After the pre-fight hype the contenders for the right to rule Rangers go head-to-head this week
IN the middle of August, Sandy Jardine sat in the back garden of his home in Edinburgh talking about the cancer that nearly killed him.
The scans, the operations, the radiotherapy and the long, long journey back to health. What strength he showed. What dignity. Towards the end of the conversation he started speaking about the state of Rangers and the bitter in-fighting at Ibrox. He spoke rather plaintively, like a man who could see what his club had become but still couldn’t quite believe it.
“What these people have got to remember is that, whoever takes the club, all they are is custodians,” he said. “The life of the place is the fans. Some of the old guys have been supporters for 80 years. Sons, fathers, grandfathers going in there for long before we were born and will be going in long after we’re gone. We’ve had boardroom battles before but it was kept within the four walls. Let them get on with it, but what they’ve got to remember is don’t embarrass our club. I speak on behalf of the fans now. They’re sick of it.”
Jardine’s words were heart-felt but they were ignored. A long time ago we started running out of words to describe the scenes at Rangers this year – not to mention the previous year. With the coming and going of so many chief executives, so many chairmen and so many NOMADs it’s been a pantomime, a circus, a freak show. Ibrox has become an Odditorium where all sorts of previously unknown people have fetched up and declared an undying love for the place, one emotional plea after another, usually accompanied by an earnest promise that they have the “best interests of the club at heart”. If that phrase has been used once it has been used a hundred times. Charles Green, Imran Ahmad, Craig Mather, Brian Stockbridge, Malcolm Murray, David Somers, Scott Murdoch, Alex Wilson, Jim McColl, Sandy Easdale, James Easdale – all of them, and others, tell us they have the best interests of Rangers at heart.
Quite honestly, you have to wonder what state the club would be in if all these good Samaritans weren’t looking out for it.
On Thursday, all of this comes to a head at last. The Rangers agm will see the final act of the battle for Ibrox, if you can call it a battle. In the board versus the requisitioners contest, as it stands, the board have to be considered strong favourites. There’s the 26 per cent of shares represented by the Easdales, the 11.6 per cent from Laxey Partners and the 4.6 per cent from Mike Ashley. The board reckon they have about 46 per cent of the shares in the bag. Not a guaranteed victory, but a pretty good starting point in an increasingly hostile fight, a war of statement and counter-statement, insult and counter-insult. The board see the requisitioners as scaremongers and blowhards, a collection of characters, some of whom had their chance on the board in the past and blew it, and who now want back on the board despite a combined shareholding of less than two per cent. A case of the tail wagging the dog.
The requisitioners talk of an impending financial calamity at the club, about the true nature of the peril being concealed, about a club heading for the rocks again under the stewardship of a board that does not want to engage with supporters and that revels in gratuitous mud-slinging, such as calling those seeking change a gang of “fanatics”.
The fans, seemingly in large numbers, are on the side of the requisitioners. Does that make them fanatics, too? They want change. Above all, they want the removal of finance director Brian Stockbridge as their main, non-negotiable, item. And, if there is a second, it would be the dismissal of Jack Irvine, the club’s communications man who has riled them more than once.
Both sides are now in an endgame. Sandy Easdale is doing interview after interview. On Friday he attempted to shoot down the view that Rangers are running out of money, but then spoke of a “fatal blow” to the club were supporters to boycott season ticket sales. A mixed message and a touch of moral blackmail. There was also a condescending tap on the head of the fans. They’ve been brainwashed, he said. “The supporters won’t hurt the club they love. They’ll see sense in the long run...”
Patronising people isn’t a great way of winning them over.
The requisitioners have not been impressive either, it has to be said. Since we are nearly at the end of the year, it’s worth recapping some of what has gone on at Ibrox in 2013, for only by looking back over it do you appreciate how tortuous a saga this has become. It might seem like another lifetime but it was only in January when Green banged on about “the quicker we can leave [Scottish football] the better”. Green said he was contacting David Cameron. He spoke about using sex discrimination law to sue UEFA for not allowing Rangers to leave Scotland. Where, exactly, he intended taking them was a mystery.
Green is but one character in this story with a brass neck. In February, David Murray’s dismissal of Lord Nimmo Smith’s commission as a witch hunt and a futile waste of time, effort and money was the brazen act of a seemingly unembarrassable man. Nimmo Smith’s report was condemnatory of Murray’s Rangers and their breaches of the SPL rulebook on deliberate non-disclosure of payments. The old board, the verdict stated, “bear a heavy responsibility” for the offences. Throughout the Rangers story you have characters who have sought – and still seek – to rewrite history and change the narrative but Murray’s was one of the most shameless attempts.
Green was big on shame at times. In the spring he got embroiled in a drama over a racist comment in a newspaper, then attempted to defend the comment about his “Paki friend”, only to later apologise. The club was cast into a nightmare of uncertainty over his possible links with Craig Whyte and the creeping horror that Green and Whyte were in some kind of cahoots after tape recordings emerged. Enter Pinsent Masons legal firm, exit Green. Enter Craig Mather, exit Ahmad, amid a surreal online controversy after it was reported that Ahmad had taken to social media, under an assumed name, in an attempt to dismantle Ally McCoist’s managerial credibility.
Whyte, meanwhile, had by then reported Green and Ahmad to the Serious Fraud Office in an attempt to get his hands on Rangers’ assets. At some point, Stockbridge filmed a drunk Malcolm Murray in a restaurant. Alastair Johnston, former chairman, said that the power struggle was becoming a cancer spreading through the club.
Enter Walter Smith as chairman. Exit Walter Smith as chairman, citing a dysfunctional board, a board that was spending money like there was no tomorrow, among the cash burned being the £825,000 salary to the manager. Later, there would be an announcement that McCoist’s salary was going to be cut dramatically. Later still, another announcement that, er, it still hadn’t happened. Rangers had spent £7.8 million on their playing budget to win the Third Division. Smith shrugged his shoulders and said that’s just the way things are at Rangers, as if the club was duty bound to flush money down the toilet.
Mather made a play for the hearts of an increasingly disgruntled support, a play right out of the Green textbook. In North America, he spoke darkly about the “enemy of Rangers”. He said revenge would be had against the Rangers haters. “We’ve chosen, and we will continually choose, the right moment to strike. Please, never believe that I or any other directors don’t know the names of the people who have tried to damage this club. We know them all. We know what each one’s tried to do and I can assure you we will never, ever forget about that.”
His rallying cry was an embarrassment, an obvious attempt to ingratiate himself with the support and galvanise them into buying season tickets. The ones Mather should have had his eye on were not the guys with laptops but the blokes in blazers scurrying out of Ibrox with their pockets bulging.
Exit Mather and here we are today with two camps who have being taking potshots at each other for months. The low-point – or one of them at any rate – was a crass comment on Twitter by Irvine, the board’s communications guy, about McColl being a “bullshit billionaire”. There has been no apology.
There’s a new cast of characters in recent times, one of them being the new chairman, Somers, who added his own piece of slapstick to this black comedy a week ago when claiming that, up until a month ago, he had never heard of Whyte or Green and wouldn’t recognise either of them in the street. This was part of his “fanatics” statement. What possessed him to release it is anybody’s guess, but it was cringe-making.
The requisitioners have steadfastly refused to buy up shares during these past months. It’s been a big weakness.
The board have singularly failed to engage with the fans. Another weakness.
There is ducking and diving on both sides and, all the while, Sandy Jardine’s words – “Don’t embarrass our club” – have been drowned out.
It’s too late. Embarrassment took hold a long time ago. Graham Wallace, the new chief executive, is an important figure at Ibrox in many different ways. He is the one person who seems to be rising above all of this, the one person who has won praise from both sides.
Well, there is one other – Dave King. He has been silent of late, but he’ll be watching Thursday’s events with interest and, perhaps, intent. Rangers could do with Wallace’s decorum and King’s cash.
The club could also do with a definitive victory, one way or another, and some dignity in the aftermath.
If both sides are true to their mantra of having the “best interests” of Rangers at heart, then the board and the requisitioners would find a way of concluding business on Thursday with some kind of compromise, some means of moving forward without taking swipes at each other for months and years to come.
Too many bluffers have trotted out too many cheap lines about loving the club. If they really believe it, Thursday might be a good time to illustrate it.