07 September 2012

He Who Laughs Last

by Andy McGowan | CRO contributor | amcgowan@coplandroad.org |

How fleeting the high ground can be, having celebrated three-in-a-row it was only a few months later Rangers fans were left to try and comprehend the tumbling of the biggest club in Scotland.

Despite years of rumour and half facts about EBT’s and fines it never seemed possible.

In the end of course this is not what brought down the club, rather the ill-fated reign of Craig Whyte is what sent Rangers reeling into SFL3. Even as events unfolded in February it was difficult to fathom what was to come.

“Only a matter of weeks” they said.

“HMRC will blink” they told us.

“We will agree a CVA” they shouted.

Sadly these hopes from club and fans alike were dashed and it was left to Charles Green’s Sevco consortium to step in on Rangers, and after a month of leaderless talks, threats and negotiations--which bordered on the side of blackmail than reasoned give and take--Rangers were admitted to the SFL and reunited with their SFA membership which was until then held by the old company.

All the while fans of the other clubs in Scotland’s top division watched on in greater numbers than had ever attended a match at their chosen clubs , sneering, laughing and putting the boot in.

No one has enjoyed the Rangers saga as much as the SPL onlookers, the hate directed toward Rangers fueled by jealousy, or bigotry as Charles Green had suggested, or perhaps simply because misery loves company.
But those smiles, laughs and taunts however have quickly turned to frowns, anger and threats.

These so called fans had envisioned a scenario in which Rangers would become one of them – a small club with a small following, who would never darken their door in the same manner again.

A club condemned to life in Division 3 who would never again return to its former glories.

The first blow to this fantasy came relatively quickly, delivered by Neil Doncaster and Stewart Regan in their threats to their own member clubs in an attempt to shoehorn Rangers into SFL1, a move that was blocked by the resilient SFL clubs who have in the past few months put the so called Premier clubs to shame.

When a new SKY and ESPN deal was announced it was taken as another victory against Rangers. They’d gotten rid of us and kept the cash. They didn’t need us!

Of course the deal is still heavily dependent on showing Celtic and Rangers, with one of the conditions of the SPL agreeing to our transfer of membership being that they retained the media rights to Rangers matches.

How must it feel to know that neutral fans would rather watch a club in Scotland’s bottom tier than one of its Premier League clubs?
No matter though, as the club was still to suffer on the pitch: ‘Rangers will be left with no players, no money, and no fans and we’ll have the last laugh.’

Yes, the club did lose many first team players over the course of the summer, every instance no matter the circumstances met with a predictable, “I thought you didn’t do walking away?”

But this was to be the real turning point for the onlookers so enjoying Rangers troubles.

As the season gets underway Rangers fans have galvanized behind the club, selling more than 35,000 season tickets. Tto put that number in perspectivem nearly 70% of Ibrox capacity and it is more season tickets than sold by Manchester City – the reigning English champions.

On a weekend where fans of SPL clubs had campaigned to sell out their stadiums in a show of unity, only Rangers managed a sell out and in doing so had a higher attendance than every game in Scotland combined.  Amazing, since all those Rangers supporters who had abandoned their “local teams” were supposed to go flocking back, leaving Ibrox a barren empty shell.

‘No matter, it’s just Rangers fans being defiant. No one will watch them on TV.’

Viewing figures released earlier this week however show that more tuned in to watch Rangers travel to Berwick than had done so to watch Celtic – the SPL champions, take on Inverness, in Scotland’s 'premier' division.

Slowly the laughter had been turning to displeasure as Rangers began to thrive, and to do so while signing players from none other than the SPL.

Indeed Dean Sheils turned down an improved offer from Kilmarnock, and in doing so turned down the chance to play for his dad Kenny who is the Killie manager, such is the continued pulling power of Rangers.

The displeasure finally boiled over and turned to anger as David Templeton, arguably Hearts best player last season (or was it Ian Black?) and certainly their biggest prospect was sold to Rangers on deadline day.

This was the final, sickening realisation that despite all that had happened in the past seven months Rangers are, and always will be, bigger than the clubs currently inhabiting Scotland’s top division.

Templeton went on to score a debut double on a beautiful day at Ibrox, a day which saw Rangers yet again produce a higher attendance than Champions League bound and champions of the SPL Celtic.

It’s safe to say that as Motherwell threaten to boycott Ibrox in the upcoming League Cup last 16 match the laughter and enjoyment has turned to anger and fear.

No longer will Rangers fans put much needed money in the coffers of these clubs week after week, and in such perilous financial positions as some find themselves in this may prove to be a real issue.

Judgement day may be coming a lot sooner than many would like it to be. The SPL, Sky, and Neil Doncaster have all remained tight lipped on the details of the new TV deal, with no party comfortable allowing the fine print to be read, despite the last deal.

Is there perhaps something in the contract that might further anger these fans who have enjoyed the last seven months so?

A look at the situation would very much suggest there is, with Rangers not only signing SPL calibre players, but players who they have been linked with and in some cases made bids for in the past.

Following the tranfers in and out of Ibrox it seems highly unlikely that Rangers are planning for life in SFL2 next season.

And with the revelation in July that Sky would not tolerate more than one season without its money spinning four Old Firm fixtures, which will now be more precious than ever, it seems unlikely that Rangers will be given the opportunity to work their way through the divisions as should be the case.

Signs continue to point to Rangers being forced into a move that again suits the small term thinking of incompetent SPL chairmen, a move that will leave no one other than club accountants happy.

Whatever is to come in the next 12 months, the one thing that we appear to have finally seen off is the enjoyment of our off field troubles. The attention of those fans so bitter toward Rangers has finally been turned on their own clubs and they don’t like what they see.

And so begins what is sure to be one of the most enjoyable periods for the Rangers supporters as they welcome a new chapter, a fresh start, and simply enjoying a game of football once again, while clubs in the Premier League toil and, one supposes, in some cases face their own battles with finances and solicitors. Maybe the BBC will even give them their own documentary!

And I am sure Rangers fans will be nothing but sympathetic to those clubs and fans… This is fun! as the saying goes.