Ian Black in for the long haul
THE crazy, upturned world that is Scottish football was underlined yesterday when Ian Black admitted that he had ignored interest from clubs in the country’s top flight to sign a three-year deal with one that has only just been voted into the Irn-Bru Third Division.
The 27-year-old midfield player, whose last game was for Hearts in the Scottish Cup final, could make his debut for Rangers in this afternoon’s Ramsdens Cup first-round tie against Brechin City at Glebe Park, where the relaunched Glasgow club, under the ownership of a new company in Scotland’s bottom tier, will make their bow.
If Black is on the team sheet, it will be as a trialist. Having been granted only conditional membership of the Scottish Football Association late on Friday night, Rangers must wait until later this week to complete the player’s registration, together with that of Andy Little, the striker who has swapped oldco for newco.
Effectively, though, they are both now on the books of the Ibrox club, which is what Black has been waiting to hear since last month. Although dropping almost the entire length of the Scottish football ladder, the man tipped for an international call-up last season insists he is excited by the challenge.
“I’m delighted to be here,” he said. “The move has been a long time in coming, with all the talk there has been in the papers. About four weeks ago, there was a bit of interest shown and after that it was just a waiting game for me. I was really excited to hear the manager was interested in me.
“Now I’m thrilled to get the opportunity. I had a good few other clubs wanting me to sign for them, but coming to a club like this is great. I had opportunities to stay in the SPL, and people might criticise me for not doing that, but I want to win things here now. I know Rangers are in the Third Division, but you only get an opportunity to come somewhere like here once. Playing in front of big crowds will be great.
“It is exciting to be part of things at Rangers just now. To be in the squad that goes into the Third Division and to try to bring the club back to the SPL again is something certain players would like. The whole squad would be remembered for a long time if we were able to do that because, for the club to come through everything it has been hit with would be great.”
It has been a traumatic summer for Rangers, who in their former guise were forced into liquidation, and expelled from the SPL. The club that emerged from the rubble was then denied entry to the Irn-Bru first division. Now, they find themselves preparing for league matches against Annan Athletic and East Stirlingshire.
Today, the first tentative steps of a new era will be taken in a knockout competition for the country’s lower-ranked teams. As if that ignominy wasn’t enough, they play Brechin, a club from the division above. It is a perilous challenge for McCoist’s side.
That is how it will be every week for “The Rangers”, as they are officially termed. Black, whose experience will be vital in what is likely to be a youthful dressing-room, recognises that it will not be easy. “It’s going to be tough for us. We know it’s not going to be a walk in the park. We’re going to have to work hard and in every game. But there’s great ability throughout the squad from our youths through to the first team.”
All in all, it is the most bizarre episode in Scottish football history. Until late on Friday night, McCoist didn’t know whether his club would be allowed to play anyone this season, never mind what his team would be against Brechin less than 48 hours later. Since then, Chris Hegarty and Andrew Mitchell have signed for the club, but with the manager allowed to field only two trialists, they are likely to miss out.
Among the subplots to this never-ending soap opera is the 12-month transfer embargo, which starts on 1 September, and McCoist’s undisguised contempt for the SPL, which is continuing its investigation into the oldco’s alleged use of dual contracts. Suddenly, the SFL are McCoist’s “friends”.
Expect more of that in the weeks ahead. Charles Green, whose Sevco Scotland consortium relaunched the club, adopted a similar tack yesterday when he said that Rangers were through the worst.
“It’s the end of the problems for Rangers, but it will be the beginning for many other clubs,” he said. “I think it will be hugely difficult for Scottish clubs. There is no doubt Scottish football has been going downhill. If you look back to 14 years ago, when the SPL was formed ... since that time, Scotland hasn’t qualified for a major competition. Incomes have not grown and there really has to be a look at where Scotland as a football business is going.”
He said that there would be no redundancies at Rangers, and claimed that they were on a better financial footing than many of their Scottish counterparts. “It has been a long hard road for the fans but now... Rangers is debt-free. We even saw Celtic appealing for Celtic fans to buy tickets. We are making the same appeal and what we want to do is to set an example to the rest of Scottish football – particularly the Premier League – that Rangers fans are united. We are walking with our heads held high.
“When we consulted the fans, they overwhelmingly said they wanted to go to Division Three, and they have their wish. We as a board and investors said it had no fears for us and we are going to enjoy the journey.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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