Duncan Hamilton: For football to maintain a shred of integrity, Rangers must pay the price

THE Scottish novelist Alan Bissett describes himself as not so much being an ardent Rangers fan, as “having a Rangers past”.

It’s a nice phrase which embraces many Rangers supporters, like me, who grew up supporting the club before becoming alienated by the overt and outdated Unionism, and embarrassed by some of the mindless sectarianism. And yet the “Rangers past” never really lets you go. Rangers remain my club, particularly in these times of strife.

Like most Rangers supporters, I expect the Charles Green takeover of Rangers ultimately to fail. I fully expect him to sell the assets recently purchased to the consortium now headed by Walter Smith and backed by Scottish businessmen like Jim McColl and Douglas Park.

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Why so sure? Because Green is already the ‘newco’ Rangers’ greatest liability. Green, fresh from his acquisition of the assets of the now liquidated Rangers, may want to rally the troops and get to work, but leaders need followers and Green has very few. He probably thinks he holds all the cards – and in a legal sense he does. His Servco company purchased the stadium, training ground and other assets for £5.5 million and he therefore controls what now happens. If he doesn’t want to sell, he can simply carry on.

But with what? Most Rangers fans won’t buy season tickets. Without that cash, there is no working capital. The Rangers Supporters Trust has called for a boycott. No ticket sales, an empty stadium, an angry fan base already calling for his removal – this is the stuff of nightmares for any new consortium. Given that some of the new owners were revealed by Charles Green as having “never been to Scotland”, how many genuinely have the appetite for a prolonged fans’ revolt which risks their investment? In short, in his hands, the ‘newco’ Rangers may never be worth more than it is today. Green should take the £6 million and depart.

But beyond the immediate power struggle at Rangers, two wider thoughts keep recurring. The first is my surprise at the degree to which people like me still care. My “Rangers past” remains emphatically alive and kicking. But why? Further investigation uncovers a body of anthropological academic material devoted to the role of football in the development of individual identity, and indeed wider society. When we defend “our” clubs, we are apparently defending ourselves. That’s why watching a once proud Scottish institution being pulled apart by American truck magnates and random global investors has jarred with so many in an unexpectedly personal way.

For most football fans, allegiance is about family, history and identity, rather than 22 men booting a ball around a pitch. That badge of identity, it seems, never leaves us. The anger and frustration of many fans in the last few days is therefore about protecting an emotional investment, often made many decades ago. In a global age, that sense of an intensely local identity might seem odd, but it remains very real. Hence, while any owner will face the same horrific problems – a three-year European ban, difficulties getting into the SPL and imminent heavy SFA sanctions – only someone as trusted as former manager Walter Smith can reach out to what he described as the Rangers “family” without that sounding patronising or out of place.

Secondly, and despite my allegiance, I struggle hugely with the concept that Rangers can simply fold, reinvent, and start again in the SPL. The footballing reasons to oppose that revival are well-rehearsed; to do so shatters the integrity of the game and betrays a sense of fair play.

Yet, SPL chairmen around the country are facing a genuinely difficult choice – restore Rangers to the SPL for the sake of TV revenues and gate receipts, and risk the ire of their fans, disgusted by Rangers being granted special exemption simply because of their size and influence; or lose out on said valuable revenues.

But this goes much deeper than football. This touches on a trend most notoriously exemplified by RBS – one in which the catastrophic failures and mistakes of a massive company must be forgiven simply because of their economic power. It is a morally insupportable proposition and one which subverts fairness and justice to the economic necessity of the age. It cannot stand as a principle in sport, nor in society more generally.

There is a price to be paid and Rangers should not shirk from it. Men like former manager Bill Struth insisted on integrity. That’s the key word for reviving this fallen giant. The club is out of Europe for three years and awaits SFA sanction. Rangers need to take their medicine and start again. If that means Division Three, so be it.

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One of the great debates in Scottish football is about redistributing what wealth exists between the divisions. Maybe Rangers’ penance is to put something back into the game they have damaged, by boosting revenues in the lower leagues. Doesn’t that sit more easily as a just and fair result for all?

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