Rangers newco: The biggest decision in the history of SFL
NOT since its founder members gathered 122 years ago at Holton’s Hotel on Glassford Street in Glasgow has the Scottish Football League held a more momentous meeting than the one which takes place at Hampden today.
Formed to bring order and structure to the then burgeoning professional game back in 1890, the SFL now finds itself burdened with the onerous task of mopping up the unholy mess left by the breathtaking descent into financial ruin of one of those founder clubs.
In the corridor of power which is Hampden’s sixth floor, connecting the offices of the SFL, Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football Association, the rancid stench of hypocrisy has been almost overwhelming in recent weeks.
The SPL, who had prevaricated and procrastinated since Rangers went into administration five months ago, finally got around to making a decision last week when they comprehensively rejected an application by Charles Green to transfer the stricken Ibrox club’s share in the top flight to his consortium.
Having accepted the overwhelming opinion of their supporters that “sporting integrity” meant there could be no place among them next season for Green’s newco, the SPL clubs now want their SFL counterparts to take completely the opposite stance and accommodate Rangers in the First Division.
Little wonder it has caused so much rancour among those at the helm of the SFL clubs, many of whom were cast adrift without a second thought by those who fashioned the formation of the SPL in 1998. The pursuit of greater commercial gain which underpinned the breakaway top flight in many ways assisted and encouraged Rangers on the road to their current crisis.
The SPL, despite having decided they do not want Rangers among them in the new season, still cannot do without them completely. The prospect of an as yet unsigned £80 million five-year broadcasting contract with BSkyB and ESPN collapsing saw Neil Doncaster, the embattled SPL chief executive, inform a meeting of SFL clubs that Rangers must be afforded a soft landing in the First Division.
Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive, last week publicly waded into the fray with astonishingly graphic language as he warned of the post-nuclear landscape Scottish football would be reduced to in the event of Rangers having to start their recovery process in the Third Division.
Yet that remains the desired option for the vast majority of SFL clubs and their fans who feel Rangers have no right to be treated any differently than Livingston or Gretna were in recent years when they suffered their financial disasters.
Rangers supporters have also come out in favour of the SFL3 option, expressing their wish for the club to begin with a clean slate and not be beholden to the rest of Scottish football for providing them with a subsidised and shorter route back to the top.
Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager who is still attempting to piece together a team to play for a club which has yet to be recognised as a member of the SFA, has lent his voice to those pointing the way to the Third Division.
Privately, McCoist almost certainly holds a more pragmatic view, for he knows the level of staffing cuts Rangers would have to make across the board if they do find themselves in the Third Division is wholly unpalatable.
The calls to accept the First Division compromise solution, backed volubly in the build-up to the vote by former First Minister Henry McLeish, clearly have financial merit, even if the scale of the losses which would be incurred in the event of Rangers going to the Third Division has been grossly exaggerated in some quarters.
The dilemma facing the SFL representatives today is whether the incentives they are being offered in exchange for placing Rangers in the First Division are sufficient to persuade them to set their moral objections aside.
For David Longmuir, the SFL chief executive, the Rangers crisis has presented an opportunity to try to secure a better deal for his clubs. Given that there can only be one chief executive at an amalgamated Scottish Professional Football League, as mooted in the reconstruction plans, it could also prove to be a better deal for Longmuir himself.
But is the £1 million sweetener on offer, in exchange for the broadcasting rights which would allow Rangers’ fixtures in the First Division to be televised as part of the BSkyB/ESPN contract, really enough to tempt the SFL chairmen?
Many of them have longed for an extended top flight of 14 or 16 teams, something deemed financially unviable by Doncaster last season but suddenly being presented as a cure-all for Scottish football from the 2013-14 season. The introduction of play-offs to and from the top division was also firmly resisted by the SPL before they were faced with the implosion of Rangers and their stumbling inability to cope with its consequences.
The wording of the resolutions placed in front of SFL clubs at today’s meeting might have come straight from the Soviet politburo. Vote to accept Rangers and place them in the Third Division, but your board of directors will reserve the right to put them in the First Division if we think that’s the right course of action.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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