11 September 2012

A Matter of Trust

by Bill McMurdo | CRO contributor | @williammcmurdo | bmcmurdo@coplandroad.org |

Not much is known about Manus Joseph Fullerton, the former Lloyds TSB executive director, who was responsible for supervising the account of Rangers FC during the latter part of  David Murray’s ownership of the club.

What is known is something that was previously extremely disconcerting to fans of Rangers when it was first discovered and which demands more than mild scrutiny now.

For Manus Joseph Fullerton was and is a fervent, dedicated supporter of Rangers’ fiercest rivals, Celtic Football Club – so dedicated that he was installed as a founding board member of the Celtic Trust.

Already you may be thinking of foxes and chicken coops and events subsequent to his taking over as head of business banking for Lloyds TSB in Scotland give this analogy a great deal of traction.

Since Manus Joseph Fullerton was made responsible for Rangers’ banking during the Murray years, there seemed to be a vice of intense pressure upon Rangers to reduce their debt to the bank. To be fair, the total indebtedness of the Murray Group - some £700 million or more to the Bank of Scotland - did not help the situation at a time when the bank’s exposure to risky debts was the subject of media interest.

Having said that, it suddenly seemed that Rangers FC was being severely bullied by the bank, who had Donald Muir inserted into the board at Ibrox with the brief of protecting the bank’s money and reducing debt levels.

There was no doubt that Manus J. Fullerton was pulling the strings at the club which was the rival of his own beloved Celtic, an odd arrangement and an uncomfortable one.

But as events unfolded and Rangers, despite achieving a stunning reduction in debt levels during challenging economic times, seemed to sink to its knees under what appeared to be persecution levels of pressure from Lloyds TSB to get its money, the “management” of the Rangers account by Manus Fullerton could be argued to be a very destructive state of affairs for the club.

A beleaguered and dispirited David Murray eventually managed to offload Rangers to venture capitalist Craig Whyte amidst what was widely perceived to be a relentless and aggressive campaign by the bank to recoup its money. Even back then, shrewd heads were looking at the Rangers situation and wondering why Lloyds TSB were so hysterical over a very manageable amount of debt.

Of course, Rangers were mired in what has become known as the Big Tax Case and Lloyds TSB may have been worried that if that went against Rangers, then the massive potential debt Rangers would owe HMRC would jeopardise the bank’s ability to recoup its own money.

The crucial question that has to be asked is was the exorbitant pressure placed upon David Murray to sell Rangers really because of the heavy debt his other companies were carrying? If so, why was the pressure applied to sell Rangers specifically? Or was it because of the Big Tax Case which could have sunk Rangers should the ruling go against the club?

Or was there another motive that animated Manus Fullerton, the man responsible for oversight of the Rangers account? Was that motive a personal one, based on an allegiance to Rangers’ fiercest foe in football – the team Manus Fullerton has no problem declaring his passion for?

It must be borne in mind that Manus Joseph Fullerton was appointed as a board member of the Celtic Trust. He was what you could call an uberfan of his team.

The biblical phrase that the borrower is the servant of the lender also places the situation in a context that no Rangers supporter could be comfortable with, i.e. Rangers finances being controlled by a Celtic man and their accounts and sensitive business affairs presumably accessed quite readily by him.

In a nutshell, Rangers were forced to trust the man from the Celtic Trust.

Let’s put it this way – how would Celtic supporters react to the news that a diehard bluenose was being put in charge of Celtic’s banking facilities?

Maybe these things shouldn’t matter.

But in Scotland they do.

And no-one can doubt that under Manus J. Fullerton’s control of Rangers’ banking the club suffered great pressure bordering on persecution from Lloyds TSB, leading to the sale of Rangers to Craig Whyte.

Events since then naturally lead us to the necessary review of just what Manus Fullerton’s role was in the biggest story ever in Scottish football.

Maybe the Manus himself could shed some light on it...?