By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 29, 2012) US Soccer Players – After discussing Italian club soccer in theory earlier this week, it’s worth paying attention to what’s happening with Scottish club soccer in practice. The quick version is that Rangers as we knew them went out of business on June 14th. As is usually the case when this happens, they plan to reincorporate and continue on as a professional club. No surprise there, but the question for the rest of Scotland’s clubs is where the revamped Rangers will be playing.
As it stands, enough of the clubs are taking the position that it’s highly unlikely Rangers will be playing in the Scottish Premier League in 2012-13. Even after a points deduction for entering administration during the course of last season, Rangers still finished 2nd. That’s as much of an indictment of Scottish soccer outside of Glasgow as anything is. With that in mind, it isn’t exactly surprising that those same underachieving clubs would be willing to break up the Old Firm no matter how temporarily. With only one of the giants of Scottish soccer in the Premier League, someone has to finish second and claim a Europa League spot this coming season.
Sure, we can pretty that up a bit by talking about competitive ideals and sufficiently punishing a club for running afoul of tax laws in pursuit of trophies. Then we can remind ourselves that we’re talking about a league that needs all the help it can get. Celtic and Rangers in whatever order you like are the Scottish Premier League for the rest of the world. The other clubs are in large part making up the numbers. Their fans might be right to respond with ‘yes, and?’ but it doesn’t take away from what the Old Firm appeal really means. That’s more money for all involved. Since we already have a working example of what happens in Scottish soccer when a club feels the need to over-reach financially, what does reducing the broader appeal of the league really accomplish?
Don’t mistake this for absolution of what Rangers did to maintain their level of success. Professional soccer is a financial competition as well as a sporting one, and Rangers lost financially. That moves the issue to how much of a loss is appropriate. Sending the message that a club can do whatever they like, get punished to the point of bankruptcy and liquidation, and the re-form without missing a game that counts is troublesome. At the same time, the broader state of the league has to be considered.
Wednesday is the latest deadline for Scottish soccer to make a decision. Right now, the new Rangers could be playing anywhere from the First Division to the Fourth, with the Premier League currently out of the question. Rangers as a club is facing rebuilding a squad quickly, with the European Players Union FIFPro backing player claims that their contracts are with the now liquidated club, not the new entity. You can’t fairly talk about Rangers during the 2011-12 season without giving credit to the players who stayed on board, gave up money owed them, and salvaged a bizarre season. Most professional players in Europe might have to worry about relegation during their careers, but a major team going bankrupt? That’s not business as usual.
It’s also not going to be business as usual for the rest of Scottish soccer in 2012-13. There’s a somewhat draconian response that starts Rangers at the bottom of the fully professional tier. To some, that’s sufficient punishment for financial wrongdoing. Yet there’s still that nagging problem of what’s really being punished. Scotland as a league system suffers from lack of ambition. Rangers and Celtic spend to chase each other domestically and for Europe. The other clubs spend to finish between 3rd and 11th in a league with a dozen teams and a single relegation spot. Only two teams outside of Glasgow play in stadiums that hold over 20,000. It’s as if there’s two games in play, what the Old Firm considers success and what counts as a win for everyone else. With this in mind, piling on top of Rangers only accomplishes so much.
The real work here is making sure that fairly punishing Rangers doesn’t endanger Scottish soccer as a whole. The fans of other clubs have spent lifetimes having to hear how the Old Firm is a special case and good for the rest of the league, but it’s not an empty statement. Even as they’re linked with moves to England and a North Atlantic league, Rangers and Celtic pull the Scottish Premier League to a higher level than it would otherwise have. Without Rangers, things change.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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