THE FALL OF THE EVIL EMPIRE (Pt 2)

THE FALL OF THE EVIL EMPIRE (Pt 2)

PART TWO – The Suffering of the Innocents

We have certainly been shafted by Murray, Whyte, the SFA & the SPL. It may even be the case, if
not so transparent, that we have also been shafted by Lloyds, HMRC, the Scottish Government and the administrators.”
 – Vanguard Bears temporarily running out of Shafters.
They [Rangers supporters] had to accuse the football authorities of organising kangaroo court to rule on a witch-hunt simply because they had decided Rangers were innocent regardless of any evidence produced by investigations.” – 200% website article “ Rangers Supporters Groups & Doing The Right Thing”
We want no part in an SPL who attacked our club and stabbed our innocent fans in the back” – Comment on the Scotland on Sunday article “time to let fans of Rangers get on with their new adventure”.
The rank and file Rangers fans are blameless. Rightly, they want answers and for those responsible for the club’s fate in recent times to be held to account. Hopefully this investigation will assist in this regard.” – Malcolm Murray, Sevco chairman.
Reading the several forums still dedicated to the liquidated Rangers FC one thing is quite clear, no one at Rangers is to blame for the demise of the club save for two fiendish individuals. David Murray and Craig Whyte alone bear responsibility for the destruction of “the most successful sporting institution in Scotland”, and everyone else can be considered hapless collateral damage of the kind that could only be replicated if a cluster bomb fell on a cute puppy parade. Most blameless of the entirely and utterly blameless are, we’re told, the Rangers support. Surely only the most stoney heart can fail to bleed buckets at the sight of these bruised innocents buffeted by debris from the collapsing marble staircase and left bewildered by never ending aftershocks? Very probably, if there was even a modicum of factuality to the “blameless” claim, which of course there isn’t.
Why? Ok, let me explain. Back in the halcyon days when David Murray was lauded as the second coming by the Scottish sporting media and Jim Traynor was dining out daily on succulent lamb, the supine Rangers support basked most happily in the bombast from Moonbeams HQ. Murray’s spendthrift ways were so admired by The Loyal that they granted him the nickname “The Mint”, and his every proclamation was written down on clay tablets and carried to a large sanctified sepulchre below the Louden Tavern by awe-struck acolytes. Rarely was a trembling hand of query accompanied by a tremulous voice even when Murray’s pontificating overtook Bombast and scooted clear of Reckless Bragging. When Murray boasted that he [meaning Rangers] would spent £10 for every £5 spent by Celtic, no one thought to ask “But what if Celtic spent an awful lot?” They didn’t need to, for they believed that one man had all the answers so they didn’t need to bother with any questions.
It was until the dying days of 2000 when Martin O’Neill’s rejuvenated Celtic team blew down Dick Advocaat’s £80m price tagged straw house that the faint stirrings of unease whispered through the Rangers support. It was quickly snuffed out though in time for that year’s AGM by an act of lunacy that can be seen as a pivotal moment in the Great Burning Spitfire Plummet of Rangers FC. Faced with the prospect of having his ego brutalised by the resurgent Celtic, David Murray put £12m in a grubby potato sack and threw it at Chelsea for the services of Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo.
Having shattered the Scottish transfer record Murray spared no effort to luxuriate in the resulting adulation that poured upon his swelling head, but with Flo’s league goals during his spell at Ibrox costing £413,793 each, others weren’t so chuffed. Sobered up from their lending binge, Rangers very pliant bankers at HBOS at last reigned in Murray and the runaway spending choo-choo began to run out of steam. In July 2002 Murray “stepped down” as chairman, allegedly at the instance of petted lipped bankers, and was replaced by John McClelland.. sort of. Murray retained the post of “honorary chairman” and lurked about the place like Banqo’s Ghost on steroids.
On the back of Murray’s curtain-lurking, Rangers posted an eye-watering £31.9m loss and debt reached a breath-taking £62m. Still, David Murray was spared any real criticism by the formation marching Rangers support who instead accepted that yet another “one time loss” was down to player value depreciation, outlay on doomed Australian club Northern Spirit, the new Murray Park training ground (that regular excuse for empty coffers) and the unfortunate spontaneous combustion of the Ibrox piggy bank. Back in 1997 after crashing out of the Champions League qualifier to Gothenburg, David Murray stared with horrified eyes into a TV camera and mumbled “What happened is not a financial disappointment because the UEFA Cup can make us as much money.” No one on the planet believed that except the Rangers support, similarly in 2002 no one else believed the excuses for Rangers losses – although funnily enough the piggy bank one turned out to be true.
Rangers Losses
Year Amount
2000 £25m
2001 £17m
2002 £35m
2003 £30m
Two years later with the financial situation at Rangers deteriorating after years of heavy losses, David Murray dropped the Honorary Chairman pretence, increased his shareholding to 86%, announced that he would kiss it to make it all better, and to top it all would underwrite a share issue to reduce the crippling debt of £73m. Such was the dire position that he had reduced Rangers to (holds onion to eye) that only the dubious inflation of Ibrox stadium’s value stood between the club and a charge of trading while insolvent. Now you would think that the supporters of a team mired in a deep financial mess would have good reason to reach for the tar and pitchforks upon the reappearance in the hot seat of the person responsible. You’d think. The RST however confined itself to issuing a carefully neutral statement, while the vast majority of the Rangers support opened the bottles of Chateaux Buckfast 2003 and looked forward to the renewed good times that were bound to follow. But while Murray was welcomed back his share issue was a flop.
Hoping to raise £57m and with financial calamity staring the club in the face, Rangers appealed to their loyal support to dig deep. In the event the misers grudgingly coughed up a measly £1m with Murray (through MurrayMHL) having to fork out £50m after having underwritten the disastrous share issue. An ashen-faced Murray put a brave face on it and revisited the infamous bragging days of yore: “It is still my intention to cut the debt back to nothing. We own our stadium, our training ground and our brand. We are in a very strong position. I am quietly confident that over the next 12 months we can get the club on a position of having no debt.” The Herald however reported that at the same time RFC had talked HBOS into providing £37m of borrowing facilities. A year later Rangers 2005 annual report revealed its debt to be £23m, so much for debt free.
Watching your club freewheeling towards a large brick wall with the word “Disaster” painted on it in 20m high letters would be a catalyst for a popular fans’ uprising in a normal club, not at Rangers though. A combination of a sycophantic press comfort blanket and a natural instinct to perceive others as their betters meant the Rangers support remained chewing the collective cud in perfect bovine contentment. They simply believed that no matter how bad things looked, someone would come along to save the day, for after all they were the Mighty Glasgow Rangers. They were certain that Murray would always be able to find someone who would consider it an honour to empty his pockets and throw more £millions into deep maw of the Rangers fiscal maelstrom. Like the last few adherents of the Third Reich sitting in cellars in Berlin as the Red Army poured in, breaking windows and defacing bus shelters, they believed that Secret Weapons would turn the tide even at this late stage.
If someone amongst those the Rangers support considered their “leaders” had stood up and said “this isn’t right!” then things might have turned out differently, because as we have seen Rangers supporters are incapable of acting as individuals. They need to be led, and if no leader turns up waving a stained blanket with a misspelt slogan then they remain in a state of nail-chewing ineffectuality. Even as the flames curled round the last days of Rangers FC, supporters’ forums were full of wails and beseeching cries for a leader to emerge. It never seems to have occurred to them to do something themselves. Such a sight is in stark contrast to events at Celtic in the early 90s when the mismanagement and inability of The Junta to cope with the modern game nearly resulted in bankruptcy.
Saddled with complacent supporters organisations too closely embedded with those ruining the club, individual Celtic fans took it upon themselves to organise an independent grass root movement that helped force the Kellys and Whites from power. Supporters like Brendan Sweeney, Matt McGlone, Colin Duncan, David Cunningham and John Thompson had no previous supporters’ group role, but they threw themselves into Celts for Change without bothering to wait on a moneyed “leader” to do their thinking for them. Rangers supporters though seemed to be conditioned by the Bill Struth mentality to wait around for orders. Who can ever forget the post-liquidation sight of a barely coherent Bomber Brown standing on the Ibrox steps preaching to the assembled supporters, and in a brief period of blissful silence (probably the Bears trying to work out what Brown had just said) a lone voice wailed “We just want someone to lead us!” That’s what happens when you spend a life forelock tugging and declaring yourself a subject instead of a citizen.
Even when one of their own occasionally emerged to warn of the dangerous path they were sliding down, all that occurred was a re-cataloguing of said character from Good Guy to Self-Hater. For example when ex-Rangers director Hugh Adam broke ranks in 2002 and predicted catastrophe, he was either ignored or roundly criticized by a support that considers being off message as a form of naked, snail-worrying treachery. The queue of mugs willing to invest in Rangers had evaporated Adam revealed, and it wasn’t going to change soon: “David Murray has always had an amazing persuasiveness when it comes to getting people to put money into his businesses, but the signs are that those sources have dried up.” Adam despite all his experience was simply declared an embittered has-been.
By 2006 Rangers had managed to avoid having to package their annual reports in asbestos padding only by one-off quick fixes. In 2005 the annual report revealed that £15m had been placed on the credit side thanks to an “exceptional gain on the purchase of shares in our subsidiary company Rangers Media Investments Ltd”. In 2006 it was an “innovative ten-year licensing agreement with JJB Sports plc, which secured an up front cash injection of £18.0m and allowed a reduction in our debt.” Yet with the revenue streams sold off for quick cash injections, debt climbed by £11m by 2007 and in the following year by another £6m despite cost cutting measures. At last the
Rangers support began to lose faith in David Murray, but what incurred their ire wasn’t the deteriorating state of Rangers finances, but the fact that they were being prevented from singing bigoted songs at matches. Murray, prompted by UEFA losing patience with RFC, had at last been forced to act.
“Unfortunately this is the second year that I have had to report on unacceptable behaviour by a minority of our supporters. Whilst the Club was fined by UEFA for improper conduct in Pamplona, the reaction of our supporters has been encouraging in introducing a major self-policing initiative. Progress in this area by the Club has been enormous and commended by UEFA, and efforts will continue to ensure unacceptable behaviour is eliminated.” – Chairman’s statement, RFC 2007 annual report.
Reacting with fury and unintentionally hilarious Colonel Bufton-Tufton style press releases, the Rangers Supporters Trust suddenly found a voice as did the legions of Ibrox loyal who had by and large failed to open a drowsy eyelid during the years of fiscal mismanagement. Wrecking a club’s finances is one thing, but not being allowed to sing about wading knee deep through Catholic blood, well then, that was quite another. Man the barricade boys enough is enough. Worryingly for them things were changing in the new self-confident Scotland in a way that increasingly left Rangers and its support looking like throw backs to a darker time when racism and bigotry were not only tolerated but condoned. While the Holyrood Parliament was determined to fashion a future worthy of all its people, the Rangers support were bitterly determined to remain in the past – protecting their “traditions” and “culture” as they saw it.
First Minister Jack McConnell’s anti-sectarian initiatives of 2005 had poured fuel on the fire of their confused resentment, and now the conflagration sent flames high into the paranoid imaginations of the seething Bears. The Cowardly Hand of Hidden Forces was at work, and the Rangers supporters reacted with furious indignation as they retreated into a deeper bunker-type mentality. The plain truth is that for decades the Rangers support had been able to act in a disgraceful manner with barely a word of reproach from politicians or mainstream media journalists, so when the world changed they were simply unprepared and unable to change with it. The collective mindset of the Rangers support was little more than supremacist arrogance floating upon a deluded concept of their own importance.
Now the Bears had a cause worthy of protest but their feverish campaigns did not address the issues which should have been their real concern. Rather than bother with boring trivialities such as fiscal meltdown, they instead focused their attention on any journalist who was critical of the club or its support. Similarly any organisation that spoke out against bigotry or whom the Bears considered being part of the aforementioned Cowardly Hand of Hidden Forces had their name placed in the Little Blue Book. At a time when Rangers were teetering on the brink of financial oblivion, Rangers supporters groups were too busy involved in a mass campaign to have the word “Hun” declared sectarian, to notice or care about such minor matters.
As the campaign’s hysteria mounted, the list of those deemed to be involved in the Pan-Fenian conspiracy to strip Rangers of its archaic cultural baggage grew vast and as it did so, the paranoia increased. Strangely its always the case that when paranoia runs rampant in the face of changing times, the inevitable failure to turn back the tide results in accusations of betrayal and an inward redirection of anger that leaves external observers perplexed and amused. Deluded in their righteous belief that any and all criticism was unjust, the failure to convince others of this self-evident fact was attributed by the Bears to nothing more than a lack of effort by the club officials. Murray and Martin Bain the RFC chief executive, were accused of failing to adequately defend the indefensible. The love affair was over – not due to mismanagement of the club’s finances, but due to efforts to avoid UEFA sanctions by reducing bigotry.
Cue the financial sector collapse of 2008
In 2008 capitalism when left to its own poorly regulated devices did what it does best, it screwed up big style. The collapse of the financial sector in 2008 had a devastating effect on Murray’s business empire, as those heavily committed in property investment saw fortunes turned into crippling debt overnight. As governments rushed to throw £billions of tax payers cash into the pockets of bankers so they’d be weighted down and unable to throw themselves off tall buildings, HBOS was effectively swallowed up by Lloyds TSB to form the Lloyds Banking Group. Rangers, and David Murray’s, bankers were no longer the exceptionally cuddly and helpful HBOS, but a cold-eyed shower of money hungry desperados tasked by the grey suits at the Treasury to get as much into the bank coffers as possible. Time was up for David Murray and Rangers, HBOS had already clamped down on lending following the 2008 collapse but after its merger with Lloyds the End was Nigh.
Lloyds accountants took one look at the situation at Rangers, and after having been restored by smelling salts instantly set about an extraction mission; that is to extract all the money they were owed by the club and to get the hell out without looking back. To achieve this goal a buyer would have to be found for the club and thus debt reduced in order to make the club more attractive to potential mugs. In the autumn of 2009 David Murray stepped down as chairman for the last time to be replaced by Alastair Johnston with Donald Muir of Lloyds Banking Group joining the board through the back door. Harsh cost cutting was imposed and the debt began to drop, but not everyone was pleased. In late 2009 Walter Smith, finding he couldn’t splash out £millions of other people’s money on players the club could not afford whined “As far as I’m concerned the bank is running Rangers. Sir David has stepped down and a representative of the bank has been placed on the board. It’s not a situation anybody wants the club to be in.” Diddums.
The Rangers support, by now firmly entrenched in their bunker Everyone-Is-Against-Us mindset, howled with demented fury over the fiendish bankers refusing to allow Rangers to continue to wallow like happy pigs in the debt mud. Rangers were still losing money, but The Loyal couldn’t understand why Lloyds weren’t content with the honour of actually giving the Mighty Gers all their loot. Such was the delusional state of the Bears that they actually could not come to terms with the fact that the bankers weren’t sufficiently cowed by their letters of protest to give in to all their demands. Calls for meetings were ignored, the threat of supporters closing their accounts achieved nothing, and yet the fans forums were full of the truly credulous predicting that this massive banking group would soon be brought to its knees by the world dominating might of the invincible Rangers family.
You think I’m making this all up? The “We Deserve Better” campaign launched by supporters’ groups in early 2009 sought to convince the club to change course and somehow return to the days of high spending – conveniently ignoring the financial reality at Ibrox, or indeed the wider world. Rangers had lived way beyond its means for years, but the deluded support protesting at matches could not accept that reality. Having been spoon-fed years of fatuous garbage about the standing of their club, which found fertile soil in the collective supremacist mindset to become a rampaging Godzilla of arrogant stupidity, the Rangers support simply could not accept their club’s diminished status. The Mighty Gers had to be Simply the Best, and if they weren’t then someone, somewhere was conniving to make this so and had to be stopped. They did love their conspiracies.
Remember I mentioned that Lloyds had as part of their Run Away Run Away cunning plan to find a buyer for Rangers? Enter stage left the revolving eyes of Craig Whyte. In 2010 Whyte’s name cropped up as a potential buyer for the club and his appearance was greeted with the usual unquestioning, over the top cheerleading from the Scottish media. The relief was palpable. Here was a promised end to the hard times. Another Man of Means who would throw £millions into the Mighty Gers and thus restore the club to the pantheon of the European Elite where they rightly belonged. When Whyte bought David Murray’s 85.3% controlling interest in Rangers for £1 in May 2011, the change of ownership was hailed by all the vested interests; from the tabloids, to Walter Smith and especially by the Rangers support. But not by the Independent Board Committee of The Rangers Football Club (IBC) who raised doubts over Whyte’s business strategy – the off message swine.
Why though was Whyte welcomed with such enthusiasm by the Rangers support when his dodgy business activity was well known and had been documented by publications such as Private Eye? The simple truth must be they didn’t care. As long as money came in and success was once again on the agenda then they didn’t care. They have a track record with dodgy businessmen and investment after all. When South African businessman Dave King invested £20m in Rangers in 2000, few, if any Rangers supporters were concerned about this track record or the fact that he was being chased by the South African Revenue Service (Sars) for a reported 2.7bn rand. Even today King is still held in high regard by the Rangers support.
New Rangers owner Craig Whyte arrived to a thunderous applause as he entered Ibrox for the very first time as the new owner of Rangers Football Club.” – STV
The Rangers Supporters’ Trust welcomes the transfer of Sir David Murray’s shareholding to Craig Whyte, and looks forward to early discussions with Mr Whyte about the future of Rangers.” – Rangers Supporters Trust.
So the Rangers support embraced a known dodgy spiv who had just bought their club for a remarkable £1 and whose business plan had been openly questioned by the IBC. Not exactly a case for the Blameless defence but it gets worse. By October 2011 as the storm clouds were gathering and with the first hints of administration were wafting gently on the breeze, BBC Reporting Scotland aired a documentary: Rangers – The Inside Story. The documentary revealed Whyte had controlled a company, Re-tex, while banned as director and used fake auditors to sign off company accounts. Whyte threatened legal action, and the Rangers support now firmly committed to the Us against Them mindset largely ignored the facts and instead organised a boycott of the BBC. Had the BBC buried what it new about Whyte and instead told the Rangers support what they wanted to hear, the company would’ve had the Bluenose tributes pouring in.
Even when shares in Rangers were suspended on the Plus stock exchange in January 2012 the support were largely in denial, and it wasn’t until the club actually entered into administration a month later that state of delusion was rudely shattered. One supporter interviewed by the BBC summed up the general mood: “It’s a shambles. I don’t understand how a club with the tradition and success that it had had can let itself go to such a state of rot and ruin. You never think it would happen to a club with such a loyal following as what this club has. It’s bewildering, shall we say.” Bewildering only if heads had been placed in sand for years and that’s exactly where they were thanks to a mentality that treated any bad news as a vicious conspiratorial attack on their club.
So having helped Rangers into administration and ultimately into liquidation by allowing dysfunctional club administration to progress without any real challenge for well over a decade, the Rangers support stuck true to their nature and treated everyone who failed to rush to aid the club as an enemy and a contributor to their misfortune. When the SFA imposed a £100,000 fine and a one year transfer ban for the club failing to pay £9m in PAYE and NI during the 2011-2012 season, Rangers supporters once again hit fifth gear and declared war on the governing body. The bizarre mindset of the Rangers support insisted that only Craig Whyte was guilty and that the club could not be blamed for the actions of one man…er even if he was the chairman. Even when it was revealed that numerous club officials knew of the failure to pay tax and did nothing, even when it was revealed that had Whyte not redirected the purloined tax £millions to cover running costs, the club could not have fulfilled its fixture list – and received £2m in prize money – the support insisted that Rangers as a club could not and should not be punished.
The Rangers support then did their ailing club no favours by bombarding members of the SFA panel and the SFA board with threats and abuse, so much so that Strathclyde Police warned that collars would soon be felt. A pattern that was to be repeated until the end of the saga whenever anyone incurred the supports’ easily ignited wrath, and an MO that was already a hallmark of the Bears supporters campaigns for some years. Only two individuals could be deemed guilty as far as the Rangers support was concerned, Craig Whyte and to a lesser extent David Murray. Only they should be punished and the club certainly shouldn’t as it was as much a victim as all those who Rangers FC had shafted for £millions or cheated out of deserved trophies through the club’s ability to sign high-earning players only thanks to dodgy tax avoidance.
And what about all that, even now there’s no acknowledgement from the Rangers support that their club’s behaviour deserves any kind of justified punishment, so therefore any imposed punishments are unjust and solely down to jealousy and hatred of the Mighty Gers. It’s nothing to do with right and wrong, nothing to do with justice or sporting integrity, its once again the Cowardly Hand of Hidden Forces out to destroy the reputation of their late great club for no better reason than..um..
well a very nefarious reason anyway, whatever it is. The options presented to all the players in the drama by the Rangers support were a) to agree with whatever deranged nonsense they had decided was convenient for their delusion world to cope with, or b) to have a fun time dodging the hooting, shrieking and flung faeces not unlike a particularly fraught visit to the psychotic chimp enclosure.
Yet in the end it all came back to bite them in the red rumped posterior. By acting in such an aggressive, arrogant, supremacist, brain dead manner for years, the Rangers support managed to alienate so many that when they grudgingly demanded assistance from the rest of the game few were willing to lend a hand. Most in fact lined up with spades and other sharp digging implements just to make sure the burial was quick and final. So universally detested were they that for the first time ever supporters of every other club in the country united in a determined campaign to ensure that no special favours were accorded to Rangers successor. The country was unified in insisting that Newco start at the bottom like every other SFL applicant. You reap what you sow, and the Rangers support had sowed a hell of a lot.
It doesn’t just end there though. Why is it that one club should find itself repeatedly in the hands of men of dubious intent and often equally dubious reputations? Why when one of the best supported clubs in Europe was put up for sale by administrators were the few offers of such little worth? Aside from the financial tar pit in which the bellowing Rangers mammoth found itself embedded, the simple truth is that anyone buying the club had also to take on that same support. The reality was that the club’s huge support wasn’t a positive selling point as it should have been, rather a negative which should be hidden by a handy bath towel as the astonished Bill Miller found out.
Not only did the support contribute to pile of reeking manure that buried Rangers, their paranoid idiotic conceit ensured that the rescue mission was a feeble, incompetent affair which left the field open for the happy looters instead. The Bears believe no one connected with the defunct Rangers has anything to apologise for, nothing to be punished for, save two men who must be treated as having nothing to do with the club they actually ran. Maybe one day the Rangers support will sit down, look at their collective self in the mirror and whisper with soul rending horror “My God, what have I done”. I wouldn’t bet on it though, and even if they did all that would happen is that they’d start a vitriolic campaign against themselves. Blameless? Hardly.
Next in the THE FALL OF THE EVIL EMPIRE series – Part Three “The Insiders”.