Rangers: More pain ahead, says Walter Smith

Billy McNeill and Walter Smith are new patrons of the St Andrew's sporting club. Picture: SNS
Billy McNeill and Walter Smith are new patrons of the St Andrew's sporting club. Picture: SNS
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Former Rangers manager and chairman Walter Smith yesterday became, along with Celtic’s European Cup-winning captain Billy McNeill, a patron of the St Andrew’s Sporting Club.

Smith, while honoured to be officially involved with the 40-year-old Glasgow boxing institution, had other battles in mind when he spoke with reporters afterwards – namely, the battle for the hearts and the soul of the Third Division champions and runaway League 1 leaders.

With losses of £14.4million announced last week and in-fighting between directors and rebel shareholders showing no sign of letting up, Smith struggled to see a light at the end of this particular tunnel. He remains convinced, though, that Rangers will somehow survive the latest blood-letting and emerge from the financial mire yet again.

“You have to feel optimism for the simple reason that Rangers are a great club,” he said. “They cannot continue being run in the manner they are at the present moment. That can’t continue. It can’t be allowed to continue.

“When you see supporters protesting in the manner they have done in the last few games you know that, effectively, will be the reason Rangers will get out of that.”

Even so, Smith admits that he is not in a position to declare that a second administration at Ibrox can be avoided.

“If I knew what was going to happen I would be confident answering that one [but] I don’t,” he said. “But something has to happen.

“Rangers are too big a club and too great an institution to not find an answer to the problems they are facing at the present moment.”

Asked whether the club’s directors should follow manager Ally McCoist’s example and halve their salaries, Smith replied: “That’s up to them. I think some of them have dropped certain aspects of what they were taking.

“I’m not privy to what might be happening in that respect. I do know that things will, at some stage or other, settle down.

“The right thing will happen and Rangers will come back. But it will not be without further pain: I don’t think there is any doubt about that.”

The troubled club’s latest chief executive Craig Mather wasin South Africa at the weekend for talks with former director Dave King in an attempt to persuade him to supply a much-needed cash injection.

Smith, who was twice dissuaded from resigning as chairman before he finally left, believes that Mather could have improved his carbon footprint and remained at home, believing that King - who saw previous owner Sir David Murray squander £20m of his money when he first invested in the club - is unlikely to work with the current regime.

“Does it make sense? I don’t know,” he said. “That’s the difficult thing about Rangers. What makes any sense any longer?

“I don’t know if that’s true or whether Dave King would come back and get involved in Rangers again. I just don’t know.

“Would he be good for the club? It depends on circumstances. I hope somebody can come in and end this situation we have at the present moment where there is a circumstance where EGMs can be called at any given time by any given person.

“That situation is not conductive to running a stable football club. So if we get an owner back and one who is basically interested in the football side of the club and seeing the footballing side of the team progress – as Dave King would be – then that would be a good thing for Rangers.

“I don’t know what his thoughts would be on that. I don’t really envisage him coming back to sit amongst the board.”

Smith is certainly of the opinion that there are currently too many vested interests at Ibrox for the club to progress.

“I think there are,” he said. “That’s what happens. We have seen banners at recent games – and as a manager you expect that’s how fans will show their discontent.

“If you are a manager you expect that kind of thing amongst the support but it’s the first time I can remember the board taking that kind of criticism.

“And that’s an indication. If you were a manager that would indicate to the manager he is struggling. It should also indicate to the board that Rangers are also in the middle of a struggle.”

However, Smith dismisses suggestions that Rangers should not have made high-profile signings such as Cammy Bell, Jon Daly, Nicky Law and others on elite-division salaries while the club is losing money in Scottish football’s third tier.

“At Rangers it’s a difficult scenario,” he said. “You talk about cutting their cloth but, at the start of last season Rangers had to have a team that was fairly recognisable in terms of the level of player.

“Even during the season when they were winning there was a whole raft of discontent over the way they were playing. But, this year, what do you do with that?

“Do you say: ‘We are going to go with the same team again?’ You couldn’t do that. They had to [improve] the team. They had to bring in different players.

“People come out and say: ‘It’s not necessary for them to have that in that division’ but it’s not just the division that matters at Rangers, it’s the fact you have 45,000 people coming to watch something on a football pitch.

“That’s where Rangers have to make the difference and, in fairness to Alistair, he has done that this season. They are still losing money but when you make a decision to become involved at Rangers there is no common sense to it.

“There is no common business sense. Yes, there is money going out, it’s a fact. But what do you do?

“All the people saying this, that and the next thing don’t realise that you can’t sit on the board of directors and tell people: ‘We can’t afford to do this.’

“You actually have to go out and find the money to do it. That is the problem. If you get into the Champions League, then you can make a profit. Celtic have shown that, Rangers showed it in the latter period I was there. That’s the place you make the money. So Rangers have to use their money to create a situation where they can put that challenge in. That’s the gamble. It’s not a sensible gamble. But that’s what it is.

“The problem they have at the moment is not because they have put a whole load of money into the football team.

“Look at Rangers and they hardly bought a player in five years. All the players have been free transfers. The wage bill is probably at its lowest in recent history. By a mile. It’s somewhere near a third of what it was when I was manager. The feeling is that the money is going elsewhere.”