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Wallace leads from the front as board survives

Shareholders made their way solemnly into Ibrox, on a bitingly cold morning, looking for answers.

The Rangers board were re-elected after receiving majority support in Thursday's vote. Picture: Colin Mearns
The Rangers board were re-elected after receiving majority support in Thursday's vote. Picture: Colin Mearns

It was the first annual meeting they have attended for three years, and much has happened in that time. There was a sense that grievances would be aired and that the immediate future of the club would begin to take shape. Both the scoreboards behind the goals carried the same message: "stability and success". It is what the club needs, as well as what the board wanted to assert as their message.

The crowd was inevitably hostile. Some fans have grown disenchanted with the turmoil of the boardroom, the sense that at times it lost focus because of individual distractions, and that the finances and business plan are not as robust as they ought to be. These were ordinary fans who bought shares in their club and wanted to listen to the directors and voice their own opinions.

Votes would be cast, but most of those attending knew that there was a general acceptance that the five directors would be re-elected and that the four seeking nomination to the board would fail.

There was time for self-expression, though. When the board was first introduced, and the directors began making their way on to the stage built up in front of the main stand, booing rose from the crowd, then a chant of "out, out, out". It must have seemed surreal to David Somers, the chairman, Graham Wallace, the chief executive, and Norman Crighton, the non-executive director, who have been on the board for less than two months. There has been no time to judge them. It was, though, the culmination of two years' worth of angst and frustration, and these eight men - they were joined by non-executive James Easdale, his brother and football club board chairman Sandy, the manager Ally McCoist and the finance director Brian Stockbridge - were effectively being held accountable for the events of the past 18 months.

"That was quite a welcome," said Somers cheerily, only to hear more booing in response. "I'm on the board of two banks and a life insurance company and nothing I've done has prepared me for today."

He chaired the event with a light touch and an occasionally deft sense of humour. It was a difficult occasion to manage, but he coped well and granted most of the requests from the shareholders, including facilitating a short speech from each of the directors and nominees before the vote, which had not been part of the order of the meeting.

When he introduced each individual, there was applause for McCoist and Wallace, and booing for Stockbridge. The financial director has become the scapegoat for the previous regime. He is the last remaining figure from the original Rangers International Football Club board, and as such was the de facto target for the frustration that still resides within the support towards Charles Green, the former chief executive, and Imran Ahmad, the former commercial director, after the turmoil that followed their departures.

In his address, Somers spoke about the need for oversight and corporate governance, of a board that had required strengthening. He acknowledged the need to build up the trust and the involvement of supporters, but also of a "rather dark corporate past".

"We fully understand why we do not yet have the trust of fans," he admitted, speaking confidently and clearly, and it was well received.

The same applied to Wallace, who delivered a strong, impressive account of how he intends to take the business forward. His speech included a pledge to achieve some measurable aims in the next 120 days, including a complete review of every area of the business, re-engagement with the supporters, motivating staff and devising a football player asset strategy with the manager.

He talked of building a "successful and sustainable Rangers for future generations" but also conceded that season ticket prices would need to rise following likely promotion to the SPFL Championship and that "we will need investment. Let's not pretend we don't". He also pledged to "protect Ibrox and other facilities" but noted that hospitality and other commercial revenue has been adversely affected by Rangers being in the lower leagues, as well as by the instability in the boardroom, and that "operating costs are too high, even for the top division, never mind the lower leagues".

He was heralding the necessary streamlining of the business that will take place in the coming months, but Wallace was well received by the shareholders and prompted an ovation. McCoist did, too, after an impassioned and heartfelt speech in which he thanked the fans for their loyalty and faith, and praised the coaches and the non-football staff, and his players, in particular Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace. "You are our inspiration" he said to the fans in closing, to another ovation.

It was the questions from the floor that drew the most emotion and attention, though. Some raised voices and the occasional shout towards the stage apart, the request for respect was adhered to. Most of the ire was directed towards Stockbridge, although he was assertive rather than embattled, and said that he was not there to "win a popularity contest".

He was asked about stock options and said that there is a contractual commitment to him, but that he has not taken them. When asked about the Sports Direct and Blackthorn deals, he pointed out that the details were commercially sensitive.

Wallace, providing some perspective, pointed out that the values are in line with other clubs'.

One shareholder questioned the "front-end placing costs" of the initial public offering of shares, to which Stockbridge replied that there was "no black hole" that money had gone into. In explaining the costs, he attributed £2.5m to "financial advice". Stockbridge insisted that neither Green nor Ahmad receive any income from merchandising deals. Another shareholder raised the club's use of external PR consultant Jack Irvine, to which Somers responded that he was appointed by the previous board, that Irvine was "working hard" and that everything would be "evaluated".

Crighton answered a question about Blue Pitch Holdings and Margarita - two of the original investors who are part of the proxy votes held by Sandy Easdale - by saying that the board has "as much information as we legally need and are satisfied they have the same influence as any other investor". When Somers added that they want to remain private, it generated more chants of "out, out, out".

Stockbridge then asserted that he has paid back the £200,000 bonus he received for the team winning promotion last season, while Somers insisted that there had "not been a single leak from his board", and suggested that a BBC report two days ago on the result of the agm was guesswork. He added that if any directors were caught leaking information he would be "seeking their resignation".

Once each director and nominee said their piece, it fell to the vote.

The results, delivered two hours later, revealed that shareholding backing was enough to re-elect the board, even if the fans who attended the agm were not wholly in agreement. Wallace, in particular, will now play a leadership role in repairing the club.

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