FOR once, all the figures added up at Rangers yesterday.
When staff tentatively checked their bank accounts there was a shot of relief after days of prolonged bad news and distress. Their money was there. The February wages were paid on time and in full. And now for the next question: will it be the same story in a month?
The first time administrator Paul Clark faced a full media conference last week, he uttered a throwaway remark which managed to sound both welcome and unintentionally ominous. "I am delighted to be able to confirm that we will be making the February payroll obligations in the normal manner," he said. That sowed seeds of doubt where previously none had existed. Hold on a minute: so simply paying the wages was something to be relieved and pleased about? In that case just how close were Rangers to the point where they couldn't pay their staff, let alone HMRC? Could the same assurances be given for the next wages on March 23?
Administrators might save a football club but they don't do it by putting in a single penny of their own money. Rangers are now a business which costs £3.75m per month to run – although those are shamed owner Craig Whyte's figures, so a pinch of salt comes free – and has precious little coming in. The bills are still there – they now owe Strathclyde Police £20,000 for patrolling the Kilmarnock game at Ibrox last weekend – but at this time of the year only small amounts of money come through the club. That was why Clark and David Whitehouse issued a statement on Wednesday which love-bombed the Rangers supporters. The best way to get some immediate money into the club is by getting non-season-ticket holders through the gates and commercial backers into the corporate boxes.
"Right now it is quite simple," said their cap-in-hand statement. "Income now will help secure the future of Rangers. Our focus is on generating income for the club but there is also a focus on costs." They appealed to sponsors, too, with the promise of "tremendous publicity". The language was not desperate, but the underlying message was.
The fanbase reacted to one of the club's darkest hours by filling Ibrox for the Kilmarnock match on Saturday. That is what the administrators hope will happen in all five of the remaining home matches, although it remains to be seen if they will. That would raise precious funds which would help see the club through to the next couple of paydays, but even 50,000 crowds would not provide as much as might be some might expect.
Rangers have around 35,000 season-ticket holders, whose money is long gone, so only the 15,000 – maximum – who pay-at-the-gate would be generating fresh income. Around £300,000 is raised through the turnstiles at every full house but will supporters continue to respond like they did for the Kilmarnock fixture? Around 7500 non-season-ticket holders have already paid to be at the next home game against Hearts a week tomorrow. If they buy drinks, pies and burgers only a portion of that money goes to Rangers because a catering deal was done with Elior, a sports stadium business, to get cash in advance. The same goes for shirt sales even if fans pile into the Ibrox stores to buy strips in a show of solidarity.
The administrators' hands are tied in terms of how they can generate 'new' money. The Scottish Premier League may advance some of the television cash Rangers are due (as it did to Gretna when that club was in administration, before liquidating). Perhaps a fringe player could be flogged off to any country where the transfer window remains open (as Matt McKay was, to South Korea). They'll be checking all the club's recent transfers to check if there are any payments outstanding from players already sold.
Otherwise it's small beer. Rangers heavily promote the sale of programmes at matches and the Rangers Monthly magazine. There are charges to register for Rangers TV. There are tours of Ibrox and football in the community coaching courses. But it's all desperately hand-to-mouth. No wonder Clark and White are feverishly trying to track and ring-fence up to £4.5m which they believe should be in the client account held by legal firm Collyer Bristow and set up to facilitate Whyte's takeover. Until that crucial sum comes in, they can do little more – in a positive sense – than appeal to the supporters and sponsors.
"A rallying call could definitely help them a lot between now and the end of the season," said Neil Patey, an Ernst & Young football finance expert. "It's about the fans turning up on matchdays. It's about matchday sponsors, corporate hospitality and selling them as heavily as possible.
"I would think the club has lost money since the administrators took over because there has been little visible cost-cutting so far. I would guess because of their record home attendance for the season, at the Kilmarnock game, they will probably have been cash positive for last week but they've not done anything to the cost line yet. A lot of suppliers will be basically saying 'cash up front'. They'll say 'we're not extending any credit because if we do that we'll never see it again'. Therefore you pay your critical guys – the police, stewarding or whatever – in order to get a game going ahead. Less critical elements you might have to go without if you can't afford to pay them up front.
"I would have expected, if not by now then pretty soon, an announcement from the administrators on cost rationalisation. If you're losing money then the quicker you can turn it off, the better."
Much of Rangers' history has been violated during the past 12 days but in one unfortunate sense they have returned to their roots. For the next few weeks it's come down to relying on the modern equivalent of a walk-up support, just as it always was in the old days.