It has to be one of the strangest stories of the year, if not the decade, buried slightly under the weight of Euro 2012 news but still standing out like a sore thumb. Scottish titans Rangers FC, crippled by debt and forced to continue life as a “newco” (which meant possibly starting life anew in the fourth tier of the league) were supposedly considering buying out League One outfit Bury.
In order to continue life in the Scottish Premier League, Rangers have to have the support of seven of their fellow 11 SPL clubs. Three of them (Dundee United, Hearts and Hibernian) have already said they will object to the Rangers ‘newco’ taking part, citing maintaining the integrity of the league as their key reason. Four other teams have said they will canvass the opinion of their fans, but the simple fact at the moment is that Rangers are currently not included in the fixture list for next season (with an anonymous ‘Team 12’ taking their place for the moment). If five or more SPL clubs object to Rangers’ inclusion, though, they will have to reapply for election to the Scottish Third Division, a fate which befell Livingston several years back (although they have since risen back through the ranks to their former position).
For those who had propagated Rangers and Celtic’s possible move to the English Football League in order for them to evolve and prosper by facing “more of a challenge” than they would north of the border, this story sounded too good to be true. But surely the fans of Bury must object? This seems just like the franchise system seen in American sports, where teams have moved to cities hundreds or thousands of miles away in order to gain a new fanbase or boost their financial results. Remember the outcry when Wimbledon moved to Milton Keynes and became ‘Franchise FC’? Somehow I feel this move could draw even more bile from fans throughout the nation. When Swansea gained promotion to the Premiership last season there were some pretty outrageous comments that a Welsh team didn’t deserve to be in England’s top tier – imagine the vitriol if the former Scottish champions achieved this?
And what of the SPL itself? Already widely viewed as a two-horse race (although last season’s efforts by Motherwell joined similar recent campaigns by Aberdeen and Dundee United in nearly breaking into the elite, with the Dons the last non-Old Firm club to win the title in the 1984/5 season), with Rangers gone surely the competition will become more devalued, with Celtic lording it over everyone else? Sure a different team will gain access to European football each season, but UEFA would surely soon twig that something is amiss.
The game would also lose one of its most exciting and passionate derbies – the Old Firm match-up, which even though it occurs a minimum of four times a season never fails to install incredible fervour in the city and the footballing world at large.
The story seems to have gone a bit quiet over the last two or three days, but with the crisis vote on Rangers’ SPL future due on July 4th, this extraordinary saga could take yet another unbelievable turn.