FOR a brief period recently, football became the focus when the subject matter was Rangers. It couldn’t last, of course. Not when there seems to be more court cases involving the Ibrox club than Donald Findlay has contested. Shareholder and arch-opponent of Dave King’s current regime, Mike Ashley, may head up the litany of litigation – for now – but notable mention must also be given to former chief executive Charles Green. And all this before next year’s fraud trials over the ownership changes that put Craig Whyte and then Green in control.
Court action seems inevitable, too, when it comes to settling the issue of the five titles won by Rangers between 2001 and 2010, a time when the club were deliberately breaking the registration rules in wholesale fashion – as decreed by an independent commission headed up by Lord Nimmo Smith in 2013. It was a time, too, when, according to an open-to-appeal judgment by the Court of Session in favour of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over the club’s misuse of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs), Rangers were also cheating the taxman.
King was certainly guilty of a barmy blunderbuss of a bleat last week about other clubs’ possible agendas concerning the legitimacy of the trophies that ended up at Ibrox across the first decade of this millennium. That, and Celtic’s brief retort about Nimmo Smith’s “no sporting advantage” assessment being flawed, strongly suggests the matter of title-stripping will, one way or the other, eventually prove another earner for the legal profession.
The head of Rangers assistant manager David Weir is entitled to be bursting with this mountain of off-field distractions. He may have played for the club between 2007 and 2012 – towards the end of the club’s EBT years, though he doesn’t appear to have been a beneficiary – but he was gone before the final collapse that brought liquidation and the requirement for Rangers to re-form in the fourth tier.
The 45-year-old knew difficult times. King claimed this week that even without EBTs he and the club’s board members would have found the sums to fund the footballing operation at the same cost. However, in January 2009, finances at the club became so precarious that owner David Murray effectively put every player up for sale. That episode seems to have largely faded from memory because within four months Walter Smith had led the club to a first championship in four years – a success that earned Rangers £15 milliobn, as Scotland’s coefficient was then at a level where its top-flight title winners were granted direct access to the Champions League group stages.
There could be a lesson in that for Weir. Except he doesn’t need reminded of his responsibilities as No.2 to manager Mark Warburton. “It just goes with the territory at a football club [that there can be off-field issues],” he said. “We can only control the football side of things.
“We are trying to build the football side of things back to a level and to do that we are setting about getting the academy kids in the team, getting good players for the fans to watch and getting good teams together that will win football games.
“There is always going to be issues with football clubs and Rangers is no different because of the relatively recent past.
“There will be issues flagged up and our job is to get the fans talking and thinking about football and the team. Getting on the back pages for that – and trying to use that as a positive message – is the most important thing. Our job is to build the football department, the club, and get it into a position where these other issues become secondary and not the main issues, which they have been. And very difficult ones.”
In that regard, Warburton and Weir have done more than could have been expected of them. They have fashioned a team that is pleasing on the eye and purposeful. A five-point lead at the top of the Championship, courtesy of 13 wins from 13 games, is testament to their construction work. Crucially, for a club that needs greater revenue streams, with almost 36,000 season ticket holders, they have doubled the numbers of punters willing to commit financially to their club. That figure could increase with Rangers’ launch of half-season tickets this week but crowds at Ibrox are back to near-capacity. A year ago, they dipped lower than at any time in three decades.
“Being honest, the response from the fans has been the biggest thing. It isn’t any secret there has been disengagement for various reasons,” said Weir.
“I hope now they can see that there are people running the club that have the club’s best interest at heart, who are enjoying watching the football and we are getting results.
“I think it is quite simple for the fans: they want to be entertained and they want to be winning. They want to feel like it is their club and they are proud of their club. I think Mark has been very clear from the start that our job is to make the fans happy, and fans are happy when they are winning and being entertained.” And when that is happening, their minds are taken off the problems that Weir and Warburton cannot fix.