09 August 2013

A Look at the Fans Meeting

by Andy McKellar | Deputy Editor

The continuous pantomime at Rangers powered on in relentless fashion this week as Charles Green returned as a consultant and an Extraordinary General Meeting was requisitioned by a block of shareholders fronted by Scottish entrepreneur Jim McColl. In truth the supporters haven’t really known where to turn but mercifully were given the opportunity to ask questions of our current board and key employees at a meeting set up at the stadium earlier this evening.

In attendance were various fans from supporters groups, supporters clubs and websites such as our own meanwhile Rangers were represented by Brian Stockbridge, Craig Mather, Ally McCoist, James Traynor and Ian Hart. The meeting lasted for two and a half hours and hopefully the remainder of this article will provide a helpful summary of the key talking points that were discussed on the night.

Football


To keep things simple I’ll start with a topic that we can all understand and discuss with relative ease. The discussion centred on the new additions to the squad and the hope that we would see some progress from what was on show in the Third Division.

Craig Mather began by stating that, "I had to give Ally the tools to do the job. Ally shouldn’t be judged until we are able to play all of our new players."

Our CEO continued: "We worked hard to improve the team. They [our new signings] will improve our football but also improve our balance sheet. Wages, agents’ fees and contracts are far superior to last year. The Mohsni deal for example took so long because we wanted to make sure we got the best deal for Rangers. Ten players have left the club and our young players need quality around them."

Ally McCoist echoed those sentiments, saying, “Last year was a shambles. That said, look at that team and what they gave us. They got Rangers back on the winning track and won the league by 24 points. This team though has to show improvement. The signings we have made are good enough to take us to the next level”.

In relation to Charles Green’s comments on the need for a trophy the manager responded by saying that "I won’t put pressure on our players [to win a trophy this season]," before adding that, "our wage bill has come down to around one-third of what it was a couple of years ago. I need to give the fans the best team that we can afford. We need to find the right balance [between football and finances]."

Finances


The previous meltdown at Rangers of course means that our finances are always high on the agenda and newspaper reports of dwindling cash and even the prospect of administration certainly did little to avert our attention to other matters.

Brian Stockbridge was addressing most of the questions given his role as Financial Director and he attempted to provide some reassurances amidst growing concerns about our immediate future.

Stockbridge stated, "People said that we’d go bust after 3 months and we’re still here. The club is not loss-making on a month-by-month basis, but there are some months when we lose money. We wanted to maintain the infrastructure and not have to pay to build it up again when Ally gets us back to the top."

The question was then asked of our current bank balance and reports of disappearing IPO money. Our financial director responded, "Yes, we raised £22 million. It’s not true that we have £7 million in the bank. Audited accounts will be out in mid-September and they will show that we have £10 million in the account. The Club is not in financial distress."

Craig Mather also had his say on our finances: "We bought Edmiston House and the Albion Car Park and are working hard to create a better software infrastructure. Murray Park hasn’t had much TLC in recent years and was neglected. Our players couldn’t train on our indoor pitch for fear of the roof falling in. We’ve now repaired that and are now looking to add a 4G pitch."

The CEO also added, "We are cutting costs, examining every individual cost, but we have to maintain the infrastructure that will be needed when we get back to the top of Scottish football. Our players are not on wild salaries. I can 100% tell you that."

So far, so good.

Stockbridge though soon began to evade questions and was unable to provide an answer on the composition of our £10 million in the bank in terms of season-ticket income and IPO cash. We were told that "It goes into the same pot of money. We can’t distinguish between the two." 

He later confirmed that £1.5 million of that money was income received from Sports Direct and so it is worth highlighting the distinct possibility that very little of our IPO cash is still remaining. It is therefore easy to understand why so many supporters are worried about our financial position but I’m afraid we weren’t able to gain a proper insight during the course of tonight’s meeting.

Stockbridge attempted to allay fears again by confirming that we still have to receive royalties from our agreement with Puma and that our retail performance should be much better than last season. He also promised a “dramatic improvement” in 2013/14.

In truth our Financial Director was far from convincing and this probably wasn’t helped by his admission that his salary was £200k plus a bonus for our team winning the Third Division. 

Media


One of the early questions of the night came from a member of the Vanguard Bears which criticised the exclusives provided to the BBC and questioned the role of Jim Traynor and asked him to justify his salary.

Mather was quick to highlight his wish for things to be done “discretely” and confirmed that anyone found to be leaking information would immediately be sacked for the offence. Certainly that is good to hear.

Traynor then grabbed the mic and stated: "My salary is the same as my previous two jobs. No more, no less. My job isn’t just about PR. I’m involved in restructuring RangersTV, restructuring other platforms and bringing in Wifi to the stadium. Unfortunately these have been sidelined due to the need for ‘crisis PR’."

He continued: "The leaks are scandalous, it’s not right. The BBC are banned. They are supposed to be here on Saturday. They have paid to be here but they won’t be getting in. They can complain to the SPFL and it’ll be up to them if they want to sanction the club but hopefully it won’t come to that." 

The Board


The first prominent question on this subject is perhaps one that we are all asking ourselves: who can we trust?

First up though was Super Ally. The manager stated that he was of course a supporter just like us and reassured us that he is here to do the best he possibly can for Rangers Football Club. Whatever we may think of his managerial performance there is no doubt that, along with Walter, we have a man we can trust.

Craig Mather felt compelled to speak up at this point and came across very well. He stated, "I understand that I appeared from nowhere, but I genuinely play with a straight bat. I wouldn’t have taken this position if I didn’t believe I could make a difference."

He added: "I’m not a conman. I’m not a crook. I’m not interested in lying to anyone."

Ian Hart also spoke about the board and seemed keen to convey a positive message to the listening supporters. He claimed, "We’ve always questioned Brian [Stockbridge] on finances. There’s nothing to suggest that he has been dishonest. I do trust the board. In the last few months since we lost Malcolm Murray the board has been working very well together. If I didn’t trust the board I wouldn’t be here."

Moving on to another subject a fan wished to query Mather’s appointment as CEO, even going as far as to describe it as "appalling." Mather responded, "I was asked about the Chief Exec position and it was categorically my decision to take it on an interim basis. People say there was no advertisement but it was in every paper in the UK. We received a number of CVs and interviews were held. I did my job and the board came back to me and I was appointed 3 months later."

Mather also moved to quash inaccurate reports about his salary: "The BBC report was categorically wrong. I am without doubt the lowest paid CEO at Rangers in recent history." Shortly after he confirmed that his salary was £300k and I’d probably suggest that such honesty was probably appreciated by most in the room.

Unfortunately Brian Stockbridge was not so popular on the night following some dithery answers and alleged/ perceived association with Charles Green. He was robustly questioned on his role in Malcolm Murray’s departed and conceded that, "The issue with Malcom was a misjudgement on my part and I have apologised to him. I’ve had to carry him to bed 4/5 times. The video was to show to him the next day." The room remained largely unimpressed and at least one gentlemen strongly urged him to resign.

EGM


As you might expect the issue of the upcoming EGM was raised and questions were asked about the potential involvement of Frank Blin and Paul Murray.

Craig Mather stated, "We need good, strong people on the board. I left work on Wednesday feeling really good about things. The EGM requisition on Thursday was like throwing in a hand grenade. I wish they had just picked up the phone and talked to us. I’m an approachable guy."

He continued, "I don’t think the EGM helps. It costs £60-80k and we already have an AGM around the corner. I’d welcome a call from Jim McColl or whoever. If someone gives me his number I’ll happily pick up the phone and call him."

James Traynor though was not quite so positive. He added, "[Blin and Murray] have a pedigree, but people on this board have a pedigree too. Just because they have good names doesn’t mean that they are good for this company."

Charles Green


It was inevitable that Green’s name would be prominent throughout tonight’s meeting given his sudden reappearance and instantaneous bluster in the media.

When asked about the Yorkshireman’s comments in the media Mather stated that "I don’t give a shit if he is listening, I don’t agree with his comments. It was morally and ethically wrong." This was reinforced by Ian Hart who said that he was “furious” at his comments and that he said as much to Green’s face.

Hart said that Green was brought in to liaise with the investors and that he felt that he would assist with bringing in further investment. It was acknowledged by those present that the board has unanimously approved Green’s appointment as a consultant however the Rangers CEO seemed disappointed with his recent interviews.

Mather told the supporters present, "You have my word that his conduct will be brought up at the next board meeting and your points will be put across. I will be putting it to the board that the behaviour was inappropriate and unbefitting this great club."

Mather later confirmed, to a round of applause, that he would be calling a board meeting within the next seven days to discuss the matter. He also conceded that he was “fed up” talking about Charles Green. I’m sure that’s a sentiment shared by many, at least judging by the response in the room.

James Traynor was also irked by his recent media interviews and confirmed that he did not seek advice before appearing on Sky or STV. He also strongly urged the Rangers board to speak to Green and ensure that in future he does things the “right way” in the future.

Overall it is probably fair to acknowledge that, if tonight’s representation was anything to go by, then Green is most certainly not wanted by the supporters. The very mention of his named seemed to encourage angry responses and it would appear that he is now toxic in the eyes of the fans. Despite this, I wouldn’t bet on him going quietly. 

Summary


It was refreshing to the club invite supporters into an organised forum to discuss the recent issues that have been prominent in everyone’s mind. It is certainly something which has been badly lacking in recent months and years, so hopefully it is something that can become more regular as we go forward.

There was no script and questions were invited from around the room.

I think it is probably fair to acknowledge that both Ally McCoist and Ian Hart appeared very sincere in their claims to be acting in Rangers best interests. Neither man delivered anything particularly ground-breaking but their input was helpful throughout the night.

Craig Mather also emerged from the meeting with some credit. He spoke very eloquently and appeared every bit as honest as he claims to be. He was open enough to disclose his salary and has promised to call a board meeting to discuss Green and his recent conduct. His performance as CEO still remains questionable but frankly there simply isn’t enough information on which to judge him at present. He definitely talks a good game. I just hope he can back it up with actions. McCoist and Smith certainly endorsed him and that certainly won’t do him any harm.

Then we have Brian Stockbridge. The Financial Director is not often heard and seems to have largely avoided media attention despite financial concerns being regularly reported. Despite trying to reassure fans in relation to finances he seemed to become rather uncertain and evasive, leaving the supporters frustrated and even annoyed. Questions certainly remain over his performance and I’m not sure we’re any further along in terms of gaining an insight into our true financial position. 

The meeting was always going to be somewhat mixed in terms of success. Overall it was great to be able to ask questions of our current board and, in general, they endeavoured to provide the answers to the best of their ability.

We did however fall a bit short in detail though. The finances still remain questionable, despite Stockbridge’s best attempts to reassure the fans, and I note that various fans’ groups have released a statement conveying their ‘extreme concern’.

To conclude I think I shall leave you with the words of Jim Traynor. He stated: "[The fans] need to realise how strong your voice can be when it is one voice. You need to unite and make yourselves heard. You have immense power. Get together and use it for goodness sake."

Given the previous and current tribulations at our Club, wouldn’t it be nice if we could organise ourselves and give ourselves a much stronger say in just how Rangers Football Club is run. It is not impossible, despite our apparent love of squabbling, and it something which we must look to address in the future.

Apologies for the lengthy article. There were plenty of talking points to get through. Craig Mather spoke of making events like tonight a more regular event. Let’s wait and see. It certainly wouldn’t do any harm.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for this Andy. Clearly we are dependant on those who were at the meeting to report back hopefully without the influence of their own agenda.
    I wonder what your view is on Brian Bowman's comments in this article, http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/rangers-fans-demand-answers-from-board-over-recent-turmoil.1375999493?

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  2. Not sure what comments he feels were "completely and utterly untrue". I little more detail would have helped. Certainly there were some evasive answers but it'd be naive not to expect that in all honesty.

    I do however agree that we need to make some changes. Questions certainly remain over Stockbridge, but perhaps we'll get more clarity when accounts are released.

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  3. Thanks again Andy. It just serves to emphasise the different perceptions within our fan base. A bit of discretion when speaking to the MSM would have been more helpful.

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  4. Andy ,

    Thank you very much. Excellent bit of reporting. Its really hard to know what to believe nowadays and its not good to see divisions emerging between fans . Hopefully this article will bring a bit more consensus ....or a least a chance for guys to reflect on the current stewardship . Maybe it'll be about football the morra eh ?

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  5. This kind of thing serves to help fans like myself who have supported Rangers all their lives but don't get to walk in a room and ask questions to the guys who are supposed to be making Rangers work again.
    I am glad i got to see the content of tonight's meeting, it certainly allayed many fears i had, and i'll be waiting in the next few weeks with interest as to what happens next.

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Keep it civil, lads.