This post was due to be published on Monday, in anticipation of what was expected to be a significant step towards clarifying Rangers ongoing position within Scottish football. That plan was probably always optimistic, and proved to be so as the 11 SPL clubs who aren’t Rangers accepted the Glasgow club’s written request to adjourn discussions on Financial Fair Play legislation until 30th May. Nothing, then, has changed. Again.
Monday’s meeting marked the continuation of a process that was started in March when the so-called SPL 10 (that’s all the league’s clubs, minus Rangers and Celtic) first met to discuss a range of issues including a change to the voting structure and a more equitous distribution of revenues. On Monday, with Celtic at the table and Rangers’ administrators’ proxy voter standing by, all twelve clubs agreed to further delay any decisions until, apparently, Rangers’ new status has been established. As one SPL chairman, Dunfermline’s John Yorkston, said: ‘It took a long time to not decide anything’. Quite.
The principal issue that the clubs haven’t decided pertains to administration, insolvency and the potential penalties that a new club (a so-called newco) will have to pay to stay in the league. Since reforming Rangers as a newco seems to be the preferred option of the administrators’ ‘preferred bidder’, Bill Miller, this has become a pertinent issue and Rangers’ arraignment requests have focused on the prejudicial effect a decision could have on their future prospects.
Why, exactly, Rangers’ future prospects should concern the eleven men in charge of their most direct rivals (especially when, so the argument goes, the men directly in charge of Rangers jeopardized them to a potentially criminal extent) might appear a moot point. So, too, does the related issue of why voting on this issue, whether in an 11-1, 9-3 or 8-4 structure, is nonetheless limited to 11 wealthy, middle-aged men (plus, somehow, a Rangers proxy voter).
The two issues, the voting structure being the other thing that wasn’t decided on Monday, though, are inextricably linked in the slatternly world of Scottish football. Here, good things never last; for fans of the 10 clubs givething and takething away (with emphasis on the latter) is the norm. Dundee United manager Peter Houston provided evidence as such after his side’s 1-0 victory over champions Celtic on Sunday, saying:
‘I think we need to keep Rangers in the SPL. Fans might be upset by me saying that but if we showed them budgets, it would show we need Rangers. Supporters’ clubs all over the country will probably disagree with me but if we were to lose £600,000 from our budget, it is something every chairman has to look at. Scottish football needs a strong Rangers and Celtic. Rangers deserve to be punished, with what I don't know, but if they drop into the Third Division that doesn't help us.’
Houston’s view, which is far from unique, is exactly that which the powers, Rangers and Celtic, want him to hold. The epitome of what a philosopher would call an unfalsifiable hypothesis, ‘Scottish football needs a strong Rangers and Celtic’ perpetuates the defence mechanism built into all of Rangers’ wrongdoing; they are, like the Royal Bank of Scotland, too big to fail. If they go down, they’re taking us with them.
Fans, as Houston acknowledges, think differently. That’s because they know something he doesn’t: watching Scottish football is dreadful. And it is dreadful because of Celtic and Rangers. The duopoly which apparently makes Dundee Utd. £600,000 (or maybe £1,200,000 – I haven’t seen Dundee Utd.’s budget, so maybe I have no right to comment) makes the duo far more than that; and nets them many more trophies too.
The party line, forwarded by a chorus of club chairmen and managers across the country, resonates with Britain’s wider national consciousness, chiming against the outrage of a public that, ultimately, foots the bill. Or, rather, it would, were that outraged minority large enough. To a greater extent, even, than the 99% assembled at St Paul’s cathedral really just looked like ‘a few malcontents’, the disenfranchised fans of Scotland’s other clubs are drowned out by the empty seats by which they are surrounded. The reason that Rangers bring Dundee Utd. an apparently indispensable £600,000 is because they (and their duopoly) inflates the TV revenue on which the other SPL clubs, with four figure attendances (5,200 saw Hibernian beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie, while Kilmarnock’s 2-0 defeat at home to St. Mirren was witnessed by only 3,600), are forced to subsist.
And this is the problem.
Subsistence, as any reader of the novels of George Gissing can tell you, is fatal to creative thinking. The other SPL clubs, trained to get by on the trickle-down from Rangers and Celtic’s vastly disproportionate incomes, have thus been tricked into believing themselves dependant on them. Rangers, of course, are literally dependant on them now – but you wouldn’t know it to hear Houston et al bleat. This could and should be taken as an opportunity for Scottish football to reinvent itself and break the (now shown to be mythical) dependence on an invidious duopoly. It could be the case that a Rangers-less SPL would be a more competitive league and therefore attract more fans to stadia around the country; the falloff in TV revenues being replaced by an upturn in matchday incomes.
It could even be that Scottish football becomes a workaday penny experience with fun, and not profit as its purpose.
But we will never know.
Instead, the chairmen of Motherwell, Dundee United, Hearts, Hibs, Kilmarnock, St. Johnstone, Aberdeen, St. Mirren, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dunfermline will reconvene on the 30th of May and, again, sit and stare at the Broxi Bear tattoo on the Rangers Proxy’s chest. And they still won’t tell him he’s naked.