IRONY will be at the forefront of the minds of certain members of the Scottish Football League with long memories when they vote on the future of ‘The Rangers’.
Five clubs which will be involved in determining which division the Ibrox club will play in next season – Albion Rovers, Berwick Rangers, Brechin City, Stenhousemuir and Stranraer – may think back 48 years when the boot was on the other foot.
In 1964, this gang of five survived an attempt to oust them from senior football in a move led by Rangers.
The Glasgow giants wanted to reduce the number of clubs in the then top two divisions from 37 to 32 and proposed that the minnows should drop out.
Rangers proposed that the five clubs with the smallest gate receipts should be kicked out and were at the vanguard of moves to make it happen, including sending out correspondence to the other member clubs and deliberately excluding the targeted clubs.
Amid much legal wrangling, the smaller clubs – supported by Celtic and their chairman Robert Kelly – survived the move. SFL Operations Director David Thomson recalled: “The book that was launched to mark the centenary of the SFL in 1990 records what happened. The five clubs were in danger of being voted out. However, Stenhousemuir committee member Robert Turpey, who was also a lawyer, and strongly supported by the other clubs, was successful in raising an interim interdict on their behalf.”
The matter was eventually resolved out of court in November 1964 amid promises that the clubs would remain in the SFL and any new league that was formed. Thomson added: “That decision probably marks the start of a move to three professional leagues that started a decade later when the Premier League along with Divisions 1 and 2 were created.”
However, Rangers’ role in the wrangle caused a lot of anger at the time, especially in Stranraer. Present-day committee member Shaun Niven said: “I know that a lot of people in the town were unhappy with what had gone on. Stranraer are Scotland’s third oldest team as we were formed in 1870 after just Queen’s Park and Kilmarnock. We waited over 80 years to be admitted to the old-style Division Two and to be told after ten years that we were not wanted caused a lot of resentment. The clubs that had been targeted rallied round to win their case and remain in the SFL to this day.”
Looking at Rangers’ present predicament, Niven added: “This situation is another of the great ironies that football throws up. We could now determine whether Rangers get into the SFL and what division they come into after they tried to throw us out all those years ago.
“This whole situation is full of issues going full circle as it has probably accelerated the amalgamation of the SPL and the SFL 15 years after they were spilt apart by SPL sides led by Rangers and Celtic. Now one league body is seen as the way forward.”
Berwick, of course, took a measure of revenge on the park less than two years later when they defeated Rangers 1-0 in a Scottish Cup tie, and now the fate of the club that wanted to expel them and four others could sit in their collective hands.
If it comes to a vote at the SFL, Stranraer would have to balance the prospect of placing Rangers in the First Division for the good of the game overall against their own promotion to the Second Division, as they were the losing play-off side last month and weigh up the benefit of eight local derbies against Queen of the South and Ayr United to an overall package that benefits the SFL overall.
Niven added, “Nothing will be pre-judged based on what happened nearly 50 years ago. If we have to make a decision we will do that based on what is best for Stranraer FC and Scottish football overall.”