How 3 of Scotland's biggest clubs found themselves in the 2nd tier

Mark Runnacles

For a long time, Germany had been alone in Europe in lacking any representation from their capital city in their top division, whenever Hertha Berlin sunk downwards through the divisions. But next year, that mantle will be taken up by a new country -- for the first time in their long, long history, there will be no clubs from Edinburgh in Scotland's top flight next year. Both Hearts and Hibernian will be toiling in the second flight in 2014/15.

It goes further than that - Scotland will also be the only country to have their biggest club out of the top flight in Rangers, and in Hearts and Hibernian, their third and fifth best-supported clubs. Many will point to Scottish football as long having been the sick man of Europe, but a successful league is usually a competitive one. Decline tends to hit the smaller clubs harder, and the reasons for each club going down were distinct and varied.

Rangers

How did they get here?

Probably the longest, most complicated and most controversial story in football. Rangers essentially became burdened by debt and entered a dispute with UK customs over unpaid tax, and were forced into administration. Things were so bad that the company had to reform under a new name and enter the fourth division of Scottish football. This is a matter of some controversy. If you are of one particular mindset, you may claim that this means they are a brand new club, holding none of their old titles and memories. If you are of another, you may claim that football is ultimately a romantic affair and that nobody can legally own the memories and shared history of something as nebulous as a football club. Prosaically, we'll just point out that all relevant bodies consider them the same club.

Regardless, Rangers' problems may or may not be over. Getting relegated to the fourth tier may be seen in some ways as an opportunity: you effectively have three years in which to build a team from scratch. Rangers have indeed been climbing back up the divisions since. But instead of developing their own youngsters, or acquiring young talent from around Scotland, or even just doing it on the cheap to save their pennies for when they're back in the big-time, Rangers have instead paid high wages to a ragged collection of journeymen, veterans, ne'er-do-wells, and rogues. Although this did include signing their first ever Irish catholic player -- it's nice to see goodwill triumphing in adversity, huh?

How will they do next season?

Rangers still have the second-highest wage budget in Scottish football. With the TV deals in Scotland being miniscule, attendances make all the difference for those not blessed with European football, and even if Rangers do have to cut their cloth in the summer, they still should end up with a much better side than Hearts or Hibs can cope with. Returns for the likes of Kenny Miller, Kris Boyd and others have been mooted - a shockingly short-sighted transfer policy still, but one that will almost certainly see them finish first. Only Ally McCoist, whose ability as a manager is highly questionable, can prevent that, but superior resources will probably carry the day.

The other thing to consider is that the Rangers' ownership question is far from resolved -- the club will probably be sold at some point soon, and there are a number of interested parties, including several supporters groups. If they're passed on to the right owners, they could soon be back where they were, but under the current leadership a disaster of any magnitude is possible.

Hearts

How did they get here?

An equally long and dark tale. Hearts were one of a number of clubs in Scotland in financial difficulty at the turn of the millennium, and eventually struck a deal with Vladimir Romanov, a Lithuanian businessman, who promised the club they could keep hold of their ground. A new manager and a few decent signings later, and Hearts started the 2005-06 season in ridiculous form, looking like they might actually go and win the thing. The Romanov revolution was underway. This would be as far as it got.

Manager George Burley was sacked, with Hearts at the top of the table. Nobody is really sure why, but a top-class replacement was promised. Claudio Ranieri was mentioned, but instead Hearts got.... convicted sex offender and out-of-work coach Graham Rix. Unsurprisingly, they did not go on to win the league.

Things didn't look so rosy in the financial department either. The club was accused of not paying players' wages, being late to pay tax, and in 2011, things eventually came to a head. Players couldn't be paid, and the club entered a long period of wrangling and poverty, being placed in administration and suffering a points deduction for the 2013-14 season which ultimately saw them relegated. Their very future as a club looked in serious peril, but they were saved at the last minute by a supporters' group.

How will they do next season?

Despite having no money for players and having to rely on kids, and getting off to a disastrous start, Hearts eventually finished with enough points that, had they not been penalised for going into administration, they would have actually finished above their rivals Hibs. That would seem to suggest that they are much better-placed to get their house in order, particularly considering that the relegation was a certainty for much of the season as opposed to the shock that struck the other side of the city.

Whether they'll be able to cough up much for signings remains to be seen, but the new board have been ruthless in trimming off the fat from the playing squad and staff so far. They'll probably be favourites to clinch the playoff place behind Rangers, where they'll have to take on a club from the top division to earn their promotion.,

Hibernian

How did they get here?

Staggering incompetence, basically. It takes something special for a club of Hibs' size to get relegated, let alone in a season where the bottom relegation place was always going to be taken by their rivals and Rangers were in the third tier. Hibs are probably the most depressing football club in Britain to support. Their last two cup finals (a competition they haven't won since 1902) saw them get gubbed 3-0 by Celtic and 5-1 by their biggest rivals, Hearts. The only consolation is that they have the best song in football.

Hibs are a big club, but they've been bad for a long, long time. They've spent highly on players and managers and gotten absolutely nothing out of it, and when Terry Butcher made the bizarre choice to dump a then-2nd-placed and hugely overachieving Inverness side, with whom he'd worked wonders, to join lowly Hibs, he soon got his comeuppance. He'd spoken at length of how it was a much bigger club and of the better facilities. In any case, they weren't in danger of going down. But after a shocking run, scoring just three goals in their last ten games and losing eight of them, Hibs ended the season in the playoff place for relegation.

That meant they had to take on Hamilton -- a club whose goals scored in the past ten games was nine times higher than Hearts'. With the club not scoring, Butcher turned to young Jason Cummings, a former Hearts player (and alleged fan of their rivals) to start. He scored two goals to give them a 2-0 away win. Well, that looked dodgy for a minute, didn't it? Better be careful next season.

Of course, there was still the matter of the second leg. Jason Scotland, who Hibs fans had been gleefully taunting for his weight, pulled one back for Hamilton. Hibs retreated ever deeper. Usually there's tension when things enter injury time in this sort of scenario, but not with Hibs. Because with Hibs... you just knew the goal was coming. Nothing was more certain. And sure enough, it did.

On to extra-time, and then penalties. Kevin Thomson, a former Rangers and Scotland star who was once part of a great Hibs side that was scattered to the winds, a side that included Scott Brown, Derek Riordan, Gary Caldwell, Steven Whittaker and Steven Fletcher, was first up. Butcher seemed to have little time for him, but recognising his popularity, had brought him on to give the fans a lift and try and cancel out the groans and boos.

He missed.

Hamilton continued to put all their penalties away with deadly accuracy, before Cummings, the hero in the first leg, saw a tame penalty saved to confirm the club's relegation. No financial tricks, no points deductions, no injustices. Just years and years of staggeringly poor decisions.

How will they do next season?

Hard to say, but the fact Hearts would have finished above them had they not gone into administration and have a few good youngsters to work with means they may be starting from a very low base indeed. Only a maximum of two teams can get promoted from the Scottish second tier, and while Hibs shouldn't be in any financial difficulty, they'll find it hard to compete. Another issue is that Rangers and Hearts aren't even the only competition. There are actually a lot of handy sides around the division who wouldn't look out of place in the top flight, and Hamilton at least showed they were superior to this Hibs side. It could be a long old time in the lower leagues.

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