2012 was a turbulent year in Scotland. Something had to give. Not just financially at Rangers FC but for the whole of the Scottish League.
There once was a time when TV money and the sponsorship it brought helped fund big signings such as Chris Sutton (£6m – Celtic) and other top players. They would flock to one of the Old Firm for a chance at silverware and get a tidy wage to boot.
Not long after that particular signing the SPL rejected a reduced offer from Sky TV in 2002 and opted to set up their own TV channel. After that idea proved nothing short of disastrous they ended up signing on severely decreased terms with BBC Scotland, followed by Setanta Sports (which went into administration) and then scooped up at even more reduced terms with Sky and ESPN.
The way Scottish football has went about its business, the past decade has been nothing short of farcical. A failure to understand that the product was no longer as appealing to viewers outside the country is something the league has failed to grasp. It relied heavily on the the two Glasgow clubs bitter rivalry as its main draw and as such the two clubs used their power to gain the majority off what little TV money was available, dominating the league with no other club winning the top flight outside Celtic and Rangers since Aberdeen in 1985. What’s so appealing about a two horse race? Nothing, unless you happen to follow one of the two.
So when Rangers went into administration on Valentines day last year the inevitable media circus that followed predicted doomsday on the horizon. The punters were persistently told a league without the ‘lucrative’ Old Firm clashes seemed akin to simply just shutting down and throwing away the key. The Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan even went as far to say:
‘The only solution for the game now is that Rangers come into the Football League and they come into it at the First Division. Perhaps clubs could survive for a short period of time, but it’s not sustainable.The game is not sustainable, so there would be a slow, lingering death for the game in Scotland. It would then trickle down to the Football League.’
This blatant display of self-interest provoked anger amongst fans. The lack of leadership and short-sightedness from the people at the top struck a note with supporters, many threatening boycotts if Rangers NewCo were allowed instantly back into the SPL or First Division. Club chairmen listened and the SPL, then followed soon after by First Division clubs, voted swiftly against the instant return of a NewCo Rangers and they were forced to start all over again in the Third Dvision.
It’s a short winter break now and we still await the predicted Armageddon. In my opinion things are looking more positive for the league than ever. Celtic have progressed to the last sixteen of the Champions League and other clubs below now feel they can contest for a European place. Whilst the loss of Rangers travelling fans and the funds their supporters bring to the SPL’s cash strapped members has forced budget cuts, the clubs have abided to their fans wishes and the competitions righteousness remains intact. The removal of Rangers has also seen the status quo torn up and forced the issue of restructure and re-branding upon the Football Association. It is something that has been years overdue.
Proposals have been initially agreed by member clubs. A bamboozling new set up of 12-12-18 and it turning into an 8-8-8-18 with play-offs, right, okay, its getting silly looking now but at least it’s showing intent for progression, competitiveness and more importantly an acceptance that change is needed. The next change must then be the removal of Stewart Regan and Neil Doncaster (SPL Chairman) for their disgraceful lack of leadership throughout Scottish Football’s most difficult period.
The death of Rangers has almost been one of sacrifice. Had they sauntered back in as if nothing had happened then any integrity the league had would have been lost. What every club still has failed to recognise though is that the fans got them into this position and preserved the honour that no club is bigger than the league. Without the threats of boycotts we would see an SPL still with Rangers and it all carry on as normal.
The clubs should now reward their fans with lower ticket prices. Their failure to recognise that the quality of the product has declined but yet continue to increase ticket prices serves only to hurt the game even further. If the Scottish fans don’t recognise the game as value for money, then what makes them think the TV companies will?
‘Football without the fans is nothing’ - Jock Stein