Mike Ashley has inadvertently found himself in an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s boardroom nightmares. The foul-mouthed celebrity chef and one-time Rangers hopeful tweeted that he’d joined 10,000 fans in Rangers First, a supporters group that aims to buy a majority stake in the club through membership fees and donations.
This puts him at odds with enigmatic billionaire Mike Ashley, who has seized control of the beleaguered club over the last few months through a series of loan agreements. These allowed Ashley to appoint two of his long-time allies, Derek Llambias and Barry Leach, to the club’s five-person board, giving him far more influence than his 8.9% stake in the club would imply, but earning him the loathing of many fans.
Rangers First currently only has 1.8% of the club’s stock, so to get rid of Ashley it’s thrown in its lot with his rivals Dave King and the consortium of wealthy businessmen known (for some reason – maybe they like porridge) as the Three Bears, who between them control 35%.
This alliance is mustering its forces for a pitched battle at the club’s Emergency General Meeting on March 4th at the Grange Tower Bridge, a five-star London hotel that’s apparently willing to risk thousands of angry Rangers fans camping outside it. Maybe it has a moat.
The club’s board has unsurprisingly recommended shareholders vote against the resolution that would sack them, saying it supports an expanded and inclusive board that represents all major parties in a ‘consensus’ management.
If King’s resolution passes, ‘serious regulatory issues [will] remain unanswered’, the club said, referring to King’s possible ineligibility to be a director of an AIM listed company owing to a settlement in a South African court on tax charges. ‘Mr King is encouraged to provide clarification to Shareholders regarding these matters.’ The claws are clearly out ahead of the meeting.
Given the potential ruckus at the EGM, it’s unlikely Ramsay or indeed the reclusive Ashley himself will actually attend themselves, so a prime time showdown is perhaps too much to hope for.
The selection of a London venue has upset many in Glasgow, who feel it’s deliberately designed to keep smaller shareholders from voicing their opinions. There are others, however, who think that upsetting Glaswegians is exactly the board’s intention.
‘The best thing they have got in their arsenal now is not trying to win the vote, but finding some way of delaying the meeting,’ said Chris Graham, a spokesman for another anti-Ashley fan bloc, the Rangers Supporters Trust. ‘That is why it is important people don't go. We want your vote to count but we can't have any possibility of a delay.’
Assuming angry fans don’t disrupt the meeting, there’s a fair chance that King and his supporters will defeat Ashley and purge his allies from the board. Even then, though, will they really have won?
Ashley will still be main creditor to a club that has proven incapable of balancing its books or surviving without his financial support. Rangers isn’t Greece. It can’t just threaten to write off its debts and weather the pain. One way or another it will have to deal with him, whether his people are on the board or not. It will take more than a shouting match with Gordon Ramsay to change that.