Rangers still facing an uncertain future

It is not news to hear that Glasgow Rangers have been in financial crisis for a while now. Due to the mismanagement, to the extent where police are investigating former Rangers owner Craig Whyte’s takeover to see whether or not it transgressed any laws, of their previous owners, Rangers have huge debts that they cannot pay, and were forced into administration last season, with real fears that they may not have been able to complete the season.

Rangers have since been taken over by Charles Green. Green came to the decision that Rangers’ debts were so insurmountable that, after a failed attempt to come to an arrangement with the club’s creditors, he had no choice but to liquidate Rangers, and then form a new company (at the time of writing it’s not been determined whether they’ll have to change the name of the club, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them Rangers in this piece), referred to as a newco. As a result of this, Rangers are not automatically entitled to a place in the upcoming season’s SPL anymore. This meant that the ‘new’ Rangers could only participate in next seasons SPL at the discretion of the other SPL clubs, who are due to vote on the matter tomorrow. Rangers will need at least 8 of the 12 clubs to vote in their favour in order to be allowed to play in the SPL.

However, that looks unlikely as St Mirren have now joined St Johnstone, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibernian and Dundee United in publicly stating that they will be voting against Rangers admittance to the SPL.

The usual route for any new club, and that’s essentially what Rangers now are, to join the Scottish League’s is to start in the bottom division, Division Three. This is what happened the last time a new club joined the SFL, which was Annan Athletic in 2008.

However, it was revealed last week that the plan devised by the Scottish football authorities is that should Rangers not be allowed into the SPL, as looks likely, then Dundee, who finished second in last season’s Scottish Division One, would be invited to take the place of what has been called ‘club 12’ in the SPL fixture lists. This would not be without its own problems however, as Dunfermline Athletic, who were relegated from last season’s SPL, would be able to make a case that they should be reinstated rather than Dundee.

As Rangers, should they not be accepted into the SPL, would be replaced by a team from Scottish Division One, the idea of Rangers joining the SFL (Scottish Football League) in Division One was floated. It’s believed SFL clubs have been offered a £1m sweetener from the Sky TV deal with the SPL, to cover Rangers’ First Division matches. It is believed that the SFL has been offered other inducements to accept Rangers into Div. One, such as playoffs to the SPL, and a pyramid system allow teams to be promoted to, and relegated from the SFL.

However, many of those First Division clubs don’t want Rangers in their division for a few different reasons. Some of those reasons are based on football; even if Rangers lose the majority of their squad, as seems likely should they not be admitted to the SPL, they still have far greater resources at their disposal than other Div. One clubs and would probably still dominate the division. As it seems almost certain that without Rangers, Celtic will walk the SPL this season; Scottish football faces the prospect of its top two divisions being uncompetitive.

There are clubs who are objecting on principle. The rules state that a new club has to start at the bottom, so there is resentment that just because they have money, Rangers may be treated differently to everyone else and be allowed to circumvent these rules. These clubs believe that Rangers should be treated no differently to any other new member of the SFL.

The SFL met today, and the Rangers issue was discussed, but as the SPL vote on Rangers’ future hasn’t been taken yet, the decision on what to do with Rangers won’t be properly discussed until July 12.

There is also an equally pressing issue about the contracts of the Rangers players. The players signed a contract with a company that no longer exists. Under UK employment laws, those contracts can only be transferred to the newco with the permission of the player. Should a player not give his permission, they are effectively out of contract and can sign for whoever they choose.

Several of Rangers’ first-team squad have announced they won’t sign any contract with the newco, and have left the club, Steven Whittaker has signed for Norwich, Jamie Ness has joined Stoke and Steven Naismith is expected to join Everton any day now. These players have been joined in exiting Rangers by Allen McGregor, Kyle Lafferty, Sone Aluko, John Fleck and Juan Manuel Ortiz. Some of the other players, including Carlos Bocanegra, are waiting to see what happens before making a decision. If Rangers aren’t admitted to the SPL, expect several more to leave.

This hasn’t gone down well with Charles Green, who is threatening to sue any player who leaves for breach of contract. Green is also refusing to release those players’ registrations, which would prevent them from playing for any other club, despite the SFA’s urging for him to do so, as the newco has technically never owned those players’ registrations, so has no right to have them at all, never mind withhold them.

It is looking increasingly likely that Rangers will have to start again in Division Three. This will be a huge culture shock as the bottom two divisions of Scottish football are mostly filled with semi-pro sides. Rangers’ presence in Div Three would also mean that some of these part-time players would have the surreal experience of playing at two of Scotland’s best grounds (Div Three side Queen’s Park play at Hampden Park, which is the home of the Scottish national team).

Rangers’ income would be much lower than the current income, but their finances would still be sufficient to get players in who would allow Rangers to win the division at a canter. This would be reminiscent of when, a few seasons ago, Gretna, a club from a tiny town just across the border from England, made their way up the Scottish leagues thanks to being bankrolled by millionaire Brooks Mileson. Gretna were able to get a really high standard of player even when they were in Division Three, as they were able to pay higher wages than many SPL clubs, and as a result they dominated the Scottish Leagues, getting three consecutive promotions (a good account of Gretna’s rise is given in the book Pointless by Jeff Connor). It all ended badly for Gretna, as Mileson withdrew his money after contracting a serious illness (sadly Mileson died later that year) and Gretna were unable to exist without his money and were forced to fold.

I can understand the stance taken by the clubs. If it was any other club in any other league I’d agree that this stance is the right one to take. However, I think that in this case, the sides are being short-sighted and their stance smacks of cutting your nose off to spite your face.

I’m sure that many of the Scottish clubs are enjoying some kind of schadenfreude at Rangers’ expense, and like the idea of being able to knock Rangers down a peg or two, and split up the Old Firm’s stranglehold on Scottish football, but I think they are forgetting just how much Scottish football needs Rangers.

Scottish football as a whole is dependent on the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers. Many Scottish clubs owe their continuing existence to the fact that they play Celtic and Rangers at least four times each a season. Attendances, which are generally low, soar when one of the Old Firm comes to town. Usually Celtic and Rangers games are televised, so clubs get an additional payout from TV companies, and that is what keeps most clubs afloat. Lower league clubs dream of getting one of Celtic or Rangers in a cup. If a lower league club gets an Old Firm club in one of the cups, the TV money can often secure the financial future of that club for years to come.

A great example of the dependence of the other SPL clubs on the Old Firm happened last season when Rangers’ fall into administration meant that Dunfermline did not receive ticket money they were owed by Rangers, a sum of about £63,000. The loss of this ticket money had the knock-on effect that Dunfermline were unable to pay their players and staff on time.

Many SPL clubs lead a hand-to-mouth existence and depend on player sales to raise funds. Usually, that means selling their best players to Rangers or Celtic. If you take Rangers out of the equation as a possible buyer for those players, a lot of those clubs could suffer financially.

Scottish football isn’t that attractive to the casual fan on either side of the border, especially as the English Premier League games are easily available to watch on TV in Scotland. The TV deal currently in place for the SPL is miniscule compared to the one enjoyed by EPL clubs. The fact that even that much is paid is largely due to the Old Firm derbies, which is the biggest game in British football, and probably the only one attractive to viewers south of the border in England. Take Rangers out of the equation and that interest withers to virtually nothing. If Rangers aren’t in the SPL, it is unlikely that the current TV deal would remain in place, and would have to be renegotiated at a much lower price.

The general standard of Scottish football is pretty low. Scotland’s UEFA coefficient, a ranking for each country’s league, which is what determines how many European places clubs get, and what stage those clubs enter the competitions, has plummeted recently, and is only being propped up by Rangers’ run to the UEFA cup final in 2008. This season, all of the Scottish clubs were eliminated at the first qualifying round they faced, although Celtic were given a reprieve after Swiss team Sion were thrown out of the Europa League. It is estimated by some that in two seasons, Scotland’s UEFA coefficient will be so low that it will be out of the top 25 in Europe, which would mean that fewer Scottish clubs would be entitled to play in Europe and they would have to qualify at the first stage.

Despite all of their protests to the contrary, Celtic will also be deeply affected if Rangers go out of existence. Celtic and Rangers share a mutual enmity, and I’m sure there are plenty of Celtic fans who would love to see Rangers brought low, but only the most short-sighted fan would fail to recognise that Rangers and Celtic have a symbiotic relationship. Simply, they need each other, and each team is better for the competition that the other provides.

Without Rangers, Celtic will walk the SPL. But to me it would be a bit of a hollow victory. Is that really the way Celtic want to win? If there’s no real competition, does winning it still bring the same satisfaction as a hard-fought campaign? I don’t think so.

There are also more long-reaching effects for Celtic. If Rangers aren’t there to push Celtic, this will inevitably affect them so that when they are in a position where they need to up their game, in European games for example, they won’t be able to, as they won’t have had to push themselves for a long time.