RANGERS are poised to play in the fourth tier of Scottish football next season after SFA chief executive Stewart Regan’s attempt to engineer a less financially damaging move into the First Division for the Ibrox club was overwhelmingly crushed at Hampden.
Scottish Football League members voted 25-5 in favour of Charles Green’s newco Rangers being invited to join the Third Division instead, a decision which was immediately accepted by the Yorkshire businessman and team manager Ally McCoist who attended the special general meeting yesterday.
If Rangers are now granted SFA membership, they will be scheduled to play a Ramsdens Cup first round tie away to either Brechin City or Forfar Athletic on 28 July, depending on whether Dundee or Dunfermline replace them in the Scottish Premier League. They would then inherit Stranraer’s Third Division fixtures, the Stair Park club elevated to the Second Division, with an opening day game against Peterhead at Balmoor Stadium on 11 August.
Rangers’ first home Third Division match would be against East Stirlingshire at Ibrox the following week, while their next two away games would be at Berwick Rangers and Annan Athletic.
But there remains a suspicion that efforts will be made to overturn yesterday’s decision by SPL clubs when they gather for their annual general meeting at Hampden on Monday. Despite voting to expel Rangers from the SPL, the possibility of forming an SPL2 in order to retain the Ibrox club as part of their £80 million, five-year broadcasting contract with BSkyB and ESPN has been mooted.
“I’m not sure this is over yet,” said Dunfermline chairman John Yorkston. “I’m sure there will be a twist in the tale and that will come out on Monday when the SPL meet. A 25-5 vote is pretty conclusive but I still don’t know where I expect to see Rangers playing because we’ll have to wait and see what develops on Monday.
“Is there any possibility of the SPL doing a U-turn and inviting Rangers back in? I think everything’s possible. In the meeting today, Stewart Regan went on about the SFA’s position and more or less told us to go for Rangers in Division 1. The reaction he got certainly couldn’t be shown on telly.”
Regan, who last week warned that Scottish football would face a “slow, lingering death” if the SFL clubs did not agree to admit Rangers to the First Division, used more conciliatory language as he responded to yesterday’s vote in a statement last night.
“In light of today’s decision by the members of the Scottish Football League, the Scottish FA is committed to leading the challenge to reinvigorate the national game,” said Regan.
“This challenge requires the collective effort not just of the Scottish FA but the respective league organisations and all member clubs.
“Today is a watershed for Scottish football. There will, undoubtedly, be financial consequences on the horizon. Nonetheless, with togetherness, an open mind and innovative thinking, there can also be opportunity: opportunity to restructure the game and promote competitiveness, to place greater emphasis on development of young Scottish talent and to support the financial sustainability of clubs through the Financial Fair Play model.
“The Scottish FA has offered guidance and support to the respective league bodies during this process. The SPL and SFL enter a crucial phase ahead of the new season and they must reach agreement on the practical issues that require to be addressed within their jurisdictions. Ultimately, there must be an outcome that enables Scottish football to move on with consensus, clarity and confidence into a new era for the national game.”
It remains to be seen how many of the league reconstruction proposals being offered to SFL clubs as an incentive to vote Rangers into the First Division remain on the table. But SFL president Jim Ballantyne, whose own club Airdrie United would go up to the First Division as a result of Rangers joining the bottom tier, insists moves towards restructuring the game must continue.
“We still intend to pursue the other aspects with regard to reconstruction,” said Ballantyne. “If it was regarded to be for the good of the game yesterday then it should still be for the good of the game tomorrow.
“The fact the SFL clubs have decided it’s the Third Division rather than the First shouldn’t make a great deal of difference. We still intend to work with the other bodies to deliver the change that everyone is crying out for.
“Funnily enough, everyone has been very focused on that for the last four weeks. So we need to still be focused on that for the next four weeks. The last thing we need is more squabbling and that’s why I was heartened by the position of our member clubs. They want any solution to reconstruction to be a 42-club solution and that’s the way it should be.”
SFL chief executive David Longmuir, who was at pains to stress that the First Division clubs at yesterday’s meeting had made it clear they would resist any offers to join an SPL2, is hopeful the judgement reached by his member clubs will be respected.
“The practicalities now are that we need to sit down with the SFA, particularly, and the SPL,” said Longmuir. “The SPL have a meeting on Monday and it’s going to be an important meeting. They’ve got clear direction from the rest of the SFL as to what we’d like to see happening. I’d hope that people today will have taken that on board and then we’ll deal with it.
“It’s the end of a long process that the SFL have been involved with and I’m pleased with the reaction I got from the clubs and pleased with the decisions they made today. I think there is a lot of work still to be done. There’s no change. We still want to see a better structure for Scottish football. We want to take it forward, we want to improve it but not at the expense of sporting fairness. Today showed that you cannot put a price on that.”