Book Review – “One Voice” by David Holmes

Image for Book Review – “One Voice” by David Holmes

By Alistair Aird

Rangers Football Club have been fortunate to have been served by a number of totemic figures in our 151-year history. Bill Struth and Walter Smith spring to mind when talking about managers, and on the pitch, there have been giants like the four Founding Fathers – Moses McNeill, Peter Campbell, William McBeath, and Peter McNeill – Davie Meiklejohn, John Greig and Ally McCoist.

These colossal figures are rightly exalted by the Rangers supporters for their contribution to the club, and they are positioned towards the top of the pantheon of Rangers greats. But there are others who merit a place in that pantheon that perhaps fly under the radar even though they have made a seismic impact at some stage of our history. And one of those individuals, David Holmes, has now penned his own story, entitled One Voice, which recounts the revolutionary events when Rangers were reborn, revitalised and reinvigorated in the late 1980’s.

In late 1985, Rangers Football Club were at a standstill. The days of domestic dominance were becoming a distant memory. Since Jock Wallace had led them to the domestic Treble in season 1977/78, the Light Blues had won only six of the 21 major honours contested in Scottish Football, the Scottish Cup in 1978/79 and 1980/81 and the League Cup in 1978/79, 1981/82, 1983/84 and 1984/85.

And despite making a fine start to season 1985/86 – Jock Wallace’s side were top of the Premier Division after winning five and drawing one of their opening six league fixtures – it looked like Rangers would remain in a slumber for some time to come. They needed salvation and it arrived when David Holmes was appointed as a director in November 1985.

But one of the first things that is pointed out in the book is that Holmes originally advised Lawrence Marlborough, the grandson of former chairman, John Lawrence, to cut his losses and sell his shares in Rangers. In 1983, Marlborough was looking to relocate to the USA and tasked Holmes with reorganising some of the subsidiaries of the John Lawrence Group. One of them was Rangers, but Holmes tells us that when this was first raised, his advice was to sell as it would avoid ‘all the aggravation’.

But Marlborough didn’t heed the advice. Instead of selling his stake, his vision was to buy a controlling interest in the club and put one of his trusted confidants in charge. Much to his surprise, that man was David Holmes.

This is all covered in the first of 12 chapters. The book isn’t written like you might expect a life story to be either. It isn’t autobiographical – its not written in the first person – and instead Stephen Halliday, who was chosen by Holmes to work on the book as he had been at the Rangers News when Holmes was at Rangers, pens it to read like an in-depth interview. And although the majority of the quotes come from Holmes, the story is enhanced further with input from key protagonists like Graeme Souness, Terry Butcher, and Campbell Ogilvie.

After taking a short hop back in time to cover Holmes’s service in the RAF – during his time in Singapore in 1957, he was able to listen on the radio as his beloved Falkirk beat Kilmarnock to win the Scottish Cup – we learn that Holmes had an early Rangers connection too. His PE teacher at Denny High School was the last line of the Iron Curtain defence, goalkeeper Bobby Brown.

But it was another of his teachers who would set Holmes on the path to Ibrox. His woodwork teacher stimulated an interest in ‘timber and tools’, and after leaving school at 15, Holmes embarked on a joinery apprenticeship. And after a brief spell as a teacher, Holmes joined John Lawrence (Glasgow) as a Training Officer in 1972.

Over the years, Holmes became an asset to the company to the extent that he was front and centre when Marlborough wanted someone to resuscitate Rangers.

Yet in his book, Holmes openly admits he didn’t seek or indeed want the Rangers job. He didn’t think he was qualified for the role. But shortly after negotiating the deal with Jack Gillespie that allowed Marlborough to control 52.66% of the club’s share capital, Holmes went to lunch with his boss in Edmiston House. During the meal, he was asked to run Rangers.

At this point we see the true gentleman that Holmes is. Faced with the biggest decision of his life, he hesitated. He needed to ensure his family were on board, and that is something that shines out from this book. From a foreword by his grandson to contributions from his daughter, Lynne, Holmes lives steadfastly by the motto of ‘family first’. Had he gone home to speak to his wife, Betty, and Lynne that night and they had reservations over him taking the Rangers role, he wouldn’t have done so. Thankfully for the Rangers followers, they backed their man to the hilt.

When Holmes was formally announced as a Rangers director a few days after a chastening 3-0 defeat against Hearts at Tynecastle, everything was in disarray. On the pitch, after that promising start, the loss to Hearts was one of six Rangers would suffer in the 10 league matches played between 21 September and 23 November. They sat fifth in the table – albeit they were only four points behind leaders Aberdeen – and had exited the League Cup and the UEFA Cup. Crowds were dwindling rapidly as was Rangers’ descent into mediocrity.

Holmes then speaks of the initial apathy that he experienced. Jock Wallace asked him if he was ‘the new spy’, while he was made to feel uncomfortable during initial board meetings. He was also told that he couldn’t run Rangers like another business.

But Holmes remain undeterred, and we gradually see him making his presence felt. With great fortitude, he started to implement his ambitious business plan, one that hinged on Rangers as a bare minimum finishing in the top five in the Premier Division to secure European football for season 1986/87. If that meant wholesale change then so be it.

And Chapter 4 provides the details of the pivotal point in the delivery of Holmes’s masterplan, the hiring of Graeme Souness. The pursuit of Souness was the boldest of his bold moves, but inspired by the philosophy of Edward de Bono, Holmes managed to broker a deal inside two meetings with the then Scotland captain.

Holmes talks with refreshing openness and honesty about the resistance he faced, but it didn’t deter him. By February 1986, a dossier compiled by Holmes was winging its way to Marlborough in the USA. It was a scathing analysis of Rangers Football Club. Backed by Marlborough, Holmes removed some key protagonists from the board and days later told the club’s majority shareholder that the next step for him was to recruit Graeme Souness as the club’s first ever player-manager.

Holmes also details how straightforward it was to get Walter Smith on board too and how the reason for Smith’s recruitment was two-fold. In the first instance, he had a working knowledge of Scottish football that Souness didn’t, but there was also a bit of contingency planning. If things didn’t work out with Souness, then Holmes knew he had a ready-made replacement in Smith.

Having got his men, Holmes could have been within his rights to sit back at this point and let them get on with it. He didn’t. He was task-focussed and even when he took a break, there was no escaping, Rangers. Holmes tells us how he was enjoying a family holiday at his secluded holiday home in the Costa del Sol only to have his peace and tranquillity interrupted by Souness who arrived to ask for an extra £50,000 to seal the deal for Terry Butcher. Although perturbed at the intrusion, Holmes gave Souness what he wanted. And in turn, in May 1987, Souness gave Holmes what he wanted too: the Scottish Premier Division title.

Incidentally, there was something quite poetic about that day in May for Holmes. Rangers, looking for a win to clinch the title, drew 1-1 at Pittodrie. Meanwhile, in the east end of Glasgow, Celtic were entertaining Holmes’s first football love, Falkirk. And The Bairns – battling for survival – ensured that the champagne corks popped in the Northeast by winning 2-1. Thus, Holmes had had his dream realised with a little help from his Falkirk friends.

Souness had his fair share of fallouts in his time as the Rangers manager. But one man he didn’t fall out with was David Holmes. He tells us that he may not have agreed with Holmes on occasion, but he respected the fact that Holmes was the man in charge. Given how volcanic Souness was back then, it shows how much clout Holmes had that Souness admits to never raising his voice in any of the conversations they had.

With the league bagged in season one and Ibrox bouncing and bursting at the seams, the bold blueprint that Holmes had thrust in front of Lawrence Marlborough was coming to fruition. And that league victory meant a first appearance in the European Champions Cup – the predecessor to the Champions League – since 1978.

Chapter 8 opens with first hand accounts of one of the most magnificent European nights under the lights at Ibrox, the 2-0 win over Dynamo Kiev in September 1987. Suffice to say, it wasn’t just explosive on the park that famous night. Holmes was branded a ‘cheat’ and had to intervene at one point when Marlborough had the Dynamo Kiev General Manager pinned against a wall.

The chapter – which is wide ranging – also features some candid comments from Holmes on refereeing, focussed in particular on Jim Duncan. Duncan had dismissed Souness at Pittodrie on the day the league was won and had also officiated when Chris Woods, Frank McAvennie and Terry Butcher were ordered off in a powder keg of an Old Firm match at Ibrox in October 1987. It’s fair to say that Mr Holmes felt Mr Duncan had something of an anti-Rangers bias at that time!

Holmes also talks about the acquisitions of Richard Gough, Trevor Francis, Mark Walters, and John Brown. Once again, the assessment of all of them is done with candour. Holmes admits he had his reservations in some instances, but he was steadfast when concerns were raised over others, notably Gough. And he was once again backed his manager. The pair trusted each other implicitly.

We are now into the final third of the book. Holmes recounts the approach by Robert Maxwell to buy the club – can you imagine where we might have ended up had the media mogul seized control? – but it is clear at this juncture that Lawrence Marlborough wants to sell his controlling interest in Rangers. Given their relationship, Holmes confided in Souness, and the Rangers manager had someone in mind.

And David Holmes was once again at the forefront, taking the lead in the negotiations that took place that witnessed David Murray become the majority shareholder in Rangers Football Club. Again, he doesn’t hold back; his assessment of the meetings and the people involved is frank and forthright. Once again, at the heart of the matter for Holmes was what was best for Rangers and their supporters.

Holmes also reveals that Marlborough insisted that part of the deal was to ensure that he [Holmes] was retained by the club. But what shines out from this story is that from the day and hour he came to the club, it was never about David Holmes. He admits to never having been paid by Rangers or having been an employee of the football club. His fantastic five-year plan was devised and delivered for his employer, the Lawrence Group, and the Rangers supporters. Although not ‘one of our own’, it is clear that Holmes took great pride in his role in reinvigorating Rangers and in so doing delivering the success that the supporters of the football club longed for.

Holmes left Rangers at the end of season 1988/89. Although the Murray deal was announced in November 1988, we learn that it was 31 May 1989 until he completed the formal purchase of Marlborough’s shares. Holmes stayed on until the deal was done, and Murray wanted him to remain as a director beyond that too. But Holmes declined. He knew that the way Murray would run the club would be ‘miles apart’ from what he would do so the time was right to draw the proverbial line.

Holmes concludes Chapter 10 with his reflection on the financial implosion of 2012, and not for the first time in the book, he speaks with great affection about the Rangers supporters. At the core of his business plan was an intention to stimulate the fans and get their bums back on the multi-coloured seats at Ibrox Stadium. He did that. And he loves us too:

‘…..the club will always be about the supporters. I’m eternally grateful they took me to their hearts and hopefully they will feel I didn’t let them down.’

Let us down? Never!

Mr Holmes, if you’re reading this then as a Rangers supporter, I am eternally grateful that you did all that you did for my football club. Your vision dragged us out of the drudgery of the early 1980s, and placed us back where we belong, as the establishment club at the forefront of the Scottish game. You may not be mentioned in the same breath as Struth, Smith, Greig and McCoist, but you should be. Without you, Rangers would have remained dormant rather than becoming dominant.

The contribution David Holmes made to our club should never be forgotten. As a support, we owe him a debt of gratitude, and we must thank him for all that he did for us. And through the pages of One Voice we now have an opportunity to show all generations of supporters why Mr Holmes should be remembered and revered. If it’s not on your Christmas list, then it should be.

Share this article