One of the most interesting features of the latest crisis at Rangers is the way in which the media has been used to wage war via leaks and briefings.
It’s almost like a miniature version of Westminster politics in that it looks snide, bitchy and does no-one any good whatsoever.
With every leak comes the expectation of more. Indeed, some leaks are designed to send people scurrying about for further information. It is destabilising. It is embarrassing. It keeps the rest of the world at arm’s length, and it treats the Rangers fans like mugs.
Rangers supporters are shortly going to be asked to put their hands in their pockets, and stump up for next year’s season tickets. Those inside Ibrox have a brass neck for even daring to ask. They have given the fans nothing but garbage. They have kept them in the dark. They have cut them out of the most important discussions. They have allowed the club to drift back into darkness, and they’ve done it lying to the supporters all the while.
If you believe the spin from Ibrox, everything is alright. We all know it’s not. To pretend otherwise is to insult the intelligence of every person watching.
As someone who has been watching for a long time, I can see clearly that trouble is never behind Rangers anymore. It’s simply on the other side of the wheel, coming around again.
How did it get like that? It got like that because since the 1980’s that club has never had to live within its means. Fans have been spoon-fed notions of superiority until the idea is grossly entwined with the psyche of the support. When Ally McCoist threw “We are the people” at a Sky Sports News journalist recently, a section of the Rangers support applauded like performing seals who’d just been tossed a fish. The rest of the world – including much of the club’s own fan base – cringed. McCoist was not simply playing to the gallery. He was playing to the gutter.
It’s hard at times not to strongly dislike McCoist. The man with so many friends in the media cannot possibly be the cynical, arrogant, bitter, angry and reckless individual who so often comes across these days. He strikes me as someone underhanded, someone sneaky, someone of low cunning who resorts to feigning ignorance when he has raised a storm, or provoked a controversy. He knows his friends in the media will give him an easy ride, and he is well aware that he has a loud, vocal following amongst the support.
He plays to this following constantly, most notably in his now infamous “we don’t do walking away” speech. This has been held up as an example of how he will fight Rangers corner to the bitter end, but of course it is no such thing.
His refusal to walk away from the tribulations at Ibrox is not purely down to his allegiances. In case it has escaped the notice of the fans, this guy is in a well-paid job, which he’s doing badly. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t walk away either, especially as it’s very likely to be his last in management. I would hang on in there like grim death. I would not leave voluntarily under any circumstances. I would not go until they used pliers to pull my fingernails out of the desk.
Allow me to be blunt. McCoist knows what Green knew and what Whyte before him did. He knows how to appeal to a section of the Rangers support. He talks the talk. He says the things they want to hear. He is “one of them” and speaks their language. He does all of this because if he didn’t, if he was just another football manager, he would have been fired long ago as useless. He won his first trophy as manager a few weeks ago … the Third Division title. With the second most expensive squad not in that league, but the whole country. His team were awful to watch, which is the hallmark of his teams, from the minute he took over in the post.
Let’s be honest; even when he had a full strength Rangers team, utilising talents such as Jelavic and Davis and McGregor, they were dire. Cup exits, European disasters, throwing away a double digit league lead … this is the managerial record which lies behind the “Rangers till I die” exterior, and this is the very reason for it. If he was not “Super Ally” everyone knows he’d be long gone.
McCoist has a salary that is large beyond belief, given to him when the club was still in the SPL and Europe. On top of that, he has a very nice package of shares, and doubtless he is well aware of what would happen to the value of those if he was to throw up his hands and say “enough is enough.” If Rangers fans are waiting for leadership from him – real leadership – they’re going to have a long, long wait. He’s not shown any yet, and he won’t.
There are other people at Ibrox playing the same game. Foremost amongst them is, of course, Walter Smith. That’s another unpopular opinion to hold, but I stand to it all the same. Quite how this guy can brass-neck it in his non-executive post I do not know, but it’s widely believed that it was his decision to take a seat on the board that lent the early legitimacy to Green and his people which sold the successful share issue. How did Green get Smith on board? Not by being open, and transparent, with him, surely? Because then Smith would never have taken a seat. I know a £70,000 job for life didn’t hurt, nor did the offer of shares to go with it.
Smith is one of the people pushing an agenda through the media. But he’s doing it from behind the curtain of intermediaries and “friends of” attributions, rather than simply walking out of the front door and calling a press conference. If Smith gave a damn – if he genuinely cared about the Rangers fans, as he has spent a career claiming – he might be willing to put aside his Ibrox pension plan and his nest egg of shares. Say whatever you like about John Brown. He did it. He resigned from his job, and tried to tell the fans what was going on. He looked like an idiot doing it … but he was right.
In contrast to Brown, who put himself on the line, and did it by stepping into the front line, it is tempting to look at Walter Smith and say he’s bought and paid for, that it’s the money he values, not the supporters. Rangers fans looking for leadership need not bother looking to Smith. His conduct as manager is part of the reason they are in this shambles – a big part. His is a short-term outlook.
Tomorrow is all that matters to this guy and tomorrow he’ll still be on the board.
Short-termism is a big problem at Rangers, and it’s the reason their supporters need to start bracing themselves. That club has problems so huge that quantifying them is a monstrous task. Between a media that feeds them a constant diet of bullshit and the mendacity of those who are in positions of responsibility at the club there are real problems there and the fans don’t know a tenth of it. What can we say for sure? It will be a long road back.
This is where Rangers fans have to wake up and smell the coffee.
The club is in a real bind right now, and everywhere they turn the bonds get tighter and the options narrow further. With losses of £1 million per month it is evident to almost any person with a modicum of sanity that they can’t increase their spending, as has been mooted in the press. Without over-draft facilities, without the understanding of a bank – which they don’t have and will not get – who the Hell is going to carry that debt when the well runs dry, as it will?
Forget the possibility of others investing. Forget that utterly, and entirely. With the present owners, and the people waiting in the wings, that is simply not going to happen unless these people are deep Rangers men … and we’ve already seen the mentality of deep Rangers men like McCoist and Smith. No-one is going to chuck money down a bottomless pit just so a football club can climb back up through the ranks of Scottish football. It is ludicrous. At the present “burn rate” it would cost a minimum of £12 million per annum to keep the Good Ship Rangers afloat. The higher the club climbs the higher the annual outgoings … and the higher the level of debt.
Don’t be fooled into thinking a swift rise will see money pile up in the bank. I said earlier that this club hasn’t had to live within its means for almost 30 years, and that mean an entire generation of Rangers fan have grown up seeing success built on someone else’s money. They are simply not psychologically built for anything else. Trying to explain to them that the club can only spend what it earns is like trying to explain Pythagorean theory to a six year old. Charles Green spoon-fed them an entire banquet of bollocks earlier this year by talking about how the club could earn £100 million per year, and put them on a par with Real Madrid and Man Utd … it was fantasy, but without a doubt there are people out there who believed every word.
Celtic, with a complete infrastructure, fully integrated and organic, at the height of their earnings, made £70 million one year, with Champions League football. It was a one off and we’ve not come close to it since. Even “healthy” Rangers never came close to that kind of annual income, with European football, season ticket sales and a good team on the park. How in God’s name could anyone believe they would do it from a standing start, marooned in the lower leagues and without access to European income of any kind? Madness.
At the present time, Rangers has no infrastructure far less the kind needed to raise that kind of money. To invest in that stuff properly costs millions, and the payoff doesn’t come for years. The youth academy is sucking money out of the club like a vampire drinks blood, but the idea of cutting back on that is insanity, because that needs to be the production line for the team in the future. But to get that up to snuff won’t be possible with cuts … in fact, multiple millions more will need to be spent on that project in order to make it work right. That’s a scouting network, a coaching network, money for signings, investment in new facilities and technology … all these things are going to cost money to build and worse … they are an on-going expense.
Why did I mention cuts? I did so, Rangers fans, because that is your future, if you want to survive. And it’s well past time someone was straight with you about that. McCoist telling the world about wanting six or seven new players, of talking about raising the standard of the squad – and I say again, the second most expensive squad in the country – is leading you to one place only; the abyss. The club cannot afford it.
The immediate future is about creating a sustainable business, not chasing pipedreams of a Scottish Cup with blue ribbons on it.
The talk that “real Rangers men” will be next to own the club should scare the bejesus out of all of you. Because if these “real Rangers men” come in with a plan to spend their way back to the top of the Scottish game you are on a road to nowhere. The last thing you will see are the rocks as the ship once again runs aground, and you will deserve everything you get for letting the club fall into the hands of people who have no long term goals.
Here’s what needs to happen. Rangers needs to make drastic cuts across the board. Far from adding to the playing squad, it needs to be slashed. Bye-bye big earners. You can no longer afford them. That’s a simple fact of life. If you don’t believe me look again at the figures; losses of £1 million a month my friends. That’s a loss of £12 million a year, and if you think that should be easy money to recoup, let me clue you in. Say you increase season ticket prices by a £100 each. Providing you sell 40,000 of them, you’ve bagged £4,000,000 extra. Say you sell the naming rights to the stadium, and that brings you in the estimated £1 million. Say the new bar makes £1 million a year in profit … which is quite ludicrous, but say it does. You’re only halfway home, but now in order to break even you only have to make £6 million worth of cuts.
If you cut a player earning £4000 a week that will save you a little over £200,000. Cut six of those players and you’re only a fifth of the way there. Do you get it now?
Do you get how deep the hole is?
Do you get how heavy, how horrendous, those cuts might need to be? Say you had players at the club earning £10,000 a week. Cut five of them – your five best players, your top stars, the guys fans pay to go and watch every week – and in the scenario outlined above, where you can add £6,000,000 to your earnings, you will break even.
But in that scenario, will you be able to sell 40,000 season tickets? Will you sell any? The stands would be empty, but that, whether you like it or not, is the future … if you want to have a future.
There are people on the board advocating exactly the course of action I’ve just outlined. A huge rise in prices, and a huge drop in costs. Those voices, believe it or not, are the only sane people at your club. They deal in hard numbers, and in reality.
Instead of pursuing that path people are talking about opening talks with Kris Boyd and Nacho Novo. Have you learned nothing? I heard one fan say the other night “Novo would run into a wall for the Rangers jersey …” and I have no doubt he would. Slowly. Another fan talked about how quick he looked in the Rangers “charity” game recently, apparently without realising he’d been playing alongside an out of shape, overweight fifty year old …. I stipulate that I too would look like Usain Bolt in those circumstances.
Yet even if it were true, even if Novo had lightening pace and the ability to open up defences with one flick of his boot, what would be the point? Rangers will be playing in Division 2 next season, Scottish football’s third tier. Do they need Nacho Novo and Kris Boyd to get out of a league of part-time teams? What kind of vote of confidence is that in the youth setup? What does it say about the mentality of the management team?
These people are gambling with the future stability of your football club (such as it is) for the sake of what? A quick fix.
There is no quick fix. There is no easy way out. Rangers is facing a journey that will take years and years, and winning the Third Division is not a sign of forward progress, because the club is still going backwards.
It’s spending money it hasn’t got, it is living on borrowed time and planning for a future it might not have. Every penny should be a prisoner. Yet they are talking to Jon Daly and Cammy Bell and putting out feelers to other SPL players. Surely utilising the best of Rangers’ youth is a better bet than that? Surely that’s the sensible, sane thing to do?
Yet McCoist will bleat that his hands are being tied, as Walter Smith once did when the cuts began to bite. Had the bank not put the brakes on Rangers’ running up of debt there would have been no need for Craig Whyte and his ruinous term.
The club would have gone to the wall anyway. Those who blame the bank have no idea what they are talking about. The only rational course of action was to cut, and cut to the bone. When the club refused to do it for themselves the bank decided to do it for them, and even that was resisted.
Was it resisted for the benefit of the club? Of course not. The best interests of the club would have been served by its surviving.
The people who defended their right to spend their way towards the grave are those whose names are held in the greatest reverence by the supporters they have betrayed, let down and failed; Smith, McCoist, Paul Murray, John Greig.
This is the future? It reeks of the failings of the past. Rangers is not moving up but, to paraphrase Bill Paxton, are on an “express elevator to Hell … Going down.”
That’s the inconvenient truth. These people are not going to save Rangers. They are part of the problem. They are the vested interests. They hold the shares, they draw the big salaries, they are looking at their own prosperity, and their own balance sheets, at their own CV’s, and their own places in history. They are not going to walk away, because it’s not in their interests to do so.
They talk a good game though. They talk about having the club’s “best interests” at heart. They are the Great Pretenders. They are inside the walls, peering out. If they were as dedicated to the cause as they claim, they would give it to you straight. They would walk out together, call a press conference and tell you what’s really going on. That would require an act of sacrifice, not platitudes and weasel words.
It’s not going to happen. These are not the leaders Rangers needs.
I strongly suspect they are what the club will get.
The lessons haven’t been learned.
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