Ructions at Rangers as old board is dismantled

BITTER acrimony broke out at Rangers yesterday as the new regime dismantled the old board with the removal of the chairman and a director, and the suspension of the chief executive and another director.

Alastair Johnston, who has openly questioned new owner Craig Whyte's plans for the club, was ousted after delaying his departure, and last night he responded by warning Whyte he will watch the venture capitalist's every step from now on, and challenged the new owner to "walk the walk and not just talk the talk".

On a day of major ructions at Ibrox, it has emerged that chief executive Martin Bain and finance director Donald McIntyre have been suspended from their posts, pending an internal inquiry. The nature of the inquiry is not yet known.

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Another director, Paul Murray, was unsurprisingly removed just weeks after launching a counter-bid for Rangers at a late stage in the takeover.

Johnston had been asked to tender his resignation by Whyte during a board meeting on Monday. When Johnston refused he was removed.

"It was anticipated that I would be stepping down, in fact I thought I would be stepping down earlier but the board felt I should stay on until the takeover process had settled down," he said last night.

"I was asked to resign but I said no as a matter of principle. I can't walk away from an assignment which I was asked to undertake."

Johnston has clearly been riled by photographs of Whyte holding the Scottish Premier League trophy, won by the club just nine days into the new owner's reign. The deposed chairman said: "I'm not going to make any comment with respect to the current circumstances at the current time, except that I will say - as a lifelong Rangers fan and a real one - that the 26,000 other shareholders in Rangers, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other supporters need to remain vigilant and continue to exert pressure on Mr Whyte to support the club financially as he has publicly committed to do.

"As far as I'm concerned, the next time we see a photograph of him holding up the SPL trophy, let us all hope - especially me - that he has earned the right to do it."

Johnston had expressed doubts about Whyte during the protracted takeover of Sir David Murray's majority shareholding and put his name to a statement from the independent board committee, publicly revealing a shared scepticism over the new owner's ability to fund his pledges for Rangers.

Johnston had indicated previously that he would step down at the end of the season. This was later delayed with the agreement of Whyte, pending the disclosure of more details about the buy-out to shareholders. This information is due on or before 6 June but Whyte has nevertheless acted to sever Johnston's ties to the club prior to the submittal of this circular.

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"I think the biggest force for change at Rangers is for Mr Whyte to appreciate that there are thousands of fans who are going to police his activities," added Johnston.

"Not what he says, but what he does."

Some fans will not shed a tear over the new board's actions in regard to Bain, whose relationship with the Ibrox support has often been strained. His suspension, pending an internal inquiry, could bring to an end the Ibrox career of one of the club's most high-profile officials of recent years.

Both Bain and McIntyre were told to stay away from Ibrox during a board meeting on Monday. They remain on the board at this stage but have been suspended on full pay. Bain is currently in the United States on a charity white-water rafting expedition with Walter Smith and Ally McCoist, between whom the managerial reins have recently passed.

Reports published online yesterday speculated on the reasons behind Bain's sudden suspension, but lawyers acting on the chief executive's behalf contacted newsdesks in the afternoon to alert them that the claims were being treated as "grossly defamatory".

Yesterday's events will heighten speculation linking Ali Russell to the club. The former deputy managing director of Queens Park Rangers, who was commercial director at Hearts and head of marketing at the Scottish Rugby Union, was present in the Ibrox directors' box for Whyte's first game in charge, against Hearts, and is said to be close to the new owner.

Whyte has already made one new appointment at the club, immediately bringing on board his business partner Phil Betts when the takeover was completed. Further appointments to strengthen the board are expected to be made in the next two to three weeks.

Directors John Greig, John McClelland and Dave King will remain on the board for the time being. Club legend Greig and former chairman McClelland, the vice-chairman of the influential European Club Association, were present in the room to hear Johnston and Murray being instructed to resign via a conference call.

The news of Johnston and Murray's departure was confirmed in a statement to the stock exchange yesterday morning. "The board announces that on 23 May 2011 Alastair Johnston and Paul Murray were removed as directors of the Rangers Football Club PLC," read the statement. "The directors of the Rangers Football Club PLC accept responsibility for this announcement."

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Rangers also announced yesterday that Cairn Financial Advisers LLP PLUS has been appointed as corporate adviser to the company with immediate effect.

Asked to expand on the reasons for the departures and suspensions, a source close to Whyte said: "Craig Whyte has no comment to make on what is an internal matter."