A RANGERS fans’ group has hit out at Mike Ashley for calling next week’s “unnecessary” shareholder meeting.
The Ibrox club will host a general meeting – the third in six months – on 12 June after the Newcastle United owner called for shareholders to vote on whether the club should repay a £5 million loan handed to them by Ashley’s Sports Direct firm.
The billionaire tycoon – through Sports Direct’s parent company MASH Ltd – has also demanded answers on the club’s delisting from the AIM stock exchange and wants to know the precise terms of a separate £1.5m loan issued by director Douglas Park and wealthy fans George Letham and George Taylor.
The Rangers board have already urged shareholders to boot out the Londoner’s resolution, and now fan-ownership campaigners Rangers First have followed suit.
In a statement issued to their 13,600 registered contributors, the group said: “As the tenth-largest shareholder in Rangers International Football Club plc, our aim is to always put the interests of the Rangers Football Club and its rebuilding before all other interests.
“After a difficult year on and off the pitch, we would hope that all shareholders would share this aim. Rangers First, by definition, at all times puts Rangers first and we believe all shareholders should do so irrespective of any other business interests. We encourage all Rangers supporters to join Rangers First and be part of its growing membership.
“The Board of Rangers First firmly believes that this General Meeting should not have been called. It has been requested by a minority shareholder with the clear intent of benefiting its associated party Sports Direct.
“The meeting causes unnecessary cost and disruption at a critical time for the club. We are disappointed that a business of the size and reputation of Sports Direct would seek to conduct its affairs in this way and we fully expect them to accept the opportunity to be represented at the forthcoming General Meeting to explain its position in the presence of other shareholders.”
Ashley – who owns just under 9 per cent of the Glasgow giants – gave the £5m loan to the previous Ibrox board in January as the club found itself sinking towards another financial black hole. But in doing so he also took security over club assets such as the Murray Park training ground and Rangers’ famous trademarks. He has also seized a further 26 per cent share of the club’s retail division, putting him in control of three-quarters of the profits it generated.
He is now mulling over an offer to address the meeting a week on Friday, but the club’s Johannesburg-based chairman Dave King – expected back in Glasgow on Sunday – has added a second resolution to the agenda which calls for Rangers’ contracts with Sports Direct to be renegotiated.
And Rangers First have urged their members to back the board, with their statement, adding: “We would call upon the Rangers Board – who were backed by the overwhelming majority of shareholders who voted at the March General Meeting – to further their efforts to resolve matters with this minority shareholder and, in particular, the terms of the current retail business agreements.
“We also believe that any shareholder not able to or willing to support the rebuilding of a successful Rangers should consider whether their interests are better served by selling their holdings to shareholders who are willing to do so. Rangers First is always open to providing such opportunities for shareholders who transparently put their own interests before those of the club.”