Rangers newco: ‘Slow lingering death for Scottish football’ if Rangers in Third Division
SCOTTISH Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan has warned that football faces a “slow lingering death” in this country if newco Rangers are denied entry to the First Division of the Scottish Football League following the emphatic rejection yesterday of their application to retain top-flight football at Ibrox.
Regan’s remarkable comment came as he insisted admission to the First Division is now the only viable option. He also made the startling warning of “social unrest” if Rangers cease to exist.
The Scottish Premier League turned down Charles Green’s bid to have Rangers’ existing share in the organisation transferred to his newco for next season, with ten of the member clubs voting against the application. It is understood Green cast the only vote in favour, while Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston is believed to have abstained.
The SPL will now await the outcome of an SFL meeting next week when that organisation’s 30 clubs will vote on a proposal to accept newco Rangers into the First Division in the new season ahead of an amalgamation of the league governing bodies from 2013-14.
There is considerable opposition and resistance to the plan among SFL clubs and their supporters with many believing Rangers should have to apply for entry to the Third Division in the wake of their spectacular financial collapse.
But Regan last night bluntly asserted that Scottish football simply cannot afford to have Rangers outwith the top two tiers of the league structure, with his argument not confined to the commercial impact their absence would have.
“Without Rangers, there is social unrest and a big problem for Scottish society,” claimed Regan. “They have a huge fan base and to contemplate the situation where those fans don’t have a team to support, where those fans are effectively left without a game to follow, I just think that could lead to all sorts of issues, all sorts of problems for the game.
“Tribalism in football is really important. It is part of the game. People follow their clubs with pride, it is passed down from generation to generation. There are thousands of Rangers fans whose fathers and parents and grandfathers have been Rangers fans. You can’t contemplate a situation without that and if Rangers weren’t to exist that could have real dire consequences.
“There is a lot of emotion around this subject because Rangers are a huge institution in Scottish football history and they are where they are. Their fans have been hurt, they don’t know what’s happening. There hasn’t been a great deal of leadership at the club and there hasn’t been a huge amount of communication from the football authorities.
“The SPL have now decided that Rangers won’t be coming back into the SPL. From our perspective it’s important we set out the landscape because there is only one solution for the game now.
“The only solution for the game now is that Rangers come into the Scottish Football League and they come into it in the First Division. If Rangers were to go anywhere other than the First Division, then there would something in the region of £15.7 million worth of losses to the game.
“For the bigger clubs at the top of the league, that’s half their annual distributions. For clubs at the bottom it is basically wiping out their entire distributions, for some of the smaller clubs it’s a huge proportion of their annual turnover.
“The same will be true for most clubs. Perhaps clubs could survive for a short period of time but it’s not sustainable. Even if Rangers end up in the First Division, there is still going to be a £5 million loss of income to the SPL clubs. The game is not sustainable so there would be a slow lingering death for the game in Scotland. It would then trickle down to the SFL. From our perspective as the governing body and we cannot allow that to happen.
“If we allowed that to happen, it would simply be a dereliction of duty. Therefore, this whole decision-making process has been one of the most challenging and complex decisions that I have ever been involved in in 27 years of business as sport.
“Some clubs in the SFL are afraid of the implications of the decisions. There is the moral argument, the fear of a fans’ backlash and there are financial implications to consider. But when we look at the alternative, it is not possible to think about it without thinking of the game withering on the vine. We cannot contemplate that and the message has to be that Division One for Rangers is the only show in town as far as the future of Scottish football is concerned.”
Regan admits the influence of television contracts, which are largely predicated on the presence of Celtic and Rangers in the Scottish game, are the biggest single factor in his determination to ensure the Ibrox club drop no lower than the First Division. “We have had dialogue with the broadcasters,” he added, “and we understand what the various stakeholders from Sky television, ESPN, Sport Five and a number of the SPL’s other commercial partners are likely to do in the event Rangers are not in either of the top two tiers. It’s not pretty. That’s why we cannot sit back and let that happen without trying to get all parties to accept this is the only solution which can keep the game afloat.
“Without Old Firm games, the value drops, the overseas deals are almost exclusively about the Old Firm derby and that would go immediately. Then you look at the rest of the game and what it is worth. It is fair to say the broadcasters would live with a year without Rangers in the SPL, because it could be a fantastic story for them, which is why I think First Division rights will be an interest as people will want to see how this club is going to bounce back.”
Regan conceded, however, that there can be no guarantee a financially weakened Rangers will climb back to the top flight at the first attempt. “If Rangers don’t get promoted, then the game has got another year to suffer with the financial consequences that brings,” he said. “I can’t predict what will happen, because Rangers at the moment are a weakened team because of everything that has gone on.
“They are a newco at the moment, they have got very few players on their books. They are going to be entering the SFL in whatever division with a weakened team and I don’t think it’s by any means certain they are going to come back in the way they or their fans might like them to recover.
“It’s going to be a slow recovery to get back to the football fitness they have shown in the past. So we can’t look into the future and say ‘what if they don’t operate in a certain way?’. We can only look at building the foundations, to change the game for the better and provide an infrastructure that can bring financial certainty to the other 41 clubs.”
Regan confirmed that sanctions will apply to newco Rangers in the First Division and also made it clear the formation of an SPL2 will be pursued in order to accommodate the Ibrox club if they are rejected by the SFL next week. “The SFA have to transfer Rangers’ membership from oldco to newco,” he said. “That can be done with any conditions attached to it that the SFA board deem fit. We would expect a newco to carry some of the sanctions which would have related to the club had it still been in the previous incarnation. The membership cannot be transferred on financial grounds alone. It has to have a degree of sporting integrity and that means sporting sanctions.”
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