Two years on - appraising the Rangers board

Current Affairs
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The Extraordinary General Meeting of 2015 was undoubtedly a turning point in Rangers history as Dave King, Douglas Park & Co wrestled control from the parasitic regime that had brought our club to its knees and turned our institution into no more than a glorified outlet for Sports Direct.

Supporters heralded the beginning of a bright new chapter and the first steps on our ‘irreversible’ road back to the top of Scottish football as the Rangers men in the Blue Room began their attempts to restore our club to its former glory. The fans rallied behind the new regime and, as ever, ploughed our hard-earned cash into the coffers to fund the rebuild that was needed firstly to achieve promotion to the Premiership and secondly to challenge Celtic for the title.

But trust has to be earned and maintained. No board at Rangers Football Club should ever again be afforded the luxury of blind faith regardless of who they are or what they have achieved.

So almost two years on from their ascent to power I think it is more than reasonable to revisit some of the promises made and evaluate the performance of the current custodians in that time.

Nomad/Share Listing

Following the resignation of WH Ireland, Nomad to the club under the previous regime, only days prior to the EGM, the first issue facing Dave King and his board of directors was the appointment of a new Nominated Advisor.

The chairman told STV News that he had “in advance of the change of board, ensured there is another Nomad willing to come in”. King continued “if we succeed then we will get it immediately. It’s a process that would be done in a day or so”. He later said in his post-EGM interview that the process could take up to four weeks.

Evidently things weren’t so straightforward.

Within a month of gaining control the club was delisted from the AIM stock exchange. The club said that “we regret that, because of the past actions of those with control of the company” the appointment of a Nomad had not been possible.

King of course was previously indifferent about the issue, even going as far as to describe it as “completely unimportant” and stating that his “personal preference would be for [Rangers] to be not listed”. The chairman did however state that out of respect for institutional investors and the support it was “very, very important that we keep the public listing”.

Overall then it’s probably fair to acknowledge that his was an early blot on the copybook.

Fan Ownership/Club1872

Fan ownership finally rocketed when 'The Three Bears' purchased approximately 16% of Rangers in a deal worth almost £2.7m and started the chain of events that led to the KingCo regime taking control of the club.

Rangers First became the largest fan ownership group in the United Kingdom at its peak and, when coupled with the Rangers Supporters Trust, the momentum behind this movement was staggering.

Dave King addressed supporters outside the stadium post-EGM and stated that the fans were “the most important stakeholder” in the club and that the new board would “work very, very hard to increase fan ownership”. He added “we will work with the fans, we will look to get fan representation on the board”.

So nearly two years down the line, where do we stand?

Representation - Within a week of taking control Rangers appointed Chris Graham to the board as a fan representative. Unfortunately this can only be viewed as a disappointing error and within a few days, following intense pressure regarding an offensive tweet, the newly appointed director had tendered his resignation. No further such appointment or replacement has been made.

Ownership – The stability which followed the EGM seemed to result in a growing apathy where fan ownership was concerned. Both Rangers First and the RST saw contributions decrease and changing that is, despite their best efforts, an uphill task.

Club1872 however was the proposed solution, uniting the various fan groups under one umbrella and allowing one voice to represent the support. It would see RF and the RST merge, pooling resources and making regular dialogue with the club more straightforward.

The merger was agreed by the overwhelming majority of members of all groups despite the process appearing to be unnecessarily rushed and placed on a timescale that didn’t allow for full and proper consultation. It also appeared, despite stressing its independence, to be pushed by the club itself.

A new fan board was democratically elected on 30 September 2016 but since then it has all been rather quiet. Moreover, despite the soundbites to increase fan ownership the club appear to have done very little. Club1872 meeting minutes show the issue of board representation being raised with Stewart Robertson and were told that “these things would evolve in time”. I guess we’re still waiting.

In addition, Club1872, despite having funds available, have apparently not been invited to provide funding to the club on a similar basis to other investors, something which could prevent against future dilution of their shareholding.

In truth it’s probably fair to say that, at best, the fans are being kept at arm’s length. This is rather disappointing given the previous soundbites post-EGM.

Could the board do more? Could Club1872 do more? Was the merger a mistake? All valid questions that are worth considering. All in all, there is much work to be done in this department as any positive momentum seems to have been lost.

Funding/Investment

Investment has arguably been the issue that has been discussed more than any other on social media and on forums in relation to the current board. To date, from available information, approximately £13m has been provided in the shape of interest and security-free loans with around another £1m forecast to be required next month.

Of that money £10.025m is accounted for:

Dave King - £3.7m
Douglas Park, John Bennett and Paul Murray – £2.45m
George Taylor, George Letham & Co - £3.875m
A further £2.9m was invested in October 2016 but no detail was provided.

Of the £13m to date, £5m was used to repay the infamous Sports Direct loan, leaving the remaining £8m as capital to run the club and help fund the team over the past two years. That level of investment is certainly not insignificant however it is arguably much lower than supporters were led to expect.

In an interview with the Daily Mail Dave King, prior to gaining control, stated that “my view of what it will take to make Rangers competitive again is bottom end £30m but probably £50m over the next four years”. This information was reiterated in a later interview after the EGM victory with Keith Jackson of the Daily Record.

Thus, as we approach the halfway point in that time-scale, are we really on track for that level of investment? The simple answer is no.

As we reach the end of Year Two there will have been approximately £14m provided in the shape of loans which, clearly, is behind schedule. And of that £14m there is £5m which is non-recurring as it was used to repay Sports Direct.

King is also some way short of his own personal investment plans. He has been quoted as saying he would be willing to invest up to £30m of his own money and that he would invest 50/50 with other investors. Neither look like happening.

King therefore, either on behalf of the board or off his own back, has rather allowed the regime to trade on a false prospectus. He has blustered through interviews in a manner befitting a certain big-handed Yorkshireman but has so far been unable to deliver the promises made. Speaking to Jim White our South African based chairman said “I guarantee the fans absolute transparency and accountability”. In truth, both have been lacking.

What we need now from King and the Rangers board, regardless of what has been said in the past, is complete and utter honesty, particularly about funding. In truth, despite sounding more negative than intended, it’s a rather mixed bag where investment is concerned. The level of investment is certainly decent - £14m over two seasons is not to be sniffed at. After all, who else would throw such funds at a loss-making Scottish football club?

But the board’s biggest issue is they allowed Dave King, by choice or otherwise, to fabricate unrealistic plans and raise expectations. This has proved to be counter-productive and, in truth, can’t be allowed to continue.

If that level of funding is not there, tell us. Honesty is the best policy so let’s be having it.

Football and Footballing Operations

It was abundantly clear to everyone and anyone that Rangers were in badly in need of an on-field rebuild following our failure to secure promotion to the Premiership at the first time of asking; finishing an embarrassing 3rd behind Hearts and Hibs in season 2014/15.

Being honest I’m not sure too many fans had terrific faith in the board finding the right manager to drive our club forward but, to their credit, Mark Warburton was appointed and immediate success followed.

His initial signings were “uncommonly successful” according to Dave King and the brand of football played was vastly removed from the turgid, long-ball guff witnessed previously. Rangers comfortably, and at times stylishly, secured promotion and in truth should have added a Scottish Cup to the trophy cabinet following a famous semi-final victory over Celtic.

Warburton also set about revamping the setup at Auchenhowie, bringing a professional & modern approach to a place which was previously treated like a holiday camp. This included the youth system where every squad now mirrored the 4-3-3 formation played by the first-team. All in all, it was a successful first year and credit must be given for that.

I don’t think however I’ll have to spend too much time providing an overview of this season, nor do I particularly want to given the way it has turned out. Essentially, between the manager and Frank McParland, we have wasted millions of pounds, added very little value for that money and following their unceremonious departure, now find ourselves with a significant rebuilding job on our hands yet again.

Warburton, for what it is worth, was still a worthwhile appointment. But the problems this season can’t be ignored and couldn’t be allowed to continue. And that brings us to the wider issues as the board have now announced that we are looking to appoint a Director of Football to oversee and implement a proper structure behind the management team.

Interestingly, shortly before Warburton was appointed, King stated to the media that “I think where Rangers are right now I don’t think we can have the luxury of [a Director of Football], not only from a financial perspective but also that it would be counter-productive”. The manager must have the right level of authority, we were told.

Admittedly, things have now changed. I think this season is a perfect illustration of the potential problems of giving a manager too much authority and leeway, especially in this day and age. Warburton essentially appointed his own chief scout, brought in his own support staff and we now find ourselves in a position where we have to start again to some extent.

The average football manager is not in the same role for any more than a few years and, at Rangers, perhaps it is about time we have a structure that reflects that. We need a scouting system, a youth system and a support system that can work independently of the first-team coach. This means when one coach leaves, another one can step in and we already have players identified along with an over-arching strategy in place which doesn’t need ripped up every time we need a new manager.

Hence, if the right people are appointed, and there’s little point in doing this otherwise, then it could actually be a positive and productive move from the club. It’s frustrating that we allowed areas such as scouting to continue being neglected and forced ourselves into shopping in one of the most inflated markets in world football thanks to our one-man recruitment team. We must get as much value for our money as possible and doing that without a reasonable scouting network and contacts beyond Watford and Brentford is virtually impossible. Hopefully those lessons have been learned.

One perhaps wonders if the eventual appointment of a director of football is indicative of an inability of the board to both formulate and implement a strategy throughout the club. This process could have started 18 months ago and instead we now appear like a rudderless ship scrambling to stabilise in order to find the right direction. In truth we probably relied too heavily on a single manager and without any accountability behind that we’re a club going nowhere at the moment.

Board of Directors

In the weeks leading up to and following the EGM we heard names like Christian Purslow, former MD of Liverpool Football Club, being linked with the task of leading the rebuild of our club. Indeed one might have expected someone of that calibre, be it him or a Graham Wallace type, to show our ambition – i.e. candidates with impressive CVs, strong reputations and experience of top level football clubs.

Stewart Robertson was appointed instead. Having met Stewart he is a very honest and humble man and I have no doubts he tries his best. My issues lie with whether or not he is actually capable of rebuilding Rangers. It is of course also a possibility that he is having his hands tied behind his back in terms of finance, that’s certainly up for debate. It is however hard to believe that a man who ran John Boyle’s portfolio and sat on the board of a small club like Motherwell was the best we could attract.

Arguably a strong, experienced CEO may not have allowed a rookie manager full control of almost all football operations. Similarly it’s unlikely they’d have settled for a one-man recruitment scheme. Did the club take the cheap option? Did the board want a bigger say in running of the club? Up for debate I guess.

It looks now like, thankfully, the total rebuild required inside Ibrox is going to happen. No more shortcuts, no more taking chances. It is time to create a modern, sustainable model driven by the calibre of people we deserve.

That includes strengthening the board. How often do King, Gilligan, Park and Bennett see things day-to-day. All being Rangers fans, as good as that is, also has its disadvantages. Should a club our size not have at least one independent non-executive director? Should we not have a finance director? Compare and contrast our board and management team with those of Celtic. Ambition and leadership starts from the very top.

Public Relations

Without going into too much detail, for we could be here all day, it is essential that Rangers look at their PR and brand management as a matter of urgency.

In Jim Traynor’s Level5PR company, I think we have an outdated, tabloid-hack in a position where he has overseen enough embarrassing situations which have been grossly mishandled. You need look no further than the embarrassing Warburton resignation statement as a prime example of his contribution. It could have been written in crayon and it could not have been much worse.

Essentially, the brand is not aided by amateurish, rambling statements and misguided PR pot-shots and this is something which we should be looking to change as soon as possible.

Summary and Conclusion

As fans it is not just our right to hold the board to account, it is our duty.

The Nomad issue was certainly an early failure as far as the board are concerned although admittedly it has not prevented investment or progress. It may however have reduced transparency as the board are no longer subject to the same reporting requirements demanded by the stock exchange.

Fan ownership leaves a lot to be desired and, as said above, it seems that Club1872 are being kept at arm’s length. We were promised representation and transparency so maybe it’s about time we pushed for it a lot harder.

Funding is undoubtedly falling short of the claims made by King and fans must now question whether the required investment to fund our club can be made available by the current regime. Appointing a director of football and rebuilding the first-team simultaneously won’t be inexpensive, so will our investors once again step up to the plate? Will we get the calibre required?

Overall I think a bit more realism and honesty is required. The fans have supported the club through thick and thin and have had enough charlatans making empty promises. The least we deserve now is the truth.

Friday night’s embarrassment at Inverness, with the team led by an inexperienced and visibly floundering youth coach, perhaps epitomises the shambolic position the club currently finds itself in. We appear to be completely lost in transition.

In conclusion therefore, while the board have done well to steady the ship, gain promotion and bring the fans back in great numbers, they must now prove that they are the right people to drive our club forward to where we need to be. Mediocrity isn’t an option and will not retain that supporter goodwill.

Over to you, gentlemen...

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