Rangers woes led to fans accepting ‘the bottom line’

Rangers manager Ally McCoist in the snow at Shielfield. Picture: TSPL
Rangers manager Ally McCoist in the snow at Shielfield. Picture: TSPL
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Amid all the repercussions, recriminations and acrimony to have been generated by Rangers’ financial collapse, it is not altogether surprising that one of the principal benefits to have derived from the misadventure has escaped unnoticed and without comment.

It is that the entire, lamentable episode is a monument to proverbial wisdom: it is an ill wind that blows nobody good.

The fall-out from the Ibrox cataclysm has dusted fans throughout the country with a kind of mind-bending effect that has caused a previously unthinkable change in the collective psyche. The most visible current evidence of the phenomenon is the readiness of Celtic supporters not only to accept without a whisper of dissent the prospective loss of highly-regarded players, but to view their departures as a welcome necessity.

Followers of the Parkhead club are the most reliable indicators of this altered perspective, since they are, it is reasonable to argue, almost certainly in possession of more saleable and pricier players than the rest of the SPL put together.

Far from howling in protest at the merest hint that a powerful contributor to the cause could be moved on for something as vulgar as a bulky transfer fee, Celtic fans in some numbers have taken to crowing over the money that is expected to accrue from trading in the market and the riches to be plundered from the Champions League.

On the day of the home match against Juventus in the knockout stage of Europe’s premier tournament, publication of the club’s interim returns, showing a substantial profit and the eradication of debt - with the promise of much more to come by the end of the financial year - was met with the kind of acclaim normally reserved for a big-name signing or the arrival of a messianic manager.

As recently as the latter days of Fergus McCann’s ownership - less than 15 years ago - there was a widespread conviction among Celtic fans that the little Scots-Canadian was unhealthily pre-occupied with balance sheets and “the bottom line”. For long-standing football followers, these subjects were not only “dry” and basically mystifying, but a threat to the perceived priority of fashioning a successful team.

One otherwise sensible supporter of my acquaintance complained one night that “I’m not interested in new stadiums and all that nonsense, I just want to see a good team back on the field”. When it was pointed out that he could get his wish, but that his dream team would be watched by only 9,000 people – the main stand was the only area of a decrepit Celtic Park which would be granted a safety certificate – his bemused look betrayed his ignorance of the new reality.

That sense of tradition among Old Firm followers was understandable, since Rangers had only three managers in the first 95 years of their existence, and Celtic just four in their first 90 years. Similarly, exceptional players at big clubs tended, in the main, to begin and end their careers with them.

If and when, say, Victor Wanyama and/or Gary Hooper leave Celtic for a fee that represents a towering return on their investment, there will be no sign of the uproar of protest that accompanied the sale of Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool in 1977. What happened at Rangers has created a climate in which phrases such as “financial prudence”, “revenue streams” and “wages to turnover ratio” have fans discussing the game with a new vocabulary.