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The thin blue line

A different December and a different message from the Rangers chief executive.

Chief executive Graham Wallace, third from left, and his board secured the necessary backing at the club's AGM and they will now seek to move forward from a turbulent periodPhotograph: PA
Chief executive Graham Wallace, third from left, and his board secured the necessary backing at the club's AGM and they will now seek to move forward from a turbulent periodPhotograph: PA

Charles Green, with his gruff, populist charm, sold an idea 12 months ago of grandly rebuilding Rangers, of propelling the club back to the top, through money raised from an initial public offering of shares. Green delivered in the sense that £22 million was raised, but the boardroom dynamic was not right to provide the substance behind the sales pitch. Now Graham Wallace talks sensibly about streamlining the business, about sustainability and a five-year plan that will prevent Rangers running into financial difficulties.

Wallace is the chief executive the club needed 12 months ago. That money has gone, but he stresses there is enough capital to run the business on a normal basis for now. Cuts need to be made, though, before the necessary process of seeking additional funding to finance a properly devised strategy to ensure that when Rangers eventually return to the top flight, the team is competitive.

Wallace impressed at last Thursday's AGM, and he set himself a target of 120 days to review every aspect of the business, re-engage with the support and devise a football player asset strategy with manager Ally McCoist.

In short, Wallace intends to approach his job as a conventional chief executive would. Green became waylaid by the internal corporate governance pressures applied by former chairman Malcolm Murray and Phil Cartmell, the former non-executive director, and the external pressures brought about by some ill-advised comments he made about former commercial director Imran Ahmad. Green's successor, Craig Mather, lacked the experience to take on the role during a particularly turbulent time. Twelve months on from Rangers being listed on the Alternative Investment Market, the overwhelming sense is of an opportunity lost.

"It is quite clear looking back," Wallace said, "£19m of top line revenue and £14.5m operating loss. Even if you strip £10m in one-off items, the business was still losing £4.5m on a normalised basis. Quite clearly, that is an issue. We have [a] considerable cost base in terms of the staff costs, player wage costs and the infrastructure and running costs of the business. My expectation is we will take some costs out. We have [the] second most expensive wage bill in Scotland and yet we are playing in the third tier. But we are certainly not in the business of going into a fire sale and moving out some of the talent that we need to keep."

Rangers will have to trim the playing squad, but that is an obligation that would face anybody running the club just now. The AGM became a campaign for control, with the five directors - chairman David Somers, Wallace, non-executives James Easdale and Norman Crighton, and finance director Brian Stockbridge - seeking re-election, and four nominees - Paul Murray, Malcolm Murray, Alex Wilson and Scott Murdoch - trying to join the board. In the end, it was the current board who held sway, since they were backed by a group of shareholders who represented more than 50% of the club, including Sandy Easdale, who is the football club board chairman and has the voting rights for a portion of more than 26%; the largest single shareholder Laxey Partners, who own more than 11%; and Mike Ashley, whose Sports Direct firm have a retail agreement with Rangers and who owns more than 4%.

The nominees won 60% of the remaining available votes, which were essentially the institutional investors and individual fan shareholders. An opportunity now exists to repair some of the fault lines, within the fan base and the shareholder base, but that will take time and effort. Wallace has a mandate as chief executive - he polled the highest number of votes of the current directors - to lead the club. That requires a conventional boardroom dynamic, but also understanding from the support. Fans who have campaigned for good corporate governance cannot then take issue with necessary cost-cutting, even if it includes players leaving.

"I see no impediment to being able to implement what I want to do," Wallace said. "My hands are not tied by anything or anyone. I am completely independent, I have no links to anybody in the club or in the business. We've got an effectively functioning five-man board. I have a very powerful voice and in terms of how we operate and plan to grow the business, I have the pivotal voice. I don't have complete authority to do everything, I will have to make recommendations to the board, as you would expect, but that initiative and leadership role sits with me. There is nobody pulling strings behind me, I can assure you of that."

Wallace will also need to address the concerns of the investors who voted against the board, even if the decision went its way. He defends Stockbridge - who has become the scapegoat for all the decisions made by the previous board - and insists he will assess everything by his own values. Wallace must also address the discontent among the fans, which saw a majority of those inside the stadium stage a red-card protest during the last game at Ibrox. The mood at the AGM was occasionally angry, too.

"The club can do better in terms of engaging with the fan base," Wallace said. "I look at [the AGM] as putting a line in the sand. I've been here a month and one of the big issues talking to major organisations about becoming potential partners is instability, turmoil, 'why would we want to be associated with your club when all we are reading every day is you can't agree who is to be on the board?' We need a bit of time, a bit of space and we need a positive external environment.

"This constant sniping and allegations, that the club is teetering on the edge of administration, doesn't help. So the people on the outside who genuinely say they have the best interests of the club at heart, come and support us. When you read of boycotts, what is gained other than damaging the club?"

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