Stuart Bathgate: Clubs benefit from listening to fans
UNTIL recently, it was unthinkable that Rangers would ever lose their place in the highest division of Scottish football. Inaugural members of the league back in 1890, they had never even flirted with relegation.
Now they are not just one rung lower down the ladder, but three – in Division Three, the bottom level of the Scottish Football League.
Instead of matches with Celtic, they will play Glasgow rivals Queen’s Park. Instead of visits to Pittodrie, they will travel to Peterhead. Instead of Motherwell, Montrose.
The clubs in Division Three can expect bigger crowds and far greater public interest when Rangers come to town. What is not so certain is how many people will turn out for Rangers’ home games.
Ibrox seats more than 51,000, but many Rangers supporters, lacking confidence in the club’s new owners, have refused to buy season tickets for the coming campaign.
Attendances in the Scottish Premier League will also fall, given the absence of Rangers’ large travelling support. But that should be partially offset by a swell in home attendances at some clubs.
Celtic are 33-1 on with some bookmakers to become champions, but the absence of Rangers will at least mean more competition for second place and for spots in lucrative European competition.
Motherwell is one club that has already benefited and will compete in the qualifying stages of this season’s Champions League. And this coming season, other teams will have high hopes of taking its place next year.
Clubs throughout the country have been cutting their budgets, and that usually means a lowering of expectations for fans. Instead, many are now optimistic their teams can put up a real fight for a place near the top.
It is also probable that clubs throughout the four divisions of the game will be given more enthusiastic backing by supporters thankful for their tough stance on the Rangers issue.
The fans wanted Rangers to be placed in Division Three, and the officials went along with that wish in the face of considerable pressure. Their principled stance will not be forgotten.
• Stuart Bathgate is The Scotsman’s chief sports writer.
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