IF ROBERT Sarver had rolled into town a couple of years ago, he could well have been greeted as the saviour of their club by the majority of Rangers fans. A year or even a few months ago, and he would have got a similar response.
But now, notwithstanding the much-needed millions the American is ready to pump into the troubled club, he may well be the messiah who came too late.
The owner of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, Sarver offered £18 million for a controlling interest in Rangers shortly before Christmas. Just days later, Dave King and the so-called Three Bears – businessmen George Letham, Douglas Park and George Taylor – bought substantial stakes in the Ibrox club. Those two separate purchases mean that those groups and other opponents of the present board are now within touching distance of controlling a majority of the shares.
As things stand, Sarver’s offer is going nowhere. He needs 75 per cent shareholding approval for it to go through, and, having just acquired their stakes after much time and effort, King and the Bears are not in any hurry to sell up. Instead, they and their allies will press on with their bid to take control, while at the same time remaining willing to talk to Sarver about investment opportunities.
Here’s the arithmetic. Between them, King and the Bears control around 35 per cent of the shares. The Rangers Supporters Trust owns under 1 per cent, while former managers Ally McCoist and Walter Smith and erstwhile director Malcolm Murray have similar stakes. Individual fans are estimated to own between 8 and 11 per cent.
That could be enough to form a block of around 50 per cent. The balance could then be definitively tipped by the 7 per cent owned by River and Mercantile, an asset management and pension consultancy group that appears to be a disinterested party with no axe to grind.
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Investment group Laxey Partners sold their 16 per cent share to the Bears last week, deciding to side with them and the fans against Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, who owns around 9 per cent of Rangers, has installed his close associate Derek Llambias as chief executive, and has loaned the club several million pounds. South-Africa-based King bought his stake from fund managers Artemis and Miton. With Laxeys, Artemis and Miton all having opted to sell out to the growing, supporter-backed bandwagon, River and Mercantile could easily follow suit. For the Union of Fans, the umbrella group of Rangers supporters’ organisations that also includes the Trust, an outlook that has been gloomy is suddenly looking a lot brighter. Their spokesperson Chris Graham believes that the next change to the board could come as early as this week, and that the removal of some of the present directors may follow relatively quickly thereafter. The main targets for the Union of Fans are Sandy Easdale, a member of the football club board, his brother James, who sits on the plc board, and club chairman David Somers.
“At present around 35 per cent of the shareholding has no representation on the board,” Graham said yesterday. “This has to change very quickly, and I think it could happen within the week. Once that happens I’d hope they can then start removing people from the board.
“It doesn’t take a huge leap from the present position to get over 50 per cent, especially if River and Mercantile support the required change. An emergency general meeting could be called to remove the Easdales and Somers from the board, and it only needs 5 per cent of the shares, or something like 100 individual shareholders, to call an EGM.
“But it doesn’t need to come to that. It’s not difficult for the Nomad” – the Nominated Adviser who oversees the business under licence from the Stock Exchange – “to go round shareholders and ask who supports a move to replace those board members. The Nomad would then be able to inform them that their position is untenable and they should go, without any need for an EGM.”
The Union is in touch with King and the Bears, one of whom, Letham, sits on the Trust board and is a contributor to BuyRangers, the group which enables individual fans to club together to purchase shares. “Sarver’s proposal cannot work in its present form, because it would require 75 per cent of the shareholding to vote it through,” Graham continued.
“I don’t think that Dave King and the Three Bears have got to this position to immediately sell up their shares to a guy with no apparent interest in the club. So my advice or request to Sarver would be: go and speak to Dave King and the Three Bears and see if you can invest in the club with their agreement.
“It’s not as if Sarver is the only person who wants to invest in the club. I don’t think we need to say ‘Okay, random American guy, come and take over’. That doesn’t mean Sarver couldn’t invest in the club, but we would not support him at this stage.
“We’re not in a position to try and chase away any people who want to invest in the club. But over the past two or three years the people in charge of the club have looked after themselves. We really do need stability now.”
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