Rangers: Dave King – At It Again?
Last week, Rangers International Football Club (RIFC) chairman, Dave King, unilaterally decided, as he does, that regulations were for other people. His attitude, as it does, could land him in court.
Yet, as they do, elements of Scotland’s Glasgow-based football media still consider him Rangers’ “best hope of salvation” and “still the right man to lead” them despite…EVERYTHING.
Followers of football club takeovers know that if individuals or groups “acting in concert” exceed 30% ownership, they are obliged by the “City Code on Takeovers and Mergers” to offer to buy the remaining shareholding. The independent “Takeover Appeal Board” (TAB) hears appeals against rulings by the Takeover Panel which administers the Code and supervises and regulates “takeovers and other matters to which (it) applies.”
On 13th March, the TAB confirmed that King, in January 2015, “acted in concert” with businessmen George Letham, George Taylor and Douglas Park to acquire 34.05% of RIFC. The media termed the quartet a “concert party,” which cued half-a-million “It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum” jokes, GIFs and memes, themselves surely breaching codes everywhere.
The TAB “affirmed” the Panel “ruling of 7th June 2016 that an obligation should be imposed” on King, as “the principal member of the group” to “extend an…offer to other shareholders…for all the issued shares…not owned by him and…Letham, Taylor and Park…at…20p per share” and announce it “by 12th April 2017.” King…didn’t. So, on 13th April, the Panel “initiated (court) proceedings…seeking an order requiring King to comply with these rulings,” an unprecedented move in its 49-year history.
On 13th March, King haughtily disputed “TAB’s much-delayed ruling (and) its logic” and said he would “take the appropriate time to…consider the best course of action for myself, RIFC and its shareholders,” calling the complaint, by RIFC ex-chairman David Somers, “part of the old Board’s efforts to preserve their positions without regard to what was best for Rangers Football Club, its supporters and shareholders.”
The ruling was “part of the price I have had to pay for being determined to rescue Rangers Football Club from its previous regime and the drastic consequences of their actions,” and the TAB had “not understood the true nature of what occurred at Rangers and the tremendous role that the activism of supporters played in ensuring regime change.”
King added that Rangers “should never have become caught up in” the “takeover struggle” which inspired the share acquisition. “Those who placed it in that position bear a heavy responsibility.” And the offer was “doomed to fail” as “20p is not…a fair price for RIFC’s shares nor…the price at which (they) are currently trading” (NB: this price “was not contested” by King at the Panel hearings).
Ten days later, King made his latest occasional Glasgow sojourn, from his Johannesburg home. Their usual purpose is a club investment search/beg and/or a rallying cry for others to “invest,” although where precisely he looks is rarely revealed.
He then talks to the football media, which dutifully publishes his words, unscrutinised and unquestioned. And last month, they prepared his way by honing their misinformation instincts. “Rangers make £300,000 profit,” screamed the March 23rd headlines, announcing the £278,000 pre-tax…er…loss revealed in RIFC’s unaudited July-December 2016 “trading results.”
I occasionally wonder if the media are stupid enough to swallow such audibly clumsy stunts. But the alternative is that they are willing accomplices to such deception, paying as little attention to its consequences as they did before Rangers went pop in 2012…something they now deny ever happened.
On March 31st 2015, RIFC produced fully-blown Interim results, with a statement by newly-installed interim chairman Paul Murray, a detailed financial review, an independent review by chartered accountants Jeffreys Henry LLP and extensive notes explaining the “Condensed Consolidated” income statement, balance sheet, statement of changes in equity, and cash flows.
Twenty-six days earlier, just before he and his associates took over RIFC, King promised to “guarantee the fans absolute transparency and accountability.” But, last March and this, RIFC produced “unaudited results” (July-December 2015) and “unaudited trading results” (July-December 2016), containing a one-page financial review, a one-page consolidated income statement and…er…that’s it. Sneeze and you’d miss them. Hell, sneeze and the paper involved wouldn’t make an adequate handkerchief.
The latest results had no discrete reference to October’s £2.9m loans from Rangers directors, not refuting suggestions that they formed part of the £5.3m revenue increase over 2015’s “comparative period.” Instead, media reports focused on the upbeat financial review which traditionally “takes the positives” from whatever figures are filed.
Media coverage of football club financial results invariably focuses on “pre-tax profit/loss” or overall profit/loss, regardless of which figure shines the kindest financial light. Recent articles on Swansea, Liverpool, Sheffield Wednesday, Leicester and Nottingham Forest did just that. And Southampton’s focussed on £4.9m overall profits, despite a £20.5m operating profit.
Called out on their “mistake,” some media outlets corrected their headlines but failed to report that the results were unaudited, unsigned and undated. And the spin was re-spun when King “jetted in” JUST as the “profit” was announced.
Trailblazing, as ever, was Chris Jack, a PR-department’s wet-dream as Glasgow Evening Times Rangers correspondent and, after years of Rangers PR-puffery, the Herald newspaper group’s senior sports writer. “Board could approve new Ibrox kit this summer if the deal is right for Rangers,” ran one headline. At first glance, this added little to Jack’s story from August 7th 2016, “King reveals Rangers could launch new kit.” Upon closer examination, it added…nothing…whatsoever.
King, Jack reminded us, was “in a lengthy legal war with billionaire businessman Mike Ashley,” and Ashley’s (in)famous Sports Direct firm, “but he will only sign off on a deal if the new terms vastly favour Rangers.” King said SD “would be commercially naïve to completely walk away.” But Jack appeared not to ask why SD would re-negotiate a deal “vastly” favouring them, or how King would persuade them to re-negotiate.
Another Jack headline claimed: “Current Ibrox investors will continue to fund Rangers”. And he wrote that, having “already ploughed millions into his boyhood heroes,” King thought investment was “easier to do within existing resources” (i.e. his “concert party”) from whom he had “the same commitments.”
“Quite frankly,” King added, a sure sign that the following would not be remotely frank, “until we get a normalised situation on the Sports Direct retail side, it is difficult to go to a third-party investor…because they will ask questions like ‘where are you with the retail?’”
The fact that “they” would “ask questions” didn’t remind Jack to do likewise, even when King said: “If I put money in as an interest-free loan it is the same as equity. It is not going to come back out of the club,” an “interesting” admission given Uefa Financial Fair Play regulations on ownership funding.
Another headline ran “Rangers must challenge Celtic in Pedro Caixinha’s first full season.” And naturally Jack claimed Rangers boss “Caixinha will be given funds to bolster his squad…for a crack at the top-flight and potential return to European action.” Or, as King said: “we will have to look at investment for that.”
Apparently, too, “Rangers could pursue Mark Warburton and Nottingham Forest for compensation after his Ibrox exit.” This WAS news, given that Rangers claimed ex-manager Warburton and his backroom team resigned.
King said: “I’m going to have a legal discussion. Whether it’s Nottingham Forest or the management team, it’s a possibility but we just have to see how we feel about that…They’ve all ended up at Nottingham Forest without us getting compensation and we’ve had to pay compensation.” This begged the question: “What ARE you on about?” Jack clearly didn’t ask it.
And, after the beyond-parody bilge of “I haven’t had fun being Rangers chairman but I had to do what I have done at Ibrox” (“When duty called, Dave King answered”), the Panel’s decision was covered in “King to consider his appeal options after Takeover Appeal Board ruling on rise to power.” It took minutes to check that King HAD no “appeal options,” making his decision “whether to appeal it or not,” obsolete. Jack clearly didn’t check.
King’s press conferences suggest not, but maybe he sounds more impressive than he reads. Why else would media outlets publish his meaningless drivel? Such as… “All I can really say is that I do believe there is a possibility that pre-season we might be able to do a proper kit launch.” Or “Try and have seven players that mature from the Championship, add five-to-seven and then another five-to-seven. We have had a hiccup now and it is up to Pedro now. He might find the five-to-seven, guys might start playing that we thought weren’t playing before.”
Or: “It was a direct approach but I said off the record that we wouldn’t. It was an indirect approach but directed to me in terms that I had the conversation.“ Or: “There was a consortium. That was myself and the supporters. My argument was there was a consortium. But it was myself and the supporters really. It was certainly never myself and Douglas Park or George Letham. I argued technically that the real consortium was myself and the supporters.”
Which brings us back to the TAB ruling. Recent history has been hugely unkind to King’s assertion that it was “pretty much a non-issue.” Only South African High Court Judge Brian Southwood’s famous 2010 ruling on King (“glib and shameless liar” etc…) more ruthlessly exposed King’s fundamental dishonesty.
And echoes of Southwood’s views permeated the TAB ruling. “The Panel…expects persons dealing with it to do so in an open, prompt and co-operative way and to take all reasonable care not to provide incorrect, incomplete or misleading information. Mr King had not observed those obligations.” And “his repeated denial that he has any interest in the shares” (which took the “concert party’s” ownership above 30%) “is at odds with the evidence.”
It can barely be overstated how serious the Panel’s initiation of court proceedings is. Much was made of them using “cold-shouldering” only three times; the harshest sanction they could apply, preventing properly-regulated entities acting for cold-shouldered individuals on Takeover Code transactions.
The Panel has NEVER before used courts, emphasising how darkly they view King’s conduct. Not even his media apologists could mask that (although we await Evening Times columnist Derek Johnstone’s near-inevitable efforts).
King supporters labelled the Panel “toothless,” with limited direct enforcement powers. To them King’s “cold-shouldering” resembled disaffected early-teens telling their bestest friend “I’m not talking to you anymore.” To King’s critics, this “cold-shouldering” made Rangers a “toxic” financial brand while King remained. The court’s involvement has emboldened them.
In 2010, Southwood said King’s “evidence should not be accepted on any issue unless it is supported by documents or other objective evidence.” Yet six years of King’s fundamental, on-going dishonesty later, Scotland’s Glasgow-based football hacks still largely believe him and believe in him. Madness.
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