On July 4 2012 the members of the Scottish Premier League will decide whether Charles Green’s Sevco 5088 Ltd (trading as The Rangers Football Club) can join Scotland’s top football division.
Should eight or more of the twelve current members (I’ll come back to that one) vote in favour, football in Scotland will cease to be a purely sporting endeavour. For the first time ever a club will have been admitted to the top division for reasons other than its results on the football pitch.
Put very simply, financial considerations will have won over sporting integrity.
The story of how we have reached this stage is long and complicated. There have been many players in the drama that led to the death of Rangers Football Club PLC (in administration) as a football club. Throughout this saga football fans have learned to use the language of business rather than of sport. CVAs and administration are now discussed as routinely as the relevance of the 4-4-2 formation in the modern game.
So where do we stand right now?
Firstly, we should note that Rangers is not yet dead. On life support perhaps, but still breathing. The club is still technically in administration, as the liquidation process has yet to begin. Only once that is completed will the club be wound up.
We should note that a whole host of investigations and hearings into the conduct of Rangers remain in progress. The Big Tax Case, the SPL inquiry into payments to players outwith their submitted contracts, the Appelate Tribunal which has yet to reconvene to reconsider its decision to impose a transfer ban and so on.
But for now Rangers remains alive as a legal entity. And it is still a member of the Scottish Premier League. Bizarrely, this former football club, which has sold off its stadium and its training ground, whose players will surely soon be transferred to another club or walk away as free agents, remains an SPL member. That means it will be allowed to vote on its successor.
Now my view is that this is crazy.
Rangers is no longer a football club and is surely no longer eligible for SPL membership. Why would it wish to give away its SPL share unless it had no intention of ever playing football again? And so the SPL should now remove its membership, leaving the 11 clubs that will play in the league next season to decide who Club 12 should be.
Charles Green’s Sevco 5088 is a new company that wants to run a new club. It now owns Ibrox and Murray Park, and may soon inherit some football players. It is not Rangers, whatever it might decide to call itself. That’s why it needs the SPL’s permission for a share transfer before it can join. After all, there was no transfer vote when ownership of the former Rangers changed from David Murray’s company to Craig Whyte’s company, was there?
But every other new club that has ever come into the SPL has done so by footballing means. It has earned its place on the football field by winning promotion from the First Division. That’s the established way of doing things. So why then should some sort of special case be made for Sevco 5088?
Now I’ve used the phrase ‘squaring the circle’ several times in past discussions. And that is exactly what is being attempted here.
Because the only argument that Sevoc 5088 has made for SPL membership is that it is really a “reincarnated Rangers”. And it believes that gives it the right to a place at the top table because of its inherited history and its future financial clout.
But ask Mr Green if his “reincarnated Rangers” is liable for debts and the misdeeds of the old Rangers, and I’m sure he will tell you that you cannot punish a new company for the actions of an old and legally separate one.
Now I believe that the latter position is correct. Sevco 5088 Ltd is new and is not Rangers. And so it should attempt to follow the route into Scottish football that every other new club has – starting from the bottom rather than the top.
There is, quite simply, no sporting argument for a new club to join the SPL. But is there a financial one? Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston stated in May that, “clubs are mindful of a sporting integrity aspect but the commercial benefits may outweigh that.”
Now at the time he was talking about a Bill Miller owned Rangers rather than a Charles Green owned Sevco 5088, but I’m sure that he and other SPL chairmen are making similar calculations right now.
For other SPL clubs, life is tough. Arguably it would have been easier had they not being trying to compete against a club that didn’t pay tax, but that’s in the past. Looking forward, SPL chairmen have to find a way to balance the books to ensure that their clubs don’t end up in the same financial mess as the former Rangers.
So, if we assume that the new Sevco would attract the majority of the old Rangers fan base, other clubs could expect good home gates against them. More than a match against an alternative Club 12 (Dundee or Dunfermline)? Certainly. Although Dundee United could expect healthy attendances for a derby match.
Would there be an impact on TV money? We don’t know for definite, but it would be reasonable to assume that broadcasters would look to renegotiate. If their viewing figures go down then payments to Scottish football could be expected to go down too.
So our SPL chairman could expect a drop in ticket money and a drop in tv money if they vote against Sevco 5088’s application.
But, on the other hand, being seen to support this exceptional entry to the league could have an impact too. Many football fans have stated that they would not attend matches in a league where sporting integrity means nothing. So that has to be factored into the equation.
And there are potential gains in a league without Sevco 5088 too. If we assume that this new club would have the money invested to attract high quality players, then the chances of footballing success would be high. Would clubs that might expect to be in a relegation battle next season not rather have a smaller club in the league instead? One that they had more chance of finishing above?
For some clubs this would mean a greater chance of staying in the SPL and reaping greater financial rewards for years to come. For others it would mean higher final league placings and therefore more prize money. One additional club each year would gain entry to European competitions, meaning great financial reward. And their chances of good cup runs would be increased too.
All of this means the potential for greater success on the park. And successful teams always attract greater attendances that unsuccessful ones.
So there are potentially great financial gains for our SPL chairmen to consider as well as the losses.
When it comes to the vote on 4 July the future of Scottish football will be decided. In an ideal world sporting integrity would be the only consideration and all clubs would vote against the parachuting in of a new club.
But if they do let financial considerations influence their vote, and in reality we know that most will, then there is still a clear case that a no vote would be in their clubs’ best interests.