Rangers banished to SFL’s lowest division
ONE OF Scotland’s best-known institutions was plunged into further despair last night after Scottish Football League clubs voted overwhelmingly to demote Rangers to the lowest division.
The Ibrox club will start the new season next month in Division Three after 25 of the 30 SFL members refused to admit the newco Rangers into the First Division.
The move brought warnings of dire financial consequences for other clubs and Scottish football as a whole.
Following its crash into liquidation earlier this year, the club became a new company and had to apply for admission to the Scottish Football League. It had been hoped by some football officials that the club would go straight into Division One, thus minimising its departure from top-flight football and therefore the financial impact on the other clubs at the top.
But yesterday’s result was accepted by Ranger’s new chief executive, Charles Green, who said he would not challenge the decision.
“We are grateful to be accepted as members of the SFL and accept their decision to vote us into Division Three,” he said. “We made it clear we would play where we were told to play, and we just want to get back to playing football.”
The former champions’ first SFL game is against Peterhead on 11 August.
However, other industry figures were less sanguine, with Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan warning that Rangers’ removal from the top of Scottish football could lead to a “slow, lingering death” of the game.
Although yesterday’s momentous vote was not intended to be punitive, the decision was widely regarded as punishment for Rangers’ widespread financial mismanagement.
The 140-year-old Ibrox side went into administration in February after Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs lodged a petition over non-payment of £9 million of taxes during former owner Craig Whyte’s tenure.
Before liquidation, the “old” Rangers was said to be facing a bill of up to £75m in unpaid taxes, including interest, dating back to Sir David Murray’s tenure at the club, following a tribunal earlier this year. The tribunal has yet to make a ruling.
HMRC has said it will pursue individuals it believes may be responsible for the debt. After an initial investigation, the administrator, Duff & Phelps, estimated the club’s liabilities could to be as high as £135m.
It also emerged Mr Whyte used a £26.7m deal with investment firm Ticketus – in which it paid for the rights to sell Rangers season tickets – to help seal his takeover. He has since been handed a lifetime ban from Scottish football by the SFA.
The unravelling of Rangers, and its subsequent rebirth as a “newco” after it was bought by Mr Green’s consortium, prompted an agreement among other clubs that there had to be a vote within the league.
“Rangers has been handed the ultimate punishment of starting again from the bottom of the leagues, but there is an overwhelming feeling among fans and within the club of ‘wiping the slate clean’ as a club free of sanctions,” said Mr Green.
“This decision maintains the sporting integrity that clubs and fans across Scotland have been calling for, but it also impacts massively on Scottish football as a whole, and only time will tell what the consequences will be.”
Yesterday, the feeling among most of the club’s supporters was that they were disappointed but not surprised. Many pledged their continued backing for Rangers and vowed to watch the club rise again to win the SPL championship.
Manager Ally McCoist said: “Rangers has been severely punished for the actions of some individuals who previously ran the club, and it will take time for us to recover, but we will come back stronger, thanks to the loyalty of the fans and the commitment of everyone at Ibrox, who are working tirelessly to bring stability and success back to Rangers.”
Many rival fans greeted the news with undisguised delight. Some said the club had “got what it deserved”, while others said Rangers was “lucky to still be allowed to play in Scotland”.
Last night, financial experts warned of significant implications for the club, the sport and the country. The biggest loss of income will be from the disappearance of ticket sales in the SPL.
SPL clubs will lose out on tickets money from travelling Rangers fans, and clubs could also face a loss from lucrative TV deals as broadcasters face smaller audiences.
Football finance expert Neil Patey said both the SPL and SFL now faced a period of financial uncertainty through potential lack of ticket sales and the loss of lucrative commercial sponsorship deals with Sky TV and the SPL.
Concerns were also raised last night about the practicalities of the Rangers juggernaut rolling into some of the smallest towns in the country where Third Division clubs, including Annan Athletic and Peterhead, are based.
Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said: “There needs to be early dialogue between Division Three clubs and local police forces.”
After yesterday’s meeting at Hampden, SFL chief executive David Longmuir praised Rangers, saying the club had acted with “good grace and went out of the door with their heads held high”.
In a statement, he said: “This has been a very important day for Scottish football. The member clubs have voted to willingly accept Rangers into the SFL. The only acceptable position was to accept the newco in Division Three from the start of 2012-13.
“This has been one of the most difficult decisions to make for all concerned. We are comfortable that the decision has been made with fairness and integrity in mind.”
Mr Green said the club “regretted” the issues surrounding the demotion and admitted the SFL members had been “placed in a very difficult position not of their own making”.
He said: “The people who brought shame on this great club are no longer part of it, and everyone at Rangers is focused on rebuilding the club on top of a solid financial foundation.
“We wish to play a constructive part in Division Three and encourage our fans to support the other clubs within the league by attending matches and delivering to them the benefits of having Rangers within their league.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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