Last night, I read an absolutely wonderful, gob-smacking story on an Ibrox fan forum, and I will spare them the embarrassment of a naming and shaming although you can probably guess which one of them it was.
The theory was a new one, and it concerned the downfall of Rangers. I consider myself something of an expert on the political to-and-froing of that and even I have to admit that this is out of left field, and I thought that I had heard it all.
The theory was this; David Murray ran into financial trouble because he made some bad deals in China. He went to a bank for a loan, a Scottish bank. But the account manager there was a “mad Tim” and he told Murray that the only circumstances under which he would grant the loan was if Murray sold Rangers to the first available buyer.
Said bank then squeezed them to sell to Whyte and made Whyte take money from Ticketus and hand that cash over to them, to square outstanding loans.
Thus the club was taken out of Murray’s hands and put into Whyte’s, the bank got back its cash at the expense of their fans and according to this theory the upper echelons celebrated it probably by giving the mad Tim responsible for this scheme of Machiavellian brilliance a promotion.
To this guy and those who liked his post, the whole thing is not only plausible but it explains everything that went wrong with them, much like Pizza Gate presumably gives certain people on the far-right an explanation for all the evil in the world, and because it seems obvious to me that there is a much deeper article required here to properly cover that subject I will skip over it for the moment and get right to the point. This stuff is bat-shit.
We call this the Grand Conspiracy Of The Unseen Fenian Hand.
Except that in this case it seems obvious that the hand wouldn’t have been that unseen since presumably these people apparently know who Mr X is. Amazing that this guy hasn’t been in the papers or highlighted on some of their crazier websites, where the Enemies Lists have proliferated.
The truth about that period is much, much simpler but in some ways even sexier because it is bigger than they think and they really were caught in a very tangled web. Some people – and they have a very good case – think that in the early days that web almost strangled Celtic, and I believe that they are 100% right to think so.
Let me explain it in easy to digest bites. Murray had no need to go looking for money from the bank, because all his banking was done through the helpful fellows at the Bank of Scotland, who held the accounts on nearly every football club in the country at one time.
But not all of them were treated as royally as Rangers. The Bank of Scotland ended up with a pretty nice chunk of Rangers, which was collateral on just one of the many loans that they gave to David Murray back in the day. The whole murky tale of Peter Cummings and his protégé can be found elsewhere. Those two men ran the bank’s investment and loans strategy and Murray was certainly not the only people they financed at huge risk to their bank.
But the protégé is an interesting guy; his name is Gavin Masterton and he was the chair of Dunfermline and had a prominent role in the events of 1994 when the Bank of Scotland was threatening to put us out of business over debts of just £7 million. At the time, they had extended credit to Murray, and thus Rangers, vastly in excess of that.
Did Masterton and his bank press us on behalf of his buddy? Some people think so and Masterton was no friend of our club and that’s a well-known fact. The conflicts of interest are so obvious that none of it should have been permitted and when Fergus took control and asked the bank for some loan financing for the stadium project; they offered him £2.5 million fully secured. Celtic went to the Co-Op Bank and got £10 million unsecured.
They ended their relationship with Masterton’s bank immediately. Which turned out to be not a moment too soon, as Halifax merged with them shortly afterwards. Masterton “retired” when it became clear that their new partners were going to start going through the books. By then, Murray was being squeezed a little harder as well.
But he could have soldiered on for twenty more years had several things not happened. The first was that the price of steel started to fall on the global market due to the emerging manufacturing capacity in China …. so the Ibrox fan theory is at least partially correct. In fact, the falling price of steel was nothing to what happened just a couple of years later.
Because aside from metals, the other worst business to be in on the planet at that time was real estate and Murray was up to his neck in that as well. As long as he was doing well he could carry Rangers. In fact, it was around that time that a failed attempt at a fan’s share issue resulted in him having to honour a pledge to move £50 million in debts from the club account to that of another of his companies. Such a sacrifice, eah?
In fact, it was the bank’s money he was playing with and Halifax were nervous about it. They were the first people to express concern as such practices, but they and Murray were already too late because the first ripples of real trouble were already snaking out across the Atlantic. The US housing bubble burst, the words “sub-prime” hit the headlines for the first time along with the phrase toxic assets and suddenly banks – actual banks – were in danger.
And it was then that the tide turned decisively against them, although that wasn’t immediately obvious because, of course, by a grim irony this was the period in which, with them at our mercy, we incredibly allowed them the latitude to win three more league titles.
But I can write with total confidence that 2008 was the moment the party ended and the slide began and it didn’t start in Glasgow or even Scotland but at a party in the Treasury, in London, and a “chance” meeting between the head of Lloyds and Gordon Brown. At that meeting, Brown casually suggested that with Bank of Scotland in a bit of disarray that Lloyds might see them as a good option for a takeover. And foolishly, the board at Lloyds agreed.
When Lloyds found out what they had bought – a toxic soup and a huge hole in the balance sheet – they put the blockers on everything Cummings and Masterton had been involved in for all those years. All the sweetheart deals with their mates were over with. They installed a point man at every one of Murray’s companies. The guy at Rangers was called Donald Muir.
Amazingly – and this is amazing only to utter imbeciles – he and his bosses had the brass neck to expect their money back. They told Rangers that it could no longer spend what it couldn’t afford, and it was later revealed that they would have sacked the entire board and took the club over completely if it hadn’t complied with their cost cutting program.
The Murray Group at that time owed the bank hundreds of millions of pounds, and they knew that the way Rangers was run made them a black hole just sucking money towards it. They made sure Whyte not only took it off Murray’s hands, and therefore out of theirs, but that he came through with the money to pay back the £18 million necessary for them to do walking away. He did, and the claims and counter claims about Ticketus have raged ever since.
But it was Murray who recommended Ticketus to Whyte. Not the bank, but David Murray himself. He might not have known exactly who Whyte was, but he knew enough. He knew that the bank was on the brink of putting the club into administration if he didn’t sell and he had a fair idea of how Whyte intended to get the money.
So blame Celtic fans, but it was a Raith Rovers fan, Gordon Brown, who thought he was protecting a “great Scottish institution” – HBOS, not Rangers – who set the wheels for the collapse in motion. As I said, I think it’s a much sexier story than their mad theory.
Not only did Celtic have very little to do with pushing them towards their end, but calamitous mistakes inside our club – the hiring of Tony Mowbray, leaving Lennon in the job when he should have been gone at the end of his “caretaker” period, and certainly at the end of the following season when he’d failed to win the league – allowed them three year’s access to Champions League cash which otherwise would have gone to us.
They’d have been in administration before 2010 … and the Big Tax Case would have hit them like a sledgehammer and wrecked any hope they had of making any kind of comeback for years. Some will say the timing worked out beautifully, with it all gelling in one perfect storm, but I’ve always wondered the big What If? We’ll never know.
But what we do know is that we didn’t do any of it. All we did was lead the revolt against the idea that the NewCo should start its life in place of Rangers, and that might have been the greatest service ever done to Scottish football … but the downfall of that club was the fault of David Murray and Craig Whyte, with Murray the guiltier of the two.
Still, the Peepul believe what they want to and you cannot convince them otherwise. That such a theory as that a Celtic supporting banker pushed them out of business can even be taken seriously by anyone is incredible to me … and a little scary.