SIR David Murray brought two decades of Rangers history to a close yesterday when he announced he is to step down as a director and as the chairman of the club. Murray, who bought Rangers for £6 million in November 1988, will remain the majority shareholder for the time being at least, but the chairmanship and operational control will pass to 61-year-old Alastair Johnston, a director for the past five years.
Murray revealed he had resolved last year, amid the 20th anniversary celebrations of his time at Ibrox, to bring his reign to an end during this season. The only input into the decision had been his.
"Only one person decided it was time for me to go – me," he told The Scotsman last night. "And I decided last year. I didn't decide last week. I told the directors last year that this will be my last year. And fortunately, after I had discussed it with Alastair, he agreed to become chairman. He has global sporting experience. We are very fortunate to have him."
Murray looked forward to being handed more time to devote to his other business interests, including wine. The 57-year-old, who recently became a grandfather, was determined to reduce the hours spent on the football club.
"I will take an interest in the club, and go to the odd game, but I don't think anyone appreciates the time that it takes up. People assume you are at home at 6pm. Football is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"You go through different stages of your life, and I am a grandfather now. It's time to do other things. I spend a totally disproportionate amount of time on football. Football is ten per cent of my turnover, but I spend half of my time on it. That is not right."
Murray said that with Johnston's promotion, it will be a "seamless" transition. But the club will remain in the majority shareholder's hands for the time being.
"You hear of people doing this, and that," he said. "But talk is cheap. No-one has come forward with anything. If someone comes up with a plan that is in the best interest of Rangers, then I will consider it. As Arsene Wenger recently said, everyone has opinions, but not everyone has to make decisions. The decision is that the club remains as it is until such time that someone comes along."
But Murray is relieved to be retreating from the front-line. He confirmed it would not be a temporary arrangement, as proved to be the case in 2002 when John McClelland replaced him as chairman.
"For the last 20 years I have been actively involved in the club on an almost daily basis and I think that now is the right time to take a step back," Murray said. "I have said many times that being the chairman of Rangers is not something anyone should do forever, and I have personal and business interests outside the club I would like to pursue.
"As things stand, I remain the majority shareholder at the club and will always have the best interests of Rangers at heart, but it is time to pass on the chairman's baton.
"For me personally, it has been a tremendous honour and privilege to serve as chairman of Rangers.
"There have been so many great moments to savour and it is particularly gratifying to step down when the club are reigning SPL champions, Scottish Cup holders and about to embark on another exciting journey in the Uefa Champions League."
The draw for that competition takes place today, but Murray insisted neither that nor any external factor had had a bearing on his decision. "I know that there will be conspiracy theories, but there was no pressure from outside sources to step down," he said. "All the pressure came from myself. The club is in a good position and the balance sheet is OK. After 20 years it was time to step down and it is a good time to go. There are no outside factors."
Those Rangers supporters eager for big-name recruits to Walter Smith's squad would not necessarily agree with Murray's description of the balance sheet. The club's latest results are out shortly, and are expected to show a debt of around 25million. However, although they may not have the quality in depth to go far in the Champions League this season, their presence in the group stages will help their financial position considerably or, at the very least, prevent it from worsening considerably in relation to that of Celtic.
Murray has let it be known for some time that he would sell his stake in the club if the right offer came along, and although yesterday's move does not appear to be connected to any possible bids, the change of chairman could ensure a smoother transition from one owner to another in time. The new chairman, a vice-chairman and member of the board of directors of sports and entertainment group IMG, praised Murray for his contribution to the club.
"David richly deserves his place in the Rangers history as one of the club's greatest chairmen and his passion has burned brightly for 20 years," Johnston said.
"He invested heavily in the club, but has also demonstrated enormous personal commitment at all times.
"On behalf of all Rangers supporters I wish him the very best for the future. I consider it a great honour to be appointed chairman of the club and can say to our supporters that the board, management and staff will spare no effort in striving to ensure that Rangers Football Club enjoys a successful future."