Alan Pattullo: Rangers hankering for ‘showbiz’ era

David Murray, third left, fronts up at the Rangers agm in 2007. Picture: SNS
David Murray, third left, fronts up at the Rangers agm in 2007. Picture: SNS
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THERE was a time when we knew what to expect from an annual general meeting at Rangers. There would be a bravura performance from an ebullient Sir David Murray, whose showman qualities would be on view for everyone to see as he batted away complaints while speaking in bold terms about the future.

In 2008, in his last appearance at such an event, he was concerned with the issue of sectarianism, and while he agreed not all the blame for the problem could be laid at Rangers door, the club had to deal with those who continued to spout bile on websites. There was also a stout defence of his own financial input while he also warned that Rangers could no longer be net spenders.

“We’re up to here,” Murray said, pointing to his neck. Of course no-one with Rangers at heart wants a return to days of cavalier spending, but they must hanker for knowing who exactly is in charge; by the following year’s agm Donald Muir has been appointed to the board in a bid by Lloyds Banking Group to claw back some of the debt owed to them. Things had started to become a lot less clear.

Murray wasn’t present at the agm in 2009 as the extent of Rangers’ financial problems became yet more apparent, and then, by 2010, Alastair Johnston had taken the chair. As stories emerged that Craig Whyte was preparing to make a bid for Murray’s shareholding, he stressed that they were still open to other offers. We know what happened. With no other offers on the table, Murray, under pressure from Lloyds Banking Group, was panicked into accepting Whyte’s offer of £1 for his shareholding.

It’s not of course enough to conclude that the rest is history, since history will struggle to recall the full story of how Rangers Football Club got to here, on the cusp of another Rangers agm, with the club in the third tier of Scottish football. As if to illustrate further where Rangers are now in the countdown to Thursday, their most recent game – against Stenhousemuir at Ochilview – was called off, reportedly because of “structural damage” caused to the main stand after a burger van reversed into it. Of course, the latest agm at Rangers promises to be a very different event to those of the past. The battle lines are drawn and the current Rangers board are seeking to fight off a bid by the requisitioners to gain some representation among those running affairs at Ibrox.

A pound for Sir David Murray’s thoughts at the start of such a significant week; the agm was once his stage, his arena. Now David Somers will handle chair duties in front of shareholders who want answers over a number of fundamental issues, such as who are the mysterious figures behind the investment companies Blue Pitch Holdings and Margarita Funds, who hold nearly ten per cent of the voting rights.

Malcolm Murray, the former chairman and now a ‘requisitioner’, yesterday described it as “the most difficult corporate governance situation I have ever seen”. He says he cannot prove anything but he is relying on instinct when he states that it is his belief that Rangers are in the wrong hands yet again.

The trouble is, the requisitioners have not bought enough shares to effect change themselves. They have to rely on enough fans believing in what they are saying, but even then, with the present board believing they have the support of up to 46 per cent of the shareholding, it looks as though hopes of change might prove to be forlorn. The fans, though, have been mobilised and won’t be appeased by the status quo continuing – which, of course, is likely to lean to further fractious developments in the bid for the heart of Rangers Football Club. Such a scenario cannot provide any succour for Ally McCoist, who is managing to at least ensure Rangers are continuing to do the business on the park – as they should be doing.

Sir David Murray described McCoist as the obvious successor when the then Rangers owner re-appointed Walter Smith as manager in January 2006. And so it proved, although McCoist can hardly claim that his dream job has turned out as he hoped it might.

There are some who want McCoist to be the man legendary former manager and director Bill Struth was: uncompromising and faithful to the club to the end. His standing has been rocked slightly by the salary revelations – and even then he simply continued to take a wage that was ratified by the board. It is a hardly a crime of the century, although it undoubtedly further frustrated a Rangers support who have been taken to the end of their tether by what they perceive as people getting rich while the club’s financial situation remains perilous. McCoist was placed in the invidious position last week of being asked how he will vote on Thursday since he, too, is a shareholder.

Surprisingly, he engaged with the question, admitting that he didn’t yet know who to vote for. When even the manager himself is caught between two stools and two warring parties, you know that a club deserves to be described as dysfunctional.

Whose side are you on? There was once a time at Rangers when this was an easy question to answer.