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Legacy of fear still casts long shadow over our game

It will be 12 months next week since Rangers FC were plunged into administration, on their way to liquidation.

The Rangers saga has caused deep scars on the psyche of the club's supporters.
The Rangers saga has caused deep scars on the psyche of the club's supporters.

It is a grim anniversary to note, given the sadness, anger, bile and bitterness that have fanned out as a result of this slaying of a once-impervious Scottish sporting giant.

Today, Rangers play Queen's Park at Ibrox in the Irn-Bru Third Division. A 45,000-plus crowd will attend, a testament to the loyalty, determination and defiance of the Rangers support. But this is not where these fans want to be. Few of them could have envisaged a bleaker year than this.

Damage – psychological and financial – has been done not just to Rangers, but to the wider terrain of Scottish football, where fear now stalks and values have been distorted. Gloating and mocking have always been a part of the football fan's armoury but while Rangers' fate has been celebrated by some, other supporters of Clydesdale Bank Premier League clubs now carry anxiety with them. Could it happen to them?

Online chat and debate is integral today to our functioning society – and it is sometimes shocking to see what is going on around Rangers. There are wise and insightful voices out there. But even intelligent and decent people get sucked into poisonous exchanges over what has happened at Ibrox.

As for Rangers FC itself, in recent weeks the club have started to rant officially about their apparent enemies, with bloggers and sections of the press taking an ear-bashing. The atmosphere is aggressive and febrile. Since the Rangers calamity commenced, one theme has been recurring: bitterness.

Murdo Fraser, the Conservative MSP and keen Rangers fan, even warned me of worse to come in terms of potential tension and trouble. "I think the whole saga has left a deep psychological scar on many Rangers fans, who have taken it very personally, very hard indeed," he said. "Rangers was such an important part of their lives. The threat of near-complete extinction was a huge blow to them.

"There is gloating by other fans and there is now a real bitterness among some Rangers fans. Tensions that were always there are now hugely magnified. There is tension between Rangers and the football authorities, and when Rangers do get back to the top, I envisage real tensions between Rangers fans and those of other clubs.

"The Rangers story has spread real fear among other clubs. The game is in the grip of an atmosphere of fear. Rangers FC looked invincible, yet they went bust. That showed how paper-thin the veneer of financial security was."

David Glen, the Scottish football finances expert at PwC, agrees with Fraser that, 12 months on from Rangers' initial disintegration, there is an ill-will across a range of Scottish football fans.

"Two aspects have emerged for me: the financial aspect and the one involving the fans," Glen said. "On the financial side, the SPL is suffering, despite what anyone tries to claim. And in terms of Scottish football fans, I think a level of animosity has broken out in the wake of the whole stramash about Rangers going into the third division. It seemed to be the power of fans which put Rangers into the third division.

"I'm not saying that was right or wrong, but that seemed to be what happened. So now you have all this bad feeling breaking out – such as the Rangers fans' boycott of Dundee United last week – in terms of who was seen to be leading the bandwagon.

"The whole Rangers drama has been a real shock to the system. It seemed inconceivable a club like Rangers could just, in effect, disappear. Okay, we've seen a phoenix rising from the ashes, but Rangers were huge, they were massive, and now they are playing in the third division. Scottish football is thinking, if this can happen, then what else?"

In Glen's most recent annual audit of Scottish football, it was stated that the underlying loss across Premier League clubs for 2010-11 amounted to nearly £12m. So the last thing the game needed was this Ibrox insolvency. Its knock-on effect, he says, can only further damage the game.

"I wrote some time ago about the potential for a downward spiral in Scottish football, and then this [Rangers] happens," Glen said. "Look at the quality of player we have now in the SPL compared to a decade ago.

"We just can't compete with other leagues, in terms of TV money, TV audiences, etc. But, of course, a decade ago we were kidding ourselves on: our clubs were spending money they didn't have on players. The SPL attendances are down without Rangers. The TV money will certainly be down. It has been a pretty bad time. The only good to come of it is for the third division clubs. With Rangers down there. It's boom time for them."

So are there any grounds for optimism? Maybe yes. Celtic are about to play in the last 16 of the Champions League. Gordon Strachan has just begun his reign as Scotland manager with a win. Dundee United have appointed a bright new coach in Jackie McNamara, and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, despite recent cup exits, have had a phenomenal season under Terry Butcher.

Murdo Fraser believes even Rangers can be optimistic, given that the club will surely return to the top sooner rather than later, and have a bright new vista ahead of them. And with the level of support backing it at Ibrox, the club should in time restore itself.

"It is amazing how quickly life moves on," Fraser said. "Rangers are in the third division and the fans are backing them to the hilt. So, while much damage has been done, there is only one thing to do, and that is look to the future."

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