THE FALL OF THE EVIL EMPIRE – Part 3a

PART THREE (A)  – The Insiders – The Men Who Destroyed Rangers

In Part Two of the series we marvelled at how the blameless and innocent Rangers support took time away from their extensive charity work so they could fully commit to contributing to the demise of “the most successful sporting institution in the history of the entire multiverse”. For all its fascinating stupidity though that contribution could not have wrecked Rangers on its own.  The kudos for that singular achievement obviously belongs to the individuals who mismanaged the Ibrox club to its unmourned doom.  I’m talking about the power wielders, the Big Spenders, the drunken dancers in the eye of the financial hurricane, and to a lesser extent their Nemeses who tweaked the nose of outrageous arrogance and thereby ensured that lunatic egotism sped to an inevitable gory end.

Contrary to ill-informed opinion in some quarters, this wasn’t a one man or even a two man show.  Actors in the drama there were plenty but it would take a mighty tome to chronicle all the players. So with a disgraceful lack of inclusivity I’ll confine myself to the stars who had all the best lines, got invited to all the best parties, had a couple of rather tawdry and completely gratuitous sex scenes with their own egos, and then fell from grace faster and harder than a footman caught interfering with a Royal corgi (I’m presuming that wouldn’t go down well but with these inbred Germans you never know).

The legacy of the humanitarian greats who rid the world of Rangers shall never be forgotten and each one deserves a little warm place in each of our hearts.  Without them after all Rangers might still be lurching around the SPL like a mange-riddled, bad-tempered incontinent baboon with a particularly virulent flea infestation, although saddled with such a self-delusional complex that it actually thought it was King Kong with a decent chance of pupping Fay Wray.  The SPL is now free of vast pools of reeking baboon urine thanks to these worthies, and the greatest baboon slayer of the lot was of course David Murray.

Although there are disgraceful revisionists such as the caddish James Traynor who seem determined to downplay his achievement, David Murray was the Lawrence Oliver of this particular great play. Murray hogged the centre stage throughout the drama with a marvellous death bed scene of such poignant melodrama that he was responsible for the sight of grown men weeping openly into soggy hankies. He was simply the star of the show.  So Minty Moonbeams (David Murray is just a stage name) deserves a rather more in-depth review than the other players, and to this end the following two parts are dedicated just to him. He deserves no less.

David Murray – The Leading Man

“I am confident Mr Murray would only sell to someone with the best interests of the club, its players and supporters at heart” – John Macmillan, secretary of the Rangers Supporters Association.

“If one day the supporters and shareholders feel I should go, then that would be another matter. But I honestly feel the club has never been in better shape.” – David Murray, October 2000.

In the Beginning….

As I mentioned earlier, there have been many players in the drama of Rangers less than tragic extinction, but without doubt the leading man with his name pride of place in the credits is of course David Murray.   If Murray hadn’t been looking for a new home for his ego after the owners of Ayr United set the hounds on him as soon as he approached bearing a suitcase full of “genuine” rolex watches, then it’s more than possible that some dour, Calvinistic spoilsport could have bought up Rangers instead  and we wouldn’t all now be sitting enjoying the heat from the vanity bonfire.   But buy he did and on the 23 November 1988 Murray entered the main door at Ibrox, gazed upon the marble staircase which by law has to get a mention whenever Ibrox is mentioned, and set in motion a cunning plan that would ultimately lead to the death of Rangers and the destruction of cherished reputations all over the land.  Pretty impressive you have to admit.

When Murray paid Marlborough £6m for Rangers, he bought a club that in 1988 was starting to pull away from its domestic rivals thanks to high spending and some rather adept management, yet financially it was already suffering.   Rangers at the time had a value of £7.6m but with a £8m capital debt that claimed the entire Rangers pool annual income of £1m.  Looking through the books, Murray pursed his lips and decided that the best thing that could be done to rectify the financial situation was to spend £5m in the transfer market.  Unconventional perhaps, but Speculate to Accumulate was to become the official slogan of the Murray era at Ibrox for many years until finally replaced with the more accurate “Speculate to Burn Spectacularly In An Inferno Of Debt”.

Despite that first season spend Murray was content to play to the gallery through means other than the soon to be traditional method of having wads of banknotes thrown onto bonfires outside Ibrox. In July 1989 Murray reached for his Amur leopard-skin chequebook and offered Morris “Le Petite Merde” Johnson an offer he couldn’t refuse.  Well he could’ve refused it but being a grasping, greedy ooze sucking piece of pond life he chose not to.  Murray basked in the delight of having put one over on Celtic, and established a pattern of behaviour that was to continue until the money ran out; whenever he became aware of Celtic’s interest in a player, Murray would cackle with unsuppressed delight and offer silly money of the type that Celtic couldn’t or wouldn’t match.  That this policy sometimes led to Rangers throwing huge bags of cash at players they didn’t need wasn’t of any importance to Murray, the important part was the sight of his beaming coupon on the nation’s back pages under a fawning headline.

In the early days though Murray does appear to have been somewhat restrained by the presence of Graeme Souness as manager, restricting himself to relatively modest spending after the initial indulgence, however two events in 1991 were about to change all that.  The first occurred in April 1991 with the departure of the snarling, foaming mouthed Graeme Souness deported as he was to Liverpool for eating live kittens while visiting a children’s ward at a local hospital.  “I thought they’d find it funny,” he bawled shortly before being tranquilised by an emergency vet.   The second was Murray’s ill-fated foray into the newspaper market with the bankrolling of Jack Irvine and Steve Sampson’s atrocious Sunday Scot which folded after only 14 weeks – like the country needed another grubby downmarket tabloid. With a far more pliant manager in the shape of Walter Smith  in place and with handy connections to the country’s newspapers firmly established, Murray was about to enter a phase of spending and publicity addiction that would ultimately lead to the death of Rangers and Murray’s spectacular plummet from grace.

Spend Spend Spend

Residing as Rangers were in a playing environment with very limited revenue streams, Murray’s Speculate to Accumulate strategy depended on, and was aimed at, European domination.  Rangers having enjoyed some domestic success were busy convincing themselves that they were too big for Scotland and indeed had a rightful place at the European fat cat dinner table.   Murray was determined to achieve this aim even with Scottish football being the threadbare pair of old Poundstretcher jeans with a tattered arse and suspicious looking stubborn stains, compared to the shiny new Ralph Loren black label denims of the European big league money pots. Despite the obvious obstacles in the way, Rangers spent big in an attempt to achieve European success and by spending big they required a source of cash that would support the resulting wages and transfer fees. Simply put what started of as a goal became a necessity.

Despite committing ever greater piles of borrowed cash to this Holy Grail though and sanctioning “transfer spending and wage payments previously unheard of in Scottish football”, success eluded Smith’s plucky band of bewildered underachievers to such an extent that Rangers soon became an international laughing stock.  As France Football magazine’s senior correspondent Christophe Larcher commented “Rangers have spent fortunes on second-rate players and they keep getting knocked out in the first round of European competition. For these reasons they deserve the title of the stupidest club in the continent. As if further proof was needed, they went out against Gothenburg in the European Cup qualifiers after a 3-0 thrashing in Sweden.”

Rangers European Campaigns 1991-1998

1991-92 – Out by October after losing to Sparta Prague due to the away goal rule in the first round of the European Cup. The pattern was set.

1992-93 – Reached the group stage of the Champions League.  Despite remaining unbeaten lost out on a cup final place to Marseille.  It was downhill from here on. Tournament marred by an interview with Scott Nisbet after his outrageous fluke found the back of the net against Brugge. As a nation rushed to put cushions in front of their children’s faces, Nisbet was allowed to speak live on air.

1993-94 – Another round one exit in the Champions League, this time to Levski Sofia again on the away goal rule. Levski Sofia would be out in the next round thanks to Werder Bremen.

1994-95 – Tragic disasters continue, out in the first qualifying round to AEK Athens after being humped home and away.  AEK Athens would end up at the bottom of Group D having lost four of their six games. By this time the Rangers Euro Pantomine was a welcome annual fixture.

1995-96 – Having managed to squeak past the mighty Anorthosis Famagusta, Rangers joined Steaua Bucharest,  Borussia Dortmund and Juventus in the Champions League group stage and thanks to Walter Smith’s tactical genius finished bottom of the group having failed to win a game.

1996-97 – With Alania Vladikavkaz destroyed in the Champions League qualifying round, Rangers as usual when times are good switched to super-arrogance mode with the levels cranked up when they received a very favourable group stage draw; being pitted against Ajax, Grasshopper Zurich and Auxerre. Tabloids and Rangers supporters prematurely declared their inevitable qualification to the later stages and ultimate CL victory.  As it turned out Rangers imploded and again ended up bottom of the group, this time with a solitary win.

1997-98 – Financial disaster loomed after Rangers were knocked out of the Champions League by IFK Goteborg in the second qualifying round.  Murray’s hilarious claim that Rangers would earn just as much loot from a good UEFA Cup run fell flat on its face after Rangers were knocked out in round one by RC Strasbourg. Just to maintain all the aspects of this traditional farce, IFK Goteborg finished their Champions League campaign hugging the bottom of Group E.

Piling ever more seats into Ibrox’s few remaining dank nooks and crannies wasn’t going to make up the financial shortfall caused by European calamities (under Murray capacity rose from 44,000 to 50,000), neither were the other options of lowering the pitch continually to put more seats around the trackside or adding more tottering tiers to the main stand.   While it was entertaining for everyone else to watch Ibrox’s progression to a marvellous waterlogged blue hole of Calcutta, the physical laws of the Universe placed a finite limit on the number of bicycle seats that could be wedged into the available festering crawl space.  Similarly there were only so many bricks and paving stones that could be engraved with a dedication to someone called William, ticket prices had an affordability ceiling and pies could only be filled with so much sawdust and carpet shavings until even the Rangers supporters found them unpalatable.  In other words with overheads rampaging Rangers had either to cut back drastically and give up on the idea of world domination or find other sources of cash.

Probably there was never any real possibility that Murray would countenance anything other than hurtling down the road to ruin, after all he was in a bind having boasted that Rangers would always spent £10 for every £5 spent by Celtic, and for a while that wasn’t much of a problem since Celtic wouldn’t spent £5.  The situation changed though in 1994 when the bubbly, vivacious Fergus McCann jauntily skipped into Celtic Park and set about the task of restoring the fortunes of the club following the Junta’s mismanagement.  Although Celtic’s resurgence took a while to develop, since McCann had sensibly decided to focus on infrastructure rebuilding and long term revenue generation, the threat was enough to push Murray into even greater levels of spendthrift lunacy and brazen posturing.   High earners such as Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup arrived to swell the wage bill to new eye-watering levels and while Europe was a burning wreck of immense proportions, domestically the spending paid off, but financially the price was a hefty one.

With a lot of very greedy mouths to feed, Rangers desperately required additional sources of income to help plug the gaping holes in their finances, and to his credit Murray managed to keep this bandwagon rolling until the late 90s when its wheels fell off.  In 1996 Murray hit the jackpot when he sweet talked a gullible ENIC into investing £40m, which just goes to show that even professional investment firms sometimes get it spectacularly wrong. It would only take ENIC three years to realise the full enormity of their screw up, but in the meantime the investment allowed a gleeful Smith to run to the sweetie shop with £10m in season 96-97 and £15m the season after.  The spending allowed Rangers, with no little help from Jim Farry at the SFA and some rather dubious match officiating, to equal Celtic’s record nine successive league titles, but even as Gazza placed the straw in his pink champagne glass a splintering sound could be heard – it was the bottom of Murray’s world preparing to fall out.

Murray’s response to adversity was conditioned by the fact that by the mind-90s he had reached a very accommodating relationship with the Scottish mainstream media and the Daily Record in particular.  Murray would feed the whisky soaked hacks a stream of exclusives, including fantasy drivel of a kind that could insult the intelligence of a backward toddler, and they in return would grovel before his mighty moonbeamed presence and fawn at his every word. It was a  relationship made in heaven for both and was never better displayed than by the incredibly uncritical reporting of the £38m Rangers “bid” for the most expensive player in the world at the time, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, or just “Ronaldo” to everyone else wanting to save a lot of time.  But this fawning and stroking of Murray’s ego meant that when failure did arrive, the consequences for Rangers would be catastrophic due to Murray’s inability to exist without his sycophancy fix.   Murray quite simply was incapable by this time of acting rationally where Rangers were concerned, and consequently his response to failure wasn’t far off a spoilt toddler being denied his favourite treat.

In 1998 Wim Jansen’s Celtic won the league and thus derailed Rangers Ten-in-a-row bid ensuring that Walter Smith’s final season as manager ended in ignominious failure. It had taken Celtic only four years to catch up with Rangers and for David Murray the  experience of his first barren season as Rangers chairman was traumatic in the way that could only be experienced by a small duckling watching his entire family made into pillow stuffing.  “I have spent 10 years of my life, and I know that sometimes I gave up too much of myself to Rangers, but I am not about to give up now,” puffed Murray to his favourite mainstream media sycophant, the succulent lamb guzzling James Traynor.  “Neither am I willing to stand aside and allow another club to overtake Rangers. The failure of last season hurt me a lot and that pain was something I didn’t need nor want. It is also a pain which I never want to suffer again, but by God that sort of thing just makes me even more determined to succeed. I am still as driven, still as enthusiastic and I will welcome the challenge of anyone out there.”

Any decent journalist would’ve laughed at this bombastic nonsense, but this was David Murray spouting off so the words could’ve been carried down to Anderston Quay on clay tablets by Moses riding on a divine cloud pulled through the air by a band of singing angels and they would’ve received similar reverence.  Even when Murray sneered “In the past, Celtic’s people maybe just haven’t fancied trying to take Rangers on financially, but if I have to go in deeper to keep my club up there then I will. I have done it too many times to be frightened now”, there wasn’t a single raised eyebrow comment even though Traynor acknowledged Rangers were pushing deeper into debt.  With no one at Rangers willing to raise objections, and with the mainstream media cheering on Murray’s every nonsensical utterance, the scene was set for the final act of lunatic self-indulgence that would mark the beginning of the end for Rangers.

In Part 4B – Murray spends as Rangers burns, ENIC bail, Murray steps down, steps back and then steps down again, the taxman arrives and everyone is conveniently “duped”.

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