Paul Murray – The Uncomfortable Truth

It’s been another fascinating (though energy sapping) few days in the great 2013 Rangers boardroom battle.

First of all, Rangers confirm that a group of worried institutional investors led by Jim McColl have withdrawn their EGM requisition. This group then release a statement suggesting any compromise was stymied by a financial company acting on behalf of the Rangers plc; including the news that a key potential board member had withdrawn from the process (though no official reason was given for this).   Almost immediately, the club’s CEO Craig Mather made a long and somewhat inconsistent presentation of his own which enflamed the issue enough to force Paul Murray – another member of the requisitionists’ group – into an equally long and inconsistent appearance on BBC radio. As I write this short recap, it really is quite amazing to note the car crash that our club has become – is it any wonder we have so many rubberneckers?

I think it’s important to note that Rangers fans are beyond puzzled (and annoyed) at these weekly jousts. It doesn’t matter if you agree with Craig Mather or Paul Murray or, indeed, like the majority are somewhere in the middle and only interested in the actual football end product, the whole situation has become farcical. It’s quite amazing that within nine months of a successful IPO we can be speaking of another insolvency event – even if those doing the talking are less than clear about their claims. This is where I want to concentrate my criticism.

Before I begin, I don’t know Paul Murray, Jim McColl or any of the people they represent. Neither have I spoken to them or have attended any recent meetings they’ve organised. Nevertheless, I’ve no axe to grind with them and in many ways am sympathetic to their frustrations. I believe they both care deeply for our club and I disagree with Craig Mather who claims they are only interested in creating ‘confusion and chaos’. That doesn’t make sense, however, they do deserve criticism and their strategy so far has been poor at best.

Like many bears, I listened eagerly to Murray on Radio Scotland on the way home from yesterday’s match. Although I disagreed with his decision to speak to an outlet that the club have banned, I can understand why he did so and I’d rather discuss his words rather than where he said them. In general, he spoke well, was pretty strong and clearly believes what he’s doing is the right thing. That’s fine and I share many of his concerns so I’ll certainly defend his right to highlight them. On the other hand, also like many bears, I remain unconvinced with his overall efforts.

For example, it was his group that requested an EGM and various board changes over a month ago, yet, in that time; they’ve done little to show exactly how they’d improve the overall situation. They’ve failed to engage with fans; they’ve failed to detail their plans for the club and they’ve failed to implement any of the changes they asked for in the requisition. Moreover, they’ve looked weak or at least extremely unwilling to deal with any of the claims made of their party by the club. Was it a surprise to anyone that Frank Blin walked away when, according to Paul Murray, he was the target of a smear campaign? I’m sure Blin was well aware beforehand of such tactics so immediate doubts are raised about the desire of his group in general. After all, this isn’t a primary school picnic they’re organising but effectively a hostile coup of a Scottish institution. It wasn’t going to be completed over tea and scones.

Of course this group are about more than just Frank Blin – even if he was one of few people that appeared able to offer the kind of independent credibility to bridge any disagreement gaps. The requisitionists claim to have 28% of investors in their camp (but it will probably be a fair bit more than this). Unfortunately, via their inability to push through with the EGM and their impotent claims of ‘no compromise’ it seems obvious they’re not overly confident in winning any general meeting vote. Murray himself spoke of the circa 11% the fans hold so the biggest surprise with that is his group’s apparent failure to take his fight to the mainstream support. Private meetings with fan groups ‘of substance’ aside, there has been next to no engagement with the fans so he should not be surprised when fans speak of their overall confusion as to his aims. Add in his constant prevarication over his previous efforts to buy the club then, as much as this writer has no real issue with Murray, it’s easy to see why other fans are frustrated with his performance.

With that in mind, the next 6 weeks or so ahead of any AGM at the end of October are going to be vital for Murray (and McColl’s) credibility. Clearly, they’ve been able to persuade a large portion of institutional investors that their concerns are valid but getting vast swathes of the support onside should be their next target. Indeed, it’s all well and good working with the formal fan groups, but they’ll need to have a more wide-reaching affect than that. What options does he have there? For example, should we see a large scale fan meeting (possibly restricted to season ticket holders or even share-holders) ahead of the AGM? Would this offer the kind of transparency and leadership the fans demand of such people? If it worked for Fergus McCann and Brian Dempsey…

All in all, this situation is going to get worse before it gets better. The club are failing to provide any tangible reassurance that the future is secure while their use of people like Jack Irvine leaves a real bad taste in the mouth. Moreover, the lack of explanation for Irvine’s expensive retention despite his disgraceful behaviour should be a real source of concern for any supporter (or investor) interested in transparency and truth. Unfortunately, the involvement of such PR groups means the fight for the club (for that’s what this is) is only going to get nastier. Not only will BBC Scotland be used but the likes of the Daily Record and The Sun – publications those of us online can’t stand but also platforms and content many more bears continue to access and absorb on a daily basis. That’s the reality of the situation and the fight will only get dirtier as the AGM looms ever closer.

In any event, the question we’ll all have to ask ourselves is whether or not Paul Murray (and to a lesser extent, an always at arm’s length Jim McColl) are the key to a safe-guarded future for Rangers Football Club. The answer to that should be obvious but the very fact we’re still asking the question means reasonable doubt remains. That’s the uncomfortable truth for Paul Murray and it’s up to him to address it. The clock is ticking…