Tom English: The best interests of Rangers

Yesterday brought another picture for the Ally McCoist photo album, another shot of the Rangers manager shaking hands with a suit and declaring his support for a guy, Graham Wallace, with a “good pedigree”.
Graham Wallace shakes hands with manager Ally McCoist. Picture: Rangers FCGraham Wallace shakes hands with manager Ally McCoist. Picture: Rangers FC
Graham Wallace shakes hands with manager Ally McCoist. Picture: Rangers FC

Without wishing to be unkind to Mr Wallace, whose CV is, indeed, highly impressive, we can, for now, file this photograph alongside McCoist shaking hands with the Easdale boys and, before them, Craig Mather and, before him, Malcolm Murray, and before him, Charles Green, and before that, Craig Whyte. It’s quite a collection.

Wallace is going to have to forgive us our scepticism for the moment because too many men with “good pedigree” have been unveiled at Rangers over the last few years only to metamorphose into an embarrassment a little while after. McCoist has endorsed all of them and hasn’t got it right yet.

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It now appears that he’s throwing his weight behind the current board, saying on Friday that to do anything else at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting would be tantamount to career suicide.

He followed that up by saying that he wasn’t just going to vote for the current board, as opposed to the requisitioners led by Jim McColl and Paul Murray, because of his own survival instinct but that he would do so because he felt it was in the best interests of the club.

That phrase – as in, “I have the best interests of the club at heart” – has been bandied about Ibrox so often in recent years that it has now become almost as big a footballing cliche as “over the moon”, “game of two halves” and “sick as a parrot”.

If it was true that all these boardroom people, from David Murray onwards, had “the best interests of Rangers at heart” then they wouldn’t have become such an epic shambles, now would they?

McCoist, understandably, craves calm at Ibrox. He is fabulously well-rewarded for what he does but, still, these past few years haven’t been much fun for him.

Giving his imprimatur to the current board is McCoist backing what he thinks is the winning horse, a symbol of his belief that the board will not be beaten at the AGM. A belief that they have become too powerful now to back against. That the decision last week by Isle of Man-based hedge fund Laxey Partners to buy more shares and then commit their support to the board, and not the requisitioners, was a key play in the battle for Rangers and that McColl and company are close to being a busted flush.

McCoist has backed a few losers in this Rangers business over the last two years, but the smart money is riding on the board winning the big AGM vote in December. Rangers people are now entitled to ask about the strategy of the requisitioners. Little has been heard from McColl of late. Malcolm Murray gave it the cringe-making “No Surrender” routine in an interview he did with a fans’ group a few weeks ago, but where is the grand plan from these people? Telling the fans that they “can win the vote at the AGM simply because they must” is not exactly a gameplan.

Malcolm Murray talks enigmatically about the level of support the requisitioners have from some unhappy and nervy institutional investors but won’t say from where it comes and what it amounts to.

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Sections of the Rangers support are busting a gut to try to bring about change to the board – change that is needed – but, all the while, what they are seeing is millions of Rangers shares being traded on the market and, seemingly, none of them being purchased by the McColls, the Murrays, the Kings – “the people with Rangers’ best interests at heart”.

If this is a war, then the requisitioners appear to be fighting it with pop guns. If they want control of the club, then McColl and King combined have more than enough money to hoover up shares and put themselves in a strong position, but they haven’t done it. They have allowed the Easdales to do it. They have allowed Laxey to do it. They have allowed the opposition to strengthen their position, while the requisitioners have sat on their hands, vowing that they have major support from institutional investors. If they do, then they are going to win a famous victory. If they don’t, given all they have said, they are heading for a humiliating defeat.

Let’s be honest, Rangers could have avoided all of this stuff years ago. Whyte was allowed in the door because no Rangers man would touch the club while the big tax case hung over it. The defence was that they’d have been mad to take it over while the big tax case horror show was still in play. Instead they stood back and allowed Whyte to finish a destruction job that David Murray had started.

Later, Green was allowed in the door because the Blue Knights didn’t blow him out of the water, even though they had the financial wherewithal to do so. Yes, there are serious issues surrounding the performance of Duff & Phelps throughout that period, but the fact remains that Green was allowed in the door and, by the time McColl and Walter Smith and others made their move, it was far too little, far too late.

Twice bitten. No, make that three times bitten. Still there is deep unrest, still there are mystery shareholders, still there is great uncertainty about the club’s finances and its future and still there is a lot of posturing from the requisitioners and, it would seem, not a lot of real action. McColl and King have the money to go to war and to win but they haven’t. It has reached a stage now where the Rangers manager has backed the board, partly because he has to, if he knows what’s good for him, and partly because he thinks he knows which way the wind is blowing in all of this.

There’s been so much noise about Rangers men being concerned about the way the club is heading and yet there is a simple truth in all of this. If they are that fearful that the place is moving towards the rocks again, why have they not used their financial muscle to change the narrative – as Fergus McCann did when Celtic were about to go under?

McCann arrived at Celtic, put his money down and did the deal to save the club. He didn’t talk, he executed. McCoist – like all managers – will have had cause at times to ask his players about hunger and whether they wanted victory more than their opponents.

You could ask the same of the requisitioners. Not the supporters, who fight on in various ways, but the men who are in the lucky position in life to have the wealth to do the things they truly want to do.

But do they want it enough? More and more, that seems to be becoming a rhetorical question.

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