While the European Championships have been chugging along neatly in the forefront of most peoples minds over the last couple of weeks or so, football in Scotland has reached a crossroads, the ramifications of which could be felt for many years. The saga of Rangers FC and the debate – some might even say argument – over where The Rangers, the club that has emerged from the ashes of perhaps the biggest financial collapse in the entire history of British football, will start next season is now set to drag into July, with the distinct possibility of reaching a conclusion that will satisfy absolutely nobody whatsoever.
The Rangers had applied to join the Scottish Premier League for the start of next season, but this has already been blown out of the water. With many supporting the placing of the club in the Third Division of the Scottish Football League, it was with no little surprise that the news coming out of the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Football League had the distinct whiff of compromise about them. What, however, was being compromised and what might be lost if, against the wishes of many supporters in Scotland – including many Rangers supporters themselves – if this compromise is what ends up happening for the start of the new season?
A considerable proportion of the problem stems from the pure fact that The Rangers is a new company. The blocking of the clubs CVA by HMRC a couple of weeks ago – in line with a stated policy that is available for all to see on their website – knocked the final nail into the coffin of the previous incarnation of Rangers Football Club. Without the agreement of HMRC, and HMRC have seldom in recent years been terribly interested in reaching agreement with football clubs on any subject whatsoever, there was, effectively no chance of the club being able to continue to trade. It was, by any legal or semantic definition that anyone could choose to apply, insolvent.
This set of circumstances has come to lead, however, to something of a dead end. What to do with the club that intends to play in blue, white and red, with the word “Rangers” making up at least a part of its name and hosting its home matches at Ibrox next season. As in England, the Premier League of the countrys football leagues is a seperate entity to the divisions below it, and this means that Rangers would have to apply to join the Scottish Football League instead.
There is, of course, a problem with all of this. Unlike England, Scotland doesn’t have a pyramid system. There is no meritocratic way in which a club can be demoted to the bottom of the game and fight its way back to its former position, as has happended so many times south of the border. There are those who would have it that The Rangers should be ejected into the relative nether regions of the junior leagues, but this seems unlikely. There is, after all, a vacancy in the Scottish Football League that now needs to be filled for the start of the new season.
But should this new club automatically take preference over anybody else that may wish to apply for this sudden and somewhat unexpected vacancy? As a point of principle, many would say yes. There is, however, an alternative viewpoint on the subject which argues that, out there in the real world, bills have to be paid, sponsors and television companies have to be satisfied and a place simply has to be found for one of Scottish footballs two biggest clubs, somewhere. Given that there is no question of Rangers being allowed into the SPL for next season, advocates would argue, the reality of the position is that a space has to be found for the club somewhere in the Scottish Football League.
Yesterday, however, the BBC threw a spanner in the works by leaking details of a proposal that would see Rangers parachuted into Division One of the Scottish Football League, with certain conditions put in place that they seem to regard as being put in place to maintain the integrity of Scottish football. Under the plans, the club would have to have to accept the football debts and fines of the old Rangers club whilst waiving any rights to legal challenges over decisions already made. Elsewhere, play-off matches between the top two divisions will be introduced in time for the coming season, parachute payments would be increased for clubs relegated from the SPL and a pyramid system would be put in place from the start of the 2014/15 season.
Some claim that Rangers – and in particular their support – have been punished enough. Others, meanwhile, see such compromises as being little more than a sop to public opinion with the real aim being to get the club back into the SPL at the earliest possible opportunity. And it is this sort of schism that is at the heart of perhaps the most fundamental problem that Scottish football faces. There is now a disconnect so great between Celtic and Rangers and the rest – and, of course, between Celtic and Rangers themselves – that the reconciliation that Scottish football needs seems impossible. The gap has been massive for years, jealousy and resentment has grown and Scottish football now finds itself in a position in which every action, every announcement and every decision is seen through a malign prism.
The key culprits in all of this are not the clubs, the biggest of whom have been indulged beyond repair, or the supporters, whose interests have often seemed like the very last thing on anybody involved with the actual running of the games lists of priority. The buck ultimately has to stop with the SFA and the SPL. If football requires regulation – and if we have learned nothing else about Scottish football in recent months this must be that it does – then that regulation must temper the worst instincts of anybody’s self-interest. The enmity that now exists, the feelings of resentment, the accusations of ulterior motives from all sides on all matters ultimately come down to the fact that this very culture has been allowed to fester by the only people that were in a position to do anything meaningful about it.
If Rangers start next season in Division One, it will be regarded by many as kowtowing to a powerful club. If they drop into Division Three it will be regarded by some as an excessive and vindictive punishment on the basis of their previous success. It is this sort of uncirclable square that Scottish football needs to address if any sort of peace is ever to be found for the game there. As things stand, there hangs a feeling of toxicity over Scottish football and the worry is that this feeling will carry over into the new season. If this causes disturbance at any matches, no matter what division those matches are being played in, we can rest assured that many will rush to heap scorn upon the supporters involved. No-one should ever seek to mitigate people that throw punches or sing songs from the viler end of the spectrum, but it is difficult to avoid that conclusion that the ultimate responsibility for the problems of Scottish football – past, present and future – lays with those that have governed it and continue to do so, and we can bet a pound to a penny that they will remain safely in position should chaos come to reign, just as they have over the last few months of chaos.
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