It is tempting to leave this page blank, both in homage to Len Shackleton’s famous chapter on “The average directors’ knowledge of football” and because so much of what Rangers boss Ally McCoist has said this past week has left people speechless. But the sheer magnitude of McCoist’s folly deserves the fullest possible exposure. Talk of the new Rangers aping the old by going into administration has lit up Scotland’s traditional and social media since word got out last Thursday that Rangers’ first-team squad had been asked to consider taking a 15% pay cut and had declined so to do.
Chief Executive Gordon Wallace’s claim that “no offer had been made” met with merited contempt and parody when he added that it was “more of a conceptual discussion about the possibility of some sort of reduction.” One contributor to the Celtic website Kerrydale Street’s ‘Next Sevco Discussion Thread’ suggested that Wallace might have “made them a conceptual discussion they can’t refuse.” And it was easy to imagine the players suggesting that Wallace consider discussing the concept of “getting tae ****.” But Wallace’s descent into the linguistic world of Brian Glanville-isms (one for the teenagers) was a momentary aberration. He has, after all, spoken the only sense so far on the subject of the restarted Rangers’ finances, telling last month’s AGM that “the current operating structure we have is too high even for the top division never mind the lower leagues.”
McCoist, meanwhile, has made daily media forays since the wage-cut story broke, each containing at least one moment which left you thinking “did he really say that?” Throughout the Rangers saga the portly supremo has unceasingly tried to portray himself as a man of the people. His claimed willingness to take a personal pay cut is a prime example of this. Just as it was… er… the last time he took a personal pay “cut,” after Charles Green’s Ibrox takeover in the summer of 2012. ‘Super Ally’s’ super salary was actually cut from £750,000 to £600,000, although details were not in last December’s Rangers share prospectus, unlike remuneration for other “key employees” (it was how we discovered finance director Brian Stockbridge’s £200,000 bonus for Rangers’ third division triumph). Ally’s salary was simply “commensurate with his experience and the payment received by people similarly employed in the football industry.”
It later emerged (in “Charlotte Fakes” material which timeously re-appeared this week) that McCoist received £62,500 arrears of pay in early 2013. Although this figure equated to five months at the difference between £750,000 and £600,000 per annum, (the equivalent of, say, the start of the football season to the end of December), only a cynic would make the connection. McCoist has, of course, agreed to halve his salary again. From £750,000 again. And it might be worth remembering this the next time Wallace confirms that Super Salary’s super salary cut “has happened.” The proxying of his AGM voting rights to a supporters club was, until this past week, McCoist’s latest “man of the people” move; a move which also allowed him to avoid the decision on whether to back or sack the board, although only a cynic would make the connection; a move you might also believe to be like letting captain Lee McCulloch start the pay cut conceptual discussion, itself a move which allowed McCoist to “assure everyone that the players have my 100% backing” and keep his distance from any playing budget cuts – although only a cynic etc…
However, McCoist began to tie himself in linguistic knots in trying to maintain that distance. “I won’t be selling anybody,” he boldly declared, adding “the club might sell somebody but I won’t be selling anybody.” After all, why would a manager be involved in such things? He’s also produced so many variants of “I know nothing” that he’s been likened to Sergeant Schultz from American comedy show Hogan’s Heroes (another one for the teenagers), who’s catchphrase that became. “I have no idea,” McCoist said during one press conference – which, taken one way, wasn’t exactly news – “you’ll have to ask the players.” This was particularly effective, as “Rangers refused to allow players to speak at Murray Park yesterday.” And you might want to read this a few times. “To be fair, Graham hasn’t told me he wants the squad size trimmed but the obvious interpretation of cuts in the player budget would suggest it. He hasn’t said as such but maybe reading into what he’s said about a smaller playing budget and cuts, you’d think that’s what he’s meaning.” You’d wonder what else he would be meaning, wouldn’t you?
“To be fair”, McCoist was right to say “I’m not an accountant.” And we had hints of this numerical skills deficit in his now-infamous interview last summer with the-then Rangers communications officer, James Traynor. The interview’s infamy has come from Traynor’s “day of reckoning” outburst, during which revenge was promised on “malicious” and “downright vindictive” Rangers critics. But Traynor had previously, if briefly, asked all the right questions. And the sound of his exasperation as McCoist exposed his fiscal ignorance has been a personal soundtrack to ‘Super Ally’s’ weekend ramblings. “The waaaaayges, Ally” Traynor sighed as McCoist pointed to the lack of transfer fee spending. The press pack probably shared Traynor’s dismay when Super Salary told them this week: “Maybe I had it totally wrong but with the player budget coming down, I was looking at the season tickets, working out the costs – I’m doing it on the back of a fag packet obviously – and thinking, ‘It kind of fits.’”
His next words were intriguing and point to where responsibility for Rangers’ summer overspend needs sharing: “Did someone tell me I had the financial where-with-all to sign players? Absolutely. I just went about my business. I was wanting to bolster the squad and that’s what I did. No one said it was a problem. No one said stop.” That “someone” was presumably Stockbridge, whose continued employment remains fundamentally puzzling – had he come out with the “back of a fag packet, obviously” and “it kind of fits” line, it would have been quite believable. But it is almost as puzzling that McCoist, as a central figure to this spending, had either forgotten or somehow never knew that Rangers were losing over £1m per month.
The annual accounts were some months away when McCoist brought his players in – most of the signings were completed in May. But that in turn meant that Rangers’ interim losses of £7m were still fresh in the memory of anyone taking a blind bit of notice. The press contrasted Wallace’s “conceptual discussions” with the half-a-million quid in the proverbial back pocket of one of former Chief Executive Charles Green’s “original” investors Richard Hughes who sold his “penny shares” for 20p each, two days earlier. “Something doesn’t add up,” noted one journalist on local radio in Glasgow, the mainstream Scottish media (SMSM) as on the ball as ever. And the Daily Record’s award-winning journalist Keith Jackson contrasted the desire for wage restraint with the team’s plush preparations for Monday night’s league fixture at Forfar Athletic (well, quick compared to his SMSM colleagues – the club’s use of swanky hotels was noted by more than one blogger last summer).
McCoist defended the club for putting the players up in the four-star Carnoustie Hotel for the day. “It’s my job as the Rangers manager to give our players the best opportunity we can to perform,” he noted, correctly. He didn’t, though, explain why such expense was required to prepare for part-time opposition. Or why “it would be disrespectful just to turn up.” Or why he possibly imagined that “the Forfar players were away for a pre-match meal as well,” was remotely analogous. Instead, he declared “we are still Rangers Football Club.” And that, of course, “explained” everything. Leaving aside the hoary old ‘same club/new club’ argument, It is the utmost folly to continue to behave as if Rangers were still a top-flight club with top-flight income. “We are still Rangers Football Club” might even be considered to exemplify the superiority complex which has landed them in the financial midden again.
Ahead of his next meeting with Wallace, McCoist claimed that “I’m not closing my eyes to the situation like some people seem to think. I’m very aware of the situation,” having seconds earlier said: “I don’t know what to expect, it’s not my gig.” But, pre-Forfar, he said, with his eyes clearly wide shut: “We’ll continue to prepare as well as we can until I’m told otherwise.” As he previously noted: “In the current climate some of the stuff I don’t know suits me as well.” Even when awareness of the situation occasionally slipped through, it was hard to credit his utterances. “Although we are not going down the same road,” he said in response to talk of another Ibrox insolvency, “we are going down a similar path.” Quite what difference the surface made was not explained. And he also returned to man of the people mode with: “I don’t know who is responsible but I do know who is not responsible and that’s the players and supporters.” He added that “I have my own ideas about who is responsible, but I would rather keep them to myself.” Given his £750,000 annual salary, the halving of which he still hadn’t signed up to last Friday, the wisdom of holding his own counsel on that is undeniable.
So it is that Ally McCoist keeps the faith of the Rangers fanbase. Rangers fans, at the AGM and since, continue to ask “where’s the money gone?” occasionally seem to be oblivious to the fact that since the club started, about a million quid of it has gone to McCoist, via a higher salary than Green, Stockbridge or any of the other “spivs” now held responsible for Rangers’ dire financial straits. However McCoist may come across at times, he’s still got a considerable intellectual advantage on them. McCoist’s long weekend wasn’t entirely devoid of perceptive analysis, though. “We are right back in it,” he told the Record’s Gary Ralston on Friday. And on that, at least, he was absolutely correct.
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