Boardroom fighting and shady characters
27 August ~ There's something darkly apt about Glasgow Rangers hosting their Berwick namesakes in the Ramsdens Cup tonight. A fixture synonymous with hubris is reprised in a competition exclusively for lower-league teams. Shareholders demanding an extraordinary general meeting (EGM); fans hounding the former chief executive; a legend resigning the chairmanship and businessmen circling as Ibrox haemorrhages cash. Add charges that midfielder Ian Black bet against his own team and Rangers do indeed seem determined to beat Rangers.
When Second Division Berwick put "big" Rangers out of the 1966-67 Scottish Cup the latter overreacted by instantly sacking prolific strikers Jim Forrest and George McLean and, a few months later, legendary manager Scot Symon. So instead of sharing some of the glory from Celtic's European Cup win later that season, Rangers played a centre-half, Roger Hynd, as centre-forward and lost the Cup-Winners Cup final to Bayern Munich. Celtic consolidated domestically and Rangers didn't truly recover till Graeme Souness arrived in 1986.
After 2012's liquidation Rangers have apparently rebuilt again. They sold 34,000 season tickets for the second successive season and raised £22 million from December's Initial Public Offering (IPO) of shares. But the latest boardroom shenanigans have resulted in a civil war unworthy of the term "in-fighting". Disgraced former chief executive Charles Green briefly returned as a consultant but only after those season tickets were sold. He instantly launched a public attack on manager Ally McCoist and Rangers exited the League Cup to Forfar Athletic.
Green's consultancy role seemed similar to that once offered by the US military in Central America. While protecting his investment he caused trouble to expedite the sale of his consortium's shareholding. Fan groups attacked Green and his successor Craig Mather – currently earning £500,000 per year for running a third-tier football club – but those "fans" often turn out to be billionaires and financial gurus, keen to drive down the share price. Former director Dave King – subject to tax evasion charges in South Africa – recently claimed over half the IPO money was already spent and the rest would be gone by Christmas.
Green resigned his consultancy but favourite to buy his stock is businessman Sandy Easdale, who once served time for fraud and recently denied gangland connections. Another ousted director is suing for £3.4m. Amid this former manager Walter Smith resigned his brief stint as chairman and all pretence of stability vanished. Even the normally diplomatic McCoist became embroiled in the PR histrionics.
Last Thursday he produced a document allegedly naming hundreds of Scottish players and officials known to enjoy the delights of a fixed odds coupon. The rules are clear – Scottish footballers shouldn't bet on football – but the publicising of those rules is questionable. The problem, however, is that Black is the quintessential Scottish "nyaff", always crying foul, always likely to be sent off when things get tough. His desire for unearned limelight embodies all that's wrong with the new Rangers.
After four tough league encounters last season Black and co must have hoped May's promotion had rid them of Berwick. But 2012-13 should've taught all at Ibrox that no tournament is beneath them. Tonight's winners will play holders Queen of the South, who last season inflicted the most confused double-embarrassment at Rangers since Chesterfield thrashed us in the 1980-81 Anglo-Scottish Cup.
In the league this season Rangers will face Ayr, Airdrieonians and Dunfermline, opponents their fans remember from top-flight games and Hampden showpieces. The environment is gradually looking familiar again. But all reassurance is being drowned out by a boardroom barely worthy of a consolation tournament sponsored by pawnbrokers. Alex Anderson