ALL 30 Scottish Football League clubs will meet at Hampden next Tuesday as a contentious move to parachute newco Rangers into the second tier of a hastily reconstructed senior football set-up reaches a critical stage.
A meeting of the SFL’s board of management yesterday concluded without any firm declaration of intent regarding the proposal, drafted by Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan, to merge their organisation with the Scottish Premier League with immediate effect.
With next Wednesday’s SPL vote on Charles Green’s application for the transfer of Rangers’ share to his newco now a formality, with six clubs having already publicly committed themselves to rejecting it, the gathering of SFL clubs 24 hours earlier will hold the key to what level of football can be played at Ibrox next season. But there are already signs that SFL club chairmen and owners are coming under the same kind of pressure from supporters to oppose a newco Rangers as has been exerted on SPL clubs. Raith Rovers yesterday joined Falkirk in declaring their objections to the newco gaining direct entry to what is currently the First Division.
The move is understood to have retained the backing of the majority of the SFL’s nine-strong board at yesterday’s meeting, although The Scotsman understands concerns were expressed by more than one of the representatives present.
David Longmuir, the SFL chief executive, emerged from the meeting to deliver a brief statement on the steps of Hampden.
“The SFL board met today to discuss a number of issues currently affecting our game,” he said.
“The three governing bodies will continue to work together over the coming days to deliver a way forward which will be in the best interests of our game. Key to that process will be a full consultation with clubs which will take place early next week.
“We didn’t rule anything in and we didn’t rule anything out. The most important aspect of the whole process is to consult with clubs.
“It will be a general club meeting where clubs have the first chance to see the issues we have been dealing with.
“They will debate them and discuss them fully with the board of the SFL and take appropriate action as required.”
The carrots being dangled in front of SFL clubs include a new financial distribution system and play-offs which would make more than just one promotion place available to the top flight each season.
In order for the changes to be implemented, 75 per cent of SFL clubs would need to approve them, at least 23 of the 30 members. But the dissenting voices are already making themselves heard and there remains a view among many that newco Rangers should have to apply to join the SFL in the Third Division.
Falkirk were the first to go public with their view last Friday, chairman Martin Ritchie stating that “it would be totally unacceptable if a Rangers newco were admitted to the First Division on the current rules”.
The following day, Partick Thistle chairman David Beattie addressed concerns put to him by his club’s support when he pledged that any vote cast by the Firhill club would take their views on board.
Yesterday, Raith Rovers fully committed themselves to opposing a newco Rangers in a strongly-worded statement.
It concluded: “The board of directors of Raith Rovers FC is unanimous in its view that we shall certainly not cast our vote in favour of any integrated plan that, in our view, compromises sporting integrity by involving the admission of any ‘Newco’ directly into Division One.”
Dunfermline, relegated from the SPL last season, have underlined their belief they should be reinstated in the top flight as a result of newco Rangers’ imminent rejection, but have also hinted that they could oppose the planned merger of the leagues.
“The board refuse at this stage to speculate on conjecture,” said a club statement yesterday. “But what we can say is that we are fully aware of the views of Pars fans in terms of sporting integrity, and any decision the board may make on behalf of the football club in future will respect this, as no one wishes to alienate our own loyal supporters.
“We would also reassure our supporters that the board intends to robustly defend the club’s position if any structural change disadvantages DAFC, as has been speculated.
“Nonetheless, to totally ensure the engagement of all our fans, across all different age groups and categories, the club will ask for their feedback via our official website on the subjects of “Newco” and regaining SPL membership.”
“We shall certainly not vote in favour of any plan that compromises sporting integrity” say Raith
RAITH director Turnbull Hutton insists there was no way he could back Rangers being parachuted into the First Division in return for wider changes to Scottish football – because of the way his club and fellow board members have been threatened during the Ibrox outfit’s sorry demise.
Hutton is content that the Stark’s Park side are right to take the ‘moral high ground’ instead of accepting ‘30 pieces of silver’ as talks go on to find a way of easing Rangers back into the Scottish Football League. After it emerged that the fallen Old Firm giants have failed to win enough support to have their ‘newco’ admitted to the SPL, it has been suggested that a place would be found for Ally McCoist’s team in the First Division.
That plan appears to have been proposed as part of a speeding up of the game’s overall reorganisation, including promotion play-offs from the First Division, a more equitable split of finances and a merger of the SPL and the SFL.
However, the Raith board have indicated in no uncertain terms they will reject any attempts at an ‘integrated plan’ on reconstruction that will also include Rangers being handed a spot in the First Division.
A statement was released by directors following a board meeting on Monday and came in response to a flood of correspondence from supporters eager to discover the club’s stance. Warnings have been made by fans that the Kirkcaldy club could alienate hundreds of their own supporters and hardcore season-ticket holders should they back Rangers’ admission to the First Division.
Hutton expanded on that stance yesterday when he highlighted as an issue the treatment of fellow director Eric Drysdale, who received death threats and had to be warned over his safety by police back in April after he was named as a member of the SFA judicial panel that dished out a 12-month transfer embargo on Rangers.
The former Stark’s Park chairman and leading director insisted there was no way the future of Scottish football and Rangers’ passage back into the First Division should be packaged up into one as some have suggested.
Hutton said: “We have been inundated with emails from fans and season-ticket holders. People have said they are holding off on buying season tickets until they find out what is happening with Rangers, and there are some strong opinions out there, with some supporters of 25 years saying they will not be back at Raith Rovers if we back the Rangers proposals.
“With what is happening with the SPL clubs, it seems to have been punted on to the SFL clubs to solve the problem, a problem which is none of our doing. Initially, the board had not discussed it because it was not our problem. But, personally, my view was that I would have difficulty supporting any move to put Rangers in the First Division, given what has happened.
“This is the same Rangers whose supporters threatened to torch our stadium and whose manager demanded that one of our directors was named over his involvement with an SFA judicial panel, which resulted in TV cameras camping outside his door and threats being made by various outlandish factions. We also had Sandy Jardine publicly calling for repercussions for those clubs who have not supported Rangers.
“Given that, how could I, as an individual, be expected to roll over and have my tummy tickled by some inducement to allow Rangers to come into the First Division. I gave my opinion to the board on Monday night and the board had a position which was not in any way different from my own.
“That does not mean, if and when there is a meeting of the SFL clubs and a vote, that the outcome will go the way we want it to go. I imagine some clubs will see some short-term advantage to be had.
“But if, long-term, you cheese off your season-ticket holders and supporters and backers, is it worth it? Do you sell your position for 30 pieces of silver for some short-term advantage or take the moral high ground?
“From our point of view, there should be an application from Rangers to come into the SFL in the Third Division and that is something that would, I think, be supported by all league clubs.”