By now, Rangers and their fans have come to terms with the fact that they must climb through the ranks to regain the station in the pyramid they consider to be their rightful home, the Scottish Premier League.
While they may have grudgingly accepted this fate, they remain very unhappy and very vocal about it. This past week Rangers announced they would refuse to take up their allotment of Scottish Cup tickets away to Dundee Utd at Tannadice in February. Ostensibly, this decision has been taken over the club’s anger at Dundee Utd for their vocal stance against Rangers petition to rejoin the SPL after dissolution last summer.
Rangers fans have characterized the decision of their former league contemporaries as “mean spirited” and “cruel”. While each member club will have its own reasons for rejecting the application, there can be no doubt that money played some part in it: Rangers owed about half of the SPL significant sums, many of which remain unpaid (including funds related to last season’s DUFC-RFC Scottish cup tie). It must also be noted that the vote was 10-0 against (Kilmarnock abstained) so the decision can hardly be seen to be equivocal.
The opposing view to that of Rangers fans has tended toward the indifferent. A rough approximation of this view being: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”.
There can be little argument that under Craig Whyte, Rangers had been living above their means. Many are of the view that it is the new owners and the fans that are being punished for the actions of the old guard. The fact is that the new owners acquired the club under very favorable terms given its encumbrance and thus cannot reasonably claim to have been unduly harmed by the decision. Had Rangers been guaranteed a place in the SPL prior to the formation of a “new” Rangers company, the cost of acquisition would have been much higher.
Neutral critics have tended to point to what they see as the obvious drawbacks of the decision: That an SPL with only one of Celtic or Rangers becomes a walkover, and that by the time Rangers are able to get back to the SPL, Celtic’s revenue growth will have pushed them far beyond where rivals can hope to reach within a decade, possibly longer. Several have suggested that this decision could effectively kill Scottish Football, given that it was largely a race between the two Glasgow clubs year in and year out.
Certainly Celtic will have a very successful period while Rangers remain out of the SPL. However, at present they are just three clear of their nearest challenger (Inverness Caley Thistle) and Motherwell and Hibs just one point further back.
The tight race may be in part due to Celtic’s Champions League commitments, but nevertheless the top end of the SPL is far tighter than most would have predicted 16 games in.
The long term financial difficulties of the SPL in general have not abated, of course. A recent report by PwC indicated that the average loss in the SPL in 2010/11 was about £1m per club. While this is a trifling amount by the standards of the EPL and other elite leagues, it represents significant loss as a percentage of total turnover for some of the SPL’s member clubs.
As with all other nations, the Scottish footballing pyramid generates the vast majority of its income from the top league. And of that PL revenue, the majority has historically been generated by the two elite Glasgow clubs.
Is there no possible outcome, then, other than that this revenue will shrink dramatically as a result of Rangers ‘demotion’ with drastic impact to all clubs?
The revenue will certainly shrink at the SPL level. But what might be the result of this? Is it certain to cause damage to member clubs, or will they adjust to the new revenue level quickly enough to avoid the consequences some believe are inevitable? Hearts is already struggling with finances, but how much of that is down to straight mismanagement versus the loss of anticipated “Rangers related” income? The loss of Old Firm matches is expected to cost Celtic as much as £2m annually, however that is a pittance compared to what they will earn from CL competition.
Expecting rational economic behavior from football clubs is perhaps asking too much. However, freed of the compulsion to outdo each other, perhaps Rangers (by necessity) and Celtic (by choice) can and will reduce their spending to supportable levels. The decreased competition for players should lead to downward pressure (or at least nominal increase) on domestic player salaries and spending in general (though the top echelon players are in demand elsewhere as well as Scotland).
Celtic may choose to spend what seems likely to be annual Champions League income on improving the squad, but the reality is they do not need to do so to beat their league brethren (and more importantly, their major rival) any longer, nor to remain annual participants in lucrative UEFA competitions.
For lower league clubs, the presence of even a diminished Rangers in their leagues will inevitably lead to greater revenue and exposure. While some SPL clubs will feel a short term financial pinch, Div 3 clubs this year should see a significant boost in fortunes. As Rangers progress through Scottish football, they should bring a modest financial windfall to each club they share a league with. For some of the minnows, a reasonable gate share from Ibrox could raise their annual turnover by 40-50% – enough money (if used properly) to create stability for these businesses for years to come, as well as raise the level of play across the board.
There will be some pain – not only for Rangers but their former SPL colleagues as well – as a result of their expulsion. But far from killing Scottish football, Rangers admittance at the third tier could actually help save it.
Rangers Football Creditors List: (prior to Sevco)
Inverness CT £40,000
Dundee United £65,000*
Man City £330,000
Rapid Vienna £ 1.1m (Jelavic transfer)
St. Etienne £260,000
* amount disputed by Rangers, who reported £30,000
Match day 3 of Champions League opened the doors to a dramatic night at the Nou Camp, perhaps one not expected by too many Blaugrana fans as Celtic handed Barça a challenging showdown. A game that had it all: a shocking lead by Celtic, injuries and of course, the edge-of-your-seat anxiety that reached the ultimate peak in the last minute of overtime as Jordi Alba crushed the hearts of Hoops fans worldwide.
Celtic coach, Neil Lennon opened up to the press prior to this Group G fixture stating that his team would take to the field with a “winning mentality”. Perhaps still flying high from his sides crushing defeat over St. Mirren on the weekend, Lennon and his side seemed geared to face this Barça side with the fury of a thousand men. A challenging task as Celtic has never won an away game to a Spanish league club, with a track record consisting of 9 losses and 3 draws, but the Celtic fans had a renewed hope. Could this be the squad to rewrite history? The 21,000 Celtic fans who made their way to the Catalan capital sure thought so. The visiting side, only allotted 10,000 tickets, more than doubled that in supporters’ numbers and made their presence well known at the home of FC Barcelona, Camp Nou.
As Barça continue to struggle with injuries, Celtic manager Lennon made no secret of the fact that his side would look to take advantage of a broken Barcelona backline. Thus, forcing Tito’s hand in finding an alternative defense that wouldn’t leave the sides weakness exposed. Valdes in the net (and despite his gaff over the weekend) one can’t help but simply accept the fact that he will inevitably bounce back, as he always does, Vilanova opted for Bartra in the centre alongside Mascherano, with Adriano at right back and Alba on the left. With Busquets suspended for this match, Alex Song took the role in defensive midfield. It may have been youngster Bartra’s debut, which also means that Tito has now used 20 players thus far this season, but Bartra enjoyed a stellar game making the most recoveries, with a total of 18 interventions.
Admittedly, not the most solid backline, but then again it didn’t seem as though Celtic would be spending much time in their own half, that is until the shocking goal by Samaras in the 17th minute that sent the Celtic fans into a frenzy and leaving the Barça fans stunned. The pressure was on and Barcelona continued to push forward, without avail. As a fan of watching the beautiful game flow, it is always aggravating to watch a team “park the bus”. As Chelsea proved last year, this method may indeed work with an offensively strong side like Barcelona, but simultaneously makes for a fairly boring game. For the majority of the first half, fans played witness to a Barça side that repeatedly tried to find a way past the Celtic defense and GK, Forster – who had a remarkable night making numerous important saves, and denying Messi over and over. And just as it seemed as though Celtic would head into halftime with a secure lead, Iniesta finally found the net in the 44th to put Blaugrana back in the game.
While the second half definitely offered a far more intriguing half than the first, with both sides seeking that winning goal, it seemed as though the Celtic side would hand Barcelona their second tie of the season, but in true Barça style, the game isn’t over until the final whistle blows…and with merely seconds left, Jordi Alba sealed the victory for Barcelona in the 93rd minute, sending the fans into celebration mode as the faces of Hoops fans dropped. So close, yet so far.
Despite the high tension game, Vilanova believed that his side deserved to take an early lead, and praised his squad for carrying the weight of the game throughout the entire match. He also stated that “Celtic was very strong and very powerful on the counter”, and added that it’s never an easy task when 10 of the other team’s players defend in their own area. More than proud of the attitude that his players have shown during every match of the season thus far, he added “This team fights until the end, until the last moment. It’s never easy when big teams close themselves off at the back.”
The two sides are set to meet for the second leg of this clash on November 7th and FC Barcelona will travel to Celtic Park with a more solid backline as Busquets and Pique will both be available for this match. One must hand it to Neil Lennon and the Hoops on a game well played, but now the question becomes, will they manage to pull off an upset at home when the two teams meet again? After last night showing, it doesn’t seem like an improbability…
For more updates and info check out http://on.fb.me/Mq0tSG
This past weekend two incredibly long and impressive unbeaten streaks ended. In Germany Borussia Dortmund’s run of 31 games without a loss finally hit the wall.
Over a year ago, Dortmund, fresh from their first Bundesliga title since 2002, travelled to Hannover and…for more click on the link.