Tom English: Administrators’ indecision has increased threat of liquidation

IT’S been clear for some time that the Rangers saga is a hell of a drama, but yesterday it delved into the realms of a circus.

IT’S been clear for some time that the Rangers saga is a hell of a drama, but yesterday it delved into the realms of a circus.

Even before David Whitehouse and Paul Clark, the administrators who appear to have a strange aversion to administering, ran out of Murray Park with their hair on fire, the day had been bizarre. It ended with Whitehouse and Clark talking about the “perilous financial situation” at the club as if it had only just dawned on them that the club had a few money issues.

Yesterday was a day that fried the brain. Over the past three weeks, this story has delivered many frantic moments but what we saw throughout Wednesday was surreal. Around 4pm, Duff and Phelps in the guise of Whitehouse and Clark issued a statement which included the following line. “However, no one should be in any doubt that in the absence of sufficient cost-cutting measures or receipt of substantial unplanned income, the club will not be able to fulfil its fixtures throughout the remainder of the season.”

These words leap off the page. Sufficient cost-cutting was what Whitehouse and Clark were in the building to do. And they haven’t done it. There would be no threats to fixtures had they conducted themselves like normal administrators. They talk about the “absence” of cuts as if it has nothing to do with them, but it has everything to do with them.

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Three weeks ago, when these guys initially walked in the door at Ibrox, it was plain that Rangers’ were in mortal danger and yet the first significant act they attempted to pull-off was the signing of a new player, Daniel Cousin, on £5,000-£7,000 a week. It was a move that confused everybody outside Rangers. How could a club that was in administration find the money to bring in a new striker? Wasn’t the point of administration to bring the costs down, not up?

Cousin never arrived, not because the administrators saw the folly of their actions but because the Scottish Premier League wouldn’t allow it. Since then we have waited for Whitehouse and Clark to get on with the business of administration. And we’re still waiting.

They’re saying some strange things, such as their repeated statement that liquidation is not the likely outcome to all of this. Is that view based on hard fact or wishful thinking? If it’s hard fact, then where are the facts? Whitehouse and Clark, to our knowledge, don’t know what kind of verdict awaits them from the HMRC case. It could be nothing, could be something, could be a whole lot more than something. They don’t know. So how can they make bold predictions?

Here’s what else they say. They need to save £1m a month and the situation has gotten dire. At other football clubs, the sad reality in these administration cases is that players get moved on quickly to cut the expenditure. At Motherwell many years ago there was a bloodbath. At Dundee, the manager and assistant manager got the chop. It’s a heartless business, but it needs to be done.

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Nobody wants a bloodlust, but in the Rangers squad there are players that could easily have been moved on, players who haven’t been playing a whole lot or players who haven’t played particularly well. Neil Alexander, on a reported £12,000 a week, has played 13 games in two years at an average of £96,000 a game. There are others. Nothing against Alexander – he’s a great bloke – but you have to seriously wonder what the administrators are playing at. They say they have been reluctant to make players redundant because it would “destroy the fabric” of the club. So instead what we are left with, potentially, is a club full of players that is unable to afford to play them in fixtures. What about the club’s fabric, then?

Whitehouse and Clark have attempted to broker a pay-cut deal with players and discussions have gone on endlessly and all the time the debt was mounting and the club’s position growing ever more perilous. They have now put off any player redundancies until Friday. For a pair of guys who were brought in to reduce costs, they have effectively sat on their hands. By their inaction, they have kept players in jobs for that bit longer and that, no doubt, will please the supporters. But their prevarication has also increased the likelihood of Rangers going into liquidation and surely that is the biggest fear of all, that Rangers as we know it will cease to exist. No player is bigger than the club goes the mantra. Well, if that is true, nobody has told that to the administrators.

They are now frantically trying to expedite a sale. They don’t know what is happening in terms of the HMRC big tax case but they are now asking Paul Murray and his Blue Knights (and anybody else who happens to be watching) to hurry up with their rescue plan. Murray is entitled to say, “Hang on, until I know that what tax debt might be due to HMRC I’m not doing anything”. Murray, you have to assume, doesn’t even know who legally owns Ibrox and Murray Park. Expediting the sale of the club is a farce in these circumstances. Murray would appear to be the only show in town now, but how can he put together a cogent bid when there is so much he presumably does not know about the true state of the club?

Before Whitehouse and Clark performed their Keystone Cops routine, we had Dave King’s statement, a gob-smacking thing of infinite fascination. He took pot-shots at Sir David Murray, who fired back, he levelled Craig Whyte with a bazooka blast, Whyte responding with the squeak of a pop-gun. King said that Whyte duped the fans, abused their loyalty and blatantly lied. No argument there.

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He said David Murray had deceived him over the state of the club finances and claimed he was suing him for £20m. Sir David fired a volley back at him, saying that he had known all about the Ibrox finances from his time on the board and had said nothing for many years. The tit-for-tat was engrossing. King said it was inevitable that Rangers would be liquidated, Whyte disagreed. By lunch-time, it was becoming obvious that this club was beginning to eat itself.

It’s easy to feel sympathy for Paul Murray. For three weeks he has been going about his business in a diligent way, trying to put together the finance for a Blue Knights bid. He has never claimed to be anything he isn’t. He’s not a multi-millionaire, not a flash harry. He was a credible front-man for a bid. The administrators not only believe in him, they appear to be relying on him. The burden of pressure on Paul Murray right now must be immense.

He has King as a backer and a friend. In another weird dimension to yesterday King gave the SFA the go-ahead to conduct a fit and proper test on him. That’s bravado for you. King is facing 322 charges of money laundering, racketeering, fraud and tax evasion in South Africa. The tax authorities believe he owes them 2.7bn rand, about £230m. The prosecuting authorities want to put him on trial for alleged crimes that could, in theory, involve a prison sentence of 15 years if they are proven. Last year he had his vast wine estate seized by administrators. King is number one target on the government list. They’ve been chasing him for 14 years but he says he has no case to answer. We can only wish the SFA well with their fit and proper test. King is a complex man to examine.

And he would have driven his colleague, Paul Murray, scatty yesterday. Here is Murray, doing his damndest to construct a bid that is based on the club moving out of administration and into a more stable future. Then along comes his fellow Knight and says, “Nah, liquidation is inevitable”. It was a bad moment for the fans who want to believe that the Knights have their ducks in a row. The sight of Murray and King disagreeing with each other was an awkward one for those who reckon that they represent Rangers’ last hope.

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The circus moves on. Tomorrow is the new D-day for the administrators. Or Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday. This is a story seemingly without an end about a club that has the end very much in its sights.