Sunday 18 March 2018

Rangers in the shadows at dawn of a new era

Ewan Murray

It took until Friday evening for the confirmation to come through that Rangers' visit to Brechin City today would take place, which rather sums up Scottish football's chaotic state. Were the rest of Europe remotely interested, they would look on only with bemusement.

On the eve of the season for lower league clubs, supporters had been faced with uncertainty. In itself that represented little surprise; poor leadership, if not a lack of it altogether, has been glaring over a summer in which Rangers' demise triggered schisms and machinations. The Rangers support stand accused of gullibility as their club was so badly mismanaged, but even they are entitled to highlight how badly the subsequent situation -- as the "old" club succumbed to liquidation -- has been handled.

Rangers' problems and failings are well-documented. What is also clear is that Scottish football's set-up remains deeply flawed when the troubles of one, albeit significant, club have such a severe impact on the wider scene. Very few parties, including those charged with the fundamental task of ensuring a season starts in a straightforward manner, have emerged from this mess with credit. Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the Scottish Premier League, and his counterpart at the Scottish Football Association, Stewart Regan, are among those whose credibility is under question.

A Rangers visit to Glebe Park for a cup tie is not a novel concept. It would be disrespectful to Brechin to label their home as dilapidated or anything of that sort. Brechin are traditionally one of the country's better-run clubs even if they have been anxious to play Rangers, thereby receiving commercial benefit. The first match for newco Rangers is in the Ramsdens Challenge Cup -- a tournament for lower league teams -- and carries an obvious significance.

Not so long ago Rangers competed as routine in the Champions League. Key players such as Allan McGregor, Steven Naismith and Steven Davis have departed Ibrox. Intrigue will now surround how those who remain handle the rigours of lower league football and in what manner the Rangers following engage with it. On the field it would register as a major surprise if Rangers do not canter to the Third Division title. Insistence from Rangers' new owners that they will not sell a majority stake in the club to any party is curious, as is an apparent wish to sign players not affordable to any other Scottish club outside Celtic.

The Rangers public relations stance is that the club remain the same as ever, history intact, despite the fresh corporate identity created by liquidation. It would be an obvious stance were it not contradicted by insistence from within Ibrox that the club should not be punished if found guilty of illegally registering players during use of the now infamous employee benefit trust scheme. Rangers fans are bitter about what they perceive as unfair treatment from the football authorities, just as those of other clubs resent what they see as a negative influence from Glasgow's blue half on the game as a whole. The general atmosphere in Scottish football, needless to say, is far from edifying.

The country's top tier is less than a week away from starting, with focus there attached to how clubs handle the impact of Rangers' absence and a reduced -- if yet to be confirmed -- broadcasting deal. At elite level an obligation lies on fans to turn out to support their teams after those in boardrooms heeded strong public pressure to deny Rangers re-entry to the Premier League. It would be heartening if such a scenario occurred even though the reality is completely unknown. As in the bottom tier, the destination of the championship trophy is all but inevitable, with Celtic generally priced around 50/1 on to retain the title.

The Old Firm are now operating on completely different levels. That, if little else, can be said with certainty as a new season dawns.


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