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Stewart Robertson Meeting Summary

Club 1872 Directors met with Stewart Robertson on Wednesday 1st March to raise concerns on behalf of members, to ask a series of questions based on those concerns and to request clarity on some key issues relating to the way Rangers Football Club is being managed.

Club 1872 began by explaining the purpose and significance of the meeting, which Stewart understood and accepted. Agreement was reached on the importance of sharing as much information as possible with Club 1872 members. Stewart stated that any restrictions on information-sharing – be they legal, commercial or other – would be made clear so as to avoid any suggestion or concern that questions were avoided. Most conversations with shareholders were with a small number of people on an entirely confidential basis. It was appreciated that Club 1872 differed from that.

Club 1872 explained that as a fans group, we appreciate and value the importance of building strong relationships with the Club while maintaining independence. This should allow us opportunities to communicate with the Club on issues that affect or concern members. Up until now, Club 1872 has met with Stewart on a monthly basis. While some of those meetings have been face-to-face, others have taken place via conference call. Club 1872 asked for a commitment from Stewart that we will conduct monthly meetings in person, where possible. Stewart agreed to this and suggested that we also endeavour to meet via conference call on a weekly basis, rather than monthly as was previously the case. This was agreed.

Club 1872 went on to state that while we recognise the importance of acting as a fans group to speak on behalf of members, we should also be treated as shareholders. What this means, for Club 1872, is that as a matter of priority we should be informed, whenever possible, of any major developments/announcements in relation to the Club and its functioning. This provides us with opportunities to consider, understand and prepare comment on significant events for the benefit of our members. Stewart agreed and said that this would be taken on board and actioned as long as circumstances allow. He stated that the business of football is a unique environment that can be fast-paced and unpredictable, but that in principle there was absolutely no issue with the request. He asked Club 1872 to provide the name of the Director who should be his first point of contact in these circumstances. If information was shared on a confidential basis the Club 1872 board would respect that.

In respect of the point raised above, Stewart went over some of the details that have been previously released via statements on the resignations of the management team. Stewart stated that all statements were factual and as detailed as they could be, and that the circumstances at that time were one such example of the fast-moving and unpredictable nature of the football business. Club 1872 responded that while we appreciate that, we expect that in future we would be informed as close to the point of publishing statements as the Club can manage. Club 1872 told Stewart that a number of our members have contacted us to share their feelings of frustration that they are often “the last to know”, with the media sharing details they’d rather hear from the Club and/or Club 1872.

Club 1872 asked Stewart for an update on the process of hiring a new manager and director of football.

Stewart advised that they are nearing the end of what has been a thorough and meticulous process of recruitment with an intense interview period in recent days. He said that he understood that concerns may have arisen within the support about the length of time that’s taken, but advised that the priority for the Club has been – and continues to be – to find not only the very best people for those roles, generally, but the people who will be the right fit at Rangers. He described the Club as a unique environment with very specific requirements in terms of standards and achievements – it’s therefore absolutely crucial that we find individuals who will work as a team to meet the high expectations that will come with their positions. Stewart was clear that in the same circumstances, he would not do anything differently as he is totally confident that the process was necessary and correct.

Club 1872 asked the following question

Supporters are wondering why it’s taken so long for shortlists of managers and DoFs to be drawn up, when it seemed clear weeks ago that Warburton might not last the season (either because he was looking elsewhere or because the results meant that the Club would have to consider letting him go). Generally speaking, in the modern world of football, managers don’t tend to stay in one place for too long. It might be unrealistic to expect that the Club would have had people waiting in the wings, so to speak, but supporters want to know what forward planning was in place – if any – in relation to replacing the management team. 

On the DoF, Stewart said that the Club had been observing and analysing how the role works elsewhere, which individuals were successful in those set-ups, and how Rangers could learn from them.

Stewart went on to point out that the Club has faced some challenges in terms of the timing of the situation. At any time, a process must be followed to find absolutely the right people to be part of the management set-up at a Club as big as Rangers. That process involves pulling together a list of potential candidates, inviting and considering applications, and arranging a series of meetings with the outstanding applicants. If any of those people are in jobs already, and that is far more likely mid-season, the Club has to work around that. Permission must also be sought to speak to individuals in some circumstances. That takes time. As it is, two and a half weeks have been dedicated to following these steps, and to following them with as much attention and forensic investigation as possible. Background checks were done on dozens of applicants, with care and time taken to minimise the risks of making appointments that would not bring success to Rangers. The Club needs people who can work under intense pressure. As such, due diligence has been done not only in terms of how candidates perform as managers/coaches/scouts, but also in assessing candidates’ experience of dealing with the press, how they work in the transfer market, and whether they fully appreciate and share Rangers’ winning mentality.

Stewart believes this is a reflection of how seriously the Club takes the aim of delivering the success and achievements supporters demand.

Stewart shared his thoughts on the role of DoF, to give some insight into why it has been important to carry out a dual process of recruitment and plan the two roles (DoF and manager) together. He explained that a DoF is not, as some people might believe, an older and more experienced manager looking over the shoulder of a younger and less experienced manager. Particularly at Rangers, where we do need to beef up our scouting and recruitment structure, a DoF will function to build those foundations. This will allow the manager to focus on his role, with team selection and assessment of what the squad needs being his responsibility and choice entirely. The DoF will liaise with the manager in terms of those choices, and look to Europe (and beyond if necessary) to bring in contacts and information as part of the scouting and recruitment structure. Administration and organisational issues will be for the DoF to deal with, not the manager. It’s crucial, therefore, that we find a manager and DoF who understand this relationship and how it should function.

Club 1872 asked if the Club acknowledges that some of the criticism in relation to the concerns around forward-planning is valid? If not, will Stewart offer some insight into what’s gone on behind the scenes that would assuage concerns over lack of planning?

Stewart accepted that the Club was not where it should have been in terms of a scouting and recruitment structure and data base of potential targets, but reiterated that under the circumstances, the Club has taken the correct steps to ensure progression to a point where a similar situation should not arise again. They have made good progress recently, particularly in the last few days of intensive interviewing and negotiations, and the process has been narrowed down significantly. Stewart is pleased with where we are now in the process, and with the high quality of candidates. He referred to the noise from the media about the perceived failure to appoint a temporary manager, but stated that it’s important for a manager to be appointed with future opportunities for success in mind. The new manager should have some time to assess the squad in the next few months, with a view to our place in the Scottish Cup and our chances in Europe. The appointment of a temporary manager would mean that the permanent manager coming in later would have only a few short weeks to do that, and that would leave us exposed in terms of those important targets and opportunities for success.

Stewart referred to previous targets, and stated that these had been met. The aim was to smash the championship, and this was achieved. Mark Warburton was able to sign every player he wanted and asked for. The next goal was to be competitive in the premiership. Stewart described himself as a Rangers supporter, and stated that as such, he shares the disappointment of some of this season’s results. With the budget we have, we should have been further ahead by now. However, he reiterated that Rangers Football Club is still in a process of rebuilding, and that so much progress has been made. He said that he cannot overstate how broken the Club was just two years ago. Since then, there have been masses of improvements made. Stewart gave a commitment to being honest with supporters not only about that progress, but about what we still have to do. He stated that there will be no spin on any of these issues.

Club 1872 asked the following question

Rangers fans understand some of the current difficulties in the context of where we’ve come from and how challenging that’s been, but being second simply isn’t good enough on a long term basis. Does the Club understand and share that view, and is that belief central to the long term planning and aims particularly in relation to recruitment of management and players?

Stewart said that the Club absolutely understands and shares that view. Rangers is all about winning. He said that people rightly associate Rangers with words like winning and success, and it has to be that way for supporters and the people who run the Club. There can be no mediocrity. Stewart described recent years as a hell of a journey, and said that as a supporter himself and someone who is committed to doing the best job he can do, he would love to be at the point of total success now. However, we need to continue the process of building the foundations in order to get there. He said that’s not just about money being thrown at the on-the-park side of the project; it’s also about creating and strengthening appropriate structures and relationships within the Club. He stated that the Club’s commitment to doing that is as much about pursuing success as any other business the Club does. They aspire to bring in quality players that can go straight into the first team, to strengthen the scouting and recruitment network and to reach the goal of being competitive in the premiership and in Europe.

Referring to the importance of success in all these areas, Stewart said there is not a chance the Rangers Board doesn’t get that or doesn’t care enough to pursue it. There is a very clear plan that the Rangers Board cares passionately about. All decisions are made with that plan in mind, and with that commitment at their core. We can and should do better. Stewart mentioned that Dave King had said this in his recent statement. The Board is not in place to flounder, and that’s not a soundbite. Stewart described himself as being too old to play games, and said that he cares too much about Rangers to be anything less than completely straight with supporters. There are some circumstances under which the confidentiality of negotiations is crucial, but there should be no doubt about the commitment to bringing success back to Rangers.

Club 1872 asked

In an interview with various media outlets in March 2014, Mr King suggested it would take in the region of £30 – £50 million pounds of investment to rebuild Rangers. 

“My view of what it will take to make Rangers competitive again is bottom end £30m but probably £50m — over the next four years.

From the discussions I have to date I think there are other people who would come with me.

But I would say I would probably have to put in £30m of the £50m over the period of time. And I could probably get other people to put in £20m.

Would I be willing to invest £30m despite what happened previously? Of course. Sure.”

In his statement following the departure of Mark Warburton the chairman alluded to 18 million of investment to date and during that statement quoted a top end figure of £30 million rather than the previous top end figure of £50 million. Furthermore, he suggested that we were behind target with our squad. 

What is the proposed figure of investment – is it £30 million or £50 million? 

If it is the lower figure why has it been reduced particularly when it is acknowledged we are behind target in terms of squad recruitment? 

Does that £18 million investment figure include share acquisition?

Given the proposed timescale for such investment was over the period of 4 years can we expect to see considerable investment in the playing squad over the next 2 years with the new management regime receiving significant financial backing?

Stewart said that he couldn’t comment on statements made by anyone in relation to their own personal commitment. Stewart did not want to avoid the question, however, and said that he would comment on investment since he’s been involved at Rangers and conversations he’s had with the Board in relation to investment. He did point out that while he can’t comment on the personal statements mentioned in the question, as a business professional he would not have expected any individual to invest huge amounts of money into the project upfront. A plan has been agreed, and will progress over a period of time.

Stewart stated that investment has not just been in the playing squad, but also in infrastructure throughout various areas of the Club. Stewart referred to a time when the Commercial Department had 22 members of staff, and there being only 3 there when he came to Rangers. This indicates the serious damage that was inflicted on Rangers, and Stewart described it as madness that a Club of our size and standing had been so significantly debilitated in terms of our commercial functioning. This is one area of many on which the current Board has focused its commitment to progress and growth. They are currently recruiting to continue investment across the Club. Stewart stated that everything he’s asked the Board for has been given, and referenced several areas of investment including new CCTV systems, pumps at Auchenhowie, and lighting rigs. While he accepts that these are things that will never interest fans as much as investment in players, he described it as necessary to ensure adequate facilities in which players can achieve success. Otherwise, the whole organisation spirals downwards again, and this is something the current Board will not allow or accept. Stewart stated that they must make sure standards are the best they can be. He said that he simply doesn’t want to be associated with a Rangers that doesn’t deliver 100% on standards.

Stewart confirmed that the £18m figure quoted in the statement released on 11th February included money spent on shares, and went on to detail how the financial situation is expected to progress. Currently the Club’s income from retail is not what we would want it to be, and apart from the sale of Lewis McLeod, we haven’t made any money from selling players. Plans are in place to change this, and we are looking to a new management structure to facilitate the buying and selling of quality players. All money brought in from these changes will be invested in the playing squad. This was a reassurance that was given to Mark Warburton, and which has been given to candidates for the current vacancies.

Stewart reiterated the fact that everything he’s asked for has been given by the current Board. He referred to his three month consultancy role at Rangers prior to his permanent appointment, which gave him opportunities to assess the Board’s commitment. He was left in no doubt of that commitment, and said that he can’t speak more highly of the Board. They are all Rangers supporters, all committed to continuing to invest in Rangers, and very supportive of the clear plan being carried out. We are two years into the four year period mentioned, and £18m has been invested. Further investment is required in order for progress to continue. The Club acknowledges this and has been clear on it.

Stewart referred to the need for the Club to be clever in its rebuilding plan. It needs to create value, and lobbing millions of pounds into the playing squad does not achieve that in itself. Stewart reiterated that recruiting and spending wisely, as Dave King outlined at the recent AGM, was the best way to achieve the Club’s goals.

Stewart also referred to a potential share issue as a means of increasing income and encouraging investment. Club 1872 asked again when Stewart expects that to happen. As in previous conversations (shared with Club 1872 members via the Club 1872 website), Stewart advised that  there are certain issues to be resolved in advance of a share issue but it is hoped that these will be resolved soon. The timing is not something the Club can control.

Club 1872 asked

A number of members have contacted us to ask that in the absence of knowing when a share issue will happen, would the Club be open to the idea of us investing on the same basis as the Three Bears, Dave King, etc? This would obviously be a decision for our members and while it is not something that Club 1872 is proposing or investigating at this time, we believe it’s important to speak for those members who desire clarity on the possibility.

Stewart said that would be a matter for the PLC board to consider if and when Club 1872 members voted to make that proposal.

Club 1872 acknowledged Stewart’s response to the specific question on Dave King’s media comments, but pointed out that when the Club’s chairman says something publicly, supporters listen and then want and expect any claims made to be actioned. Club 1872 stated that as the voice of members, we need to be clear that when information is lacking or appears to contradict previous statements relating to the running of our Club, supporters will not only notice, but will question the reasons for this. It’s crucial that supporters aren’t ever misled again, as we were under previous regimes. That means that statements must be accurate and should be followed-up with appropriate action. Club 1872 will pursue answers to questions relating to Mr King’s statements in an appropriate alternative forum with Mr King. This may be at the next AGM, or via letter. This can be discussed with members. Stewart noted the importance of checking what was actually said rather than relying on 3rd party accounts.

Stewart went on to state that for his part, we would see a total commitment to upfront and frank comments and that he was happy to be held to account in this regard. He said that he will tell people the way it is, to the extent that he is able. No game-playing, no bombastic claims or statements. He said that to the extent that the Club doesn’t deliver on that front, they will have to explain themselves.

Club 1872 asked if Stewart Robertson would meet with club 1872 members to take questions directly from them as a follow-up to this meeting.

Stewart agreed and said that he would be happy to commit to doing that twice a year. Club 1872 will organise this to happen in the next few weeks, and will invite email questions/comments from members who cannot attend in person.

Club 1872 asked the following question

There’s a general feeling emerging within our support that the Club is in crisis, that standards have slipped and that we are heading for more turbulent times i.e. admin 2. Are people right to be worried? What reassurances can you offer in this regard, and is there an understanding that when worries go unaddressed, they turn to frustration and even anger? Fans are frustrated right now because they fear for their Club and don’t feel they are being heard. 

Stewart answered no to the first part of the question (i.e. are people right to be worried?). He said that the Club is not in crisis as some would have people believe, and that although he understands why people may be concerned in the current climate where bloggers publish smears and outright lies about our Club, there is no risk of Administration. He said that he understands also the point re worries going unaddressed and said it’s important that the Club strikes the correct balance between providing information to fans and protecting delicate negotiations that require confidentiality. He said that running a football Club is not a reality TV show, but that he gets it – Rangers could and should do more in terms of their communication. He referred to some minor errors mentioned by Club 1872 that may have caused confusion or frustration – for example a player turning out in a strip that did not bear the Club crest, and incorrect information being shared via the official Twitter account. These have been looked at and were genuine errors, and assurances have been provided that they will not be repeated. Stewart referred again to his personal and professional commitment to ensuring exceptional standards in all areas of the Club. Supporters should not be concerned that these errors in any way reflect a crisis at the Club.

Club 1872 asked

A lack of information, as you alluded to, feeds negative narratives (particularly from online bloggers). This damages the brand, members then contact Club 1872 about it and ask what can be done? What are your thoughts on that, does the Club have any plans to challenge or correct these types of stories? We understand that it wouldn’t be practical to correct all misinformation, but if the claims are serious, wide-reaching and actionable why doesn’t the Club act?

Stewart explained the legal advice the Club has generally been given is that there is no cost effective legal remedy to pursue bloggers circulating  ridiculous lies and smears, often from countries outside the UK. Taking such a case all the way to a trial on a single matter could cost the Club upwards of six figures in legal fees and invariably there is no prospect of recovering such sums from those bloggers. Club 1872 and other Rangers supporters can play a role in raising complaints against those circulating such nonsense and ensuring the truth is heard.

Stewart expressed his personal belief that giving oxygen to nonsense stories can be more harmful than beneficial, but accepted that that’s a debatable point. Stewart specifically mentioned recent stories about the Ibrox roof being unsafe. These stories were false, and could have damaged the Club. Stewart agreed that how to respond to such stories – if at all – is an issue that can be looked at on an ongoing basis, particularly after the appointment of a Social Media Officer. The person who is appointed to this role will be tasked in part with looking at some of the online comments/stories that cause concern, and will report back to the Club on this.

He acknowledged that the Club could be more proactive rather than reactive in some areas of its PR. This is an area that is already being looked at and developed, with relationships with the media being reviewed and improved. By highlighting the positives, for example the work done by the Charity Foundation and the community work the Club is doing, Stewart hopes to encourage more balanced reporting on the Club. The recruitment and upcoming appointment of a Supporters Liaison Officer will contribute to this also. This new role will involve unprecedented levels of engagement with supporters as well as other agencies. Stewart said that he would be delighted to hear from and work with Club 1872 on any issues relating to fan engagement.

Club 1872 asked when Stewart expects the Club to be self-sufficient i.e. not reliant on loans. 

Stewart answered that if the retail situation were different, we would be self-reliant now. We are very close to self-sufficiency. Referring to his previous comments about the plan to bring in and then sell quality players, Stewart again expressed confidence that the Club is making good progress towards this goal.

Club 1872 asked the following question

The current Board have done well in steadying the Club after the mismanagement under previous regimes. Do you have confidence that the Board have the ability and the stomach to now progress the Club back to where it belongs, at the top of Scottish football? 

Stewart responded that he absolutely had that confidence. He said that he wouldn’t have taken the job – and he wouldn’t continue in the job – if he didn’t see it as a long-term commitment that will lead to success for Rangers Football Club.

Club 1872 thanked Stewart for his time and his commitment to meet with members as a follow-up to the meeting. Stewart said that he was looking forward to future meetings with Club 1872, which will take place more frequently, and where details of projects and plans for restructuring and improving operations throughout the Club can be looked at. These plans include areas such as ticketing, customer service, branding, etc. and Stewart again acknowledged Club 1872’s commitment to providing feedback to members on any meetings where these issues are discussed.

The meeting ended here.

Club 1872 Directors will now organise the meeting mentioned previously, at which members can discuss any of the topics covered above with Stewart and with Club 1872 Directors. 

We will publish details of this meeting as soon as we are able to do so, and provide contact details for members who wish to provide feedback or follow-up questions for the purpose of that meeting.

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