HENRY McLEISH has urged Scottish Football League chairmen not to extend the uncertainty over which division Rangers will be playing in next season beyond tomorrow’s meeting at Hampden.
Former First Minister McLeish has backed SFA chief executive Stewart Regan’s stance that the Ibrox club should be accepted into the First Division in order to avoid what he says would be severe financial consequences for the whole of Scottish football.
According to McLeish, who compiled a wide-ranging review of the game in this country for the SFA, Scottish clubs do not have the “luxury of an ideal world” in which natural justice would see newco Rangers start life in the Third Division after their rejection last week by Scottish Premier League clubs.
Many SFL chairmen and directors have been angered by the pressure being placed on them to accommodate Rangers and the form of the resolutions they will be asked to vote upon tomorrow which could effectively allow the SFL board to agree to the First Division option against the wider wishes of their member clubs and supporters.
But amid suggestions the vote could now be postponed because of the level of discontent, McLeish has insisted a decision must be made tomorrow in the interests of all 42 senior clubs in Scotland.
“We can’t afford not to be able to move on after Friday,” said McLeish. “Unless or until we put our house in order, a lot of people will be looking at us and saying we are not fit for purpose. The game is bigger than the SPL, SFL and SFA. There is so much good work going on in the game.
“God forbid that anyone, after Friday, should think we can’t go forward. It needs confidence and it needs people to have trust and respect in each other. The game currently lacks that in a way which, even in 30 years in a rough trade like politics, I’ve never seen before.
“The clubs are taking a big decision for Rangers on Friday but an even bigger decision for Scottish football. They have to see the wider implications. If you looked at the SPL option [for Rangers], that would have ticked the box about keeping finances to the fore but would have done nothing as a fit and proper punishment.
“If you look at Rangers playing in SFL3, that ticks the box in terms of a fit and proper punishment but it raises concerns about finance and the future for Scottish football. If you look at Rangers playing in SFL1, then to me it can tick both boxes. It brings to a conclusion, I would like to think, the range of punishments that have been meted out. But it also satisfies the fact that a huge punishment has been delivered to the club in terms of their integrity and credibility.
“It is a balance and the fans may want to extract the maximum punishment, which is the Third Division. If you lived in an ideal world, a purist’s world, that would be fine. But we don’t have the luxury of that. In the position we are in, we can’t afford to take those lofty and philosophical decisions.
“I congratulate supporters for putting integrity and good governance of the game to the top of the agenda. The fans have done a good job, but it’s now time for them to join us in addressing the other issues in Scottish football.”
McLeish admits there is no hard proof of the apocalyptic figures which have been produced in recent days to illustrate the losses which would be suffered if Rangers are placed in the Third Division, but he is convinced it would cause significant problems for many clubs.
“I don’t have any empirical evidence to justify it but, in terms of the research I did, there are a lot of clubs in a very precarious situation,” he said. “How that would fall if Rangers went into the Third Division, you can’t identify the detailed consequences.
“But there is an instinct which many people share that it wouldn’t be positive for those clubs who are struggling on the margins. We are not like the Premier League in England where they are sitting on a fantastic amount of money. The game in Scotland is currently starved of investment. Much of that has to do with ourselves. We have to put our own house in order. No-one owes us a living.
“That means we have to close down some of these issues and move forward. There will be huge consequences wherever Rangers are but we have to make a decision, take those consequences on board and move on. No-one should be in any doubt that the game is not in a strong position to accommodate any consequences of a financial nature which are as dire as some people are predicting.”