WALTER Smith’s intervention in the Rangers takeover saga yesterday could hardly have been better timed.
On a dark day in which the club began to undergo the process of liquidation, here at last was hope for the fans – and a serious threat to Charles Green within hours of his getting the keys to the door after completing a £5.5 million deal.
And it was not just any old forlorn kind of hope either. Not the sort of straw-clutching hope to which Rangers fans have at times been reduced since Craig Whyte took the club into administration on 14 February.
For Smith has solid money behind him – an offer believed to be around £6 million. While Green has apparently struggled for weeks to name the members of his supposedly 20-strong Sevco consortium, the former Rangers manager came out straight away and declared he has the backing of two of the most well-known businessmen in Scotland – Jim McColl and Douglas Park.
The support of those two is crucial to Smith’s plans. Without the funds that they can bring to the table, those plans could be dismissed by Green as well-intentioned but insubstantial. With them, Smith has the resources to buy Green out.
Of course, Green is under no obligation to sell, and the offer he made to Smith last night to become chairman of the club suggests he has no intention to cut and run. But there is little doubt that the sentiments of the vast majority of Rangers fans are with Smith – and when those sentiments are coupled with some hard cash from McColl and Park, they become a very potent weapon indeed.
Until Smith’s announcement around three o’clock yesterday afternoon, only a small minority of Rangers fans appeared absolutely certain to refuse to have anything to do with Green. Perhaps an even smaller minority were willing to give the Sheffield businessman their overt backing, while in the middle was a massive group of undecideds.
Those undecideds might have felt disgruntled at Green’s plans, or suspicious of him, but at the same time they wanted to back their club. They would be torn, but when push came to shove they would swallow any misgivings they had about Green and get behind Rangers.
That has all changed now thanks to Smith. Now those undecideds know there is a credible alternative to Green. They no longer need fear that, if they fail to back Green, there is no alternative for Rangers but extinction. There is an alternative, and it is one which they can see is viable. The first formal declaration of that conviction came last night from the board of the Rangers Supporters’ Trust. “[We] welcome today’s bid headed by Walter Smith,” the Trust said. “This bid is the only one which will ensure all the Rangers family are united...” More importantly, that gesture of moral support carried the threat of economic pressure with it. The Trust board calls on all supporters to hold off renewing season tickets till this situation is resolved,” the statement concluded.
Green may at present be in control of Rangers. But if supporters withhold their cash, his power will be severely diminished. The other key benefit from Smith’s intervention is its implicit promise of resolving Ally McCoist’s position. Faced with reports that he was about to sack McCoist, Green insisted yesterday that he still backed the manager, but McCoist’s stony silence spoke volumes. If Smith takes the reins, his long-time understudy will have job security again – something that will be vital to the cohesion of the Rangers squad, whatever division they end up playing in next season. Before yesterday’s events, Smith had been keen to stay in the background if possible, preferring to offer sober words of support to others whose actions he deemed to be in the best interests of the club. He backed Paul Murray’s Blue Knights group, for example, when the former director and his colleagues were one of the groups bidding to take Rangers out of administration via a Company Voluntary Arrangement.
“I know Paul through his time on the board and Paul would have the interests of the football club at heart,” he said. “Maybe that is what’s needed at present. If he does get it, then I think that would be good for the football club.”
And he backed the supporters’ Fighting Fund, agreeing to act as a trustee, while making plain his reluctance to have a more active involvement.
“It has been an extremely difficult time for everyone associated with Rangers, but the supporters have shown unbelievable commitment to our club throughout the administration process. and deserve great credit,” he said when the Fund was launched.
“I would do whatever I could, there is no doubt about that,” he added later when asked if he might return to Ibrox. “The Fighting Fund have asked me to be a trustee. I would come back without hesitation, but not in a paid capacity.”
He was especially outspoken about Whyte and the blight he brought upon the club. “How do I feel about him? I’m not sure how to put that,” he said.
“He had previous of closing down companies and making ordinary people unemployed. That, to me, would maybe sum him up more than anything else. Anyone who could do that in my mind isn’t someone I want to spend a great deal of time thinking about. What I can’t stomach is that, right from the very start, there was an intentional aspect to his ownership. I just hope the club is sold, he’s away and we can forget all about him.”
Smith knows that Rangers’ problems did not begin and end with Whyte, and he has accepted that former owner Sir David Murray must take responsibility for selling the club to him.
“I think Sir David Murray and the Murray Group have got a bit to answer for,” he said on that subject.
“Sir David has come out and said that he can only apologise. I never thought I would read anywhere a quote from him saying he was duped, but it happened.”
He has also acknowledged that, as manager, he was urging the Rangers board to spend more money at a time when, under chief executive Martin Bain, it was trying to cut back. So, for all that many fans might see his intervention as ‘Sir’ Walter riding to the rescue, he is not trying to portray himself and his friends as saints. Instead, he is saying that he is willing to get his hands dirty to pull the club he loves out of the mire.
Smith has more credibility than any other leading figure in the Rangers story. And, with the active support of a significant number of the club’s fans, he may just be able to pull off an audacious rescue. If he succeeds, he could come to be remembered and celebrated more for that than for any triumph he pulled off in his years as Rangers manager.