Rangers newco: After SPL fans forced rejection SFL hears same mesage

HISTORY certainly does seem to repeat, with the second time as farce. Or around these parts, with the second time also as a nefarious plan hatched between the SFA, SPL and SFA to have a newco Rangers parachuted into the First Division, instead of starting out at the Third Division.

HISTORY certainly does seem to repeat, with the second time as farce. Or around these parts, with the second time also as a nefarious plan hatched between the SFA, SPL and SFA to have a newco Rangers parachuted into the First Division, instead of starting out at the Third Division.

The game’s authorities appear either unable or unwilling to grasp the mood of supporters across the entire country. The attempts by the governing bodies to avoid treating a still-forming club that will play out of Ibrox as they would any other new club are becoming increasingly desperate. The old Rangers were driven to extinction by unethical practices, yet the means chosen to address the problems created are unethical practices. How else to assess the threat to let refusenik lower division sides effectively rot as other, more pliable members are co-opted into an SPL2? The “lucrative” package of reconstruction proposals – with a new Rangers thrown in – was cooked up by SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, vice-president Rod Petrie, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster and SFL chief executive David Longmuir.

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So here we go again. Just as supporters of SPL clubs rose up to prevent their club chairmen daring to vote a reconstituted – but as yet unnamed and non-SFA member – Rangers straight in to the SPL, so the supporter spring is rising up once more.

One man who knows that first hand is David MacDonald, who runs the Pie and Bovril website, which has become a portal for punters of all clubs to build joint protests. “In nearly ten years running the site, I have never seen such anger, such depth of feeling from supporters of all 42 teams as on Thursday when it came through about the plans to make sure the Rangers newco was in the First Division next season.

“Before all this, we used to have the ten other SPL clubs as one, railing against the Old Firm, whose fans would do their own thing. Now we are seeing supporters of all 12 clubs, and that includes Rangers, rejecting the placing of money before the sport, and the pantomime this creates, wherein the league must have a Celtic and Rangers in it no matter what, and the other clubs just have to be parasites, feeding off the TV and commercial money these two bring in. Until last week, though, the SFL fans didn’t feel directly involved. Now, though, all those have the same outrage at the game being rigged for one club and their club being expected to fall into line with that.”

A number already have not. And those SFL clubs who have voiced their opposition do appear to have done so simply because they do not see what is being proposed as right or just. Gone is any pretence that the SPL clubs’ “no to newco” was a principled stand, borne out of listening to their supporters. The fact is the First Division proposal for the new Rangers was sold as a cert to them weeks ago, making these chairman seem even more scheming and dubious than if they had came out and said “look, it is wrong but we need Sky television and any Rangers in the SPL to guarantee we get it”. The latest turn of events is particularly embarrassing for Hibernian chairman Petrie. It has been reported he met new Rangers owner Charles Green to discuss plans to ease Rangers back into the First Division, despite his claim that “sporting integrity was beyond purchase”.

Clearly, the powerbrokers have misjudged the public mood again. There is every chance that the raft of proposals, which include play-offs to the SPL, £1 million being filtered through the three tiers of the SFL, merger of the two league bodies and a pyramid system below the senior set-up, oh and Green’s Rangers starting off life just outside Scottish football’s highest level, won’t garner the necessary support. Even when the threshold figure for forcing through this “special case” scenario seems to have dropped from 23 clubs out of 30, to 16 clubs.

“The authorities got themselves in a right mess by underestimating the strength of feeling of SPL supporters over the concept of a newco and have now got themselves into an even bigger one by repeating the same mistake again with the SFL teams,” says Livingston Trust member Callum Leslie. “And the breakaway threat just doesn’t help. Isn’t the whole reason why this issue has been thrown up because we have a split between two league set-ups? That has allowed a new team to think you can apply to one of them. If all four divisions were under the same auspices, it would be clear any new member applying to join would start at the bottom.”

Leslie is troubled by the same aspects of this sorry saga as the overwhelming majority of football followers. Yet, his fears of where it could lead in treating one club differently because of their financial clout is a recognition that sport isn’t just all about playing by rules and meeting your financial liabilities. “If we accept the concept that money can dictate consequence, we could be moving towards a franchise system like the NFL in America, or something,” he says. There are plenty of supporters in this country fulminating over the challenged morality inherent in the governing body’s attitude towards the Rangers brand who do not watch American football and consider it rigged.

However, Scottish football supporters do feel that we will never again be slow to be told. Pie and Bovril’s MacDonald appreciates the profound impact that new communication has had on the ability of supporters to mobilise and hardwire their views into the mainframe of football clubs.

“You don’t need to march on Hampden to stage an effective protest,” MacDonald says. “Fans can talk to each other and react to whatever is happening instantly. Issues bleed across sites, stances can be formulated and e-mails channelled directly to clubs.

“For instance, one supporter might put up a letter he has sent to his club, and another poster might take it and pass it on to his. It can be the petition way and can develop a powerful momentum. As someone who is a St Mirren supporter and also runs an individual website, I know that is what happened with the newco for the SPL. We conducted a secure poll that showed 98 per cent were against entry and even 80 per cent if there was a chance of St Mirren going in to administration as a result. I know there is talk of ‘keyboard guerillas’ and such like but you see how quiet the forums go on a Saturday, to know the views being expressed are by those who are hardcore fans.”

It has been fashionable for the football chiefs and chairmen to say that you ignore these people at your peril… before going on to ignore them.