One of the themes to have emerged strongly has been the role of the fans during the administration process. In its most basic sense this is taking the form of supporting the team and the club by any means necessary. In particular, there is a great desire to see Ibrox full for every home game for the remainder of the season. This might be viewed as a reassuringly traditional form of supporter activity, one that evokes simpler times when fans didn’t have to worry about tax and liquidation. More interestingly there has been growing momentum behind the idea that the fans might decisively influence the future business model of the club. The idea has gained traction through the high-profile media interventions of fans’ representatives like Mark Dingwall and Andy Kerr and because such a scenario has been welcomed by the former director Paul Murray. Credibility has been bestowed by the exceptional nature of the circumstances engulfing Ibrox. On Wednesday, it was announced that the three main supporters’ groups-the Rangers Supporters Trust, the Rangers Supporters Assembly and the Rangers Supporters Association-had launched a website with the principle aim of gauging how many fans would be willing to commit money to ‘save Rangers’. At this early stage the precise nature of this rescue is understandably vague but the call is suitably evocative.
The cause of fan ownership, or at least radically enhanced fan participation and responsibility, will have won many converts since last Tuesday because of the revelations about how Craig Whyte has run the club. The admission, earlier this week, that he had used money from the sale of season tickets to Ticketus to pay off the debt to Lloyd’s Banking Group was yet another proverbial bitter bill to be washed down with vinegar. Whyte had previously denied that he had done any such thing. This was added to a negative CV of remarkable distinction with ‘general aversion to the truth’ being one of the major entries. The anger about how the club has been ran, first by Sir David Murray and then Whyte, has directly informed the first objective listed on the ‘Save Rangers’ website: ‘no one person should ever again have a majority of shares. The one man ownership has failed Rangers.’ This is an unequivocal statement chiselled by the bitterness of recent experience. It is also in accordance with recent statements by Trust and Assembly figures that have said any individual or consortium looking to buy the club will have to demonstrate intent to involve the fans if their backing is to be secured. The statement posted on the RST website to announce the initiative reiterated the non-negotiable nature of this position; ‘the three groups call on all potential owners to note that we will no longer tolerate the single owner model for Rangers.’ What we are seeing is the anger and frustration of the past week being crystallised into a hardened determination that future generations of Rangers fans should never again know times like these.
Two of the other objectives clearly bear the scars of recent experience. One centres on the need for accountability and transparency and goes on to assert, ‘any plan to take the club on must have proper governance’. Another states that, ‘fan ownership and representation is required to ensure the financial stability of our club in future’, thus leaving little doubt about the desired outcome of the administration process. In the meantime it is an astute move for two reasons. First, it answers the call for leadership and direction. A practical outlet was what was required; something that suggested a sense of purposefulness in order to maintain momentum. And second, it empowers and emboldens the supporters’ groups in current and future discussions with potential investors. The objectives they outlined are more achievable if buttressed by some form of intent.
At the time of writing, just over 24 hours after the launch, the initiative’s Twitter feed reported that 7000 fans had signed up and the money pledged amounted to some £5 million. These are remarkable figures. Detractors will scoff and it should be acknowledged that there are obvious problems that need consideration. It has been argued, for example, that mischievous Celtic fans will render the exercise almost meaningless by pledging sums that they have no intention of following through on. Those responsible, however, seem confident that they will be able to weed-out the infiltrators. It would also be reasonable to point out that it is much easier to make a commitment-free pledge than to actually participate for real. This argument underestimates the commitment of thousands of fans and the transformative effects of having to endure the current situation. It is unlikely that every one of those 7000 will follow through on their pledge, should it be required, but this would be more than offset by the other fans who would contribute to any scheme should it become a reality. It has to be recognised that so far only a fraction of the Rangers support have become involved; there is still massive room for expansion. The initial new media emphasis in advertising the scheme might have inadvertently disenfranchised older fans but newspaper and television exposure should have gone some way to rectifying this imbalance.
Even prior to Rangers entering administration, there was much talk about the desirability of the fans taking some sort of role in the running of the club. In the month leading up to the calamitous events of the last week it seemed like every other day saw a new thread on the popular Follow Follow message-board discussing the merits, or even the necessity, of this kind of business model. Naturally, events have given these discussions fresh impetuous, indeed they have taken on a hitherto unknown urgency as they have moved from the realm of speculation to being a potential means of preserving the club and securing its history. Circumstances will dictate the feasibility of such a scheme and there is much still to be clarified in terms of the administration process and the mechanics of fan ownership and representation. For the moment the ‘Save Rangers’ initiative represents a determined, not tentative, step in that direction.
Written by Alasdair McKillop