Desmond Kane

SPL needs Rangers, old or new

Desmond Kane

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The Scottish Premier League cannot afford to lose fans

One of the constants in an ever-changing world, or at least in the somewhat ravaged constituency of Scottish football, is the sight of those darned buses departing towns up and down the land bound for Celtic Park and/or Ibrox Stadium every week. It remains one of the great legends of Scottish football, probably up there with Ally MacLeod's vision of lifting the 1978 World Cup as the national team's manager in Argentina.

Such a notion was being trotted out long before the days when Alex Ferguson was posted in Aberdeen. Astonishingly, Ferguson remains the last manager working away from Glasgow to make off with the old Scottish Premier Division in 1985.

I remember one manager, a well-known figure running a hopeful provincial club such as St Mirren, Hamilton, Falkirk or Morton, appearing on a local radio show back in the day to bemoan those who left his town on a Saturday on one of several coaches destined for Glasgow. Since that manager departed his station, he has apparently been a permanent resident among the season-ticket holders at Ibrox. There is a delightful irony in there somewhere.

Of course, every supporter has the right to follow the team of his/her choice, but whether or not the effects of such conduct has been good for the game in Scotland remains a moot point. This is especially true amid these harsh times surrounding Rangers FC and its financial turmoil.

The main problem with Scottish football is that it is unique to the extent that no other league in the world is so lopsided. For such a small country, there is a large disparity in attendance between the league's two leading clubs and the rest. Rangers in second are eight points ahead of third-placed Motherwell, despite being docked 10 points for entering administration. The gap does not only play out in points.

Celtic have an average home attendance of 50,553 for this season with Rangers attracting 46,519. Hearts come in a distant third with 13,522 fans for this season while St Johnstone — the poorest supported team of the SPL's 12 members — have an average gate of 3,923. To put this into perspective, Celtic would be behind only Manchester United (75,388), and Arsenal (59,984) in the English Premier League. Only United, Arsenal, Newcastle (49,660) and City (49,976) are above Rangers.

Hearts's average home gate would see them posted as the English Championship's 18th best supported side — above Bristol City (13,476) but below Burnley (14,111). St Johnstone's home gate is more than Yeovil Town (3,975) but less than Walsall (4,275) in the nether regions of League One.

Those attendances are distorted. If Celtic or Rangers are taken out of the SPL, the average gate of Hearts and Kilmarnock would shrink. Celtic carried 13,000 fans to a crowd of just over 15,000 at Kilmarnock's Rugby Park last week.

There are a few valid views cropping up amid  a growing dissatisfaction rife on various sides of the debate after the SPL this week signalled an intent to implement penalties for a club going into liquidation, a scenario that could yet darken the door of Rangers before the season is out.

The bottom line in this ongoing situation is the bottom line. The SPL relies on two clubs to finance its credibility ranging from the money which Rangers and Celtic generate for the 10 other clubs to the credibility of the league's agreement with Sky Television. Take one out of the equation, and several clubs in the SPL will notice the difference in their bank accounts. Four league matches against Rangers would suddenly go amiss.

Under new proposals, a 'newco' Rangers would be deducted 10 points if accepted back into the SPL with 75% of their payments from the league being slashed for three seasons, but is this fair? Or should the penalties be harsher? How important is sporting integrity to Scotland's national sport?

Some commentators continue to question whether or not the SPL's 10 other clubs will discover a moral compass relating to the happenings at Rangers, who could owe HMRC anything North of £50 million in unpaid taxes.

A number of Rangers fans are rightly aggrieved by the situation, pointing out that they were not responsible for the actions of "custodians" Sir David Murray and Craig Whyte in helping to drive the club into millions of pounds worth of debt and unpaid tax. There is a boycott planned by some supporters at away grounds to protest against such treatment.

They are unhappy about being punished by a league that could be left hamstrung by their club's absence yet one that will continue to take the money from fans who were led up the garden path by rotten business decisions by directors. It is a fair point.

The flipside to the coin is the opinion that Rangers must be severely punished if they are found guilty of tax evasion/avoidance, however you choose to describe it, financial doping and the use of illegal contracts to fund players in the past. Of course, this remains conjecture. These are all items under investigation by the respective football and legal authorities.

Some Rangers fans would prefer to accept a moral verdict and begin life in the Scottish Third Division if there is a newco, but the SPL will not let this happen. The SPL clubs, certainly outwith Celtic, are aware how much damage this could inflict upon their savings with the threat of the league's television contract shredded and no Glasgow derbies on the calendar.

One cannot be overly sure if it would spell a doomsday scenario for the SPL as clubs such as Dundee, Morton, Partick Thistle and Falkirk have managed to survive in the First Division without a place among the elite for several years, but it would certainly force them to cut their cloth for the worse. It would also ultimately provide room for the SPL to be less competitive at the top than it is at the moment.

Wherever you stand on the debate, there is only one conclusion to reach: Rangers will remain in the SPL, for richer or poorer. Right or wrong does not enter into it. Moral bankruptcy is more alluring than bankruptcy.

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