Board v requisitioners – holding an Ibrox agm in pantomine season is truly apt, writes Tom English
Life at Rangers did not need yesterday’s drama to put it into the realms of the ridiculous, but it got it anyway. Of course, Rino Gattuso’s comments about committing suicide if he is found guilty of match-fixing in Italy has nothing to do with the events of today, nor, particularly, does Neil Alexander’s mooted legal case against the club for breach of contract, nor, for that matter, does the fact that Craig Whyte lost a £17 million appeal against Ticketus yesterday morning have any great import to the business at hand at the agm. But it’s fitting in a sense that bonkers things keep happening in the wider world of Rangers right up until the denouement of board versus requisitioners.
Gattuso, Alexander and Whyte all returned to the headlines on the eve of the agm. In their own unique way they were merely joining a queue of crazy goings-on at their former club.
In the last day or so we have had a story leaked – from somewhere – that today’s agm is a foregone conclusion and that the board have triumphed over the requisitioners. We have had Paul Murray’s thunderous response to that story and his wounding words about those he holds responsible for leaking the information. We have the board’s indignant response to the response and a call for Murray to retract.
While all this was going on we had the return of the King; Dave King, that is. King has been silent for some months but he re-entered the narrative yesterday when saying that the board should hold out an olive branch to Murray, his words coming at precisely the same time as the board were going to war with him for the umpteenth time.
King said that Murray should be invited into the inner-sanctum at Ibrox even though the current board wouldn’t allow him in the same postcode if they had their way.
Of course, this wasn’t just a plaintive cry from King. It might have sounded that way, but it’s fair to say that there was a hidden message in what he said and that it could be interpreted thus: “I have millions to invest in Rangers and it’s millions the club is going to need before too long, so do yourself a favour and invite my pal Paul on to the board or else I’ll walk away – and then you’ll have a real problem.”
Rangers’ reaction to them may have gone something like this: “Get stuffed.”
Last night, Jim McColl backed up King and said that Murray should be invited to join the Rangers board. Murray has got one thing right as head of the requisitioners. He has done a good job in the public relations battle, not that the PR battle matters a damn if it is proven that the board have already won the war ahead of the first sound of gunfire at the agm this morning. He has articulated the feelings of many supporters, not that the supporters’ feelings have been of much concern to the Rangers board for the longest time.
Murray has been omnipresent in the media, partly because the media have asked him to be, partly because it has suited him to be. He has done interview after interview and lobbed grenade after grenade about how the board are treating the fans with contempt, how they have refused to answer questions, how they are steering the club towards the rocks again.
Some of what he has said is undoubtedly right, but talk is cheap, certainly cheaper than buying millions of Rangers shares that would have given his voice more authority had he, or anybody in his group, put their money where their mouths have been.
That has been a huge weakness of the requisitioners right from the start. They talked a lot of sense. They posed a lot of questions that needed to be posed. They highlighted some issues that needed to be highlighted. But they never bought shares. Or never bought them in the kind of volume that would have signalled their intent to seize control of a troubled club. They said that they had backing from the supporters and were also reflecting the concerns of powerful institutional investors. They said they would win the day at the agm not because they wanted to, but because they had to.
If they haven’t won, as seems the case, then they have to look at themselves and their strategy and wonder why they couldn’t get one of their earlier members and one of Scotland’s richest men, McColl, to back up the fighting talk with something a lot more substantial. Between them, the requisitioners have less than a 2 per cent shareholding.
McColl’s withdrawal from the frontline was damaging to the requisitioners, no question. Even if he wasn’t ready to spend money, he at least had the authority of a man who had money and who might, one day, spend some on the club.
King withdrawing to South Africa while still hedging his bets about who he was going to support was also a blow.
Yesterday they called on the board to put aside their issues and welcome Murray in the door, forgetting that Murray has already been asked to join the board recently and declined because he didn’t want to abandon his colleagues.
The idea that Murray could happily co-exist at Ibrox with Brian Stockbridge stretches credibility. He has said as much himself. Murray’s bottom line in all of this has been the removal of Stockbridge. That’s his one non-negotiable item and if there is a second it’s probably the removal of Jack Irvine, the communications man who has lacerated the requisitioners so often that the idea that Murray can work with him is surely a bit of a joke.
Does he deserve to in any case? That phrase “the best interests of Rangers at heart” is one that has been applied to board members and requisitioners alike, guys who wouldn’t have the foggiest notion about the club, but Murray is a bit different. He is a proud Rangers man, no question. But he’s a proud Rangers man with baggage from the David Murray era and you cannot forget that. He was on the Rangers board when Rangers ran amok with their spending. He was on the Rangers board through some of the EBT years. He says that he helped bring down the Rangers debt but that has been open to challenge.
He is sullied by the Murray era and to deny it would be to ignore history. As for his namesake, Malcolm. It is one of the greatest examples of cheek that Malcolm Murray can put himself forward as one of the characters to put Rangers on the straight and narrow when he was involved in a board that wasted so much money in the first place.
The requisitioners have been far from impressive but they haven’t been up against much, it has to be said. Stockbridge is damaged goods and it’s hard to see how the supporters will ever find him acceptable. Irvine, the same. Both should go because to retain them means no bridge is ever likely to be built between the board and the fans. Irvine has been saying for some time that the requisitioners would not only be beaten but that they would be annihilated and it’s this kind of talk that has dogged the whole episode from the start. It’s been deeply personal. It’s been incredibly nasty. It’s been pock-marked by daftness of the kind displayed by David Somers, the chairman, just short of a fortnight ago when he needlessly got embroiled in the mud-flinging by branding the requisitioners a bunch of “fanatics”. In using such insulting language, Somers was not only getting at the so-called rebels but also those who support them – the Rangers fans. You heard Somers talking about fanatics and you wondered what on earth did he think he was adding to the debate. You heard him saying that he wouldn’t recognise Whyte or Charles Green in the street and you wondered whether such a man was fit for purpose at Ibrox.
There is no doubt that the story of the board’s possible victory in the agm would have suited the incumbents. Anything to dampen the spirits of the requisitioners and the supporters would have been welcome. Anything that might make some of those fans decommission their anger and stay away today would have suited the board.
If it comes to pass that the board win and that, to a man, they remain in place with no concession made to the will of the supporters, then today might just be seen as the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. Come the spring, Graham Wallace, Somers, Stockbridge and the Easdale boys will be asking for supporters to part with their season ticket money. Sandy Easdale has already stated that it could be a “fatal blow” to the club if they don’t get that money.
Set aside the cheap attempt at moral blackmail and you have a scenario where so much power rests with the supporters. They feel they haven’t been listened to. Well, they’ll be listened to when the board are looking for their money, that is for sure. They’ll have a captive audience in the boardroom at that point and it is up to them to figure out what they do with it.
Today will bring anger and probably a victory for the board. You have to think that it’ll be the kind of day where if an olive branch is offered then it will be used as a weapon rather than an instrument of conciliation.