Fans together could have Direct line to heart of Rangers boardroom

THEY are people who care most about their club ...

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but whose voices are rarely listened to.

The idea of fan ownership has become an increasingly attractive proposition for the Light Blue legions in recent months.

Last week, the Rangers First scheme purchased 70,000 shares and took the first step towards increasing fans' influence at Ibrox.

It has been set up with the help of Supporters Direct Scotland, and here SportTimes speaks to SDS representative Richard Atkinson about the future for fans.

How has Rangers First evolved in the last few months?

RA: Supporters Direct invited anyone they had contact with in the context of Rangers to a meeting on February 14. At that meeting, a presentation on fan ownership was made, specifically to do with Community Interest Companies.

At the end, it was put to the room, and it was decided that they would like to hear some more and another meeting was organised.

A name was chosen and a website, www.rangersfirst.org created. We started getting volunteers from those who attended to do some work, and the Rangers First CIC was launched and made available to take donations.

That money has been gathered up in recent months and resulted in the 70,000 shares being bought on Friday.

How many members do you have and how much has been raised?

RA: There are over 1000 people who are part of Rangers First and they are pledging between £5 and £18.72 per month, while there are life members who paid a £500 one-off fee.

All the money raised in this way goes to buying shares. We buy shares when we have the money.

Because it is a recurring income, there is money there to buy shares all the time. There are a number of commercial and marketing initiatives ongoing to raise money to help us push Rangers First forward.

Do you view 70,000 shares at this point as a success?

RA: The key thing with a plc is that you start to exert influence as soon as you get to 5%. Because it is not a Limited company, you don't need to own 51% of it in order to do anything - 5% in a plc gives you certain rights. Approximately 12% of the shares in Rangers are already owned by fans.

One of the things which Rangers First does as well as buying shares is allow people who own shares to exchange them for discretionary membership in Rangers First, taking shares that are disparately shared in the fanbase and bringing them together.

The small shareholders, if you were to join them all together would, I believe, be the largest single shareholder in Rangers.

There were thousands of people who bought shares at the IPO, or have since, and what RF allows you to do is to join that together.

Does the widespread nature of the shares present a challenge?

RA: I don't think it is a hindrance. People are free to do what they want. It is up to the individual to decide whether the shares they own would be better collectively controlled or whether they want to control their own.

RF offers people an alternative and a vision, and it is up to individuals if they want to buy into that. RF will not criticise anyone who chooses otherwise, and Supporters Direct's ethos is the same.

It is about offering a vision of what is possible when fans join together as a collective ownership.

You can contribute to Rangers First monthly and that money goes to buying shares or, if you own shares, you can exchange them in and join the party that way.

All we would encourage folk to do is do something rather than nothing, so please have a look at what the folk at Rangers First have been doing at www.rangersfirst.org and make up your own mind.

What is the difference between the RF model and RST BuyRangers? Could the two ever be joined and resources pooled?

RA: There are differences and it is up to people to decide which proposition they prefer. Any fan can visit www.rangersfirst.org to read up on the RF proposals.

Most importantly, however, is that both organisations are democratically controlled by their members and reflect what the members desire, and so will be guided into the future by those members.

Do you think the ongoing problems between some fans and the board has had, or will have, a positive effect on fan ownership?

RA: I think that the key to fan ownership is that in any club's situation it can bring transparency and accountability. It is not a panacea but it can, of course, be a positive driver for relationships between fans of any club and their club's board.

Have you had any discussions with the Rangers board about fan ownership or representation?

RA: I haven't, no. The situation is that Rangers First is neutral and is open for any fan to engage with it from any point of view.

We are certainly aware that every person that has been named in and around Rangers recently is aware of Rangers First and what it stands for.

How do you plan to mobilise a greater percentage of the fanbase to continue to grow RF?

RA: The team behind Rangers First have largely been working online, but now that all the foundational work has been done, the message of RF can now be taken much further and wider and, most importantly, offline to the wider worldwide Rangers fanbase; you will see this offline activity stepping up significantly in the next few weeks and in the run-up to the new season.

IF fan ownership became a reality at a club the size of Rangers, could it open the floodgates for more Scottish clubs?

RA: Simply, yes. People like examples to follow and, through the work at Supporters Direct Scotland, many fans' groups are now starting to look at this issue with a renewed optimism that they can make it happen at their club.

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