Let me be very clear from the outset here. I do not support Rangers nor do I support Celtic. Followers of my twitter feed will know only to well that I have no affiliations to either and support only one team wholeheartedly. What follows is my own personal and specific take on the biggest story to envelope the game in this country and my only allegiance is to St Johnstone FC.
Scotland as a nation has never had its troubles to seek. Mired in conflict and petty squabbles since records began it should come as no surprise to anyone that our national game is imploding in quite spectacular fashion. Just as independence was sold off to line the pockets of a few nobles, the present custodians of Scottish football stand accused of selling out sporting integrity for their own commercial gain.
For a subject matter in this country, you really can’t get much more emotive than football. A lot has been said, typed and spewed forth onto various social media outlets. Football forums, business forums, Twitter and Facebook have been set alight by the current plight of SPL heavyweights Rangers. Dug deep into a hole of their making, the once dominant beast of the Scottish game stands on the very precipice of its own extinction.
There are two very specific schools of thought underpinning this situation. Firstly, the demise or demotion of Rangers will result in a cataclysmic shockwave through Scottish Football that will leave no one standing. The financial loss to the game will be so monumentally massive that almost every other club can expect to either close its doors or at least downsize into semi professional football. Without the finance poured into Scottish football by Rangers legions of supporters and Rupert Murdoch it simply cannot, and will not, sustain itself.
On the other hand it is suggested that should Rangers capsize into oblivion the Scottish football will not only survive, but eventually prosper as the game finally finds its true level and existing clubs learn to live within their means. This new land of opportunity will see greater competition and improved entertainment in a league which finally proves without any reasonable doubt that it has integrity instilled at its very core.
For over a century the two biggest teams from the West coast of Scotland have enjoyed unwavering support from far and wide. Tapping into deeply rooted religious divides and amassing unparalleled domestic success both clubs congregated enormous supports from around Scotland. People with absolutely no connection to either team, or even Glasgow, have pinned their colours to a green or blue mast. Ignoring the local less successful clubs on their doorstep individuals from all over the country plough all of their interest, and a proportion of their disposable income, into the Glasgow giants. From the very outset, both clubs enjoyed a financial advantage over anyone else.
The whole of the Scottish game has been built on this foundation. A duopoly with such power, control and influence over every other Scottish team that it even has its own unique term of reference. The Old Firm. A phrase that symbolises the ancient partnership that has invisibly steered our game into a top heavy non event deliberately weighted to favour either club. A permanent two horse race that destroys competition, hoovers up the majority of resources and makes every other club nothing more than an inconvenient sideshow.
Recent events have revealed difficult truths for football fans in this country. It has long been suspected that there was something corrupt about its background processes. Complicit in this well oiled gravy train were media outlets from the west of Scotland, member clubs and the governing associations. To the average man on the street, all of those parties have finally shown their true machinations with their increasingly frustrating inaction.
The hegemony of the big two has created and sustained an unquestioning west coast media with limited journalistic talent. Former players devoid of media skills often step into broadcasting roles designed to service the needs of the baying masses hungry for transfer tid bits. The PR spin from Rangers and Celtic is repeated, almost verbatim, on outlets from the BBC to local radio to a grateful and unquestioning populous of supporters. And in return, talentless robots with vested interests in the game pick up meaty pay checks and bag lucrative undeserved media contracts.
The governing bodies resemble a jigsaw with deformed pieces that cannot possibly fit together. With Member clubs glancing enviously at the riches on show south of the border Scotland inevitably tried to copy the blueprint. The result of which is no less than three governing bodies, at least one of which is concerned with commercial revenues above all else. And with the two biggest cash cows in the field, the SPL has thus far been more than happy to create a product revolving firmly around the old firm rivalry and not very much else. The whole business of the game is now built on the quicksand like foundations of the travelling old firm support and an increasingly domineering television deal.
And so here we are. With the bubble only a few weeks from bursting in spectacular fashion and the west coast media apoplectic with rage. Traynor, Young and Speirs continue their sycophantic babble but with the undercurrent of knowledge that the hand that feeds them will shortly be withdrawn. The SPL and its members clubs shuffle from one week to the next hoping that someone somewhere takes the burden of decision making out of their reluctant hands. Rules are discussed, bent or simply created from scratch to paper over the cracks of inadequacy and vested self interest. The world as they know it no longer providing them an easy living.
The Rangers situation
What has happened to Rangers is not new, revolutionary or indeed unexpected. For the best part of twenty years they have overspent, well out with their means. In the process they have amassed a huge haul of domestic trophies using expensive squads assembled at inflated market prices. Even without the alleged tax avoidance and double contract allegations the Ibrox club found itself up to its eyeballs in debt until David Murray shuffled the liability around in 2004. Still, the relentless spending continued and an unquestioning support soaked up the on field success as Rangers continued to dominate the Scottish game. It’s a culture founded on arrogance and superiority, a belief that the club are entitled to spend what they like without consequence. And the reckless prolificacy of the past has finally caught up with it.
The club itself has now become so wounded and vulnerable that opportunists such as Craig Whyte can freely sweep in and potentially profit from its position of weakness. In what appears to be a deliberate act, Mr Whyte and the administrators of his choosing are now grinding the club out of existence and milking it for everything it has left. It is finally realising the cost of sewing five stars above its famous badge, a brand now tarnished forever by financial mismanagement on a potentially criminal scale.
And what of the fans? The silent majority that stood idly by and allowed Murray and latterly Whyte to run their club into the ground have finally mobilised. Not however against the perpetrators of the crime, but instead against the SFA and individuals unfortunate enough to be tasked with applying punishment for the clubs relentless rule breaking. Supporters have taken to the streets in a protest march and even threatened to raise another clubs stadium to the ground in an act of revenge. Encouraged by the rhetoric of club officials who really should know better, threats and intimidation have become the weapons of choice.
The club and its support, wallowing in its own death throes has conducted itself without the slightest hint of either decorum or decency. At a time when bridges are better built than burned, there isn’t a solitary hint of penitence to be found. Reluctant admissions of guilt are predictably followed by immediate falsehoods predicting the immediate destruction of Scottish Football if Rangers are punished accordingly. The over used phrase “special case” is trotted out from the Manager down, citing the casino type management of half a dozen other clubs as proof the status quo must be maintained. Rangers don’t do walking away, or humility either it seems.
Fact is markedly different from fiction and a quick trip to either Google or Wikipedia clarifies that the Scottish game is healthy enough to survive. The first division has twice the average attendance of the top flight in Ireland and the same can be said of the THIRD division and the League of Wales. And neither of these tiers have either of the OF or a lucrative TV deal in place. The relentless fallacy continuously presented by the Scottish Media (and Rangers support) that our entire game faces a decline to either countries standards is so incredibly wide of the mark that it instantly removes any credibility they have left.
Of course there will still be a financial ripple effect. Clubs will enter administration and some may not make it out other side. Lets be clear, this does not represent a good enough reason for failing to apply appropriate punishments. If there are clubs that have heavily mortgaged their future on income from the continuing duopoly, then it is time for them to do what Rangers did not and deal with their financial issues head on. The Rangers hierarchy and West Coast media will continue to point the imaginary gun barrel at other clubs heads and capitulation would bring our game to ruin much faster than Rangers demise ever would.
Where do we go from here?
This situation is not a threat, it is an opportunity. With a crippled Rangers, the race for champion’s league qualification resulted in the most exciting climax to the competition for many years. Motherwell and Dundee Utd saw an increase in crowds whilst a number of matches remained relevant with something to play for until the very end. My own team and Hearts are still battling it out for a Europa league spot on the final day of the season. Suddenly the SPL has become relevant again, a genuine competition from second place down. There is a reason for people to take an interest, and more importantly, come back to the game.
This is the future. Not the bleak, cataclysmic nonsense portrayed by those with a vested interest in Rangers survival. A league with genuine competition and a reason to exist, a league with it’s integrity intact and it’s future in it’s own hands instead of two selfish clubs. This is the change that our game desperately needs and it will be criminal if it is allowed to pass us by through fear or for financial gain. For the first time in a long time, there is hope for our national game. Not despair.