GLASGOW: The past year has been a turbulent one for Scottish football as it has faced up to possibly its greatest ever challenge — life without Rangers in the top flight.
The game in Scotland has traditionally been dominated by the Ibrox club and their Glasgow rivals Celtic and none more so than in the past 27 years when no team outside the Old Firm has won the top division title.
However, this two-horse race was dealt a serious blow in February when Rangers were plunged into administration over unpaid tax bills following the disastrous reign of Craig Whyte at the club. The Gers were immediately docked 10 points by the Scottish Premier League and, with Ally McCoist’s side in disarray, Celtic cantered to the title in May, winning by 20 points.
Rangers limped on but were finally liquidated in June to cap an amazing fall from grace for Scotland’s most successful club.
A consortium headed by former Sheffield United chief executive Charles Green bought the club’s assets and following heated discussions their fellow SPL clubs voted 10 to 1 against allowing Rangers newco’s application to join the league.
The Scottish Football League accepted Rangers into their fold but with the Ibrox club now languishing in the third division it has caused the rest of the top division clubs to tighten their belts in the absence of their fans and the revenue they bring.
Financial meltdown was predicted for some clubs and both Hearts and relegated Dunfermline have run into major problems with the taxman. However, the health of the game across the country is not as bleak as expected. Celtic, unsurprisingly, still top the table but they are not runaway leaders. Without having to look over their shoulders for Rangers, the Hoops have had some breathing space while on domestic duties allowing them to concentrate on a remarkable run in Europe.
After negotiating two qualifying rounds, Celtic made it to the group stages of the Champions League where they picked up their first ever away win in the competition while also claiming a famous win over Barcelona as they qualified for the last 16.
However, the European run has come with a domestic hangover and Celtic’s inconsistent league form means there are five teams within seven points of the Glasgow club.
While this season will be the first year since 1890 that there hasn’t been an Old Firm fixture in the top flight, manager Neil Lennon said the Champions League had been a good substitute. “It has been less stressful, put it that way. I am not saying it has been more beneficial,” Lennon admitted.