.
Q: Are you nervous about it?
A: Not nervous at all. There’s a plan in place for any eventuality.
Q: I’ll try again. What’s the plan?
A: I couldn’t go into it. If I publicised it then it would potentially jeopardise what we’re working on. But, remember, I bought the club with this thing hanging over it. I’ve been thinking about it since day one. The long-term interests of the club is what I think about every day.
Q: There is also talk, on top of everything else, of £5m owed in VAT. Are you sitting on a Mount Everest of debt?
A: There’s a lot of media hostility towards myself and Rangers. It irks me sometimes. The VAT thing is rubbish. I have regular dialogue with HMRC about a number of issues, in particular the Employment Benefit Trust case. All sorts of things. I talk to them often, I know exactly what they’re doing and what they’re thinking and there’s no issue on that front.
Q: Right, can we clear up some transfer window stuff?
A: Fire away.
Q: Jelavic has gone for £5.5m. Are Rapid Vienna entitled to a slice of that action?
Q: I think £5.5m is a lousy deal for Rangers. He’s really undervalued at that price. Fulham paid between £10m and £12m for Bryan Ruiz last summer and nobody is going to convince me that Ruiz is a better player than Jelavic. What actual bids did you get for him?
A: Two, one from Everton and the other from West Ham. The Everton bid was the best one for the club.
Q: But West Ham bid £7m...
A: Did they?
Q: Didn’t they?
A: Of course it wasn’t £7m. Look, the desire was to get a lot more money for the player but he’s only worth what somebody is prepared to pay for him on a given day. The West Ham bid was a complicated offer with all sorts of strings attached. There were certain things contingent on them getting promoted and we might have had to take one of their players and he was on a high salary. Believe me, I accepted the best bid. He wanted to leave and we needed the money, simple as that. I’ve spoken about the gap in our finances already this week. It’s £10m.
Q: We’ll get back to that, but more transfer stuff. Fran Sandaza, the St Johnstone player, claims that somebody from Rangers contacted him on Tuesday to say you might make another move for him...
A: I don’t know what happened there. If Ally wanted to sign Sandaza on the last day of the transfer window I’d have been happy to sanction that deal. For sure.
Q: You made a move for Gary Holt of Norwich instead. How much did you bid for him?
A: How much do you think?
Q: I heard three figures, £500,000, £600,000 and £1m. I’d go with £600,000.
A: No, it was £1m.
Q: But Norwich had already turned down over £2m for him...
A: I didn’t know that. What I do know was that the player was keen to come but Norwich didn’t want to lose him. That’s fair enough. Look, in years gone by you could have taken a punt in January and said ‘Right I’m going to spend £10m, we’re going to win the league and all that Champions League money will be ours’. But life is not like that anymore. We have to go through two qualifying rounds these days. You could spend £10m and not make it through to the Champions League and that would be painful. As custodian of the club I have to ask if that’s a risk worth taking and I have to say that it’s not. Look at what we did in the past. We spent huge money on duff players. My main ambition here is to get my sleeves rolled up and get on with the turnaround and make it a self-sustaining club.
Q: But if you’re not spending money on players how do you expect to give yourselves a chance of winning the SPL and qualifying for the Champions League, where all the big cash is?
A: The game has changed. The players we bring in should, mostly, be young guys that we can improve and maybe sell on for profit. Like I say, self-sustaining. That’s the way football clubs have to be. We can’t go on with a £10m deficit every season. Somebody had to call a halt to the way things were being done previously.
Q: Missing out on Europe was a shattering blow, right? Did you budget for Champions League money?
A: No, we budgeted for Europa League money which, based on the evidence going back many years, was a perfectly reasonable thing to budget for. That would have got us £5m, maybe a bit less. It never happened. The Champions League might get you £20m, but it goes back to the risk again. Is it worth it?
Q: So missing out on European football was the start of the cash-flow crisis. Is that fair?
A: Not absolutely fair. I think there are issues around that. I think because of all the negative coverage in the media and the tax case hanging over us, business partners who might have paid a year in advance before are now paying month to month and you have creditors who want to be paid quicker. The negativity is having repercussions.
Q: Neil Lennon said on Friday that the chickens are coming home to roost for Rangers now. Years of financial mismanagement have finally caught up on the club. Fair comment?
A: Somebody mentioned that to me. I’m not going to comment on what he said. I don’t think he should... No, you almost lured me into something there. I need to remind myself to be on my guard.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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