Mike Ashley offloads Rangers shares

Mike Ashley offloads Rangers shares

Mike Ashley has sold his shareholding in Rangers and the largest Light Blues supporter group has snapped up half of his Ibrox stake.

The news comes just two days after Rangers chairman Dave King brokered a peace pact with the Sports Direct chief that provides the Ibrox club with a new £5million-a-year retail deal.

Ashley's firm MASH Holdings Limited bought an 8.9 per cent stake in Rangers International Football Club Ltd (RIFC) when the company was floated by former chief executive Charles Green in 2012.

But he has now sold a 4.46 per cent tranche to fan group Club 1872, with the rest bought by Julian Wolhardt, chief operating officer of Hong Kong-based Dehong Capital Partners.

Club 1872 - formed last year by a merger of supporter groups - becomes the club's second biggest shareholder by taking its stake to 10.71 per cent.

The news has been welcomed by fans, who feared the dispute fought out by King and billionaire Newcastle owner Ashley in the courtroom would hamper the club's ability to take on Celtic for years to come.

A spokesperson for Club 1872 said: "We are delighted that our members' support for Club 1872 has brought us to a point where we can acquire those shares and complete the process of restoring control of RIFC to those who view the footballing success of Rangers FC as being just as important as RIFC's careful stewardship financially.

"Club 1872 allows Rangers supporters to help safeguard the future of our club. Taking our shareholding above 10 per cent puts us well on our way to that goal. Our next ambition is to reach out to those Rangers supporters who are not already members of Club 1872 and encourage them to join.

"Together we can achieve great things for our club."

Wolhardt - who was married in Scotland and previously worked for Asian Investment firm KKR when it bought a large stake in German outfit Hertha Berlin - added: "I am delighted to become an RIFC shareholder. I have a long held love for Scotland and football and I am keen to see Rangers FC unlock its considerable commercial potential.

"With the successful restructuring of the retail operations, RIFC is now on a firm financial footing and I look forward to being a part of its exciting future."

Club1872 and Wolhardt have both paid out £1million (€1.14m) to wrestle the shares from Ashley's grip and that commitment was praised by King.

The Gers chairman said: "This is the partnership I want to see lead Rangers forward.

"Rangers run by those who care for it most, not what has been dismissively described by some as 'fans with calculators,' but a mature and structured organisation which can galvanise and represent our supporters and use their skills and talents to drive our club back to the top of Scottish and European football.

"Julian's decision to invest in Rangers is exciting for the club. His business background and acumen are exceptional and it is very pleasing that his scrutiny of the club and its strategy has convinced him of our financial prospects and the merits of our business plan."

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