Upon hearing about Rangers’ 10-point deduction, a friend of mine, who is both a Celtic fan and a stand-up comedian, claimed that should Celtic win the league, it would be something of a hollow victory.
I was waiting for a punch line but it turns out he wasn’t cracking a joke, he was deadly serious.
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If — although it’s looking increasingly like ‘when’ — Celtic win the title, there’ll be nothing hollow about it.
Rangers have been deducted points for going into administration as a result of not paying their taxes. However the inablity to pay their tax bill ultimately came about as a result of living beyond their means for years. If that now helps Celtic win the SPL this year, the Hoops’ victory will only be as ‘hollow’ as those titles won by Rangers that also came as a result of the Govan club living beyond their means. If anyone wants to devalue a Celtic title victory this season, then they should similarly question the value of the 17 league titles won by Rangers in the last 25 years — championships won as a result of the same spending that has left the club in the situation it finds itself in today — facing a financial black hole and trailing Celtic by 17 points.
The only vague way a title victory could be construed as hollow is if Celtic win the SPL by less than the 10 points deducted from Rangers. Yet even then, those points have been deducted as a result of the club breaking the SPL’s clear rules on administration. Clubs’ players break the rules all the time on the football pitch when they commit a red card offence and are dismissed — if their team loses as a result of that, it doesn’t make their opponents’ victory any less worthy. The only qualms I’d have about celebrating a one-point title victory in May would be with my own team’s shortcomings in almost allowing a 17-point lead to be overhauled.
Rangers may have automatically lost 10 points as a result of administration, but it doesn’t automatically make the side a worse team on the pitch. We are still competing against the same Rangers side we faced in the first half of the season. Excepting Nikica Jelavic and Juanma Ortiz (who wasn’t getting a game anyway), they are selecting from the same pool of first-team players as before administration, with the addition of Mervan Celik; they are employing the same manager, coaches and playing style. So if we win the SPL it shouldn’t be devalued by claims that it is against weaker opponents, as Ally McCoist’s side are essentially the same opposition they were at the start of the season.
You could argue Rangers were a bad side then and are just as bad a side after administration, but a poor side or not, a title win is still a title win. Celtic’s SPL victories of 2005/06 and 2006/07 were against some of the poorest Rangers sides in memory, yet they still go in the record books, as does Rangers’ recent title win in 2009/10 against a dreadful Celtic side.
Celtic fans have revelled in Rangers’ woes, and rightly so, despite claims that if the Ibrox club go under, it could herald Celtic’s demise. Yet there were no such fears for Rangers when Celtic almost went to the wall two decades ago. Rangers fans revelled in Celtic’s brush with extinction, laughed at the prudence of Fergus McCann and boasted that for every five pounds we spent they would outdo us by spending a tenner. How the Ibrox club could do with a backer of Fergus’ morals and financial nous now.
Rangers fans claim that a ‘Celtic-minded’ media are targeting their club — they must have short memories. The press went to town on Celtic with even more venom than has been witnessed in the supposed assassination of Rangers in the last few months. Remember the hearse outside Celtic’s gates? I’ve yet to see an undertaker pull up to Ibrox for some tasteless publicity shot since the club went into administration. Yet while Celtic have operated economically and sensibly, the press insist on dragging the Hoops into the mire created by Rangers. The media didn’t claim 18 years ago that Rangers were also on thin ice when Celtic were facing oblivion — their graphics departments were too busy mocking up cracked crests and Celtic tombstones.
Of course we are in a different footballing and financial era, and given the state of the Scottish game, it would be a blow to Celtic should a two-horse race be cut to one horse. (However bemoaning Rangers’ demise and fighting their corner should not be used for political point-scoring — Alex Salmond and David Cameron take note.) Celtic fans though shouldn’t worry unduly about Rangers disappearing and the repercussions of such — whether the club overcomes administration and remains as Rangers Football Club, or starts afresh under a new title, their depth of support will ensure the outfit will continue in one guise or another. However they will face a long, frugal battle to once again become a side that can win three league titles in a row, while Celtic’s much-criticised prudence looks set to repay dividends and install them as the top team in Scotland in the years ahead.
Anyone underestimating the task facing Rangers as they bid to overcome administration and once again become top dogs in Scotland, need only look at clubs that have gone into administration in the past — they don’t come back bigger and stronger. Portsmouth, FA Cup winners in 2008, are in danger of dropping into League One after entering administration for a second time last week. Leeds United went from a Champions League semi-final in 2001 to League One in 2007. Similar to Rangers, they entered administration after gambling on a spending policy that was to be sustained by revenue from potential domestic and European success. It’s even more grim in Scotland, where 2006 Scottish Cup finalists and then-SPL side Gretna were forced to dissolve in 2008 after entering administration. Livingston meanwhile flirted with liquidation after entering administration three times and the 2004 League Cup winners have yet to return to the SPL since relegation in 2006.
So I’ll not be shedding a tear for Rangers, who are in a mess of their own making. Nor will I be shedding tears over the coming months and years as they struggle to rebuild themselves and get back on an even keel. I will, however, be celebrating a fully merited title victory this season with wanton joy and glee.