end of an era

Murray's Rangers legacy

August 27, 2009
By Neil McDougall

It was Enoch Powell who observed that all political careers are destined to end in failure and the same observation could apply to those hardy souls who plough their money into football.

Sir David Murray has taken Rangers off the market
SNS / PictureSir David Murray has hit out at claims of cheating at Rangers

Sir David Murray, who has relinquished his role as Rangers chairman, was greeted with massive enthusiasm from the Ibrox faithful after taking over the reins in 1988. He galvanised the Glasgow club and transformed their fortunes. But recently, much of the initial bouquets have been replaced by brickbats as Murray, under increasing financial pressure, has been forced to ditch his spend-spend-spend policy.

A proud man, and a passionate devotee of Rangers, his contribution to the Govan club can hardly be overstated. Whether sitting alongside Graeme Souness when Maurice Johnston was unveiled as the club's first high-profile Catholic signing in 1989, or playing an active role in the metamorphosis of Ibrox into a truly world-class stadium, Murray could never be accused of being an anonymous figure at the tiller.

Instead, he actively hunted down Old Firm rivals, Celtic, at a time when they were slipping towards the verge of oblivion during the early 1990s, and subsequently engaged in his famous or notorious declaration - depending on your perspective - that for every pound Celtic shelled out, he would spend two.

The remark was trademark Murray: not for him the polite exchange of pleasantries in the board room when he could steal a march over his rivals. And, for a significant period at least, he followed through on his pledge, to the extent that when Chris Sutton came to Parkhead for £6m, the then-Rangers manager, Dick Advocaat, was handed £12m to buy Tore-Andre Flo - an absurd piece of business - which started to alter perceptions of Murray as the new millennium arrived.

His reign at Ibrox was a game of two halves. Throughout the first decade, Murray's fiscal impetus and relentless ambition allowed Rangers to pull significantly clear of everybody else in Scotland. Big-name players were courted across Europe and further afield and a string of them hitched their star to his wagon, including the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup, Mark Hateley, Jorg Albertz, Claudio Caniggia, Dado Prso and Ronald De Boer.

At times, it was almost as if Murray appeared bored with his club's domestic domination, even as they embarked on a magnificent sequence of winning nine championship titles in a row and, perhaps justifiably, he regularly spelled out his frustration at how the perceived inadequacies of the Scottish game were preventing Rangers from becoming a sustained force on the European stage.

Yet, although Murray could be ruthlessly pragmatic, he also veered towards the sentimental, not least when he allowed Walter Smith to carry on as manager in search of an unprecedented tenth successive title when Smith was visibly exhausted. It was as if he couldn't appreciate that Celtic, revitalised by Fergus McCann, had made up lost ground with an injection of fresh blood and Rangers needed to do the same.

David Murray, Walter Smith
SNS / PictureDavid Murray with Walter Smith when he was appointed as Rangers boss in April 1991

As a consequence, and with their debt levels rising almost inexorably, Smith departed, Advocaat arrived and continued to invest in often questionable signings. Rangers started to wheeze, caught in the slipstream of their traditional adversaries. Murray stood down, and was temporarily replaced as chairman by John McClelland, but he couldn't prise himself away from Ibrox, particularly when Celtic regained the initiative and began achieving the sort of European victories which had eluded Murray and Smith.

In that respect, Murray's return to the hot seat proved a mixed blessing. On the plus side, Rangers, following a disastrous flirtation with France's Paul Le Guen as manager, regained a substantial amount of pride by reaching the UEFA Cup final last May, and followed that up by securing the SPL title and Scottish Cup in the 2008-09 campaign. Yet, on the debit sheet, there were undeniable signs the cash splurged out between 1998 and 2005 had grievously affected the balance sheet, leading to the present situation where a club which has just won the double and been guaranteed Champions League football, has seemed stricken with penury.

Whether that will change under the new chairman, Alastair Johnston, remains to be seen. Indeed, for as long as Murray continues to be the majority shareholder, some fans will query whether this is little more than a cosmetic shuffling of chairs in the boardroom. Even as he announced his intention to step down, there was an air of defiance in Murray's valediction, which hinted at the possibility of this decision owing more to the need for Rangers to find new revenue streams than him bidding adieu altogether.

But, for the moment, Murray has surrendered his grip on the club. His legacy contains both triumphs and grounds for tristesse, but few people will disagree with the conclusion that he has been one of the biggest movers and shakers in Scottish football and, love him or loathe him, his impact has been considerable.

If he had been a little less obsessed with Europe, he might have bankrolled domestic achievements which would never have been surpassed. But then again, Rangers and Celtic have never been content to dominate their own backyard and Murray, whatever his faults, has never thought small.

Ultimately, though, as Johnston may come to realise, there is only so far you can go in Scotland - especially when England's best clubs have 10 times more money.