Glenn Gibbons: Would-be Ibrox invaders stranded

The London High Court judge who this week likened Craig Whyte to Mr Micawber was merely confirming the suspicion that the former owner of Rangers should be regarded as a kind of Dickensian trendsetter.

Former Rangers chairman Malcolm Murray leaves Ibrox following the clubs agm, during which the current board were re-elected. Picture: SNS
Former Rangers chairman Malcolm Murray leaves Ibrox following the clubs agm, during which the current board were re-elected. Picture: SNS

After all, since the day he arrived at Ibrox, he has been followed by a seemingly endless line of directors fully committed to the literary character’s famous idea of what constitutes sound financial advice: “Something will turn up”.

This brand of seat-of-the-pants economics, a monument to the triumph of hope over prudent and vigilant governance, appears to have been endemic to the club over the past two years. It is a philosophy which gave birth to Thursday’s fevered annual meeting of (largely disenchanted) shareholders and concisely explains the perennial difficulty in attracting and securing life-giving funding for a seriously weakened institution.

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The recently-appointed chief executive, Graham Wallace, was quite unambiguous in his response a few days ago to the question of acquiring meaningful investment for an organisation that has achieved notoriety in a shockingly short period of time for haemorrhaging cash at the potentially fatal rate of £1 million a month.

Wallace, evincing a plausibility that had become a rarity among the Rangers hierarchy, stressed that it would be a waste of time to approach blue-chip investors without a properly structured business plan, one that would outline the progress the club could realistically expect to make over the next five years.

“It is part of my philosophy that we should develop this short-to-medium vision of what we should be like over the next five years,“ said Wallace. “We need to do it in a structured way. We need to look at the cost base, the football operational cost base and at our youth development programme and how quickly we can bring that talent through. On the income side, our ability to attract and retain blue-chip investors who want to be associated with Rangers is a major challenge for us.”

In a few words, Wallace exhibited an appreciation of the extent of the financial and image damage sustained by the club over the last couple of years and the problems the fans and shareholders should expect to encounter in the potentially lengthy course of effecting a remedy.

In the hustings before this week’s election, Wallace’s realistic summation – leaning towards neither unjustified optimism nor excessive pessimism – was an isolated exercise in calm persuasiveness, sensibly eschewing the empty rhetoric and infantile sniping that coloured the propaganda of others involved in the battle.

In the process, the chief executive demonstrated the principal among a number of reasons why the would-be usurpers, the Paul Murray-led group, had been long odds-against making even a noticeable impact on the voting, far less achieving their objectives.

Murray himself tended to undermine the cause of the quartet of prospective directors every time he appeared in print or on air. If there was undeniable hostility among fans/shareholders towards the sitting 
tenants (although this was most emphatically directed towards financial director Brian Stockbridge), the evidence of telling support for Murray and his cohorts seemed to become flimsier by the day.

Murray’s claim that his group had secured pledges from substantial investors who would, in effect, restore the club to robust economic health arrived with such suddenness and so close to the annual meeting that it seemed as preposterous as the time he spent on demanding an investigation into whoever leaked the news that the proxy voting had determined, 48 hours before the event, that the incumbent directors had won a landslide victory.

He should have been more concentrated on uncovering and exposing any kind of serious misbehaviour by the present board that would have undermined the opposition and strengthened his own case. The premature release of bad news, which would not be changed by keeping it out of the media for another day or two, was as trivial and irrelevant as many of the Murray group’s attempts at attaining and maintaining credibility.

There was also, of course, the unmistakable scent of hypocrisy about the challengers’ moral outrage, as if they would be above such chicanery as leaking an item that would give them an edge in a forthcoming battle.
But the prospects of success for the rebels had been dim almost to the point of being snuffed out from the earliest days of their campaign. 
Murray and his namesake, Malcolm, had already enjoyed periods as directors – the latter as chairman – at 
Rangers that had been conspicuously undistinguished.

There was a guilt-by-association hindrance to the likelihood of their launching a successful revolt against the established order. But the most daunting obstacle to their ambitions was surely their unwillingness – or inability – to commit to a level of investment in the share issue that would not only have increased the newco’s revenue, but would have given them a percentage of the equity that would have significantly improved their chances in an election.

All of these factors combined to produce an image of would-be invaders arriving at the gates of the citadel and turning round to discover that the troops were no longer at their back. That was literally true in the case of Jim McColl, the previously loquacious critic of the board whose investment in the cause would be measured in words rather than cash, and who pulled out of the action before the 
big event.

Old-time boxing coaches used to tell challengers for a world championship that they had to be prepared to die if they wanted to separate a champion from his title. Paul Murray, it seems, couldn’t even hang on to his corner man.