THE investment consortium known as the Three Bears have made a massive bid for power at Rangers after purchasing a major stake in the club yesterday with a new share issue to come later this month.
The group – featuring Douglas Park, George Letham and Hong Kong-based George Taylor – purchased the 16 per cent stake owned by Isle of Man investment group Laxey Partners for around £2.7million.
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And they have been given the full blessing of Laxey chief executive Colin Kingsnorth to end Mike Ashley’s influence at Ibrox and produce a more stable future for the crisis-stricken club after he accused chairman David Somers of being a “wet fish” for sacking the Laxey board representative Norman Crighton.
The Three Bears group now controls close to 20 per cent of Rangers, having previously offered £6.5m to underwrite a share issue in return for two seats on the Rangers board.
Kingsnorth said: “I sold because a fans-based group were hopefully going to be the best placed to take on Ashley’s power.
“After Ashley removed Norman Crighton, Ashley’s most vocal critic, it was obvious David Somers was just a wet fish agreeing anything Ashley wanted.
“I am sure the Three Bears are an upgrade on us for fans and, hopefully, this is the start of the ownership being in the right hands.”
Sports Direct owner Ashleyhas a nine per cent stake in Rangers and a lucrative retail contract and, via an emergency £3m loan, was able to put lieutenants Derek Llambias and Barry Leach in executive positions.
However, the SFA have blocked his attempt to increase his stake to close to 30 per cent as it breaches their rules over dual ownership, with Ashley the controlling figure at Newcastle United.
The governing body has also charged Ashley with breaching an agreement which prevented him from holding influence over the management of the club.
The news of the Three Bears’ investment was welcomed by the club’s football board chairman Sandy Easdale and his brother, PLC director James.
Their spokesman Jack Irvine said: “If the reports are accurate, Sandy and James are delighted that Mr Park and his friends have bought the Laxey shares and they hope they will further invest in the club.
“As we said yesterday, the Easdales and Messrs Park, Taylor and Letham have a common goal – the re-emergence of Rangers as a footballing power.”
The move was also warmly welcomed by fans last night but there are still uncertain times at Rangers, who need to raise £8.3m before 1 April if they are to stay afloat.
To underline the point, Lewis Macleod was sold to Brentford yesterday for a fee believed to be around £1m.
Caretaker manager Kenny McDowall has frantically recalled five young players from loan deals to avert a potential squad crisis if more players are sold in the transfer window.
Callum Gallagher (Cowdenbeath), Kyle McAusland (Brechin City), Robbie Crawford (Morton), Tom Walsh (Stenhousemuir) and Craig Halkett (Clyde) have all returned to Murray Park.
Of equal concern to McDowall is that there are 11 first-team players out of contract at the end of the season – Lee McCulloch, Steve Simonsen, Kenny Miller. Kris Boyd, Kyle Hutton, Richard Foster, Lee Robinson, Stevie Smith, Bilel Mohsni, Ian Black and Jon Daly.
He said: “I don’t know how January is going to go so I have had to cover my bases. I couldn’t take the chance with injuries and suspensions so we have brought these boys back for cover although I might use them regardless.
“I will need to have meetings pretty sharp with Derek Llambias and Sandy Easdale regarding the out-of-contract players. They are free to speak with people so we will need to address that.”
The departure of Macleod is a major disappointment to McDowall, particularly as he has been one of the few bright sparks for Rangers in the first half of the season and looks to have the potential to go all the way in the game.
McDowall said: “It’s a blow to lose any of your top players – of course it is – but this is football, this is the world we live in.
“It happens every day at different clubs when players transfer. You can’t dwell on it. You must move forward. You have to readjust and try to get the team back to a winning way, whoever you bring in to fill his shoes. Lewis is a great talent with bundles of potential which, hopefully he’ll fulfil. But I can’t dwell on that side of it. It’s an opportunity for someone to come into the team and go forward from there.
“He can go far – but that’ll be down to Lewis, whether or not he fulfils his potential. He’s got a lot of experience for a young lad now and that’ll stand him in good stead. He could be anything he wants. For me – no disrespect to Brentford – it doesn’t really matter which club he has joined. When a player goes, then he goes. I need to concentrate on Rangers Football Club, what we do and how we move forward.”
Brentford manager Mark Warburton is thrilled with his acquisition which is of no solace to McDowall. He said: “He has had an outstanding season with Rangers. He will be an excellent addition to the playing squad and I am sure he will play a key role in the second half of the season.”
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