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Dave King close to paying off Mike Ashley's Rangers loan

Chairman Dave King has insisted Rangers are one of the most financially secure football clubs in the world  
Andy Newport

RANGERS chairman Dave King insists the Ibrox club is financially one of the strongest clubs in the world.

The Light Blues boardroom boss made his claim after confirming at the club's annual general meeting he and his fellow investors are ready to repay Mike Ashley's controversial £5million loan. King, along with Douglas Park, George Letham, George Taylor, Paul Murray and John Bennett have dug-deep to find the cash which means the club will retake control of a number of club assets given to the Sports Direct tycoon as security, including the club's Murray Park training ground and its world famous trademarks.

By repaying Ashley's money, it means King and his backers have now ploughed in around £12million since forcing out the previous Ashley-backed regime in charge of the club last March. Much of that money, used to bridge funding gaps in the club's accounts, has been issued in the way of soft loans, but King insists the club will not have to worry about paying it back. And he stressed that, by settling up with Newcastle United owner Ashley, the club - so beset by money worries in the three years since its liquidation meltdown - now had a balance sheet to be proud of.

The South Africa-based businessman told around 1,000 shareholders at the Clyde Auditorium: "If you look at the financial strength of the club, once the Sports Direct loan is paid off, other than shareholder loans, which I'm saying should be treated as an equity substitute, Rangers Football Club has no debt.

"You'll go far to find a single football club in the world that's got a balance sheet as strong as Rangers'. We've got no debt at all, a strong supporter base and own all our assets. We're one of the strongest clubs financially in the world. Once Sports Direct is paid off, we've no external debt whatsoever. Barcelona can't say that, neither can Man United or Arsenal."

Grateful shareholders queued up to thank the board for digging deep to find the money needed to pay off Ashley. Handing back the money means King's board will also reassume majority control of Rangers Retail Ltd, the contentious joint-venture set-up by former Rangers chief executive Charles Green and Ashley in 2012.

The terms of that partnership - which has produced just £300,000 in profits for the Light Blues - continues to irritate King's group, who had previously refused to repay the Ashley loan until it was renegotiated on a fairer basis to the club.

Ashley has shown no sign of surrendering the increasingly bitter war with King, who could yet end up being jailed next month for contempt of court after Ashley argued he breached a gagging order preventing him discussing the club's Sports Direct contracts. Now that Ashley has been squared up, King will hope his billionaire rival may show a willingness to talk.

He said: "The relationship with Sports Direct is impacting on Rangers, but we will succeed in securing a more mutually beneficial partnership for Rangers in the future."

King also confessed that he hoped by this time next year Rangers, who are still without a stock market listing, would be in a position to attract major investors. The chairman stood by his previous claim that it could cost Rangers as much as £30million to get back to the Ladbrokes Premiership and then wrestle the title away from Celtic. But he promised first-team boss Mark Warburton would have money to spend in January to boost his promotion bid.

He also insisted there was "zero chance" of the club being stripped of titles following the court defeat on EBTs to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs - a statement which received another lengthy ovation. King later confirmed the club will now also pay its employees the living wage.

Paying tribute to the club's supporters, he added: "It was our collective belief that kept Rangers alive despite the crimes, the punishment, the abuse, the lies and, sometimes, the hatred the club has endured. No club has been made to suffer as this one has.

"But we are here today, we'll be here tomorrow and everyday after that. And because of our belief, Rangers will emerge stronger than ever." 

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