IT might not have seemed much in the way of football theatre, but at just before 1pm yesterday Dundee were promoted to the Scottish Premier League.
Not so much as a ball had been kicked, nor a cheer raised.
Instead, a group of club officials gathered at Hampden Park and ratified something that had been speculated about for some weeks. Confirmation that the Dens Park club would be the ones to replace Rangers was relayed by an SPL spokesperson, who handed out statements to those gathered at the bottom of the steps at Hampden. There, at the end of a series of paragraphs concerning the election and re-election of various SPL officials, could be found the news that “it was agreed that Dundee FC would be invited to fill the space vacated by Rangers FC in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League”. For Dundee fans, it was ‘up wi’ the bonnets’ time. But it was a long way from the last time they held a promotion party, at Stark’s Park in 1998.
Rather than Dundee supporters, it was fans of Rangers who were most conspicuous at Hampden yesterday. Two wore “$porting Int£grity” tee-shirts. Their anger at a turn of events which sees Rangers now required to transfer their SPL share to Dundee remains very evident indeed. “See you on the way down at Christmas!” one shouted as Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson bounded down the steps. United are one of those clubs expected to have to face the music as SPL income looks set to take a drastic cut. They can, though, look forward to two near-capacity crowds when Dundee come calling, with the first derby due to be staged at Tannadice on 18 August. Their friendly at Dens Park on Saturday drew a crowd of over 10,000, and offered a robust riposte to those who argue that Scottish football is beyond saving.
But there is no question that challenges remain. Dundee’s own ‘promotion’ is not yet cut and dried. “It’s not quite as simple as saying come on in Dundee, it’s a process we need to work with the other governing bodies on,” said Neil Doncaster, the SPL chief executive. “There’s a mechanism within our rules to take that share if need be. Will that be done before August 4? Possibly not, but we’ll work around that as we need to. We’ll try to get it all done by agreement but if we can’t get everything agreed for a smooth transition then there are avenues we can take to ensure the share is transferred to Dundee.”
Dunfermline, meanwhile, could yet lodge a legal challenge after a leaked email, purported to be sent by Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan on 23 June, appears to confirm that the ‘agreement’ to allow Dundee to step up had been a plan hatched long before yesterday’s agm. “That’s a matter for them [Dunfermline],” said Doncaster. “There has been nothing underhand,” he stressed. “There has been good dialogue between the three governing bodies to come up with a solution which works for the good of the Scottish game. Ultimately, the clubs then decide.”
Dominating Doncaster’s thoughts must be finding a way of making the SPL work without Rangers, one of the league’s two principal cash cows. For all that the Dundee derby might prove attractive to local fans of the sides, it will not enthrall big numbers across the world. Both Doncaster and Regan had suggested that a shortfall of as much as £16 million could be the consequence of Rangers’ demotion all the way to the Third Division. He yesterday rejected the charge of “scaremongering” levelled at both him and Regan. “We gave estimates as to what could happen,” he said. “But estimates are estimates. It wasn’t a worst-case scenario, it was an estimate and the facts will come out in the coming days and weeks.
“We were involved in detailed discussions with oldco, newco, the SFL and the SFA around a solution that would have protected the financial best interest of all 42 clubs,” he explained. “Ultimately our own clubs made it clear that they didn’t see newco’s future in the SPL and the SFL clubs have given a similar view in terms of Division One.
“I think there is a slight misapprehension about the rules here. People are saying the rules demanded Rangers had to go to Division Three, that’s not the case at all here. Ultimately the rules would have allowed Rangers newco to come into Division One or Division Three or the South of Scotland League. So all of those are possibilities. It comes down to the will of the clubs as to what they want and the will of the SFL clubs was Division Three, as expressed on Friday.”
Doncaster also firmly rejected the charge that the SPL and the SFA had sought to ‘bully’ SFL clubs into voting to accept lodging Rangers newco in the First Division. “I appeared before the SFL clubs and I spelled out the possible financial consequences of different decisions they might take, but ultimately the decision was theirs,” he said. “There was no undue pressure as far as I was concerned. I did not talk to them on Friday when they made their decision.”
Now Scottish football must seek to live with these decisions, and the ones which still have to be made. Doncaster is confident that the start-date of the SPL season will remain unchanged. But the issue of sanctions on Rangers following an investigation into dual-contracts is something else that has still to be resolved. “That’s something that will come back to the new SPL board,” said Doncaster. “We have another board meeting in a few weeks and that issue will be tabled at that meeting on August 10. Will Rangers need to wait until then to get their SFA membership? That’s an issue for the SFA.”
Rating a higher mention than Dundee being invited into the SPL, where they have not played since 2005, on the statement released yesterday was the news that St Johnstone chairman Steve Brown and Derek Weir, of Motherwell, had stepped down as SPL directors. Ralph Topping, meanwhile, has been re-elected as independent non-executive chairman.