Greater spread of success since Rangers’ liquidation has added excitement to Scottish football
9 March ~ When Rangers and Celtic were paired in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final draw, their fans instantly resumed the argument about whether or not Rangers are the same club after their 2012 liquidation. But both supports continue to dwarf the rest of the Scottish game, and journalists rejoiced at this draw as hard as at any other time over the last 100 years and more.
When last season’s League Cup semi provided their first meeting in almost three years, BBC pundit Craig Paterson called it the “shot in the arm” Scottish football needed. Yet spreading the honours around is one injection the mainstream media don’t trust.
With Rangers and Hibs in the Championship for the second straight season, but both in yesterday’s draw, talk of an expanded top flight abounds. In the weekend’s Scottish Cup quarter-finals, the presence of Celtic and both Dundee clubs was somehow closer to “the way things are meant to be”. Aberdeen and Hearts vie to be Scotland’s third-biggest club. They’re out the cups but hacks approve of them occupying second and third, respectively, in the top flight.
Yet Dundee – Scotland’s seventh-best-supported club and national champions just once – were taken to a fifth round replay by Championship part-timers Dumbarton, winners of Scotland’s first two League championships. Only Rangers and Celtic have won the Scottish Cup more times than Queen’s Park, the amateurs who haven’t reached the final since 1900. Trends are bucked, powers wane and supports diminish. But the idea of a natural order persists in Scotland more prevalently than in bigger countries.
The English, German and Spanish top flights generate riches which make any participant, no matter how small and fleeting, a powerful club. But half of Scotland’s League teams are part-time and watched by three-figure crowds – administrators and media require the biggest clubs to plump up our Premiership.
In 2012 SFA chief executive Stewart Regan infamously predicted “Armageddon” if Rangers had to start again in the fourth tier – sponsors and broadcasters would flee. But with Glasgow’s two behemoths sharing the Scottish title, and most of the cups, since 1985, fans of everyone else suddenly had hope.
The bodies controlling the entire League structure, suddenly without a sponsor, were indeed dissolved in 2013. TV deals remain paltry. However, Celtic’s grip on the title steadily loosens each season; Kilmarnock and Hearts lifted the two major cups just months after Rangers entered administration, while St Johnstone, in 2014, and Inverness Caledonian Thistle last season, won their first ever Scottish Cups. Next Sunday either Ross County or Hibernian will become the sixth club to win the League Cup in as many years.
Last Tuesday Rangers went 14 points clear in the Championship’s automatic promotion spot. With their top-flight return now inevitable, the Scottish scene continues halfway between financial disaster and rude sporting health. To a country where gate receipts remain so important, we surely need the latter to help prevent the former. And with barely 14,000 Celtic fans at Sunday’s home game with Morton, it’s clear that domination is even boring the dominant. Alex Anderson
Photo by Colin McPherson/WSC Photos: The Scottish Cup on display in the Scottish Football Museum