How Rangers made the SPL better – by leaving

How are the mighty fallen? In the space of exactly 12 months Rangers went from being one game away from the Champions League main draw to playing their first home game of their Division Three campaign, under a new name, against the heady opposition of semi-professionals East Stirlingshire.

Having just secured the Scottish League One title at a romp, they are now a little more than 12 months from a return to the top flight. However, has the demise of one of the two biggest clubs in Scotland helped the country’s top league more than it has hurt?

The traditional theory goes as follows: Celtic and Rangers, who both draw upwards of 50,000 fans to their home games, dwarfing other attendances in the SPL, are a good thing for Scottish clubs because they pull in television money, as well as providing clubs with an (almost) guaranteed sell-out every time one of the Glasgow clubs comes to town.

When Rangers were demoted to the very bottom of the Scottish Football League, the fear was that it would destroy the already top heavy SPL.

True, Celtic find themselves 21 points clear of Aberdeen at the top, and could in theory have the title wrapped up this month, but they are not the only team in Europe to be in such a situation. Everyone’s new favourite league, the Bundesliga, home of goals, packed stadia, and cheap tickets, is also all but over, as the conquerors of Arsenal, Bayern Munich, are 20 points ahead of their nearest rival, having dropped just four points all season.

People still queue up to tune in to watch BT Sport’s coverage of almost every game in Germany, as well as their long Bundesliga segment on the European Football Show.

What has in fact happened is the teams below Celtic and Rangers appear to have become invigorated by the concept that there is only now one team who are guaranteed to finish above them. Motherwell and Aberdeen are locked in a battle for that second European spot, which Dundee United will also quietly have their eyes on, while Inverness CT, St Johnston, Hibernian, and Kilmarnock are all fighting for a place in the top six.

This added competitive nature is before we mention the financial boon for all those lower league teams who now get to host Rangers once a season.

Terry Butcher, who talks as he played – uncompromisingly – said recently that the Celtic games were a one-off for the other league sides: that he didn’t consider them part of the regular season, as they were so far ahead of the rest.

When there were two teams like that, the four or possibly six games against them had to be treated with the utmost seriousness, but now that it is only two or three games, all of the children in the playground appear to have come to a mutual agreement that they would rather fight each other than the big boy in the corner, who could beat all of them put together.

The SPL had doubtless become dry and uninteresting; now there are real clashes every week, each game actually matters, and barring Celtic, anyone can beat anyone. The hope is now that when (not if) Rangers return to the top-flight, they might find that the boys they used to whip for fun have suddenly become men.