Supporter ownership: Why we must get it right
Updated Saturday, 21st November 2009
IAATPIES asks the questions.
In Douglas Adams' "Hitch-hiker's Guide to The Galaxy" series, a race of advanced beings from a higher dimension decided to search for the answer to life, the universe and everything. 5 million years later and they got their answer:
That posed them something of a problem - They now knew the answer to the ultimate question but were somewhat puzzled when it was pointed out that they didn't actually know what the question itself was. It's, you know, Life; The universe; EVERYTHING!
There's a growing band of supporters who claim that fan ownership is the answer to all of Rangers' problems. David Murray has finally been seen for what he is - a flamboyant showman who was equally adept at dazzling rich investors and the Gers family. Breaking the link between the club and single ownership is therefore seen as the ultimate safeguard for the future of our club - never again will our existence be threatened by the whims of an individual looking for little more than an easy ego boost. Message boards, newspaper columns and pubs across the country have been full of pledges of support from fans willing to stump up cold, hard cash to rid our club of its majority shareholder.
Now those sentiments are fine but that's all they are right now: sentiments. It's impossible to truly commit to something when so little is actually in place. The real problem isn't getting fans to pledge their support; it's providing the structure to make it a reality. Nobody has actually stated how the Gers support will assume ownership of Rangers. Details are lacking as to how fans will be represented in the future and whilst it's essential that we remove Murray's grip on Rangers as soon as possible, rushing in to such a move could cause us far more long term problems than it would solve. Right now we're told that we do not need to sell players. We may not be able to bring in top grade footballers to freshen our side but we've been assured that we're not facing a Christmas fire sale of our best talent. We're also told that the bank are looking for a solution that benefits everybody - they want to protect the money that they're due but know all too well that bad PR is best avoided.
I've long been an advocate of change. The current way we do business is unsustainable. I cannot however back the kind of change we need without some kind of assurances in place, because this is too important to leave to a leap of faith. Nobody knows how much we'd need to find to get rid of Murray and make a significant dent in our debt but £60million has been suggested. That's 60,000 fans paying £1000; 15,000 fans paying £4000; 7,500 fans paying £8000. That poses us with a serious problem almost immediately: What kind of structure will those early investors be working under? Will the membership, for that must surely be the basis of the future ownership of Rangers, take control of the club quickly, relying on the current board to run the club until a president can be elected and changes made? There are people on the current Gers board who are as culpable as Sir Flim-Flam for the position we now find ourselves in and the prospect of continuing with Messrs Bain and McClelland fills me with dread. Unfortunately we don't yet have people in place to assume responsibility for the running of the club so what alternative would there be but to place our faith in those complicit with Murray?
Then there's the money itself. Its easy to pledge support on an internet message board without actually putting your hand in your pocket and coming up with the readies. The fact remains that Britain is still in recession. Unemployment may be rising more slowly but it is still rising. People are facing an uncertain future and whilst many will claim to be able to add their money to the pot, how many actually will? £1000 is a decent family holiday in the sunshine. Its a whole year of commuting to work. It's a hell of a lot for a supporter to find in addition to matchday costs and even the most understanding of partner may be forced to put their foot down.
Supposing we got the £60million together. We found enough people with enough disposable finance to back supporter ownership and we've bought the club lock, stock and barrel. What then? How do we grow the membership? Fees would need to be realistic so anybody joining the Rangers revolution would face a far lower financial exposure than those brave pioneers. Would the original investors be happy at johnny-come-lately supporters looking for a slice of the cake without having provided any of its ingredients? There's potential there for a real schism in the support between those who can afford to back ownership now and those who cant. The last thing we need is to rush into an ownership model that creates division.
What we really need is the one commodity that we don't have: time. Given enough time we could raise the necessary money at a cost to fans that wouldn't break the bank. 60,000 fans would find it easier to contribute £250 a year - the average cost of a Sky TV subscription. That kind of money means missing out on life's luxuries but it also makes inclusion as easy as possible. It would take us 4 years to raise that same £60million but that time could be spent wisely. That time could be used to put in place a voting structure for members to elect a club president. It could be used to identify the people we need to run our club. It could be used to set the ground rules on which our whole constitution would be based and therefore the future of the club would be founded. Things don't need to stand still whilst we raise the money needed to buy the club outright: There is absolutely no reason why supporter representatives couldn't be brought on board to work closely with our bankers and our other directors to ensure a smooth transition to what would be a ground breaking ownership model for British football. What we have right now is a lot of angry people who have finally realised just how badly they've been duped and whilst that anger can be useful, it must be harnessed, sustained and directed into the appropriate outlets.
A Rangers owned and influenced by its support/membership may ultimately be the answer to life, the universe and everything. Now we realise that, its vital that we actually work out how we get there.