WHEN the two most successful recent managers of Scottish clubs speak in withering terms of the bleak future facing football in this country following the collapse of Rangers, perhaps it is time to listen.
Gordon Strachan, manager of treble title-winning Celtic, gives his trenchant views in today’s Scotsman Sport pull-out but feeling things much more acutely is Walter Smith, the Ibrox legend who led a syndicate that almost bought Rangers.
His beloved club’s liquidation and subsequent reincarnation in the Third Division as a newco has put a sense of hurt into Smith’s soul, and his concern for club and country is genuine. Asked if Scottish football was heading for League of Ireland status, Smith said: “We are heading there. It’s a slow process, but we have to face that. It is not going to be helped by the withdrawal of funds and no matter what anyone says, Celtic and Rangers kept the interest in terms of Sky TV and people like that.
“If we don’t have it for three years it might be a further slow death to what we are getting. Everyone says it will bring on our younger players, but they are leaving as well. We can’t compete.”
Smith suggested that financial penalties, such as Rangers surrendering half their home gate, might have worked better. Instead, the game in this country faces financial meltdown. “It is a nightmare for Rangers but it is a nightmare scenario equally for Scottish football as well,” said Smith, “but it is a reality so everyone has to face that now.
“It has not been a good thing for Scottish football. The people on the boards and the SFA have already admitted that, and the only thing I could say is that if it is not a good thing for Scottish football then why did they do it in the first place? We could have had a situation where they penalised Rangers financially to the benefit of the other teams in the SPL and then put on whatever other sanctions they wanted, but keep them in the SPL for the simple reason that it keeps Scottish football strong.
“As it is, if we are listening to the warnings that are being given out by (SFA chief executive) Stewart Regan and (SPL chief executive) Neil Doncaster, then we may be in for a very, very difficult period. In my opinion a lot of it could have been avoided. It’s all right to come up with comments like sporting integrity, but the main thing is for Scottish football to gain a level of respectability and I think we are in danger of losing that.”
Smith says he is not complaining about the other clubs’ decision, but is adamant that the “financial implications” will be deadly serious.
“This will just exacerbate what has already been happening in Scottish football,” said Smith. “In terms of finance we are already having a big enough struggle without Rangers having to go to the lower divisions for three years.”
The Scotland national team may be affected, says Smith: “Rangers might not have many Scottish players that Craig Levein might pick, but if they had players he could pick, the standard they are playing in would be a factor.”
His successor at Rangers, Ally McCoist, is “sticking by it” and there was “never any question of him leaving,” according to Smith. “It has taken its toll on him and you can tell that with some of the statements that he made which were born out of frustration.”
Smith is sure Rangers will survive and the fans will rally to the cause, but it will be difficult from the outset.
He pointed out: “Rangers have to face the problem of trying to get three promotions in three years to get themselves back into the Premier Division.
“This close season is a big one because they are going to have sign players that effectively will have to last them for a couple of seasons, so there’s a lot of work to be done from a Rangers perspective to get them into shape for the start of what is going to be a three-year campaign.”
Last weekend, Rangers’ new owner Charles Green categorically blamed the previous owners for Rangers’ troubles. Despite his personal loyalty to Sir David Murray, Smith echoed that view.
He said: “If the team doesn’t win then the manager takes the blame, and if the club gets into trouble then the people who run the club must take the blame. It’s as simple as that.”