CRAIG Whyte, the controversial owner of Rangers when they went into administration back in 2012, released his account of his time at the Ibrox club, Into the Bear Pit, yesterday.
Whyte, who became a hate figure for thousands of fans when Rangers was liquidated and then placed in the fourth tier of Scottish football, denies he was responsible for the fate suffered by the 140-year-old Glasgow institution in his new book.
In an exclusive interview with Herald Sport, he recalls the detrimental impact of the 54-times Scottish champions’ failure to qualify for Europe in the 2011/12 season, explains how he ultimately regretted the departure of Walter Smith as manager and reveals for the first time what happened to the Arsenal shares.
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The 49-year-old, acquitted of all charges relating to his takeover at a High Court trial in 2017, also tells of the massive repercussions his involvement in Rangers’ financial implosion had on both him and his family and explains what he hopes to achieve by publishing his autobiography eight years on.
Q: Rangers had outgoings of £45m and incomings of £35m when you took over. How much did the failure to qualify for Europe hurt you?
A: Without any European football, the loss was £10m a year at the time I went in. We budgeted for the Europa League, which was worth about £5m a year, on the basis that Rangers had had at least Europa League football in every year but one in the previous 20 years or so. So it seemed sensible to budget for that.
But, of course, we didn’t even get Europa League (Rangers lost to Malmo in Champions League qualifying and Maribor in Europa League qualifying in 2011). Literally, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. We didn’t even get Europa League.
That was another significant hole in the budget. That would have been enough to see it through to the close season. An extra £5m would have got us through the end of the season, no doubt about it.
Q: Would Walter Smith staying on as manager have helped Rangers?
A: If I had known then what know now. I was a complete novice when it came to running a football club, as anybody is when they first buy a football club. You can’t possibly have had experience of doing that.
I was looking at the numbers rather than the personalities. I thought: ‘Right, Walter Smith is leaving, that’s good, he was on a huge salary so we will save a bit of money there’. Of course, Walter staying for another season would have been invaluable. Knowing what I know now, I would have attempted to persuade him to stay for another season.
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Had Walter Smith still been in charge and been able to guide us into the Champions League I firmly believe I would still be the owner of Rangers today.
One of the criticisms which has been levelled at me was ‘Craig isn’t a football guy’. That is true. I am not really a football guy. Mixing with the players and the team wasn’t really a big deal to me because I wasn’t a big football fan. Not ever.
I hadn’t been to a football game for about 10 years before I bought Rangers and I haven’t been to a football game since about 2012. I was looking at it from a business point of view rather than a football point of view. So I didn’t even get the enjoyment from the bits a football fan would have enjoyed.
Q: What happened to the Arsenal shares (dating back to 1910, they were a historic link between the clubs)? What was the money used for?
A: I had no idea Rangers owned Arsenal shares. And I had no idea it was such a big deal. I probably should have known that. One of my people got a call from this guy who was trying to buy Arsenal. He said: ‘Do you want to sell these Arsenal shares?’ I said: ‘Why not?’
But because it happened so late in the day the money went into the stockbroker’s account and went straight to the administrators because it was so close to administration day. The money probably went towards Duff and Phelps fees, unfortunately.
Q: Rangers fans were very proud of their association with Arsenal. They were incensed when they learned what had happened. Do you regret that decision?
A: They would have been sold by the administrators anyway. If I had known the significance of them historically to Rangers I would have made a different decision because it wasn’t a meaningful amount of money that was going to change hands anyway. If I remember rightly it was £300,000, something of that order. It wasn’t a meaningful amount.
If I had known the historical significance, if somebody had mentioned it, I wouldn’t have taken that decision. There was no point. But it doesn’t change the fact the administrators would have done it anyway. The outcome would have been the same, unfortunately.
Q: You state that you became “the most hated man in Scotland” after Rangers’ financial implosion. How much of a toll did that take on you?
A: It wasn’t very nice, certainly at first. I had the advantage of not living in Scotland. At the time, I was spending my time between Monaco and London. I wasn’t in Scotland very often. I wasn’t experiencing it on a day to day basis in the streets as it were.
But you can’t help but be drawn into putting your name into Twitter or Google every so often – which is a big mistake obviously. It is not very nice. But what can you do other than get through it?
There is no other alternative other than to get on with life and say ‘that was an experience I would rather not have had but there are still a lot of positive things in my life and I am still in a more fortunate position than a lot of people in the world’. I try to have a positive outlook.
Q: Did your involvement with Rangers affect your family?
A: That was maybe the worst aspect of it. My kids were in Scotland when this happened – they aren’t any more – and were young. They had other kids refusing to play with them. My parents have had a bit of abuse. That is the worst part of it because it is not their fault what I choose to do.
Q: You reveal that you received numerous death threats. Did you ever fear for your safety?
A: I had a completely normal life when I was staying in Glasgow during my trial. I went out to dinner, I went out running, I walked to court every day. Ninety-nine per cent of the interaction I had with the public was with well-wishers which was always encouraging.
As the trial went on, I even had well-wishers who identified themselves as Rangers fans, which was kind of surprising at the time, but showed that what we were saying was having an effect.
Only once did I have a semi-threatening experience. A couple of guys walked up to me as I was walking to court one day and basically threatened me. They said that after the trial was over they were going to come and get me whatever the outcome for what I had done. The police arrested a guy, but nothing came of it.
Q: You were acquitted of all charges relating to your takeover of Rangers at a trial in 2017. Do you think the case should have gone to court?
A: It was a complete waste of taxpayers’ money as well as the time of all the people who were involved in it. Whatever they said it cost in outlays, it cost 10 times more than that in terms of the police time and prosecutors’ time. It was a complete and utter waste.
It is one of a few cases, if not the only case, where somebody has been charged with fraud when there was no claim of a loss by anybody and there was no suggestion of any gain by me. That just doesn’t happen. Even in a case when somebody lies about their income when they are getting a mortgage, they are getting a house out of it.
They couldn’t point to any gain that I had made out of it and nobody was alleging a loss to anybody else. It was totally absurd that it got there. If it wasn’t Rangers Football Club it would never have gone to court. It was only because all the public interest. They wanted to have a scapegoat for it if you like. That was me.
Q: How has your life changed since your involvement with Rangers? Are you still able to come back to Scotland?
A: I was in Scotland in August or September. It is always interesting coming to Scotland. It hasn’t changed that much since I was chairman of Rangers.
When I was chairman of Rangers I used to get abuse from Celtic fans and a lot of friendly support from Rangers fans. Now it is the other way around. Celtic fans are friendly towards me and Rangers fans shout abuse at me. It hasn’t changed that much.
When Duff and Phelps went to trial in Edinburgh they had these huge security teams around them so nobody could get near them. I had no security. I have always interacted well with anybody who comes up to me. And people come up to me in Glasgow all the time.
Mostly they’re friendly, occasionally they come and give me abuse. But that’s life. It doesn’t stop me from coming back to Scotland. I still have family there. I will continue coming.
Q: You say in your book that you have sympathy with Rangers fans. But you don’t say you’re sorry. Do you not feel you need to apologise?
A: Anyone with a basic understanding of what happened knows that I didn’t cause this 140-year-old club to go out of business. That would almost have been impossible in nine months. How could something that was sold for £1 be a great business?
If I could turn the clock back and do it a different way and put it into administration when I first took over . . .
I regret the outcome. Some of my decisions could have been better at the time. I have no problem apologising for that. But I think it’s clear where the blame lies for what happened to Rangers.
I don’t have an issue for apologising for any mistakes I made with what happened to Rangers. Of course, I made mistakes. But it is not my fault what happened to Rangers.