R angers are back in play.
Not in a stock market sense, since the majority of shares are held by a loose coalition of individuals and funds gathered around Zeus Capital, the Manchester investment fund, institutional investors from the city and supporters. That situation will change, perhaps even sooner than when the club returns to the top flight and the share price is more steady, but for now what is at stake is in effect a battle for the heart of the club.
The boardroom is divided, with the chairman, Malcolm Murray, and the non-executive director, Walter Smith, having sided together in most votes with Philip Cartmell, another non-executive. Charles Green, before he told the board of his intention to resign as chief executive, Brian Stockbridge, the finance director, and Bryan Smart, a non-executive, also tended to side with each other. Ian Hart, the fourth non-executive, has tried to play a conciliatory role. Supporters are now having to choose sides, particularly with the approach of season-ticket renewals, which are fundamental to the finances.
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Not all issues have been contested but fans are left to surmise that it is one side against the other. It is a fragile balance, and Cartmell may have to step down to attend to his other business interests, although he has not yet made that choice. At a time when decisions ought to be being made about investment in youth development, scouting and next season's squad, many are instead being taken in London – where Cenkos, the broker that dealt with Rangers being launched on the Alternative Investment Market, have sought to bring boardroom tussles to a swift conclusion – and Manchester, where Zeus Capital are based. Green and Imran Ahmad, the commercial director who is also expected to leave the club imminently, can call upon a shareholder proxy of around 30% to 40%, with Green being the major shareholder with 7.8%.
That proxy includes the members of the original consortium that Green fronted to buy the club last summer, although at least one of that group has been actively trying to sell shares in recent weeks despite being bound by a lock-in agreement until the summer. There has been growing concern among some members of the Rangers board about the full extent of the links between Green, Ahmad and Craig Whyte, which have also generated uncertainty about the sale of the business and assets last summer from Rangers Football Club plc in liquidation to Sevco Scotland.
There is no suggestion that Whyte is currently involved, but he claims that he was a director and funder of Sevco 5088, the company that had an exclusivity agreement with the administrators Duff & Phelps over the sale of the club. When the vote for a Company Voluntary Arrangement failed, the assets were sold instead to Sevco Scotland. With the details of this transaction being so clouded in mystery and uncertainty, the club cannot move on from the toxicity of Whyte.
Green and Ahmad were undermined by the extent of their dealings with Whyte, and the independent examination commissioned by the club should go some way to uncovering what deals were struck last summer. At least one recent city investor is ill at ease with the situation. If there are more damaging revelations, it will harm those who remain at the club and were part of the original consortium. But even then, a change of control can only truly be effected by somebody buying significant amounts of shares.
At least two high net-worth Rangers fans are closely monitoring events, and one would be prepared to move immediately if he felt it was in the best interests of the club. The share price has been steadily falling and may not yet have found its true value, but there is also cash remaining following last year's launch on the Alternative Investment Market. However, some fans have grown concerned at stories of significant monthly losses. So while the independent examination unfolds, and an interim chief executive is not even in place, Rangers remains a club suffering from its own insecurities.
Even the choice of the independent examination team, Deloitte and Pinsent Masons, caused grumblings among fans. The accountancy firm advised Green during the takeover, the share issue, and his own personal tax affairs – although it is the forensic arm that has been employed by Rangers – while the law firm briefly advised Ticketus and have prior links to Ahmad. The reactions to this are indicative of the sense of unease Rangers fans feel. They don't know where to turn.
The majority will be inclined to support Smith. The former director, Paul Murray, spoke on the radio last Saturday about only trusting Smith and the chairman and also about the club needing cleansed, a phrase that the manager Ally McCoist used at almost exactly the same time in his post-match press conference. Paul Murray even went so far as to say that the club had been the victim of "a fraud". If evidence of that comes out, the boardroom split would harden, as would the mood of supporters, but changing directors and other staff would not alter the shareholder power of the group of original and recent investors who are loosely aligned.
Rangers lack stability, so that even the impending appointment of Craig Mather as interim chief executive was delayed by disagreements on the board. It will be a short-term appointment, while the recruitment process identifies a full-time candidate. Mather is considered part of Green's group because he put £1m into the club early on, at Green's suggestion. Around Murray Park, where he has been an occasional visitor as director of sports development, he is considered warm, affable and intelligent. Yet the club desperately needs to move on from the recent past. A wholly independent figure, linked to no faction on the board, needs to be brought in as chief executive, and Gordon McKie, the former Scottish Rugby Union chief executive, has been mooted.
Herald Sport also understands that the disputed £400,000 bill from Orlit Enterprises that resulted in a petition being made for a winding up order last February has not been resolved. The petition was sisted (the legal term for suspended) at the Court of Session, but it has not been removed.
Rangers are still caught in the grip of the recent past and it is holding the club back. The split on the board cannot continue and a period of turmoil would also exasperate a fan base that has little stamina for another bout of civil war. Only a truce, or something dramatic and decisive emerging about what happened last summer and so bringing matters to a head, will bring Rangers peace.