THE Scottish Football League’s Board is facing a rebellion by member clubs after it was revealed that the board itself wants to make the final decision on whether Rangers should play in the First or Third Division next season.
The notice calling the Special General Meeting of the SFL on Friday, 13 July makes it clear that, if the 30 member clubs allow Rangers in, the board will want to use the issue of their admission to either the First or Third Division to wring some major concessions out of the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Premier League.
Only then would the board decide whether Rangers start their SFL life in the First Division – as senior figures in the game have pushed for – or the lowest tier, as is the wish of Rangers’ manager Ally McCoist, most of Rangers’ fans, and the supporters of many clubs in Scotland.
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, on the other hand, has led the calls for Rangers to go into the First Division, citing the “slow lingering death” of Scottish football if they are put in the lower tier.
Yet such is the confused nature of the game at present that the possibility that Rangers might not play next season in senior football in Scotland was conceded by Regan himself at the meeting with the SFL clubs at Hampden on Tuesday.
Asked about the possible recall of the Appellate Tribunal following the Court of Session’s decision that an SFA transfer embargo on Rangers was unlawful, Regan said that suspension was “a realistic outcome”.
But he added later that the issue of where Rangers would play was a “ticking time bomb” and no progress could be made on other issues until the club’s future was sorted.
Newspaper reports earlier this week and Scotland on Sunday’s own research have discovered that, before the SFL board’s dramatic intervention, there was a clear majority of SFL teams who wanted Rangers to go to the Third Division. The 16 “thirders” were Annan Athletic, Clyde, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline Athletic, East Fife, East Stirling, Elgin City, Falkirk, Livingston, Morton, Partick Thistle, Peterhead, Queen’s Park, Raith Rovers, Stirling Albion, and Stranraer. The others either indicated they had not made a decision or would vote for the First Division option.
An SFL club director, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “You would not believe the pressure we are being put under to allow Rangers into the First Division.
“All the talk is of financial armageddon and the game losing £16 million, but Rangers aren’t being lost to the game, they are simply having to start again as all newco clubs should have to do.
“I’ve nothing against the club, but it seems only right that they should start in Division Three, and the board are in for a huge shock if they think this idea of them having the final say will just be nodded through on Friday.
“No wonder David Longmuir was calling for the pressure to be taken off the Scottish League. It could backfire – now that the clubs know they might not be allowed to make the final decision, they might just get together and decide not to allow Rangers in at all.”
Such is the level of distrust within the SFL over the issue of Rangers that one club, Clyde, took its own minutes of the proceedings, copies of which have been circulated.
SFL chief executive David Longmuir has confirmed that the first motion to be put to the League’s members next Friday will be whether the newco Rangers – Sevco Scotland as they are formally known at the moment – should be allowed into the League.
A straightforward majority of 50 per cent of the membership is required to admit Rangers and a straw poll of clubs has shown overwhelming acceptance of their admission.
The second motion states “that Rangers FC shall play in the Third Division of the Scottish Football League during Season 2012/13 unless [our italics] the board shall have to its satisfaction negotiated and reached agreement with The Scottish Premier League and The Scottish Football Association on a series of measures which the board shall consider to be in the best interests of the game.”
The measures include the governance, structure and finance of football in Scotland – the SFL have been pushing for more say in the running of the game, play-offs between the SPL and SFL, and a fairer distribution of total SPL and SFL income.
The motion concludes that if the board considers itself to be successful in these negotiations “the board shall be authorised to provide that Rangers FC shall play in the First Division of the Scottish Football League during season 2012/13.”
No matter whether Rangers go to the First or Third Division, either relegated Dunfermline or Dundee, who finished second in the First Division, will be invited to replace them in the SPL. If Rangers play in the First Division that would be the end of divisional moves, and their first match would be either against Dumbarton at Ibrox or Cowdenbeath at Central Park. If Rangers go to the Third Division, Airdrie United, who lost to Dumbarton in the play-off final for a place in the First Division, would seek to move up a league. Stranraer, who lost on penalties to Albion Rovers in the other play-off final, would move up to the Second Division.
Fan power remains the guiding light for most clubs, including Rangers. Scotland on Sunday can reveal that newco Rangers’ chief executive Charles Green and chairman Malcolm Murray were resigned to life in the SFL even while their case was being discussed by the other members of the SPL.
Before being recalled to take part in the final vote last Tuesday – Rangers were the only club to vote for them staying in the SPL – Murray and Green were in the Hampden cafeteria and were deep in discussion with Longmuir and Regan respectively.
Scotland on Sunday understands that Green’s refusal to name his investors on grounds of safety and security and the tricky question of which sanctions should still apply to the club, such as the transfer embargo they overturned in the courts, remain sticking points between Rangers and the SFA.
Some within the SFA argue there should be no further sanctions on the “oldco” but the SFA confirmed last night that the Appellate Tribunal could be reconvened at any time.
A solicitor working in a sports practice told Scotland on Sunday: “Lord Glennie sent the decision back to the tribunal for them to take a different view. It would be a very brave man who would tell the judge ‘we are not taking a view at all’.”
Ewen Cameron, vice-president of the SFL and director and secretary of Alloa Athletic, confirmed that talks with the SFA and SPL will continue this week, and that details of the discussion would be put to member clubs in midweek.
Emphasising that the 30 clubs would make the first decision on where Rangers played, he said: “This is a moving dynamic which is changing on a daily basis. We shall have to wait and see what happens.”