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'People are causing alarm. Rangers will go forward'

Ian Hart is no longer a Rangers director, and that must be a relief.

Pointing the way: Ian Hart, left, has acknowledged that Charles Green came to Ibrox to make money but is convinced he also had a vision for the club. Picture: SNS
Pointing the way: Ian Hart, left, has acknowledged that Charles Green came to Ibrox to make money but is convinced he also had a vision for the club. Picture: SNS

The respected Glasgow businessman was brought on board at Ibrox by Charles Green's regime in November 2012, precisely because he was what Green's other gang were not: a west of Scotland man and "a Rangers man". Hart lasted 11 months of the in-fighting and headlines before getting out.

These days, he says, he looks on in dismay at the ongoing Rangers circus. Unlike many in recent days, though, Hart is not pessimistic for the club. "Rangers will go forward, I have no doubts about that," he says. "Everyone agrees that the club's costs are too high; that has been known for months. I don't know why everyone is getting so frantic, just because Graham Wallace [the chief executive] has started looking at various efficiencies. He had made it very plain this was what was required.

"If investors are going to come in to Rangers - and I believe they are - then the house needs to be put in order first. I'm quite sure Graham knows of investors who will come in. I don't believe Rangers will go into administration again. I think people are spreading alarm and scare-mongering on this issue. The costs will be cut and the club will be better for it. I don't believe administration will happen."

Quite what makes Hart so confident about this, one cannot be sure. But, having been inside the Ibrox boardroom and sat alongside the various characters that make up this continuing pantomime, his version of events is at least worth hearing.

As Rangers lurch towards a further financial crisis, the question is, why has the club been so mismanaged financially? The IPO of last January raised £22m, with millions more pouring into the Ibrox coffers over the past 19 months. Yet today Wallace is fire-fighting.

One of the fall guys is Brian Stockbridge, the club's finance director of the past 20 months. Yet Hart is of a mind to defend him. "Brian was met with pre-arranged costs to do with the takeover of the club and the IPO. The IPO costs were high but, then again, at the time it was hard to get money into a club which was facing administration and then liquidation. The costs were high - probably too high - just to attract that money in the first place.

"Brian was faced with either resisting these costs, or meeting them and getting on with the job of getting Rangers moving again. They were one-off costs which he inherited. I think some of the criticism of Brian has been unfair. The IPO costs were severe, but they had to be paid, and had already been agreed under the Charles Green takeover. I think Brian took the view that we simply had to pay these costs and move on, just to get the club going again."

The more you talk to Hart, the more you appreciate that his view of the state of Rangers is pinned mainly on Charles Green, the club's former chief executive. Hart has no doubts that Green was in it to make money out of Rangers, but he also believes the Yorkshireman at one stage had a genuine vision for the club. "Charles was the chief executive of the club," says Hart. "He set out the business plan, he did the deals, he set the contracts, etc. I think Charles, far more than Brian Stockbridge, was the main man there.

"Charles also had a vision for Rangers, but the circumstances were very difficult. First, it was unfortunate who he had to acquire the club from. Charles managed to get the shares off Craig Whyte, and that was pretty difficult. Whyte wasn't willing to sell to others, such as the Blue Knights, but Charles did that deal and got money into the club. So credit to him for that, and for the IPO launch.

"That said, Charles was the chief executive; he was the one who put the financial plans to Brian Stockbridge. Charles made the decisions, he ran the club, he decided the salaries. There has been a lot of talk, for instance, about the high wage bill for players. Well, I believe Charles sorted these things, probably in discussions with the manager [Ally McCoist], not so much Brian."

So Hart does admit that, on his watch as a director, Rangers doled out excessive salaries to players such as Ian Black, Dean Shiels, David Templeton and others. On top of Premiership-level salaries already being earned by the likes of McCoist, Lee Wallace and Lee McCulloch, it caused the club to haemorrhage.

"Yes, there is no doubt about that," he says. "The fact is, footballers come to Rangers and expect to be paid far more than they were elsewhere. The club definitely paid some players way too much. Why should they earn so much more at Ibrox, with the club in the bottom tier? I think only Charles Green can answer that. Again, Charles and Brian Stockbridge inherited a lot of contracts, none of which he could do much about. And then you had other, new players coming to the club and going on these high wages.

"People seemed to forget that we were not the Rangers of the past, in terms of financial muscle. The club does not have the financial strength at the moment that it normally has."

Hart was instrumental in having his friend, Walter Smith, installed as Rangers chairman in May 2013. It was a move, made with the best of intentions, that both Hart and Smith came to regret. "At the time the club needed Walter in there and I asked him to do it," says Hart.

"I don't think Walter was ever really comfortable in the role. I take responsibility for that; I pressed him to do it. It was a very difficult period for us as a board. We tried to be popular on two fronts: both to the supporters and to the investors. When you go down that road, I think you face problems. I don't think, at the same time, you can keep both fans and investors happy."

Not every Rangers fan will agree with Hart, but on the current problems, he refuses to panic. On the contrary, Hart claims to be upbeat about Rangers' future.

"Graham Wallace is now putting in place a thorough business plan. He has also brought in some extra expertise [consultant Philip Nash] to get the club through this period. I'm very comfortable with what Graham is doing. I'm pretty confident he will sort things.

"There will be new investment in Rangers, I'm pretty sure about that. I can't say for certain but, if what I'm hearing is right, there will be new investment down the line.

"I'm optimistic about the future of Rangers. I think there is scare-mongering going on just now. I think the current issues will be resolved and fresh investment will come. I think the future will be good for Rangers and that the club will move forward."

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