Gauging the reaction of Newcastle United fans to the news that club owner Mike Ashley has strengthened his grip on Rangers Football Club may not be as straightforward as initially suspected. One reason for this may be that no-one other than the often truculent Ashley appreciates what the implications may be for the club. Always tight-lipped about his intentions, it will take more than a laser-sharp financial insight to appreciate just where Ashley’s aspirations are targeted.
Ashley had made an emergency loan offer to the club amounting to some £2million on an interest free basis that could be drawn down as required. The offer was not the only option under consideration club however. Former member of the Blue Knights consortium that failed to take control of the club a few years ago and Sale Sharks owner, Brian Kennedy had offered a £3million loan to counter Ashley’s gambit. The deal foundered however, as did an approach from former director Dave King who was prepared to offer a £16million cash injection, in exchange for a controlling interest at the club.
Indications that Ashley had won the day however were first suggested on Friday when Philip Nash resigned as a director. Later it was reported that King returned to South Africa, clearly accepting that his attempt was doomed, despite backing from former Blue Knight Paul Murray and wealthy fan George Letham. It’s understood that Ashley’s offer was accepted by the board on Friday, thus also rejecting the alternatives.
Confirmation seemed to have arrived via a club announcement to the London Stock Exchange at 7.00am on Monday morning, detailing that chief executive Graham Wallace had resigned his £315,000 salaried position at the club. In fairly blunt but correct terms, it detailed that “Rangers announces that Graham Wallace, chief executive officer, has resigned as a director and employee of the company and its subsidiaries with immediate effect. The directors would like to thank Graham for his contribution to the club during a difficult period. The board has commenced the search for a chief executive officer. A further announcement will be made in due course.” Wallace had fought against Ashley’s bid, and his departure from the club was a clear herald of Ashley’s success. The ‘flagged up’ further statement was not long in arriving.
Shortly afterwards, a statement made to the Alterative Investments Market, a sub-market of the Stock Exchange, confirmed that the Ashley deal had been accepted. A key mover in this seems to have been football board chairman Sandy Easdale. As the holder and proxy-carrier for some 26% of the voting equity, Easdale was well-placed as a king-maker, and had apparently resolved to throw in his lot with Ashley, thus ensuring victory for the Newcastle owner.
Moving forward, Ashley’s ownership of the Geordie club, means he is prohibited from owning any more than 10% of Rangers’ club’s shares as part of a deal he signed with the Scottish Football Association three years ago. He currently has 8.92%. The deal however has still strengthened his hold on the club in less obvious ways. Already the owner of the naming rights to Rangers’ famous Ibrox stadium, he also runs the club’s retail division.
As part of the terms of the new deal, he now also has security over the Albion car park and Edmiston House facility in the close environs of Ibrox. Whilst these assets offer financial security, the new prerogative to appoint two directors to the board to succeed Nash and Wallace are probably the more valuable part of the deal should – as seems inevitable – some grand plan exist to move the club forward in the way he desires. Early rumours suggest that Ashley has already settled on Derek Llambias and Stephen Mucklow as his nominees for the positions.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, Llambias has already begun a ‘charm offensive’ on behalf of Ashley suggesting that Rangers fans should be “excited” by the prospect of the move. Similar sounds were probably to be heard ahead of the takeover at St James Park. Any such positive response to such exaltation will however probably have diminished more than somewhat by now however. In a tight-lipped response his boss would doubtless have been proud of, Llambas towed the party line after arriving in Scotland. “Mike Ashley has got a great track record,” he declared. “But I can’t give you any comment. I’d love to, but I can’t.” Later adding: “I’ve been invited up here to have discussions with the board and I’m one of many applicants, but I’m sorry, I can’t give you any more than that. It’s hardly the effusive approach required to calm the fears of Rangers’ diehard fans.
The Daily Record opened their Sports Hotline to Rangers’ fans concerned about the development. Unsurprisingly many of those reported are adverse to the move, with many comments expressing incredulity at how a short term £2million deal could be better than a £16million long term one. One even alludes to the club’s crest being sold for the Ashley loan figure.
The emotions are probably not too different from those that would be expressed by fans of Newcastle united. Ashley however is unlikely to be moved too much be the opinions of others. Rangers seem to be well and truly heading into the Ashley stable, and it’s too late to bolt the stable door. The financial future of Rangers may have been secured in the short term, but it’s the long term of the club that fans will be worried about.