23 November 2013

Laxey and the supporters

by Garry Carmody | Contributor

The ever-fluctuating and unstable ownership situation at Rangers Football Club took another turn this week as a new largest stakeholder in RIFC plc took shape.

Laxey Partners first appeared on the scene back in August, buying shares and announcing they had an agreement in place with Charles Green to buy more in December. This week they took their stake to 11.64% and at the same time vowed to back the incumbent board at next month’s AGM. This announcement puts the position of the disgruntled institutional investors in a precarious position with less than one month to go.

Going on the first time Laxey Partners appeared publicly, they initially backed the way fans would vote, which would be in favour of the requisitioners. At this point down the line, however, they claim that this view has changed after speaking to various fan groups, and they believe that the changes that the requisitioners wanted have now taken place.

On the face of it, it appears like a fair plan. However, it doesn't take long to dig before the statement becomes more of a head scratcher.

The first myth of Laxey Partners would appear to be their claim to have spoken to various fan groups.

"We said we wanted to support the fans and we have spoken to various supporters groups. There are many, many of them, all with different views - some more vocal than others."

The three main regulated bodies, the Supporters Trust, Association and the Assembly, have debunked this claim showing it to be little more than a generic line churned out. If anything, it sounds like more of an attempt at finding an excuse for supposedly changing their mind on the matter. It once more highlights the murky waters that exist between the clubs owners and the foundation that keeps Rangers Football Club going.

The second part of Laxey's statement that appear to be flawed would be the claim that they are now supporting the board based on the notion that the requisitioners work should now be complete. Laxey claimed they are now happy with the shape of the RIFC board, which once more, taken at face value, seems like a somewhat rational decision.

"This is not the old board but new, good people. Graham Wallace seems very good news. The days of wheeling and dealing seemed to have passed and a professional board is in place - we want to give them a chance to get on with it."

However, this would appear to be murky once again. If Laxey Partners are happy with this board, but not the "wheel and deal" board before (which still contains two of the same members) how can one fan website, the Vanguard Bears, claim to have known for three weeks that Laxey would be backing the incumbent board? Given that the first of the three recent appointments came only two weeks ago, it appears to be that their support was won before the board appointments. Three weeks ago, the RIFC board contained two members and appeared in a dangerous position. This was further confused today as one blogger that has worked closely with board members, claimed to have known of Laxey's support for this regime since September, when the board was in a shambolic state.

The points above beg many questions - the first and most important being, what have Laxey Partners given fans to trust in? When they initially stated their plans to back the fans views to support Paul Murray and Jim McColl, it was quite a head-turner due to so few shareholders having shown an interest in what fans think. Was their initial announcement anything more than smoke and mirrors to try and divert fans attention away from the truth? Given their U-turn that can now supposedly be dated back to September, are they anything other than joining the long line of owners filled with hot air?

The other pertinent point falls with Laxey's intention to back all current board members. For months now and for a number of different reasons that are well-documented, the position of Financial Director, Brian Stockbridge, has appeared untenable. Very few fans can claim that Stockbridge has worked in the best intentions of Rangers since his appointment, and many would view Stockbridge's inclusion on any Board as continually tainted. Added to this is the use of MediaHouse, which continue to be one of the most toxic associations with Rangers Football Club in recent times. Any board using the same aggressive PR tactics as utilised by Craig Whyte are bound to garner distrust amongst wide sections of fans.

The intentions, motivations and influences of Laxey Partners appears to be as confusing and unclear as many others. At no point can fans allow their vigilance to drop in what continues to be one of the most volatile and important times in our history.