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How Frauds and Con Artists Crippled Scotland's Greatest Soccer Club

Rangers FC have won more league titles than any other club, but after falling victim to a string of scammers, the club's future is painfully uncertain.
November 28, 2014, 1:32pm
Photo by ElSpaniardo via WikiMedia Commons

Walk through the front door to Rangers FC's Ibrox Stadium, up the famous marble staircase, and a board listing the club's Hall of Fame faces you. There you will find the name of every legendary player and figure intertwined with the Glasgow club's identity. Rangers are running short of names to add to the board.

The glory days of Graeme Souness, Terry Butcher, Brian Laudrup, and Paul Gascoigne are long gone. The five stars that decorate the club's badge—in reference to a record 54 championship-winning seasons—have been left as a reminder of what Rangers once was. This is a club that has been reduced to a rotting carcass in the last five years or so, and there has been no shortage of scavengers.

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As one Rangers fan put it to me, the club has become "the trough that draws the pigs" since Sir David Murray—owner for over two decades—sold his controlling stake in the club back in 2011. This is a club that has made an unfortunate habit of attracting crooks and con artists.

Read More: The Saga of the Rapist and the Soccer Club

By selling the club, Murray handed control over to wealthy Scottish businessman Craig Whyte. Except Whyte wasn't that wealthy; buying Rangers with money raised by selling three years' worth of season tickets to an agency called Ticketus, before carrying the club into bankruptcy (known as administration under UK insolvency law) within a year of his takeover being sanctioned.

Liquidation followed, with a vote determining Rangers' banishment from the Scottish Premier League, meaning the club had to apply to rejoin the country's soccer pyramid at its very lowest level. One half of Scotland's legendary Old Firm rivalry (Celtic being the other) has spent the past three seasons touring the country's crumbling lower league stadiums, playing in front of crowds sometimes barely into four figures. If nothing else, Rangers fans can take solace in watching the men responsible for the club's downfall experience their own.

The view from inside Ibrox Stadium. Photo via WikiMedia Commons

Four men involved in Whyte's fraudulent purchase of Rangers appeared in court last week and face a litany of charges. Whyte himself was detained in Mexico on Wednesday; having spent the last two years evading an international arrest warrant. "I wish I'd never done the deal with Craig Whyte," Murray now admits.

The bones of Whyte's Rangers were bought by a consortium fronted by English businessman Charles Green for £5.5 million in 2012, with the club admitted to a newly reconstructed Scottish Professional Football League soon after—although not before Green had tried to fast-track Rangers back into the top division, a ploy the Scottish Football League rejected.

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Green gave Rangers a voice and a figurehead, something the club needed after the shady, behind-closed-doors approach of Whyte. Not that Green often had anything of worth or credibility to say, however.

He spoke of commercial partnerships with the Dallas Cowboys, sponsorship deals with Apple (he even floated the idea that Ibrox Stadium could be renamed iBrox), and broadcast contracts with Chinese television corporations. Of course, none of this came to fruition.

When the Cowboys were contacted for comment on the alliance with Rangers—as Green had insisted was impending—a spokesperson for the NFL team had to ask where the Scottish soccer club played. Whyte may have been a con artist, but Green was a master of bluster and bluff.

Under Green's stewardship, a share issue was launched, with £22 million raised in funds—a sum which should have been enough to sustain the club for the foreseeable future. But less than two years later—with Green gone following accusations of backhanded dealings with Whyte and racism towards a colleague—another share issue was needed. This time, more than £3 million was raised, just enough to keep Rangers from going under for the second time in little over two years.

"Nobody to this day can actually tell us where that money went," says Craig Houston, figurehead of the Sons of Struth supporters group—named after Rangers' most iconic and successful manager, Bill Struth.

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Unsurprisingly, the money raised wasn't enough to ensure the club's survival, with the intervention of controversial and unpopular Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley needed to provide a £2 million emergency loan deal—thus giving him the power to appoint directors to the club's board.

Ashley's package wasn't the only option, but it might have been the only legit option. Dave King, a former Rangers director who was found guilty of tax evasion in South Africa a decade ago, and Sandy Easdale, the chairman of the club's board and another convicted fraudster, also made plays for control of the Ibrox boardroom.

Yet, in spite of all this, Rangers is on the brink of a return to the top division of Scottish soccer. Given that, the foundation for a more certain and financially sound future should be in place. Instead, the outlook for the Glasgow club has never been more vague.

To be frank, nobody is quite sure who is in charge at Rangers. Even head coach Ally McCoist admitted after the acceptance of Mike Ashley's emergency loan—the same Mike Ashley who bought the naming rights to Ibrox for just £1 in a backhanded deal with Green— that he didn't know what signature would sign off his pay checks. "I don't know at the moment," he bashfully confessed when asked who he would report to in light of chief executive Graham Wallace's resignation—a stipulation in the acceptance of Ashley's funds.

"We don't know who's making the decisions at the club now," explains Houston. "I have been privy to meetings where board members nod and agree, and then 24 hours later make a completely different decision. It's blatantly obvious that shareholders run our club, not the board of directors. The strings are being pulled."

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It is widely suspected that those who say they are in charge of Rangers are anything but, with Ashley's influence drawing questions from the Scottish FA, in relation to rules prohibiting him from controlling two UK clubs at the same time.

With nobody exactly sure who should be held to account for the club's recent downfall, frustration has grown over the lack of transparency, with boycotts and protests now commonplace at Rangers' home games. One such boycott saw just 13,000 fans fill the 51,000-seat Ibrox Stadium for a Scottish League Cup tie against St. Johnstone.

"We formed a supporters group after being guilt-ridden that the Rangers fans as a body didn't do anything after the club went into administration," explains Houston, whose Sons of Struth group has even threatened boycotts of Ashley's Sports Direct retail stores. "After everything that's happened Ashley isn't someone we want around. We don't want him to use the club just to secure retail contracts for himself."

The club's banishment to the bottom tier of Scottish soccer should have allowed Rangers to restructure the club from the ground up, righting the wrongs of previous regimes—including Murray's, which set Rangers on its current course through years of mismanagement (it turns out that the now infamous "for every £5 Celtic spend, we'll spend £10" transfer policy wasn't a particularly wise approach).

Whyte is now expected to appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Friday after his arrest on arrival at London's Heathrow airport. It's a damning indictment of Rangers that upon his return to Scotland, the club's health will have barely improved in the time since he left, with £8 million of fresh investment still needed to once again stave off bankruptcy. "We're still waiting on the new era for Rangers," sighs Houston. "We fear it may never come."