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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

I Confess...

There comes a time in the lives of many young men when they must embrace the truth at the core of their being. If he has been particularly adept at hiding his secret, this can be a devastating moment for the woman in his life. Even though we live in a more accepting age, her initial anger is likely to turn to introspection.

Did I deliberately ignore the signs? Is it something I did? Or didn't do? Why wasn't I enough to make him happy? Those nights when he disappeared down the pub with his 'friends' start to take on a new meaning. It was a 'tradition' he said. But who gets that excited about Monday nights?

So, okay, I'm gonna to say it.

My name is Jock. And I am a football fan.

I admit it. Watching twenty-two other men chase a vinyl bag filled with air around a grassy rectangle can make me lose my sense of perspective from time to time. Those times are limited though; it only happens when I watch it. Even if I have no particular interest in either of the teams it can induce euphoria, awe, frustration, anger, disbelief, joy, bewilderment, depression, selective hearing loss and a sense of wonder at the athletic possibilities of the human form. When I actually care about the teams involved (Kilmarnock, Tottenham Hotspur or Scotland) that's when I can really go daft!

However, as someone who has other interests, I have occasionally fretted about whether I shouldn't be expending that time, energy and emotional investment in something more 'worthy'. When mixing with political acquaintances, business associates or just some of my more 'cultured' friends, my obsession with football isn't likely to feature on my internal 'A list' of discussion topics. That's a lie. It is and it does. It always does but I self-discipline.

Golf is normally 'allowed' and, even as a five-handicap player and a qualified coach, I have to concede that, as a pursuit, it is equally pointless. Rugby too, in certain circles, is acceptable despite being a quite brutal, almost gladiatorial, contest where thirty extravagantly-shaped individuals pound each other into exhausted submission. Don't get me wrong, I love rugby. Fancied myself (quite literally, some might say) as a schoolboy stand-off/inside centre but why should rugby be kosher dinner-party conversation when football isn't?

That's why, I suppose, I have yet to throw in my tuppence worth on the Rangers situation. There are other reasons. As a supporter of a 'provincial' club, I have a default setting of antipathy towards both Glasgow giants and I did worry that this would influence any comments I might make. On reflection, however, it is precisely supporters like me who should be heard. The alternative is to leave the field to Rangers and Celtic fans who have even greater personal stakes and entrenched views.

Well, after the SFA panel announced their adjudication late on Monday night, it's become increasingly likely that Rangers will be forced down the path of liquidation-NewCo. Potential investors seem to be backing away, with only Bill Miller the American tow-truck tycoon left standing. As his plan always involved some strange liquidation-NewCo/CVA-ExistingCo hybrid anyway, the die seems to be cast. The question now is what happens from here.

The £160,000 fine imposed by the SFA now seems the least of their worries. It is dwarfed by the implications of the twelve-month transfer embargo. Especially when those senior players, universally lauded for taking pay deferrals (not cuts) earlier this year, desert the sinking ship in the summer using the release clauses they negotiated in return for their selfless act. Most will end up in the English Championship with perhaps only goalkeeper Allan MacGregor winning a transfer to a top Premiership club.

Reduced to playing youngsters, it would be interesting to see how Rangers fared - especially starting from minus ten points as will be suggested at next weeks SPL vote. Kids under pressure from day one, playing against seasoned professionals and with a demanding support on their backs are not the ingredients for a successful campaign.

The seventy-five per cent reduction in league generated fees plus the loss of income from UEFA competition - both over a number of years will also hit hard - making it more difficult to retain any high earners who can't find alternative employment.

Taken together, it seems that the best option might indeed be that seemingly accepted by manager Ally McCoist last night. Abandon the SPL and their penalties; start again in Division Three and work their way back. The youngsters will be under less pressure and the club, even with substantially reduced income, will be financially dominant in the lower leagues and should progress quickly.

The problem remains, certainly, of how the rest of the SPL will cope financially. Primarily, their great rivals, Celtic. Despite Peter Lawell's protestations (no pun intended), the Old Firm do need each other. Their huge supports are only energised by the rivalry of the other. Does he seriously believe that 67,000 will turn up at Celtic Park every week to watch the Hoops canter to a league title devoid of the glory of beating Rangers? Crowds will inevitably drop in the east end of Glasgow. And if Sky pull out of Scottish football, Celtic take another massive financial hit.

Conversely, attendances might even rise at other SPL grounds as a number of teams start the season with second place and European qualification a distinct possibility. The trend of some provincial clubs losing a percentage of home supporters when the Old Firm visit is also well established. The thought of paying to see your club well-beaten, often via dubious refereeing decisions, whilst being exposed to sectarian chanting is not a pleasant experience for many. Might games against Dundee United, Motherwell and Hearts become more attractive when the stakes are, potentially, higher?

Can we find any other positives?

In the absence of Rangers for at least three seasons, will Celtic cut their cloth accordingly, meaning a levelling off of Scottish football and creating more meaningful competition?

Lower league clubs will certainly benefit financially of hosting Rangers supporters (though those supporters are notorious for deserting in droves when times are hard, see attendance figures in early and mid-eighties for evidence of that).

Will Rangers return to the SPL a more humble and reasonable animal?

In their absence, might a more equitable and democratic voting structure be established in the top division?

Will all clubs take a more responsible view of club finances?

Could Sky be convinced to hang around and document the rebirth of Rangers as they climb back up the ladder?

Or will, as many of us fear, Scottish football sell its soul, forego all credibility and demean the competition even further by finding a solution for even a destitute, NewCo Rangers to remain in the SPL? The world watches...


  1. Gers into 3rd division as Newco. They would hold the crowds better I think plus be doing the right thing. I think the idea of staying in the SPL crippled by debt and points deductions is a worse outcome.

    I suspect the current levels of glee among other fans may seem a little crass a few years from now.

  2. They have a choice between making them start in the 3rd division and running the risk of Sky walking away, or selling their souls, allowing them to remain in the SPL and certainly making thousands of fans walk away. When they turn Scottish Football into a farce that even the fans can't stomach, then Sky will walk away anyway.

    Put another way, making them start in the 3rd division carries a chance that Sky will NOT walk away. It will also send a healthy signal to other teams.