A little appreciated determinant of the rise and fatal fall of Rangers under Lawrence Marlborough and then David Murray was the effect of an inflating, then deflating market for player transfers. Betting on an inflating asset was a guaranteed success and the bigger you bet, the more successful you became. Celtic eventually tried to copy this strategy, but we were betting with smaller stakes than Rangers, seeing poorer returns and unable to draw level.
Rangers seemed unstoppable. Celtic’s league win in 1998 was as unlikely as it was remarkable. Everything went right for Celtic, including the arrival of the Great Swede and an early season postponement, but even then, the win was by the skin of our clenched teeth.
Rangers responded to that loss with the biggest spending splurge in Scottish football history. Transfermarkt records a figure in excess of €40m, but they don’t have a fee for the new World Cup winner, Lionel Charbonnier, or Rod Wallace.
Their accounts for season 1998-99 were a classic of the genre. They opened with a copy of the Centenary Certificate, recording 100 years since the club registered with Companies House. The celebratory tone continued as David Murray discussed their treble win.
Turnover was £36.526m (a record), loss was £24.393m (also a record, but not for long). That’s despite an amortisation charge for player registrations of only £12m, most of that €40m plus splurge had yet to hit the P&L. Despite this, the board, the media, the fans, were unanimous in celebrating how clever David Murray was. Some of us were muttering “Crash and burn” to anyone who would listen.
Within three years of those accounts being signed, ITV Digital, broadcast partner for the Football League, collapsed, causing the market for player transfer to dip. At that moment, it was all over for Rangers, they hobbled on for another decade, but the writing was on the wall.
Anyway, why am I bothering you with this today? For a start, it’s always an enjoyable story to tell (with many more chapters), but one thing bothered me during the rise of Rangers. They were able to sign players that didn’t work out, sell and either get their money back, or make a profit. Their mistakes, were profitable mistakes.
Also, Yosuke Ideguchi today left Celtic for Vissel Kobe. Celtic made a small profit on a player who scarcely wore the strip. He is clearly a better player than he was able to demonstrate in Scotland, who benefited from a successful loan period in a market able to spend money on him.
Keeping the ship financially afloat means constantly working to enhance the value of all your players, including those well out of the picture. More of this, please. And no, Companies House will not be sending a letter this year, congratulating Rangers on the 125th anniversary of their registration. I’m sure you’ll remember, that outfit ended in liquidation in 2012.