King leav­ing Ash­ley with a di­rect line to Ibrox throne

Mike Ash­ley, the bil­lion­aire New­cas­tle owner, seems to be win­ning the bat­tle for Rangers

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FOOTBALL - GRA­HAM SPIERS

IF this is at all pos­si­ble, yes­ter­day proved even more chaotic for Rangers. The po­si­tion of Dave King, would-be majority owner, looked less promis­ing. Mike Ash­ley, on the con­trary, looked more se­cure in seek­ing greater power at the club, a view given cre­dence by the res­ig­na­tion of Philip Nash, an Ibrox di­rec­tor Ash­ley had wanted out.

Many Rangers fans con­tinue to have reser­va­tions about Ash­ley, who has of­fered Rangers emer­gency – and we must pre­sume in­ter­est-free – loans. There was anger and even venom be­ing ex­pressed last night at the news that Ash­ley, and not King, looked to be on course to win the bat­tle for power at the club.

King, un­doubt­edly, is most fans’ favourite for the role. This fact is almost in­ci­den­tal, a mere frip­pery, in the pan­tomime sur­round­ing the fight for power at Rangers. Some fans will bleat, but oth­ers will be moved by the spare mil­lions Ash­ley is able to lav­ish upon Ibrox.

Right now the 50-year-old multi­bil­lion­aire looks the very em­bod­i­ment of “money talks” and “money is power”. Ash­ley wanted two direc­tors, Gra­ham Wal­lace and Nash, ousted, and his own men put in place. Yes­ter­day, Nash fell on his sword. Wal­lace’s days now also look num­bered.

Ash­ley’s money and power are im­mense. Seven years ago he stumped up £263m to take hold of New­cas­tle United: £134m to buy the club out­right and £129m in­vested as in­ter­est-free loans in a for­mi­da­ble splurge of cash. If he gets his way in Glas­gow, his im­mi­nent in­vest­ment in Rangers will be peanuts by com­par­i­son – maybe £15m-£20m in loans – but it will be money Rangers and many of the club’s sup­port­ers crave.

Ash­ley’s cur­rent pri­vate wealth stands at £3.65bn, which al­lows him to in­ject mil­lions into a club like Rangers with scarcely a bat of an eye­lid. Ac­tu­ally, Ash­ley’s ini­tial cash-in­jec­tion at Ibrox is the least of it. What might be a lit­tle more time­con­sum­ing for him is the way he en­sures the re­moval of King, and pos­si­bly even the peren­nial Brian Kennedy, as a ri­val Rangers suitor.

For those in the pro-King camp, this is where it gets painful. While Ash­ley has gone about buy­ing into Rangers, even re­cently in­creas­ing his stake to around 9%, King’s lofty stance has been that he won’t put a sin­gle penny of his own money to­wards a share-pur­chase, and that any money he has will only go di­rectly into the club via fresh eq­uity.

In one way this seems quite laud­able. In another way, where is it get­ting King? Is he about ide­al­ist prin­ci­ples, or about the business of

"There is noth­ing dirty or un­der­hand about buy­ing shares in Rangers . . . thou­sands have done it. But King has been ut­terly averse to the idea

gain­ing power at Rangers? If the lat­ter is his ob­jec­tive, King seems to have been mak­ing quite a botch of it.

King, had he so de­sired, could be near to Ash­ley’s or Sandy Eas­dale’s Rangers stake right now. He could have for him­self a foothold of power at the club, based on bought-up shares, upon which to build to­wards power and in­flu­ence. It is what peo­ple have done – ac­quir­ing power and in­flu­ence – right across foot­ball.

There is noth­ing dirty or un­der­hand about buy­ing shares in Rangers . . . thou­sands of peo­ple have done it, in­clud­ing many pas­sion­ate and well-mean­ing fans. But King has been ut­terly averse to the idea. It almost seems to turn his stom­ach. Mean­while, Ash­ley puts his money where his mouth is, snaps up another stake for £800,000 from Har­g­reaves Hale last month, and right now looks to be in pole po­si­tion to win in­flu­ence at Ibrox.

As yes­ter­day’s saga un­folded, King even ap­peared to be caught out by the sweep of the day’s events. At one stage, re­act­ing to news of Ash­ley’s loan ma­noeu­vres at Rangers, he stated that the New­cas­tle United owner “can­not ex­pect pref­er­en­tial treat­ment” from the Ibrox board, and that “I [King] am con­fi­dent that Gra­ham Wal­lace and Philip Nash have enough in­tegrity and com­mer­cial ex­pe­ri­ence to do the right thing.”

No sooner was King “ex­pect­ing” Nash to do the right thing, and Nash was ten­der­ing his res­ig­na­tion from Rangers, seem­ingly see­ing the writ­ing on the wall. Clearly, it wasn’t what King had ex­pected at all.

There is irony upon irony in this ever-ex­pand­ing Rangers farce. Wal­lace, an em­bat­tled CEO who him­self has been abused by some Rangers fans, has spent months try­ing to steer a way for King, the man the fans want, into the club. Fac­ing a Sandy Eas­dale bloc of prox­ies amount­ing to almost 26% of the club, it is a ploy that has got Wal­lace nowhere. The CEO’s place inside Ibrox now looks dire.

On top of this, there has now been a dis­tinct change of heart among some Rangers fans about the mar­ket es­sen­tially own­ing their club. When Charles Green, a now de­tested fig­ure, launched the new Rangers on the open mar­ket 18 months ago, the scheme was hailed by fans as a roar­ing suc­cess.

Not now it’s not. Not with var­i­ous fac­tions and hedge-funds vot­ing this way and that as Rangers FC is pulled from ev­ery side in a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle. It is a pretty ugly scene, with sup­port­ers look­ing on aghast and feel­ing help­less. Sud­denly, in re­al­ity, mar­ket forces and Rangers look like a recipe for dis­as­ter.

Where will this all end? Prob­a­bly – though it is still by no means a cer­tainty – with Mike Ash­ley hav­ing his own “place-men” inside Rangers. Many will baulk at such a fig­ure – a rel­a­tively small share­holder with a dis­tinct Johnny-come-lately about him – wield­ing such power at Rangers. Ash­ley has no emo­tional ties at all to the club.

Yet Ash­ley won’t care about any of that. Nor might quite a num­ber of Rangers fans, who will adore the money he will be ca­pa­ble of pour­ing into the club. Ash­ley cer­tainly has the means to re­store Rangers; it is a ques­tion of whether he chooses to or not.

King, mean­while, goes on wait­ing and hop­ing. His tac­tics con­tinue to in­fu­ri­ate those Rangers fans who desperately want him to close the deal.

Pic­ture: SNS

SIT­TING TIGHT: Dave King con­tin­ues to refuse to put any of his money to­wards a share pur­chase, much to the frus­tra­tion of Rangers fans.

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