The fall of the house of Murray

So far no one has made a movie of the life of Sir David Murray.

I can’t think why as there is certainly enough dramatic material.

The story arch is all there and the character bio is engaging.

The young businessman who triumphed despite the appalling personal tragedy of the loss of both legs in 1976, following a serious car crash after a Rugby match.

The loss of his wife Louise in 1992 due to cancer.

In this movie there are also strong supporting roles for good character actors.

With broody tough guy Souness and the genial white haired Walter Smith all good strong dramatic roles.

There is even a cast of thousands.

The extras should never be the story of a movie it should be about the central characters.

Braveheart was never about the FCA lads at the Curragh dressed up for the day as Highlanders it was about the Wallace.

However, in Murray’s story it is the extras that are the real story.

It isn’t like that in the real movies.

Steven Spielberg would have none of that.

How would you shoot the battle scenes from “Saving Private Ryan” if the US Rangers started to behave like Glasgow Rangers?

Heading for Omaha beach they suddenly start a drunken barney among themselves in the Landing craft.

What would Cecil B De Mille do if the Israelites, instead fleeing out of Egypt on que, decided instead to use the pyramids as a public urinal while singing the “Billy Boys”?

It is the extras in the David Murray biopic that have been the cause of his greatest misfortune.

In the movie of his life Sir David Murray has wanted to write the script and direct the action. In that he is no different to any businessman who has made it to the top.

Like most powerful men in the western world in the last 50 years he has known the need for control over the media.

He lives a rock star lifestyle, but instead of being known for number one hits he is, instead known for being the owner of Rangers Football Club.

He made an alliance with Rangers supporters.

He will now know the extent to which he is riding a tiger.

As Rangers chased a record equalling ninth championship in a row Murray attracted investment from ENIC when they bought a 25% stake in their club for £40m in 1997.

Having lost out on a record breaking ten in a row Murray decided that domestic dominance wasn’t enough. He would make Rangers a force in Europe and the ENIC money would be part of bank rolling that assault on the champions league.

The man to lead Rangers into Europe would be Dick Advocaat.

Murray believed in “the little general” and indulged him.

It looked, initially, that Murray and his Dutch coach would usher in a generation of domestic  hegemony and build serious European credibility.

Like the economic miracle that Murray has been part of since the 1980s there was no secret formula. It was actually a global overdraft.

The Rangers portion of that credit line was used up by the Dutchman’s buying binge.

Advocaat was, essentially, allowed to bankrupt Rangers in his treble winning first season of 1998-99, the Dutchman cost Murray a £32m gross spend on players.

For a single season it was a British record.

This was the period of fawning journalism. Many recall James Traynor’s hilarious dinner date piece where Murray held court as the captivated Daily Record journalist informed his readers about what was on the menu as he dined with the Rangers owner.  Apart from Traynor’s complete lack of journalistic objectivity was Murray’s hubris following Celtic’s title win stopping the tenth consecutive league win for Rangers.

“Neither am I willing to stand aside and allow another club to overtake Rangers. The failure of last season hurt me a lot and that pain was something I didn’t need nor want.

“It is also a pain which I never want to suffer again, but by God that sort of thing just makes me even more determined to succeed. I am still as driven, still as enthusiastic and I will welcome the challenge of anyone out there.”

This drooling journalism has, inevitably, spawned its own dedicated website (www.succulentlamb.com).

As Rangers spiral towards administration no doubt a www.humblepie.com would be more appropriate.

With a venal media in competition to conjure up the next best compliment to Murray and his business acumen the Rangers support were also on message.

The traditional party tunes of Ulster Loyalism were still allowed within Ibrox. Every home game the streets around Ibrox stadium the words of “the Billy Boys” were clearly audible.

The media, with very few exceptions, didn’t question Murray’s business model for Rangers or the behaviour of the fans.

All was well in the world.

The new millennium should have belonged to Murray and Rangers.

That was in the script and the funding for the next epic production was in place.

Like an out of control movie director the little Dutchman continued to spend like well like it wasn’t his money.

Tore Andre Flo for £12m was the zenith of the lunacy.

Advocaat spent like a shoplaholic with a no limits credit card.

The problem is that he wasn’t spending Murray’s money.

The Scottish entrepreneur was merely a middleman between the Dutchman and the bank.

Murray loved Dick and the bank loved David.

It had to end in tears.

Ranger’s debts spiralled and the club has never fully recovered.

There were warnings from within, but Murray does seem to have listened.

His business model for Rangers and so it seems Murray International Holdings (MIH) was to borrow, speculate and gamble that the only direction for economy was up.

In 2002 Hugh Adam who had resigned from Rangers in 2000 went public with his concerns for the club he had served for decades.

Adam knew, commercially speaking, where the bodies were buried.

He wrote a piece for the Scotsman, which was published on 14 July 2002.

The sub editor didn’t have to think too hard for an appropriate title.

“Murray in over head” was damning and, more to the point, unanswerable.

“I have read the eulogies to David Murray over this past week with amusement and bemusement, for they owe little to the facts. Far from being the master in the market, as he has been portrayed, in purely business terms Rangers fared badly during David’s 14 years as chairman of the club.

Exactly how else can losses of £80million over the past five years – despite almost £60million of outside investment in that time – be explained? If you are one of the media sources grateful to David for always being available on the phone and giving quotable ‘lines’, it would seem these can be dismissed as an unfortunate by-product of a necessary outlay to achieve unparalleled success; or the nine-in-a-row years, if you prefer. I beg to differ.”

Adam stated up front that he had parted from Rangers on bad terms worth Murray and that, obviously, coloured his judgement of the Rangers owner.

However, it didn’t mean that his analysis for Murray the businessman and Rangers financial future didn’t have some veracity.

“We endured strained relations throughout our time working together because I never depended on him for my income and so could be an independent voice in what was otherwise a one-party state. David tends to only appoint toadies and didn’t like the fact I was not prepared to be one.”

This is one of his weaknesses as an executive. Another is the fact that he is simply not an astute businessman. Rather, he is an impresario, a showman, what might be termed a buyer and seller, this extending even as far as the manner in which he has sold himself and his club through a willing media. No football club chairman in the history of the Scottish game has found his name in the papers above more sympathetic articles than David. Even when the tales being told amount to bad news stories.

Perhaps because he was afforded such impunity he too often had little interest in balance sheets, preferring to splash out recklessly because this appealed to his sense of showmanship. Long-term effects were not considered and the upshot of this is that the new chairman will have to find a way of reducing expenditure to below income in order that debts can be serviced. In his resignation statement last week David practically confessed he did not possess the guile to do this, claiming that the penny-pinching now required was not his style.
This is one of his weaknesses as an executive. Another is the fact that he is simply not an astute businessman. Rather, he is an impresario, a showman, what might be termed a buyer and seller, this extending even as far as the manner in which he has sold himself and his club through a willing media. No football club chairman in the history of the Scottish game has found his name in the papers above more sympathetic articles than David. Even when the tales being told amount to bad news stories.
Perhaps because he was afforded such impunity he too often had little interest in balance sheets, preferring to splash out recklessly because this appealed to his sense of showmanship. Long-term effects were not considered and the upshot of this is that the new chairman will have to find a way of reducing expenditure to below income in order that debts can be serviced. In his resignation statement last week David practically confessed he did not possess the guile to do this, claiming that the penny-pinching now required was not his style.”

None of this needs any spin or embellishments.

Adam worked closely with Murray-as closely as anyone at Rangers on the business side.

Quite simply the man described by Adam was no businessman more of a riverboat gambler.

By 2004 the club’s debt stood at £82m.

Only Graham Speirs, chief Sports writer of the Herald, now of the Times, broke ranks in Scotland and wrote about the impending financial disaster that Murray was taking Rangers into.

Speirs also wrote about the “bigotry issue” which, Speirs claimed, was much worse at Rangers than it was at Celtic.

In happier times Speirs spent time on Murray’s holiday home in jersey where the entrepreneur stated that:

“I’d love it to become a kind of dynasty thing. I’d love one of my boys to take over from me at some stage and drive the club on. I think that would be really satisfying, to have that family association with Rangers.”

That was in 1998 as he marked his decade in control of Rangers.

Now, of course, Rangers are in control of him.

Murray, stung by criticism from some brave souls in the media like Speirs about the debt problem at Rangers, moved more flags on maps in his bunkers. Another share issue that raised £51.5m, of which £50m came from Murray’s own businesses.

In reality Murray merely moved the Rangers debt into MIH’s accounts proper.

Unlike Fergus McCann’s share issue, which financed the building of a new stadium, the £1.5 million of new money generated for Rangers was a humiliating failure for Murray.

Failure is something that Sir David Murray isn’t used to.

From 2005 onwards the emotional contract that Murray had with the Ibrox faithful came under increasing strain.

He had promised explicitly to deliver on-field success. He had also, implicitly, pandered to the darker emotions of the club’s support.

The orange away strip, the world was told, was in recognition of the Dutch manager and the large contingent of Dutch stars in the team.

No one was fooled.

Another away top looked suspiciously like an England top.

All the while the traditional songs of settler supremacy in Ireland and empire Loyalism were belted out with impunity.

The first time I saw a different Murray was when he squirmed as he was, for a change, asked tough questions by a journalist.

Screened in February 2005 Murray was interrogated about the singing of the Billy Boys.

He didn’t know it then, but Murray had UEFA censure, the Manchester riots and the PR disaster of the Famine Song all in front of him.

All delivered by the unruly extras on his epic, a production that was so over budget there was no longer a budget.

Since 2006 the extras have been looking on as the stars in the production have failed to provide on field success and their repertoires of songs, old and new, could end them in court on criminal charges.

Not surprisingly, and never a pretty bunch to start with, the hard-line Rangers fans are now revolting.

Their racist outpourings on message boards and on the streets of Manchester makes Rangers even less attractive to any potential buyer.

Like a bad tempered movie mogul on his favourite project,the movie that will be his legacy, Murray is going through managers like so many underperforming script writers.

As I write this there has been a new development in the Scottish media.

The first green shoots of a widespread criticism of Murray.

The once timid hack pack, perhaps sensing that Murray’s power maybe on the wane feel somewhat safer to tell Murray’s customers what everyone in the Scottish media have known for some time.

The emperor has no money.

He promised to the Rangers supporters that he would deliver on-field success.

The reality is that Murray’s Rangers last won the Scottish Premier League in 2005.

His team currently trail rivals Celtic by five points and the Rangers first team squad is being auctioned off to meet bank payments that are due before the summer.

I will soon post an article, exclusive to this site, by a financial expert in the USA who has been examining the accounts of Murray International Holdings (MIH) at my request.
Ray McKinney is President of Chemera Consulting LLC (Philadelphia, PA).  He holds a B.Eng (hons) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Strathclyde, and an MBA from Columbia Business School in New York.
An experienced turnaround manager, his expertise is in corporate restructuring.

In short he is an excellent person to analyse the current commercial and financial health of any company.

Ray is quite unequivocal that, technically speaking, MIH (and Rangers) are insolvent. Murray’s companies owe more than they are worth.

The Rangers owner has borrowed massively against assets, including Ibrox stadium that have been grossly over-valued.

Ironically it is the esteem, which Murray has been held in Scotland for being the owner of Rangers and the man with the Midas touch that has allowed him to construct the scenario, which had led his empire to the brink of ruin.

Until recently most scriptwriters would have tacked the Murray story as a feel good uplifting triumph of the human spirit.

Now the only way a producer would give the Murray story the time of day now would be as the story of a man with too much pride who fell in with a bad crowd.

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