Saturday 25 March 2017

The future of the Old Firm

Reilly against Rangers lr

Jack Reilly tries but fails to prevent Colin Stein (right) from scoring for Rangers against Victoria at Olympic Park  in 1975. Source: Laurie Schwab collection, Deakin University Library.

The future of the Old Firm and Scottish football

Roy Hay

Glasgow Rangers is an institution in Scottish football and has been since the late nineteenth century. One half of the ‘Old Firm’ of Rangers and Celtic, their rivalry has dominated the Scottish game for more than a century. Whether this is for good or ill has always been questionable and their contribution to the burning issues of sectarianism and religious bigotry provokes controversy today. However it is the recent financial dealings of Rangers under the stewardship of David Murray and his successor Craig Whyte which has brought Rangers undone. The club was put into administration when it was found that Whyte had not paid monies due to the Inland Revenue in the United Kingdom, but this was only the trigger for a series of financial scandals dating back many years to be revealed. Not only that but criminal investigations have been launched into the actions of the various people involved.

Now the club has been sold by the administrators to a new company presided over by Charles Green, an English businessman connected with Sheffield United, and it is applying to play in the Scottish Premier League in the new season beginning next month. The Scottish Football Association, the body responsible for the game in this country, is on the sidelines awaiting the decision of the clubs in the Premier League. The League agreed recently that membership issues should be decided by a vote of all the clubs participating in the league and this is planned to take place later today. Most of the clubs have already indicated that they will vote against the readmission of Rangers, though Celtic, Kilmarnock and a couple of others have not announced their position publically.

While there are likely to be contractual issues relating to the televising of matches if Rangers is not part of the Premier League, the majority of the clubs are arguing that Rangers should not be admitted. In that case, Rangers would probably seek to be included in the First Division of the Scottish League, the division below the Premier League but a separate competition. Here too there are problems as any new club applying to join the Scottish League must begin at the bottom in Division Three. So there is a very real possibility that Rangers could be playing against Annan Athletic, East Stirling and Stranraer in season 2012-13.

Rangers have already been excluded from European competition and there is ban on their signing new players, while many of the existing players took a pay cut to help the club fight the collapse into administration. Their understanding is that if the club was wound up they would be free to leave with no transfer fees involved. Striker Kyle Lafferty, for example, has already exercised this option and signed for Sion in Switzerland and most of last season’s first team squad have also indicated they will leave or have already done so. Rangers’ manager Ally McCoist is caught up in the imbroglio and though he has said he is staying relations with Charles Green are strained.

Since the Green takeover a number of high profile individuals in the game have been making noises about buying the club but so far none of these have got to the stage of credible offers and Green is understandably annoyed that they are exploiting concerns about his standing. Meanwhile the new season is fast approaching and unless decisions are made soon the whole of the professional game in Scotland will be in turmoil. There is an argument that only cleansing on the grand scale and the end of the Rangers-Celtic duopoly would give a chance for the game to be reconstructed from the grass-roots upwards. But given that attendances at games outside the Old Firm are in the low thousands and in most cases in the Second and Third Divisions in the hundreds it is not clear that this is  realistic prospect.

It is above all very sad that the country which did more than any other to foster the modern game has reached such depths.

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