One of the hallmarks of the continuing Rangers saga has been the fact that, rather than being a long and steady decline, the story has progressed in fits and starts. For every two negatives for Rangers, there has been a positive, or at least a thread which their fans can grasp on to as a way out of the mire.
We have had Craig Whyte taking the club from Sir David Murray’s hands, Mr Whyte’s gung-ho pronouncements about the “Big Tax Case”, the refusal in the summer to sell Mr Jelavic, the team taking the autumn lead in the SPL, the positivity taken from administration as seeing the end of Whyte, the emergence of the Blue Knights, and Bill Ng, and Brian Kennedy, and Bill Miller, and Charles Green, and the decision of Lord Glennie to overturn the SFA registration ban.
However, on each and every occasion the sparkle has quickly left the champagne, as apparent triumph fades away.
As the great philosopher John Cleese said, in his starring role in Clockwise:-
“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”
Rangers fans I know have experienced so many highs and lows over the last year that I suspect that statement could be adopted as the club’s new motto.
The last few days however have had possibly the best moments for Rangers supporters since the lifting of the League title last May. On Thursday last, as the shareholders were filing out of Ibrox having heard that the CVA had been rejected by HMRC, the Seventh Cavalry rode over the hill on white chargers. Walter Smith was leading a consortium looking to gazump Mr Green and Sevco! Walter had returned! All was right with the world!
“I can today confirm that following talks over the last few weeks I am leading a new bid for Rangers Football Club. I have been assisted by Jim McColl, Douglas Park and other prominent Scottish businessmen with a shared objective – that Rangers Football Club should be in the hands of Rangers people who will stabilise the club and protect it from future situations like we find ourselves in today.
“With this in mind, representatives have, on behalf of my group, made representations to BDO, Duff and Phelps and indeed Charles Green, notifying them of our willingness to offer on the “Newco” basis on which Mr Green is proceeding.
“We would call on Mr Green to step aside and allow us to proceed with our deal which is in the best interests of the creditors, the employees, the fans and the various other stakeholders of Rangers Football Club.
“None of our group has any desire to own Rangers Football Club but we have put this deal in place to save the club. However, our overriding objective is to ensure that the stadium, the history and everything else magical about Rangers Football Club is protected and nurtured back to good health and provide a platform for Rangers for generations to come.
“Let’s be clear, this is an acquisition designed to stabilise the club and ensure history does not repeat itself. We are not in this to take money out of the club but more so to do whatever it takes in a turnaround plan to ensure within a few years the Club can be passed on intact and to the right people.
“The supporters should be under no illusion that it will be extremely hard but with their support we can overcome financial hardship that lies ahead by lending their support to what we feel is the correct way forward – for Rangers people who know the club inside and out to control its destiny.
“The prominent Scottish businessmen involved have agreed to provide acquisition funding to allow myself and a management team to take on Rangers Football Club and make the business self-sufficient with long term sustainability being essential.
“I would hope that this offer is fully supported by everyone in the Rangers Family as without them the club cannot and will not survive. We therefore want to ensure honesty and transparency in everything we do. We want to rebuild Rangers Football Club and in doing so return the institution to the standards it is known for.”
There were a few people carping on the sidelines. What, they said, about the alleged benefits paid to Mr Smith through EBT’s?
If he had been in discussion with the businessmen over a few weeks, why wait till the day of the vote, when Duff & Phelps had already said there was a binding deal to sell to Sevco if the CVA failed?
He ran with almost the equivalent of the famous line by General Sherman – “If nominated, I will not accept; if drafted, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve”. Or, as he was being reluctantly forced to play a role, he was like a newly elected Speaker of the House of Commons who is dragged, unwillingly, to his chair.
However Mr Smith was making his position clear. He would not stand idly by and watch Rangers fail. The businessmen supporting him were going to provide “acquisition funding” although there was no mention of working capital. £6 million was talked about ad the purchase price, giving an extra £500k for the creditors’ pot. How could anyone refuse? How could Mr Green not stand aside?
The problems soon started. Mr Green’s response was to point out that he was now the owner of Rangers, and that there was no point in speaking to D&P any more. Mr Green held the cards and the keys. It was made known that an increased offer would be needed for there to be any discussions, and a significant increase at that. Otherwise Mr Green was happy to discuss things with the Smith consortium, and have them join as investors.
I have no doubt that Mr Smith meant every word he said. The backers he mentioned have no need, by all accounts, to use Rangers to make them money. However, Mr Green and his party of 20 investors are not Rangers fans. They are involved in this deal to make money. That is perfectly legitimate in our capitalist society, but the reaction of the fans to an owner who states that they are there to make money is rarely positive.
Even Fergus McCann, who achieved all his goals for Celtic and for himself in the five years he was at Parkhead, was booed on returning to Celtic Park. No fans ever chanted in praise of a balance sheet, or sang the name of the Commercial Director who had garnered a new sponsorship deal.
Mr Green was never going to take a step back without having a suitably large cheque put in his hand first.
But pressure was building. In anticipation of a concerted push by the Smith consortium a march in their support, and by implication against Mr Green’s party was arranged for Saturday coming. Fans’ organisations asked the supporters to boycott season ticket sales on the basis that the choking off of Sevco’s easiest source of working capital would force Mr Green into a corner. All was right with the world, and Walter would be back in charge soon when thousands upon thousands of season tickets would be bought to fill the Ibrox coffers!
And then we had the news today – Walter Smith was leaving the stage, without the ownership of Rangers! There was weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth – almost Biblical in its extent.
The statement today reads very differently from that of just under a week ago. I have added my comments in bold.
“I would like to clarify the background to the offer of £6million for the assets of the club which I announced on Thursday, June 14 2012. The offer was made to the administrators before the Charles Green consortium had concluded their transaction to acquire the assets at £5.5m from the administrators.
The offer might have been made before Sevco concluded their transaction, but D&P had made it clear, well in advance of the creditors’ meeting, that if the CVA failed they had a binding agreement to sell the business and assets to Mr Green’s group. Therefore Mr Smith is acknowledging that what he was doing was turning up at the estate agents on the morning when the keys are to be handed over to the new owner and trying to stop the deal then.
He and his group are wise men. Surely they knew that they could not, legally, intervene, without Sevco allowing them to? If they had made a £6 million offer prior to the agreement with Sevco being reached, that might have made a difference. But that was a few weeks ago.
We felt it necessary to have a fall-back position to secure the club’s future. We have since made the same offer of £6m to the Green consortium through Zeus Capital.
In what way was this a fall-back position? Cynics suggested that it was tactically wise for Mr Smith not to be present at the “end” (possibly) of Rangers, but that it would help (a) to be able to say he had tried and (b) if he could take it over, it would have been in the Mark Anthony role rather than that of Brutus.
Zeus Capital is an interesting company, with much expertise in football matters claimed –
“As part of the deal Imran Ahmad and Brian Stockbridge from Zeus Capital have joined the Board of The Rangers Football Club. Zeus Capital and its associates are also investors in the newco.
Zeus Capital is experienced in working with football clubs having advised Sunderland Football Club on 2 previous deals including the takeover by Niall Quinn and his consortium and advised on the Rule 9 offer for West Bromwich Albion. Members of the Zeus Capital team have also worked on deals for the following football clubs, Manchester United, Leicester City, Sheffield United and Millwall.”
Our offer has been rejected and they have made a counter-offer inviting us to join their consortium. However, the current business plan is not in accord with our understanding of the present circumstances of the club and the way forward, but we would prefer to leave them to proceed in their own way and we wish them good luck in their endeavours.
How bad must Mr Smith and his colleagues think the mess is if, despite their wish to safeguard the “magic” and history of Rangers, they are not willing to join with Mr Green in his consortium? Surely, if they accept that Mr Green has Rangers best interests at heart, as he has stated, they could be a positive influence? In the same way that Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, went along with George W Bush’s plans to invade Iraq so as to have some influence of a calming nature on what the President did, surely Walter and his team would have best been able to serve Rangers by coming on board with Mr Green, and offering their expertise, skills and money?
The fact they did not do so suggests that (a) they saw they would be taken advantage of (b) they see the Sevco plan as failing or (c) they think that their offer will look far more attractive to Sevco in a few weeks or months. Indeed any and all of them could be true!
To state that “the current business plan is not in accord with our understanding of the present circumstances of the club and the way forward” is damning. This is more than a difference of opinion on whether to play with one centre forward or two big men up front. Mr Smith does not see the Sevco plan as working.
Members of our consortium had met with Charles Green and Zeus Capital prior to the CVA meeting and it had been agreed that we would be provided with significant information which would give us comfort as to the identity of the consortium members, their strategy and their funding capacity. This information had not been forthcoming by the date of our offer.
So, according to Mr Smith, Mr Green did not play ball, including identifying the members of his team, and the money they had. Bearing in mind the rumours which persisted that Sevco had had trouble raising the full £5.5 million purchase price, this can have given no comfort at all to Mr Smith and his undoubtedly wealthy backers. Mr Smith too is probably a man wealthier than many of the people involved in the pursuit of Rangers over the last year. Many years ago I heard from various legal acquaintances about Mr Smith’s personal business acumen. One assumes he will have continued to invest wisely.
We are therefore withdrawing completely from the process to enable Charles Green and his consortium to move forward. We very much hope the verbal assurances they provided to us – and the public statements made – are adhered to and that the club will therefore be financed and managed with appropriate governance and can go forward in a sustainable manner.
If Mr Smith had wanted to cause more upset for the hard pressed Rangers fans, he could not have done much better than this statement. He makes it clear that he believes the Sevco plan is doomed to fail. However, his trust in Sevco seems to be so damaged that he is not prepared to engage in further discussions. He is out of the picture.
We wish the new Rangers Football Club every good fortune.
What a sign off, and interestingly he refers to the “new” Rangers! The now punch-0drunk Rangers fan would have reads or listened to that statement and be conflicted enormously. Should he support Mr Green, as he is now the man in possession and, for better or worse, he is not leaving soon? Or should he hold off from getting his season ticket until the July 4 vote, and until he sees that Mr Green can be trusted? How long can Rangers continue under Sevco if season tickets do not start to sell? What should the proud and loyal Rangers supporter do?
The sensible answer would be to await a rallying cry from Sevco.
And it came! (With my comments again in bold.)
He said: “On behalf of the Board of Directors I would like to reaffirm the long term commitment of the investors who acquired the Club last week. The consortium is wholly committed to rebuilding Rangers and their investment is regarded as a strategic long-term project. As I have said previously I am not in this for personal gain and what is of paramount importance is the Club regains stability both in financial and footballing terms.
Mr Murray says he is not involved to make money. I believe him. What about Mr Green and all of the investors. Are they in it to make money? One assumes so. Investment as a long-term strategic project could mean simply building Sevco to the point where it can be floated successfully. The goals of financial and footballing stability are not mutually exclusive. One brings the other.
“Since the announcement last week by the Walter Smith consortium, our position as a Board has been clear in that we would welcome constructive dialogue with all those involved. The Green consortium said last Thursday evening that it was not looking for a sale and that is the view of the investors.
The investors are not looking for a sale. Will they ignore one if a good enough offer came along? If they are investors, by implication looking for profit, then there will come a price, won’t there?
“We can however say to supporters that the assurances the Walter Smith consortium are looking for regarding financial probity and high standards of corporate governance will be met. Following the announcement today on behalf of the Walter Smith consortium, the Board would urge all Rangers fans to now get behind the Club.
Mr Murray does not address the criticism that Sevco failed to provide information it had agreed to hand over. That is simply passed over in the statement. Urging all the fans to get behind an owner whose business plan has been declared to be effectively unworkable is a brave stance to take, although it might just be a necessary one.
“We have huge issues to address in terms of the Club’s status within the SPL and SFA and it is important that we unite prior to decisions being taken about the Club’s future by the football authorities. We continue to welcome any input from members of the Walter Smith consortium or other stakeholders who have Rangers interests at heart.
Sevco welcomes input, especially if in the form, one assumes, of a large cheque! The investors stand to have bought a dud, if excluded from the SPL or indeed expelled from Scottish football.
Fantasies of Rangers going to play in the English League, Dutch League or even Major League Soccer in the USA would be just that – fantasies. In that event, for a £5.5 million purchase price, Mr Green’s investors would be left with nothing except for fixed assets valued a few years back in the Rangers balance sheet at in excess of £100 million…hang on a minute…
“These matters are of critical importance to us all as Rangers fans. All fans, myself included, have gone through enough anguish in the last year and it is now time to move forward. The most important thing of all is working together to deliver a successful future for Rangers and Scottish football. I have had good discussions today with Ally McCoist, Sandy Jardine and members of the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund and all are agreed, it is important for the Club to move forward.”
Generally people will agree that moving forward is a good thing. However, Mr Murray might be the only one of the consortium who is a Rangers “fan”. The rest are fans of money. I wonder if at the meeting Ally McCoist could tell Mr Murray how many players are on the books, or indeed if Mr Murray could tell Mr McCoist that? One also imagines that Mr McCoist has not objected to his employment contract passing to Sevco 5088 Ltd.
All in all, with respect to Mr Murray, this was hardly “We will fight them on the beaches…” The statement that would resonate most with me today, if I was a Rangers fan, would be that of Walter Smith, not that of Malcolm Murray. And that would be even more of a downer than the news of Smith’s involvement last week was an upper!
Charles Green, Chief Executive added: “I fully recognise there is a huge job to be done to rebuild the trust between the fans and the Club which has been badly broken. I will do everything I can to help rebuild Rangers and the most important challenges we face at the moment are about our future and what league we play in. I can assure fans that I will work tirelessly in the interests of the Club to secure its future.”
Sorry Mr Green. When such serious questions about an unworkable business plan and failing to produce documents and information as promised are asked, there needs to be a full answer. Mr Green wants Rangers fans to trust him?
That will not happen based on today’s statements, I would suggest. If it does, then the Rangers fans deserve to be commended for their unquenchable loyalty in the face of all the contrary evidence.
Is this the end for the Smith consortium? Will we see it return and might the Blue Knights and Brian Kennedy re-emerge? Will someone make Mr Green an offer he can’t refuse. These and many more questions will be answered, but I have no idea when!
Posted by Paul McConville