Glasgow Rangers, one of Scotland’s most storied and followed soccer clubs, was kicked out of Scotland’s top league Wednesday because of its major financial troubles.
The exile of Rangers, a huge source of TV and sponsorship revenue, may put the country’s other clubs in peril. But some Scottish Premier League clubs claimed that they had little choice but to drop Rangers, saying they faced revolts by supporters if they let the Glasgow club stay after incurring large tax debts.
The lower Scottish Football League will now decide whether to accept Rangers for the 2012-13 season, and, if so, whether to start it in the First Division – one step below the SPL – or an even lower tier.
Rangers have been Scottish champions 54 times and are half of the famous "Old Firm" rivalry with city neighbors Celtic. No club other than Rangers or Celtic has won Scotland's first tier since 1985.
Rangers were liquidated and essentially became a new club this year after administrators seized the old version because of an unpaid tax bill of $14 million. The UK government also was seeking tens of millions of dollars more allegedly owed in back taxes.
British businessman Charles Green bought the old club’s assets and then applied to have the new company, or “newco,” admitted to the SPL, the highest division in Scotland’s four-division scheme. Rangers needed at least an 8-4 vote from the SPL’s 12 teams to stay in.
“At today’s general meeting, SPL clubs ... voted overwhelmingly to reject the application from Rangers newco to join the SPL,” the league said in a brief statement Wednesday.
Green said Wednesday that he hopes Rangers’ large fan base will support the club as it prepares for what it hopes will be a new life in the SFL. If it starts in the First Division and wins it this season, it would be promoted to the more lucrative SPL in 2013, assuming no immediate changes in the leagues’ rules and structure.
"If our application (to the SFL) were to be accepted, Rangers will play in whichever division the SFL sees fit and we will move forward from there,” Green said in a statement on Rangers’ website. "The club hopes that the supporters, who have been absolutely tremendous since the club went into administration on February 14, will continue to support the club and make Rangers a success once again."
The SPL’s decision could be financially dangerous. Not only may gate receipts suffer without one half of the Old Firm, sponsorships and TV deals may also dry up.
"The decision to not allow a newco in to the SPL is not without financial consequences for our member clubs,” SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster said Wednesday, according to Rangers’ website.
The Daily Record newspaper of Scotland reported Wednesday that sponsors might tear up their deals if Rangers are absent from the SPL for long. And the lower league’s clubs have been warned that many clubs could fail if the SFL forces Rangers to start in the Third Division rather than the First, the Daily Record and the Telegraph have reported.
The SPL did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the financial struggles that the clubs could face.
SPL clubs cited the integrity of the game and fans’ disgust when explaining their opposition to Rangers. Hibernian announced last month that it would vote against the Glasgow club.
“This re-affirms the view of the board that the sporting integrity of the SPL is of paramount importance,” Hibernian said on its website. “The board is also acutely aware that in making this decision, Hibernian - like other clubs in the SPL - will suffer collateral financial damage at a time of severe economic hardship and uncertainty.”
Kenny Cameron, chairman of SPL club Inverness Caledonian Thistle, said on his club’s website that “those who say that Rangers have been punished sufficiently are in an extremely small minority of all the representations received.”
On Wednesday, Cameron told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he couldn’t ignore supporters’ views.
“We have also been contacted by supporters of various other SPL clubs, saying they would not be back to Inverness if we did not accept that sporting integrity was what mattered,” Cameron told the BBC.
It’s not clear which club will replace Rangers in the SPL. One option is retaining the SPL’s last-place team of 2011-12, Dunfermline Athletic, which normally would drop to the First Division. Another option would be to promote the First Division’s second-place team of 2011-12, Dundee.
Ross County won promotion to the SPL as last season’s winners of the First Division.