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Sir David Murray built a team of giants but found Scottish game too small

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His glorious dream was to watch Rangers triumph against the might of Barcelona, Juventus or Manchester United, but yet another home fixture against Hamilton Academical this weekend was the reality of life at Ibrox for Sir David Murray.

That bleak vision of Scottish football — and its harsh economic realities — was enough, finally, to convince Sir David that his day at Ibrox was done. He is said to be the sixth richest man in Scotland, comfortably able over the past 20 years to bankroll one of the country’s great institutions yet ultimately success at the highest level in Europe eluded him.

Donald Findlay, QC, who served as vice-chairman at Rangers, said there was no doubt that Sir David always hoped to win a European Cup, and that chance had dwindled.

“David is a driven man. He sets the bar very high which is why he is successful,” Mr Findlay said. “Despite his outward bullishness and bravado, he will be frustrated by the fact that he has not been able to compete on a level playing field with English clubs funded by the vast revenues of satellite television.”

Always one of the two dominant forces in Scottish football, Rangers reached new heights under Sir David. His friendship with the then Rangers manager, Graeme Souness, helped him secure the club in 1988. In a restaurant in Edinburgh’s West End Sir David let slip that he would be interested in buying Rangers if it came on the market. Mr Souness made the suggestion to Lawrence Marlborough, the majority shareholder, and a deal was struck for just over £6 million.

Mr Souness had been able to persuade England internationals such as Terry Butcher and Chris Woods to Ibrox. With Sir David he would push through an even more controversial deal by signing the club’s first high-profile Catholic, Maurice Johnston, a pin-up boy of a centre forward who was so close to returning to his former club Celtic that he had already posed for photographs.

The deal marked out the Murray era, and his determination to get his own way. He dismissed the staunchest Rangers loyalists, the hordes with their anti-Catholic songs, as “the FTP brigade”. It was the start of a glorious era for the club, a seemingly endless march to success unbroken after Mr Souness’s departure to Liverpool in 1991, and his replacement as manager by Walter Smith.

From 1989 Rangers won nine league titles in a row. But only once did the club come within touching distance of the ultimate prize, defeating Leeds United, the English champions, as they came within 90 minutes of reaching the European Cup Final in 1993. Sir David was undeterred. Wave after wave of great players arrived in Glasgow, under Mr Smith, and his successor, Dick Advocaat, the former manager of the Dutch national side. If a deal had to be made, the money was on the table. No one matched Rangers’ spending in Scottish football.

His profligate father had shaped Sir David’s business outlook. When the family lived in Ayr he was the kind of man who could buy the local hotel on Monday for £100,000, and sell it on for a £20,000 profit at the end of the week. He made and lost a fortunate, drank hard and died at 50 when his kidneys failed.

“My father was a huge influence on me,” Sir David admitted. “He was a great entrepreneur but he wasn’t hard enough. He was a clever man but he drank too much.”

Throughout his life Sir David has shown an astonishing ability to overcome adversity. In 1976, after playing a game of rugby for Dalkeith against North Berwick, he was driving his sports car when a tyre burst and he crashed into a tree.

He lost both his legs, but remained conspicuously without self pity. By then Sir David had founded Murray International Metals and his disability did nothing to quell his restless desire to build the business. Murray Group has grown to include a range of industries, including property development, call centres, venture capital and mining. His personal fortune was estimated at £720million in 2008.

Ultimately the paucity of the Scottish Premier League has brought disappointment. By 2002 the transfer budgets had been slashed as the club moved into an austere era of debt management. It fell first to Alex McLeish and then to Paul Le Guen, Sir David’s one management failure, to work within new margins, but inevitably the invincibility of the 1990s was broken. Fans protested; for a man of big ambitions, the world of Scottish football seemed a benighted space.

“It was becoming more difficult,” Mr Findlay said. “There were less resources and competing in the same world as the big clubs in the English Premier League. There is no doubt he found that frustrating and disappointing. He had made no secret that he would go.”


Not by Spiers by the way. Good article.

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Pretty accurate report i think. He had a dream for us and fairly similar to the ones that we all have but the SPL just will never bring in the money to achieve it. Until the Atlantic League starts or we move to England we will never have the finances that we had before and will always be chasing our own tails

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