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Can Rangers trump King, or does he still hold the ace card?

IT has been described as a game of poker but the battle for Rangers has become something of a hand of three-card brag.

The question facing many prospective season-ticket holders at Ibrox is whether to stick or twist. Picture: SNS
The question facing many prospective season-ticket holders at Ibrox is whether to stick or twist. Picture: SNS

The most crucial aspect of this game of claim and counter-claim is when the King is played. There are three parties to the Rangers story and each has reached a time of decision.

The Union of Fans, the representatives of six fan groups, met last night to discuss the latest developments in a narrative that stretched over two years. The most crucial aspect of their discussions will be the future of the Ibrox 1972 initiative which sought to place season-ticket money in trust under the directorship of Richard Gough, the former Rangers captain, and Dave King, the South African-based businessman who is seeking to alter the power base at the club.

The statement by the board on Saturday night that legal guarantees over Ibrox and Murray park would not be offered to fans has left little room for manoeuvre.

First, the supporters believe that this was not their understanding of what occurred at the meeting; second, they said it was impossible to deal with the board in good faith and, third, it makes the ploy of Ibrox 1972 almost redundant.

The move over season tickets was designed to bring pressure on the board and it did. But the incumbents have so far ridden this out.

Indeed, Rangers sources were last night "bullish" about the future, predicting burgeoning season-ticket sales, declaring that precise figures would be given to the markets in due course as they represent market sensitive information. There was one glitch. Under agreed terms, once Rangers have reached £1.5m in season-ticket sales George Letham and Sandy Easdale must be repaid their loans. It is understood, however, that Letham is still awaiting repayment.

There was, though, the unmistakeable message yesterday of Rangers "getting down to business", with sources citing appointments to be made, playing plans to be drawn up, the challenges of next season to be met.

The delicate point of where all the money will come from has been, ahem, disputed. Rangers hope that the season-ticket tally will approach 20,000, hospitality packages can be sold and that a much-needed income stream will run quickly and profitably.

There is also the matter of the £5m of equity funding from existing investors that could be accessed at the press of a button, according to sources close to the talks between supporters and board members this week. A share issue, too, could be brought forward to the end of summer.

Even those inimical to the existing board suggest the club "could stagger on" into next season.

However, savings must be made and investment found. This may make it an uncomfortable summer for Graham Wallace, the chief executive. He has been assailed by fans over the 120-day review and statements made at the annual general meeting.

He also suffers the fate of all chief executives of being an instrument of the board and there was a wounding assertion from the Union of Fans that Wallace is "less powerful" than Sandy Easdale, who is not a member of the plc board but sits on the football equivalent.

Wallace has set out his plans and has embarked on a recruitment campaign, in particular for a marketing manager, but has to do this while fighting fires. He will need support but, being Rangers, he should not expect it.

The most intriguing player in the card game is, of course, King. If he sits on his hands, Rangers may limp towards some sort of stability - with a much-reduced cost base and a viable challenge to Celtic postponed - or they may slowly but inexorably slip towards financial perdition.

His intervention, though, would be a game-changer. However, there is increasing concern among his supporters that King has hesitated too long.

One City source, who has control over a tranche of Rangers shares, last night said: "Time is running out for a decisive intervention. King has had talks in the City about proxy votes and these have been amicable, and might even be productive. But there is a sense that something must be done quickly."

King must convince the City that the turmoil at Ibrox is such that it is better to give him proxy than to rely on the board to raise the share price to anything like the launch level. The share price has risen of late to just more than 28p from a low of 22p in May.

King, however, has stated bluntly he does not want to buy shares from the incumbent board. There are considerable amounts of shares on the margins with some corporate holders open to selling.

"There is a feeling," said the City source, " that some of the original investors would take the hit and write it all off to experience and to tax."

The most recent soundings from King make clear that he does not want to pursue the buying of shares as this will dilute the money available for a significant investment to make Rangers competitive with Celtic quickly.

Any dramatic and immediate development in the Rangers story would thus have to come from King.

There is no doubt that the maverick businessman knows how to hold 'em. His supporters trust that his hesitation may not involve accepting he has to fold 'em.

Rangers are still in play but the match has moved into extra time for King.

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