So Rangers will be in the bottom tier of the Scottish Football League next season, after a vote by the Scottish Football Association voted overwhelmingly against the newly re-formed club being admitted to Division 1 of the league structure.
The decision ends a month of uncertainty for Rangers, who were first told their ‘newco’ re-formed club would not be admitted to the Scottish Premier League on July 4, before talks of a break-away ‘SPL2’ and other nervous rumours essentially scotched their hopes of being allowed into Division 1.
Rangers fans have reacted angrily to the news today, with texts and tweets pouring into the BBC’s live news page.
One comment, from Graeme Barbour in Leith, reads: “Outrageous we prop up most of the SPL and this is the thanks we get. They all deserve to go bust, which they will.”
There was a degree of more moderate opinion, though, and some backlash against the perceived “arrogance” of some Gers fans. ‘Jazzy’, from Livingston, was certainly frustrated with what he was hearing: “Is it just me or do Rangers fans think every other club is to blame?… If any other club [outside] the big two went into liquidation then we wouldn’t even be having this debate.”
Another poster, simply named as Stephen, complained: “This message board sums up all that is wrong with Scottish Football. Jimmy from Inverness, Graeme from Leith…Maybe now you can start supporting your LOCAL teams. Gloryhunters have killed the Scottish game.”
Whatever the truth, and regardless of which side is right regarding who is killing Scottish football, the truth is that Rangers’ absence from the SPL, for the next three seasons and possibly longer, will be hugely damaging to the marketability of the Scottish game. The Old Firm Derby, the marquee game north of the border, won’t be back on our screens until at least 2015 barring cup ties or friendlies. In the meantime, it will be left to the likes of Dundee United, Hibernian, Hearts and Motherwell to carry the challenge to Celtic, who now look set to dominate Scottish football for the foreseeable future.
Denial of a Division 1 spot may have been fuelled partly by SFA fears of the rumoured SPL proposals for an ‘SPL2′, which would have removed another ten clubs from the remit of the SFA and further weakened its position in Scottish football. The absence of Rangers from the second tier, it must be assumed, will make the idea less attractive and less profitable to SPL clubs.What might anger Rangers fans the most, however, is the proof from the English Football League that these decisions can be dealt with more constructively. Take the case of Portsmouth. Another club recently liquidated, after years of continuous financial woes, Pompey’s new owners were told this week that the club will be allowed to take its place in League 1 if it starts with a ten-point penalty and pays its football creditors (clubs owed transfer fees or players owed wages) by the start of the season. That seems fair enough to me – there needs to be a punishment for the club’s wastefulness, but there also needs to be a solution found which allows the commercial entity of Portsmouth FC to survive.
Rangers will be massive favourites for promotion for each of the next three years, and there should be little doubt over their likely progress back to the SPL. After all, even if the entire first-team walks out, the products of the club’s youth structure, perhaps combined with a couple of loanees from England and/or veteran free agents, will more than suffice against the likes of Annan Athletic, Elgin and Montrose. There will undoubtedly be a number of players around the British football network who want to be part of Rangers’ rebirth. Think of Angelo di Livio with Fiorentina – it happens.
One man who has always said he intends to stay around is manager Ally McCoist, made the following statement in reaction to the decision: “Rangers has been severely punished for the actions of some individuals who previously ran the club and it will take time for us to recover but we will come back stronger thanks to the loyalty of the fans and the commitment of everyone at Ibrox who are working tirelessly to bring stability and success back to Rangers.”
Until they return, Rangers’ neighbours across the city will look after the affairs of Scottish football as best they can. But Celtic alone won’t guarantee enough ticket sales for other clubs, enough interest for media or commercial partners, enough investment in youth development. Much as it pains me to say it, Graeme from Leith might be right.