Rangers own ‘Budgement Day’ is coming
- 13 May 2014
Ann Budge's first working day at Hearts was an interesting one. From letting the management team leave, to removing the highest earning senior players, to wide-ranging statements on the website; many Scottish football fans seemed to enjoy the so-called 'Budgement Day' of Hearts' new owner. It certainly seemed like the Edinburgh businesswoman wasn't about to take any prisoners in her efforts to make Hearts a viable proposition in light of their recent relegation to the SPFL Championship.
Indeed, there was a lot to admire for Rangers fans frustrated at the way their club has been managed since the dark days of 2012. Obviously, we, more than most can be suspicious about actions not matching words but when we examine the way Budge went about her work yesterday, she certainly seems intent in moulding the club in her own way. Sure, the Jambo fans may well own the club gradually via the Foundation of Hearts vehicle but, for the moment at least, Heart of Midlothian appear to be certainly run by a dictator again - no matter who sits on the board with her.
Looking through the statement on the Hearts website and the very first paragraph will strike a chord with our fans. For all the rhetoric surrounding Rangers at the moment, I think it's fair to say our club is also currently 'broken' and has been for a few years. Given the variety of different owners and directors in recent times, that shouldn't be a surprise and, like Hearts, it seems there continues to be a lack of strategy and leadership at our club. Graham Wallace and the board may have attempted to address that via their 120 Day Review and social media Q&A’s but it's telling that many fans still struggle to buy into their words. With season ticket sales remaining 'slow' and still no definite time-scale put on a scouting department worthy of the name (or the appointment of a Director of Football ala Craig Levein) one can only wonder how things will change for the better over the summer and beyond.
For example, clearly Ann Budge and her advisers have been working on a plan for the several months she's been involved in leading BIDCO 1874 to the ownership of Hearts. Of course her motives, style and staff choices can be debated but it seems obvious she understands the need for cost-cutting alongside the vital requirement of experience in overseeing a club's football operations. What happened at Tynecastle yesterday wasn't pretty - after all who wants to see anyone lose their job - but it can be argued it was a necessity if Hearts want to avoid repeating the same desperate mistakes they (and we) have suffered from of late. Sure, at this moment in time, their strategy may be seen as just as risky as ours and it is still debatable who will be better placed to deliver promotion back to the SPFL Premiership at the first time of asking. No-one can foretell the future in that regard but there does seem a marked difference in boardroom attitude.
In saying that, continuing through the Budge statement, the usual generic, bland buzz words are there. Disconnects, 3-5 year plans, under-pinning, patience, youth, footballing strategy, cohesion and stability are hardly original ideas and as much as people are falling over themselves to praise Budge, they're just the usual promises alongside staffing gambles. Why should Hearts fans believe their board manifesto any more than we believe Wallace’s or Easdale's words?
That valid question is answered by the fact Hearts supporters are already represented on their board while the intention of Budge is to deliver the club to these fans in the future. Will this work in terms of holding what is still a single owner to account? Mibbees aye, mibbees naw but as Scottish football lurches from one crisis to the next, it seems obvious there's minimal ways to make money owning a Scottish football club. After all, even Rangers and Celtic struggle to show a profit each season and that's including ~15million of European revenue. In light of that is there really any incentive for a rich business person to buy our club unless it's for the philanthropic gesture of passing it onto the fans in the longer term? And could football fans make any worse a go of it than a Craig Whyte, Charles Green or Vladimir Romanov? Even the dysfunctional distemper of Rangers supporters groups could surely put in place a team worthy of securing Rangers future - can it really be that difficult?
Unfortunately when we examine the past two years at Ibrox, the answer to that is has to be yes if we’re to buy into the fact the current ownership/board are to be trusted. How else can £70million of investment be wasted without any sort of meaningful operational structure within the club? Why do we still see a football team that fails to sparkle? Why, six months since the latest CEO was appointed, do we still lack a scouting department which we can trust to make the most of the meagre budget available to us each summer? Why do we still have no official fans organisation worthy of the name? Why are season ticket renewals supposedly at their lowest levels for a generation?
No matter the subject there’s a serious lack of answers for the plethora of questions in regard to Rangers. Now, it could well be the case that, two years down the line as Hearts very possibly continue to struggle in the Championship, their fans are asking the same questions and Ann Budge is the one being sent on her way down the streets of Gorgie. However, so far at least she has been straight with her supporters and it seems, as long as Hearts fans want it, they can be involved in the decision-making that matters for the future well-being of their club.
Can we say the same? Obviously not, so while we all have our favourite RFC villain of choice perhaps we only have ourselves to blame instead. Of course no-one can deny the passion and loyalty of Rangers fans: the sheer numbers that have continued to attend matches since 2012 are incredible and it’s not a surprise there remains chancers that want to exploit this commercial and emotional commitment. However, perhaps the rise of projects like Buy Rangers and Rangers First – as well as Ibrox 1972 – means at last we’re awakening to the realisation that we should also have the kind of genuine influence that matches our annual investment.
With that in mind, I’m glad so many fans are considering whether their usual automatic, unquestioning renewal is a good idea and instead want to apply pressure to those that want – nay need – our support going forward (financial or otherwise). So far, it’s certainly clear that both the club and Dave King remain less than comfortable in giving us that influence or answering the valid questions we have. I’m particularly surprised that a major player like King hasn’t seen the benefits of exploring a Budge/FoH type model to aid his campaign. Meanwhile the club have stoically avoided any sort of formal meeting with fans since last December’s AGM. In 2014, after one administration and £70m of our money wasted since, that just won’t do. Indeed, this week’s season ticket renewal deadline will be a key measure of just how frustrated we are.
We don’t just deserve better – we should now demand it.