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Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Battles for the future

Neil White

North of the Border reviews another week of turmoil as the various parties try to decide what to do with Rangers.


This is no longer a story about Rangers. This week there was no doubt that the focus now is on two very different futures for Scottish football and the men who tried to predict them, an enterprise as simple and rewarding as urinating into high winds. The decision by SPL clubs to vote against the rebooted 'newco' Rangers starting life in the top division was predictable and decisive. Only Rangers voted for their inclusion and only Kilmarnock abstained. Rangers, as had been reported, tried to win votes late in the day and after they failed to do that, the people behind the new club claimed they had been encouraged to do so by the SPL. This was not the last time one of the governing bodies in Scottish football failed to correctly gauge the mood before acting in the past seven days. The motivation of the SPL and the SFA to drive hard for Rangers to start life as high up the food chain as possible is, they claim, "for the good of the game". Yet by the mid-point of a horrible series of PR mis-steps, it was clear that the vast majority of Scottish clubs, the vast majority of fans, the manager of Rangers and that club's weary and worried supporters all wanted the new club to find its feet in the lowest level of pro football in Scotland: the Third Division. Once the SPL had said no to Rangers and the SFA had failed to find a solution, the biggest decision in the history of the governance of Scottish football fell to the Scottish Football League, the clubs in the lower three divisions. It was now that Stewart Regan, the chief executive of the SFA, attempted to force the issue. The choice the SFL faces is this: vote Rangers into the Third Division or the First Division. Regan said that the former option would lead to the "slow, lingering death" of Scottish football, the stand-out quote in a statement that was interpreted as bullying and exaggerated by many of the men in charge of the SFL clubs. One by one they criticised Regan and Doncaster for failing to solve the problem and then pressurising the SFL to clean up their mess. The chief executive of the SFL, David Longmuir, until now far less of an influence than either Regan or Doncaster, could not fail to emerge as the standard bearer for the majority view. Despite Doncaster's claim that several clubs will go bust, or Regan's prediction of the total collapse of the game " whatever that entails " the SFL appear, at the moment, ready to make a decision that places them in financial jeopardy. There remains the possibility that Rangers could be elevated up the leagues in return for massive structural reforms to the leagues. However, the relationships between the three governing bodies are now so frayed that such horse-trading is far more difficult than it was this time last week and, anyway, it seems that Rangers may not want the head-start.


Some of the most interesting analysis of the claims made by Regan and Doncaster was around the figures quoted for the television rights in Scotland. One senior producer framed the debate at the weekend by claiming there was no way Sky, the primary rights holder, would continue without the Old Firm fixture between Rangers and Celtic. One of the SFL clubs to release a statement on the Rangers position was Stenhousemuir, who provided a detailed breakdown on the financial implications of both scenarios. One element of that was the income received by the lower league clubs as part of the television deal secured by the SPL. From that information, one inspired blogger pieced together a broader picture of the rights deal and placed it in the context of those in place in comparable leagues around Europe. The comparison was less than flattering to those who negotiated the deal. The value was less than those in some Scandinavian and central European leagues who have no fixture comparable to the Old Firm derby, a brand, we are told, with global appeal. Instead these are competitions sold almost exclusively to their own domestic market. The challenge, in whatever kind of tomorrow Scottish football wakes up in when this is all over, may be to redefine the competition and aim it not at the USA or the Far East, or even the UK, but at Scotland, where, regardless of the scare stories we heard this week, people will still support their football clubs.


The transfer market is slowly getting going, despite the continued uncertainty around Rangers. Yet the most interesting element is linked with the bigger story. Sevco, the company behind Rangers, have blocked the international clearance of the registration of the players who left the club as free agents when they refused to have their contracts transferred to the new company. These include Steven Naismith, who joined Everton and Allan McGregor, the Scotland goalkeeper and possibly the most valuable player on Rangers' books when they went under, who is being courted by clubs across Europe. Charles Green, the Sevco chief executive, refused to sign off on the international clearance of these transfers, believing the players were not within their rights to refuse the transfer of their contracts. This is contrary to the advice from the FA in England and PFA Scotland, who are representing all seven players involved. FIFA is likely to grant temporary registration while the appeals process plays out down another absurd side-alley of this sprawling story.

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