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Politics of truth: battle for control comes down to one issue - money

Rangers fans made a statement last Saturday.

Rangers supporters expressed their opposition to the current board during Saturday's home win over Ayr United. Picture: SNS
Rangers supporters expressed their opposition to the current board during Saturday's home win over Ayr United. Picture: SNS

It is impossible to quantify how many held up red cards in the 18th and 72nd minutes, but it is legitimate to record that it was a significant majority of the 45,227 crowd. So what does the protest mean? The answer, naturally when it comes to this chapter in Rangers' history, is complex because there are caveats and additional meanings. In short, though, it was a compelling and powerful message.

Rangers fans, either collectively or as part of the Rangers Supporters Trust, hold in the region of 12% of the shares in Rangers International Football Club. Depending on how many of them actively engage in the voting at the annual meeting at Ibrox in nine days, they will be an influential voice when it comes to the current directors retaining their seats on the board and the hopes of four nominees - Paul Murray, Malcolm Murray, Alex Wilson and Scott Murdoch - joining the board. There are two entrenched sides, shareholders who want their men in control, and floating voters who are no doubt perturbed at the turn of events they find themselves in.

When shares in RIFC were launched last December, they were sold at 70p; yesterday, the market price at close of trading was 38.5p. The sight of the majority of the Ibrox crowd protesting against the board last Saturday will also make shareholders concerned about the commercial strength of the club in the coming months and years. When fans are disengaged, a football club does not fulfil its potential, and already those organising the protests have talked of merchandise boycotts. A group of Rangers fans are also meeting the club's single largest shareholder - Laxey Partners - in London today, to emphasise the depth and extent of the discontent with some of the current directors and the need for change that recognises the desire among fans to see people they know and trust sitting on the board.

As with so much of the Rangers saga, it has become about personalities. One side is scornful about Malcolm Murray, the other deeply distrusts Brian Stockbridge, the finance director. In reality, though, the critical issue for Rangers is not the individuals involved in battling for the soul of the club, but finance. Whatever the outcome of the agm, Rangers require additional funding.

That will either be next year, unless the new chief executive Graham Wallace has some blunt cost-cutting initiatives he is ready to deploy, or into next season, when Rangers will be trying to return to the top-flight in a strong enough condition to challenge Celtic. It is a question of when, not if, that funding is required. Right now, the club is an investment of several millions of pounds away from where it wants to be. So where will this money come from? What is being played out just now is an attempt to control the board. Shareholders are being asked to vote for different directors, but it is the overall make-up of the board that will be more significant, and alliances may have been made to protect positions. The nominees have pledges from several shareholders as well as high net-worth Rangers fans that they will provide additional funding. The current board have not yet made any comment about how they will directly seek to bridge the funding gap, although the recently appointed non-executive director Norman Crighton has been tasked with leading that task.

The choice for fans is simple: which individuals do they believe, or trust, will work in the club's best interests. For other shareholders, this is not an emotive decision, but a commercial and financial one. How will their investment best be protected? How will the share price be restored, and how will the club's finances be improved, given that all of the £22m raised in the initial share issue has been spent? It is conceivable some shareholders will vote for the current directors and some or all of the nominees. But still, then, Rangers would seem like a club divided.

Wallace took soundings before he accepted the role of chief executive, but the financial realities will have quickly become his priority. The nominees were considering appointing him as finance director, and that is his background. He is likely to seek to take control of that issue swiftly and decisively. The board have also so far made little attempt to win over fan opinion. Supporters felt disenfranchised towards the end of Sir David Murray's tenure, then again under Craig Whyte, and the unity gained during the process of administration then liquidation of Rangers Football Club plc has now been lost.

Rangers have reached a critical moment, since decisions made in the coming days will influence how the club approaches the challenges of the next few years. The fans may regret not being able to gather together enough financial might or willingness to pursue ownership themselves, but they made their views clear on Saturday. It is not an election campaign, in the sense that public opinion alone will not deliver one side or the other into power, but the view of the fans will influence shareholders, who must decide how to shape the Rangers board in a way that will ensure the club can rebuild immediately and effectively.

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