The issue of history looms large in the minds of football fans at all times, but especially now, as “Rangers” face the possibility losing their great heritage and list of trophies and competitions won, should the team re-emerge as a newco.
There are legal arguments about the history attaching to the corporate entity, which can become complicated when thinking about teams that existed, like Rangers, before the limited company in which it existed was formed. Teams, especially in England, have gone through corporate re-structuring in insolvency, and have come out as a new company but the same team.
I have looked myself through the SPL and SFA Rules and Regulations to see if they help. At one stage the issue of the “SPL Share” seemed to provide an answer, until it was pointed out that, every year, one share at least changes hands. For example, the share held by Dunfermline this season just past has been, or will be, transferred to Ross County, but the history does not go with the share.
Airdrie United, which took over Clydebank, officially has Clydebank’s history. However, Airdrie fans believe that Airdrie United is a continuation of the old Airdrieonians, and for all that we Albion Rovers fans point out that they are not, we actually still think of them as the “Diamonds” of old.
The history lies in the hearts of the fans.
AFC Wimbledon and the MK Dons provides an interesting example. Wimbledon FC had a move to Milton Keynes approved in 2002. This caused a lot of upset in the London Borough of Merton, where they had played. Campaigns were started to get them back or to replace them. AFC Wimbledon started up at the bottom rung of the football ladder.
MK Dons kept the history, against competition from AFC Wimbledon, until in 2007 it agreed to hand over its trophies and medals, not to AFC Wimbledon but to Merton Borough. However MK Dons now only claim to have been formed early this century and have given up their claim to the FA Cup in 1988. AFC Wimbledon claim that now. In light of the MK Dons repudiating its “history” it would seem incongruous at best for any fans to claim a history the club itself had rejected.
As the Wimbledon Independent Supporters’ Association wrote to the FA in 2003 “The identity of a football club is implicitly bound up in its community… The next step must, logically, be for the club to take the name of its new conurbation, and consign the name of Wimbledon FC to history, just as Meadowbank Thistle was consigned to history when Livingston was born. The Brooklyn Dodgers had the good grace to expunge references to where they originated and rename themselves the Los Angeles Dodgers and that good grace would be welcomed in this instance.”
In the same manner therefore, a “Rangers” playing at Ibrox would be considered by the fans to be the continuation of the previous “franchise”.
Mr Doncaster said what is key to this in an interview with the Scotsman last month.
The vital sentence came in response to a question about the ongoing SPL investigation into illegal (under football rules) payments/dual contracts. He said:-
“You would expect the football club to take with it responsibility for anything that emerged from that investigation”.
There, in a nutshell is the answer to the problem of “history”.
Whilst legally newco cannot be held responsible for oldco’s debts and legal wrongs, the SFA and SPL are clubs which can choose whom to admit as members. They can set their own conditions.
The position Mr Doncaster, and one would assume Mr Regan, would be moving towards would be based on a simple question to whoever runs “Rangers”.
If newco Rangers wants the good parts of oldco, such as the history, it has to accept the bad parts, such as the penalties for bringing the game into disrepute and any penalty for the illegal payments/dual contracts inquiry.
If newco wants to be treated as a new entity, with no penalty for what happened to oldco, it would have to divest itself of its history. If it wanted to keep the history, then it pays the penalties for wrong-doing.
Whilst I am sure that many fans would maintain the history, it would come against a backcloth of the club itself acknowledging it was in fact a new entity, or at best a cousin to the oldco.
A business decision would be a no-brainer. In return for avoiding penalties that could include suspension from the League, just accept that you are a new company? In any field other than sport, that choice would take 1 second (on a slow day). But history matters, and fear of alienating some loyal fans might provoke the owner of newco into formal acceptance of any penalties, as long as this enables the new business plan still to work.
Whatever happens, subject to the possibility that past titles won during the operation of the alleged illegal payments might be stripped, the football record books will show that Rangers won many prizes, culminating in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972. They will remain whatever happens to Rangers. For example, Renton, St Bernard’s, Vale of Leven and Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers/Third Lanark all remain listed as winners of the Scottish Cup.
The issue is not whether Rangers “loses” its history; it is whether newco Rangers agrees to keep it.
Posted by Paul McConville