In 2008, I wrote an article for E-Tims called The End Of Rangers? It was one of the first pieces I ever published online, and is more wordy than even my longest piece on this site, spectulative in parts, and in others curiously prescient.
Note the difference between the title of that one, and the title of this one.
Last time I was asking a question. This time I am not. You get the point of this piece already, right?
In that article, I floated the possibility that the banking crisis, combined with the spectacular losses of the Murray International empire, could bring down Rangers Football Club.
I was asking two questions. First, was it possible? Second, what should Celtic do if it came to pass?
In that article, I borrowed a phrase from Ray Kroc, a guy who bought a fledgling hamburger restaurant business from two brothers in Monrovia, California, and turned it into a global empire. The McDonald brothers were the founders of the chain, but McDonalds was built by the former milkshake salesman who took it off their hands for $2.7 million.
He had something of a ruthless business mentality, and the phrase I borrowed was a reference he made once to his competitors.
“If they were drowning to death,” he said, “I’d put a hose in their mouth.”
I thought that was nice, and I thought it was apt. Furthermore, I thought I saw signs at Celtic Park that not only were we willing to stick the hose in their mouths but that there were people at our club who couldn’t wait to turn the tap on.
When Celtic were in financial trouble in the mid 90’s, nobody was interested in saving us. A national newspaper sent a hearse to our door, and ran a lovely photo of it on the back page. There was no talk of financial Armageddon hitting the game.
We, the club who brought the greatest glory to this country that it will ever see, were an afterthought as the people who covered our national sport salivated over the succulent lamb on the menu across town.
I suggested that Murray would have drowned us just to watch us die, that he would never have considered the future of Scottish football in doing so, that it would have been the furthest thing from his mind, as it was in every year he was at Ibrox. In that time, Murray held Rangers’ financial superiority over us, brandished it like a weapon, forcing us to choke on it over and over again. Even then we suspected it was all built on credit but that didn’t make it easier to take. The End of Rangers? was my examination of whether or not those days were done, and I thought the evidence was overwhelming; they were.
I didn’t get everything in that piece right. Rangers, not Celtic, took the title that year for a start … and yet in a curous way even that tied into the theme, as it was one of the catalysts for what came sometime down the road.
A year after I wrote it, one of the predictions I made in the piece came to pass and we found out that Lloyds were not as “understanding” of Murray’s creative funding of the club as had been the Bank of Scotland, and the brakes were applied, although not as firmly as they might have been.
Apologists in the media still squeal like pigs when it is mentioned, with the bank being turned into the bad guys for having the sheer nerve to insist that debts were paid in full, and that the club could no longer conduct its affairs like a street-hustler, shuffling a pea between blue plastic cups. Yet, for all that wailing, the bite was not as severe as it might have been. Certainly, the myth of “Walter having to work with a reduced budget” is grounded in reality only if you compare what he worked with to what others before him had, on someone else’s money.
When Lloyds best efforts to make sure the club was fortified for the Big Tax Case, and any other financial storms which came along, were thwarted when the club splashed out on a raft of players including Steven Davis and others, when the following season they spent even more money on Jelavic, there was notable consternation at Lloyds.
When Murray was looking for a buyer, the bank made it clear that they wanted paid – in full – before green lighting a sale.
Lloyds is still Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of many Rangers fans, and I have heard Chick Young and others in the media berate them with an anger which is scarcely believable. Lloyds did nothing more than perform for their shareholders. They delivered a full return, which in light of what happened next makes them the smartest kids in the classroom.
We all know what happened next, and what has happened since. Rangers was sold to Whyte for one pound. Not a soul in our intrepid sporting press stopped to ask what kind of deal that was, instead choosing to build Whyte up as the billionaire who was going to return the Grand Old Days of Yore. When Whyte’s tenure ended in wholly predictable disaster (many of us were screaming it from the rooftops from the start) and Green waltzed out of the mists and took control the same media was right behind him, and when he sussed that he could play to the gallery and the Rangers’ fans money would follow like night after day it was only ever going to end badly for their fans.
They had both deployed heavy duty PR campaigns, but Whyte’s background was all out there for anyone who wanted to look, and before long the Celtic sites were awash with all the information anyone who wanted to make an informed choice needed. His Glasgow offices were found to be locked rooms filled with dust gathering empty file cabinets. His headquarters was a portacabin in a field of cows.
His history was littered with the debris of collapsed businesses.
Green made even less a secret of what he was about, talking about his “big Yorkshire hands” and how they were made for grabbing money. His own history included as many failed businesses as Whyte’s, and he even had a football club’s fans wanting his head on a plate for good measure before he arrived in Govan. Yet, all he had to do was accuse the SFA and other clubs of having pursued a sectarian agenda against the club, tour the orange halls and mouth the old war slogans and the man was welcomed with open arms by fans who’s eyes should have been wide open.
This is how the newco has come to this shattering pass, where, after years, I can remove the question mark from the name of this article.
Many people on both sides of the fence have asked me if I really do believe Rangers Football Club died in 2012. I can say yes with no dubiety. I am not stating an opinion, I am stating a fact. But I tell those same people that, to me, it doesn’t matter at all whether the club lives or died, whether the history continues or not. If the fans believe in it, that’s all that’s required, and it seems to me that they do. Strip away the legal arguments, the debates over form, and what you have left is the notion that a football club is an idea. Airdrie fans make no distinction, even though their club does not carry the history of the one which came before it, because it’s the spirit, the idea, that remains.
An entire generation of Rangers fans has grown up in the shadow of Murray, knowing nothing but the riches he bestowed. When that era ended – as it effectively did in 2008, with the transfer of their historical bank debt from HBOS to Lloyds, shortly after I penned my speculative, questioning piece – the jolt that should have come with that never came. The club acted as it always had, going on one last great splurge before Whyte arrived.
They were lulled into believing his purchase would usher in another period of living high and fast, of multi-million pound signings, of transfer war-chests.
The bafflement that none of this came to pass, the shock of administration and the shame and ignominy that accompanied their failure to get a CVA and the certain of death was forestalled by the efforts of some in our game to secure them a soft landing. Their fans were told that the First Death was nothing but a brief hiatus, that it would soon be “business as usual.”
Not even the NewCo having to start life in the lowest tier in the game brought home to them the reality of life as they should have been getting used to it. Instead, they were spoon-fed stories about how they would climb the leagues, building their financial strength, to reach a top division crippled by debts accrued in their absence, a game on its knees where all, including Celtic, would have all but collapsed without them. There, they would be the only genuine power.
It was nonsense, obvious nonsense, but they believed every word, and they were encouraged to keep on believing as McCoist accumulated players at a rate which should have been scaring the Hell out of everyone at Ibrox. Yes, these players were not the high profile big money signings of days gone by, but that was explained away as the club plying its trade in the lower leagues. The club was behaving just as it always had, albeit on a smaller scale.
And, of course, the big money signings would be along in no time at all. The club would climb back to the top, more investors would pour money in and before long the good times would be rolling all over again. Fantasy. All of it.
The reality of where they are, what they are, how things have changed, is yet to hit home.
Before this season ends, reality is going to hit like a sledgehammer.
Rangers, to all intents and purposes, is now dead.
If, as I’ve said, a football club is nothing but an idea, the supporters idea of what their club is will soon be forced to undergo a staggering, profound and fundamental transformation.
The behemoth that David Murray once called “Scotland’s biggest institution after the church” has been obliterated. All that’s left is a name, and a badge and the memories of what once made them great. The history may or may not go with those things, but it barely matters now. The future will in no way resemble the recent past.
A new era is about to begin at Ibrox, like none their fans has ever seen before. The rest of the country knows it as austerity. Loosely translated, it’s a strict diet of pain.
It can no longer be avoided. Only delayed.
And not for very much longer, at that.
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