Why Rangers Fans Should Back the Protest On Sunday

Last updated : 12 February 2010 By Deedle

Following the CIS Cup semi-final against St. Johnstone, Walter Smith once again spelled out what he saw as the prospective dismantling of the playing squad should Rangers FC not be sold before the next transfer window. Perhaps the current league table and Tony Mowbray's all too evident difficulties at Celtic meant that some fans (and journalists too) had - temporarily, at least - become oblivious to the worrying financial outlook. However, nothing has fundamentally changed and Smith's comments were in fact almost identical to the picture painted by Jim Traynor in the Record on October 27th. Chairman Alistair Johnston said much the same in a 'don't quote me directly' briefing in Romania several months back and I do not believe either is bluffing.

To compound the problems in getting the message across to supporters is the fog of misinformation and 'spin' that accompanies the situation. For instance, although Walter Smith has alleged that the 'bank is running the club', David Murray has categorically denied this and pointed out that Donald Muir, recently elected to the Board, is a 'business turnaround specialist' appointed by himself 'to look at overheads and costs "and leave no stone unturned" at Rangers'. Leaving aside the argument that Martin Bain and others at Ibrox are generously rewarded to do exactly the same thing, is the issue of who is controlling events not something of a red herring if the aims of Lloyds, MIH, David Murray and Donald Muir are essentially identical? Of course, what the Scottish media has been extremely reluctant to mention is precisely why Rangers FC is in trouble. Must it be whispered that a certain 'captain of industry' was at the helm as the club racked up a large level of debt only a few years after he assured shareholders at an AGM that this would never happen again?

Yet, most of the £31m the club owes is in the form of long-term debt which needs only be paid off at £1m a year. Why, then, the drastic cost-cutting which has seen the first-team squad whittled down to 19 senior pros and a current wage bill which (according to Derek Johnstone) equates to £19m a year - considerably lower than the minimum wage bill during the last decade, namely, £24-25m during the final McLeish years and the brief Le Guen interlude? I cannot claim to be a financial expert but I believe the answer lies in the high level of borrowing within the Murray group of businesses which have taken a hammering from the collapse in property prices and a slump in the steel fabrication market. Noticeably, Donald Muir was appointed to the Board of a MIH subsidiary a bare three months before he became a Rangers Director.

It appears that the most optimistic outlook for MIH involves serious restructuring and downsizing. Normally, this might not concern Rangers fans. However, I have the deepest suspicions that the interests of MIH, Murray and Lloyds do not remotely coincide with those of Rangers FC and that the bank is adamant it must recoup as much of the money owed to it (by Murray) in the shortest possible time, even if this implies our club will not be in a position to mount a sustainable challenge for the league title in the foreseeable future. Adding to the complexity of the current scenario is the issue of what would constitute a fair and reasonable offer for the club as far as Lloyds and Sir David Murray are concerned. Would Lloyds be content with £31m to wipe out the debt as reported in the last set of accounts (or a certain percentage of this sum) or will Murray (and Lloyds, who would presumably want their hands on it) insist on being compensated significantly for his shareholding and, if so, how much would he want? On the other hand, potential buyers might additionally be concerned with what they would inherit in terms of business operations that would generate significant revenue flows - would their hands be tied by current contracts and would all links with the Murray group be severed?

A game of poker is being played behind closed doors with the club's future very much at stake and the Rangers support is being kept in the dark. I hold no illusions that a fans' protest at the Hibs match will lead to a series of statements from David Murray, Donald Muir or Lloyds explaining exactly what is happening. Nonetheless, the media will turn the spotlight on Rangers' current predicament and - not before time - the truth may dawn on an element of the support which has hitherto been reluctant to question the club's 'Custodian'. With this in mind, I give my full backing to the protest and wish to thank its organisers for the time and effort they have spent.