It’s official, then. After Rangers FC went into administration in February and accordingly lost their place in the Scottish Premier League, the club will play in the bottom division of the Scottish Football League next season, after 25 of the SFL’s 30 clubs voted to readmit them, but not into Division One.
The decision’s bound to please some people. Many supporters of rival teams will see it as a reassertion of Scottish football’s integrity, with the rules being applied rigorously even though it will damage the financial interests of many clubs. Manager Ally McCoist said before the decision that admission to “SFL3 would give us a better chance to rebuild”. And even some Rangers fans expressed preference for a clean start before the vote was taken – though for varying reasons. Here’s a sample of some Twitter comments (reproduced on the BBC’s live coverage of the vote):
As a Gers fan, I’m delighted. No special treatment, got what we deserve. fresh start, cant wait for the season to begin!
As a Rangers fan I don’t see div 3 as a punishment; I see it as a welcome new challenge. Competing in a two-horse race year in, year out lost my interest many years ago.
I am just looking forward to a full house at Ibrox and enpty grounds at all Rangers away games then we will see how the SFL get by
All the same, it’s a brave decision. The SPL in particular stands to suffer, having voted nine days ago to reject the application of “Rangers newco” to join in Rangers’ place. Television deals for the SPL largely depended on there being four Old Firm matches per season, and the fear was – and is – that a minimum of three years’ absence of those matches in the calendar would be too much for the broadcasters to take.
Before the vote the heads of all three major footballing bodies – the Scottish Football Association, the SPL and the SFL – urged the clubs to vote the newco into the First Division. The SFA’s chief executive, Stewart Regan, held out the prospect of a “slow lingering death for football in Scotland” if they did not, with the prospective loss of nearly £16 million in revenue and “social unrest and a big problem for Scottish society”. Some Rangers fans, at least, appeared to welcome that prospect in the bitter aftermath of the vote (this from the discussion on The Herald):
The agenda of sweet revenge dressed up as ‘sporting integrity’, has won the day. I look forward to following Rangers in division 3 and those clubs realising what they’ve left themselves with. Which is, not a lot. For 3 years, the SPL will be a sad joke as a competitive spectacle and Scottish football will disappear from the European arena while small clubs on marginal budgets go bust.
However, it’s not necessarily as simple as that – apparently the governing bodies are already considering bringing forward plans for an SPL2, previously considered as a measure which would save Rangers if the SFL clubs voted not to readmit them at all. Now it seems to be a measure to save them from the prospect of playing the likes of East Stirlingshire, Annan Athletic and Elgin City next season.
Whichever way you look at it, that would be a compromise. But is it a sensible solution which satisfies honour and saves Scottish football from almost certain collapse? Or is it a pragmatic expedient which destroys the integrity that the clubs had voted to uphold?
It probably depends largely where you’re standing. The one place I wouldn’t want to be standing right now is in Regan’s shoes.