“The Boys From The West Of Scotland Don’t Scare Easily”: Rangers At War
It comes to something when John Brown produces the most prescient analysis of your football club’s fortunes. Last summer, the ex-Rangers man told anyone who wanted to listen (and a fair few who didn’t) that he knew “what’s going on” at Rangers, in the early days of no-nonsense Yorkshireman Charles Green’s lively leadership. “What do you know, John?” an increasingly exasperated Scotsman newspaper journalist Tom English asked time-and-again on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound ten months later. “I know what’s going on,” said Brown, every time.
Brown still knows what’s going on. And it has dawned on Scotland’s mainstream media that whatever the attractions of the latest “Ibrox civil war,” Brown made the real point: “The money is disappearing like you can’t imagine.” It seems more than a week since Rangers CEO Craig Mather sought “clarification for our fans” over the SFA Disciplinary Tribunal decision not to fine Heart of Midlothian for entering administration, when Rangers received the maximum £50,000 fine for the offence last year. Mather’s claim that “there is one rule for our club and another for everyone else” was demonstrable nonsense. But it was for a reason, as a day later an Extraordinary General Meeting of shareholders was requisitioned to force his and two other directors’ removal from the board. And after days of executive name-calling by leading Rangers ‘personalities, fans themselves sought clarification on “what’s going on” – in journalese, “demanded answers”. Not before time… and months after supposedly ‘anti-Rangers’ bloggers started asking those questions.
Having failed to worm his way back onto Rangers’ board, Green has returned in the unconvincing guise of “consultant”, for, he says, a £1,000-per-month fee. And not a penny more in expenses, I’m sure. One of his first “consultations” was with Scottish Sun newspaper journalist Chris Musson, during which Green reminded us that he thought last season’s Rangers team was the worst to represent the name, adding that McCoist would “have a problem” if he didn’t win a league and cup double with this season’s expensively-assembled squad. Predictably, a furious McCoist seized upon these words in the immediate aftermath of Rangers’ League Cup defeat at Forfar Athletic. Whether he’d have been so annoyed had Rangers won isn’t clear (no). But that afternoon, an article attributed to the media department’s Andrew Dickson appeared on Rangers’ website, cryptically entitled “Contempt for our Club.” It said McCoist “was furious to waken up this morning” to Green’s comments. And, having presumably let his players buy and read the paper during their pre-match preparation, he called them “appalling,” adding “what kind of a team talk is that?” (more effective than his, it seemed). McCoist continued: “He’s fooling nobody,” (although one thing Green has consistently done well at Rangers is “fool” bodies). “He’s trying to kid the fans that he’s this, that and the next thing but he’s not interested in Rangers.” This was a tidied-up version of McCoist’s combative post-match press conference. There he warned that if Green’s words were “a threat,” then “the self-acclaimed, straight-talking Yorkshireman should know that boys from the West of Scotland don’t scare easily.” Woooh.
The article was swiftly removed from the website, with communications director Jim Traynor reported on some social media sites to have threatened resignation otherwise; although this would have been barely audible above the noise of stable doors slamming shut. “If I’m asked a question, I’ll answer it,” Green told Scottish Television’s (STV) Peter Smith, four days later. “Football’s got nothing to do with me,” he insisted when asked how he and McCoist could now “possibly work together”. Of course, had Green said that to Musson, there would have been no issue – and there might have been proper focus on McCoist’s continuing managerial shortcomings. Green did tell Musson that McCoist “a fantastic guy… brilliant with the players, fans and media,” he would have known that the “worst-ever” stuff would be the media focus. Green also bemoaned Rangers’ close-season financial policies, claiming that he would not have sanctioned the acquisition of eight players – despite telling Smith that “I signed two of them before I left.”
This was Green as Stalinist Revisionist. Rangers lost £7m loss in the first seven months of 2012/13. Though there were numerous one-off costs in that figure, Rangers’ “cash-burn,” (to give spunking money up the wall it’s technical term) was alarming. And early speculation suggests their debut annual loss could be eight-figure, much of it authorised by or, most damning, paid to Green. Rumours abound that Mather, Green’s successor CEO, will trouser up to half-a-million quid this year. And such expenditure clearly irked Green. Yet it merely continued his own executive pay policy. Green and finance director Brian Stockbridge’s annual remuneration totalled £1m – both receiving “100%” bonuses for Rangers’ promotion (Green wasn’t thinking “worst-ever team” when he trousered his £360,000 bonus, I’ll bet).Mather soon responded to the external, internal and personal pressures being brought to bear by the bid to get “highly-respected Glasgow businessman” Frank Blin and rather less-universally respected Rangers ex-director Paul Murray onto the board (there’ll always be a Murray, it seems), although Green told STV that part of his consultancy remit was to help the board “fight off this hostile bid.”
It emerged, via a traditional route – a “Keith Jackson exclusive” in the Daily Record newspaper, that the move was backed by billionaire “entrepreneur” Jim McColl. He said he was approached by disgruntled institutional investors who “demanded greater transparency, honesty and integrity” at Rangers and wanted “lifelong fans Murray and Blin to…begin cleaning up from the inside.” Mather’s prose was quivering with rage in his Rangers website response entitled Craig Mather Statement –a less provocative title than McCoist’s effort but scarcely less contemptuous of its targets. Mather’s version of “transparency, honesty and integrity” was “honour, dignity and integrity.” He claimed the move was inspired by “self-gain and arrogance.” “Not a single one” had been “willing to invest their own money.” They “stood back and did nothing when Rangers was in trouble.” And “they failed to make even a remotely credible attempt to save this fantastic club in its darkest hour.” There was the occasional cliché, including a version of “no-one is bigger than the club,” a theory McCoist and Traynor seem determined to disprove through diet. But he struck an unexpected final note: “Everyone is entitled to an opinion, including Charles Green. But… backing the manager and the playing staff… is critical to our ambitions.”
Worse followed. Chairman Walter Smith, the “Ibrox legend”, had kept his head down while directors’ divisions surfaced. High-profile Rangers blogger Bill McMurdo criticised the Herald newspaper for “identifying (Smith) as sympathetic to the Murray-McColl group,” saying Smith “could dispel this by an unequivocal statement backing Craig Mather and his board.” But the Herald was right. BBC Scotland’s Chris McLaughlin, one of many journos labelled “Rangers-hater” for…oh, I dunno, wearing green underpants on a Tuesday in 1996, claimed Smith was “on the brink of quitting.” And Jackson wrote a cloyingly sentimental “Smith must go to save his reputation” article, praising him for not being “cut out for all the Machiavellian skulduggery and devious deception.” Jackson cited “a speech of Churchillian quality” Smith gave in April (“fight them on the beaches” rather than “awww yesh,” presumably), “pleading with (directors) to abide by the standards handed down through the years.” He claimed Smith “prides himself on his own honesty” (“look, here’s ma EBT”?). And he urged him to publicly back McColl.
Smith’s initial resignation statement reportedly went the way of McCoist’s Contempt for our Club (“his remarks initially appeared blocked last night” – Herald). But what eventually appeared was unequivocal, if not how McMurdo had wished. “It is clear that boardroom change is required,” Smith declared. “I would urge Rangers fans to get fully behind the resolutions which last week were presented to the board and shareholders.” He also said Mather was “doing a good job…I hope he will be allowed to continue.” “As for Alistair McCoist,” he added with chilling formality, “it is my fervent hope that…he is given the chance to manage under conditions similar to those afforded his predecessors.” By which Smith was NOT thought to have meant debts climbing to £82m and Rangers being run by a bank. Distraught fans “demanded” more “answers,” descending on Ibrox in…er…dozens. Traynor met supporters in a new role as head of non-communications – refusing to give any answers until all media f***ed off, “especially you,” he angrily grunted at Peter Smith. But whatever Traynor eventually said, “battle lines were drawn,” and Tuesday was a busy day for McColl’s PR-operation at the Record and Green’s PR-operation inside his own head.
In a three-minute interview on Sky Sports News, Green bemoaned “recent events, particularly Malcolm Murray calling this EGM,” a casual but repeated observation on which, perhaps significantly, he remained unchallenged. And he concluded: “I say to Jim McColl, world’s richest Scotsman, put £14m in a bank account… and my consortium will deliver to you about 28% of the club. You’ve then invested some cash into the club you want to run.” This was an offer McColl could refuse. The 28% was a powerless minority stake. And Green gave STV one key additional detail, “saying on camera now” that “my consortium will happily sell their shares for £14m,” meaning the money would be “invested into” Green’s and other, anonymous, back-pockets, NOT the “club.” In his half-hour STV interview, Green denied so many associations with Rangers that you wondered if he’d ever really worked there…or how he earned £720,000 remuneration… or how he’d formed any sort of consortium. “I’m not back at the club,” he claimed, which stretched credibility, even for him. He had “no thoughts” on Walter Smith’s backing for McColl’s “hostile bid”, despite being appointed “to fight” it. He had “no relationship with Brian Stockbridge,” a novel arrangement for a CEO and his Finance Director. “I didn’t mislead fans and investors,” he said, claiming that “the Pinsent report… the Deloitte forensic investigation” into his links with ex-owner Craig Whyte had cleared him, even though the announcement of their findings made no reference at all to the allegations against Green, let alone that he’d been cleared of them. And, having admitted to being devious, he declared: “I’ve never told a lie. I’ve never done anything wrong.” Yes he did.
Towards the end, though, he lost the run of himself and was talking like the “real” power behind the Ibrox scenes that so many observers believe he is. “I’m a defender of the faith,” he pronounced, a bold statement, even for the holder of Rangers’ largest individual shareholding. “No-one is going to steal Rangers unless I know that they’re going to do the right thing by it.” Not “the board knows” but “I know.” Mind you, having paid only £5.5m for the business and assets of a club valued at £25m even by its tumbling share price, Green probably was the right person to pontificate on “stealing Rangers.” (Oh…and Green’s response when reminded of the racist language he used towards his commercial director? “Where I come from…a spade is a spade.” You couldn’t make him up).
McColl’s response was immediate and withering. “If we don’t act now to get rid of Charles Green and the clique which has been supporting him…it could take ten to 20 years to repair the damage.” For McColl, corporate governance was the issue. “My money isn’t necessary here,” he claimed, which was handy as his decision to “do whatever I can in the name of Rangers” didn’t involve investing any money in it. He certainly wasn’t about to “give that man a penny,” correctly interpreting Greens’ “£14m for 28%” offer. And he added: “I would encourage no-one else to give money to him because he’s just an opportunist.” Almost under the radar, Paul Murray briefly broke his silence. “The shareholders own the club, not Green.” “No-one in their right mind is going to pay money to Green,” he concluded (told you it was brief), which ruled out very few of this saga’s protagonists.
No game of “Rangers civil war bingo” would be complete without former director Dave King sticking his oar in via the Daily Mail newspaper. And he arrived in the accustomed manner in a Mail “exclusive”: Rangers bidder King fears club could be in administration by Christmas. That the South Africa-based King “still faces criminal charges in his adopted homeland” seemed not to dampen his ambitions for a boardroom return, insisting: “I’m absolutely 100% certain that these are not an issue at the present moment.” And, given the SFA’s governance track record, he may be right. And King offered as withering a Green put-down as McColl’s (“I don’t see myself or anyone else, frankly, putting money in to pay these guys off”). But for him, as the headline suggested, it was about the money: “The way directors are spending money…I don’t think they’ll make Christmas.”
Here, King was echoing sentiments expressed throughout the mainstream Scottish media throughout the week. “It is understood that less than £10m remains in the bank,” wrote the Herald’s Richard Wilson of the £22m cash supposedly raised in December’s share issue. “Some informed sources believe the club will run out of money during this season and will need to raise additional extra funding” (additional and extra funding?). “There was less than £7m in the bank at the end of last season,” Jackson wrote in the Record. An un-named “City source” put it quite simply: “Rangers are paying out too much to too many people.” And, in as much as a man like him could “echo” a man like John Brown, King’s comments brought us right back to the man who knows “what’s going on.” The mainstream media’s epiphany on Rangers’ finances meant Green’s bluster, so often so effective at rallying Rangers’ support behind him over the past year, rather backfired on him. “What’s happened since I left is the club has become more and more unstable. More than at any time, we’ve got anarchy in terms of the way the club is being run,” he told Peter Smith. “I left to allow the club to move forward and it hasn’t.”
But, as Ally McCoist suggested mid-rant on Saturday: “He’s fooling nobody. ” He hasn’t been able to counter the evidence that if Rangers do have financial problems, they were caused on his watch. He misjudged the mood completely over McCoist. And his ‘revelation’ that Walter Smith had actually made the “worst team ever” remarks was seen as a grubby and stupid attempt to deflect blame for their nuclear fall-out. Even if Smith had said so, he said so privately, and a huge majority of Rangers fans would never believe it of Smith anyway. Green almost seems determined to cause chaos while the money runs out, as if he is forcing administration so he can buy the club back from administrators on the cheap and make his money through selling it on again down the line.
Only the utmost cynic would seriously think such a thing. But remarks attributed to “a Green spokesman” after a summit meeting between Rangers fan representatives and the board were so crass that you could again believe it was all deliberate. “Green out” was the gist of fans’ demand. But Green’s alleged spokesman was plain rude in response, especially about Mather, who re-affirmed his view on Green’s behaviour as “morally and ethically wrong.” In fact, it is difficult to believe this spokesman actually exists. “It is clear Mr Mather is confused and intimidated by the fans’ robust action,” the spokesman said of Mather’s promise to convene a board meeting to discuss Green’s future. “Perhaps he should return to a much gentler business atmosphere. Glasgow is a place for big boys, not frightened wee laddies.” Somebody, somewhere is taking the p**s.
On planet earth, fan representatives prepared 50 pertinent questions for the board and received disturbing confirmation that Rangers’ loss-making abilities were as prodigious as even the most rabid “Rangers-haters” had long been reporting, with £10m left in the bank, despite the supposed £23m share issue cash and whatever 30,000+ season ticket holders have already stumped up. Alongside this, Green is the “clown” John Brown called him this week. If Rangers people spend too much time on him, i.e. any longer than the one board meeting, Rangers will be in financial danger. It has been a fraught week for anyone with any Rangers associations. But it has provided enough warning signs for them to avert the dangers facing the club. The key question for now is, will they heed them? Because if they don’t, and Rangers go pop again, not even John Brown will be able to explain “what’s going on.”
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