Andrew Smith: Could Rangers history repeat itself?

IN THE latest Rangers ructions, it can be a dizzying business attempting to figure out who sides with who.

Rangers have recruited heavily, bringing in Jon Daly, Steven Smith, Cammy Bell, Richard Foster, Nicky Law and Nicky Clark. Picture: SNS
Rangers have recruited heavily, bringing in Jon Daly, Steven Smith, Cammy Bell, Richard Foster, Nicky Law and Nicky Clark. Picture: SNS

Yet, ultimately Charles Green, Ally McCoist, Craig Mather, Brian Stockbridge and Walter Smith can all be lumped together. To a greater or lesser degree, they can all stand charged with being complicit in the fact that Rangers’ affairs have been mismanaged to the point where once more we are talking about financial catastrophe being visited on the club.

Fifteen months on from the old Rangers being liquidated, there are siren voices saying the current incarnation could be only months away from sliding into administration. No lessons seem to have been learned, no ways seem to have been mended. It beggars belief that despite a share flotation that reportedly brought in £22 million, season-ticket sales of £13m and other commercial income of around £3m, the club sits with only £10m in the bank, as financial director Stockbridge admitted in a meeting with fans on Thursday.

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The cash burn simply doesn’t square with the fact that Rangers are a third-tier club, newly promoted from the bottom rung. It starts to do so, mind, when you consider Rangers are also a club where the manager’s annual salary is believed to be £760,000, where two chief executives could pocket more than a million in just over a year and where bonuses to executives exceeded £2m for the feat of winning the Third Division title with a £7m wage bill that ran to 28 times the budget of any of their competitors.

Rangers were supposed to make their way up to the top flight banking cash so, once there, they could make an assault on Celtic’s hegemony. Instead, they’ve squandered any potential reserves for no other reason, it seems, than the enrichment of certain individuals and to feel mighty despite the small-time environment in which they must operate. The hubris of former owner David Murray lives on as, it would seem, does the reckless overspend of Craig Whyte.

With good grace, McCoist didn’t shirk any questions on his part in the potential latest downfall. Asked on Friday if it would be alarming if the club were spending money they couldn’t afford, he said: “It would be, but Brian said the club are all right in that respect. It’s not losing money every month. Some months they are actually making money.”

McCoist was defensive on whether the club living beyond its means was directly linked to the player budget that he presented as a must, despite the modest nature of the challenge confronting Rangers. The club’s infrastructure and size made it inevitable their cost base would be way beyond other clubs in the third and fourth tiers. That is reasonable. But McCoist has recruited players, and a whole team of them now, on salaries that no club outside of Celtic would dare contemplate.

“Well the wages are down again this year, I know that,” he said. “Craig [Mather, who replaced Green as chief executive] said since the start of last season we’ve also lost ten players. We’ve lost six since last year, counting [Dorin] Goian and [Carlos] Bocanegra and boys like that. We brought in eight. It’s my job to get the best team I possibly can on the park for the fans in an effort to win the league and any other competition we are in.”

With Green telling him that he would be given £10m to spend on players in the event of a successful share issue, McCoist is entitled to be confused. However, McCoist cannot now be in any way be confused by the message being shouted out by former Ibrox directors. He admitted that the fact Alastair Johnston and Dave King have both spoken about the possibility of Rangers going into administration – King stating this could occur by Christmas – “would have to be a concern”.

“I definitely have a healthy respect for those two gentlemen, not just in the business sense but as Rangers men,” McCoist said. He accepted the pair had previously called much right on the affairs of Rangers, mostly in calling out Whyte. “Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “You’d have to say, in particular, those two gentlemen have voices that should be listened to.”

Yet if administration did happen, McCoist would not feel guilty about the costs he has racked up in conducting the club’s football business. “In the sense that I’ve not been told that we’re doing anything wrong,” he said. “If someone had said ‘don’t do that because you’re going to put the club at risk’, I would absolutely not do it. But I can’t act on something that I don’t have any knowledge of. So if someone said to me your wage bill is too high or your staff is too high, then that’s fine I can react to that and do something accordingly. But until that comes, it’s not my gig.”

The Rangers manager has said he would be willing to take a drop in wages but remains optimistic there won’t come a time that he will be agreeing to cut them with an administrator. “I’m not passing the buck here onto Brian Stockbridge but he is the financial director. He said there was £10m in the bank, and that not every month we were losing money, we were making money some months and there was money coming in from here and there. Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t see that I should be overly concerned about the current state. With the greatest respect, it’s maybe the board you should be asking about Dave King’s views.”

Administration has never been mentioned by the directors, McCoist said. “I’d hope if it was on the horizon, there would be an early warning system for us this time. Not like the last time, when we got 24 hours notice. You’d like to think we’d have a fair idea and have an opportunity to perhaps do something about it.”

Yet, even if McCoist understands the concept of cutting his cloth to suit – Queen of the South walked the third tier last season with a budget of £500,000 – he doesn’t necessarily agree with it. If told at the start of 2013 there was simply no more money to bring in players because of the need to build up profits for the long term, he said he would have found that “very disappointing” and “gone public” on such a block.

“I would have accepted that as long as everybody had a realisation of where we were. For example, everybody is saying you should be winning cups and this that and the next thing. What we have done from last year is bring in eight free transfers. That is what these guys are. Now I am thrilled, delighted and extremely grateful these boys are coming to our club. But they are free transfers from Motherwell, Kilmarnock, Southend, you know, but they are going to make us a better football team. But we are miles and miles and miles away from where we want to be.

“With the greatest respect, the boys from last year did not have the winning mentality in terms of winning cups. We have got one or two now that have in terms of [Ian] Black, [Cammy] Bell and [Jon] Daly but they have not won trophies religiously through their career. I can understand the [Queen of the South] argument, I don’t necessarily agree with it in the respect I believe our club is different. We are expected to win every game, no matter where we are or what state the club is in. I can understand totally the logic behind Queen of the South, but with the greatest of respect, if someone said you have their budget to win the league I would have said: ‘Right, fine, as long as everyone knows that is the case then let’s get on with it.’ It is not my decision.”