Football expert Pontus Maltborg reports on the beckoning of a new Glaswegian derby
Today, Sunday 1st February, a new derby beckons when Glasgow Celtic faces the club formerly known as Glasgow Rangers.
Rangers fans, the FA and the club’s sponsors and commercial partners still insist that they are the same old club along but the rest of Scotland and the everyday football junkie hold a belief quite to the contrary. Some go as far as to refer to a team that has been called ‘Sevco 5088’ and ‘Rangers Newco’ as the ‘Glasgow Rangers Tribute Team’ and ‘Zombie FC’.
As anyone who even remotely follows Scottish football will know, the glory and the championship for the most part of its rich and illustrious history has been a tale of two clubs from one city: Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic.
Without dwelling too much on sectarian history and the reasons for the bitter rivalry, at one point the ‘Old Firm’ derby could almost be seen as theatrical proxy war of what was going on an island just west of Scotland. The rivalry has historically catapulted both clubs in popularity and was one of the main driving forces for the clubs to always seek new ways to better themselves. Unfortunately for the today defunct Glasgow Rangers FC, it also meant taking a lot of gambles on tax management in the mid-1990s and these have come back to haunt them twenty years later.
Though smaller and larger clubs faced with tax bills and debt mountains have managed to somehow scrape through, what led to Rangers’ downfall was their unequivocal self-image as a “too big to fail” institution that didn’t have to dance to the same tune as everyone else.
In the summer of 2011, when faced with accumulating debts from creditors, Rangers were on the cusp of losing a multi-million court case over unpaid debt to HMRC. Instead of dealing with this situation, the club sought to invest themselves out of trouble. They penned their sporting prospects on qualifying to Europe in the belief that this would increase turnover and income and allow them to re-structure loans and keep on “treading water” (while at the same time not giving away any “sporting ground” to bitter rivals Celtic or any other club in Scotland for that matter).
Rangers’ bid to get into European Competition failed and though they should have started cutting costs, the club carried on as if nothing had happened. In December 2011, just before the winter transfer window, given it was clear that the court case would be lost, the club had the chance to practically offload all their players.
In place, the club could have fielded a team of juniors alongside veterans on pay cuts but instead vanity and pride once again took centre stage. Rangers opted to offload but a few key players to appease their loudest creditors and in time, by February 2012, the club found itself in administration. As the administrators started untangling the books at Ibrox, it was revealed that the debt was £134 million. An attempt to settle it through a cheeky “penny on the pound” CVA was rejected in June by HMRC and this led to the subsequent liquidation of the club.
A new club was subsequently created by a consortium led by a venture capitalist named Charles Green. It was renamed ‘Rangers’. The Scottish Football Association, worried about short term revenue from financial stakeholders due to the demise of their arguably biggest “cash cow”, arranged for a comfortable “parachute plan” to get Rangers back into the Scottish Premier League. They did so as they were focused on ensuring that TV revenue and sponsorships for the Scottish Premier League would stay intact. Such an audacious move, however, had to be approved by the SPL members (the other eleven clubs), but as so many fans vowed not to renew season tickets if Rangers were granted “special treatment”, it ended with a 10-1 vote in favour of not admitting Newco Rangers.
Subsequently, the FA created a “Plan B” that aimed to get Rangers into the second tier. It was met with similar disdain and the club was forced to “start from scratch” in the lowest division of professional national football (which some still would argue was a special treatment parachute). Faced with the prospect of Scottish four-tier football, one would have thought the born-again Rangers would have understood their previous misdoings and would have started on a “clean slate”. The club could have blooded a team of youngsters that would have developed through the Scottish League system and that effectively have cost Rangers very little.
If they had taken this course, they would have also had the potential to give something back to Scottish football and offered youngsters in Rangers’ youth academy a prospect of breaking into their boyhood club. The club could have created a legacy similar to the one of “Busby Babes” or the “Class of ‘92” at Manchester United but instead, head coach Alistair McCoist opted to attempt to keep as many players as possible from the previous club.
Instead of promoting local youngsters, McCoist also cherry picked players from smaller SPL clubs by outbidding them for players who were accepting to give up top tier football for the chance to earn more money in the fourth tier (thus jeopardising their career developement). Now, today, once again Rangers finds itself once again having a large wage bill for players instead of focusing on nurturing talent and picking up the occasional “diamond in the rough” through their adventures in the lesser leagues of Scotland.
As “the club with many names” prepares to face-off against Glasgow Celtic on Sunday, they once again find themselves on the brink of administration and financial collapse. They have an ageing squad earning more than anyone else in the second tier and with questions being raised as whether they will be able to pay the wages on time come the last day of the month, one thing is sure: Wages or no wages, tensions will be high come Sunday and Glasgow will be buzzing as it opens the doors to a new derby with a rivalry that will prove to be every bit as fierce as the old.
Stockholm and Warsaw based Pontus Maltborg is a football expert with a passion for scouting and talent development. Follow him on Twitter @PontusMaltborg.
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