MIKE Ashley delivered a pre-emptive strike against Rangers ahead of today’s shareholders’ meeting at Ibrox when he won a court injunction against the release of confidential details of Sports Direct’s controversial retail deal with the club.
Rangers chairman Dave King had hoped to publicly shed further light on the contract, which is believed to presently bind both parties together until 2022, at the general meeting of shareholders which was called by Newcastle United owner Ashley in a bid to secure immediate repayment of Sports Direct’s
£5 million loan to the club.
But at the High Court in London, lawyers for Ashley’s Sports Direct company succeeded in persuading Mrs Justice Asplin that the terms of the deal should remain private, in line with a confidentiality agreement signed by Rangers in January.
Sports Direct complained that some information had already been leaked to the media and claimed in court that it must have been relayed by Rangers board members. Rangers’ lawyers countered by insisting there was no evidence as to the source of the leaks.
The judge, however, noted there was no outright denial from Rangers’ lawyers that the board had leaked the details and ruled in Sports Direct’s favour, stating: “I am satisfied there is a real risk of disclosure tomorrow of confidential information.”
Sports Direct were also awarded £20,000 in legal costs, the lower end of a claim which was questioned by the judge who said she was “flabbergasted” by the actual amount of costs being sought by Ashley’s legal team which were not disclosed.
Ashley, who holds an 8.92 per cent shareholding in Rangers, requisitioned today’s general meeting in response to the removal of his colleagues Derek Llambias and Barry Leach from the Ibrox board by King at a previous general meeting on 6 March.
In addition to calling in his £5 million loan, which grants Sports Direct security over several of Rangers’ assets and registered trademarks, Ashley’s resolution is calling for an explanation of why the club were de-listed from the stock exchange and had no nominated advisor following King’s takeover.
In response, King and his boardroom colleagues have tabled their own resolution for today’s meeting which is seeking shareholder approval for their bid to re-negotiate the terms of Rangers’ contract with Sports
Direct, who currently have a 75 per cent holding in subsidiary company Rangers Retail Ltd.
Ashley’s resolution, lodged in the name of his MASH Holdings company, is likely to fail today with the majority of Rangers shareholders backing King.
Ricki Neill, director of the Rangers First supporters’ group who have a 2.5 per cent shareholding in the club, said: “It is very frustrating because you can see yet again that Mike Ashley is only interested in Mike Ashley and Sports Direct. He has got no intentions at all of putting Rangers first.
“All our members voted on Monday and we’re voting against the first (MASH) resolution and for the second resolution.
“If you have got a loan out personally, why would you pay it off early? There is a lot of money needed at Ibrox just now. We need to build the team up, we need to build the infrastructure. There is a lot of money needed, so I personally wouldn’t pay it off early.
“I would like to see Mike Ashley actually open up his eyes and see that we are a worldwide massive team.
“Rangers were once the second-biggest seller of replica shirts. We sold 500,000 jerseys one year, I think Manchester United were first. How can he not see that? We’re down to about 50,000 tops one year now.
“I think if Mike Ashley gave us better profit on the merchandising then I don’t see any reason why the Rangers fans wouldn’t come and start to buy merchandise again.”