Glenn Gibbons: Rangers fans playing dangerous game

IN ROBERT Bolt’s play and film, A Man For All Seasons, Sir Thomas More assembles his numerous domestic staff to break the bad news that he has fallen on irredeemably hard times.
Rangers fans show their solidarity.  Picture: Robert PerryRangers fans show their solidarity.  Picture: Robert Perry
Rangers fans show their solidarity. Picture: Robert Perry

“I am no longer a great man,” he begins. “And since I am no more a great man, I no longer need a great household. Nor can I afford one. You will have to go.”

Here was a practical demonstration of the kind of acute insight and quick wits that gave rise to the former Lord Chancellor’s reputation as one of 16th-century England’s most formidable intellects.

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Of course, More would also have been quick to acknowledge that even the humblest peasant farmer, faced with financial catastrophe – a failed crop, say – would have been similarly aware instantly of the necessity of a protracted period of austerity, or even abandonment of his smallholding and relocation as an employee on a steady, if modest, income.

It is a grasp of elementary economics that seems somehow to have eluded anyone charged with executive duties at Rangers throughout the years since the instigator of the old club’s decline, David Murray, began the large-scale, reckless extravagance that led to calamity.

Since then, despite the onset of administration and liquidation and passing through the hands of a succession of regimes to the present board of directors, the Glasgow institution has existed in a constant state of financial vulnerability, with no-one among the numerous sets of “saviours” apparently willing to identify certain damaging truths and take appropriate remedial action.

This speaks of a culture problem at Ibrox, one that became entrenched during the 140 years that preceded liquidation in 2012 and has generally not even been acknowledged, far less addressed, despite the overwhelming evidence of the need to abandon principles that have been rendered wasteful by monetary imperatives.

Chief among these actions is to emulate Thomas More and concede that Rangers are no longer a great club. That is, “great” in the sense of magnitude, as opposed to their historic high achievement and the resultant command of the affections and allegiances of many thousands of followers.

An organisation whose annual turnover once was close to £60 million has now, according to the latest returns, shrunk to £19m – and even that amount is likely to be reduced again at the end of the current financial year. Yet, in the wake of liquidation of the old club and the birth of the new, the directors saw fit to sanction a yearly wage bill of around £7m for players charged with winning the fourth- and third-division championships.

Salaries of non-playing personnel make the total around £9m, while the general costs of running the operation drain the kitty of £1.4m per month. These ludicrously high outgoings having to be met entirely from the club’s working capital, since their history of leaving behind creditors owed millions when entering administration means they no longer have access to credit lines at the banks.

Despite the obviously perilous condition of their finances (a recent emergency loan of £1.5m from private individuals required simply to remain solvent until the end of the season), numerous supporters are immovable in their conviction that Rangers remain a “massive” club whose rightful place is at the head of Scottish football’s Premiership and competing creditably in the Champions League.

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There is, of course, nothing intrinsically flawed about aiming for the stars, but the problem with too many Rangers followers is that they want it to happen yesterday. Their ideal is the instant cure of a wealthy benefactor taking control and providing an unconditional minimum £50m of funding with which the team could be transformed from lower-league capabilities to national champions in the blink of an eye.

And yet, curiously, there appears to be a substantial number of fans willing to rally to the banner of Dave King, the South Africa-based entrepreneur who, astonishingly, has publicly declared his unwillingness to invest in the club. So far, he has offered only words, primarily to blacken the names of the current directors.

King has also shown himself to be as inconsistent as many who have become involved in the propaganda war at Ibrox, at first encouraging supporters not to renew their season tickets, then changing tack by saying that the chief executive, Graham Wallace, should be allowed to complete his 120-day review of the business, before returning this week with another fusillade in the direction of the board. King, convicted on more than 40 counts of tax evasion in South Africa, accused the opposition of a lack of integrity and honesty.

But, among the array of head-turning schemes associated with disenchanted fans and the directors, the most preposterous is surely the demand by the former to be handed security over Ibrox Stadium and Murray Park as part of their renewing season tickets. This is like insisting that M&S give customers security over their flagship Oxford Street store in exchange for a pledge to buy more merchandise.

The entire season-ticket phenomenon, in fact, has been warped into a grotesque caricature of its traditional place in the game and led to the utterly meaningless and misleading question: “What happened to the fans’ money?” This clearly ignores the fact that, when a ticket is bought, the money becomes the seller’s while the buyer gets the ticket. It’s not complicated. At the core of the Ibrox morass, however, there ought to be a warning that the fans should be careful what they wish for.

Institutional investors collectively make up a large majority of shareholders, but each has actually spent a comparatively tiny amount on acquiring their equity. If they continue to be harassed, they could consider the venture not to be worth the bother, sell off the assets and close down the business.