For this Passed Master the opportunity to interview Rangers’ chairman, founder and owner of MIM and fifth degree legend, David Murray, is a rare pleasure –one that becomes few journalists. The consideration of a Level One menu at dinner –an honour spared for certain people of our own persuasions and (of outsiders) those of the most difficult persuasion- as an interval to our discussions, a culinary treat impossible to resist.
I arrived dressed in casual regalia and –from David’s VIP car park, now making for the mansion house- marched a tempo suitable of my attire in gleeful anticipation of the evening ahead.
David greets me at the gates to his north western Scottish hideaway with a warm smile and a skilful handshake; an immediate understanding. His demeanour is of majesty and he early in our opening exchange assures me that this fine night will be one not soon forgotten –legendary nights , I’ve heard, and I’m impressed that a man so implicitly synonymous with extravagance shows no signs of a sinful, somehow loathsome, obesity that only the super rich can ever achieve.
Instinctively recognising my taste in flora, he suggests we walk the short distance to his residence so the bluebell and orange crocus beds, which are in splendorous bloom, may be quietly appreciated. The crocus’ hues bring runny egg centres to mind and I absorb their yolky magnificence.
Once inside, David ushers me toward his study; oak panelled walls, tastefully accented with intricate inlays of tinted orange ivory, sapphire and -of course- precious meta,l wrap this room.
Pointing out a faded leather chair, that appears to have once shone red, white and blue, so perfectly centred in front of a substantial stained glass window ,and which had deteriorated to exhibit a now –in comparison to its splendid surroundings- muted patina, he proudly tells me,
"That used to be George Washington's chair.
"When I learned he was a brother …well I just had to have it."
When tentatively pressed as to the cost and current value of the piece David only smiled inwardly and said,
"Well, Mason, lets just say that I acquired it for a little less than Flo and within several months of his arrival at Ibrox the ‘seat of power’ was worth many times more than he."
The conversation turns to business and we agree to conduct the first half of the interview before dinner -the formalities, rhetoric; that which has to be covered- and to leave the trickier matters -Europe, redundancies, and sectarianism- for after our supper.
We begin by musing over this season's highs and lows. I put it to David that this year has been disappointing, to say the least.
"It's been an interesting year", he responds. "Our great rivals, Celtic, are worthy of congratulation for their diligence and achievement in what has been a particularly weak league this year. I think it, though, misguided to view this year as disappointing.
"After all, we [Rangers] have attained a mark of history in the Champions League, not to mention securing an eight figure investment and the services of –arguably- the greatest manager in football for next season.
"The glass is indeed half full", he states. And we share a chuckle as David's butler, Sean, replenishes my glass -which is indeed, at that moment, ironically empty- with a generous splash of '56 Chateau Margeux.
He continues, "I'd like to take this opportunity to dispel rumours of untruths having been delivered to fans this season.
"Alex [McLeish] has had my full support this year. The reason why his and my statements have often contradicted one another is that we didn't decide what the truth really was until the end of January.
“What is truth if not consensus?
"Alex will be the first to admit that he can be forgetful: He simply misplaced the memory of our conversation about his departure as he was –and I know Alex wont mind me pinching his own expression-…”, Murray informs in his best ‘droll Scotsman’ voice, “…'three sheets tae the wind, Mr Murray' when we discussed it in the summer.
“I always keep a case of the finest tonic wine for Alex's visits: I aim to please, Mason!"
With those remarks, Murray rises from his desk -signifying that part one is now over- and, speaking from the immense hand carved door, invites me to tour his galley which lays three stories underground. He instructs Sean to attend to dinner with the merest nod of the head -all understood perfectly- and we make our way to the galley with a fresh specimen of this century's finest wine; a rich vintage ’72 Ruffino, this time.
David is a misunderstood character: He feels his freedom of expression is inhibited by his Kingship of Rangers. Yet in these circumstances, on his home ground, with the slightest of a 'buzz on', he is a warm, modest man and his mind an open book. We stop several times en-route so he can educate me on the lives of the subjects of many portraits adorning his mansion's hallway. David permitted me to share one with my readers.
One piece, a privately commissioned work by the renowned cubist, Pablo Picasso, and entitled 'Walk Alone', depicts Rangers and Celtic legend Maurice Johnstone being assaulted in proxy by a “…scotch pie grenade”, as David refers to it.
David says, "Picasso captures beautifully -yet hauntingly- the turmoil that is Mo. There is a deliberate sadness in the work that mirrors my life. My favourite element must be the depiction of greasy shrapnel as thirty tiny abstract silver coins.
"I often observe this painting for two or three hours at a time. I think its creation offers me a moonbeam of salvation", he poignantly ponders.
We arrive in the galley via an elevator whose walls are of quilted royal blue silk. The galley -to my surprise- is in stark contradiction to the other rooms in the house I have seen. There are three individual rooms -each one's temperature and humidity independently moderated from the control room one floor beneath us- and each would not look out of place in a science fiction novel.
David -whilst expertly de-corking our third bottle of fine wine (a specimen '85 Bordeaux, this time) - announces to me,
"Voila, Mason. Le Sanctuaire aux le Raisin, Le Musée du fromage, and -in keeping with the French theme-…", he indulges his own sense of humour with a loveably volumous, piggish snort, "…L’Ark du Noah: where I keep the meat! It was named so in a friendly mocking of Fergus McCann, who –upon enviously witnessing my selection of beasts’ flesh- fawned, ‘My God, Murray. You’ve got two of everything down here’.
"I should probably keep this tale to myself but I’ll let you in on it. This series of rooms -more so their contents- proved to be the source of Andy Goram's weight problems.
"I allowed him down here after he blighted Tommy Burns' side. Then, proceeding to get a little smashed and rowdy myself -as the occasion demanded- forgot about Andy, and then found him two days later lying unconscious and stewing in his own gravy.
"Allow you, Andy -I said to him. Fifteen grands’ worth of luxury you’ve had away with this weekend. You're a bigger man than me."
And we both agreed that indeed he was.
Before we broke for supper David showed me something I didn’t recognise encased in glass and resting upon a golden plate. He paused momentarily before addressing my unspoken question, and adopted a solemn air as he began to describe the large hamburger sized, coal like structure.
"That, Mason, is Lisbon.
"She is the world's rarest and largest Italian black truffle. I acquired her in '88 when I joined Rangers and…"
David never uses the word 'purchased' in connection with his purchase of Rangers.
"…she represents the ultimate! .. success."
David possesses that rare linguistic ability to punctuate his sentences however he pleases and places special emphasis on words that he feels should be used in the media to headline any given situation at Ibrox, and –hitherto- with notable success.
"Her flesh is more textured than that of patiently aged, then slowly broiled prime rib roast. Her aroma: definitive of hunger itself.
"I've lusted after her for eighteen years, even had her in my sights in '93.
I sense that David is momentarily allowing the wine to rule his resolve and so call him by the name of Honoris Causa. In the course of a single breath David regains his regal posture, which I’m powerless to resist admiring.
We both understood what Lisbon represents. I felt that he knew the next two seasons would prove his last chance to ravish her in consent. If Paul can't deliver Lisbon to David's plate in glory her sweet, most rare, luxurious flavour would be forever tainted.
We began dinner within minutes of being seated in David's casual dining room. Sean, with perfect manners, served us an appetiser of two under-poached quail’s eggs subtly accompanied by a tangerine and wild beetroot fricassee.
What we spoke of at Dinner, David swore me to secrecy over until the time was right. I will respect his confidence until he gives the good word. Noteworthy, though, was the terrific cut of Kobe Beef which David assured me had never been served to a soul positioned anywhere less than the fourth degree -therefore excluding Chick Young (just) and Derek Johnstone (a mere apprentice who usually just asks for pizza anyway) from sampling this spectacular Japanese delicacy.
When obligations dictate a social engagement with Traynor, David dines out -and even then, always on the hack’s dollar.
And as we declined desert and went straight to vintage cheese and Pinot –the selection preserved from exactly the year of my birth- I noticed that we were both appropriately satisfied and enjoying a jolly state of intoxication. We had ventured into the bar/entertainment room, equipped with its own grand piano, to take our meal's finale and conduct the concluding part of today's interview.
I suggest to David -aware now of my own slight slurring- that this year's deal with JJB and the subsequent redundancies are a 'knee jerk' reaction aimed at producing a team which would be potentially competitive in a tournament that Rangers may not yet qualify for.
"Listen, Mason…" he snarls. And although my forename and surname are exactly the same, I'm aware that David is now using the latter. He collects himself almost instantly and continues.
"…The deal with JJB is a reaction to nothing. It's a proactive venture that will reap massive amounts of capital for Rangers.
"The redundancies are a regrettable, but absolutely necessary, part of us [Rangers] moving forward. These people will be treated with the dignity they deserve: Many are brothers or wives or sisters of brothers.
"They knew in the summer that they would be going –for that knowledge they deserve great credit in maintaining the secrecy so vital to this club- and many approached me to indicate their unyielding support. They have battled on with courage but they understand that results just were not fulfilling the potential.
"They all want what's best for Rangers!"
Satisfied with David's passionate response, I decide to raise the subject of sectarianism, bigotry and UEFA's investigation, but not before David calls Sean from his quarters in the distant east wing to pour us both a large glass of 95 year old cognac and ready two large Habanos for our smoking pleasure. There's something in Sean's eyes that I can't quite place -an emotion I have yet to experience, perhaps- and I notice it as he bows out for the final time this evening.
David responds well -at first- to the subject matter.
"It's very disappointing to me that a minority of our loyal support have let themselves down this season. It remains a great mystery to me how so few people can be so loud.
"Perhaps...", he contemplated, "...a genetic anomaly exists whereby a person's loudness is directly proportional to their underlying prejudices. I may even have the boffins look into that.
"I have spoken out on FTP. What more can I do?”
And David -now distant, searching for sincerity in his thoughts, liberated and loosened by historic vintners’ brews- revealed to me the source of his power at Rangers.
"In a way, I need the bigots; value them, even.
"They were and are an integral part of the business plan at Ibrox.
"Damn it, Mason! Could you ever dream of buying a business with such blindly loyal customers? Ayr United was simply…" -and I can just see the shadow of a grin as he says this- "…simply smoke and mirrors."
He knows, though, that things must soon change.
Before we conclude our business David –as comfortable in my company as I am in his-invites me to spend the night, and then on a few days peeling away the layers of -his words, not mine- "…The Mint". We share an understanding of the world that lowly apprentices, or Catholics, or -worse still- normal journalists would not believe, let alone comprehend. We appreciate that knowledge. Our positions imply trust.
Ever so slightly melancholic now, David unsteadily heads for the piano stool.
"You know they're even turning the screws on 'Billy Boys' now?
"That was always my song.”
He shakes his head at the prospect of loosing this ‘hymn’ from his fans’ repertoire and then surprises even I by confidently slipping into a subdued piano roll in F# -conspicuous only by the absence of sustain- which ends skilfully at the intro’ chord for his song. A highly personalised rendition followed.
He sang beautifully; slowly; deliberately.
"I am the Billy Boys,
"Your leader, king and voice,
"And I'm drowning in the blood of man,
"All races, creeds and kind
"Lisbon, will you yet be mine?
I didn't applaud, as I was moved to tears.
David called for Sean to make up a bed for me via the intercom. He smirked as he informed me that the alert on Sean's end is a high pitched melange of flutes and wailing children. I allowed Sean ten minutes to prepare my chamber, said a soft 'goodnight' and 'thank you' to David, who was still at the piano, and made my way towards the exit.
As I neared the door the piano accompanied David's gentle words, "I should have married you, Mary. It should have been you”, with a timely fingering of the opening bars to the 'Cheers' theme tune. I had the powerful thought that you cannot buy class.
From behind the closed door now, David called out his final words of the evening. He said, "Mason, you'll never guess what's for breakfast."
Walking to my room, realising I was once again in the great hallway, I allowed myself to anticipate the next two or three days. So many questions sprang to mind and I felt honoured at David’s choosing of me to discover the real him. We would share some fine tales, some finer food, and the some of the finest wines known to humanity; of that I was absolutely sure.
In our next issue Dr. Mason delves deep into the mind of Mr. Murray, who shares personal accounts of staff members past and present, his own dreams and ambitions, as well as spectacular offerings from his superbly stocked cellar and other gallied items.
Dr. Mason is permitted to discover much more about the –until now- surreptitious goings on at Rangers Football Club and –following an entire day of indulgence- introduces an interesting third voice to this series of articles in David’s butler, Sean.