Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Not Punishment but Spiteful Humiliation


Back in April 1991 Janis and myself were at Villa Park to watch West Ham play Notts Forest in the F.A Cup semi-final. The match was ruined as a contest half way through the first half when Keith Hackett sent Tony Gale off for what he perceived was a 'professional foul' something he was alone in perceiving - not just among biased Hammers supporters but, thanks to the magic of video recorders, Bobby Charlton and Neil Warnock opined similar sentiments as I watched the game again later that night. The match was over from that point and Forest won 4-0 but the match drew a lot of coverage because of the singing of 'Billy Bonds claret and blue army' from the moment Gale left the pitch until the end of the ninety minutes.

I thought of that Sunday afternoon twenty one years ago on Sunday when Rangers beat Brechin City 2-1 away in the first round of the Ramsdens Cup. Rangers demotion from SPL to the lower reaches of Scottish professional football is well documented and I won't argue that because of the financial irregularities and tax evasion that punishment wasn't out of question but we seemed to have gone beyond punishment and into an area of spite, humiliation and the much uttered phrase 'sporting integrity' sounds dirty  rather than something that we should all strive to uphold.

What in the long run is this going to achieve? Rangers outside of the SPL won't have much of a negative financial impact on the SPL this season and in fact it will have a positive financial impact on the Third Division, but after the 2011-12 season what next?

As Rangers progress upwards, hopefully but not guaranteed given the small number of experienced professionals left at the club, you can guarantee that those clubs in the third, second and first divisions will benefit from full houses each week, a trip to Ibrox and all the relevant spin-offs that those matches will bring. The road back to the SPL will take a minimum of three seasons, so that by 2014-15 Rangers should be back where a club of history and stature should be, but how many clubs of the current SPL will still be in business? The TV deals are in place specifically because of Rangers and Celtic, in fact the Sky deal is widely rumoured to be dependent of four 'old firm' matches a season, if Sky and ESPN decide that there isn't an audience for Motherwell v Hibs (other teams are available) then Scottish football will be forced to take a long hard look at itself.  There are too many full-time teams in Scotland as it is, just as there are in England, and the withdrawal of television money should be followed by most of the SPL going part time and teams further down the league ceasing to even part-time professionals. A similar scenario would play out in England if it weren't for the fact that the television deal that kicks in next year is the biggest ever and there will be some 'trickle down' of funds.

The more progressive members of the SPL and SFA should have though this through, they (the SPL)  punished Rangers last season by the deducting of the mandatory ten points for going into administration and they could have made them start this season in a similar position (as happened with Southampton a few years back), instead they have decided that one punishment is not enough. So what we have after 140 years in the top division is a club sent to play in a league where at some grounds the boundary is marked by a hedge, where the concession stands are situated in sheds and where, Hampden Park (the home of Queens Park) and Broadwood Stadium (home of Clyde) apart, the average capacity of Rangers ten Division Three opponents will be just over 4,000.

On August 10th the SPL will decide whether Rangers used a false accounting practice of paying players via 'dual employment contracts' between the seasons 2002-3 and 2010-11. If they decide that Rangers were indeed guilty of this then Rangers will be stripped of all honours won between those years, so that's five SPL titles and four Scottish cups expunged from the record books. Even in Italy when Juventus were found guilty in the bribes scandal they were only relegated one division and stripped of their titles, for some in Scotland however that simply wouldn't be enough.

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