…but with an administration.
Before I spend any time discussing the plight of Rangers FC, a disclosure: I am a Celtic supporter. One of the more rational stripe, but nonetheless someone who might be considered to have a viewpoint not entirely sympathetic to the troubled club. If, dear reader, you wish to dismiss my musings on this basis, please feel free to do so.
The Scottish public is accustomed to the idea that businesses, even industries, can overextend and ultimately fail. Our press reports that a painful number of Scots go bust every day. But when it came to Rangers, it seemed that an enduring blind spot existed in this country’s perception of the club’s activities, particularly over the sustainability of its spending policy.
I won’t rehash at length the famous David Murray quote about outspending Celtic 2-to-1. What I will say is that, in the vast majority of cases, if the individual controlling a public company made such a statement their shareholders and other stakeholders (such as employees) would be rightly concerned. That’s because a healthy business must remain profitable, balancing its income and outgoings in favour of consistent gain, in order to guarantee its continued existence. Placing the cost base of your business outwith your own control, at the mercy of your competitors’ investment decisions is lunacy, plain and simple.
It’s tempting then to explain away Mr Murray’s bold proclamation as hyperbole, simply an indication of his intent to pursue success with total commitment. But the facts don’t support that more rational interpretation. It’s now clear that Rangers did vastly overspend in their efforts to remain ahead of Celtic, whatever the club might have blustered at the height of their excesses. They trod a path which implies that they had either forgotten that Rangers FC was a business, without a god-given right to exist, or that they believed the normal rules did not apply to them.
If, of these two delusions, it was the latter that gripped the Rangers board, the myth has now been comprehensively shattered.
Rangers FC is not, never was, too big to fail.
So, returning to my initial point: why, for so long, has the Rangers support and the wider population of Scotland acted as if the problems of the club did not exist, or were conventionally manageable?
Ultimately, I put this down to one mental stumbling block above all others: the perception of Rangers FC as ‘a Scottish institution’.
I’ve heard and read repeated references to the club in these terms over the last several days. It’s a dangerous fallacy for anyone to think about a commercial enterprise in these terms. Ask any businessman, from the bottom rung entrepreneur to the FTSE 100 Chief Exec and they will tell you the same thing: it doesn’t matter if you have a classic brand, if you are a household name, if large swathes of the population find it difficult to imagine today what life would be like if you didn’t exist tomorrow. All that matters is whether you have run your business in such a way that you can afford to pay your bills and continue trading.
Being ‘an institution’ didn’t save Woolworths, or Kodak – and it won’t save Rangers.
Neither, it should be noted, did such a status in the public consciousness save Celtic when we were hours from going to the wall in March 1994. Instead, a hard-headed businessman named Fergus McCann saved Celtic, taking the club on and refusing to bow to the clamouring demands of our fanbase for success at any cost during the Rangers 9-in-a-row era. McCann focussed instead on running the club in a sustainable and businesslike fashion, on ingraining such a philosophy within the substance in the club. For the most part, he succeeded and today history has certainly vindicated him.
The plight of Rangers FC is a warning to all of us not to lose sight of what truly matters. Doubtless, some within Rangers believed that they were building a glorious era in the club’s history as they flushed good money after bad and indulged in – at best – questionable practices around the payment of players. In the cold light of Valentines Day 2012, it is apparent that they may instead have consigned the club to history.