Progression not punishment most important as Scottish football faces up to newco Rangers

After four months in administration, the reformation of Rangers FC is now a certainty following Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs rejection of a company voluntary arrangement aimed at saving the 140 year-old club. The corporate entity which is The Rangers Football Club plc will be liquidated and new company created.  

Scottish football is left with a monumental decision to make and with the fixture list to be published on Monday and the SPL season due to kick-off on the 4th August, the time for delay, avoidance and excuses for reconvening at a later date is over. A decision must be made now - what fate the newco Rangers?

There is the understandable clamour for Rangers to be punished beyond those self-inflicted consequences of their mismanagement. It is unpalatable for most that ‘new’ Rangers could continue, free from the burden of debt and sporting sanction, to compete at the top of the SPL. The most obvious sentence appears to be ‘relegation’ to the Third Division.  More accurately this would involve the SPL refusing to transfer Rangers’ share to the newco and its subsequent application and election to the SFL. This would satisfy the appetite for ‘sporting justice’ for the Ibrox club’s substantial misdemeanours, notwithstanding the claims of other clubs, such as Cove Rangers and Spartans, who may also wish election to the SFL.

On the other hand, there is the uncertainty – the fear within Boardrooms across the SPL – over what the future holds without Rangers. Specifically, how it will it affect the bottom line. There seems to be nervousness amongst SPL clubs, including Celtic despite previous claims, that they would be unable to survive without the contribution made by Rangers to collective television and sponsorship revenues and individual gate receipts. 

It is easy to misconstrue the opinions expressed online, on forums such as Pie & Bovril, as representing the majority of football fans but it is clear that supporters of all clubs (perhaps even including Rangers) are against allowing newco Rangers to continue in the SPL.  Surveys show opposition running as high as 95%, with talk of boycotts should Rangers be allowed to continue in the SPL.  Now the failure of the CVA has been confirmed, chairmen are left with a decision they did not want to make and run the risk of alienating (possibly even losing) their supporters.

The consequences of not punishing Rangers are often played out, less so the consequences of their punishment.  Rangers starting again in the SFL may be the right punishment for Rangers, but is it the right punishment for Scottish football and for clubs like Peterhead, Stranraer and Queen’s Park?

You cannot escape the fact that the popularity of Rangers (and Celtic) – not only in Scotland but internationally – far exceeds that any other club in Scotland. It is fair to assume that any Phoenix Rangers club would have the resources to return to the SPL in three seasons. Competition within SFL 3, 2 and 1 would be temporarily suspended as the newco freak show undertook a three-season procession back to the SPL.  This cannot be healthy.  We can talk about the sporting integrity of allowing Rangers to continue in the SPL but where is the integrity in a competition only one side can realistically win? If Rangers do kick-off in the Third Division on August 11th, through no fault of their own, Peterhead, Stranaer etc. are effectively left to scrap it out for a promotion play-off place.

Perhaps the best solution for the game in Scotland is therefore Rangers are suspended from Scottish football next season. This way the club are punished in a manner that is appropriate (and arguably more severe than relegation to the Third Division); the integrity of the SFL is not compromised and it can remain competitive; season 2012/13 can kick-off in August free from the uncertainty of the Rangers situation which seems unlikely to resolved anytime soon and, most importantly, instead of rushing to a short-term fix, significant reform within the game can be considered, agreed and timetabled over the course of next season.

Rather than making an example of Rangers, it is more important that a solution preventing clubs simply reforming as new corporate entities to avoid financial obligations is found through the introduction of stronger regulation. The argument that SFL clubs would benefit financially as newco Rangers worked their inevitable way back to the top? Again, changes to Scottish football that would see a more equitable distribution of revenues would serve the game much better in the long run. If Rangers are simply relegated to the Third Division with no changes to the way Scottish football is regulated and governed it will be travesty. A huge, once in a generation, opportunity missed.

One of Scottish football’s biggest failings throughout this saga has been an entirely ineffective rule book. The fate of newco Rangers should be legislated for, laid out in the statutes in black and white so there could be no uncertainly. Fail to comply with x by y date and z will happen (e.g. demonstrate by the end of May the club’s finances are sound or face demotion). Instead, the SPL and SFA are making it up as they go along, opening themselves up to claims and counter-claims of bias. Simply it is an unedifying disaster.

If Scottish football learns one thing from this debacle it must be that it has to change.  This should not be lost among the fearvount clamber to punish Rangers.

Edited to add: After sharing the main points of this blog post on twitter and few people have asked how suspending Rangers for a season would work in practice. I would consider inviting applications to join the Third Division, with one side joining next season for a minimum of three seasons and another joining the following season - alongside Rangers - for a minimum of two seasons, thus maintaining an even number of teams within the league set-up. Within this three year period I'd like to see the bottom of the Third Division opened up, allowing progressive clubs outside the current league structure to join.

As for the fate of Rangers following their one year suspension, for the reasons stated above, I would be comfortable with them rejoining the top division provided: a) they are able to demonstrate in good time they are vintage position to do so; and b) no further wrongdoing is exposed, bearing in mind the 'Big Tax case' and the SFA's investigation into dual contracts.

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