Last year I wrote about the impact of sending Glasgow Rangers FC to play in Scottish Football League 3 after the company that owned the football club was liquidated last year. I described this as a “punishment” and argued that it was not a smart one, mainly because it was hurting the clubs that “imposed the punishment”. I should have known better than to enter into a feud that makes Macbeth look like a Rom Com.
To reprise the order of battle, many if not most fans of teams other than Rangers subscribe to the theory that Rangers FC ceased to exist as a football club once the limited liability company that owned it went into liquidation. Hence the newly formed company that runs the football club whose home ground is Ibrox and whose fans wear scarves saying “Rangers” is in fact an entirely new club, and therefore was required to start again at the bottom of the football pyramid.
Those who believe this theory thus claim the outcome was not a punishment at all, but in fact an application of the rules that was if anything generous to the new club (there are still lower tiers where they could have been asked to start).
I’m no Rangers fan, but frankly I think this position is absurd. Barcelona may be mas que un club, but surely every football club is more than a limited liability company. Playing this season against the minnows of SFL3 Rangers averaged attendance of 45,750, compared to 46,324 last season when they played in the Scottish Premier League. Clearly the people attending these games believed they support a team with a rich history founded in 1872, not 2012.
Thus in my view the treatment of Rangers should be considered a punishment. Both sides argue about the legitimacy of this treatment, but as the figures above show, Rangers have not lost much in the way of support, and many observers have pointed to a greater intensity in that support, fostered by the sense of victimization. The club easily won the division and were promoted to SFL2, and it would be surprising if they were not back in the SPL in two years.
How they are doing financially is less clear. But my guess is that things are looking good. The wages of the current squad will be well below what they paid when in the SPL, although they broadcast income will be substantially less. But shorn of their debts and with the support they enjoy, I think they will prosper.
So what of the SPL clubs? In 2012/13, just looking at the clubs that were present in both seasons, attendance fell by 4.6%. Below is a table showing the percentage changes for each of the clubs, as well as the difference in their league positions
|Team||change||change in position|
|Heart of Midlothian||-1.6%||-5|
|Inverness Caledonian Thistle||0.4%||6|
In overall terms Celtic were the worst hit, since although not the largest loser in percentage terms, they have by far the largest attendance, and their 7.8% drop amounted to almost 76,000 lost tickets, more that the total attendance for the season at St Johnstone.
Six out of the ten teams lost attendance, while the remaining four showed small increases. These changes do not seem particularly affected by league performance.
And what of the finances of the SPL clubs? Last month Hearts went into administration, and while it was in financial difficulties even before the Rangers expulsion, the absence of a big home gate against them can’t have helped. Ironically Hearts asked Rangers to play a friendly against them this summer to help with cashflow, but there’s precious little friendship now between Rangers and SPL clubs, and they refused.
So, referring back to my earlier blog, I would still argue that the punishment of Rangers was not a smart one, and there were smarter ways to do it. Others have argued that keeping Rangers in the SPL would have led to mass boycotts by enraged fans of the other SPL clubs. Maybe, but I seriously doubt it. In any case, I think it’s clear that the punishers have been hurt by the punishment. Perhaps not that much, and perhaps embittered fans feel it was a price worth paying.
But it does serve to illustrate the paradox of sporting competition. A good contest involves intense rivalry. Which means that the rivals actually need each other- eliminate your rival and you are the loser.