FOR the legions of Rangers fans in Scotland and throughout the world, yesterday was a very sad day.
It was the end of a remarkable journey that began 140 years ago. This club may have been brought down by the folly and ambition of its recent owners but today it is important to acknowledge its achievements and mourn its passing.
The Glasgow institution that must now attempt to resurrect itself from liquidation is the most honoured football club in the world, with the largest haul of silverware: some 115 trophies, including the 1972 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, 27 league cups and 54 league championships.
Today is also a sad day for Scottish football. Regardless of the colour of their scarf, it would be foolish for any football fan to gloat over the demise of Rangers FC. It may be the worst example of a Scottish club that tried to buy success with funds it did not have but it is by no means the only one.
In February Scottish Sports Minister Shona Robison said she wanted to see an outcome to this debacle that was in the best interests of the Scottish game. That remains a matter of debate.
It now falls to the Scottish Premier League to decide whether to re-admit the Rangers team fielded by the new company that Charles Green's Sevco consortium hopes to create. Given the parlous state of the Scottish game, this is a difficult decision. The likely loss of the lucrative Sky television deal, combined with the disappearance of the pay days other clubs rely on when Rangers play away, could threaten the viability of several others in the top flight, if the club is banished to the lowest division. On the other hand, such is the moral hazard implicit in re-admitting a club that has so flagrantly broken its rules that such a decision looks likely to spur a widespread boycott by fans that could also wreck their clubs' balance sheets and further impoverish the Scottish game.
It would be crass to talk of silver linings on such a day but this crisis does offer opportunities along with challenges. Other clubs have come back from the verge of extinction, stronger and healthier. Whatever division it plays in, a new Rangers will have no choice but to rely on young home-grown talent and outsiders available on free transfers or going for a song. In recent years, Celtic have put themselves on a sounder financial footing in just this way. Many fans of other clubs, who are tired of the tedious duopoly of the Old Firm, would welcome a more level playing field where clubs only spent what they had in the bank. If a Scotland team is ever again to impress on the world stage and aspire to tournaments like the Euros and the World Cup, the focus must return to nurturing the skills of young Scots. The current situation offers just such an opportunity.
It is time for Scottish football to put its house in order. In future the SFA's "fit and proper person test" for club ownership must mean what it says and the Government must clamp down on the use of tax havens by shady owners and clever-looking tax dodges that drain money from the Exchequer and undermine public services. The HMRC is right to pursue those at Rangers who believed paying tax was optional. Without tax revenues roads, schools and hospitals remain unbuilt. There are vital lessons to be learned in the sad demise of this once great football club.
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