After the catastrophic collapse of Glasgow giants Rangers, many doom-mongers predicted the end of Scottish football altogether. The domestic game north of the border has been in steady decline since the 1980’s and the demise of the blue half of the Old Firm was seen as the final nail in a coffin that’s been some time in the making.
The financial implications to each club in the SPL due to the loss of Rangers are sizeable. To the smaller clubs in the division such as St.Johnstone and Dundee United, these effects are amplified when compared to those for the remaining superpower,Celtic, although The Bhoys themselves are not immune to the fallout of the economic implosion at Ibrox either. Not only will all clubs miss the twice yearly visit of Rangers to swell the takings at the turnstiles, but the cash distributed through television deals will also have altered which means clubs already living on meagre finances will have to tighten their belts even further. All concerned will be hoping this extra budget constriction will not prove fatally inhibitive.
These issues of finance have been well debated in the media, boardrooms and higher echelons of the Scottish game and will have occupied the minds of the power brokers perpetually throughout the turbulent summer when the future of Rangers and the system as a whole were making daily headline news.
But now that matters on the field are grabbing the supporters attention, three months into the season and reflecting upon the state of the League post-Rangers, many are asking: Is the SPL in a better or worse state without The ‘Gers?
Firstly, let’s consider what Rangers brought to the SPL in terms of quality. In the grand scheme of things they were an average football team at best, even accounting for one or two players such as Nikica Jelavic who have since moved on and been a hit in pastures new. The remainder were unable to put up much resistance to Celtic as they capitalised on Rangers woes to take the SPL crown, almost by default. It has been a source of much comment that even though Rangers were below par, they were still one of only two clubs who could conceivably win the title. But let’s be honest, they were light years away from the days of McCoist, Hateley, Gascoigne and Laudrup in terms of quality.
Realistically this leaves Celtic as the only possible winners of the SPL. Relative to the competition they face, they have a better quality and better depth of squad. This goes without saying when you have such a mismatch in resources and financial clout. However, Celtic have also seen much better days. Putting aside some recent admirable performances in the Champions League in Barcelona and Moscow, if they were to be granted permission to join the English Premier League, as often is mooted, at this very moment in time, they would surely struggle to match the intensity, quality and competition for survival on a weekly basis.
Ultimately, the Hoops will be too good for the rest over the course of the entire season, but at the time of writing, Celtic find themselves on top only by way of goal difference, with only six points between them and eighth place Ross County and nine points from second bottom St.Mirren. With a quarter of the season already elapsed this is a level of proximity rarely experienced in Scotland’s top flight at this stage. So does this mean the SPL is a better place and all in the garden is rosy? The answer is simple. Yes. And no.
Has the quality of football improved? Not really. There have been no drastic changes to the teams or players turning out in the SPL. However, the league is seeing more goals scored and increased competition now that higher finishes for each club are attainable. There is even the possibility of the promised land and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow-Champions League football. Although when you knock on that door, you have to have the ability to open it. Just ask Motherwell.
As for Celtic, perhaps the absence of Rangers at home is allowing them to concentrate more on progression through the Champions League Group Stage minefield without the fixation of their domestic squabbles to hold them back. If they are temporarily taking their eye off the ball at home, it is certainly making for more excitement for everyone else nipping at their heels.
In reality, the time to evaluate the impact of the monumental events of last summer is at the end of the season. By then Celtic may have cantered to an all too predictable SPL title victory and the rest may have settled back into their equally predictable routine and position. But for now, fans of Scotland’s leading clubs should be heading through the turnstiles with vigour and enjoying the renewed sense of competition so sadly absent for decades. By the time Rangers do inevitably return, perhaps the devastation and disaster they encountered will have been the catalyst to a rebirth of the Scottish Premier League.