Spoils of War

post-467-1203285054Early on the morning of 31 January 1968, the NVA and the Viet Cong launched an assault on the South Vietnamese city of Hue, as part of the Tet Offensive, which had gotten underway on the previous day.

The objective was the capture of an important road, Highway 1, a key ARVN airfield, the operational command of the 1st Division of the ARVN, a US Military Assistance Command base and a Naval Command base on the Perfume River.

The city was only 50 miles from the DMZ, and it ought to have been a fortress. It wasn’t. What followed was one of the fiercest engagements of the Vietnam War.

When it was over, the combined forces of the US Marines, the Army and the ARVN had routed the enemy and secured control again.

That didn’t matter much to the people of Hue. Their city was almost completely destroyed in the battle. 5000 of them were dead.

In Washington, Saigon and Hanoi the leaders weren’t particularly concerned with minor details like that. The citizens were cannon fodder. Their deaths were collateral damage.

The politicians were interested in victory, and in the real estate for its strategic and tactical advantages. They were the spoils of war.

I was thinking about the Battle of Hue during the week, when I was listening to, and reading, the hacks joyously relating the “three way fight for Rangers.”

Ha! How wonderful irony is.

Like the people of Hue, the Peepil of Sevconia are of little relevance to those “fighting” on either side here.

King has played this game so often – and so badly – the Sevco directors ought to have his head mounted on a plaque for the boardroom. One hack today salivated over the unseemly squabble by saying King was “always likely” to be outclassed by Ashley, and yes, I agree.

He was. But more embarrassingly for him, and for his allies in the media, he had already been outclassed by Whyte, by Green, by Stockbridge, by Ahmad, and finally by Easdale, Nash and Wallace.

The guy is a Loser with a capital L, who in all this time has never won a single concession, for all his PR bluster. His plan for boycotting fans to put their money in an account was a ludicrous notion and is now a busted flush.

Furthermore, how can he not have twigged to the Business 101 proposition that unless you buy shares in a company you have no influence over how its run?

As for Brian Kennedy, that one is simply hilarious. Where the Hell did he come from all of a sudden? He’s another who’s been over this particular assault course before, like a fat man trying to break his personal best. I laugh every time he shows up on the starting block.

I think he, and King, suffer from the same delusions, and just like reading their names in the paper.

Then there’s Ally, standing on the side-lines like a kid who came to the Prom without a date. What did I tell you about him last time? He’s switched sides, again, hoping that this time there’s some money available. He too is labouring under an old delusion.

He’s going to be disappointed in more ways than one.

Mike Ashley, on the other hand, you have to respect. This is a guy with a storming, iron-clad business record who goes about things the right way. No courting mates in the media for him. No bluster about doing this or doing that. No ego on display at all. He operates quietly, for his own reasons, following his own agenda, and he does not let anything stand in his way.

He has handled this whole thing with class and professionalism. I kinda like the guy, especially as I’m not blinkered in the way so many of the press are by what he might do for Sevco.

A lot of nonsense has been talked about why Mike Ashley might want a say in the business at Ibrox. Some of those who’ve been trotting this out are the media hacks we’ve come to view with justifiable contempt. Some others should know better.

Actually, you don’t have to be a genius to work out what it is that Mike Ashley wants.

You don’t have to be a genius to understand that he’s motivated purely by money.

Let’s take the two key presuppositions about why Ashley might want Sevco.

First is the “Rangers brand.” Well, he’s already proved that he doesn’t need to own the club to get his mitts on that stuff. He already owns the retail outlet which stocks it all and has an iron clad deal in place to sell the jerseys.

Whilst we don’t know the exact terms on the loan he just gave the club, we know he wanted certain intellectual property rights when he made the same offer some weeks ago.

Two men were foremost in blocking that move. One was Graham Wallace. The other was Phil Nash.

Nash is gone already. Wallace is a certainty to follow him.

If Ashley gets the IP rights then he owns the “Rangers brand” without having to own the club, or invest significantly in it. He will control everything from Rangers mugs to Rangers bath products (stop laughing), rubber ducks and all. Anything which is manufactured, anywhere in the world, carrying one of their two crests will need his stamp of approval or be subject to big legal problems.

Second is this continued guff about Champions League football.

The perceived “wisdom” goes something like this; Newcastle United are perennial EPL strugglers who will never play on the Champions League stage. Ergo, Ashley needs to get an interest in a club which does play on that stage, to maximise the potential of his brand.

Oh yeah? Since when?

Since when was it cheaper to actually buy a football club, spend oodles of money on them and propel them into that tournament, to boost the exposure of your brand, than, say, to simply become a commercial partner of the competition?

Why not just become an official sponsor? Get ad space at games or adverts on TV before the matches?

These things cost more than … buying a club?

Why do Amstel or Sony or any of the other sponsors bother spending all that money on getting their products and brands advertised?

Hell, just buy a team. It’s cheaper, right? It has to be!

Forget that you’d only get that exposure when your own team is playing, and in none of the other games.

Forget that they need to get through qualifiers and actually, you know, participate in the group stages.

Forget that to make them competitive means spending even more money, or you risk seeing your brand associated with embarrassing failure.

Forget all that. We’re following Daily Record logic here.

And why on Earth does he need the “exposure” of the Champions League in the first place?

The English Premiership is an international global super-brand, generating $2.2 billion in television sales every single year. It is broadcast in 212 countries, to over 600 million homes and has a potential audience estimated at 4.7 billion people.

Even more hilarious are those who see some financial upside for him in controlling a team playing on that stage.

Celtic, at a push, can make £20 million from Champions League money, and Sevco Rangers could, conceivably, make something similar if they were willing to spend what it took to get there … but that, in all likelihood, would be expensive and mortally risky.

The average EPL club payment, for television money alone, is £55 million.

Tell me again why Ashley sees Sevco in the Champions League as important?

The truth is much simpler than any of these things. Ashley sees Sevco Rangers as an easy mark. As a quick, sure-fire way of making some money.

All the work has been done for Ashley in advance of this.

Sevco Rangers fans have always insisted their club did not die. The SFA’s refusals to comment on this matter and decisions by organisations such as the Advertising Standards Agency and others, which appear, on the surface, to confirm that liquidation did not destroy them, add to this overall view.

I have long argued that of all the negative outcomes to emerge from the Rangers – Sevco shambles that this is the most dangerous one for their supporters to have embraced.

This creates a clear separation between the company and the football club.

Sevco fans have held on tight to Rangers “identity”, but what does that represent?

If it’s about the badge, then Ashley and his company can hold onto that whatever happens to this incarnation of the club, and sell it to anyone who resurrects them in event of a meltdown.

As the club has no retail outlets of its own, and as Ashley runs the biggest online retail outlet for sports goods, what choice would they have in event of even a liquidation if he made the only offer to take that off their hands?

In short; this notion that “the club” survives liquidation is good for Ashley, because even in the worst case scenario he still has a claim to part of any NewCo that emerges from the ashes, as long as it, too, wants to maintain the Survival Myth.

With his 10% control, the IP rights, the shirt distribution agreement and perhaps, in time, even a hold over the property, the final argument, that for Ashley to get his money’s worth “Rangers needs to be successful” would be laid to its own inevitable rest.

That is the stupidest assertion of all.

As long as there are enough fans going to games to keep the lights on, he can continue to extract money from those who buy shirts and other merchandise, and he can license the “Rangers brand” to everyone else who’s got an interested in fleecing the Peepil with everything from Sevco bed covers to beach balls.

There’s plenty of money to be made out of the “Rangers brand” without his having to fund a winning team on the park.

This whole “identity” thing is, and has always been, big money in and of itself.

Newcastle has never challenged for a major honour since he took over. He sees the club as little more than ad board for Sports Direct and a £250 million asset on his balance sheet.

They regularly play to full houses, as he must suspect Sevco will.

Whether they are winning things or not is unimportant to his goals, and where the chance of winning something has involved the spending of one more penny than he needs to, he’s not done it.

He could cut Sevco  to the bone and force them to exist on subsistence level funding, as long as people were still able to buy tickets. He could hold the death of their club over them like a killing weight if they didn’t want to play ball, and he could mean it.

If we accept that he doesn’t “need” the global exposure for his brand and his only interest is in securing certain assets, then why would he care whether they are winning things or not?

“Ah,” some will say, “but if he wants to control Rangers he has no choice …” This presupposes that in order for him to get maximum exposure they have to be playing in Europe, and competing.

Apart from being a pitiful variation of the above, there’s no evidence that he wants control anyway, and there are many reasons why he wouldn’t.

He will not have the headache of having to face the fans, because he won’t be on the board and he won’t be the owner. He won’t have to deal with the football authorities, or worry about the prospect of the two sides coming face to face in Europe somewhere down the line.

His role, on the surface, will be that of the generous benefactor who helps them keep the lights on. And if he decides, one day, that he’s not getting a sufficient return then he’s got options in administration and liquidation both.

All of this has cost him little more than £1 million in shares, and another £2 million loans so far.

It’s chump change. He’s already taken at least that out on merchandising alone.

In the longer term, there are two ways for Sevco Rangers to exist.

The first is to increase revenue. Even with Ashley’s much vaunted international business acumen, it is hard to see how that can be done with a second tier Scottish club, permanently at war with itself and with the world, being undermined by outside influences and eaten from those within.

This is a club with few friends outside its walls, insular, arrogant and backward. The notion of investing in an “institution” who’s greatest claim to fame in our multicultural world is “Armed Forces Day” will be an easy one for the money men to resist.

Sevco Rangers, even with full houses every week and playing in the SPL, even a Sevco Rangers which is regularly competing in Europe, will struggle not to post huge losses. Why would a rich businessman want such a thing on his books?

The second way for a club like this to exist is to cut costs. Radically.

It can be done, but you have to stick to it, rigorously, and you can’t have a manager in post who thinks you need a 10 – 1 spending ratio to succeed.

It’s tempting to bet on McCoist being the next casualty of the bloodletting that has only just gotten started at Ibrox. When I said earlier that he might be in for a big surprise I meant it. When Ashley’s point-man is appointed to the board and he calls Ally in to see him I suspect it won’t be to ask him for his list of multi-million pound transfer targets …

The first of those two options – increasing revenues to the point where a billionaire actually thinks he’s getting a good return – is impossible. The second is all there is. The third option, which Murray tried and which Sevco fans still expect someone to match, of spending someone else’s money, without end, is certainly not going to happen on Iron Mike Ashley’s watch.

The idea that this “could be good for Rangers”, being pumped out by a panting, desperate media which still clings to those “grand old days of yore” is a fantasy, and one that continues to hold them back from the embrace of a reality which is surely on its way.

In one sense, though, this is the best thing that can happen to their club.

A long period of austerity is now an absolute certainty. Big changes – bad ones – are on their way for all involved.

We now know that they were 48 hours from an administration event which would have lit up the sky like a nuclear detonation. They’ve avoided it for now, but Ashley did not become a billionaire indulging fantasies of supremacy or delusions of grandeur.

His loans and his plans to underwrite shares, or whatever it is that he comes up with, will raise money that will not be allowed to swirl down the drain.

His desire to change the faces around the boardroom table are about making sure that the necessary cuts are made, in all departments, no matter how much it hurts, and no matter how its powerless supporters squeal like pigs.

The battle for control at Ibrox is over. Sevco Rangers is now in the hands of a man who will brook no compromise. Who will not be intimidated by daft protests which get in the papers but have no material impact on the outcome.

This is a man who will not bother about what’s written in the press – unless it’s untrue, and then watch him sue faster than Martin O’Neill – and who won’t deign to inform the media or the Sevco fans of what his plans are, now or in the future.

This guy will run that dysfunctional nightmare of a club ruthlessly, like a business, to make him a profit and nothing more … without fear, favour or sentimentality. There will be no talk of “Rangersitus” here.

The blood sport we’ve been watching for the last few years is finished. The hopes of the Sevco support are about to be sacrificed on the altar of what’s in the best interests of a billionaire businessman and his sports retail company. It is the ending they deserve, for their blinkered attitudes and their inability to read the writing on the wall.

Ashley has won. To the victor, the spoils of war.

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19 comments on “Spoils of War
  1. Excellent blog. Watch the fans mump & moan but be powerless to stop the cuts…..all the overpaid shysters get bumped out door,.starting with Sally, McD & wee Durranty (what does he actually do?)

  2. Brilliant post James.
    A very well thought out and simplistic explanation in plain English, so good in fact, maybe the Sevconias will understand, but hey-hoe, even if they don’t understand your summation here.
    I’m sure they will get the picture eventually regarding the fallacy of Sevco’s ‘Rightful place’.

    With Mr Ashley it seems
    . . . Actions speak louder than words.

    (Zero hour contracts for employees, he obviously believes in a ‘minimum wage’ culture as opposed to having the Highest paid manager in Scottish football, possibly 3x what their ‘rivals’ pay)

  3. Murray to Ashly inbetween so much money lost so much heartache caused by unscrupulous people and not one of them taken to task.News reporters,radio panelists found lacking when searching the truth.Society duped over the last few years so sad.

  4. James, I fear you have missed the obvious. Ashley specialises on inexpensively acquiring big brands that have fallen on hard times, Dunlop, for example, then making profit from them, Rangers is one such brand. The Catch 22 with Rangers was, until now, the impossibility of making a profit from an overspending business while at the same time funding a successful team on the pitch. He can and will undertake the long overdue ‘rationalisation’ of the business in a ruthless manner cutting costs and reducing losses. The only issue is, how can he maintain a successful team on the pitch while doing so because a successful team is central to his profit maximisation. The answer? It is staring everyone in the face but no one seems to see it. Expect a raft of Newcastle squad players on loan to sail up the Clyde in January. Players of good quality who will cost him not a penny is additional funding. These new players will guarantee promotion and worse still, will probably be good enough to see off cost cutting Celtic for the SPL title next season! Champions League opportunities beckon the season after that. By this stage Ibrokes will be full again and Ashley’s sales will be booming, all achieved at very little cost to himself. The Huns really should be celebrating just now but typically it hasn’t dawned on them yet.
    Celtic’s zero investment business plan has made all this possible and could lead to us being completely outflanked. Another decade of being second could be around the corner.

  5. I thought of that lol … I’m not worried, even slightly. If their fans are content to be a feeder club for his, that’s their lookout, but there’ll be no “success” in that strategy.

    A couple of those players were at St Mirren last year. St Mirren. Don’t expect many of the other players to fancy the SPL. If he wants to sell them later, he can do better sending them to France or Spain, or the English Championship. Better competition, better chance of selling them on.

  6. james do you think he might be buying his entry into the establishment that protects sevco and their like i think that it has been proved over and over if you have control of the zombies you can do no wrong with the smsm or the law in this country

  7. James, I hope you are more right than I am but there’s an awful lot of money still to be made out of the Peepel Ltd and the scenario I have outlined is the best way to do it. Think about it: it costs Ashley nothing and is potentially the football equivalent of Quantative Easing!

  8. James,

    Big Jock could not have forseen the car crash that was to hit Scottish Football when he uttered the immortal words………….”Football is nothing without the fans”

    The fact that the klan are inconsequential in this battle is ironic in the extreme……MA will care not a jot for preserving the lie and will join a long line of spivs supping from the biggest trough in the history of troughs. Four legs good, two legs bad…..indeed!!!

    As for the Tet analogy, personally I’m looking forward to the Scottish Football version of the fall of Saigon, when Ogilvie, Reagan et al are forced into a desperate retreat and leave these shores forever…….corrupt muppets….

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