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Murray Park, symbol of mistrust

ON the face of it an out-of-town training ground seems like a pretty flimsy reason to prolong a fight.

Fans fear Murray Park may be sold and the board refuse to give them assurances. Picture: Marc Turner
Fans fear Murray Park may be sold and the board refuse to give them assurances. Picture: Marc Turner

None of Rangers' trophies have been won at their Murray Park complex. There have never been thousands of fans crammed into its grounds acclaiming great goals or iconic moments. There is no Archibald Leitch architecture. None of it is likely to be mistaken for a listed building. Even its name isn't especially popular: Sir David Murray isn't a figure every fan reckons should be glorified around the club.

Back in June, 2012, Charles Green proposed that season-ticket holders be given a vote on changing the name, though Green being Green it all petered out.

Now, 25 months later, Murray Park is back at the top of the agenda, back into the no-man's land between the Rangers board and a vociferous section of their support.

Those fans have campaigned for months for legally-binding guarantees of security over Ibrox and Murray Park so that neither can be sold or used in sale-and-leaseback deals. The board has danced around the matter, and there was more of the same on Sunday night when a statement was released by the football board (unlike the PLC board, its comments are not rigidly accountable to the Stock Exchange) which offered assurances about Ibrox. Any mention of Murray Park was conspicuous by its absence.

That was no oversight. They didn't just let it slip their mind. Either they cannot or will not take Murray Park off the table or else they're content to keep the issue live just to torment and try to hold power over the Union of Fans supporters' group, their biggest critics. Either way, the key issue isn't really Murray Park at all. It is about the poisoned, mutual distrust between the board and a section of the support. The training ground is symbolic of those fans' belief that the board has no money and no acceptable vision.

If there wasn't this turbulence around Rangers and it was run by a familiar and popular board there would be no song and dance about the prospect of the training ground being sold off and leased back. The reality is quite different. There is heightened sensitivity and suspicion even about any possibility of chicanery around Murray Park, because there is heightened sensitivity and suspicion about most things around Rangers.

Today it is thought the club has sold close to 21,000 season-tickets, down on the 36,000 they shifted last season. The decrease is largely attributable to the campaign run by the Union of Fans which urged supporters to withhold season-ticket money from the board and instead place it in a ring-fenced trust fund. The campaign split the Rangers support and the disappearance of Dave King as a public figure damaged the protestors' cause.

The number of season tickets could rise to more than 25,000 in the run-in to the start of the season, when sales traditionally swell. A general price rise of around 15% will partially offset the year-on-year sales decrease. But at the start of last season Rangers had £8m left in its bank account from the IPO issue and still had to bring out the begging bowl in February to secure £1.5m of loans for emergency working capital.

Repayment of those loans is due by September 1 and the club has no share money left. If the season-ticket income is down on last year, or broadly the same, it is no surprise that the board has said it will release £8m worth of unissued shares to existing stockholders later this year. If that issue does not happen, or it is not taken up? Rangers would have to find "new" money from elsewhere to survive to the end of the coming season; hence the fans' suspicion about Ibrox and Murray Park. In terms of the training ground the Union of Fans group said it believed "the board are actively looking to sell this vital club asset due to their failure to so far secure enough funds to see the club through the current season".

There is no clarity over what Murray Park would sell for. It has no value as a going concern. A sale price would be entirely dependent on whether planning permission could be granted for housing or commercial development on the land. Would a developer be prepared to buy it now and sit on it for five years, maybe more, on the assumption that eventually it could be used for a highly lucrative housebuilding project?

The "risk" to Murray Park may prove to be entirely hypothetical. Fanciful, even. But there has been suspicion and prevarication about it for months and no amount of statements have so far brought clarity to its place as a pawn on this chessboard.

Rangers need money from somewhere. Murray Park has become a weapon for supporters who believe there are far bigger issues at stake: the credibility and trustworthiness of the board, and the survival of the club.

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