YESTERDAY was the first anniversary of regime change at Rangers and provides the ideal opportunity to give an update on progress at the Club – on and off the pitch.
Supporters and staff should be proud of their contribution towards the achievements of the past year. The Board is grateful for this support and recognises it as the single biggest contributor to securing our return to the top of the football business. After years of trauma we now have clearly defined goals with everything possible being done to ensure that there is no repeat of the disasters of recent years.
It gives me and my fellow Board members a sense of pride that the focus has returned to football and not the off-field issues that dominated the recent past. We have, for the first time in a number of years, a solid, stable Board and we are more financially secure following years of reckless decisions and spending. The pursuit of personal interest and greed is now a thing of the past.
There is a renewed brightness and energy throughout Rangers with a revitalised staff that had been worn down by years of corporate mismanagement and false promises. We are all buoyed by the marked differences in the football department which had also been low in confidence and inspiration. A completely new management team led by Mark Warburton has been introduced and a more youthful and vibrant squad of players has been assembled.
The current squad was finalised at short notice last year by the new manager and his support staff with the objective of securing automatic promotion. It was always anticipated that further acquisitions would be necessary to compete in the Premiership if promotion was secured. Mark and the football executive are already working on the player-recruitment plan for the close season when we will bring in a number of new players to meet our ambitions to continue to compete at higher levels in the coming seasons.
The team is playing an attractive brand of attacking, winning football that has captured the imagination of supporters who have returned to Ibrox in huge numbers with more than 36,500 season tickets sold this season. Progression in the Scottish Cup has been a welcome reinforcement of the improvements made on the footballing front but the one non-negotiable this year was a return to the Premiership and the team is on track for this, sitting comfortably at the top of the Championship. Despite our current strong position, we will not take success for granted and will continue to approach every league game with the same intensity and attack-minded approach that has been on show throughout the season.
Many of the clubs in the Premiership will also be hoping Rangers is promoted because Scottish football has suffered on many levels since our Club went down to the bottom division.
Together we have demonstrated that our Club will not be kept down. We are no longer powerless to deal with issues that confront us. The Board will not stand by and allow Rangers to be negatively impacted on any front and will continue to challenge decisions made prior to regime change if they are damaging to our ambitions for Rangers.
It is also well documented that, after replacing the board last March, we inherited a number of legacy issues. All of these have been addressed. Some were capable of being resolved immediately but others require longer-term remedies.
In particular, the arrangements with Sports Direct remain problematic. The Club and I were compelled to deal with a number of legal attacks from Sports Direct in its attempt to reassert the dominant relationship that it enjoyed prior to regime change. The new Board and I stood up to this corporate and personal bullying and achieved resounding success in the court applications, including substantial cost orders in our favour. I have already expressed my personal views on the relationship with Sports Direct and its so-called management of the Club’s retail activities. There is no need to repeat them.
It is unfortunate that it required the repayment of the expensive so-called “interest-free” loan before we were able to give notice on the agreement with Sports Direct or to take legal action to protect the Club’s interests and seek restitution. This bizarre state of affairs was caused by poorly-negotiated agreements prior to regime change during which personal interest was put ahead of those of the Club. Additionally, some of the individuals negotiating on behalf of Rangers had a clear conflict of interest. A joint venture should be based on trust and that is clearly absent on both sides.
We have now had sufficient time to analyse the voluminous documentation supporting the establishment of the numerous agreements and side agreements with Sports Direct. Discussions have commenced with our legal advisors to review our findings and to devise the most effective legal strategy. This will be presented to the Board for approval at the end of this month.
It remains possible that the seemingly inevitable lengthy and costly litigation can be avoided. There is a far better alternative if Sports Direct recognises that the present arrangements are not working for either party and agrees to renegotiate the present arrangements to create the win-win situation that should have been reflected in the original agreements if Rangers had an effective negotiating team at that time. It would be an immediate boost for Rangers if the Board can be put into a position to endorse a revised deal prior to the launch of new kit for the coming season. It would be great to see our supporters once again being able to wear kit at games while being certain that their purchases will benefit the Club and the team.
It is also encouraging to know that a working group is currently assessing the best way in which to bring all our fans closer together. It will continue to be important to have unity through a truly independent fan group that represents and speaks for Rangers fans wherever they may be found. This would be a powerful body that should connect with the Board and influential agencies throughout Scotland.
The Club continues to require funding to meet its ongoing cash shortfall. This has largely been provided by me and the 3 Bears, however we have recently spread the investor base by securing a portion of the required investment from a group of Hong Kong based supporters. I will continue to look for like-minded investors who can share the financial burden. The recent history of Rangers has shown that it is better to have more investors than few. Hopefully, in time, we will see the broad-based supporters group having an increased stake in the Club.
I am also pleased to report that Rangers now has no third-party debt whatsoever. There are not many Clubs in the world that are in that enviable position.
Thank you again for your support. We are now approaching the business end of the season and we look forward to completing the journey back to the top together.