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Tom English: â??Paul Murrayâ??s bid was well-meaning but not based in realityâ??

Published on Sunday 4 December 2011 01:32

 

 

PAUL Murray, the former non-executive director of Rangers, raised his head above the parapet in The Scotsman yesterday when expressing his concerns about the way the club is being run by Craig Whyte, his old foe from the takeover process earlier in the year.

 

 

This column has given short shrift to Murray in the past â?? and especially to his cohort, Alastair â??No Surrenderâ? Johnston, the great show-boater of the old guard.

 

That is not to dismiss Murrayâ??s concerns over Whyte. Heâ??s entitled to be uncertain about Rangersâ?? future and worried about Whyteâ??s stewardship. There is so much secrecy and inconsistency surrounding Whyte that cynicism is not just an understandable instinct, but a necessary one.

 

The contradictions are many. In October, Whyte gave an interview to STV in which he stated that he nothing to hide in his professional life. An hour later a BBC investigation revealed that Whyte had been disqualified from being a company director for seven years. At the outset of his ownership he rubbished the possibility that Rangers might go into administration. Now he is saying that it has always been an option. He said from day one that he would appeal should the HMRC decision go against the club, but he appears to have changed his mind on that one. In the wake of the BBC documentary he stated that he was going to waste no time in suing the broadcaster, but it seems he has not taken that step yet. He might yet, of course.

 

There is a suspicious air around Whyte and much of it is of his own making, born out of his determination to keep his business affairs as private as possible. When he is asked to name a couple of his companies that he is particularly proud of and then refuses to name them, people are entitled to wonder what heâ??s all about. The mystery creates an information vacuum that then gets filled with speculation. Informed speculation, some of it. But the fact is that, when it comes to Whyte (his money and his motives), a lot of what is out there is little more than guesswork.

 

His merits as Rangersâ?? owner can only be judged in time. This is where this column and Murray go our separate ways because there are things that Murray says that just donâ??t stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

 

First of all, Murray expresses surprise at the talk of Rangers, potentially, going into administration. â??I am puzzled that administration is even being discussed,â? he said. â??The HMRC tax tribunal will not deliver a decision until well into next year so at the moment there is no tax liability to pay.â?

 

Puzzled at administration being discussed? Hold on a second, there. Johnston, his big mate on the old board, was talking about administration away back in April. In fact, he got himself embroiled in a controversy about whether or not he stated the club could, in a worst-case scenario, actually go bust. â??Yes, if there is an excessive (HMRC) judgment against us then we might not be in a position to pay it,â? said Johnston on 1 April. â??But I never said the club would go bust as a result of it. The very worst thing that could happen is that we lose the case and, as a result, could be looking at going into administration.â?

 

So it was OK for Johnston (and by extension, Murray) to talk about administration but, when Whyte does it, Murray is â??puzzledâ?.

 

Heâ??ll have to explain that one.

 

And, while he is at it, he might enlighten us further on his supposed counter-bid for the club and why he waited and waited and waited before he did something, which, effectively, was nothing. According to Whyte, it amounted to a â??five line e-mail sent from his Blackberryâ? when the Whyte deal was as good as done. Sir David Murray, it is understood, gave it no credence whatsoever, nor did Lloyds Bank.

 

And nor would Johnston have given it the time of day had he applied his own rules to his mateâ??s offer. Johnston wanted transparency, but the Murray bid supposedly involved a £25 million share issue underwritten by a businessman whose name he would not reveal, with other backers coming on board as well. He wouldnâ??t name them either. The â??bidâ? also stated that Lloyds would only be paid off in stages, this despite Johnston having earlier stated that a prerequisite of any takeover was that Lloyds were paid off in full and removed from the Rangers landscape permanently.

 

Murrayâ??s solution to the HMRC issue was to get Sir David to pay whatever bill came the clubâ??s way. Lovely idea, but unless he is an expert in hypnosis there was no way Paul Murray was going to get the then owner to agree to that. So his â??bidâ? was probably well-meaning but not based in reality. Meanwhile, Whyte was ploughing on and doing a deal. Itâ??s not a deal that Paul Murray or Johnston like and Whyte is not a man they have faith in, but the alternative was that Sir David kept the club â?? and they didnâ??t want that either.

 

The fact is that, when Johnston came in as chairman, the mission statement he set out for himself was to find a new owner who would liberate the club from the grip of Lloyds Bank. Johnston found nobody. He failed. Paul Murray failed, too. He had his chance to buy the club and he didnâ??t take it. He sat and waited and came up with far too little, far too late.

 

â??Everything we said has come home to roost,â? said Murray. â??I donâ??t take any pleasure from that. . . Talking about administration, being pursued by suppliers and the possibility of a fit and proper investigation at the SFA. . . itâ??s humiliating and embarrassing.â?

 

Yes, itâ??s troubling, no doubt about it. But there was no nirvana option available to Rangers. The club had to accept Whyteâ??s offer or stick with Sir David and live with the consequences. There was no third way worthy of consideration. Sniping from the sidelines is understandable. For sure, Whyte needs to be scrutinised given the potential horrors that await the club. But to Paul Murray we ask: â??What would you have done?â? Once the attempted brainwashing of Sir David into accepting liability for a £49m tax debt ended in failure, what was the alternative?

 

And the answer is, there wasnâ??t one.

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