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Support network demanding answers as they launch campaigns to rescue Rangers

'THE fact is we're in a bad situation and, if that puts us against a wall, I believe there will be a response from the fans." Just over a week has passed since Andy Kerr, president of the Rangers Supporters Assembly, uttered those comments in an interview with Herald Sport, his words looking increasingly prescient with each passing day.

Representatives from Hamburg and Espanyol addressed a Rangers Supporters Trust  meeting a few years ago. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Representatives from Hamburg and Espanyol addressed a Rangers Supporters Trust meeting a few years ago. Picture: Stewart Attwood

Rangers are undoubtedly up against a wall now, their very future at threat as the administrator tries to keep the club running while HMRC and other creditors wait menacingly by the door.

The response from the fans Kerr spoke of has been slow initially, but they are gradually beginning to mobilise. It seems there are few still willing to give Craig Whyte the benefit of the doubt, the revelation that Rangers had withheld £9m of tax in the past year ensuring Sir David Murray was no longer seen as the only villain of this complicated piece.

What the future holds for Rangers remains unclear but what is certain is that their supporters are keen to be a part of it. Just how to get involved, however, remains a critical dilemma. Ordinary fans watch the ongoing debate about unpaid tax, court cases, administration and the like and feel like they are being spoken to in a foreign language. The business side of sport is alien, their primary concern that the team is doing well and the club is relatively solvent. Yet for those who follow Rangers, the time for watching and waiting has passed. If they stay quiet for much longer, they soon won't have a team to watch at all.

Rangers have a worldwide fanbase but one represented by a number of diverse groups – the Assembly, the Rangers Supporters Association, the Rangers Supporters Trust and a few others – prompting recollection of the Judean People's Front from Monty Python's Life of Brian. Naturally, they have varied ideas of the best way forward but it is surprising, if perhaps indicative of how quickly this story has unfolded, that no respected and trusted figurehead has emerged to unite and represent them all.

The Trust have been interested in the model of fan ownership for some time now and welcomed representatives from Hamburg and Espanyol to a meeting at Ibrox several years ago to see what they could learn in that regard. It remains to be seen what emerges from the carnage of the past few days but the prospect of a new or redesigned Rangers being wholly owned by the supporters remains a very appealing prospect.

"This scenario has woken a lot of fans up and they are looking at how other clubs manage their affairs," said Mark Dingwall, spokesperson for the Trust. "There is the Barcelona model, who are a vast institution, and there is the Hamburg model where the fans own the club and appoint an advisory board, which then gives the contract for three or four years to the executive board, who employ the manager and oversee the club. It seems to work but there are far stricter regulations about the distribution of power. What has happened to Rangers wouldn't be allowed in Germany because of the financial checks and balances that are imposed."

The Assembly's Kerr believes 100% fan ownership is unlikely but feels the time has come for the Rangers support to take direct action. "We're still in a state where people are hugely emotional," he added. "But we've moved beyond waiting and seeing what unfolds. First of all, the fans need to turn out on Saturday and show the players we're fully behind them, regardless of what we think of the mess the club is in. Secondly we have to understand what all this means and try to get more clarity on the likely sequence of events. We're guessing, and none of us are experts, but we need to get up to speed quickly.

"Thirdly, we need to work out what we can do as an active and resourceful group to help. Is it putting in money? Is it buying shares? Is it buying more season tickets? The Uefa Cup final in 2008 showed how big the fanbase is and we have to work out how to use that."

Kerr conceded, however, that there may be a reluctance on the part of the supporters to part with more money giving the revelations regarding previous acts of mismanagement. "In the past, people didn't want to give money if they thought it was going straight to the bank. Then they wondered if they would just be giving money to the taxman. Now there are some wondering whether it would just go straight to the administrator. So we need to know what the path ahead is."

Kerr's preferred route would be along the lines of the German ownership model where fans and corporate groups collude. "That [fans entirely owning the club] is maybe a step too far," he said. "Maybe in concert with a group of major stakeholders it could be possible, but I think it's a quantum leap to get to a situation where the fans control it all. I'm sure there are many who would like to think we focus on in the short-term is what is achievable and realistic."

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