EGM today with Dave King expected to take control
6 March ~ With mounting postal and proxy votes against a crumbling incumbent board, today’s Rangers EGM might comprise a few seconds of admin in an Ibrox office. This would be an almost underwhelming conclusion. Two separate London hotels reneged on staging this most extraordinary of general meetings – no one wants their conference suite invaded by a support as large as it is almost blindly frustrated.
The team won once in February. While exiting both cups and dropping to third in the Championship, sectarian singing returned in the stands and caretaker manager Kenny McDowall was told five unsolicited Newcastle loanees must play every game. The ineptitude on the pitch, like the bigotry off it, stems from fear and confusion. Supporter organisations are hounding out an owner, Mike Ashley, who doesn’t own the club. They’re replacing him with businessman Dave King, whose convictions in South Africa on 41 of 322 counts of fraud and tax evasion will please neither the SFA nor the Alternative Investment Market on which the club trades.
On Tuesday the SFA fined Ashley £7,500 because his ownership of Newcastle United creates a conflict of interest. This prevented his Rangers shareholding exceeding nine per cent, yet provisos in a £10 million emergency loan let him handpick directors. This board then rejected an £18m takeover bid from American banker Robert Sarver and loans from other parties, including King. At December’s bilious AGM shareholders were seated in the traditional “Celtic End” of Ibrox. Since then protests outside home games contrast favourably with the disenfranchised torpor within.
One Ashley appointee, chief executive officer Derek Llambias, alleges assaults by Rangers fans. Two unsubstantiated hotel bar incidents let him protest that Ashley’s £10m saved his attackers’ club, but £3m immediately went towards refunding a previous Ashley loan. Plans to use Ibrox as security were only scrapped after near-riots outside January’s league visit of Hearts, a game abandoned because austerity Rangers lack the facilities to shovel snow.
Shareholders against Ashley’s board initially anticipated a narrow victory. Since King took control of 14.5 per cent of shares and requested the EGM, the Rangers First Community Interest Company has expanded to over 13,000 members. Contributing payments of £5, £10 or £18.72 per month (Rangers were founded in 1872) while gathering proxy votes from existing shareholders, they’ve acquired a 2.2 per cent stake. Doing likewise, the Rangers Supporters Trust have another 3.4 per cent, including the shares of former Bayern Munich manager Felix Magath. The “Three Bears” consortium of prominent Rangers-supporting Scottish businessmen owns a further 19.49 per cent.
Ashley’s board is disintegrating. James Easdale resigned last week, chairman David Somers went on Monday. On Tuesday Llambias admitted previously undecided shareholders had also voted for King, making the EGM a fait accompli. But Llambias and finance director Barry Leach want pay-offs, Ashley’s loans will need refunding and trading on Rangers shares is suspended after the club’s nominated adviser to the stock exchange resigned on Wednesday.
Despite 2012’s liquidation, Rangers fans obsess with quality of life rather than survival. Instead of a proven businessman cutting costs, Ashley is regarded as a bona fide billionaire destroying an infrastructure he could rebuild overnight. So saviour status is being accorded King, an Ibrox director when Craig Whyte took over in 2011 under the same halo.
Whether inadvisable or just plain symbolic, Ashley’s board clearly have to go before fans return in full force, a new manager is appointed and Rangers regain any sense of forward momentum. The big question, however, remains. As a minder pushed him through yesterday’s Glasgow Airport media scrum Llambias urged them to ask the man arriving behind him: “Where’s yer money, Mr King? Who’s yer Nomad?” Alex Anderson