22 October 2012

David Murray: The Real Culprit

by Andy McKellar | CRO Deputy Editor

To some it may appear that I am going over old ground with the article below but given the emergence of Craig Whyte last week and the discussion that resulted from Bill McMurdo’s interview with him here at CRO, I thought the topic was very much one that still deserved to be covered. So here goes.... 

Since his interview with BBC Scotland’s Chris McLaughlin I think it is fair to say that Craig Whyte has regained some of the limelight that he once held as owner of Rangers Football Club. Our supporters had all but moved on and almost completely forgotten about the woes of administration and liquidation and so I suppose his re-appearance was a most unwelcome one in that regard and probably many others.
You will probably have come across Bill McMurdo’s interview with Rangers’ former owner here at CRO earlier today and in fact you may be one of the many readers who have expressed outrage at the ramblings of Whyte. There is however a bigger picture which I rather feel is being wrongly ignored. That of course is the role of ‘Sir’ David Murray.

Murray oversaw a great period of success following his purchase of the Club in 1988 and I’m sure we can all recall several glorious moments of joy and sheer elation throughout his tenure as chairman and custodian of Rangers. Unfortunately it became abundantly clear that we were being woefully mismanaged and even a £50M capital injection wasn’t enough to steady a ship which was increasingly becoming engulfed by the murky waters that surrounded it.

The economic recession was biting hard into David Murray’s personal wealth and his other businesses were placed under increased scrutiny by Lloyds Banking Group. Unfortunately their critical gaze did not bypass Rangers and with the ominous ‘big tax case’ lurking menacingly in the background they were eager to recoup as much of the money owed to them as quickly as possible.

Walter Smith was forced to fight for SPL championships with both hands tied behind his back and Murray certainly owes The Gaffer for the miraculous success of the team during a period of cost-cutting and debt-reduction. The money owed to Lloyds was gradually being repaid but time was fast running out when the FTT was expected to sit and deliver a verdict on the implementation and operation of the Employee Benefit Trust scheme at Ibrox.

It would be naive to ignore the possibility that pressure was potentially applied to Murray by his bankers and certainly the role of Manus Fullerton is something that has previously been questioned here at CRO. Minty had to find somebody who would purchase the Club from him and clear the cash owed to Lloyds in the process. When you consider the money being requested and the potential liability that was involved with the tax case then it is little wonder that he was hardly being inundated with bids. He did however only require one person to step up and pay. Enter Craig Whyte.

Whyte’s arrival was greeted with terrific optimism and positivity and he was certainly guilty of hiding the precarious financial situation of the Club from its loyal supporters, not to mention his method of purchasing it. As it turns out, this was to be only one of many examples where he succeeded in misleading, deceiving and successfully concealing the truth. It is little wonder that fans reacted to his recent emergence from the shadows with disbelief and took his comments with more than a little pinch of salt.

Among many questionable statements there were however some accurate assessments of his time as owner of Rangers. Whyte rightly highlighted that there was a reason the Club was sold for a mere £1 in May 2011 and it would be foolish to ignore the threat of the big tax case in any discussions about the financial collapse that was eventually to result. Who in their right mind would take on a business where a liability could arise that would be twice as much as its turnover? In the cold, harsh reality of business outwith the unique world of football, it made no sense whatsoever.

As much as I cannot stress enough the impact of the big tax case, it is also important to look at the unsustainable cost structure which Whyte inherited as the new owner of Rangers. Our Club ran up debts by budgeting on European football and despite some cost-cutting, we still relied on continental participation to balance the books. This was to prove crucial in our demise last season.

Craig Whyte should have taken action by either reducing the wage bill considerably or by selling a player or two to help secure the immediate future of Rangers. Neither would have been particularly popular with the Ibrox faithful but it sure beats the hell out of the excruciating agony that we suffered in the months that followed. This is only one of the many faults that can be attributed to the Motherwell-born businessman during his ultimately disastrous chairmanship.

Of course Rangers’ failure to qualify for neither the Champions League nor the Europa League left the Club with a cash-flow problem and all of the required payments could not be met as they fell due. Mr Whyte took the decision not to pay the sums due to the tax authorities, rather than not paying wages for example, and his decision to continue trading while insolvent may land him in trouble when BDO get to work. It certainly meant trouble for Rangers at the time.

I’m almost certain that Whyte would have expected a decision from the FTT which would have shifted the blame onto Murray’s EBT era and allowed him to set about resurrecting Rangers Football Club as a debt-free entity in whatever format that Duff & Phelps and the creditors deemed appropriate. If you read McMurdo’s interview from earlier then you will be aware that Whyte felt let down by the administrators, although that is not to say that he should be afforded any sympathy.

During his BBC interview Whyte came out with the line that he may have been at the wheel when the train crashed but that it was not him who set it on its path. While that does suggest a certain helplessness on his part, which isn’t entirely accurate by any stretch of the imagination, it does correctly allude to the fact that David Murray was certainly the cause of our recent problems. Whyte most certainly contributed to the meltdown, perhaps even fraudulently, although that is for BDO and the police to decide, but it was Minty’s mismanagement that deserves the brunt of the criticism in my opinion.

David Murray was often keen to remind all and sundry that he would never sell Rangers to anyone who did not have the best interests of the Club at heart. Unfortunately Murray was placed in a position where he almost had to sell, both for financial reasons and for the sake of his inflated ego. Somebody like Craig Whyte should never have had the opportunity to buy Rangers but Minty was utterly desperate and put self-interest very much in front of the promise he made to the Rangers’ support.

This article should not in any way be treated as a defence of Craig Whyte and his time at Rangers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The imminent investigations may fully justify the anger and hatred reserved for the man who was in charge during one of our darkest hours. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

This article does however look at who I believe is the real culprit in the unfortunate tale of woe that we have been part of in the months that went by earlier this year. Whyte will perhaps be remembered as the villain who threatened to destroy a Scottish institution but the actions of David Murray should never be forgotten by Rangers Football Club and its supporters. I know that I will certainly never forgive him.

Andy is the Deputy Editor of our half-decent blog. You can find him on Twitter at @AMCKEL or via email: amckel@thecoplandroad.org