Newcastle owner Mike Ashley bids to oust Rangers directors

DEAL ... Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.
DEAL ... Newcastle owner Mike Ashley.

NEWCASTLE owner Mike Ashley’s bid to oust Graham Wallace and Philip Nash from the Rangers board is just his first move in a grab for more power at Ibrox.

Press Association Sport understands the Sports Direct tycoon could be ready to increase his current 8.92 per cent stakeholding in the Glasgow giants to around a quarter of the club’s shares.

A source close to Ashley says the billionaire business man is considering upping his current stake after declaring war on chief executive Wallace and director Nash.

The Newcastle chief – who has vowed to remain in control at St James’s Park until the end of next season at least – would, however, have to find a way past an agreement he struck with the Scottish Football Association which committed him to owning no more than 10 per cent of Rangers while he was still in charge of the Magpies.

It comes after Rangers announced to the stock exchange yesterday morning that Ashley had used his right as one of the club’s major shareholders to call an emergency general meeting to vote on Wallace and Nash’s positions on the PLC board.

The Daily Record yesterday reported that Wallace had entered into talks with former oldco directors Dave King and Paul Murray, as well as wealthy supporter George Letham, over a potential multi-million pound rescue package for the crisis-hit club.

But it appears Ashley has moved early in attempt to snuff out those plans.

He will need to carry the support of the majority of the club’s shareholders to oust his boardroom rivals – but one source told Press Association Sport that Ashley was now “parking his tanks on Wallace’s lawn”.

Ashley can count on the backing of Sandy Easdale, the chairman of the Rangers football board, and the 5.21 per cent the McGills Buses boss owns as well as the proxies for a further 20.94 per cent which Easdale is also responsible for.

Laxey Partners are Rangers’ single biggest shareholder with 16.32 per cent and their vote could yet prove vital. Press Association Sport contacted the Isle of Man-based investment group for comment but they were unavailable for comment.

News of Ashley’s rumoured intentions will only worry the beleaguered Rangers support further.

Already alarmed by the feedback from frustrated Newcastle supporters following the 50-year-old’s controversial seven-year stint as owner of the Premier League outfit, their fears increased when it was revealed last month that he had bought naming rights to Ibrox from former chief executive Charles Green for just £1.

They were also angered when it was revealed he had spent £850,000 buying over four million existing shares from investment firm Hargreave Hale last week.

That was three weeks after he had pulled out of pumping a similar sum into an emergency share issue the club had called as it ran close to another cash crisis.

The open offer was under-subscribed by around £800,000, meaning the club’s board will now have to launch another share issue before the end of the year in order to meet December’s wage bill.

The Rangers board – which also contains Sandy Easdale’s brother James – says it will fight to protect Wallace and Nash.

In the club’s Stock Exchange statement, it said: “MASH (a firm registered in Ashley’s name) requires the company to call a general meeting of the shareholders of the company and to put certain resolutions to shareholders for inclusion in the business at such a general meeting of the company (the “notice”).

“The notice puts forward resolutions for the removal of Graham Wallace and Philip Nash as directors of the company. The company is currently verifying that the notice is properly constituted.

“If valid, the board intends to seek to have such notice withdrawn in order to avoid the cost and disruption of an ad hoc general meeting particularly given the company’s forthcoming annual general meeting, further details of which will be announced in due course.

“The board is united in its support of the executive team. If the notice is valid and is not withdrawn, the directors intend to recommend that shareholders vote against the proposed resolutions. A further announcement will be made shortly.”

Sandy Easdale, however, tried to distance himself from the latest row to envelope the club. His spokesman Jack Irvine said: “Sandy Easdale is not part of the PLC board and has no knowledge of any of the recent announcements. However he is watching with interest.”

A statement issued on behalf of Paul Murray and George Letham read: “We want our fellow supporters to be clear on the current position and to correct inaccuracies in certain parts of the media.

“We confirm that we are in discussions with the Board regarding a proposal to provide the club with a funding package to be provided by like-minded individuals including Dave King.

“The discussions should remain confidential and we will provide more details in due course.”