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

- By Stephen Mc­Gowan Chief Foot­ball Writer Sports · Soccer · Rangers · Cowdenbeath · Championship · Ibrox Stadium · Celtic F.C. · Steven Gerrard · Motherwell F.C. · Donald Trump · Pedro Caixinha · British Sky Broadcasting · Scotland · Dave King · Cowdenbeath F.C. · League Two · Mark Warburton · Paul Gascoigne

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.’

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 ??  ?? Blue­print for the fu­ture: Richard Gough, Paul Mur­ray, Dave King and John Gil­li­gan at Rangers’ takeover an­nounce­ment in 2015
Blue­print for the fu­ture: Richard Gough, Paul Mur­ray, Dave King and John Gil­li­gan at Rangers’ takeover an­nounce­ment in 2015

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