Ding Ding! As the bell rings out for another round of a fight that appears to have been ongoing for at least two years, one can’t help shake the feeling we’re now reaching the closing stages of this ceaseless contest. With Mike Ashley now having played all his secured loan cards and Dave King finally putting his money where his mouth is, surely the next three weeks will see this hitherto open-ended bout be won by one or the other? Certainly an EGM in early March looks as if it will, for the short term at least, decide the winner.
In the Blue corner we have Dave King: a Rangers fan, wealthy South African businessman and carrying the backing of other high net worth ‘Rangers minded’ individuals (as well as the main fan groups) on his side. In the Red corner, sits the heavyweight Mike Ashley: an admired billionaire entrepreneur, a no-nonsense negotiator and with the advantage of having his backers already directly involved with the club. It would take a brave man to try and separate these successful prize-fighters. But with no knock-out blow in sight, the decision will be made by the three judges: Mr AIM from Fit-and-Proper Street, London; Mr Regan from Puppet Place, Hampden; and thousands of Rangers shareholders – all of whom have their own specific interest in this bout. Who will prevail?
Certainly, the press conference of Dave King yesterday was one of a confident man. Open, transparent, knowledgeable and with just the right amount of sincerity; there weren’t many Rangers fans complaining about his performance. Yes, many of us have held doubts over King’s less than impressive historic ownership efforts but in recent times, he has clearly upped his game. Firstly by buying shares himself, secondly by cleverly (apparently) working in tandem (though not concert) with other financially independent bears and, finally, unlike Ashley’s camp, coming to Scotland to show he’s not afraid of meeting the media (and his critics) on their terms. No-one can deny today’s subsequent press coverage is impressive. However, while some may swoon at the promises he makes; his opponents (plural) will not.
To begin with, Mike Ashley has not made his fortune through weakness. Throughout his business career, he’s faced many a negative period. From risky investments losing their worth, to media and political pressure on his activities; despite his success and contribution to British business, Ashley has never been an immediately popular figure. Not amongst his peers, not amongst Newcastle supporters and certainly not revered by Rangers fans. As such, while Dave King’s poise yesterday may have impressed you or me, Ashley will be equally assured in his position and determined to defend his Rangers interests. Dave King may feel the EGM is already won but there will be no throwing in of the towel by Ashley – that’s for sure.
Indeed, if we delve deeper into King’s comments, although he spoke of an ‘indifference’ to Ashley’s involvement and tried to play down the significance of the Englishman’s stake in Rangers, there was tentative evidence of an olive branch being offered. Yes, King may not want to do a boardroom deal ahead of next month’s general meeting but there has to be (and appeared to be) an acknowledgement Rangers’ ties to Ashley won’t be so easily cut. In that sense, it’s interesting to note that King (on the face of it at least) hasn’t written off working with him in the future. And why would he?
After all, in many ways they’re kindred spirits. Both are less than popular with the SFA, both are less than popular with the Establishment and both are as stubborn as business people can get. Perhaps (probably?) that obdurateness may mean an obvious partnership is impossible but a short-to-medium term truce may well benefit both them and the club going forward. I can’t be the only Rangers fan intrigued in that possibility. I’d also imagine investors – both at supporter and institutional level may be attracted to such.
In point of fact, it’s that very attraction that will prove key to Rangers going forward. Not only do we need the investment King and his associates are offering but we need share issues, contracts and external agreements to ensure the club is financially viable. Most importantly, we need an engaged fan-base; not just in terms of buying season tickets at pre-2014/15 levels or ordering various pieces of merchandise but via actual investment in the club – both emotionally and objectively as part of an increased say for supporters. Recent years have shown us how important it is for fans to be involved in the decision-making process and recent months has seen an agreeable upsurge in regard for fan/share ownership schemes. If we juxtapose that with events at Hearts and Motherwell then fan ownership in conjunction with philanthropic, affluent supporters is now a very real possibility.
Further, if we consider the problems the Scottish game faces with its rapidly decreasing reputation and sponsorship profile some would argue it will be a necessity. Ergo, the quicker we and all involved with the club realise that, the better. We need not be ever-reliant on bank loans, unfavourable contracts and greedy players – let’s now belatedly take the opportunity to build a sustainable club with its foundations built in the Govan community and beyond. Yes, this wouldn’t happen overnight and Paul Murray is correct to caution us in that regard. However, nurturing the seed of something better, more durable and more resilient is surely something worth waiting for.
With that in mind, the coming weeks and months shouldn’t just be about cheering Dave King, Mike Ashley or anyone else to victory in their efforts. Yes, one or both or none may be worth backing at some point but the truth is, in the fight for Rangers’ future, it is the club and the fans that have been on the ropes and punch drunk for almost four years now. Therefore, it’s now time for us to take control of our own destiny and we have to realise we have the strongest punch when it comes to the future. We just need to use that power wisely. The rumoured March 6th EGM will be our first test. However, the fight will go on and we must take ownership of our own fate.
Let’s get ready to rumble.