Odd that many of us saw it coming a mile away, isn’t it?
They’ve yet to find a Nominated Adviser.
There are rumours abound of unpaid HMRC debts and of a looming cash shortfall which Ashley is demanding blood to make up, as if King and his group would have the brass neck to actually go to him for it and face the media and the fans afterwards.
More darkly, there are rumours of ructions inside Ibrox itself.
What has happened since King and his consortium won their “victory”?
I think to properly answer that we need to look at the “victory” itself. At what it accomplished. At exactly what the “winners” got. At the totality of it.
The media would have you believe that this was plain sailing all the way, that King and his cohorts walked into Ibrox and tinted the windows blue before Ashley or anyone had a chance to do something about it.
Well the same media would have had you believe Craig Whyte was a billionaire too.
Keith Jackson and The Record are busily claiming credit for their work on these stories, but let’s face it, everyone out there knows it was the Internet Bampots who got there first. We showed them where to dig. We told them what to look for, or they’d have been stumbling about in the dark until the day Whytey pulled the plug. All the bluster doesn’t hide that fact.
Nor is King’s glorious takeover quite as game-changing as it seemed to be.
For a start, I must have missed the easy victory part of it, because from where I’m sitting very little of this looked easy, or went according to plan.
In the beginning, King made a declaration that he wouldn’t be paying any of the spivs to clear out. He wanted, if you remember, to sweep into Ibrox like a conqueror, on the back of a fans revolution, having bought not one single share with his own money.
His plan, as bizarre as it was unlikely, was to force the board to walk away on its own, faced with a fans revolt and falling attendances. Instead, the directors dug in and finally embraced Mike Ashley, relying on his short term loans to keep on the lights.
King drove them to that, creating the off-the-scale crisis he and his allies now have to deal with, and at the end of it, Mike Ashley’s own power grab and share purchase is what finally forced King to put his hand in his pocket.
If that’s a triumph it’s very like the one Pyrrhus won at the Battle of Asculum, from where the modern expression a “Pyrrhic victory” comes. Ashley has unlimited funds. If this gets nasty he can make life extremely hard for the Ibrox regime.
So what exactly did they get anyway? They got a club sitting on volcano of financial problems and onerous contracts. That’s the reality and there are three ways out of it and none good.
1) For King and others to spend their own money, and to raise additional capital from the fans, most of which will go into the pockets of second rate footballers, which are the best the club will get without a scouting system to find good ones.
2) To slash costs to the bone. To invest what little funds they have in youth and to try and sell the fans on years and years of mediocrity and pain.
3) To burn it all down and start again. Liquidation II. Rangers III. Whatever they call it, it will bear no resemblance to what they were and little compared to what they currently are. More years of pain, but no more onerous contracts, at least …
Do you think their fans are up for one of those scenarios?
It sounds unlikely, right?
On top of that, the number of U-turns the board has made since it “took over” tells its own story.
The appointment of Chris Graham as a director was a threefold disaster; first it disenfranchised the Rangers First guys who were hoping the King era would herald in a genuine opportunity for some form of fan ownership. King has never supported that idea and it has already been dashed in a move that the media didn’t even try to look into in any detail although it was a blatantly political one, and telling of the regime King wants to run.
Secondly, but on the same thread, Graham was already a divisive figure amongst their support and King appeared to be rewarding him for loyalty to his own personal cause, that of boycotts and starving the club of money. Fans who were already unhappy over that campaign looked at the Graham appointment and at King himself and saw a man who talks a good game about supporter engagement and transparency, but really wants yes men who won’t rock the boat.
Third was Chris Graham himself, a bomb just waiting to go off considering the torrent of vitriol that has poured out of his Twitter feed over the years. The decision is almost impossible to credit in the cold of hindsight, but it didn’t take a genius to have seen this coming from the off, and Celtic cyberspace reacted in astonishment and undisguised mirth on the night it was announced.
I mean, let’s be blunt; if a mug like me can spot the looming catastrophe here in less than a minute, how the Hell did the Sevco board miss it? Their judgement reeks, and that’s already evident, and no-one in the media seems to give a damn.
Then there’s King and Murray’s “we’ll take our time appointing a manager”, and not wanting to be bounced into a hasty decision. It took less than a week before McDowell was away and McCall was in, but they claim that’s only till the end of the season.
Well if you believe that I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
This is the perfect appointment. He’s loved by the media. He’s got the “Real Rangers” credentials. He knows Scottish football and he’s prepared to work on a shoestring, with low expectations.
It’s as close to an exact fit as they are going to get. A non-controversial, safe, cheap and easy option.
The very nature of the shambles he’s inherited is his alibi if he doesn’t get them into, or through, the playoffs.
He’ll be there next season too. Nothing surer.
Besides all that, McCall is a proud man. He wouldn’t have gone to the club to be somebody’s place holder, not unless he’s desperate, and a man who’s on the telly that often isn’t struggling to pay his rent. He also has a neat little gig at the Scottish national team, which does him as a wee part-time number. He doesn’t need a temp job on top of it.
Then there’s the failure, thus far, to find a new nominated advisor, and the clock continues to count inexorably down on that one, giving them little time left to get that done before AIM regulations kick in and they find themselves de-listed.
Some think that would suit King and his plans. They may be right, because de-listing will remove some of those pesky “openness and transparency” requirements which we’re told are such a big deal at Ibrox now. I’ve never believed King was serious about those either.
The club is still leaking money. Neither King nor others have presented as business plan coached in even the vaguest terms. All the Sevco fans have had for their considerable pain are “statements of intent.”
Christ, statements of intent are all well and good; I am writing a novel which I’m going to market myself into being a UK wide best-seller. That’s the intent. The reality will probably be a lot of work and not much to show for it, but I keep my expectations in check whilst being determined to put in time and effort, and even money.
King and his people will have to find monumental reservoirs of all three, but that last one especially. Keeping expectations in check will prove impossible as the media multiplies numbers into “transfer warchests” and accepts, without dispute, King’s assertion that the club is just two years away from being the second biggest team in the country.
They’re going to need to keep on carrying this club’s debts, and all those unrealistic ambitions, without any hope of recovering a penny, and probably for years to come. Will they do it? I doubt it. Rumour has it some want to walk softly and build from scratch, in total contrast to King’s “a few years of overspending will be needed” nonsense. Those on the board who are “thinking the unthinkable” have been told not to bother. That’s not the Rangers way, and it’s that which Sevco appears determined to copy.
This is a recipe for further internecine strife, as it’s a matter of time before one of the “investors” refuses to dig any deeper, spreading the burden more heavily across the others.
Some think the trouble has started already.
King appointing Park to the board but not his two mates, Latham or Taylor, has already got tongues wagging. Divide and conquer? Keep them from holding too much power as a group? Possible. Very possible indeed, especially when one considers that he and Murray passed up another chance to appoint them to the board when they handed directorships to John Bennett, along with Graham, before the latter self-destructed.
I also find King’s departure from these shores not long after “taking control” to be highly interesting, especially in light of some whispers around the campfire.
Now, Paul Murray is sitting on the Ibrox board at the moment in full contravention of numerous company regulations and the SFA’s own “fit and proper person” criteria. Not a word has been raised against him in the fortnight he’s been in post.
This is typical of the governing body’s shameful and cowardly way of doing business, but it makes you wonder why, if it was this easy (and it evidently is this easy, in Scotland, if you’re involved with that club), King didn’t do the same?
His position is a little different of course, but there are things he could be doing to work his way through the maze of issues he might have. He needs to talk to the Stock Exchange, to petition a court, to sit down with the SFA. Is any of that happening? Behind the scenes, it may well be, but the guy’s return to South Africa, leaving it all behind, doesn’t suggest a man in a hurry.
That could cause problems for those who are sitting holding the bag right now. The short term funding gap has to be met. Ashley still hasn’t agreed to forward them the second £5 million, and the whispers suggest his terms for doing so are shockingly high.
In the meantime, rumours circulate of bills not being paid on time, including one to HMRC, and of player wages due at the end of the month when the cupboard is essentially bare.
The much-hoped-for increase in attendances at Ibrox hasn’t materialised. The “feel good factor” has been erased by the Chris Graham scandal and a series of dreadful results. Even the scheme to get the stadium repaired, on the cheap, has been grounded by articles accusing the guy running it of comments that make the fan turned former director look like a master of diplomacy.
Crisis continues to swirl round Ibrox like a plague of locusts.
And worse might still be to come.
Rumours abound of even bigger problems, as the size of the hole in the balance sheet comes more into focus. Douglas Park is said to be extremely leery at the prospect of being the man holding the bag if the club finds itself trading whilst insolvent. For he, Murray, Gilligan and Bennett have not failed to notice that King’s absence from the board leaves him in the clear as regards a director’s legal responsibilities in this area.
It also keeps King’s fingerprints off the steering wheel if the club is forced into a new administration event, probably at the close of business this season, should they fail to get automatic promotion. That would trigger an automatic 25 point penalty for next year, of course, which is why if they are counted out of a play-off spot they may decide to jump early.
Taking that hit right now would put them above the relegation zone and so they’d be largely untouched, at least in football terms, by such a decision, although it would be an utter scandal if they were to get away with something as blatant as that.
Park and his friends must already be wondering if they’ve been set up to take the fall for that.
Of course, another season in the Championship would inflict appalling reputational and financial damage on the club, but that will perhaps matter less to King than having to find, from his own pockets, the kind of money that would stave off the near certainty of abject humiliation at every turn if they were able, somehow, to reach the SPL with the current squad.
The fans need to be kept onside, but trying to sell them on Championship football for another year – and definitely without Hearts and probably without Hibs to keep it interesting – will be fatal to the plans for bumping up season ticket prices, and they’ll still need to sell out to get in the kind of money they’ll require to do even the most basic rebuilding job on the team.
No wonder the air is alive with whispers … and moans.
This is the future. It looks an awful lot like the last couple of years, doesn’t it?
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