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Loud, insistent questions yield little in the way of answers

IT is a room where a generation of managers would luxuriate in the glow of league triumphs, where the certainty of trophy-laden history was matched by the almost inevitability of further success.

The media room at Ibrox, of course, has also witnessed the home manager trying to explain away a defeat or reacting in anger at an impertinent question. But this is a club that has existed for 140 years, won more league titles than any other and the white walls have more regularly reflected footballing triumph rather than business disaster.

Yesterday was different. Tomorrow will be, too. The only certainty about Ibrox now is the absence of certainty. The fog of doubt was not banished by a press conference where the setting was familiar but the personalities were not. Two unassuming business types sat in the spot once reserved for Walter Smith, Dick Advocaat or Alex McLeish.

The twin strike force of Paul Clark and David Whitehouse were facing the press. The men from Duff and Phelps are charged with discovering whether Rangers Football Club can survive. The reading of a statement was followed by 15 minutes that can be best described as a stramash.

Questions were shouted as reporters tried to extract information from two men who defended with the resolution of a Young and Woodburn. Clark and Whitehouse were not for giving anything away. Yet their clipped, precise answers slowly provoked an ominous anxiety at odds with their confident tones.

Clark and Whitehouse spoke with the considerable optimism of Rangers managers past when faced with a home cup tie against an East Stirlingshire crippled by injury and with their only striker unable to get time off his work. The administrators were not taking anything for granted, mind you, but, hey lads, this is a match Rangers should be expected to win.

Their words, of course, were not redolent of such football-speak. But the message was clear. "As a result of our preliminary assessment, we are wholly confident that Rangers will continue as a football club,'' said the statement read out by Clark. ''We do not think that liquidation and closure of the club is a likely outcome at all,'' it added.

The financially ignorant football hack, though, could be forgiven for wondering just how they had reached this conclusion. The words came like a flurry of punches, accompanied by the continual snapping of cameras. They caused confusion rather than bringing clarity. The questioning was loud and insistent. It had to be. The answers, though, could not convince the sceptic.

The most obvious statement was the one that posed the unaswerable question. ''We have to stabilise the financial situation and strive to ensure that from now on income exceeds expenditure,'' said the statement.

Sounds like a decent idea to both me and to Mr Micawber who set the template for financial contentment thus: "Annual income £20s, annual expenditure £19/19/6. Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20 and sixpence, result misery."

There is undoubted misery at Ibrox , despite the administrators' bright words, so what is the precise income and the expenditure?

''At this stage it is simply not possible to give a detailed report on the financial situation. Nor am I going to comment on individual aspects of financial transactions,'' said, referring to his statement.

So what is the debt?

Impossible to answer, say the administrators. Apart from anything else, who knows how the tax case will pan out?

It was oddly comforting among the references to CVAs and quantums of debts that the dispute with the HMRC was referred to by both businessmen as ''the big tax case''. At last for the fitba' reporter, there was a concept one could grasp with the facility of Andy Goram handling a cross. But the mystery of the scale of the debt is anything but comforting particularly as it seems unquantifiable. Okay, so where has all the money gone? And just how much is left?

''I totally agree with you that is something we should look into and we have started the exercise,'' said Clark to one questioner on this subject. He admitted there was ''no clarity'' at this stage.

And the £9m held back from PAYE?

''It is a difficult question to answer at this stage,'' said Clark who must by now have wished he had the capacity to use the ''pass'' option made famous on Mastermind. ''The monies are not in a separate account.''

They must then be part of an unspecified pool of money. Or maybe not. Clark's colleague did add, not entirely helpfully, that keeping money from the taxman was not ''ultimately an appropriate long-term funding tool for the club''. This is the sort of expert advice one can extract from the average habitue of a rundown snug bar.

And where is that £24m money mortgaged on season tickets? No trace of it at the club, it appears. And how is any debt secured – and remember nobody knows how much debt there is or will be. The administrators pointed out Craig Whyte, the owner, is the preferred creditor and the main assets are Murray Park and Ibrox. ''That is something that will be subject to scrutiny,'' said Clark on the precise details of the debts secured against the training ground and the stadium. But ''on the face of it'' he confirmed they were held by a company Whyte ''had an interest in''.

He added: ''The issue there is whether that security is valid and for what amount.''

To recap, the administrators cannot be sure of how much Rangers owe and are uncertain about how much money the club has. The status of the club's main assets is, well, unclear. Yet the administrators are still confident about a happy ending. This optimism is commendable if, frankly, incomprehensible.

As they were ushered out of the media room, the questioning continued in the manner of a deafening volley of shots. Both were asked whether they had any concerns about the way the club had been run. There was a muttered: ''Yes.''

The truth of this statement could not silence questioners or cameras. This, after all, is merely the first fixture of what will be a long, hard season.

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