King leaving Ashley with a direct line to Ibrox throne
Mike Ashley, the billionaire Newcastle owner, seems to be winning the battle for Rangers
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.
SITTING TIGHT: Dave King continues to refuse to put any of his money towards a share purchase, much to the frustration of Rangers fans.