Scottish Daily Mail
The Rangers we took over in 2015 was broken into a thousand pieces. And that would make the satisfaction of finally winning the league title now immense
WHEN Rangers lay broken and shattered in tiny pieces, Paul Murray reached for a brush and shovel and began the clear-up.
There were inevitable cuts and bruises. Hours after they completed the takeover of March 2015, Murray, Dave King and John Gilligan perched in a rickety wooden stand in Fife watching Rangers draw 0-0 with Cowdenbeath in a Championship match.
It would take more than a sticking plaster to patch up the gaping wounds caused by years of neglect and mismanagement. The home ground was Ibrox. The shirts were blue. Yet the Rangers that Murray returned to serve as a director five years ago suffered from a chronic case of imposter syndrome.
‘For Rangers supporters, it has been a tough ten years,’ he tells Sportsmail now. ‘So many things have happened in that period. That’s why if we are fortunate enough to win the league this year, it would just be an incredible achievement.
‘It’s not only me. For everyone involved at different stages when we were playing in League Two and so on, it would be hugely enjoyable and satisfying.’
Glance at a Premiership table now and it looks a realistic goal. Eleven points clear of a Celtic side in the throes of a collective breakdown, Steven Gerrard’s team are playing with style, flair and a level of cohesion wholly absent when the takeover season ended in on-field rancour and a 6-1 aggregate defeat to Motherwell in the Premiership play-off final.
The journey to this point has never been smooth. Ravaged by a cast list Donald Trump might have considered toxic, the banishment of Craig Whyte and the like was only half the story.
Dave King attracted t he attention of the Takeover Panel. Mark Warburton won promotion before leaving under a cloud, Graeme Murty’s interim reign spiralled downhill quickly and the appointment of Pedro Caixinha proved a bewildering business. Gerrard’s rebuild, meanwhile, has been financed by the soft loans of shareholders willing to dig deep to give the club a fighting chance.
This year’s loss of £15.9million highlights an inability to make the club a self-sustaining operation.
‘Listen, there have obviously been mistakes along the way and I have always said that,’ Murray acknowledges.
‘When we came in five years ago, we literally had to rebuild every aspect of the club. The club was broken into a thousand pieces.
‘And we were trying to do that while trying to be competitive on the field. We were going to make mistakes because we are only human beings.
‘The big difference when we arrived was that everyone who was involved in rebuilding the club was there for the right reasons. We were supporters trying to rebuild the club. There were genuine and honest mistakes. Things have not been a straight l i ne towards instant success.
‘But, in some ways, that would make it even more pleasing if we are lucky enough to win the league. It hasn’t been easy, far from it.’
Murray stepped down from the board for a second time in May 2018. After years of fighting to restore Rangers to a competitive state, he is content now to savour the fruits of his labours from afar.
‘Watching it on TV and speaking to people around the club, it feels like Rangers again. It feels like the aura around the team that wasn’t there in the last ten years.
‘When you go to any match away from home — and a lot of people down south don’t realise this — every game is a cup final. It’s on TV and t hey want t o show themselves off and impress.
‘Every game is a competitive game, so for Rangers and Celtic going to Pittodrie, Tynecastle and Easter Road it’s hard to grind out results.
‘But, even at Ibrox, teams from different leagues were coming with the expectation that they might get something from the match. In the past, they would go to Ibrox and think they didn’t have much chance of winning.
‘What seems to have changed is the real belief and mentality. We seem to be getting the bit between the teeth and steamrolling teams at Ibrox in a way that hasn’t been there for the last period.’
Before 2015, Murray was a key figure in King’s takeover plans. He became the voice of public dissent when the motives of those running the club came under attack.
Barely a day went by without an appearance on Sky Sports against the backdrop of the Bill Struth Stand. Articulate and reasoned, Murray’s return to the board was welcomed by supporters. He left after three years when the emotional demands became onerous.
‘It takes a toll on your family life,’ he explains. ‘And your business as well. It is very time consuming because of all the stakeholders involved and the media profile.
‘In the west of Scotland, everyone wants to hear about Rangers and Celtic and what’s going on.
‘Every detail and every bit of minutiae is pored over. And, of course, you now have social media as well. So it is a very difficult environment to step into.
‘ There are a whole range of people invested in the club in very different ways. And trying to balance all those parties is pretty challenging. Especially when you are trying to rebuild a football club as we were doing in my second stint.
‘We were rebuilding it after a lot of damage to the club. It was hard going and it was tough.
‘It’s not just a case of being on the board and making objective business decisions. You can never get away from the emotional feel you have for Rangers.
‘And when you lose matches or are lagging behind in the league, it hits you more than just a normal business.
‘You have the emotional impact as well as the business impact —
What seems to have changed is the real belief and mentality
and that really is a bit of a double whammy.’
Acknowledging that Rangers look a different proposition this season, Murray detects more mental strength.
After the premature celebrations of past seasons, he believes Gerrard is learning well and learning fast.
‘While you are thinking that Steven has a massive name that can only be good for the profile of the club and attracting players, you are also thinking he is going to need support because he is an inexperienced manager.
‘But the impressive thing with him is that he seems to have learned on the job. There has been progression every year.
‘You have to say the board have supported him in the quality of players and squad. In the main, the quality of the squad has improved every year.
‘This year, I look at the squad and see competition for every place and that’s a strong thing in terms of the ability to rotate high- quality players and not have a significant impact on performances and results. Steven has done a great j ob.’ The staggering pace of Celtic’s collapse has helped i n that respect. Yet the precedent of a financially-strong team staggering towards ten in a row and stumbling before the finishing line has been set twice before. First, by Jock Stein’s team in 1975 and then by Walter Smith’s Rangers in 1998.
‘I wasn’t on the board when we were going for ten in a row,’ Murray recalls, ‘but I was a supporter.
‘And what I remember from that season is Walter announcing his departure and a squad beginning to break up towards the end of it with players like Gazza leaving.
‘I also remember the weight of expectation. You are going for ten in a row, to be the first to do it, and you could feel the demand.
‘So although there is pressure on the team chasing to try and prevent it, there is also huge pressure on the team trying to get ten in a row.
‘The expectation builds and I suppose all sport is about how you handle pressure.
‘Right now, it has to be one game at a time. But Rangers look like they are handling it well.’