Rangers newco were voted into the Irn-Bru Third Division yesterday in a day of drama which leaves huge questions over the future of the Scottish Premier League.
An overwhelming majority of Scottish Football League clubs – 25 to five – who met at Hampden decided to place the Ibrox club into the bottom tier with SFL chief executive David Longmuir claiming it was a decision based on “sporting fairness, the fundamental principle of the SFL”.
It was a massive blow for the SPL and the Scottish Football Association, who were hopeful that Ally McCoist’s side, who had been denied admittance into the top league, would be parachuted into the First Division, with SFA chief executive Stewart Regan claiming that putting Charles Green’s club into the Third Division would bring financial catastrophe and a “slow, lingering death” of the game.
After the historic vote Inverness revealed they would be holding an emergency board meeting today to discuss the financial implications of the decision which is certain to lead to a loss of revenue to all SPL clubs and put the future of several of them in jeopardy.
SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster forecast that SPL clubs would lose £16 million next season if the Ibrox club were not admitted into the First Division.
The prospect of an SPL 2 – a possible contingency plan to keep Rangers within one season of a return to the top flight – was flagged up by the official Light Blues’ website with a statement which said: “It was mooted last week that plans for an SPL2 would swing into action in the event of today’s outcome but it is not known if this will be the case.”
However, the show of solidarity by the SFL clubs, from which Longmuir took “great succour”, would make it all but impossible for SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster to pull that off.
There was also speculation surrounding the prospect of the Govan club being invited straight into the SPL at its AGM at Hampden on Monday, but that would leave the top flight stripped of any credibility and leave Doncaster’s position untenable, if it is not already under threat.
There were enough cryptic comments from SFL representatives to believe Rangers’ fate has not yet been sealed.
Dunfermline chairman John Yorkston believes there could be another “twist in the tale. I’m not sure it is over now”, while responding to the suggestion that plans for an SPL 2 could now be formulated by saying: “That wouldn’t surprise me.”
Asked if he thought Rangers would be playing in the Third Division on the first day of the season, Livingston chairman Gordon McDougall, said “I don’t know, I honestly don’t know” although he did not believe an SPL 2 was realistic.
But Green and McCoist, who, along with Regan, addressed the SFL meeting, said they would accept Rangers’ fate.
Green said: “We wish to play a constructive part in Division Three and encourage our fans to support the other clubs within the league by attending matches and delivering to them the benefits of having Rangers within their league.”
McCoist said the task will be a long one but praised the club and its supporters for their patience and hard work during a difficult period. He said: “Clearly, starting again from the bottom league is not ideal and makes the task of rebuilding Rangers a longer one but the SFL was placed in an impossible situation and I respect its decision.”
The SFL clubs were offered a package of radical reforms by the SFA, SFL and their own board as a carrot to vote Rangers into the second tier but Longmuir took the rejection of those proposals as a show of SFL strength and integrity.
He said: “Something I would like to say very clearly today, that the First Division clubs in particular made it very clear to us that they are looking for an all-42 club solution to Scottish football’s restructuring issue.
“I took great succour from that and so did the SFL board.
“That was a very clear direction about the will of all SFL clubs.
“I am very comfortable with the decision that has been made today because it has been based on the most important aspect of what the Scottish Football League stands for; sporting fairness.
“We have applied those principles in the past so I am comfortable that the decision has been made with sporting fairness as key issue.”
Raith Rovers chairman Turnbull Hutton said: “The league made a decision and I think it was the right decision and the right process and I’m proud to be a member of the Scottish Football League.”
While Scottish football holds its breath waiting for the next development in the seemingly endless saga, Regan gave nothing away in a statement released later in the day.
It read: “In light of today’s decision by the members of the Scottish Football League, the Scottish FA is committed to leading the challenge to reinvigorate the national game.
“This challenge requires the collective effort not just of the Scottish FA but the respective league organisations and all member clubs.
“Today is a watershed for Scottish football. There will, undoubtedly, be financial consequences on the horizon.
“None the less, with togetherness, an open mind, and innovative thinking, there can also be opportunity: opportunity to restructure the game and promote competitiveness, to place greater emphasis on development of young Scottish talent and to support the financial sustainability of clubs through the Financial Fair Play model.
“The Scottish FA has offered guidance and support to the respective league bodies during this process.
“The SPL and SFL enter a crucial phase ahead of the new season and they must reach agreement on the practical issues that require to be addressed within their jurisdictions.
“Ultimately, there must be an outcome that enables Scottish football to move on with consensus, clarity and confidence into a new era for the national game.”