Sleepwalking to Second Best

Last updated : 18 January 2009 By Sgt Steve
It's a statement of concern about how our club is run that is in danger of being simplified by the media as a mindless temper fit by a minority of ungrateful fans (e.g the predictable response of Chic Young) and taken personally, as usual, by a man who really should have a thicker skin after being at the sharp end of Scottish football and society for two decades.  David Murray cannot demand blind loyalty when he has presided over a period where, but for three goals, Celtic would be going for 9IAR this year.  The good times were indeed good, but you only see the mettle of a man when there's a real challenge on and, irrespective of personality or feeling, the cold hard facts show we've been second best for too long.  The We Deserve Better campaign is an offer of help from the fans and should be accepted as such if we are, as we are told, in this together.

And in all of this it needs to be noted and appreciated just how patient and remarkably loyal the Rangers fans have been in supporting the team at home and on the road, whether near or far, over the last decade.  We compare very favourably with the rabble rousing and fluctuating Parkhead and Hampden gates of the early nineties. 

The points raised in the We Deserve Better campaign are all legitimate points for consideration (see for details) - it would be mindless not to be concerned about them.  The lack of discipline and planning within our club has led us to a situation where we cannot reasonably compete at this time with Celtic, a club broadly similar in stature, ambition and the opportunity limitations of the SPL. 

There's an increasingly used recent cliché that 'no club is immune from the credit crunch'.  But that rings hollow on two fronts, firstly the credit crunch has yet to hit top class football - last season we had a record income, the TV contracts are the same as they were and the Ibrox stands have remained full this season.  The only notable drop in income Rangers have experienced so far is a result of footballing incompetence and nothing to do with global financial meltdown.  But even if we did accept that the credit crunch was now a force to be reckoned with its clear that others have prepared themselves better for it through prudent management than we have.  I don't see too many other teams challenging for leagues and publicly inviting the sale of its top players.  Perhaps Sir David could call up that other great Scottish leader, Gordon Brown, for tea and sympathy.

Football clubs are odd beasts - no matter how well you run your business the players may undo it all when they cross that white line.  There are of course no guarantees in the ultimate unrehearsed live theatre.  Yet manage your business poorly and you restrict the prospects of the Football Dept (haven't heard that phrase in a while) digging you out of a hole.  I think the both parties, the business side and the footballing side of Rangers, have been guilty of letting each other down and both have to accept responsibility now.  If they do, and accept the offer of help from passionate and informed fan groups then we will be acting like a family.  That's what families do.  Help each other out.

In all of this David Murray has a right to feel let down by each of his managers who have spent the money made available to them over the last decade in an increasingly haphazard manner.  Most recently Walter Smith has been responsible for this by sleepwalking his way into recruiting a squad of 28 players with no apparent strategy.  We find ourselves overloaded with untrusted strikers and woefully short of a left back and a left midfielder.  Too often he has chosen quantity at the expense of quality - there's absolutely no use in having a squad of 28, 38 or 58 players soaking up valueless wages if you cannot consistently field a first choice XI that is at least as good as your main rivals.  And on the occasion he has recruited quality, for example Cousin and Cuellar, these players have been lacking in the necessary character and commitment to play for Rangers.  We might as well go back to the days when Eck bought an edition of France Football then went off to buy square pegs for round holes.   Walter got us to Manchester and for the thrill of the build up I'll always be grateful, but if he cannot build from that platform then the seemingly unkind commentators who said reaching the UEFA cup final was lucky might eventually be seen to have called it right.

I often think back to the Advocaat era and regret how much money he spent again in a gluttoness manner bloating a squad with bodies in a manner similar to today.  So much so that when eventually faced with a credible challenge from Martin O'Neill, DA went into panic mode, lost the dressing room, direction and top spot.  If he had shown more care, attention and indeed restraint with the money made available to him from the outset we undoubtedly would not now be in the midst of this near Celtic 9IAR nightmare.  Where does the responsibility lie for this? 

Again I think Murray has a right to feel that he is not solely to blame.  DA left a legacy of debt and not much else.  Some fans will cite how good the first two years were under DA and indeed they included some sparkling football, but those good times cost us twice our annual income (I could go and hedonistically blow £20,000 over the next week and feel like a millionaire - but it would be a falsehood that would take me at least 5 years to pay all back - with hindsight I'd regret it all as stupid, even if the week did involve a yacht in the Caribbean, two 19 year old Swedish tarts and enough rum n coke to keep Jamaica dancing!). 

So instead of directing his ire at those fans affected deeply enough by our predicament to lift their heads above the parapets (he knows the name of the entire Board of the RST, its publicly available information) perhaps Murray should reflect on how a succession of managers have spent money he has made available to them without getting value for their buck. 

It is highly possible that David Murray will exit Rangers having made an overall financial loss - was it worth it when over the piece he leaves Rangers uncomfortably worse off in comparison with Celtic.   There are no two ways about it, being a clear and consistent second in the Old Firm stakes is failure.

It is certainly true that Murray has backed his managers with money, particularly when he delved into his pocket and bailed us out three or so years ago.  This may be why he feels so defensive when pressed about our current predicament.  But this is turning a blind eye to two further facts of life - firstly, as the chairman and ultimate owner the buck stops with him - he is the apex of the organisation - every captain of industry knows this, that's why the enjoy huge rewards at a price of responsibility and accountability.  He simply cannot squirm or dismiss legitimate criticism of the sorry state we find ourselves in.  It is barely believable that a mere 4 months after sanctioning expenditure of £13m on players (including £5m on players who consistently fail to make the starting XI) we now have to sell a player - is the horizon of our foresight truly that short? 

The other fact of the business side has objective and subjective parts - firstly the objective side, are we maximising our revenue streams from retail, TV deals, shirt manufacturers, corporate sponsorship etc.  This would ease the pressure on his own pocket.  This is hard to prove as a yes or no, black or white.  But there are two ways to try to do this - firstly compare and contrast with Celtic, are we matching them?  When you hear of a £29m deal from Nike going to them I have my doubts.  TV is somewhat out of our hands.  And the JJB deal?  Hard to say but reasonable to assume a bad thing in last season's rollercoaster season but a better deal this season when there ain't much excitement or money around.  Overall I guess this deal will prove to be broadly neutral in financial terms (though remember it was pitched on cheaper football jerseys which I see no evidence of yet). 

But the JJB deal is also an example of the more subjective failings of our business dealings in recent times - the diminishing of the Rangers brand.  While we owned our retail division we were masters of the quality of our product, distribution and service - and while we bore the risks of this operation we reaped regular huge rewards.  We had a retail operation that was the envy of the UK - nowadays if I go to my local JJB store in Reading I cannot buy a Rangers top - but I could buy a Celtic one. 

The Rangers brand has also been battered by the onslaught from the hysterical sectarian industry.  Perhaps some Rangers supporters, including those loathsome dregs who decided to throw bottles in Manchester, have made the sectarian industry's job easy.  But with positive management from the outset this need not have been so - these high risk supporters could have been inspired and educated to have more respect for themselves and for Rangers.  In the week when the Celtic View boldly run an article promoting their heritage and their right to sing about 'rebelling against the Crown' without any recourse, its easy to see which Old Firm club has engaged with the sectarian industry to protect and promote their brand while the other has cowered away from the issues of identity and cultural expression. 

How much would it have improved the lot of Rangers brand if Murray had said some time ago something along the lines of 'its clear that some of the chants we hear are offensive so we will positively engage with all fans to back Rangers instead.  We will also help those fans who see Rangers as representative of the indigenous Scots culture and Scots/British identity and tradition to do so in a positive manner'.  By engaging positively to educate and support fans, instead of wincing and apologising, we would all now understand the Rangers brand and tradition.  Sadly nowadays that tradition is as poorly understood as the Rangers brand is poorly valued. 

Rangers are a shadow of their former selves both on an off the park.  There are so many who have contributed to this including shoddy managers, lazy players, weak directors, a smattering of moronic fans and hysterical sectarian industry.  The man in charge may now feel he deserved better.  We have much in common and all still share the same ambition, to see Rangers at the top. 

It is essential for the club's regime to read the reasons why the fans feel they deserve better and try seeing things from the ordinary punters viewpoint.  If they, who am I kidding, if Sir David, can do this then he will get the backing he has asked for.  If he cannot, then his leadership of Rangers must end, even if his ownership doesn't.