IN A saga of few certainties and so many imponderables, it came as no surprise yesterday to find that any assumptions over the outcome of the 4 July vote on admission to the SPL for a Rangers newco are perhaps premature.
On the back of Hearts and Dundee United becoming the first clubs to unequivocally state their positions on Thursday, an early morning report from the BBC claimed that they had been joined in the ‘No’ camp by Aberdeen.
Yet within a couple of hours, the Pittodrie club’s chairman Stewart Milne issued a firm denial that his club had reached any such definitive stance on the issue which is exercising the emotions of Scottish football supporters like few others ever have.
It has been easy to believe this week that the overwhelming weight of opinion among fans of the other 11 clubs against a Rangers newco was becoming the most influential factor in how the vote would unfold. The prospect of Charles Green receiving the backing of at least seven other clubs to inherit the SPL share of the soon-to-be-liquidated Rangers still has to be regarded as remote.
But nothing is ever quite so straightforward, either in the sorry tale of Rangers’ demise or the politics and horse-trading involved in the administration of Scottish football.
The 11 existing members of the SPL will meet at Hampden next Thursday where they will discuss the potential consequences of both a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ result on 4 July. They will also debate the range of sanctions which could be applied to a newco Rangers, in the event of the share being granted to them.
According to a senior SPL source contacted by The Scotsman last night, there remains a significant degree of uncertainty among a majority of clubs over which way they will vote next month.
It is believed Hearts and Dundee United are the only two clubs to have firmly made up their minds to vote ‘No’, either privately or publicly. Kilmarnock, whose chairman Michael Johnston has been consistent and unapologetic in his view that Rangers must retain a presence in the SPL for commercial reasons, are the only club who are already committed to voting ‘Yes’.
Motherwell’s decision to hold a referendum among their support before making their decision leaves them all but certain to vote against the newco. Inverness Caledonian Thistle chairman Kenny Cameron has also stated that the opinion of his club’s supporters trust will be taken on board.
Celtic appear to be in the most obvious position to oppose the transfer of Rangers’ share. The official Celtic Supporters Association will meet tomorrow when they are expected to agree on a selective boycott of away matches next season against any clubs who vote ‘Yes’ to the newco.
All 11 clubs, of course, have their own season ticket sales to consider at this time of the year. Many of them are content to give the impression that they will vote against newco on 4 July, even if they have not yet made up their minds, in a bid to ensure that their supporters do not hold back from renewing season tickets as a form of protest.
There is no doubt, for example, that Aberdeen supporters would react angrily towards their own club if they discovered Milne was leaning towards a ‘Yes’ vote. But the Pittodrie club’s owner, one of the founders of the SPL, nonetheless felt the need to rebut yesterday’s report that he was already committed to the ‘No’ camp.
“Contrary to reports, Aberdeen Football Club has still to reach a final decision regarding the 4th July vote on the Rangers newco,” said Milne. “This is a critical decision which will have major implications for all clubs and the future of Scottish football. The views of our fans and the issue of sporting integrity will clearly be a major influencing factor in our decision-making.”
But a major influencing factor may not necessarily be a deciding factor for every club. Few of them enjoy robust financial health and many of them harbour deep fears over the drop in income which the absence of Rangers would entail.
Milne, however, was at pains to stress that Aberdeen are facing their own fiscal crisis in a week which saw a major boardroom shake-up at the club.
“There is a great deal of speculation about the future of the game in Scotland flying around at present, however I can categorically state that any rumours regarding Aberdeen Football Club’s financial position are ill-founded and completely wide of the mark,” he added.
“It is irresponsible for anyone to suggest otherwise. The changes announced earlier this week to the board and the executive are intended solely to significantly strengthen the club’s position and help achieve our ambitious future plans.”
Those ambitions, like those of every top flight club in Scotland, are largely dependent on television income. When the 11 meet next Thursday, they will also discuss the ongoing moves by the SFA to try and merge the SPL and SFL, with the option of newco Rangers dropping into the second tier of a new league structure in a compromise which would preserve the £80 million TV contract with Sky and ESPN.
Rangers newco chief executive Green is already preparing for the possibility of playing First Division – or SPL2 – football in the new season. The club announced last night that the deadline for season ticket renewals has been extended from 29 June to 11 July, after the SPL vote.
“In the event that we are not playing in the SPL, pricing will be reviewed and adjusted accordingly and refunds paid to season ticket holders who have already committed,” said a statement.
“The club will process the first of four direct debit payments. The amounts remain unchanged at this point in time from the amount indicated to all direct debit season ticket holders in their confirmation letter. However, any subsequent payments will be reduced to take account of any movement in price as a result of playing in an alternative league. Fans should also be assured that all season ticket money will be held in an account that will go directly to the club.”
Doubts have been expressed over the security of season ticket cash committed by supporters. Brian Stockbridge of investors Zeus Capital, recently appointed as finance director of the newco Rangers, denied that direct debit payments would go to the old company.
“There has been some misleading and inaccurate media coverage regarding season ticket monies,” said Stockbridge. “At present Rangers has not taken any season ticket money by direct debits. Rangers has full corporate banking facilities in place and the process of transferring direct debit instructions will be completed within the next few working days. We will be writing to all season ticket holders who pay by direct debit with all relevant information. A relatively small amount of money has been paid by supporters by cheque and cash and that money is being transferred to the club’s new bank account.”