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So. Farewell. Then. Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan? You would hope so after today’s overwhelming decision by Scottish Football League clubs to accept new Rangers into their third division. This being the Rangers saga, however, that paragraph may be obsolete by the time I’ve finished the first draft of this article, let alone by the time you’ve read the finished one. And thanks to a, shall we say, “drafting error” at Ibrox, we know that the not-so-dynamic duo aren’t washed up yet.
One of the many threats issued in the “SFL” briefing document Your game, your club, your future – which was sent to its clubs on June 27th – was the formation of a Scottish Premier League 2 (SPL2). And, at the time of typing, that plan seemed firmly in development. And it was new Rangers themselves who let the proverbial cat out of the bag in their initial statement on the SFL clubs decision, the final paragraph of which read: “It is now understood that on the back of a briefing SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster and SFA counterpart Stewart Regan gave to clubs last week that the SPL will introduce a plan for an SPL 2 – which would include Rangers – and invite existing Division One members to join.”
Whoops. About 45 minutes later, a new final paragraph emerged, saying: “It was mooted last week that plans for an SPL 2 would swing into action in the event of todays outcome but it is not known if this will be the case.” This tied in more with the general interpretation of Your game…, which presented SPL 2 as a ‘plan C’ and a threat (indeed the document may have more pertinently been titled SPL – our game, our ball, you can **** off). But the original version ties in more with new Rangers owner Charles Green’s public utterances since the plan to get his club into the SPL collapsed on July 4th. Green stated then that “Rangers will play in whatever division the SFL sees fit,” which seemed designed to lead the less attentive Rangers fans into thinking he was happy that division three was the place to be.
Remarkably, most Rangers fans failed to notice that this meant Green was as happy to see his club placed in division one. When he addressed a fans’ meeting last week, his minuted comment on new Rangers in division three was simply: “I have publicly said I would accept that.” And it seems now that this acceptance came from the “understanding” that Rangers would be in Scottish football’s second tier in a year, regardless of the SPL clubs’ decision. This “understanding” was forged last month and possibly earlier. If an e-mail leaked to Channel 4’s Alex Thomson is true (and Rangers fans would suggest that his track record in Glasgow in recent months makes that not wholly certain), Green was receiving briefings at SFA Board on the plan to accommodate his new Rangers almost from the moment it was forced into existence by the CVA failure of June 14th.
Regan wanted Doncaster and SFL CE David Longmuir to gain “buy-in” and “support” for this “plan” at board and club meetings of each league, between June 25th and July 4th. At these meetings, Your game… was produced. And Regan’s e-mail can only strengthen belief that the supposed “SFL” document was nothing of the sort. What the e-mail now shows, of course, is that Regan’s plan and the CEs’ attempts to “gain buy-in” to it failed – comprehensively; which makes Regan and Doncaster in particular dishonest and incompetent failures. They have failed, too, in a key aspect of their work, the promotion of the Scottish game. Their powerful promotion of “forthcoming Armageddon and financial meltdown” in the Scottish game has hardly encouraged broadcasters discussing five-year TV deals.
Indeed, it would surely lead to broadcasters walking away from Rangers matches next season when one would have thought that the story of new Rangers on something hyperbolic like a “journey to redemption” would have been worth a few quid to some broadcaster. However, laziness is the problem. Doncaster has shown little propensity towards hard negotiations – content instead to let the Old Firm’s pulling power do the work for him. And Regan, despite his responsibility for the Scottish game as a whole, has either overlooked or doesn’t care about the huge financial and profile boost third division clubs will receive from Rangers being among their number and has made no effort to push this “good news” side of the story.
Doncaster is also more concerned with the “problem” of Scottish football democracy. In an interview on the morning of the SPL chairmen’s decision to refuse new Rangers’ SPL application, the BBC’s Chris McLaughlin asked him about “lack of leadership” in Scottish football. Doncaster claimed this went “to the root of how decisions are taken in football…myself and David Longmuir, we don’t have a vote in any of this. It’s the 42 clubs.” And when McLaughlin suggested that this was “a flaw in Scottish football…(which)…needs to change” Doncaster merely said “that’s the way football is run the world over,” and sighed. This is the attitude Doncaster will be taking into the debate on Scottish league restructuring. Be warned.
For new Rangers, there remain the requirements attached by the SFA to the new club’s application for full membership of that organisation – without which, they may struggle to play at all. These include “confirmation” that new Rangers “will accept such sanctions as are proposed by the SFA (and) responsibility for any breach of the (SFA) articles (of association) by Oldco which has not so far come to light.” At least, that’s how things should be. But the fix appears to be in here too. Green claimed this afternoon that “Rangers has been handed the ultimate punishment of starting again from the bottom of the leagues but (sic) there is an overwhelming feeling among fans and within the club of ‘wiping the slate clean’ as a club free of sanctions.”
This may be another example of Green’s modus operandi – stating as fact any personal opinions he may hold (check his interpretations of TUPE regulations for details) and hoping they become the orthodoxy by force of repetition and volume. But as a method of drawing a line under a fraught process, it has some merit, avoiding tortuous arguments, in and out of courtrooms, about new Rangers’ responsibility for the sins of a club which is shortly to be formally liquidated. Such arguments could be costly in both human and financial resource for a club trying to adjust to a whole new footballing world. And the potential consequences could be hanging over Ibrox for years, diverting the clubs focus from the task-in-hand. I have certainly warmed to the idea of such a clean slate. And the concurrent loss of any claim on old Rangers history seems a small price to pay.
Views on this afternoons events have polarised in traditional fashion. “Punishment dished out, punishment taken, glad that’s over,” noted one Rangers fan, furiously drawing lines under everything. “We prop up most of the SPL and this is the thanks we get, they all deserve to go bust, which they will,” noted another, generously. “Rangers fans think this is a punishment but all that has been done is applying the rules for an application of a new club,” came a less blue-tinged response. And anyone looking for a good word said about Doncaster and Regan…is still looking. There was the suggestion that the TV deals could be maintained if Celtic volunteered for division three. And one wag noted that expanding the SPL to 33 clubs to accommodate new Rangers was only marginally less ridiculous than Doncaster espousing SPL expansion plans this week that he was dismissing out of hand last month.
There’s much more of all this to come. Green – and more importantly his investors (whoever and wherever they are) – will not be happy with a year in division three which isn’t followed immediately by a year in some form of Scottish Football’s second-tier. And Doncaster and Regan will not be happy either, for not-too-dissimilar reasons – their plans for the summer encountering yet another wrecking ball. The obvious solutions, from a football perspective, have always been a new Rangers in Division Three and Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan in…England. Today’s events haven’t really brought either of those scenarios any nearer.
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