IF YOU want to send your newspaper online search engine into meltdown, simply type in two search terms: “Rangers” and “2012”.
On 7 January this year, The Scotsman noted that Rangers manager Ally McCoist is “hopeful” of owner Craig Whyte’s backing “in [a] quest for new faces”. Then, on 10 January, we have some first clues pointing to the remarkable story set to shortly unfold. Although the need to face the music had been anticipated, few expected Rangers’ financial struggles to lead so quickly to total collapse.
“Stock market embarrassment for Rangers as shares are suspended”, runs the headline, and below it is the story detailing why. Trading in Rangers shares were suspended on the PLUS stock market because the club failed to publish its audited accounts in time. “For the time being, the suspension is only a symptom of the Scottish champions’ current difficulties,” writes Stuart Bathgate.
The Scottish champions. It is remarkable to think that this time last year Rangers were the reigning champions of Scotland. Of course, even then the HMRC hearing – or the “big tax case” as we came to know it – was hanging over the club, and doubts about Whyte had emerged.
Away from money troubles, McCoist had to deal with the growing disgruntlement among a growing section of the Ibrox support. A 1-1 draw against Aberdeen at the end of January saw the Ibrox side fall four points behind Celtic at the top, having dropped 13 points in their last ten league fixtures.
This was only the tip of a very large iceberg. When it hit, many felt the Scottish game would never be the same again. Knowing now how it all ended, it is interesting to now look back and read the headlines and stories as they unfolded. On the day the winter transfer window closed, McCoist was pictured departing Ibrox holding a bit of paper on which players’ names are crossed out. They are the ones who had left the club. No-one was brought in to replace them.
Then a headline from a few days later: “McCoist talks of crisis but Whyte says there is none”. This is 6 February 2012. Another headline provokes a sense of pathos now: “[Daniel] Cousin deal could turn title deal in our favour, says McCoist”. And then, finally, another one, from 14 February: “Broken Rangers”.
Lawyers at the club filed notice at the Court of Session in Edinburgh of the need to enter administration. In the following day’s edition of The Scotsman, there are 12 separate stories on Rangers. Over the next few days, further details of how the club was run into the ground emerged. An unpaid VAT and PAYE bill of £9 million proved a major factor in the move to enter administration, which saw the team hit with an automatic ten-point penalty. Many football fans started to become conversant in administration and liquidation procedures, throwing terms such as company voluntary arrangement (CVA) into everyday conversation.
When Rangers could not push a CVA through, the club was liquidated. “Club 12” took their place in the fixture list while another club was formed from the corporate shell of the oldco. It was the start of another saga: should they be allowed to begin life again in the First Division, an option apparently favoured by Stewart Regan, the Scottish Football Association chief executive and Neil Doncaster, his counterpart at the Scottish Premier League, or should they begin again in the Third Division, as was the view of the majority of Scottish football clubs?
The outcome of the vote was that an Ibrox side mixing youth and experience began their current league campaign at Peterhead. For those who where there – and also at Brechin, where the new Rangers played their first competitive match in a Ramsdens Cup tie – the is-this-really-happening sensation will long be recalled. On checking the diary again, it is a shock to note that this was still only July; the year was barely half-way through.
More was to come. Indeed, more had already happened and not all of it concerned Rangers. Celtic won the league title, and manager Neil Lennon laid the trophy down on the pitch in front of the fans, as a “thank you” gesture to them. He had wanted to hand them the treble. However, Kilmarnock spoiled things for Lennon when lifting the League Cup on an emotional afternoon at Hampden. Just seconds after the final whistle, the father of Kilmarnock player Liam Kelly collapsed in the main stand and later died. Earlier, Dutch striker Dieter van Tornhout had scored the winning goal in a surprise 1-0 victory.
In the Scottish Cup final, fans from the capital gloried in an all-Edinburgh event. Celtic’s hopes of winning at least a double were extinguished by another reversal at Hampden, this time against Hearts in the semi-final. It meant we were able to look forward to the first Scottish Cup final meeting between Hearts and Hibs in over a century. Hibs’ date with destiny turned sour, however. Aiming to win the trophy for the first time since 1902, they fell in the most desperate way possible to their rivals. Indeed, Pat Fenlon’s side hardly turned up in a 5-1 defeat that, incredibly, could have been a lot worse. Hearts, meanwhile lapped it up. Edinburgh the next day was a sea of maroon while Hibs fans cowered behind drawn curtains.
It could have been worse for the Easter Road side; they could also have been relegated. In the end, this fate befell Dunfermline. Dundee, meanwhile, were the lucky side elected to become Club 12, and were parachuted into the SPL from second place in the First Division, where they had finished 24 points behind champions Ross County. The Dens Park club were given just over a week’s notice, the result of which has been this season’s painful struggle to acclimatise to life back in the top tier.
There were no such worries for Celtic on their return to a higher level. Lennon’s side negotiated a path through a tricky Champions League group, helped by a thrilling 2-1 victory over Barcelona on a night of nights at Parkhead. A last-16 tie that pitches hoops against the famous stripes of Juventus is the reward.
On the international front, there was little joy. This was yet another bad year to be a Scotland follower. First we had to look on from afar as Spain claimed a historic Euro 2012 title, La Roja becoming the first team to record three successive major tournament victories. Then, remarkably, Scotland managed to rule themselves out of contention for Brazil 2014 in the space of the first four qualifying games. And this was after the schedule had been hand-picked in order to give Craig Levein’s side the best opportunity to post a strong start.
Home draws against Serbia and then Macedonia meant the pressure was on, and further defeats to Wales and Belgium saw the manager’s position begin to look untenable. It took nearly two weeks for a decision to be made on Levein’s future. Appropriately for a campaign that had already proved a damp squib, the axe finally fell on bonfire night.