I’d like to continue last week’s theme on the proposals for the Atlantic League because there is more to be said there, but at the moment there’s only really one big question in Scottish football: Are Rangers Donald Ducked?
Walter Smith showed he learned a thing or two from Sir Alex Ferguson by his canny statement at the weekend suggesting that Rangers were being run by the bank. By putting this information in the public domain he pulled a classic “CYA” move (corporate-speak for “Cover Your Ass”) to let the world know the seriousness of the constraints under which he’s recently been operating; but also I think he did the Rangers fans a favour by forcing the issue into the open and getting a debate going about what needs to happen now.
While Lloyds may technically be correct in their statement that they are not running the Gers, in practice there will be no serious amount of money going out of the door without Lloyd’s explicit blessing (and probably the signature of Donald Muir, their appointed director). So yes – they are in effect running Rangers.
And to that I say: so what?
The situation is impossibly difficult for Lloyds which is why they have been so keen to keep it under wraps. Why so? Well, what are the scenarios that could play out?
(1) They take a hard line and force Rangers into administration. Points deduction follows (it’s not automatic relegation – I checked); then mass player exodus at firesale prices, drastic cost cuts, season ticket sales plummet (even if they still get sold, the prices can’t be increased), no prospect of Champions League to compensate. This is roughly akin to Lloyds printing a GBP30m banknote and setting fire to it. And with 43% of that 30m being owned by the UK taxpayer, even those who don’t give two hoots about the merits and demerits of Kris Boyd won’t want to see this happen. Those who do will be protesting outside every branch in the country, and as Manchester showed, if there’s one thing we can do well, it is protest. Will this scenario play out? Unlikely. It’s bad for Lloyds financially and politically.
(2) The furore over the situation accelerates the process of finding a buyer for the Gers. People who have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right moment – or more likely the right price – come to the fore and pick up the club for a song. Because of (1) Lloyds aren’t in a great bargaining position – they are asking for 100% repayment of their debt, but in practice they’d probably settle for half of that, or repayment of some and a guarantee of the rest. The new buyer could be someone with Rangers’ best interests at heart – which is what Murray says he has been holding out for – or it could be a complete cowboy who wants to asset-strip and flip the club to make a quick buck. With Murray now out of the picture, this is a possibility, so this option isn’t at all pretty for us Bluenoses.
(3) An extended period of the club being run as Lloyds FC. This is probably the most entertaining scenario for the rest of Scottish football, because the comedy/soap-opera gets to play out over years, not weeks or months. All the top players get sold (no I’m not sure who they are either), Murray Park gets sold, we play with a team of kids and veterans who practice on Glasgow Green and are engaged in spirited battles for third or fourth place in the league until, well, something happens. The SPL goes from a two-horse race to not being a race at all. Initially great fun for Celtic supporters; but ultimately dismal.
Maybe there are other ways forward, but some mixture of these three is most likely to occur.
Two final comments.
Is Dave King the white knight? I have to say I hope not. Now I’ve never met the guy and I’m sure he’s a very nice man (disclaimer: the Editor told me to say that) but I still recall a song from the “Spitting Image” puppet comedy series in the height of the anti-apartheid 80s… “I’ve never met a nice South African”. While that is no longer true, anyone who moved *to* the segregated and constitutionally racist society that was South Africa back then is, to say the least, missing a few ethics. And then to magic up a fortune in the early years of post-apartheid society, in a way that generates no tax liability… it’s no wonder he’s under investigation by the SAR authorities.
Finally: my dream scenario maybe just inched a tiny bit closer. I still don’t see it as anything but a remote possibility, however the only way that football clubs can be protected against rapacious, incompetent, or criminal owners is to have true stakeholder ownership of clubs along the lines of Barcelona or Real Madrid. OK, Real aren’t perhaps the best example given their outlandish spending and for sure the president-elected-by-members model brings its own challenges, but at least it gives a say to the people who genuinely care about their team, and who are in it for a lifetime – not for just as long as it takes them to siphon off an outsized return on their investment.
P.S. There is one upside to this entire situation for Rangers fans: sooner or later, Martin Bain will be packed off, jotters in hand. Murray’s permatanned stooge Chief Executive has been just as culpable in managing the club into the dire situation it finds itself now; he’s the man responsible for 500k salaries for the likes of Gavin Rae, FFS.