8 Mar 2012

Scottish football fans contemplate a future without Rangers

Chief Correspondent

As financial experts try to revive the ailing Rangers Football Club, some football fans argue that the demise of half of the ‘Old Firm’ could actually make the Scottish game healthier.

Rangers Football Club is at risk of not completing its remaining fixtures, going into liquidation and losing its Scottish Premier League status, the High Court has heard.

Financial experts trying to revive the ailing club have said they were continuing to meet prospective buyers and making “every effort” to “ensure survival”.

But administrators Duff and Phelps warned that the scale of cost cutting needed would be “very substantial indeed”.

And the London-based firm, said no-one should be in any doubt about the seriousness of the Glasgow club’s position.

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Earlier, Mark Phillips QC, a lawyer representing Duff and Phelps outlined the dangers facing Rangers during the latest round of litigation in the wake of the club’s decline.

Mr Phillips gave detail of Rangers’ plight to Mr Justice Warren as administrators made legal moves aimed at securing as much cash as possible for creditors.

Grave consequences

“There is a risk that the club will fail to fulfil its fixtures. If that happens consequences would be grave,” he told the judge.

“There is a risk that the club could go into liquidation and be demoted by the Scottish League, which would eliminate any realistic prospect of a sale of the club for any sum worthwhile to creditors.”

Administrators want to secure £3.6m which was held in an account belonging to the London-based solicitors of club owner Craig Whyte.

Mr Phillips said administrators thought that the sum would make a “significant contribution” to the survival of the club.

But the judge was told that a number of other organisations – including tax authorities – had staked a claim on chunks of that cash.

A judge is due to decide who should get what after a High Court trial which begins on 30th March, when lawyers will make arguments on behalf of organisations claiming cash.

Rangers’ joint administrator David Whitehouse, told reporters afterwards that they are in talks with players over redundancies and pay cuts, and hope to have another meeting tomorrow.

He also confirmed that the administrators are also speaking to potential buyers to bring forward a sale, which would limit the number of redundancies.

“We need to know that we have got an ongoing funding structure otherwise we will have to make what are significant redundancies in the playing staff,” he said.

The first indication of problems at Rangers came in April 2010 when the club admitted that it was being investigated by Revenue and Customs, accused of avoiding 10 years worth of tax and National Insurance by paying employees through offshore trusts.

A year later, Scottish tycoon Craig Whyte bought the club for just £1, but it was later revealed that he had borrowed £24m against Rangers’ next three years season ticket sales to pay off club debts.

The club’s plight, which could result in its exit from the Scottish Premier League, has divided fans. Some argue that Scotland would be better off without Rangers’ dominance over other clubs along with Old Firm rival Celtic.

‘Too powerful’

But other fans, including Hearts-supporting Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, argue that Rangers must be saved for the sake of the future of Scottish football and for the country.

Paul Brennan, editor of Celtic Quick News, disagrees with Salmond: “Celtic and Rangers are both too powerful for Scottish football, which is not healthy for anyone, including them. The other clubs need to be able to genuinely compete.

“The narrative from some is that this will be bad for Scottish football but it could also be a positive event,” he added. “TV income is already so low that it is scarcely worth having, although clubs already on a tight budget would need to readjust to life without it. There will also be a competitive bonus, as well as potential new fans for other clubs from those who are no longer travelling to Ibrox.

Mr Brennan predicts that Rangers’ problems will see a change in the Scottish game’s approach to developing footballers. “The upshot will be no more scouting foreign players who cannot get a contract in England, and reverting to what we used to be good at in Scotland – developing talent.”

Alan Harris, chair of Supporters Direct in Scotland, which aims to encourage supporters’ involvement in their clubs, said the problems at Rangers shows that “the single owner model is bust”, but he says that supporters would need to raise in the order of £30m to £40m to take over the club. He added that this would be difficult, though not impossible.

“From a Supporters Direct perspective we would want the fans to have some involvement in running the club. It’s a lot more difficult at a big club for fans to have a significant say than in a smaller club.”

Mr Harris said that the dwindling number of spectators in Scottish Premier League suggests that a revamp is needed. He added that the plight of Rangers is an opportunity to create a league where money is distributed more equally, that is more competitive and fans have more say in clubs.

As a lifelong Rangers fan, although independent of any club supporters’ organisations, Mr Harris said he enjoyed watching players like Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup and Ronald de Boer in Rangers’ heyday. But he now recognises how heavy spending on transfer fees and player wages contributed to the problems.

“This is purely my personal opinion and not on behalf of all Ranger fans – I might be happier if the club went into liquidation and started afresh,” he said.

“Rangers fans will bear the pain and hopefully there will be a brighter future.”