The situation at Rangers Football Club has been troubling me for some time. In fact Rangers’ plight has been concerning me since February 2011 when I was approached by some of the fans organisations who wanted to discuss the concept of community ownership with me. They wanted to hear about my experience at Stirling Albion FC, where I led the campaign to bring the club into community ownership, to see if it could work for their club. As Head of Supporters Direct Scotland, I have been allowed to see first-hand the significant benefits of community ownership, to work with those clubs who have done it and to support other clubs who are progressing towards it. I have no doubt about the positive impact it can have on Scottish football, and of course the communities they serve.
My response, nearly three years ago, was to advise the fans groups to raise funds and to do it fast, as I believed that Rangers being placed into administration represented a significant window of opportunity to buy the club. Of course, as we know, this didn’t happen for a variety of reasons; mostly because for many years the fans had been divided and ruled by previous owners of the club and had been left without a united voice, forced to pick sides in amongst political infighting. There were so many runners and riders in the frame that it almost felt like an event at Ayr Races.
Time has moved on and Rangers have unfortunately continued to be dogged by further challenges at the back end of the administration process. It could have been so different if a credible fans’ bid had been used to galvanised the Ibrox faithful as we have seen at Dundee, Dunfermline Athletic, Portsmouth and of course at Heart of Midlothian. In these cases the administrators – BDO – felt that the best long term, sustainable business model for the clubs was community ownership. They are of course not alone in their belief that this is the way forward for Scottish Football; just a few months ago Begbies Traynor’s annual report into the health of Scottish Football (see http://www.begbies-traynorgroup.com/begbies-traynor/football_distress_survey_2013_scotland.aspx) made the bold statement that community ownership was the obvious and most desirable route for the survival of our game in Scotland.
The key term in all of this is sustainability. Rangers is anything but sustainable yet, which is a concern for everybody. Of course every club needs its fans to be on side to ensure that it has a secure, long term future and that is where there remains a huge opportunity for Rangers’ fans. In simple terms if Hearts can get 8,000 fans signing up and paying around £20 a month in memberships just to own their club and if Dunfermline Athletic can garner support from nearly 1,000 fans to pay £20 monthly for their youth academy then what could be achieved at Rangers? The simple maths say 20,000 fans at £20 a month would give you £4.8million in a year. That could give Rangers’ fans significant control of the club within that period and ownership of the club in two years. Fanciful? Of course not. A solution to end all the turmoil? Yes, it just might be.
We know that in David Murray’s tenure he repeatedly looked at harnessing the power of fans through share offers and was always keen to have a membership scheme. He had people looking all over Europe to see how it was done and how it might be adopted. However, it never happened as all he could offer was buying into his debt and real equity or ownership was never an option. In Germany and in many other parts of Europe it is a different matter. Fan involvement comes with a much greater level of responsibility and influence. Fans at clubs such as Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga and Malmö FF in Sweden sign up as members of their club safe in the knowledge that each voice is heard as part of ‘one member, one vote’ structures. Having such authority allows supporters to play a hugely significant role in ensuring the long-term health of their clubs and maintaining a positive presence in their respective communities.
Nobody knows what the short to medium term plans are for Rangers; but running to the City to try and raise finance having seen the share price drop from £0.70 to around £0.26 is hardly likely to attract significant investment. Having been sold the dream and never likely to receive a dividend from Rangers, you have to ask what would make them want to do it again. With all the high net-worth individuals having had several opportunities to get involved and not doing so, there seems only one place they can turn and that is of course to the fans. No doubt just as you read this there will be white boards and flip charts seeing extensive action over at Ibrox, trying to work out how they can balance the need for generating season ticket revenue, whilst simultaneously raising other working capital.
What has happened over the last two years at Rangers is that fans have just waited to see what will happen next. Are they comfortable waiting to see what happens this time? Or is this the time for positive action? Rather than wondering about season ticket boycotts or stadium protests why not work to together for a result that would revolutionise Scottish Football? Maybe now is the chance to change that mentality where Rangers fans galvanise themselves into one cohesive unit and focus their energy into a campaign that leads the club to where it belongs – their own community. A very simple illustration would suggest that if shares could be bought at the current level of around £0.26, just £4.3m would give the community a 25% stake in the club, with £8.6m reaching the coveted ‘50 plus 1’ status for those who are the club – the fans. We have seen at both Dunfermline Athletic and Hearts that when the opportunity arises to own a club fans will support the concept and so do local businesses who see massive benefits in being associated with such a movement. This is a membership scheme that delivers more than just a plastic card. Unlike other clubs where there might not be a willing seller, Rangers’ fans can buy this club, own this club and turn it into an institution to be proud of not just in Scotland, but across Europe and the good news is they can do it now.
We at Supporters Direct Scotland are more than happy to help Rangers fans and fans of any club deliver a sustainable future and are proud to announce that we will have a week celebrating community ownership from the 17th to the 22nd February where fans of any club can be involved. Our rallying cry for all fans is get yourself into a constituted fans group and come and talk to us. Check out www.scottishfans.com for details of the week of activity.
Paul Goodwin is Head of Supporters Direct Scotland and author of Saving the Albion and Saving Scottish Football.