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Tom English: Rangers saga takes another twist

Sandy Easdale, left, and Dave King could be set for a boardroom battle at Ibrox. Pictures: SNS/PA

Sandy Easdale, left, and Dave King could be set for a boardroom battle at Ibrox. Pictures: SNS/PA

  • by TOM ENGLISH
 

AS TEMPTING a position as it may be, you have to wonder what kind of character would put himself forward for the now vacant role of chief executive of Rangers after Craig Mather departed his post yesterday.

The prerequisite for the job seems to be an ability to accept unconscionably bad behaviour behind the scenes while trying to persuade the watching world that everything is cool, everything is on track, everything about your life is fine and dandy when the reality is that your job is akin to having a bucket of sick emptied on your head every single morning with the task of making it smell like success before the day is out.

Mather was defiant to the end, claiming that the financial state of Rangers is healthy when the evidence suggests the opposite while also launching another verbal grenade at those he blames for unsettling the club, men like Paul Murray, who he’s had a go at before. Murray, and the disaffected shareholders, want a democratically elected board at Rangers and they won a notable victory on Monday in their long-running pursuit of accountability in the Ibrox boardroom.

The potty dysfunctionality of Rangers is evidenced in so many ways and Mather’s parting statement yesterday provided another example. He didn’t mention Murray by name, but you knew that is precisely who he was aiming his guns at when talking about those who have “destabilised” Rangers. The fact that Mather offered Murray a place on the Ibrox board as recently as Friday just shows how weird life has become in the maelstrom. He made the offer – or was instructed to make the offer by the very powerful Easdale boys with their large percentage of proxies from supportive institutional investors – not because they thought they could work with Murray, but that they could control him as they control others.

There is so much noise and yet so little clarity at Rangers. What we know is that Mather has gone and so has Bryan Smart, the non-executive director. There are calls from supporters for Brian Stockbridge to depart, too, and there is a general assumption that it’s only a matter of time. Perhaps. Stockbridge’s performance as finance director has been dogged by unsavoury behaviour with a video recording and unconvincing explanation of the Rangers accounts. To say that Stockbridge must go would be an understandable line to take, but it ignores the realpolitik at Rangers.

The Easdale boys are now the power-brokers at the club and have been for some time. They have a relatively modest personal shareholding in the grand scheme of things but they have proxies from other investors which give them the running of the club right now, pretty much. They can call upwards of 25 per cent of the shareholding. Some say more. Some say that on certain Rangers’ issues they could call on as much as 50 per cent. The fact that nobody knows for sure is part of the problem. The mystery surrounding the Easdales and who they are in bed with is one of the on-going problems at this besieged club.

While Stockbridge is in place, he remains the whipping boy for the support, the object of their ire. A useful buffer for the power men, in other words. Stockbridge might decide to quit, but as long as he is there then it suits the Easdales. When you think about it, so little is known about their influence at Rangers and yet it is very real. Mather was their heat shield up to now. Stockbridge might assume the mantle in his absence. Above all others, the pair of gentlemen you would dearly love to sit down with and ask questions of in this entire Rangers farrago are James and Sandy Easdale.

And you’d start by asking them how many shares do they own and how many shares are committed to them by proxy when things come to a vote in the AGM. Have they got the support of Margarita Holdings and Blue Pitch Holdings, two of the serious players among the institutional investors? If they have, how did they get that support? What deals were done in order to secure the support? While they are at it they may as well answer one of the mysteries of the entire episode. Who the hell are Margarita Holdings and Blue Pitch Holdings? Who is involved with them? Is, by any chance, Charles Green, involved? Or Imran Ahmad? Or any other individuals who feature in the grim back story?

The Easdales don’t engage a whole lot, but they must see Dave King as a threat. King will not buy their shares and make them wealthier. He will issue new shares – if he gets the chance – and dilute their control of the club. Quite how the Easdales can come to some arrangement with King is one of the fundamental questions of the Rangers saga. They could do with his money but it’s the concession of power that is the problem. Everybody likes to say that they are “acting in the best interests of the club” but that phrase has become cheapened by the number of chancers who have used it in recent years.

Mather left yesterday, the words in his statement hinting at the real story of his exit. The chief executive had “agreed to stand down”. Agreed with the plc board, where only two men remain and only one of them matters. Stockbridge will serve a purpose for the Easdales in the short term. He will soak up the criticism like a human sponge but the real target should be the ones behind him, the bus tycoons who claim all of the power and answer none of the questions.

 

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