Rangers board calls for fans’ trust after Mike Ashley wants loan repaid

Mike Ashley wants his loan repaid
Mike Ashley wants his loan repaid

The Rangers board has urged supporters to “trust” it after once again admitting it is not yet ready to repay Mike Ashley’s £5million loan.

The Sports Direct tycoon called Friday’s emergency shareholder vote to demand the money he handed to the former regime in charge at Ibrox in January is handed back.

But the club’s directors advised stakeholders to reject Ashley’s resolution, even though it would see them reclaim majority control of the club’s retail profits and ownership of assets such as Murray Park and Gers’ world-famous trademarks.

They claim that even if Ashley succeeds in having his resolution passed when the results are announced on Monday, they will not be bound to act on it.

Director John Gilligan told around 500 shareholders who gathered in the Bill Struth Main Stand for the 30-minute general meeting: “We are asking for the trust of the shareholders in this matter that it is not in the best interests of the club or the business to repay the loan.

“[Chairman] Dave King, [director] Douglas Park and [investors] George Letham and George Taylor, if you count their share purchases, their investment in the business is over £8million. That’s not a sum to be dismissed.

“This board in a very short space of time has faced challenges that need to be addressed brick by brick. We are in a stadium that needs renovating, have an office staff that has been completely reduced to almost impractical terms.

“But we have inherited fantastic people - trust us, please.”

Ashley failed to send any of his Sports Direct representatives to the meeting, despite the fact it was he who insisted it took place.

Vice-chairman Paul Murray led proceedings as he stood in for King, who is in London on “club business”.

But despite being invited to address the vote by the Rangers board, no-one from MASH Holdings, the company which holds Ashley’s 8.92 per cent shareholding in the Scottish giants, made the journey to Glasgow.

Murray said: “MASH was asked if it would send a representative to today’s meeting. No reply has been received on that point.

“The board are surprised that having called a meeting they have not seen fit to attend and explain themselves.

“It would appear MASH sees no reason to explain its conduct.”

Ashley went to the High Court in London on Thursday to take out an injunction gagging the Gers directors from revealing “confidential” details of the club’s controversial commercial deal with Sports Direct.

That left Murray, Gilligan and company secretary James Blair to rebuff many of the questions they faced from shareholders.

Murray said: “Keeping shareholders and supporters in the dark is not something the directors are comfortable with but we must respect the decision of the courts.

“We will therefore have to refer any such queries to Sports Direct.”

Gilligan did, though, reveal that the directors had been served with the injunctions by sheriff officers to their homes on Thursday night.

Rangers added a second resolution to the agenda calling for the retail contracts with Sports Direct, which currently see 75 per cent of profits from shirt and merchandise sales go to Ashley, to be renegotiated.

That figure would drop to 49 per cent if Rangers were to repay the cash they have borrowed from the billionaire tycoon.

The generous retail deal, which according to the latest Rangers accounts made the club no money at all last year, was given to Ashley by former Light Blues owner Charles Green.

Several fans quizzed the board on whether former directors - including Ashley’s allies Derek Llambias and Barry Leach, forced out of Ibrox by King back in March - would face prosecution over the way they had run the club.

Blair replied: “The directors are actively considering all of the available options.”

Murray, who confirmed the club hope to appoint a new manager early next week, also insisted the board were still “confident” they would be able to have Rangers listed on the ISDX market following their expulsion from the AIM stock exchange three months ago.

And he outlined plans to introduce a ban on the voting rights of shareholders at this year’s AGM if they were found to put the club at risk of breaching SFA rules. That follows the £5,500 fine issued to Gers by Hampden chiefs after the previous board broke “dual-ownership” regulations by allowing Newcastle supremo Ashley to meddle with affairs at Ibrox.

Ashley’s resolution also called for details of the loans given to the club by the Three Bears - Park, Letham and Taylor - to be laid bare.

Murray explained the £1.5m sum handed over just days after King took control of the club were “interest-free” with no fees attached.

He added that the directors “will offer whatever finance the club requires to restore its position in Scottish and European football”.