In that time, we’ve seen Scottish football almost torn apart, only to come together again.
We’ve seen the claims about Armageddon exposed as the lies they were, and, of course, we’ve watched as the Ibrox NewCo has squandered the historical opportunity it had to climb through the ranks on the back of youth, good football and fiscal probity.
The strategy which got them here might well be studied one day, as the sterling example of how to destroy a football club. It defies belief that the prospects of then have resulted in what we see now, with the newco circling the drain only three years after their emergence from the shambolic wreck of Rangers FC.
Last Sunday, against Raith Rovers, they exited their third, and final, domestic cup competition of the season, and their second in a week, with a performance as abject as it was predictable.
The most notable moment in the game, for many, came when Kris Boyd ambled onto the pitch. His lack of fitness, and his general demeanour, were astonishing indictments not only of the people who sanctioned his signing and salary, but of everyone involved in training at Murray Park.
Boyd did not look like a footballer, in any way, shape or form. He looked like a supporter who had been pulled from the stand in a moment of funk and handed a jersey for the night.
Nothing I witnessed in the match came close to the surreal quality of a moment shortly after he came on where he was effortlessly outpaced by a Rovers player who barely broke a sweat.
How can McCoist and his backroom team have allowed a professional athlete to get in such a state? Coupled with Miller’s lack of pace and inability to pose even the most basic threat to the Rovers defence, as well as the uncontrolled aggression of McCulloch, it became clear to me in that moment just how serious the failures are at every level across the city.
Three years on, nothing over there works as it should. Everything is out of whack, from training to player recruitment; from commercial contracts to the submitting of accounts and official returns. It is all up in the air.
Is there a more poorly run club in the UK right now? It is hard to think of one.
At every stage in this process, we’ve been hearing about how the Real Rangers Men can solve all these problems, that they, and they alone, can rescue the club. This ignores not only the evidence of the recent past – in that many of these people helped destroy the OldCo – but it does not take into account either present circumstances or the likely direction of the tides.
Let’s look at Dave King, as he’s the guy most people think is on the verge of taking over this shambles.
King’s entire strategy appears based on three huge assumptions, none of which, in my view, are solid foundations on which a new club can be built.
The first of these is that simply by walking in the door, he will unify the supporters and get them buying season tickets again. This may not be quite the sure thing he appears to think. For a start, a lot of the supporters understand what our intrepid hacks have been singularly unwilling to say; that much of their current financial woes can be lifted and laid squarely at King’s own door.
This is a guy who has been working, tirelessly, to destabilise the club for the last two years or more, and so when he claims that his foretelling of financial disaster was right on the money he neglects to say – and the press neglects to write – that he is partially responsible for the downturn which sent the club running to the ever-open arms of Mike Ashley.
A lot of their supporters are fully aware of this, which is one of the reasons why the “season ticket fund” scheme he and Richard Gough had wanted to pioneer never got off the ground. A lot of them don’t trust King either, and realise that the excuses he made for failing to scrutinise the goings on under first Murray and then Whyte simply do not add up.
Furthermore, they listen to a man who talks about “openness and transparency” on one hand, but on the other has spent considerable time at his press conferences thus far engaging in a quite flagrant, and easily knocked down, rewriting of his own personal history and his tax disputes in South Africa.
All of this rests uneasily with the section of their support who smart at being hoodwinked already, and whose eyes are now wide open to any grandiose claims.
Secondly, a lot of King’s “business plan” seems predicated on the supporters picking up a big chunk of the change.
This assertion seems based on the above notion, but actually goes even deeper than that and assumes that those fans who are on side will dig into their wallets for the umpteenth time and purchase shares in some future new share offering. This is to say nothing for the idea that King will be able to find “investors” willing to fund a new Ibrox pipe dream.
The idea that the fans will be willing – or even able – to pay for everything King appears to want seems optimistic at best. On top of a second share issue in three years, he’s also going to be asking them to pay higher prices for season tickets, and in greater numbers than they have in a while.
He is betting on putting a team on the park that they want to watch. I genuinely believe that, off field runctions or not, Ibrox would be three quarters full most weeks if the club was actually moving in the right direction on the pitch and competing for honours. King’s insurgency has destabilised things, for sure, and exacerbated every negative, but he would be wrong to think that’s the only reason for the number of empty seats at games.
He will have to find the money for a winning team … and fast. Or those empty seats are going to become the norm.
King says he will invest up to £30 million of his own cash … but the caveat is that he will only invest whatever the fans and others do … and then he’ll match that pound for pound, which suggests to me that raising the kind of money he’s talking about is an improbability at best, one which casts significant doubt on everything he and his colleagues are talking about doing.
Third, and most important, King and the others seem blithely overconfident about what the response of other clubs, and the governing bodies, will be.
Let’s take the response of the clubs first.
The whole of King’s plan is predicated on his side quickly being in a position to challenge Celtic for the top spot in the SPL.
He doesn’t say it, but there is an assumption contained in his assertions that is breathtakingly arrogant. He appears to believe that the difficulty will lie in usurping the Champions; he seems to think – and he’s not alone, a lot of the club’s supporters, and a lot of people in the media evidently feel the same way – that the other teams will be conquered as a matter of course.
This is, of course, sheer nonsense.
Take Dundee Utd. A lot of commentators, and indeed a lot of fans, including those at the club itself, see the sales of Gary Mackay Steven and Stuart Armstrong to Celtic and suspect that the level of their ambition has been reached with the occasional European spot and making a run at the cup competitions once in a while. I think they are wrong, because I think their club statement, which explained the thinking behind it, was correct to point to the investments in the squad they have made, investments which take them in an exciting new direction.
Dundee Utd are astonishingly well run, and they have a youth system that is envy of every club in the land, and I include Celtic in that statement. It speaks volumes that three of the best young players to emerge from this country in the last five years – Ryan Gauld, Johnny Russell (yes, I think he’s a wonderful footballer) and Stuart Armstrong – have come through their ranks. At the same time, they’ve nurtured the already wonderful talents of Gary Mackay Steven and produced the fantastic Ryan Dow, who I reckon is the Next Big Thing.
Aberdeen have done sterling work in a similar vein, producing, amongst others, Ryan Jack, and they have used the window to add to an already very good football squad. In Derek McInnes they have a manager I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the time, but I respect completely in terms of what he’s accomplished and is still putting together. He is definitely one to watch, and I hope he’s at the Dons for many years to come, all the better to finish the job he’s started there.
These clubs, as well as the Edinburgh teams – who, themselves, are building attractive, entertaining, and winning, football sides which I am sure will do very well in the SPL – Motherwell, Inverness, St Johnstone, St Mirren, Hamilton … these teams aren’t simply going to lie down. All will fight for their positions, all of them will sign good players and many now have the money to retain the talents already at their clubs on top of this.
These clubs are more than capable of not only challenging, but beating, King’s team even as it continues to grow (if it does). The fans will have to be patient – very patient – if they are to even take second place … and I wonder how much patience they have left.
I know a lot of people at Ibrox harboured fantasies of their club reaching an SPL that was bereft, impoverished and shattered, buying into the Armageddon Myth as they bought into the Survival Myth and the Victim Myth after that, but Armageddon didn’t happen and one of the reasons they are struggling to reach the top flight this year is that neither Hearts nor Hibs imploded in the way many had predicted, and extremely well run clubs like Falkirk and, in particular, Queen of the South, are battling for that one play-off spot, and all these sides are better organised on and off the pitch than the one set up by Charles Green.
King and his people will have to build a football club whilst, around them, the people in charge of other sides, established sides, will simply be getting on with the day to day business of running theirs.
Finally, some of those people – like Steven Thompson and Rob Petrie – are in senior positions with the governing bodies, and must surely be aware that it’s in their interests, as well as the wider interests of Scottish football, to introduce some kind of binding framework on financial fair play, so that King and his people don’t simply run up huge debts chasing the dream, and put us right back where we were three years ago, with the whole of the game on the edge of the abyss out of a need to make sure there is a club called Rangers playing in it.
In the end, I believe those kind of regulations will benefit the sport here.
It will keep people like King from repeating the mistakes of old, as much as they might like to.
That will be necessary. Already, Paul Murray is telling the fans how the club “might have to overspend” to rebuild the squad; a statement that should scare the life out of the supporters, who are going to be asked to fund that peculiar, but typically “Rangers” insanity.
They will realise, of course, that spending money on the squad is only the start. The wages for players will add to the costs, and on top of that is finding a new manager, rebuilding the scouting network, improving the quality of the training, fixing what’s wrong with the stadium … there is no end in sight to how much this is all going to cost.
Asking “investors” to back such a scheme will be difficult at best.
There can be little doubt now that this is a club which has learned no lessons from the past, and seems hell bent on repeating every mistake. King’s approach to this whole affair has reeked of the kind of hubris that helped them to this sorry place, coupled with a reckless disregard for what he professes to love that played its own part in propelling them into this financial nightmare, which he seeks to exploit.
There is an easier way, of course, which is to accept that the present structure of the club is far too expensive to maintain, even without adding significant costs to it. That would require a change of ideology – and an acceptance of a changed identity – which I suspect you will find little, or no, support for amongst the Ibrox supporters.
I believe King and his people will win the EGM, but I don’t think it will be the end of the ructions at that club, but instead will usher in a brand new series of them.
Furthermore, I don’t think he, or the other members of his consortium, have anywhere near the kind of disposable wealth needed to turn the Ibrox operation around. Oh King himself might have the cash needed to fund a temporary splurge, but he’s not indicated any more willingness to do it than Ashley.
Besides, as I’ve said before, that “temporary splurge” will drive overall costs through the roof, and that will wreck any so-called business plan they have.
Then there’s Ashley, but that’s a whole article on its own ….
Of course, the PR war is already over. The Ibrox board has even taken steps to ban The Daily Record from the ground, in a move that has further split the support. For myself, I understand exactly why they did it, and I don’t, for one minute, accept the Record’s spiteful assertion that the club has “shot itself in the foot” with the decision.
The paper picked its side in this fight long ago, and the board knows nothing they can do will win over a sports department that has sided with King in anticipation of a return to “business as usual”. When the chance of getting a fair shake has gone, what else are they supposed to do? All this talk of trying to erode the hacks “freedom of speech” is ridiculous, even if they took such a concept seriously in the first place.
All the incumbent board has done is tell them they can no longer launch their attacks from the club’s own front room, and this is a perfectly valid course of action as far as I’m concerned. The paper has not made any effort to present things in a balanced way, and that’s not going to change. This is an act of self-defence, and ought to be seen in that light.
When the EGM comes – if it does; there are some problems with the venue at the time of writing and as this series of events have more twists and turns than a rollercoaster I wouldn’t rule anything in or out until it’s past history – it will be heralded as a new beginning for the club.
That it will close one chapter and open another is not in dispute.
But if I were a Sevco supporter, I wouldn’t be betting big on a happy ending just yet.
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