It is time to unite the small groups and waken the sleeping giant...

Robert Marshall and his son, Greg, have been heavily involved in the formation of Rangers First.

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Robert Marshall, who has been involved in the formation of Rangers First along with his son, Greg, in the Louden Tavern at Ibrox
Robert Marshall, who has been involved in the formation of Rangers First along with his son, Greg, in the Louden Tavern at Ibrox

Rangers First is a fan-led membership vehicle that aims to buy shares and achieve greater supporter involvement in the running of the Ibrox club.

Matthew Lindsay of SportTimes met the lifelong Rangers fans and season ticket holders to speak about the ambitious project and their hopes for the future.

How did you get involved in Rangers First?

RM: I was invited up to the Supporters' Direct Scotland offices in Stirling. So I went and listened to two lads speak and I liked what they had to say.

I thought: "If it can help Rangers I will give it a go." It was just about helping the club. As a fan, I was in.

Then we had a meeting here (The Louden Tavern, Ibrox Stadium) to see if the body of the kirk, if you like, wanted to take the idea further. Richard Atkinson, a volunteer with Supporters' Direct who has been involved at quite a few clubs over the years, spoke to us.

We had around 50 people here. And not one voice was dissenting. I think it is important to state that this is not anti-board or pro-board.

It is pro-Rangers and pro- Rangers fans. At the first meeting we said: "Leave your egos at the door. Leave the politics at the door. Let's just see if we can do this."

GM: We have people who attend our meetings who are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their attitude to the club board.

If it is about individuals then it will fail. It is a vehicle that should be analysed on its own merits.

What are the objectives of Rangers First?

RM: The first target that Rangers First has is to obtain 5% of shares in the club.

GM: That gives you powers in terms of calling a general meeting and getting answers to questions.

It is all about getting what is called ACT - authoritative consultative transparency.

That basically means the fans having a voice and the club having to listen to and engage with us.

This is about the board engaging with the fans so that we know what the situation at the club is and we can all move forward together.

It is not about getting a fan on the board. Our members would have to vote on having a representative on the board down the line.

It has still to be decided. But, personally speaking, I think we would want a professional representing us.

GM: The money the Community Interest Company spends must be to the benefit of the Rangers community. We can't just spend money willy-nilly. Initially, we just want to get shares until we can get the ACT.

Once we get that then it will be up to the members to decide what we do with the money after that. We can fund specific projects that are and are to the benefit of the club.

BuyRangers already exists. Why is Rangers First necessary?

RM: By law we (BuyRangers and Rangers First) have to work together publicly because the schemes have the same principles and the same goals. We want to work together. But I think this vehicle could unite fans.

GM: The key point about Rangers First is that it is not partisan. It is trying to unite the small groups into a bigger group.

We are saying to them: "You are still allowed to have your differences. This is beyond that."

There have been lads at the meetings we have had so far whose personal opinions I do not agree with. But their ethos is right. They genuinely want to put Rangers first.

We need to engage with a wider fan base - and especially with fans abroad in countries like Australia and the United States. That is one of the advantages of Rangers First - we can accept payments from abroad.

A CIC is to the benefit of the Rangers community and the Rangers community isn't defined by geography. It is what we decide the Rangers community is.

And the Rangers community is global. It is basically anybody who considers themselves to be a supporter. They can contribute to it from abroad.

The main strength of the CIC is its flexibility. For example, my father and I are going to donate our shares to it.

We bought £1,000-worth of shares at the IPO. As well as money you can put shares in. A few of us are going to do that.

RM: One of our representatives is going to Hong Kong this week to do a presentation to the Rangers Supporters' Club out there.

Richard (Atkinson) also did a presentation with Orsa (Oceania Rangers Supporters Association) recently.

We are really trying to engage with the ex-pat fans because it must be really hard for them looking in and not being able to do anything.

What has the response to the scheme from Rangers fans been?

GM: It is still in the process of being put together. But we have 1,000 members already. That is not bad after two weeks. We are due an update on that any day now.

We were at a pub in Lanarkshire a couple of weeks ago at which 10 Rangers Supporters' Clubs were represented.

Three of them joined up on the spot and seven took it back to their members. Nobody was against it. When people engage with it they say: "This is a good idea."

It genuinely is a good idea. But we do need the support of the fans to make it work. At a small level, we could build up a small shareholding.

But if we get larger numbers we will get the transparency the fans want.

Has the ongoing financial uncertainty at Ibrox increased the interest in Rangers First?

RM: I think it does increase enthusiasm for what we are doing. But I am keen for this not to be seen as a criticism of the board. I am not against them.

I know they should not have spent the £22million that was raised at the IPO. But, as far as Rangers First is concerned, we are simply for the club. We are there to help the Rangers support.

How many members do you hope to attract?

RM: We would like to get to 20,000 to start with. Personally speaking, I think we can get 50,000. Now, I know people may laugh at that. But you had 200,000 at the Uefa Cup final in Manchester in 2008.

You also have however many thousand abroad who are all desperate to help the club. I think we can have a worldwide membership of 50,000 within two years.

How much does it cost fans to join Rangers First?

RM: There are three boxes on the website - www.rangersfirst.org - you can join for £5 a month, £10 a month or £18.72 a month. There is also a life membership, Club 1872. That entails a £500 one-off payment.

You get nothing out of it other than the satisfaction you have helped Rangers. Plus, as a member you get a vote.

GM: If we can get 1,872 signing up for a life membership it will give us enough money to buy circa 5% of the club.

Dave King has stated he is prepared to put money into Rangers "along with the fans". Could that funding come from Rangers First?

GM: It could. Buying shares as individuals has not given us any dividend so far. Individual fans have roughly 12% of the shares.

But we don't have anything to show for that. Buying as a collective, through Rangers First, would.

RM: There is also a vehicle you can use. Say, for example, Laxey Partners were prepared to sell their 12% stake in the club, but Rangers First did not, at that time, have the money to buy it. We could say to them: "We will pay you for 4% a year."

GM: We could provide them with a dividend and take the proxy for their shares and subsequently buy them a few years down the line. That is not something that necessarily is going to happen. But the CIC is flexible and you can do that.

The other thing is we can approach the Rangers fans who currently own 12% of the club and ask them to proxy their votes to us.

We would need to collect the signatures of the 4,500 fans who have shares before a general meeting. One of our committees is looking at shareholder engagement.

Community ownership failed at St Mirren. How can it work at Rangers?

GM: Amongst the clubs where this has been tried it has never been exactly the same. There are technical elements which are similar.

St Mirren was a wholly-owned club. They had, for some reason, to buy 52% to make it work. They put in a legitimate bid and Stewart Gilmour, as was his perogative, decided not to accept it.

There are successes. Dunfermline got over 1,000 members after they had already been saved. Hearts got over 8,000 fans paying in £15.50 a month.

We want to achieve ACT at Rangers. The members will decide where we go from there.

How optimistic are you about the future?

GM: If this kind of vehicle had been about prior to administration I think it could have had a significant influence on the club. Maybe we wouldn't be in the position we are in now.

Having said that, I think it will take off now. It may be a slow burner, but I think it will take off. Whoever puts money in can be assured that it will go towards the betterment of Rangers.

I think we are getting there as a result of the meetings. We are starting to unite. Very few people want actual fan ownership.

They want fan participation. What we are saying to the club is: "Be accountable to us." That is all we want, accountability.

RM: We get nothing other than the satisfaction of helping Rangers and the Rangers community. I am not negative at all.

I think Rangers are a sleeping giant. A good analogy would be they are a bear in hibernation. It is time the bear woke up.

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