Every football club has its own share of highs and lows, the scale of the same may vary for each club. This rollercoaster ride is an integral part of the football fandom, the period where the fans unite and play a decisive role in shaping the club’s future and fortunes. The role of the fans is even more essential when the club is on a sharp decline. When one talks about football in Scotland, a country where football has been prominent since the 1870s, two clubs come to mind immediately – Celtic and Rangers.
The two aforementioned clubs constitute the Old Firm and contest a rivalry comparable to the El Clasico. Celtic and Rangers have won the bulk of the Scottish League and the Cups with the clubs accounting for 102 league titles between them out of the 125 odd seasons of Scottish Football. The rivalry however diminished in recent years due to the financial turmoil of the Rangers which is talked about below.
Rangers FC are the holders of some unparalleled records in football history. They have won the most number of league titles of any top-flight club with 54 titles and also have completed the domestic treble 7 times. These two records are unprecedented and are the reason for immense pride among the Bears (as Rangers fans are generally called). But post 2010, the club faced financial issues which further resulted in liquidation and re-branding of the club.
Rangers and their glory years
It is hard to define a period as the Golden Era of Rangers football club because the club have been a dominant force in the Scottish football scene right from the founding years of the Scottish League. They were the joint champions of the first-ever Scottish League sharing the title with Dumbarton which remains the only shared Scottish League thus far. By the end of the 19th century, the club has already won 2 Scottish Leagues and also 3 Scottish Cups.
William Wilton’s time with the club both as manager and secretary reaped great rewards as the club won a further 10 leagues in his tenure. Bill Struth took over from Wilton and remained the club’s most successful manager before the outbreak of the Second World War. Struth won 14 league titles and the club had already won more than 25 league titles before the Great War. Bill Struth led them to four more league titles and when he retired in 1954 he had won the league 18 times in 34 seasons, which is quite brilliant.
Image credits: rangers.co.uk
Scott Symon took over from Bill Struth to foresee a period fondly called Jim Baxter era by the Rangers faithful. This was the period in which the iconic Jim Baxter played for the club and earned cult status after legendary performances. Rangers won 6 league titles under Scott Symon along with 5 Scottish Cups and 4 league cups. The club also reached the European Cup Winners Cup final before losing to Fiorentina, thereby becoming the first British team to reach the finals of a European Final.
This period preceded Celtic’s domination of Scotland under the great Jock Stein, which saw Celtic winning the European Cup by playing only local players. However they managed to win the league title in 1975, their first in 11 years under the management of Jock Wallace. This was followed by a treble in 1977.-78. However Celtic continued to dominate the football scene under the stewardship of Jock Stein. The appointment of John Greig and Jock Wallace (again) couldn’t stop the Celtic monopoly as Celtic gained control over the league.
Rangers regained ascendancy over the league after Graeme Souness was appointed the manager. From 1988-89 to 1996-97 Rangers would go on to win the league title in each of the years, winning 9 successive league titles on a row, thrice under Souness and a further 6 times under Walter Smith. Dick Advocaat replaced Walter Smith and after heavy spending, he would lead the team to a treble, 6th in Rangers history.
Alex McLeish took over after Advocaat resigned due to personal reasons, this period also saw Rangers winning consecutive league titles and their 7th treble. The club, along with Celtic continued to add to their league titles tally and by the end of 2010, Rangers had won 54 League titles and 27 Scottish Cups. The club also reached the finals of UEFA Cup in 2007-08 only to Russian side Zenit who were managed by ex-Rangers coach Dick Advocaat.
Rangers and the fall from grace
Financial irregularities were looming since the turn of the decade and Celtic took their chance and asserted sole supremacy winning the league without lack of any real competition. The club endured financial difficulties right from the turn of the millennium. Then owned by one of Scotland’s most respected businessmen Sir David Murray he set out on a mission to make Rangers contenders in UEFA Champions League. He invested loads and loads of money into the club without thinking about the idea of debts.
For a while it reaped huge short term gains as the club racked up domestic trophies. However, at one point in 2003, Rangers’s net debt reached £82m. Rangers in this period made successive annual losses of £19m, £32m and £29m – which are astronomical in the context of Scottish football – but onwards they barged under Murray, signing Tore André Flo for £12m, a highly significant figure in Scotland, in 2000.
But then things changed. Murray decided that he needed to maximize Rangers’ resources in whatever way he could, and in 2000 he steered the club down a path that would eventually lead, between 2001 and 2010, to his top players being paid via Employee Benefit Trusts, whereby employees are supposedly “loaned” their salaries rather than being “paid” money, therefore avoiding tax. The decision to use EBTs would prove to be fatal for Rangers.
The board flushed millions of pounds through its EBTs scheme so as to avoid tax and pay its players huge salaries. It created a chain of events which led to HMRC pursuing Rangers for allegedly escaping taxes, the club’s ambition being questioned before Murray went out.
Craig Whyte stepped forth to buy the club for a paltry 1 Euro before he plunged Rangers into administration, aggravating HMRC’s issues with the club by ceasing to pay PAYE and VAT in 2011, thus building up an inarguable, unpaid tax bill to the taxman. It left Rangers facing a tax bill of £20m and a potential tax bill of £50m- plus. A creditor agreement duly failed and when Rangers FC was finally consigned to liquidation in June 2012 it was HMRC which dealt the fatal blow. “RIP Ranger! 140 Years of History Comes to an End” was the headline of most newspapers as such an iconic club had come to shambles
A consortium led by Charles Green, as Sevco Scotland Ltd bought the club after the rejection of CVA. While the manager, Ally McCoist and a number of first team players were interested in joining the Newco Rangers, other first team players such as team captain Steven Davis, Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker refused to have their contracts and thus became free agents. Rangers subsequently agreed a fee for Davis with Southampton, while Naismith and Whittaker followed suit.
Rangers were facing serious financial difficulties as only 250 season tickets had been sold by 6 July 2012. Major Scottish banks including Royal Bank of Scotland expressed concern over the uncertainty about the club’s future. And also declined to provide Rangers with the corporate banking facilities. Metro Bank was instead hired as banking partner. Deals with other sponsors were negotiated for substantially lower fees.
The SFL voted to let the Newco Rangers rejoin as an associate member and placed Rangers in the third tier. Agreement on the transfer of SFA membership was reached subsequently. Sevco Scotland Ltd accepted all conditions and charges against Rangers FC of bringing the game into disarray, including a 12-month transfer embargo, the payment of all remaining fines and football debts, and agreement on broadcasting rights.
The Scottish Premier League retained the right to the application of future sanctions, which included an investigation into the clubs use of EBTs and any fines that may be levied as a result of it. The re-launched Rangers played their first match, a Ramsdens Cup tie against Brechin City at Glebe Park.
For many Rangers fans it was the most painful period of their lives. They endured weeks of struggle and uncertainty involving the club’s administrators and the football authorities, before a new Rangers FC was re-created out of the mess and ordered by fellow Scottish clubs to start again in the bottom tier of Scottish football. Spiritually it was the same Rangers, but the damage had been done and had left a deep imprint on the supporters and the club in itself.
Throughout the whole saga the attendances at Ibrox had remained at 40,000-plus – a real testament to Rangers fans’ everlasting love for their club. But in recent times crowds have plummeted down as supporters have protested against the Rangers board, and a power struggle for control of the re-born club has waged among various factions. However the recent poor attendances at Ibrox of below 20,000 are the repercussions of supporters being frustrated – first by the demise of the club itself, and also by the inept management.
Rangers and the rebirth – a work in progress
After being stripped of their league status, Rangers dropped into third tier. The club achieved multiple promotions to find itself back in the top tier for the 2016-17 season. The club also reached the Scottish Cup Final in 2016, beating Old Firm rivals Celtic in the semi-final at Hampden Park, before losing to Hibernian in the final. After a poor first half of the 2016–17 season, Mark Warburton and David Weir left the club on 10 February 2017 and Graeme Murty was placed in caretaker control of the Rangers first team. Pedro Caixinha subsequently took over as permanent manager.
Caixinha’s first full season started with Rangers being knocked out of the Europa League in the First Round qualifier by Luxembourg minnows Progrès Niederkorn – a team that had never before won a tie in European competition.
Things seem to be taking a turn for Rangers as they ended last season in third place. This season they have made a good start and find themselves among the upper half of the table again and in contention for the title, if they sustain their early form. Having brought in experienced players like Bruno Alves and Graham Dorrans, Rangers have an able squad to keep their position up in the table.
While Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic have become the dominant force of the league right now, Rangers are in a much better position than in their insolvency years and the fans will remain optimistic that they can keep this up and hope that it is only a matter of time before they bring back the glory years back to their club – a position which they feel they deserve to be in and having seen their past successes and the rich history of the club, you can say that it is rightly so.