ANDY WATSON probably thought he had experienced Rangers at their lowest ebb.
As assistant to Alex McLeish from 2002 to 2006, he watched a drastic reduction in the budget as the first signs that the club had overspent during Dick Advocaat's tenure soon became apparent.
Out went household names like Tore Andre Flo, the de Boer twins, Arthur Numan Claudio Caniggia and Lorenzo Amoruso. In their place came Bosman bargains and loan signings – Paolo Vanoli, Egil Ostenstad, Olivier Bernard and Pippo Manierio – as Rangers cut their cloth after years of excess and largesse. On the field, they unsurprisingly struggled. McLeish performed a minor miracle to take the title from Celtic on the final day of the 2005 season but they were runners-up by 17 points in 2004 and finished third behind Hearts in 2006. Of course, the passing of time has shown that the situation was actually far worse than Watson had ever known or dared imagine.
"I'm not sure if anyone could've seen where we are at the minute," said Watson, who parted company with McLeish when the latter left Birmingham City for Aston Villa last summer. "Rangers are an amazing institution when you look at the fanbase that's there.
"When we went there, there was a fantastic squad – the de Boers, [Stefan] Klos, Amo, Flo, Caniggia and it was fantastic to work with them. But there came a period when players left and the same finances weren't there for Alex to go and buy players of a similar standard. So if that was the beginning of the club having to start cutting their cloth accordingly, then of course, we were there at the start of it. I saw it from afar. I've been away for a wee while, but there's a sense of disbelief that it's gone so deep."
Watson was part of the Rangers management team who won a treble in 2003 and a double in 2005. He dismisses talk of those titles being stripped should the club's use of Employee Benefit Trusts be deemed illegal. "I don't know if that can happen," he said. "We've all got a degree in retrospect, but the things were won under the terms and conditions that were put before you there and then. Whether you can strip them from people at a later date I don't know, or on what basis that would happen."
Watson praised the selflessness of the Rangers players who have agreed to salary cuts of up to 75% to ensure there will be no compulsory redundancies at the club. "Players get a lot of bad press at times but I think what they have done there is incredible, I really do," he said. "That's the human element that people forget – there's a lot of staff there who've been working for Rangers for a long time. It's for those people that you really feel in the current circumstances."
There was a sense of disbelief, too, from Gordon McQueen. The former St Mirren, Leeds United and Manchester United defender has been following updates from his home near Middlesbrough as he recovers from throat cancer, and as a lifelong Rangers fan, can scarcely accept it has come to this. "Leeds have had financial problems, as have a lot of teams in England," he said. "But you just don't expect it to happen to Glasgow Rangers. They are an institution. There are big clubs in England – Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, Chelsea are big-ish but not huge – and folk would be shocked if it happened to any of them. I can't believe this is happening."
McQueen was adamant that even the prospect of liquidation and the creation of a newco would not end the club's heritage. "Rangers will never lose their history; they'll just lose the facts and figures. I've still not seen anybody come up with an answer as to the best way forward. I'm not sure what these Blue Knights are going to do. Everyone's skating around it. You just wonder how it got to a point where there's so much money unaccounted for."