MIKE Ashley has stepped down from the board of Rangers Retail raising hopes the billionaire may be poised to loosen his grip over the merchandising arm of the Ibrox club.

Companies House has confirmed notification that Mr Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct, and the firm's chief executive, David Forsey, tendered their resignations from Rangers  Retail Limited.


The move comes amid attempts to hold a Rangers Retail board meeting where it was expected challenging questions would be asked about the merchandising deal which means only 4p from every pound spent in the Ibrox store is banked by the Old Firm outfit.

It was not immediately clear whether Sports Direct will replace Ashley and Forsey on the Rangers Retail board.

Read more: Sports Direct's Mike Ashley will appear before MPs to defend his 'good name'

When the joint venture between Rangers and Sports Direct was confirmed by then chief executive Charles Green in August 2012, it was promoted as enabling Rangers "to once again control its retail operation and give supporters the chance to buy direct from the club and in doing so, continue to invest in its future".


But last month the Rangers board - unhappy with their return on the venture - served notice to cancel the merchandise deal with Rangers Retail Limited, controlled by Sports Direct.

Intellectual property experts said that the move looked destined for a courtroom battle.

Read more: Rangers attempt to beat rivals to the signature of former Newcastle defender Steven Taylor

But it is understood that no challenge has yet been lodged by Sports Direct, which has a controlling vote on “financial matters” concerning Rangers Retail.

Two weeks ago Rangers launched a civil court action against four of the club's former executives, Sports Direct and its owner Mike Ashley.


The case brought against former chief executives Charles Green and Derek Llambias, former commercial director Imran Ahmad, former financial director Brian Stockbridge, SportsDirect.com Retail and Mr Ashley is being dealt with at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

It is understood the action concerns the controversial merchandise deal.

Read more: Michael Mols - there's still a big gap between Rangers and Celtic

But fans group Sons of Struth has refused to call off its boycott of club merchandise which was launched in protest against the deal with the Mike Ashley company.


The boardroom changes leaves Cameron Olsen as the only Sports Direct representative on the Rangers Retail board, acting as company secretary. He currently acts as head of legal and company secretary of Sports Direct.

The remaining Rangers Retail directors are club chairman Dave King and director Paul Murray.

One fans group source welcomed the news saying the resignations would be a "humiliation" for Mr Ashley who is also the Newcastle United owner, and has a near nine per cent shareholding in Rangers. He said: "It looks like Ashley has had to back off rather than face the questions of Dave King and Paul Murray at any Rangers Retail board meeting."


It is understood that new Rangers strips cannot be sold because of Rangers' move to terminate the merchandising contracts.

Club chairman Dave King has tried on several occasions to renegotiate the retail deal but the club has previously indicated that he has been rebuffed at every turn by Ashley.

But it was thought that Ashley may be forced to ease his control of the Rangers' commercial activities following Newcastle's relegation to the Sky Bet Championship as the governing body, the Football League operates stricter rules on dual ownership than in the English Premier League.

The club has already triggered a seven-year notice period required to cancel all contractual ties with Sports Direct.

The Rangers Retail set up has been a long-lasting area of controversy and at the end of 2014 the Rangers Supporters Trust launched an alternative shirt for fans as they took on Mr Ashley - and said all profits would be ploughed back into an increased shareholding in their club.


The relationship between King and Ashley has grew increasingly fractious after a string of courtroom battles in which the Sports Direct billionaire failed to have the Rangers chairman jailed for contempt of court as the tycoon tried to prevent the club from revealing details about the Rangers Retail deal. The high court judge Mr Justice Peter Smith described Sports Direct’s efforts as a “ridiculous piece of litigation”.

During the litigation Mr Justice Peter Smith questioned the length of the seven year notice period in terminating the controversial  deal, and then expressed surprise at the terms of the confidentiality agreement covering it revealing that binds Rangers and not Sports Direct.

The previous 10-year licence agreement with sports retailer JJB Sports rubber stamped in 2006, was worth a minimum of £48 million to the club. The club got an initial payment of £18 million when they launched an Umbro home kit and were guaranteed a minimum annual royalty of £3 million in each year of the licence.

Rangers declined to comment on the development. Sports Direct has so far not responded to approaches for comment.

Video: Dave King explains in November about the decision to pay off Sports Direct and how they would do it.