It’s been a stressful week for those interested in the well-being of Rangers Football Club. Not only does the club admit to the Stock Exchange that if the latest share offer is under-subscribed it will be unable to pay its creditors; we have key board members who represent the interests of the vast bulk of existing shareholders conceding that his and our CEO’s intentions are different, confirming a split at board level. Meanwhile the negative detail of each onerous contract placed upon the club are drip-fed to concerned fans on a week-to-week basis: from retail deals where the money is yet to be released to our struggling accounts to stadium naming rights which appear to be the result of self-interest rather than good value. Never has it been more obvious that our club is being held hostage to the whim of chancers. Yet, bizarrely, almost in a comedic fashion, we have some fans absolving these people of blame.
Wikipedia describes Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, as ‘a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them.’ The syndrome itself is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden, in which several bank employees were held hostage in a bank vault from August 23 to 28, 1973, while their captors negotiated with police. During this standoff, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, rejected assistance from government officials at one point, and even defended their captors after they were freed from their six-day ordeal.
Ok, I’ll admit right away the analogy is a bit strong but if we examine the last few years – from the excesses of Sir David Murray to the actions of Craig Whyte right through to the present day incumbents, there are examples of the above. These include the eyes-wide-shut worship of Murray onto the lauding of Whyte’s supposed net-worth despite all the evidence to the contrary at the very outset to some fans insisting the ‘current’ board are not to blame for the club’s position now. Indeed, not only do we have bloggers continue to suggest Charles Green remains interested in the well-being of the club but we have various fans eager to hold their own as culpable in Rangers’ problems. Apparently it’s Dave King, the Union of Fans or Sons of Struth’s fault that the club cannot pay its bills. Similarly, possible investors such as Dave King who has proven his good intentions to the tune of £20million previously are mocked and pushed away. Conversely, some supporters are eager to extoll the virtue of Mike Ashley’s ongoing involvement despite many Newcastle fans being desperate to rid their club of him. He’s a billionaire they cry – without acknowledging the reason for his success is the kind of questionable retail and naming deals he strikes with clubs such as ours.
Let’s be clear: the future of the football club is again in serious question and the danger should not be under-estimated. There has been a shortfall of at least 12,000 season tickets and it’s this lack of working capital that is directly impacting upon the club’s ability to trade. Thus, those that suggest the fans are to ‘blame’ for the financial problems are at least partly correct but the reasons are worth examining as well as the club’s inability to address this serious problem. Never has it been clearer that our money runs the club year on year – not Sir David Murray’s, not Craig Whyte’s and certainly not the anonymous investors currently in control of it. Therefore, engaging with the support should be a priority for any regime looking to make a success of the club. For all his faults, Murray realised this and while he was by far the dominant partner in that relationship, we did have a nominal seat at the table and aside from a few small issues (comparatively speaking anyway!) crowds were always high and only his cowardice led to the Whyte debacle. Yet even in the dark days of that era attendances didn’t drop and after administration we had capacity crowd after capacity crowd. The same can be said after we fell to Division Three – our support did not dissipate and our loyalty should never be questioned. Not by anyone – least of all our own.
Unfortunately the last year or so has seen attitudes change: not due to fans becoming lazy or greedy but because of a combination of factors. Firstly it became clear that much of the substantial monies raised in backing the Charles Green ownership were wasted and his associates less than ideal custodians of the club. In the face of this criticism, board changes were made and supposedly extensive reviews into the business carried out but the paucity of these contributions didn’t provide much solace. A poor quality (or at best inconsistent) product on the park wasn’t helping but promised changes highlighted in the review to address this have not been forthcoming. Thus, reluctantly, and by way of protest, many fans chose to withhold their investment and, if we’re brutally honest, that’s understandable. Generally, the last year has seen fans become ever more frustrated with their club and increasingly obvious evidence that the incumbent board – or more accurately the decision-making investment groups – cannot turn things around. Not just in terms of delivering the £30million investment talked of in their empirical reviews but the kind of credible and transparent leadership required to rebuild trust in the boardroom and entice fans back to Ibrox. With almost 250 staff members and overheads of aging stadiums, training grounds and dilapidated white elephant buildings, is it any wonder a new administration event looms large on the horizon?
Consequently, where does that leave us? Well, I’d suggest we have two distinct pathways ahead. One: if as seems likely, the share offer is subscribed enough to defer our problems to another day; we’ll have the fait accompli of 75% share-holding levels for approval of AGM/EGM resolutions related to the sale and/or leaseback of club assets – such as the Auchenhowie training ground which has consistently been ignored by club representatives when talking about such revenue sources. Or, two: investment groups are able by way of this issue to consolidate their holdings enough to enable a sale to other interested parties. Now, I won’t try to predict the outcome but I’m certain both the existing ownership and the likes of Dave King and/or Mike Ashley will have planned for these eventualities over the last year. The events of the last week won’t be a surprise to them.
What is easier to predict is that without one of these outcomes an insolvency event is inevitable as things stand. However, misguided suggestions that this may be an agreeable solution make me uneasy. For example, will onerous contracts be removed by this process, would ownership be guaranteed to change after it and what of the club’s league position after the fact? We don’t know so, simply put, no-one should look at administration with anything other than horror. On the other hand, neither should fans be emotionally blackmailed into providing what appears to be an ever-more toxic board and ownership with a mandate to stumble on in charge. The time for making excuses for these people has long gone. There is no defence of Charles Green and, whether he’s still involved now or not, his associates on the ‘current’ board are equally tainted by their deficiencies.
With that in mind, what options are available to fans? Not many is the desperate answer. Yes we have worthy share initiatives like Buy Rangers and Rangers First but with further financial uncertainty abound, can we really expect fans to invest in shares after the events of 2012? Even so, we absolutely must consider such projects with an open mind but with the greatest will in the world, they’re arguably not a short term solution. Nevertheless, possible buyers engaging with these groups going forward would go a long way to cementing the fans’ contribution in a better future. Indeed, it’s only through that kind of undertaking that we may finally achieve the kind of bond between supporters and ownership that has been missing for so long.
Unfortunately, such a positive conclusion seems difficult to attain. The coming weeks and months will define the future and it may well be beyond the fans abilities to impact upon this. Nevertheless, neither should we be held to ransom by people who will never understand the passion we have for Rangers. We have a choice and while I’d never begin to tell my fellow fans what to do, at some point we have to stop identifying with people who don’t share our love for our club. In that sense Stockholm syndrome is not a workable survival strategy – it just prolongs our inability to escape from the status quo and it’s that kind of clarity every fan needs for our battles ahead. Either that or be held prisoner forever.