Charles Green may have exited Ibrox but the club still reverberates to the sound of his old cronies feeding at the trough. Yesterday we learned the identity of the person who sold 2.2 million shares in Rangers International Football Club plc – Richard Hughes of Zeus Capital, one of Green’s chums right from the start and a former commercial director of the club.
You know that old stock exchange warning about how a share price rises and falls? Well, that doesn’t really apply to the likes of Hughes or anybody else who bought into the club at 1p a share. When you’re in the door at 1p then there’s really no way you can lose. The Rangers share price has tanked with a devastating speed leaving those who bought at the top end in a hole to the tune of God knows how much, but the only relevance of a share price collapse to Hughes is that his profit is not as large as he thought it might be. He sold up and walked away with a return of more than half a million pounds. Another one who has done very nicely out of Rangers, thanks to Green and chums.
The steaming mess that is Rangers’ financial plight has now been dumped on to the desk of Graham Wallace, the Rangers chief executive. As an outsider, Wallace must be incredulous at the freewheeling ways of his predecessors, not just the way they sanctioned a first-team wage bill of £7.8m while in the Third Division (contributing to a financial picture so bleak that it made the eyes water) but also the apparent inability of some to accept that things needed to change profoundly.
One of these characters was Walter Smith, a man who brought huge glory to Ibrox when he was manager but whose attitude to the finances, during and after his stint as chairman, belonged to the distant past when Rangers thought they had money, when in actual fact all they had was credit and mountains of debt, most of which they torched. At the risk of dredging up events of the past (the recent past, albeit), it’s worth recalling what Smith said in the wake of the Rangers accounts being published last autumn. Commenting on an operating loss of £14.3m including payments to Green of more than £930,000 with £825,000 going to Ally McCoist and more than £400,000 going to finance director Brian Stockbridge on top of that first team wage bill of £7.8m, Smith almost shrugged.
He said: “People come out and say ‘Ah, it’s not necessary for them to have those players in that division’. But it’s not just the division that matters at Rangers, it’s the fact that you have 45,000 people coming to watch something on a football pitch…they are still losing money. But when you make a decision to be involved at Rangers, there is no common sense to it. The financial bit of Rangers Football Club and common sense don’t often go together.”
Why not? What makes Rangers so different that financial common sense has no place at Ibrox? Smith’s analysis was plucked from the David Murray era; freakonomics born of hubris. No common sense? He’s right, there hasn’t been. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be or that there can’t be. There must be. It’s just as well that Wallace has arrived and seems determined to cut costs. Somebody had to shake the club out of its economic time warp and bring certain people to their senses.
It is estimated that Rangers are losing about £1m a month and that come April they will have just £1m in the bank. Around that point they will be going to the supporters looking for season ticket money for 2014-15, a support that they are continuing to refuse to engage with despite their lofty talk at the agm last month of some new spirit of openness. There hasn’t been any contact, unless you count a letter from a lawyer acting on behalf of some board members to a fans’ group. The upshot of the communiqué was that the Sons of Struth supporters’ lobby felt they had no option but to shut down their Facebook page.
Somebody should be talking to the fans. Wallace, you can forgive, because he has so many other things to be doing, most notably speaking with McCoist about cost-cutting. The questions are obvious but the solutions are less straightforward. According to their website, Rangers have 56 full professionals or professional youth players on their books. According to Celtic’s website, they have now got 50, including their newest recruit Stefan Johansen. Wallace will, no doubt, be asking about this. “Why are there so many players here? How many are worth what we’re paying them? How many can we lose?”
Why are there so many? That’s one for McCoist. In the summer he signed Steve Simonsen as his reserve goalkeeper. Simonsen is a fine goalie and proved as much at Dundee last season, but Rangers didn’t need him then and they don’t need him now. They have Cammy Bell and they also have Scott Gallacher, a 24-year-old who has been at the club since 2006 and who has played only a handful of games. For the less than arduous task of sitting on the Rangers bench and, very, very occasionally, covering for Bell in matches, why not go with Gallacher and save yourself the expense of Simonsen? We don’t know how much Simonsen is being paid – more than Gallacher for sure – but whatever it is, it’s money for old rope given that his sum total of minutes played since joining Rangers stands at zero.
It’s easy to envisage Wallace going through the Rangers squad and continually asking a simple question. Steve Simonsen – why? Emilson Cribari – why? Dean Shiels – why? David Templeton – why? Richard Foster – why? Steven Smith – why? Ian Black, on those wages, why? All of these, and others, are on more money than they could expect to get elsewhere and won’t be in any great hurry to leave. So, for now, Rangers are stuck with them because they can’t afford to make them redundant. This is the legacy of the club’s scattergun accumulation of players they didn’t particularly need to meet the challenge they were faced with. Namely, the Third Division last season and League 1 this season.
Wallace is having to deal with the consequences of such financial waste. He is surrounded by “money men” at the club – Stockbridge, Ken Olverman, Andrew Dickson and the accountancy firm Active Corporate – but he has gone outside Ibrox for a financial advisor in the shape of Philip Nash. On one level that looks like more waste. On another, given the state of the club, you can understand why he’s looking for fresh thinking on the fiscal front. The incumbents have not exactly covered themselves in glory.
For years, Rangers celebrated men – Murray et al – who spent vast amounts of money and improved the team. The guy they should be celebrating now is the one who calls a halt to the financial waste and makes the club face its reality, even if his actions run the risk of putting him in conflict with his manager.
There will be bleating, but only by those who are mired in the past. Those who truly conform to that much-abused description of “having the best interests of the club at heart” would say bring on the cost-cutting to stave off disaster.
In trying to move on from the damage of the past, Wallace knows what the club needs to do. But it promises to be a tough and lonely journey for him.