I think there has been an appreciable shift of opinion amongst fans of TRFC recently.
Unlike the ‘invest: speculate to accumulate’ rhetoric featured in the press and by ex-players, the ordinary fans are coming to the realisation that there is no quick fix. There are even murmurings that there may never be a fix which involves their club becoming a competitive force.
Poor management of fan expectations has long been an accusation levelled at the TRFC board by SFM. It is possible though that many fans are beginning to manage their own expectations rather better. There are certainly justifiable criticisms of the manager, Mark Warburton, but alongside that is a realism about the limitations and constraints that he is working under.
There is a rather misguided, and possibly not accurate assumption that another liquidation for a team out of Ibrox would result in having to start ‘yet again’ in the bottom division; but in fact there is a growing acceptance that consolidation in the top league is a much better solution than gambling on huge borrowing simply to stop Celtic adding more notches to the goalpost.
Could it be that the fans are about to do the job that the board haven’t had the balls to do –accept the gap between themselves and (at least) Celtic, and settle for mediocrity on the field as a short term price to pay for continuity?
During the 1990s, in the middle of the Murray/BoS fuelled spending spree, and with Celtic in the doldrums, it seemed to many Celtic fans that their club would never be able to bridge that gap. Of course they did, but at the emotional cost of losing the exclusive 9IAR record.
TRFC now find themselves in pretty much the same position, but their road to bridging the current gap is a more difficult one.
There are similarities of course. Like the Celtic of the 90s, Rangers have major infrastructure challenges to meet. Celtic had a stadium to build, Rangers have Ibrox (and Auchenhowie) to fix and improve. Both required massive investment to improve the team, although I would argue that Rangers have a steeper hill to climb in that area.
Unlike RFC of the 90s, Celtic’s accrued wealth has nothing to do with an intravenous hook-up between their bank account and the chairman’s pals at the bank. Their baseline advantage over the current Rangers predicament is a combination of a stadium which holds 10,000 more fans than Ibrox, no debt, a burgeoning cash balance and the current inflow of European cash.
The Euro cash and the cash balance could be depleted, but the 10,000 extra seats won’t.
It also seems difficult to imagine how TRFC can obtain seed capital – even if they were inclined to gamble – given the combination of barriers to achieving that;
- They have a PLC with no stock market listing
- They have NO executive directors on the PLC board
- The current chairman is a convicted criminal, convicted of offences involving money
- The current chairman and vice-chairman are both directors of a previously liquidated club, and therefore associated with the financial mismanagement which brought that about.
- In that climate, sponsorship deals are hard to come by. Major sponsors want to be associated with stability, success and integrity. TRFC don’t tick many boxes in that regard.
- Banks do not lend to football clubs. Pre Murray/Masterton, football clubs were cash businesses with modest overdraft facilities to cover modest cash-flow peaks and troughs. The banks have returned to that model. 1987-2007 was the exception, not the norm.
- They are at war with a powerful and substantial shareholder in Mike Ashley.
- There is still litigation pending on more than one front which could even call into question the ownership of the club’s assets.
- They are in debt already (estimated at around £15m).
- The current onfield situation may require yet another write-off in terms of contracts.
Any one of those bullet points could be enough to derail any plan to get to the top. In combination, there may even be an existential question to answer.
That is why the fans are starting to look a lot smarter than the board, and ultimately the good sense of the fans may well help the board to find a way out of their current dilemma.
But even with realistic expectations from the supporters, is it possible that they can find a way? Is there for instance someone with a magic wand or bag of cash who could come in and turn it around? Perhaps, but who would risk money on a precarious venture like a football club when one of the most powerful businessmen in the country is in dispute with you?
In order for serious inward investment to happen;
- Ashley has to be reconciled with the board (needs King and Murray to go).
- The debt has to be written off .
- The new investor(s) has to be given control of the club (and this would perhaps require another 75% special resolution where current shareholders would be asked to vote to dilute their own influence).
- If they achieved that (and it is a pretty big if) the new investor cash would go into the club’s bank account – not used to pay off the debt – and they would be free to pursue new and better sponsorship deals, improve the merchandising contract with an onside Ashley, and add new revenue streams.
Even then, any new board would need to see the infrastructure challenges as paramount. Having one eye squinting in the direction of Parkhead will blur the bigger picture.
Their priority should be to reduce the losses (whilst increasing wages for better players), fix the stadium and the training ground (both in need of repair and improvement), build a scouting and youth infrastructure, and free up a (relatively modest) wad of cash to improve the playing squad.
In defence of the current board, the challenges facing them are almost vertical in incline. No matter how skilful they are, nothing other than someone with a barrowload of cash and a very long term outlook can put any kind of fix in place.
£50m might buy the debt and equity, and repair the stadium, but progress requires on-field improvement. It also needs stability, and therefore Ashley’s cooperation. The price of that is the head of Dave King.
Rangers will bring in more at the gate than Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs, but they have a considerably higher cost base than those clubs. With better players, recurring costs will be even higher – much higher.
To square this circle, however unpalatable it appears to be, peace has to be made with Ashley. That is the key to being able to embark upon a journey that has any chance of success. Otherwise, the clocks will have to be reset to 2022, and the end of the SD contract, before progress can be made.
However there is no chance it can go on that long. Rangers fans may be increasingly less demanding in what they expect, but they will need to see some signs – and not just words – that a plan is in place.
The board are getting ready to throw Mark Warburton to the hounds (the MSM lapdogs have already been armed with poison pens to effect that). This will buy them some time, but not enough.
We’ve said it before, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say it again;
For Rangers to have a fighting chance of competing at the top of football, King needs to be gone. If he does go, half of the barriers preventing the club raising cash are dismantled.
So is King’s departure a price worth paying? If he really had Rangers in his heart, he would say ‘Yes’.