Torment of Rangers revolutionary who recruited Graeme Souness, kicked out Alex Ferguson and would not have signed Mo Johnston

Former Rangers chairman opens up on life at Ibrox in a compelling interview with The Scotsman

At one end of a quiet cul-de-sac in the East Neuk, a man in his 90th year sits and reflects. David Holmes describes himself as having come “adrift” from the world following the death of his beloved wife, Betty, two years ago.

In a sense, however, that process began 35 years ago when he officially stepped down as Rangers chairman after a Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic. The teams meet again this afternoon at Hampden. It feels significant. It is significant. Will Holmes be watching? “No,” he says, before pausing. A gull's cry punctures the silence. Such interruptions are not uncommon in this becalmed part of the world.

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“I am not disillusioned by anything,” he continues. “I just find it difficult at times, when you sit back and think about it ...” Sometimes he does his thinking at home, where he moved after he was widowed. And sometimes he sits and contemplates on a bench, which he has christened “David's bench”, overlooking the sea a short walk away.

David Holmes looks on from his now home town of Crail in Fife.David Holmes looks on from his now home town of Crail in Fife.
David Holmes looks on from his now home town of Crail in Fife.

This weekend might see that final in 1989 featuring prominently in his thoughts. The teams have only met twice since at this stage of the competition. The game was settled by a Joe Miller goal following a short passback by Gary Stevens. All Old Firm defeats sting, but especially in a cup final. Especially when a treble is at stake, as was the case for Rangers that afternoon. But there's something else the sharp-minded Holmes recalls particularly vividly.

On the pitch before the game, during the pre-match formalities, skipper Terry Butcher leaned towards him, and asked: “Where have you been chairman?” The Rangers skipper reminded him: “We came here for you.”

The white-haired, dynamic Ibrox ringmaster had been conspicuous by his recent absence. Ownership of Rangers had transferred between Lawrence Marlborough and David Murray in what eventually proved such a fateful deal. Holmes was faithful to the previous regime. He wasn’t sold on the swashbuckling style of the incoming tycoon and suspected he would be sidelined. Worse, he learned that daughter Lynne, who was Rangers marketing manager, was being bullied. “I didn't want to stay any longer than I had to because I felt I wasn't wanted,” he says.

“I just wish they had won the cup that year. But I think … and I want you to accept this in the spirit I will say it ... I think the team were disappointed in the way I had been treated. They had lost a lot of energy. Terry was almost in tears on the park. They knew I had been treated badly.”

Holmes says he has 'come adrift from the world'.Holmes says he has 'come adrift from the world'.
Holmes says he has 'come adrift from the world'.

Holmes officially left Ibrox on June 2, a few days after Murray officially became owner of Rangers. Just over a month later, the new chairman sanctioned one of the most sensational transfers of all-time. Looking back at newspapers from the morning of the cup final, several preview pieces make mention of the boost Celtic had been given by the return of Mo Johnston, who, although not yet free to wear the hoops at Hampden, had agreed to sign from Nantes. Or so nearly everyone thought.

“I would never have signed Mo Johnston, no,” says Holmes now. “Not because of religion. I was interested in the personalities we brought in. They had to fit in with the group and you were not putting a bad apple on top of the barrel because the rest of them would go bad. My main strength was if he wanted someone I checked up if it was the right kind of person we were looking at … Graeme (Souness) made me a statement: ‘Whoever we bring in, whatever I pay, you won't get any less for him’. And he was right. He did well with that.”

Souness has returned to Glasgow twice in recent weeks, most recently to speak at the Scottish Football Writers' Association dinner and, a fortnight before that, when receiving a merit award from PFA Scotland. Such recognition is appropriate but what of Rangers’ debt to Holmes, who never took a penny from the club? Has that been marked? There is scant mention in the recently opened Rangers museum.

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They don’t put statues of a joiner from Bonnybridge – which is how Holmes refers to himself – outside Ibrox. However, an electrician from Carmyle will be granted that honour this weekend – and rightly so. Walter Smith joins fellow club stalwart John Greig on a plinth at the ground.

Holmes at the launch of his book One Voice at Ibrox Stadium last year.Holmes at the launch of his book One Voice at Ibrox Stadium last year.
Holmes at the launch of his book One Voice at Ibrox Stadium last year.

Holmes recruited Smith from Dundee United in an inspired move. He also held the door open as Souness made a stunning entrance at Ibrox in April 1986 and closed it behind a couple of equally formidable characters in Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean, the latter when a Scottish Cup clash between Rangers and Dundee United at Ibrox suffered a late postponement due to waterlogged pitch. There would be no (more) New Firm bullying of Rangers on Holmes’ watch.

“They did not like me,” he says. “I was never made welcome at Pittodrie or Dundee United. It was not the chairmen – I got on very well with Dick Donald (at Aberdeen) and Mr (George) Fox (at Dundee United). It was the managers. In my time I had to put the two of them out of Ibrox because of their behaviour.”

McLean was angry after learning the 1989 Scottish Cup tie, due to be televised live, had been called off. Holmes heard the commotion from the top of the marble staircase. “I went down and there was Jim McLean and another director making rude remarks and lashing out at everyone about how absurd it was that ‘they could not get the game on’,” he recalls.

“I went down and said: ‘What’s all this about?’ And he said: ‘Don’t you start, you are probably behind all this. You didn't want to play.’ I was like: ‘Wait a minute. This is my house. Don’t shout at me. I would not shout at you in your house’. I said to the stewards: ‘Get them out’.”

Holmes (left) unveils Graeme Souness as the new Rangers manager in 1987.Holmes (left) unveils Graeme Souness as the new Rangers manager in 1987.
Holmes (left) unveils Graeme Souness as the new Rangers manager in 1987.

As for Ferguson, Holmes was equally firm. The contretemps was following the first leg of a UEFA Cup tie against Katowice. “I came down the stairs to go and see Graeme and Walter and the lads and these two – Ferguson and (Archie) Knox– were holding court with all the press, saying we were rubbish and ‘they’ll never get through this’. I went in and asked: ‘Is this a stairhead meeting? One of the reporters said: ‘We are only discussing the game’. I replied: ‘You are discussing the game? With these two? What have they got to do with it?’ I said to Ferguson: ‘Oh, you’ve got an opinion? You had your chance to come and run this place. Listen, why don’t we just call it quits and you two can just leave.’”

Ibrox was Holmes' domain. He admits that he might have sometimes left some blood on the Blue Room carpet in his determination to ensure the fans got what they deserved – the very best. Richard Gough undoubtedly fitted that description. The problem was that Holmes did not have the money to pay the agreed deal for the defender from Tottenham Hotspur. “But the Rangers Pools had the money,” he recalls.

Hugh Adam, a Rangers board member, was the brain behind the successful Pools scheme. He did not take kindly to Holmes raiding what he described as the family silver. The Ibrox chairman was undeterred. “I said to him: ‘I need that money. Rangers Pools belongs to Rangers, I have 66 per cent authority and I am taking the money.’ He says: ‘You can’t do it’. I said, ‘You (Rangers Pools) are wholly owned by Rangers’. I spoke to lawyers, they told me: ‘Of course you can take it’.”

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Adam wrote to Marlbrough, by then based in the United States, to complain. He called for Holmes’ removal and proposed that he should take over as chairman, with Freddie Fletcher – who Holmes brought in – appointed chief executive. Marlbrough FedExed the letter back across the Atlantic to Holmes.

It was clear where the Rangers owner's loyalties lay. After all, Marlbrough had handpicked Holmes, who had impressed him with his conduct, vision and efficiency while working for construction firm John Lawrence (Glasgow) Ltd, to “sort out” Rangers in the early 1980s. The Marlbroughs retreated to America shortly afterwards. Holmes shouldered ever greater responsibility.

On the subject of Adam and Fletcher, he was told by Marlbrough to do whatever he wanted, including getting rid of them. “Sack them? No, I would not give them the pleasure,” Holmes says now. “I put it on the plate for them. They came in the next day. I showed them copies of the letter: ‘Belong to you?’”

Trevor Francis (right) is welcomed by Ibrox by chairman Holmes and player/manager Souness.Trevor Francis (right) is welcomed by Ibrox by chairman Holmes and player/manager Souness.
Trevor Francis (right) is welcomed by Ibrox by chairman Holmes and player/manager Souness.

He told them Marlbrough had proposed sacking the pair. However, he was not prepared to give them an easy story to take to the press. He told them if they wanted to resign, he would accept their resignations. And if not, he would make the letter public. “There are 42,000 people who come to the games, and they back me,” Holmes told them. “They won't back you two.”

Could he be ruthless? Of course, although it’s hard to reconcile this version of Holmes with the one who greets you with an outstretched hand at the door having already prepared a couple of plates of sandwiches. He gestures for his guest to take a seat at a table where lunch is sitting waiting. It all feels a long way away from the sound and fury of Glasgow.

And it is, of course.


Holmes now lives just a few miles as the crow flies from the plush hotel where Rangers tend to stay when playing games on Tayside. Do they even know someone whose impact and ambition are still felt today in the form of full houses at Ibrox lives so close by? If not, they should. Holmes was interviewed on the club’s in-house channel as recently as November after his book, One Voice, was published.

It was well covered that he had not stepped back inside Ibrox until the launch of the title. And yet no invite has been extended by the club’s board since its publication. This clearly hurts and one wonders whether Holmes will ever return for a match. “We are past that now,” he says.

Invitations have been forthcoming from supporters’ clubs, however. It was always about the supporters for Holmes. He has recently completed a book tour that took him as far away as Stornoway, HQ of the largest Rangers supporters’ club in the world. Although Richard Gough was also on the bill it was Holmes who brought the house down. Why wait so long to tell his story?

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“My choice,” he says. “Because I got hurt. Badly hurt … As a young, 15-year-old apprentice joiner I never thought about becoming chief executive of Rangers. I wanted to become a joiner! I did not want anything else. I was happy. I was a great tennis player and a scratch golfer. I was married to the best woman in the world and had a daughter I loved. I had everything that I wanted. Lawrence gave me the chance to grow.”

The pain stems from the way it ended. “I am not anti-Rangers. I have never been anti-Rangers. But when we started, I told you, it was all about the fans. It is like a building. When you are start a building you put the foundations in. (Willie) Waddell and Marlbrough built a new stadium, that was the foundation. He (Marlbrough) said to me: ‘What you have to do, David, is fill the seats’.

“When you are building a house you can put in the foundations, but you have to have a superstructure before you can fill it. My superstructure was my family, Graeme, Walter, (Rangers secretary) Campbell Ogilvie and me. We brought in the team that brought the fans back.” The crucial thing for him, he stresses, is that the supporters never left.

“The idea was I borrowed the money and I put my name on the line at the bank, not Rangers, not Lawrence Marlbrough. I signed my name. And I told the bank that if I fail, I will resign and I will get your money back. To get gazumped like that at the end was very hurtful.”

Marlbrough made a deal with Murray behind Holmes’ back for £20 a share – after Holmes had already struck a deal with the businessman for £25 a share. Marlbrough needed money fast. Although more than a measly pound, for which Murray eventually sold Rangers to Craig Whyte, £6 million was still less than the going rate. Holmes was left to clear up the mess created by the failure of several Marlbrough-owned businesses away from Rangers. He was so heavily tied up in the family firm that he got burned himself. It’s many years since Holmes last heard from Marlbrough, whose thoughts on Rangers’ subsequent fluctuations haven’t been aired publicly and might never be.

“I was 51 when I signed Graeme, I was 56 when I left,” reflects Holmes. “I was not finished.” Not quite. Colourful but short chapters at Falkirk, his boyhood team, and Dundee followed. The last game he attended was the 2015 Scottish Cup final between Falkirk and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

“I have come adrift from the world,” he says. “I live on my own here. They say loneliness is brought about by the fear of being lonely. But I have got over that. It was hard … ” His family are always on hand, Lynne in nearby Cellardyke and grandson Max in Glenrothes.

The second anniversary of Betty’s death was earlier this week. Two days before she died, he read her the first two chapters of One Voice, the book Holmes was writing in conjunction with former The Scotsman sportswriter Stephen Halliday. His wife had initially resisted the idea, concerned about raking over old coals.

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“I read them to her and she thought they were wonderful,” he says. One suspects she wanted to see his place in Rangers' history recorded before it was too late.

It reads in places like a last will and testament. Is it? “No,” Holmes replies, which might be bad news for some. A second volume is locked up in a lawyer’s office in Glasgow. “I have had a QC look at it,” says Holmes. “He says it’s an absolute cracker.”

One Voice - The Inside Story of the Rangers Revolution is available at



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