For those not keeping up at the back, a quick recap.
Rangers – that is, Glasgow Rangers – hit a financial speed bump and went hurtling into a pile of consequences made from sponge fingers and quicksand. Whilst the team as it then was slowly drowned/had the HRMC kick them in the face, a ‘new’ Rangers was set up in a smooth/not very smooth TUPE transfer farrago.
The teams of the Scottish Premier League (SPL) voted almost unanimously to deny ‘new’ Rangers a place amongst them, leaving the Scottish Football Association (SFA, no jokes please) to soothsaye grave threats against the future of the game north of the border. Deny the new regen Rangers a place at or near the top table, the SFA warned, and it would cost the industry Tenty Hypergazillion Pounds, not to mention derail the SNP’s independence bid and force the womenfolk of the smaller islands into prostitution.
In the face of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Daily Record – Scotland’s answer to a question nobody asked – the SFA went round the other clubs in the League system to definitely not blackmail them into voting in favour of putting “newco” into the First Division rather than the basement Third. Rather than “won’t somebody think of the children”, the SFA has been screaming “won’t somebody think of ESPN funding and televised SKY games every Sunday?!”. As a tactic, it’s close to the landlord of a backstreet dive persuading the regulars to allow a bankrupt old soak back to the bar even with his colossal bottom pinching problem.
In the ‘pro’ corner, the SFA and friends in the press (and, oddly, on TalkSport) point to the Scottish game as being irrevocably damaged if “newco” is denied a place in the First Division, suggesting that the lack of guaranteed money from four Old Firm derbies and all the rest of it would be too much for the game to absorb. Over in the ‘anti’ camp are most fans and, it seems, smaller clubs, for whom the notion of allowing Rangers something approaching a free pass is distasteful. Somewhere in the core of all this is the dubious euphemism “sporting integrity”, used a code word for “Rangers bring the money in, you clean shirt idiots”.
Losing a large team in England, say Man Utd or Chelsea or Arsenal, would impact every team and division in ways that even the Rangers situation hasn’t suggested yet. However I can’t see the English FA being so blatant as to effectively dangle a wallet over an open fire if the new regeneration of a ‘big’ team were not allowed an automatic place in the Championship. Over in Scotland the lack of much an impact zone beyond the Old Firm plus Edinburgh’s Hibs and Hearts makes the hole left by Rangers all the wider. It is, to be blunt, a necessary lesson for Scottish football to learn – if ‘newco’ Rangers were allowed into Division One rather than Three, it would be a signal for other teams to carry on spending (and, for the purposes of libel laws, carry on doing absolutely nothing else out of the ordinary in the context of tax regulations.)
It’s not that fans, or me for that matter, wants to see ‘newco’ Rangers forced into the Scottish equivalent of non-league. For the crime committed, there must be a suitable punishment, and a free pass into Division One for the sake of television money is not suitable. If Scottish football has so few “pulls”, and so little alternative beyond the top of the SPL, that’s their own fault.
The danger is the ‘old firm’ (small letters) getting the arms twisted amongst the smaller clubs to help out the Old Firm (capital letters) get their monopoly back within two seasons rather than three or even four. Much smaller clubs in England have been knocked into the “one dog and his groundhopper” leagues, a threat which should be hanging over ‘newco’ if justice had any strength about her. For the good of Scottish football – which needs an institutional overhaul far beyond mere division constitutions – the SFA need to heed the call from fans and smaller clubs alike and accept Rangers as a Third Division side. Any other alternative would be as far removed from ‘sporting integrity’ as Irn Bru is removed from palatable foodstuffs.