Can Rangers and Old Firm return help to revive Scottish football?
Robbie Purves | April 6, 2016
Scotland’s most successful club were promoted the Scottish Premiership with a 1-0 win over Dumbarton which sees Rangers return to the top flight after a four-year absence.
During that time Celtic have won every league title largely uncontested and are well on track to do the same this year.
Rangers now face their bitter rivals in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. Coral have the Bhoys odds-on to go on to lift the trophy, while Gers are 4/1 to knock their Glasgow neighbours out en route to a Hampden triumph.
Scotland has severely missed regular Old Firm meetings. For their financial troubles Rangers deserved punishment, but for the health of the Scottish game their demotion and liquidation was the worst thing that could’ve happened in a league that became a formality.
It isn’t just a footballing cost Scotland felt; Glasgow benefits from around a £10m boost to the economy on matchday.
With the addition of Gers, Aberdeen growing stronger and exciting Hearts set for a top three finish in their first season back, next year will be the most exciting and competitive Premiership in years.
It has been a rocky path back to the zenith of Scottish football – a journey that started in 2012…
Awful financial management, dubious tax affairs, administration, liquidation and rebirth with re-entry to the grim bottom levels of the game. It’s been an action packed few years for Rangers fans.
A long line of opportunist businessmen sucked the life out of a club once a pillar of world football.
Sir David Murray bought the club in 1988 and immediately fuelled Gers with money. Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup, among others, arrived as the Ibrox side dreamed of conquering Europe. The 1990s and early years of the new millennium were heady days, but even then there were voices of concern about how this success was achieved and sustained.
Murray built his empire on hard work and debt. He used the latter to drive forward his business, as he believed it pushed him achieve more and more. The metal millionaire applied the same formula to Rangers.
In 2011, with HMRC on their backs after unpaid tax, Murray sold the side to Craig Whyte for £1. Disaster after disaster followed and plunged Rangers into administration and a new club emerged in 2012.
Gers journey through the leagues
Plunged into the depths of Scottish football, Rangers began their journey back. Under record goalscorer Ally McCoist, Rangers started their Scottish Third Division campaign with an away draw to Peterhead in front of 4,500.
Gers went on to lose just twice in the whole 2012/13 season, winning the league by 24 points, and utility veteran Lee McCulloch scored 26 in all competitions.
Rangers players made history the following campaign, becoming the first side in 115 years to go an entire league season unbeaten. McCoist’s men won Scottish League One by an incredible 39 points. Jon Daly scored 25 times in all competitions and Lee Wallace collected both Rangers Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year for an outstanding term.
The 2014/15 season saw Gers come up against their first real challenge. A congested Championship simply couldn’t give all of Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian the promotion craved in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Hearts were runaway winners, ahead of the Ibrox outfit by 24 points, who finished third behind Hibs. Rangers qualified for the quarter-finals of the promotion/relegation play-offs.
They beat Queen of the South, Hibernian in the semi and came up against Premiership side Motherwell in the final, who were seeking to stay up. Rangers were embarrassed 6-1 on aggregate a match that ended in a brawl, evidence that the Glasgow side wasn’t quite ready to join Scotland’s elite.
After a poor start to the 2014/15 season, manager McCoist handed in his 12-month notice period in December 2014 and was placed on gardening leave. He was pictured in Glasgow a few weeks later looking 10 years younger.
Glory days are back again
That win against Dumbarton confirmed Gers’ place in next year’s top-flight with a goal difference of +56.
Under the guidance of Mark Warburton, the team blossomed. After securing a Premiership place, impressive midfielder Andy Halliday said: “You can’t be at a club like this and be happy with second. We feel we have been top of the season since day one of pre-season and have only been going one way – and that is forward.”
Registering just three defeats in 32 league games, Rangers possess a potent strike force of Martyn Waghorn and Kenny Miller, a partnership that has netted 33 Championship goals so far.
Captain Wallace remains a reliable performer with the left back has registering an outstanding nine goals and 13 assists in all competitions from left back.
Wallace is a player that could have easily gone to a higher level elsewhere throughout his career. This could also be said for skilful midfielder Jason Holt, a talent that had English Championship sides interested on his services following an encouraging loan spell with Sheffield United last term.
Gers can now look forward to pitting their wits against Scotland’s best next season and a top three finish is not out of the question, if emulating Hearts’ exploits.
Can the arrival of Rangers save the Scottish Premiership?
Manager Warburton – the first Englishman to manage the club when he succeeded Stuart McCall in June last year – has instilled a winning mentality that saw them conquer the Scottish Championship.
Warburton introduced an attacking style when he took over last summer. He carefully cultivated a select group of players, none of which were big flashy signings, who were moulded into a fast-passing, athletic, ruthless unit by the ex-Brentford boss and his assistant David Weir. But can they compete in the Premiership next year?
When asked that very question by reporters, Warburton’s response was keep Rangers in the here and now. “We want to hit 91 points. We want to win the league in style, convincingly and get momentum for next season,” he said.
There is no doubt morale is presently sky high at Ibrox, a spirit that saw them progress into the Scottish Cup semi-final against bitter rivals Celtic.
Last time they met, the Hoops came out convincing 2-0 winners, the gulf in quality was evident and vast. However, the upcoming clash now has added significance as Rangers are coming up. It could give us a glimpse of how the Gers may fair next season.
Rangers used 68 different players in their rise back to the top and what happens to the squad this summer will be intriguing. Make no mistake, the Ibrox side are not out of the troubled financial woods just yet and the transfer budget is understood to be largely still determined by the number of season ticket sales.
Hearts will finish at least third this season on their top-flight return, and is a great example of how to manage a squad. The Jambos were not subjected to wholesale changes and is one of the best in the league with superb coaching and management. Organic growth and development has served the Tynecastle team well so far.
Warburton is capable of identifying talent available for a small price; James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn are noteworthy examples. Josh Windass, son of English Football League cult hero Dean, and Matt Crooks have already been signed on pre-contracts and Rangers look set to continue their sensible spending, hardly surprising after a traumatic few years.
Scotland’s Premiership has been rather dire since Gers plummeted and their resurgence will hopefully spark a league renaissance. Midfielder Halliday said: “We’ve got to be challenging for the title, that’s not me being arrogant or disrespectful to Celtic at all.”
The ambition is clear, but an actual challenge to the Bhoys and Ronny Deila’s dominance would be a huge feat. Aberdeen will come back stronger next year and are already pushing the Hoops this term; Hearts, meanwhile, will have another campaign of coaching and development under the guidance of Robbie Neilson. However, a top three finish for Waburton’s men is a realistic aim with the talented squad they have.
Scottish football needs a strong Ibrox side. Fans of other teams may not like it but Scotland, for the health of the game, needs them to challenge for trophies and make the division more competitive. A league in which one team continually wins and dominates cup competitions is not what football needs.
Gers returning to the top flight is good news and crucial if the Scottish Premiership is to reclaim some of the prestige it once held.