Economic reality has finally caught up with Rangers, but when the turmoil of this week slips away it is indignity that will hurt the supporters most.

This is a club that once understood its status to be an expression of fortitude, decorum, honour and self-respect. Fans still delight in the notion that the legendary Bill Struth demanded his players wore bowler hats to training, and that the current squad must always wear a shirt and tie on official duty. There are times when it seems as though the only danger of a mutiny at Ibrox would be if the manager wore a tracksuit.

The traditions are not inconsequential. They provide a form of distinction, and the club made a lasting impression on Dick Advocaat when, during his first visit to Ibrox, the commissionaire opened the front door of the main stand and said: "Welcome, Mr Advocaat." The reflections must seem bitterly quaint when each of the past six days has brought a different cause for suffering. The history of Rangers seems vandalised by the sight of the club falling into administration and facing the prospect of trying to avoid paying all of its debts.

Supporters used to crow at Rangers' depiction as the establishment club. It is a cruel irony that a government agency is central to its downfall. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs are not persecuting the Ibrox side, it is the business of football that they are intent on reprimanding.

The financial irresponsibility of Sir David Murray and the sleight-of-hand of Craig Whyte have left the club on the brink, but supporters, too, have been forced into a confrontation. It is with their sense of themselves as Rangers fans, what that identification means and what values their club stands for.

Some would still enjoy a vindictive glee if Whyte pulled off a scheme of liquidating the club and starting Rangers afresh, while the tax debts were left unpaid. Yet many others are distraught at the notion of 140 years of history coming, at least legally, to an end. The chain of events is still only theoretical, but it does pose the question about whether the essence of a club resides in its corporate entity or in the sentiment, judgment and reminiscing of its supporters.

In the face of this crisis, of finance, of faith, of self-identity, there is a growing feeling among Rangers fans that they should endure a period of atonement. Many, particularly older fans, believe the tax bill should be settled. The means for that might lie beyond the club's reach if the tribunal into the use of Employee Benefit Trusts delivers a damning verdict and a bill of up to £49m next month. The truth is Rangers may be unable to meet their obligations, but there are other possible ramifications.

The Scottish Premier League will seek to handicap a newco Rangers, out of a sense of justice but also to deter other clubs from a similar path. The extreme option would be to force the Ibrox side into the third division, and that might also be the clearest route to moral redemption. Rangers fans, and the club itself, needs to reclaim a virtuous authority.

The bombast and egotism of Murray, and his rampant ambition, saw Rangers become an expression of capitalist values. He sought to distinguish the club by the money he spent, and previous values of conservatism and discretion were lost. The club is paying for these excesses now. Starting anew in the third division, where budgets, values and standards could be reset, then earning a return to the SPL, would be a purge. The instinct might first be to recoil, but most of the Rangers support would respond to the challenge, and accept the novelty of their journey.

The team would remain comparatively strong enough that it should take only three years to return to the SPL, by which time Rangers would be stable and there would be no cause to denounce the club. Even in directly re-entering the SPL, a newco Rangers would be unable to play in Europe for three years. The Calciopoli scandal resulted in Juventus's demotion to Serie B, which was once considered unthinkable, but six years on the Turin club is enjoying a period of pre-eminence.

"If that's where the consequences take us, the vast majority of the support would embrace that, almost out of the feeling that we've got to stick together," says Andy Kerr of the Rangers Supporters Assembly. "I don't think it will be fatal. It's about re-examining yourself, and galvanising. We would rather get out of all this properly, in an upstanding way. If that meant we had to go down to come back up, that's part of that package."

There are other more likely developments for Rangers. Yet supporters might come to wish for a stringent penalty, so that they can reclaim their club's traditional standards.