By Bob Duncan
Rangers will not be playing in the Scottish Premier League next season following an almost unanimous vote against the newco by SPL chairmen, which followed five hours of talks at Hampden.
Ten clubs voted against admitting Rangers, one club (Kilmarnock) abstained, and only the old Rangers voted for admission to the SPL. The newco needed a majority of 8 to gain admission.
SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster earlier hinted the vote could be deferred amid fears over the financial consequences of the newco starting its new life in the Third Division, but clubs decided to take the meeting to a vote.
There is now uncertainty about who will replace Rangers in the SPL: First Division runners-up Dundee or Dunfermline, who were relegated last season from the SPL.
The reformed Ibrox club will now need to apply to play in the Scottish Football League then await a decision on which of the three divisions they will enter. In addition, they still face a possible ban of one year from the Scottish Football Association.
In a statement, rival club Celtic said: “The decision to refuse access into the SPL was an overwhelming one and demonstrates the depth of feeling amongst everyone involved in Scottish football”
“Whilst the financial implications of today’s vote for Celtic and for the Scottish game as a whole will be very significant, we have already stated that Celtic has a business plan and strategy independent of any other club.
“In addition, we will be working with our other fellow SPL clubs in the days and weeks ahead to take all possible steps to maximise commercial returns, which remain crucial in these economically-challenging circumstances.”
SFL clubs met on Tuesday to discuss a proposal for Rangers to enter Division One, but the newco could begin next season in Division Three if the proposal does not gain the support of a majority of clubs. 11 out of the 30 clubs have already indicated opposition to a resurrected Rangers entering Division One, with a vote due to take place on 12 July.
Before the meeting, SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster said three options were available regarding where Rangers should play next season.
“The three viable options are effectively: bringing ‘newco’ Rangers back into the SPL with a range of appropriate sanctions; putting Rangers into the second tier of Scottish football; or Rangers going into the bottom of the pyramid into Division Three.
“The option that a lot of people have talked about, Rangers in the fourth tier, ultimately that would wreak huge financial damage on the whole game and it’s difficult to see why 41 innocent clubs should pay the price for the misdeeds of one.
“There’s lots of things that need to happen before that might take place. The SFL clubs will be meeting again next Thursday and will be voting on that. It remains to be seen how that plays out.”
Warnings have been given over the last few days that up to half the SPL clubs could go into administration if the Ibrox club are in the bottom tier, as it appears that most, if not all, of the SPL’s commercial contracts include exit clauses for sponsors and partners allowing them to pull out or renegotiate if the Old Firm are not present.
These clauses were added to contracts amid speculation that the Glasgow pair would move to England or into a European league, but they have proved costly after Rangers went into liquidation last month.
Green, whose Sevco firm bought the assets of Rangers for £5.5million, attended the meeting with chairman Malcolm Murray and manager Ally McCoist, who left before noon.
The decision was announced by email at around 2.20pm, with Green and Murray leaving shortly afterwards, while SPL clubs continued to talk.
Green claimed earlier this week he was confident chairmen would listen to his pleas, after he had met with several clubs to warn them of the financial implications.
Murray issued an “unreserved” apology on Tuesday in a move thought to be designed to pave the way for a U-turn.
But St Johnstone, St Mirren, Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibernian, Dundee United and Inverness had already declared their opposition while Motherwell announced on Tuesday night their fans had voted to reject the application.
Dundee say they “cannot vote” on Rangers’ application to join the Scottish Football League due to a conflict of interest. The club say no other Division One clubs have been told they are conflicted.
Dundee chief executive Scot Gardiner said: “The initial advice was that SFL rules clearly state that, save in extraordinary circumstances, all members must vote and cannot abstain, such action would incur a heavy fine and there was an existing precedent.
“Prior to the meeting [on Tuesday] however and following discussions with the SFL office bearers and their legal team, we were informed that these were extraordinary circumstances and there was indeed a clear conflict of interest and it would be against natural justice for us to vote.
“We could take part in the debate but not the vote. We were the only team in Division One told this as no other club was conflicted.
“Now that there is to be a formal vote on these matters at Hampden on 12 July, our technical position is clear. We do not have to abstain as we cannot vote due to the stated potential conflict of interest which would be against natural justice. This is not our choice, it is however a fact that we cannot vote.
“None of this means that we have been notified by the SPL, SFL or the Scottish FA that our status as an SFL club has changed or is due to change because we have not. We do hope however that this situation can be addressed as quickly as possible as it is clearly and obviously a tremendous distraction for all of us at Dundee FC with the season looming larger than ever.”
Dunfermline, who were relegated from the SPL at the end of last season, believe they should replace Rangers in the top division and have asked the league for clarification on the issue.
Rangers have, with Celtic, dominated the SPL since the top league was formed as a financially-driven breakaway from the SFL in 1998, and Rangers, Celtic and the Old Firm matches between the Glasgow giants are the financial mainstays of the SPL’s TV and sponsorship deals.
In a statement following the meeting at Hampden Park, the SPL said: “SPL clubs today voted overwhelmingly to reject the application from Rangers newco to join the SPL.”
Several clubs in the SFL’s three divisions have argued that on principle, any new club should apply to join the Third Division, and many fans, outraged at Rangers’ failure to pay up to £140m of creditors, have strongly expressed that same view.
However, the SPL’s chief executive, Neil Doncaster, has delivered dire warnings about the damage to Scottish football’s finances if a Rangers club were to be three divisions below the SPL. At an SFL meeting on Tuesday, Doncaster told clubs that the Sky and ESPN TV deals, worth £80m for five years from this coming season, depend on Old Firm matches, and sponsors also have the right to walk away if one of the Old Firm is not in the SPL.