RANGERS supporters groups have welcomed the major power moves at Ibrox and believe they will signal the end of the Easdale brothers and the Mike Ashley influence over the club.
Dave King and the consortium of Douglas Park, George Letham and George Taylor now control around 35 per cent of the club and are expected to make significant moves in the coming week.
King snapped up 15 per cent yesterday following Laxey Partners’ decisions to sell their 16 per cent to the group known as the Three Bears while Taylor already held nearly 4 per cent.
The South Africa-based multi-millionaire had offered a £16 million funding package through a new share issue but this was rejected in favour of a £3m loan from Mike Ashley.
The Sports Direct owner has been subsequently blocked by the SFA from increasing his stake to 30 per cent and now King and his like-minded investors have moved in.
King said last night: “I would like to specifically record my disappointment that, if I hadn’t been blocked by the present board in favour of a lesser and commercially disadvantageous offer by Mr Ashley, the money could have gone into the club and not into the pockets of existing shareholders.”
Fans groups believe it is the beginning of a new dawn for Rangers after three years of turmoil.
Rangers Supporters Association secretary Drew Robertson said: “What has happened in the last few days is certainly encouraging and we now have people invested who have the best interests of the club at heart rather than their own personal agendas.
“I think both Dave King and the other consortium have realised that the only way they were going to get in was to purchase a shareholding.
“My only concern – and I believe Dave King said this before – is that the more they spend on the shares it would eat into the amount of money available to actually invest into the club. This should give them control of the boardroom and they will hopefully be able to effect change.
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“Derek Llambias [Ashley appointed chief executive] has a contract, so that might be difficult, but would it be the case that there are a number of people whose positions are now untenable?
“It would be difficult to see anyone who is in Mike Ashley’s camp being able to continue.”
Robertson thinks the major corporate new will encourage Rangers supporters to return to Ibrox in considerable numbers but he cautions that there is still work to be done.
He said: “I would like to think it would encourage more fans to come to the match on Saturday and also going forward.
“However, I think there might be more pain before there is any gain. The most important thing is to get the club on a sound business footing. I don’t think Dave King and the Park group are going to throw a few million pounds at it and say ‘here we go’. I think we need to build foundations before we put the roof on.
“Of course in the forthcoming share issue, Dave King and the Three Bears would be able to increase what they have already purchased.
“But these guys still have a lot of work to do to restore the club to its former glory.”
Sandy Easdale’s spokesman, Jack Irvine, said: “Sandy is pleased Dave King has shown goodwill and bought these shares and he hopes it will lead to further investment.”
A 7am statement to the Stock Exchange yesterday morning said: “The company has been informed that on 31 December 2014, George Taylor, Douglas Park and George Letham acquired 5,000,000, 5,000,000 and 3,299,415 ordinary shares of 1p each respectively, representing 6.14 per cent, 6.14 per cent and 4.05 per cent of issued share capital.
“The board of Rangers is delighted that George Taylor, an existing significant shareholder, and George Letham, who provided the company with a credit facility in 2014, together with Douglas Park have demonstrated their commitment to the company through this purchase.
“The directors welcome their continued enthusiasm towards contributing to the future success of the company and club.”
However, the future of the club could still depend on whether Ashley is allowed to tighten his iron grasp on the Glasgow giants.
Rangers are desperately short of money and need to raise £8.3m before 1 April if they are to stay afloat.
Things got so bad, they were forced to offload Lewis Macleod to SkyBet Championship side Brentford on Wednesday for an “undisclosed fee”.
In a separate Stock Exchange notice, the club also announced the proceeds of the sale – understood to be just under £1m – will be used to keep the lights on for a few more weeks.
It said: “The board of Rangers announces that on 30 December 2014 Rangers Football Club entered into an agreement to sell a player, Lewis Macleod.
“The proceeds of the sale will be used for immediate working capital needs during the next few weeks while the directors, in consultation with the company’s major shareholders and third parties, seek a long term and stable financial solution for the club.”
While the Three Bears and King are now positioning themselves to ride to Rangers’ rescue, they may find opposition from Ashley.
The Sports Direct businessman owns an 8.92 per cent stake in Rangers and controls the Glasgow giants’ retail division.
But the £3m emergency loan he handed the board late last year has effectively given him control of the club.
He has already placed former Newcastle managing director Llambias onto the board and named him chief executive – and still holds the right to pick a second director.
However, the Scottish Football Association has already blocked Ashley’s attempt to raise his stake to 29.9 per cent after ruling it would breach “dual ownership” regulations.
Ashley’s next move, however, could prove crucial to the club’s future. Motor group boss Park has had his wealth previously estimated at £78m, while Letham – who sits on the board of the Rangers Supporters Trust (RST) – already loaned the club £1m last year.
Taylor, meanwhile, bought a 3.2 per cent stake in the club last month – meaning the consortium is now in control of 19.5 per cent of Rangers.
The trio have already lodged a £6.5 m offer to underwrite a share issue with the club’s board. In return, they want two seats on the Rangers board.
King – who lost £20m when the club was liquidated in 2012 – has also left his £16m offer on the table.
Neither the Three Bears nor King’s share purchase will see cash flow into Rangers’ coffers but it will allow them to participate directly in a share issue expected to take place early in the new year.
A motion at last month’s AGM which would have allowed the club to raise new shares and offer them to new investors before existing shareholders was controversially defeated.
Meanwhile, supporter groups say the latest developments in the Ibrox power struggle have sparked an increase in interest from supporters backing fan-ownership schemes.
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