24 August 2012

Righting the ship, rather blindly

by Andy McKellar | Contributor

Today I allowed myself a nostalgic glance into the past, reminiscing over how great it was to read the daily newspapers and the various, even if often outrageous, transfer rumours surrounding my beloved Rangers Football Club in years gone by. 

The summers would be filled with new arrivals at Ibrox Stadium and the first pre-season match at home was always an eagerly anticipated affair as it supplied an early opportunity to cast a judgemental eye over our lavish new signings. 

Of course we now live in changed days indeed, far removed from the high-spending days that followed the turn of the millennium. In recent years we had the constant worry of our top stars being sold as Lloyds’ Bank tightened their grip over an increasingly weakening squad, but compared to this summer, that was a walk in the park. 

The Scottish football authorities this summer proved once and for all just what we all suspected – that they were well and truly unfit for purpose. Of course they cannot and should not be blamed for the financial meltdown suffered by Rangers under the negligent stewardships of Messrs Murray & Whyte.

However their subsequent handling of the entire situation bordered on, and perhaps exceeded being, completely farcical. Amidst the various calamities that arose throughout the summer months one of the biggest points of concern was regarding league reconstruction, something which was used to essentially blackmail the Scottish Football League clubs into approving the entry of Rangers FC into their Division One. 

The controversial move was of course strongly backed by Stewart Regan of the SFA and Neil Doncaster of the SPL, who together attempted to intimidate clubs by constant and persistent threats of an Armageddon scenario for the whole of Scottish football should Rangers be forced to play Third Division football. 

The incompetent pair charged with running our national game put forward several enticing proposals such as the introduction of play-offs, a fairer distribution of television revenue and the eventual amalgamation of the Premier and Football Leagues. Thankfully however twenty-five of the thirty clubs stood by their principles and rejected the corrupt attempt to parachute our Club into the First Division, much to the disappointment of many SPL chairmen who had been told that such an outcome was extremely likely, if not inevitable, when they voted to deny the entry of Rangers to their league. Reap what you sow and all that nonsense. 

As a Rangers fan I can honestly say that I am thoroughly enjoying our new experience in the Third Division as we meet new teams and visit unfamiliar grounds across the country. Our first home league match saw more fans witness our match than the entire SPL combined, which of course included an apparently sold-out Dundee Derby the following day. 

On the Saturday alone Ibrox welcomed more supporters than the remainder of the four divisions in Scotland and our television viewing figures have also dwarfed any Scottish Premier League matches that have been shown. On the whole then things are going rather well for Rangers and the Division Three clubs who continue to warmly welcome our travelling fans to their humble homes every other week and Regan’s talk of a ‘slow, lingering death’ for Scottish football seems a million miles away.  

At the opposite end of our national game however cracks are beginning to appear. 

The ironically named Scottish Premier League has not yet made the required payments to its member clubs, something which may indeed cause problems if not remedied quickly. 

The SFL too are still awaiting their share of funds which today was reported as also not having been received. This of course now includes an extra payment for the purchase of the television rights to broadcast Rangers’ matches. 

Matters are also perhaps made worse by the fact that such obligations are not being met despite over £2.5M of Rangers’ prize money being withheld from last season which should have been paid to the ‘oldco’ long before now. As a result of such troubles, reconstruction talks have now been hastily launched to the top of the SFA ‘to-do list’. 

Stewart Regan spoke of his plans to elect a committee which would drive forward the required changes in our national sport. I must admit, I hope that the SFA Chief Executive is a better judge of character and suitability than those who appointed him.

However, media reports today suggest a three-league system with a top-tier containing sixteen clubs and with Rangers becoming part of the middle league only next season, one step closer to the top than the current set-up would allow for. Quite how that fits in with the sporting integrity argument I am not quite sure. 

What is also of concern is the fact that such a proposal is contradictory to the advice received by the Scottish Premier League when reconstruction talks surfaced previously. Rangers’ supporters groups met with Neil Doncaster to discuss the way forward for the league and what became apparent was that a 16-team set-up was not the way forward in the eyes of the SPL Chief Exec. 

He informed the members present that the League had taken expert advice on the matter and that £20M would be lost in the process due to reduced ‘Old Firm’ matches and other clubs receiving only one visit from Rangers and Celtic during the course of the season. Doncaster then informed the group that such a structure was a “non-starter,” and that no SPL chairmen would vote for it. Certainly questions should be asked as to why there seems to have been a sudden change of heart.

Make no mistake, these changes are not being made for the benefit of Rangers Football Club despite what some will try to claim. Reconstruction is of course resurfacing due to failings at the top end of Scottish football and because of the potential financial disaster that may result. The problems faced by the currently insolvent SPL have repercussions for all of its member clubs and it may only take one card to fall before the whole house comes crashing down. 

Okay, perhaps that is a bit overly dramatic but the fact remains that problems may not be too far off, especially if the Sky deal is dependent on a change to Rangers’ league situation, as rumours have been suggesting. 

Essentially, our Club, having been punished for past misdemeanours, will now be shamelessly exploited to prevent other teams suffering the same financial fate as we did. I’m sure the irony won’t be lost on most of you. Any change requires 75% support from the Scottish Football League clubs and it will be interesting to discover just what Charles Green’s thoughts on the matter are. 

On one hand he has the obvious benefits of playing in a higher league while on the other he faces the wrath of the Rangers fans, who strongly oppose the move. He may also be swayed by his previous run-ins with the authorities and take the view that they have made their bed and must now lie in it. 

It is so unfortunate that we have the disappointing duo of Regan and Doncaster at the helm to oversee such momentous and crucial discussions in Scottish Football. Their past record hardly inspires confidence and personally I would champion any move to hand the reins over to David Longmuir and the SFL with regards to reconstruction. Of the three governing bodies only one has conducted itself with dignity and integrity throughout this whole sorry saga. 

Sadly however what benefits our national game is not high on the list of considerations of either the SPL or SFA who have both set about serving their own selfish agendas right from the start. Reconstruction is simply a means of papering over the cracks and hiding their own inadequacies, which are quite considerable I must say.

I guess we won’t find out the true ramifications of any potential changes for quite some time, however I can take confidence from the huge support that currently surrounds Rangers Football Club. The fans are behind the manager, they are warming towards the chief executive and they are buying tickets in their tens of thousands. Recent months have shown that we have weathered the storm and are capable of handling almost anything that is thrown at us. 

Of course other clubs simply don’t have that luxury and it could well be, to quote the famous son of Govan, ‘squeeky bum time’ for many top-tier clubs. 

Perhaps ‘Sporting Integrity’ does exist after all.