THE prospect of Scottish top-flight football without Rangers for the first time in the 122-year history of organised professional leagues in the country appears increasingly likely ahead of the hotly debated SPL vote at Hampden on 4 July.
Charles Green’s newly constituted Rangers FC require at least seven of the 11 current SPL members to back them if they are to be granted the share of the Ibrox club which has been consigned to liquidation.
But the latest declarations of four SPL clubs yesterday suggests the odds are firmly stacked against newco Rangers. In addition to Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov’s blistering declaration that the Tynecastle club will vote against the proposal, Dundee United last night said they, too, would be voting “no” after a meeting with supporters.
A United statement, released at 9pm, explained: “Following what was a robust and constructive meeting, the Club’s position on how we will vote was substantiated by the viewpoint of the various supporters groups. The meeting finished with all in agreement as to what the correct course of action would be.
“The board of directors of Dundee United are unequivocal in the belief that a form of sporting punishment must form part of the reasoning behind any decision made and, therefore, cannot vote the newco into the SPL. General sporting integrity and, more importantly, the integrity of Scottish football must also play a significant part in the decision making process. It is our belief that any form of sporting punishment must be unambiguous in the message it displays.”
Motherwell and Inverness Caledonian Thistle also released statements which indicate they will do likewise after consultation with their supporters.
With Celtic and Hibs also expected to be in the “No” camp, it leaves Green’s hopes of securing the minimum 8-4 vote in favour of admission for newco Rangers hanging by a thread.
Although feelings in SPL boardrooms over the issue have been influenced by the commercial impact of losing Rangers, there has been widespread opposition to the newco among supporters of all 11 clubs. It seems that weight of public opinion is being taken on board and that the Ibrox club, founder members of both the Scottish Football League in 1890 and the SPL in 1998, are in line to restart life outwith the top flight.
Motherwell have announced that their vote on 4 July will be dictated by a referendum among their fans. Members of the ’Well Society, along with shareholders, will be independently balloted on whether the Rangers newco should be accepted into the SPL.
“The current board of Motherwell FC are not the owners of the club but are the trustees of the majority shareholding as we transition towards a fan-ownership model through the successfully launched ’Well Society,” said the statement from the Fir Park outfit.
“At a time we should be enjoying the club’s success on the park and development off it, we face a grave threat to the viability of our sport and our club through no fault of our own.
“It is our view that in the face of this we will be best placed if we live by the spirit of the model we are seeking to achieve. We believe it is mission critical that we both listen, and are seen to have listened, to the views of our members and shareholders on whom our club relies now and for the future. Under all scenarios we need to come together as a club to see this situation through.
“We will therefore hold a ballot of adult ’Well Society members and the small number of existing minority shareholders who have yet to join the society, on a ‘one member/shareholder’ basis. The results of the ballot will be used to determine which way the club votes on 4 July.”
Inverness Caledonian Thistle chairman Kenny Cameron, meanwhile, revealed in an open letter on his club’s website that the opposition of their Supporters Trust to a Rangers newco will help shape their vote.
“The Rangers situation has resulted in a huge volume of letters, emails and phone calls to me from Caley Thistle supporters,” said Cameron. “So many that I cannot reply individually, though all have been given due consideration and the board fully appreciates our fans’ strength of feeling on the issue.
“Similarly, all the posts on the fans’ website have been noted. This week we consulted with the Supporters Trust, whose input is particularly important to us.
“It is fair to say that those who say that Rangers have been punished sufficiently are in an extremely small minority of all the representations received.
“The directors of the club have taken all the comments on board. Our final decision on the issue will be taken based on the views of supporters and the Supporters Trust combined with what we think is best for our club from a business perspective and for Scottish football in general. This is an extremely busy period, otherwise I would have taken time to reply to all of our fans who have taken the trouble to contact me.
“Their views will not be arbitrarily dismissed.
“Meanwhile, as events continue to unfold, the board will continue to assess the situation on an ongoing basis.”
The ongoing moves by the SFA to fast track a merger of the SPL and SFL for the new season, with the newco Rangers given a place in the second tier of the revamped league structure, could now hold the key to the future of the Ibrox club.
Falkirk manager Steven Pressley, a consistent advocate of reconstruction, has questioned the motives behind the current moves and again called for an expanded top flight.
“The whole decision-making about league reconstruction is being based around what is best for Rangers and not Scottish football,” said the former Rangers and Hearts player. “I just feel there is no better opportunity to shake things up.
“We are told that the need for a 12-team league is so that there can be four Old Firm games, but that does not stand anymore.
“Why not take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revamp and restructure the league?
“Put the start of the new league season back three weeks if it is too tight a timescale.
“We are at a stage where it is critical we get it right. The only way forward is a bigger league. This is an emergency.
“One of the problems is if Rangers just come down [to the First Division], I would imagine that part of the compromise is that there will be a second team which gets promoted as well.
“If you have a 12-team league and two are going down, it brings a lot of pressure to a lot of managers in the top league, and if we are trying to develop young players then that is not an ideal environment.”