Craig Whyte was a Rangers wolf in cheap clothing as Paul Murray reflects on ‘slow motion car crash’ at Ibrox

“It’s a great deal for David Murray, a great deal for the bank and a great deal for Craig Whyte, But it’s a catastrophic deal for Glasgow Rangers.”

That was Paul Murray’s warning, one full year in advance.

From the first moment he clapped eyes on the man who would run his football club into the ground, Murray knew exactly what he was looking at. A wolf in cheap clothing.

“There had been a couple of people sniffing around the club – a guy called Andrew Ellis appeared around the summer of 2010 but the whole thing petered away quite quickly,” Murray recalls when asked to recount the events which led up to the collapse of Valentine’s Day, 2012.

“Alastair Johnston was the chairman at the time. We had a couple of bank representatives on the board, the main one being Donald Muir, who was really putting pressure on the club.

“They put together a document to try to sell the club. I remember in December of 2010 we were playing a European tie against Bursaspor in Turkey. Most of the directors were on the trip.

“Alastair took us aside and said, ‘I’ve got some news. Some guy called Craig Whyte has made an offer to buy the club’. That was the first time I had heard the name.”

Even now it still sends a shiver down his spine.

Murray goes on: “Eventually, by the end of March 2011, we had a meeting with Whyte at the Murray Group’s lawyers’ office in Glasgow.

“He sat on one side of the table with all the directors on the other. Alastair, John McLelland, John Grieg, Martin Bain and myself.

“To be fair to Whyte this must have been quite daunting. He was being asked questions from all angles.

“That was the first time I met Craig Whyte and the thing that struck me was that this guy just wasn’t what he was claiming to be. He had worked in London in finance which is a small world. There’s a big Scottish mafia down there. But he didn’t know anyone I knew. He hadn’t been involved with any of the companies you’d have expected.

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“Everything he said was vague. It was hard to put your finger on but I knew at that point something wasn’t right. We had also heard rumors about his background from him. Put it this way, there were red flags going up all over the place.”

But with Sir David Murray in a bind with his own bankers – Murray International was being squeezed hard for around £900m in debt – something had to give.

And with the specter of the infamous EBT Big Tax Case now looming large over Ibrox, with the potential for a final bill running into hundreds of millions of pounds, the former chairman had to find a lifeline to keep his own head above water. And Whyte was only too willing to provide it, taking that enormous liability off the hands of both Murray and the bank. It was a deal which, as far as Paul Murray could see, could only end one way. Financial ruin.

So convinced he was of this impending doom, that Murray offered his namesake a counter offer to buy the club at the 11th hour. And one last chance to save his own legacy from him.

“I realized David was coming under a lot of pressure so I tried to put forward a different proposal that wouldn’t involve Craig Whyte,’ Murray recalls with a wistful shake of the head.

“I sent him an email with my outline proposal and then I went to his office to speak to him in person about three weeks before the club was eventually sold.

“He said, ‘Look Paul, you’re just too late. I’ve got this deal with Craig Whyte,’. Obviously the bank had him in an arm lock and there was no other way out.

“I was disappointed in David. I Just think there were better options than the one he went with. I can’t remember the exact words I used. My head was spinning at the time.

“But I told him he’d just sealed the club’s fate – that there was no way back from this.”

The deal went through on May 6, 2011. Whyte sealed it by digging into his trouser pocket and casually tossing a pound coin across Murray’s desk in his office in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

The following day Whyte and his entourage marched triumphantly through the front doors of Ibrox, cheered over the threshold by thousands of adoring fans.

Paul Murray waited inside along with the rest of the club’s directors.

He picks up the story: “We were playing Hearts at Ibrox. He and his advisers had walked down Edmiston Drive like something out of Reservoir Dogs. You know, Mr Orange and Mr White.

Craig Whyte (centre right) makes his way to Ibrox after taking over the club in 2011 with David Grier (centre left) by his side

“He came into the boardroom and I remember looking at him in disbelief. The pointy, plastic shoes. The ill-fitting suit. This should have been the biggest day of his life for him.

“Had it been me and I had just bought Glasgow Rangers I would have made sure I looked immaculate. This guy looked like he’d been dressed off the peg at M&S. And he was trying to make the world believe he was a billionaire who was here to save the club? Nothing about it made any kind of sense. I felt I simply had to do something.”

And so, albeit reluctantly, Murray found himself being dragged into a high profile conflict which would dominate his life for the next four years.

He says: “I had no experience of what I was doing. I found myself suddenly thrust front and center into a massive story and I was just trying my best to articulate my concerns. But I’m not sure many people wanted to listen and I could understand why.

“The fans wanted change. They were fed up with David and they wanted Whyte to succeed. They were excited by it and they wanted to believe this was the start of a new fantastic era.

“And here I was, trying to block it all from happening. I was seen as the guy who didn’t want change. Who only wanted to keep hold of a blazer.

“But nothing was further from the truth. I didn’t want any part of it, I just knew it was the right thing to do and I couldn’t have looked myself in the mirror if I didn’t stand up to be counted.

“It was never anything personal against Craig Whyte, I didn’t know the guy. I was just looking at things objectively thinking, ‘This is going to be a disaster for the football club that I love’.

“He had taken on a massive tax liability and as far as I could see there could only be one conclusion. Administration.

“That was the most frustrating part. I could see it all unfolding in front of my eyes like a slow motion car crash.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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