For those involved in Scottish football, the moment has felt inevitable. Whispers have grown into full on bellows as to the fragility of the finances at Rangers FC. A tax case that could cost the club £49million hangs over their heads, money has been loaned against the next four years’ season ticket sales, they have an owner who has a less than perfect business history and on the field problems that have seen them squander a 15 point lead over rivals Celtic. It’s not pretty and the club has now officially entered the first stages on the road to administration.
It’s not good for Rangers and it’s certainly not good for Scottish football.
There is no denying that Scottish football is a two horse race, as it is in Spain and Portugal and various other countries around the world. Whilst we would all like more competition, this is not necessarily a bad thing. What it does is create a focus. The Scottish Premier League (SPL) can sell its product on the basis of the race between two huge clubs getting their hands on the title, as it has recently done with an impressive TV deal with Sky and ESPN. Without that nip and tuck league battle between the top two, there is no interest outside of Scotland’s own football fans. Without the interest, there is no TV deal which in turn affects sponsorship, advertising, profile, attraction for players, the survival of the clubs and, ultimately, professional football in Scotland.
It may all seem a bit dramatic but essentially, in a nutshell, football as we know it in Scotland is completely dependant on a strong and competitive Rangers and Celtic.
Peter Lawwell, Celtic’s Chief Executive, has said that they don’t need Rangers to flourish and continue being a strong club. He also says he wants to dominate Scottish football. Well, the demise of Rangers would certainly see to the domination. What it would also see is that Celtic would struggle even further in European competition and would subject their fans to season after season of boring football with no rivalry and no competition. As much as Scottish football relies on Rangers, Celtic rely on Rangers. The rivalry between the two and the constant battle to be the best is what attracts money, players and fans to Celtic Park.
I’m sure there are plenty Celtic fans out there who are rejoicing in the news that their big rival is struggling but, believe me, the novelty of life without Rangers would soon wear off. A turgid 1-0 win on a cold afternoon against a defensively set out bottom six side doesn’t feel so good when there’s no ‘other side’ to compare it to. Winning the title by 15 points year in year out will never give the same feeling as holding on to win the title as the SPL trophy hovers in the air midway between the two Glasgow clubs. Being a football fan is about failure too and it’s that desperate feeling of loss that makes the feeling of winning so much sweeter. In my opinion it is always more special to knock the champions off their podium than to keep yourselves on it.
The need for Rangers to remain strong is probably more crucial for the rest of the SPL as they don’t have the luxury of the huge fanbase that Celtic have. The likes of Motherwell, Aberdeen and St Johnstone can’t sell their home games to audiences in Ireland, Australia and Asia. They almost completely rely on domestic TV revenue and what it generates, so to see that disappear would be incredibly damaging and more than likely result in a number of clubs following the Rangers executives to the administration offices.
All in all, this is a very serious day for Scottish football and it could lead our national sport down a very dark road that has the potential to take a long, long time to rise again into the light. Scottish football needs Rangers and it needs Celtic and it needs them both strong. I for one will be waiting to see how this situation unfolds with trepidation.