When the on-field limp begins to reflect the off-field wounds.
28 February 2011 02:51
Recent years at Rangers have shown an almost miraculous ability to combat critical issues, but for some it's all too much. When you drill down to it, The Rangers support, increasingly to a man, has known at the back of its collective mind that the situation we are in is dire. Many of us will be in agreement that we’ve been urinating into the proverbial wind for three years yet, miraculously, we have managed to avoid getting wet. Sooner or later, the stranglehold that being owned by Sir David Murray has placed us under was always going to come close to killing us. I say Sir David Murray rather than Lloyds bank specifically, as our current situation has been clouded by the usual sea of half-truths, speculation and contradictions that we’ve now come to expect from the Ayrshire millionaire. I won’t sit here and try to claim the moral high-ground by claiming recent results against the filth haven’t had any impact on what I’m about to write: They have, and I’ll get to that later. However, let me start from the very beginning of this, probably the sorriest episode in the never-ending series that is ‘The David Murray Show’. It all started in January 2009. Rampant speculation built up suggesting that our top goal scorer was subject to a bid from Alex McLeish’s Birmingham. The source was originally an article from The Scottish Sun that was brief and lacking in quotes – normally the tell-tale signs of a non-story. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that: the bid from Brum was legit and the then-chairman was about to inform us of news that would utterly stun. After coming off of our most commercially lucrative season ever - I’ll write that again for extra emphasis: After coming off of our most commercially lucrative season EVER – The chairman was about to confirm that despite all of this - and after a historic European run the year before – our finances were once again down the toilet. Murray told the Guardian at the time: "If we did not take this action [selling Boyd], it could have been bad but there are far worse situations developing around us and I will not allow it to spiral again. Rangers have to be run on a sound fiscal basis." As we all know and remember, Boyd rejected the move to Brum after personal terms could not be agreed. In typical Murray style, however, he was soon to contradict himself completely after the transfer window closed when he said: "The Boyd situation is simple. We received an offer that we believed, collectively, Walter Smith, manager and Martin Bain, chief executive represented good business. "The player then went to Birmingham and refused terms. That is where it stands. But Rangers will go on whether the player goes or not. In that sense, it is immaterial whether he stays or goes." I don’t know about you, but I see two statements that glaringly contradict one another. That wasn’t the end of it, however, as a leading football agent told national commercial radio station TalkSport the same month, that literally ‘every Rangers player was for sale’, with the likely culprit Wullie McKay later declaring that Rangers CEO Martin Bain had instructed him to sell a raft of high earning first team stars, citing McKay’s ability to “get the job done” as the reason behind him being allocated this particular mission. Murray issued a ‘denial’ in The Sunday People soon after which actually confirmed McKay’s claim in a roundabout way. So we were back up the financial creek without a paddle. Despite a debt that was dwindling, a tremendous run to a European Final, solid season/match day ticket sales and several impressive fees recouped for players all culminating in what was officially the most commercially lucrative season in the history of Rangers Football Club, our debt somehow increased and we needed to make drastic cuts. It was truly one of the most shocking revelations in our recent history, and it left us wondering where our money was actually going. But it was only going to get worse. In the summer of the same year, Rangers managed to cut the wage bill by well over £200,000 per week (Over £10m a year) by moving on a raft of first team squad members. To the credit of Walter Smith and the board, the club maintained most of our key players but we were left well-short of numbers in the squad, a huge potential problem that thankfully was not exploited by Tony Mowbray’s inability to field a team capable of challenging for the SPL title. To make matters worse – our solitary signing that season, Jerome Rothen, had his loan spell at the club cut-short after an ineffective first half to the season. Despite the support rationally assuming that we would be able to bring in a player or two using Rothen’s estimated £18,000 per week wage - an assumption further justified by the departure of another high-earner in Pedro Mendes to Sporting Lisbon - the Rangers support were again left scratching their heads as there were no incoming transfers to the Champions in the January window of the 2009/2010 SPL season. Despite wage bill cuts approaching a yearly amount equal to what we paid Chelsea for Tore Andre Flo ten years prior, we were, it seemed, unable to strengthen a threadbare squad. On the plus side though, and once again to the eternal credit of RFC, we managed to keep hold of our key first team players who were contributing well on a consistent basis at the time: Something the ageing Mendes wasn’t able to do thanks to an injury laden first half to the season. To compound matters, all of this was happening when we were performing well in the SPL and enjoying the financial perks that automatic Champions League qualification would bring. ‘Mystified’ just didn’t do justice to the general feeling of the Rangers support then, or indeed now. After we won the SPL title for the second consecutive season in 2010, it appeared that following some pleading words from Walter Smith himself, those big bad bankers who had been subject to a tongue-lashing or six from him over the previous months had decided to relent and kindly let Rangers buy players – with money raised from selling yet more players from our already limited squad. We were all left pleased with the quality of players we brought in but once again, the number of players who moved on last summer was more than the number that came in, and with our continued reluctance to promote youth in decent numbers - or use youth in Cup competition domestically given our hectic schedule - we were again left to face a season at home and abroad with a woefully small squad. For just over two years, Rangers have been fire-fighting. Nobody should be surprised that this is happening; it was only a matter of time. For the record, there is every chance the worst effects of this could be delayed a bit longer, but I for one am getting fed up standing on the middle of the motorway waiting for the big Eddie Stobart truck to knock us down. We all know, deep down, that as soon as some kind of on-field failure in the league occurs, that it’s highly likely that we are going to encounter huge problems off the field. The reality is that on-field failure and the ‘huge problems’ I speak of are hopefully going to be the precursor to change at Ibrox. Walter Smith and Martin Bain have done an outstanding job of keeping the club together during these turbulent times – that should never be forgotten and both men, Walter in particular, should be commended for this. His contribution since coming back has only strengthened his status as a legend despite the split opinion toward his on-field approach. Something from the previous two years that I sadly can’t spare the Rangers management team and board from, however, is the constant stream of contradictory information and statements that has made its way out from the Club. One minute “everyone is for sale”, the next “we don’t have to sell anyone”. On other occasions we’ve told the world “the bank runs the club” only to play it down days later. Our current chairman, who appears to have vanished without a trace, has justified our constant flip-flopping on the issue by saying our relationship with Lloyds bank is ‘a fluid situation’ i.e. our status with the bank changes all the time as per their business needs. Sadly, that statement has never quite cut it for me, and the only thing fluid about this whole thing is in the way we’ve had the piss taken out of us by those who run the club. Fiscally, they’ve done a remarkable job with a fair-share of luck involved. Keeping Davis, Bougherra, McGregor and others when we’re so up against it financially is something of which to be proud. However, their communication with the fans – the handling of information and expectation that we as fans hand over money up front for the past two seasons whilst not knowing who or what we’re funding for the following season - has for me become a bridge too far. Which leads me to the significance of the recent Celtic games – The concern for me here is that the current board and management of the club have grown into a sort of comfort zone. It all started by us being charged £38+ booking fee for tickets for the Old Firm cup game in January. During this game, we were a man up and a goal up – and to everyone’s surprise, we actively went out with a mentality that wasn’t becoming of a team trying to win the game, very much echoing the poor performance in the fixture in the SPL at the beginning of the same month. I personally decided that Rangers would not get another penny from me after that cup game. I don’t need to state the obvious about the difficulties many of us have paying for tickets when we have families to keep in this climate: the team’s approach in this one-off must win fixture, along with the last two derby SPL matches potently symbolised the problems we have. Our first team appear to be a spent force – lacking in interest and focus because they have zero competition for a first team place. Our manager, like him or not, just doesn’t do squad rotation or youth promotion unless his hand is forced. So we now face a situation where our first team at the moment isn’t good enough and we can’t and won’t change it. But we still pay our money and I think despite the small decrease in numbers, the club have taken our blind loyalty a little too for granted by anyone’s standards. Sorry, but I am not propping up failure- none of our fans should. We are funding a situation that is only going to lead to failure – failure that if it wasn’t for the current management team steadying the ship, would already have happened years ago. We’ve all wanted a change of approach, change of ethos and a complete shift from the short-term, ‘boom and bust’ mentality that has saw us teetering on the financial brink twice in less than ten years. Sadly, due to the furthering financial problems in recent years we have regressed even from that. We do not have the talent on or off the pitch to run Rangers effectively anymore. As a support, we have been very kind to the board and management team – we’ve taken everything said to us at face value. But the time has come for proper communication with the man who truly holds all the cards: Sir David Murray. Questions about the ongoing HMRC tax investigation, and links between Murray’s companies and the aggressive attitude of Lloyds bank to Rangers over what is a perfectly manageable debt from a club who have implemented some shrewd fiscal measures in recent years, have not been met with satisfactory answers. Rangers quite like it when we pay our money, sit down and shut up. We can’t do it anymore – we just can’t. Answers to many, many questions are required, and only the man who has disappeared into the night can answer them properly, as he still holds all of the cards. One wonders if the warning that Sir David Murray claimed he was trying to send us by selling Boyd in January of 2009 is the real reason behind the financial handcuffs that have been placed on us, with anonymous, invisible bankers quite happy to take the blame and be the ‘face’ behind the cuts as it gives them just cause to get their money back more quickly. There aren’t too many other arms of Murray’s empire that can raise seven figure sums by selling off assets so instantly. Our club bemoan financial pressure from the bank on one hand yet announce excellent half-year profits on the other; they blame the bank for the restrictions yet charge us through the nose for games we’ve actively tried not to win; they demand we pay for our season ticket in advance over a short timescale at inflated prices while warning us that we can’t spend money and are open to offers for our star players despite the relative success we’ve had recently in maintaining them. On-field failure is the excuse the money men need to make further cuts – and it’s the excuse many of our support will need to get off their backside and demand change at Ibrox, along with clarification on what our real problems. Enough is enough: our expectations have been managed very well by the club – we’re quite tolerant of the hardships we now face - because we’re so splintered and blindly loyal that we refuse to speak up en-masse. So long as the season ticket cash keeps rolling in, change will be delayed that little bit longer. We need to stop propping up a system that is not sustainable in the medium to long term, a regime of noble-yet-helpless individuals fighting the tide of faceless penny-pinchers. This is and always has been about more than one title or season – it’s about getting our club back. Sorry if this is negative, but I don’t care how we get there – the sooner we face the inevitable, the better as far as I’m concerned.