Belfast Telegraph

More bad news for Rangers FC fans as city centre shop to shut

By Amanda Ferguson

The Rangers club shop in Belfast city centre is to close after Christmas.

It is understood the store in Ann Street, which sells the Glasgow club's official merchandise, will shut its doors in January.

Signs the shop was closing down went up yesterday, taking customers and staff by surprise.

The club has thousands of fans in Northern Ireland, many of whom travel regularly to Scotland for games.

The six staff at the store have not been made aware of the reason for the closure of the shop, which has been a high street fixture for many years, catering for the passionate following Rangers has in Northern Ireland.

In September Sports Direct, the firm of Newcastle Utd owner and Rangers investor Mike Ashley, took over Rangers Retail at Glasgow Airport, the megastore at the club's Ibrox stadium and the Belfast store.

Staff at the Ann Street outlet were informed on Tuesday it is going to close and Sports Direct will be opening a Sweatshop running store in its place.

Last night a Rangers spokeswoman old the Belfast Telegraph the closure of the store was a Sports Direct matter.

A spokesman for Sports Direct declined to comment.

Rangers have suffered severe financial and administrative difficulties in recent years.

The club is to seek a fresh share issue after announcing an operating loss of £8.3m for the 12-month period to June 30, 2014, with fresh funding needed as soon as January.

Former Rangers owner Craig Whyte was released on bail yesterday following a court appearance over an alleged fraudulent takeover of the Ibrox club in 2011.

He took control in May 2011, but the Glasgow giants went into administration in February the following year.

The 43-year-old was in the dock at Glasgow Sheriff Court, after arriving back in Scotland having been detained in Mexico under an arrest warrant. He made no plea or declaration and was released on bail.

The club's administration in February 2012 was followed by liquidation. Rangers lost a large number of high-profile players due to the financial collapse.

Among them were Steven Davis and Kyle Lafferty, both Northern Ireland internationals.

As a result of liquidation Rangers were demoted to the fourth tier of Scottish football. They are now in the second tier after back-to-back promotions.

Currently second in the Championship behind leaders Hearts, they are close to a return to the Premiership, but severe financial problems are ongoing.

Rangers fans in Northern Ireland will now have to look elsewhere for club merchandise - possibly going online.

However, the many local fans of Glasgow rivals Celtic will have no such trouble.

The Celtic FC shop opened in Belfast, also at Ann Street, on October 18, 1999.

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