Walter Smith has previously backed Paul Murray and the Blue Knights to take control at Ibrox. Picture: SNS
For just about the first time in the entire story there was a development yesterday which made sense. "Walter Smith fronts bid to rescue Ibrox club" was the headline. Yep, folk could understand where that was coming from. Here, at last, was something everyone could get their heads around.
Among the bewildering information and misinformation which has spewed out from all parties in this exhausting drama there was a small but startling nugget this week. Apparently Bill Miller's email inbox was bombarded by almost a thousand emails per day during the short window when it looked like he might take them over. According to the American they couldn't be mistaken for love letters. Most were so hostile and abusive they were enough to make his glasses steam up. It still beggars belief that a 65-year-old engineering millionaire would take flight just because a few keyboard warriors had blown raspberries at him, but the episode, if true, certainly suggested that if anyone is to come in and save Rangers their life will be made a whole lot easier if the fans are onside.
So Smith was obvious. Logical. Who better? What the "Walter as figurehead" story did not reveal was the meat of the matter: who would he be the figurehead for, how much money do they have, and what is their motivation for buying Rangers. That's not something even Smith can answer because as far as he's concerned he's not the figurehead for anyone. Yes, he has been asked for his advice on football matters by people who could eventually submit a bid for Rangers, but he didn't read more into it than that. But the notion of Smith the figurehead remains entirely understandable and shrewd. At 64, he casts a patriarchal presence over Rangers. Only Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, has a comparable power to unite the supporters (well, Craig Whyte does too, but not in quite the same way . . .).
There's no suggestion that Smith himself will be putting significant money into the black hole his club has become. He's wealthy, but he's kids-and-grandkids comfortable forever wealthy, not let's-pour-tens-of-millions-into-a-football-club wealthy. Smith's profound connection and fear for Rangers does not extend to him taking leave of his senses and draining the family bank accounts on their behalf.
Aside from signing any big cheques, though, Smith could certainly be persuaded to be generous with his time and expertise. Phrases like "figurehead" and "heading a rescue package" sometimes refer to individuals and to appointments which are essentially symbolic and insignificant, but that would not be the case were Smith to be drawn into the Rangers takeover. Such is the suspicion shown towards any unfamiliar character in this saga, such is the distrust and borderline hostility awaiting anyone who might even remotely carry the whiff of being another Whyte, that having Smith's endorsement would be as reassuring to them as a seal of approval from The Queen.
The damage Sir David Murray and Whyte have inflicted on Rangers over the past few years has created a nervous, guarded support, desperate to embrace a saviour but deeply wary of any unknown characters with no prior connection to the club. Brian Kennedy is about the only non-Rangers man who has come through it all unscathed so far. Few question his motives, probably because he has successfully come across as sympathetic rather than opportunistic. Miller, Club 9 Sports, Bill Ng, the Duff & Phelps guys, the umpteen consortia from all over the place: each of them has been subjected to brutal message board and Twitter flayings.
If four unknown "London-based" businessmen emerge as the preferred bidders and execute a successful takeover then the whole experience is going to be entirely different for them if Smith is nodding his head at their introductions, saying "yeah, these guys are okay, we can trust them". With Smith in their corner, new owners won't have any more money but they would have something almost as precious: time. Smith can help drum up season-ticket sales, he can dampen down expectations that the new guys will be investing significant sums in the playing squad, he can help get the message across that there won't be any gain for Rangers without pain. As long as Smith himself is convinced of their funds, their intentions and their business plan, he can be an enormously influential voice on their behalf.
Smith feels a responsibility to Rangers but he also has one to himself. If one of the bidders is to carry his imprimatur then he cannot back the wrong horse by standing beside anyone who could turn into the next Whyte, or even the next Miller. Smith is already on record as saying former Ibrox director Paul Murray and his Blue Knights consortium would be fitting owners of Rangers. He could trust Murray and his partners because he knows them. Anyone else hoping to get Smith's name on the ticket will have to be equally impressive and reassuring for him. His ratification carries so much weight in this takeover that for his sake, and the entire support's, it cannot be given away cheaply.