Are Rangers Stuck in Scotland?

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Ever since Rangers secured
world-class English players in the late 80’s as a result of the Heysel
Disaster, the ambition of the club has outweighed what can be achieved in Scotland. Thus,
talk of moving to England
has been speculated almost constantly in the past 20 years, or, at least,
leaving Scotland
on some level. The problem with this notion is it is simply implausible,
unfeasible, and logistically a nightmare.
Are Rangers are stuck in Scotland?
When you look at the case in
favour of the club going south or indeed on the continent, it seems like the
answer to Ibrox’s prayers in theory. In England the wealth is gargantuan,
and the club’s coffers would fill up dramatically, purely on the basis of TV
money. Furthermore, sponsorship deals would net Rangers more than they
currently do, such is the lucrative appeal of playing in the Barclay’s Premier
League or even the nPower Championship. Add to this the vastly improved calibre
of player who would be attracted to Ibrox on the basis of playing the likes of
the Manchester clubs week-in-week-out plus the
inherent improvement in quality to the team this would bring and the appeal of
going to England
is massive.
It is also significantly high
with regards to a so-called ‘Atlantic League’. An idea oft-mooted, this would
be a ‘mid-range’ European league featuring good Dutch, Belgian, Scandinavian
and Portuguese teams along with the Old Firm among others playing in a normal
full-season format. Lucrative in its own right, this would be another vast
improvement on playing in Scotland
and while maybe not at the level of the marquee leagues of Europe,
it would be akin to playing in the Europa league on a weekly basis.
Problem is, the above scenarios are
clogged up with so many contradictions, red tape and paperwork that, for any of
them to occur, would take a staggering amount of work.
Let us dissect the case for
moving to England.
In terms of encouragement both FIFA and UEFA have publicly stepped back from
blocking the move, with UEFA’s Director of Communications William Gaillard
stating in 2009: “We wouldn’t take a
position on such a proposal.”
Meanwhile a FIFA spokesman was similarly
non-committal and suggested:
            “This is a local issue so this a matter
for Scotland and England
first. If everybody agrees there is no
need for us to intervene.
Now if there was a problem in this for many
national organisations then we would have to step in, but if everybody agrees
in a change then we would be happy to let that go.”
This is a big step down from the
late David Wills, former vice-president of FIFA who stated in 2001:
            “I will have to
say that it will not be permitted by FIFA or UEFA. It’s a request that comes
forward from all over the world and apart from isolated cases it has never been
permitted. There was a discussion on this subject in the UEFA Executive
Committee and it was unanimous that these national rules must remain and that
clubs could not move from one country into another.”
So there is some small
encouragement from the governing bodies. Unfortunately the bit in bold from
Gaillard is the big problem, and it is the reason a move to England’s upper
leagues simply will not happen – with the recent exceptions of Arsenal’s Arsene
Wenger and QPR’s Harry Redknapp, England’s top flights do not want Rangers (or Celtic).
With everyone requiring to agree
in the first place, the following pours cold water on the necessary parity:
First off, a source within the
English Premier League summed it up:
            “This is something the
Scottish game has to sort out itself. We’re not the asylum when things don’t
work out up there. The Old Firm won’t get into the Premiership, it’s not
happening. Any talk of it has always been pie in the sky – and that remains the
case. Nothing changes, even if Rangers aren’t allowed to play in Scotland. It’s not possible to just apply to get into
the English Premiership
. Richard
Scudamore
(CEO of the English Premier League) is on record as saying it’s a league for English and Welsh clubs.
You would need to have a club who would vote themselves out of the league to
accommodate Rangers and why would anyone do that? I think the Football League
are quite categorical on this as well. If you bear in mind that around two
years ago when the idea of a two-tier Premiership was floated, the argument of
Celtic and Rangers coming into a second tier wasn’t even debated at our
shareholders meeting. It was a case of ‘Is this topic even worthy of
discussion?’ It’s a non-starter, pure and simple. They’d need to go further
down the English and Welsh pyramid.”
If the Chief Executive of a
league says no, it is a no. The rest of the quote is further damning and
seriously undermines any case for movement to England.
It also trails down to the nPower
Championship and Leagues 1 & 2 with English Football League Chairman Greg
Clarke stating:
            “We have absolutely no
intention of having any discussions with any club from another national league
regarding them attaining membership of our competition. This would be highly
disrespectful to the Scottish FA and Scottish Premier League and will not be
countenanced by the Football League.”
So that is a categorical no from
the English football league hierarchy then. And the only destination left is
the Conference. Unfortunately, they say no as well with chairman Brian Lee
expressing on the 31st of May last year:
            “If Rangers sent an
application letter to the Conference they’d get a letter back saying we
couldn’t accept them because we’re signed up to The Football Association
structure. And I just can’t imagine the FA accepting it either. I know there’s
the argument about Welsh clubs but they are part of history. The other problem
we would have is just being able to accommodate a club the size of Rangers and
the cost of travel for our clubs would create a problem. It’s okay saying Blyth
to Glasgow doesn’t involve too much travelling
but on the other hand you’ve got Bishop’s Stortford and Oxford City
in the Conference North now. That came about because there were so many clubs
it meant the line between north and south had to be moved further south. There was some talk of Portsmouth joining us recently if they went
out of business but we said no because of the size of them.
A lot of our
smaller clubs couldn’t cope from the point of view of stadiums and security –
and it would be the same with Rangers. Luton Town
are our best attended club just now and the most they would get is 9000 for
league matches. The grounds are small, plus there’s the travel and cost of it
all. Anyway, if Rangers were to get into our set-up they’d have to pay
substantially and since financial problems have got them where they are now it
would seem wrong.”
In simple terms he is saying Rangers
are too big for the Conference and the logistics would make the club impossible
to accommodate at that level – even an English club like Portsmouth were rejected for exactly the same
reason. And then, even if Rangers could be
accommodated the Conference are signed up to the Football League law statute so
if they say no, Lee’s league has too
as well. So that one is a non-starter as well.
However, in an almost ridiculous
contradiction, today the same man Brian Lee has said:
            “On Monday
[January 21] we have a mid-season meeting of clubs so that is a topic for
conversation. It’s up to the clubs to
make rule changes
. There are one or two problems, of course. It’s up to
FIFA whether a club can change countries or not, so that’s the first issue. And
the second, and probably the most important, is the problem it would create
with promotion and relegation and having an uneven number of teams. It would be
wrong if the Football League would not take Rangers as part of the promotion
and relegation system. Otherwise they would be in the Conference keeping out a
team who might have the wherewithal to go higher in the pyramid. But they are
not insurmountable problems. You will have to have the co-operation of a lot of
different organisations to make it possible, but where there is a will there is
a way.”
After saying last year it was
completely impossible, Lee has now engaged in a bizarre u-turn – completely
undermining what he previously said. The section in bold is almost laughable –
8 months ago the laws of the game stated no, and logistically and financially
it was impossible. Now he states the laws of the game are nigh-on irrelevant.
Which one to believe? One of these statements is a near bare-faced lie based on
falsehoods. Which one?
Lastly, in the case against, from
the horse’s mouth itself, Richard Scudamore:
            “It’s my fourteenth
year of answering this question. The answer is still ‘no’,” he said. Our rules
say it’s only clubs from England
and Wales
that can play here and I don’t see that ever changing. Quite a lot of clubs in
the world would like to play in the English Premier League. There have been
clubs from other European leagues as well as the Scots who have approached us.
It’s all very flattering but it’s not simply going to happen.”
Looking at the above, the case
against moving to England
is strong. While UEFA and FIFA will not stand in the way of such a move, most
of the national associations themselves will. While individuals in England such as
Phil Gartside are proponents of the concept, and Wenger and Redknapp would
welcome it, the greater numbers and powers-that-be have stonewalled it 100%.
However, with the Conference now apparently opening their minds (and wallets)
to the idea, it is possible. If not probable.
So we turn our attention to this
so-called Atlantic League. In terms of encouragement no one has said ‘no’ to
it. Given it does not exist, there is no one to say Rangers and Celtic cannot
sign up to it. It would be a tabula rasa,
for you David Hume fans out there. For everyone else, it would be a clean
slate. A new beginning and an all-new tournament.
It would also be a very healthy
level of competition and over time would build up significant sponsorship deals
and become financially a pretty strong league indeed.
However, the above is slightly
conjecture given the proposals barely exist and the entire idea is bordering on
fairy dust at this point in time. As such, let us expose the vast problems with
an ‘Atlantic League’.
The first big one is it will 100%
eliminate all participating teams from both the Europa League and, more
lucratively, the Champions League. If a cross-continental league is set up
outwith UEFA’s jurisdiction, it will have no ultimate EL or CL qualification
prize at the end of it. For a league to have CL or EL slots, it has to be a
UEFA-approved one, and the Atlantic League is anything but.
Ultimately the only prize would
be winning it. Coming second would have no reward at all. No incentive
whatsoever. No EL or CL qualifying slots.
When this idea was first mooted
over a decade ago, UEFA spokesman Mike Lee said:
            “If they want to
break away clearly they have the right to do that, but they wouldn’t obviously
be eligible to play in our competitions. We don’t think it’s a very sensible
way forward.”
In 2009 however, Dutch FA supremo
Michael van Praag, who is a leading member of UEFA’s executive committee said:
            “There was no way we could push that
through because UEFA at that time were conservative and full of fear. Now I am
part of UEFA myself and, for this course, I can begin the lobby. It makes sense
to start the lobbying now.”
Problem is that was almost 4
years ago and absolutely no ground has been covered in persuading UEFA to
sanction the concept. So it remains in limbo in that context.
Another massive problem is the
simple issue of cost, that is, the cost to supporters. It is one thing to have
maybe 3 or so expensive trips to the continent to support your side in the CL
or EL for the away fixtures, but in a 40-match league that suddenly becomes 20
trips. With the global economy in meltdown and personal wealth being massively
reduced, trips around Europe on a bi-weekly
basis are simply not feasible. This means a loss of revenue for home teams who would
receive considerably less visiting supporters than domestic leagues do.
Recall that solitary Udinese fan
who proudly supported his side in Genoa
against Sampdoria on his tod? That would become a regular thing with away trips
simply financially impossible for the vast, vast majority of travelling fans.
Most matches in the Atlantic
League would be home supported and that would be about it.
The whole thing is starting to
get tedious. With Brian Lee giving fans potentially false hope about now
inducting Rangers into the Conference after previously stating on record its
impossibility, it is only going to get messy.
I hope something can be done, and
a unlikely deal can be reached, but unless massive loopholes are overcome
Rangers will almost certainly be stuck in Scotland.