Well, that didn’t take too long, did it? No sooner was the “revolution” in progress, but it’s over already. The masses have been told to sit on their grievances and the tanks have rolled backwards off the Ibrox lawn. Make no mistake about it, King’s bubble has been burst here. This is an unmitigated defeat for him, in every way.
So what happened here? What changed? The man who was sweeping into Glasgow and wasn’t going to leave until there was a plan is now backing the 120 day review which everyone knows is a waste of everyone’s time. Before I go on to talk about King, let me Illuminate the 120 day review for you, by putting it into some kind of context.
Let’s talk about Ross McEwan. He’s the CEO of the RBS Group, a position he took on in October 2013. One of the first tasks he undertook was a full-scale strategic review of the business. It investigated every aspect of their operations, made a raft of recommendations, and he published its report last month. From inception to publication, it took a little over four and a half months – somewhere between 130 – 150 days. Even as the report was being written, McEwan was not idle. He slashed costs, closed branches, laid off staff, sold off at least one trading arm, entered talks to diversify the business and started to trim off the fat.
The RBS Group has £19.8 billion in total revenue. It has £59 billion in equity, and over a £1,000 billion in total assets. It owns eight major subsidiaries, all involved in the finance sector, including the Royal Bank of Scotland itself and the National Westminster, it employs 118,000 people and amongst its many interests outside the UK is its position as the second largest shareholder in the Bank of China. Aside from that, it has links to companies in Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Romania and Bosnia and it has major offices in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan and Singapore.
The last time I looked, the “holding company” which owns Sevco Rangers didn’t even have a shop. Maybe it’s just me, but how does a company the size of the RBS Group take only marginally longer to put together a full scale strategic review than a company with less than 250 employees in total, and revenue in the low tens of millions? How come McEwan got busy making changes in the meantime, whilst Somers and Wallace are idle until the report comes out?
If you accept the fact – as we all now do – that Sevco Rangers require major cost cutting, on top of major infrastructure spending, and all this before another penny is spent on the first team squad; when you consider that the share issue’s disastrous aftermath has destroyed their credibility and ability to raise further funds; when you consider that the presence in the boardroom of one convicted fraudster makes them potentially toxic to anyone out with the Scottish bubble, and you layer on top of this the enormous mistrust out there amongst the Sevco Rangers support, it’s hard to imagine that the review will have good news in it.
So much of what happens at Ibrox right now is smoke and mirrors. There is no clear view of what’s going on inside the walls. This isn’t new. We’ve been here, in the exact same position, since Whyte’s regime in 2011. Indeed, Dave King played exactly the same game with Whyte during that period, demanding board meetings, flying in to get answers, and then slipping away again. He did nothing more than talk, and he kept on talking all the way through administration, then liquidation and then the Charles Green takeover. He made more noise during that period, but, again, did nothing.
So what’s going on here? What has happened? What changed during Friday’s meeting between the board and Dave King? This man wanted answers. Do you think he got any?
In 2011, he held a meeting with Craig Whyte to ask him about the financial position at Ibrox. Following that meeting he went back to South Africa, declaring that he’d been given the answers. He has since accused Whyte of having lied to him, a charge he’s also levelled at David Murray for the state of Rangers finances whilst he served on the board. If we’re to believe the “glib and shameless liar” he’s a man who’s just too trusting for his own good. All these nasty individuals have clearly spotted this trait in him, and taken full advantage.
I ask again; just what exactly was King told? What was the tone of the meeting? He’s retreated from a fight where he appeared to have the rank and file of the support on his side. They were ready to go, to burn down the village in order to save it, a perversity, as I stated in the last piece … but had he given the word, they would have done it and to Hell with the consequences.
The Peepil are looking for a leader. What have we learned about this one?
Aside from being too trusting, as we’ve already discussed, are we now to conclude that he’s also indecisive? He’s altered his stand here, and whilst it’s not a complete change of tone we can infer from his “let’s wait and see” comments that he’s paving the way for a full-scale climb-down. When the review comes out, I fully expect him to ask for time. Time for the plan to be put in place, time for it to work and then, of course, time for the world to realise it’s not working, and then this whole merry-go-round of nonsense can start all over again.
Incredibly, one Sevco Rangers fans site is already claiming this is a victory for King, with the assertion that he’s “backed the board into a corner.” The board has already responded, telling the press that they’ve wholeheartedly rejected King’s proposal that season ticket money should be ring-fenced. No matter what way some websites want to spin it, this is, to use the Glasgow vernacular, a knock-back. It’s a none-too-subtle finger pointed towards the door.
So, I ask again; what’s the cause of this?
Perhaps it would help to turn the clock back about a week, to when King made his comments about the club being on the verge, and about the fans not being able to trust the board. We’re going to hear a lot in the next few days about how King and the board held “amicable talks”, but that shouldn’t distract us from the facts here; King was not invited to attend a nice wee sit down with tea and biscuits. He was summoned, like a public schoolboy to the prefects room.
He even made sarcastic reference to the tone of the “invite” last week when he said; “I feel rather like the headmaster is looking to give me a caning.”
Let’s take a wee look, shall we, at the relevant section of the statement Rangers released, and which led King to make such an unusual, and oddly apt, comparison.
“The Board of Rangers International Football Club has noted your astonishing press releases over the past few days. These statements and innuendos are very damaging to the club, which we can only assume is your intention. We wish you to attend a meeting to explain your allegations in more detail as soon as possible. Please confirm your availability.”
I spent much of my late teens and twenties involved in political activity. I was given a crash course in media bias during that time, told how to read between the lines in press statements and public comments. Politics is full of wee nods and winks to the wise. There are certain code phrases that, to the trained eye, jump off a page at you.
I suggest it does not take any real skill to read the implicit threat in that statement. This was most certainly not a friendly statement saying, “please come around for a wee chat and let’s discuss these matters over Kit-Kats and coffee.”
It read, to me, when it was released, and even more so today, like the kind of thing you send just prior to letting slip the dogs of war, as a prelude to a raft of lawyers letters or worse. That King showed up at the meeting at all, at their place of choosing, going to their offices on his own time, was, in itself, a mark of weakness and a sign he realised he was coming dangerously close to crossing a big red line. In fact, questioning the board in the manner that he did put him awfully near to doing just that. It was what he did subsequently that really caused the trouble.
Making allegations about a company balance sheet is one thing. Taking a stand in a campaign to deprive it of customers with constant negative press and unfounded allegations is a criminal offence. Trying to damage a company’s share price by such aggressive means is against the law. Trying to force them into handing over assets they would otherwise not wish to part with is, I’m afraid, against the law. Tortious interference, injurious falsehood, trade libel … there are plenty of statutes which exist specifically to protect companies against former directors and shareholders who might wish to injure their reputation or restrict their ability to trade.
It appears clear to me that King was told to get his backside on a plane and get himself into Ibrox to explain his comments, or face the full weight of the legal consequences. The court case would have been a wonderful thing to see; two convicted fraudsters going head to head to see which one a jury believed. But it would also have meant opening up the books on both sides, and you don’t get the impression any of the respective sides wanted that. It’s the beautiful consequence of the Sevco Rangers situation being fronted by two such unscrupulous bands; none of the combatants wants this to go too far, because that would involve full disclosure all round.
The end result is that both sides have released nice, wee amicable statements, and the upshot of it is that the charade will go on, without end. The season ticket deadline will creep a little closer, and be allowed to arrive, and the forms will go out and the fans will be sold more stories about how everything is going to be alright. Perhaps a former player or manager will be recruited to the cause, and put himself out there as the public face of the “new plan.”
And the Sevco Rangers supporters are going to have to accept it, all of it, and swallow every bite. With the Great Leader putting aside his guns and suing for peace, they are without a figurehead and, once again, without a plan.
The King scheme was ludicrous. It was a shambles, with no earthly hope of yielding a positive outcome, but it brought the end of the whole mess a little bit closer. It would have been bloody, and brutal, and swift and terrible … but it would have been over nice and quick, with another dead football club and the clock re-set to zero all over again.
But this … it leaves everything in limbo, and delays the Day of Destiny. It pushes the whole affair a little further down the line, making a meltdown in the summer all the more likely, and assuring that next season is going to be one long nightmare from start to finish for those of a Sevco Rangers persuasion. It is an astonishing development, reeking of fear, weakness and lack of scruples or a coherent strategy on either side.
It is a circus without an end, a soap opera with no end date pencilled in.
For people like me, it’s the gift that never stops giving.
I literally cannot wait for the next, thrilling instalment.
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