Rangers Lost, Dunfermline down
This week's North of the Border takes in the latest twist in the Rangers saga, the drop for Dunfermline and yet more gongs over at Parkhead.
LOST AT IBROX
The story of the unravelling of Rangers has become Scottish football's equivalent of Lost. Each week, we hope for the satisfaction of resolution, providing the opportunity to assess all we have learned and then move on with our lives, perhaps with the box set of Mad Men, or The Wire. Instead, each piece of new information comes wrapped in a new riddle, the lead characters appear as confused as we are and we begin to wonder if the people in charge are just making it up as they go along.
This week's episode began with Bill Miller, an American businessman, emerging as the preferred bidder of Duff and Phelps, the administrators who have been running Rangers since mid-February. A closer look, however, revealed an apparent leap forward in the story was more tentative than that. Miller had not paid the proposed "exclusivity fee" and by close of play on Tuesday he had withdrawn his offer.
His due diligence had revealed D&P's information on the club finances to be "more optimistic than reality", he had reservations about the limited revenue stream (Rangers would not have competed in Europe for three years under his plan) and he said supporter dissatisfaction had also influenced his decision.
Miller said he heard "the message from Rangers fans - Yank go home! - loud and clear". In a story rife with misinformation here was the latest slip. Miller was speaking from home, in the United States, and has never been to Scotland. Either the fans were wrong - Yank stay home! would have been more accurate - or Miller was misquoting them. Or at least paraphrasing. We'll never know.
So Miller was left in the role of stalking horse as D&P revealed that three other bids were on the table, drawn out by the £11.2 million offer made by Miller. They may have also been enticed by the leaks from Miller and D&P that the American had received assurances from the SPL that Rangers would retain their place in the league, even if the new owner created a new company and the club's creditors were left high and dry.
The SPL chairmen who will make that decision are themselves being lobbied by both their supporters - the active majority are against special treatment for Rangers - and their own bankers, who fear the likely financial implication of a league without one of the two largest traveling supports in Scotland.
A vote on what punishment Rangers - and any club who transfers its league share to a new company in the future - will face was put off for a second time this week. Aside from the question of relegation, the SPL are to consider deducting 10 points for the first two seasons of the new company's membership of the league and the deduction of 75% of league income for three years.
Stephen Thompson, the chairman of Dundee United, was remarkably candid in revealing the dilemma he and others now face.
"We are in a very, very difficult situation and at a crossroads for Scottish football," he said. "I understand how all the fans feel and I have great sympathy for them, but I have a legal responsibility to run Dundee United and a legal responsibility as a director of the SPL. We've got to think about our own clubs and about the whole of Scottish football. It is impossible."
Much the same, then, as working out what is happening at Rangers.
DUNFERMLINE DROP DOWN
Dunfermline Athletic were relegated on Monday night, losing 4-0 at Hibernian when they needed to beat their nearest rivals to take their struggle to the last day of the season. After a resilient start to the season, they have long looked like they would go down.
They face a tough task in the First Division. Most teams don't make it straight back up, as the SPL parachute pack is not enough to break the fall to a league with no television deal and low four-figure attendances. Only Inverness Caledonian Thistle have managed it since Hibs in 1999.
The manager they hired to try and keep them up, Jim Jefferies, is contracted for next season. He admitted the squad will be revised and said his players "haven't been tough enough mentally to handle this [the head-to-head at Easter Road]."
For Hibs, one weight has been replaced by another. They face Hearts, their great rivals, in the first all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final since the 19th century. They have not won the trophy in 110 years. But who's counting?
Charlie Mulgrew took both the PFA Scotland and the Scottish Football Writers' Association player of the year awards, with his Celtic team-mate, James Forrest, winning the junior versions of both polls. Forrest, a 20-year-old winger, was named in a FIFA list of 13 young players to watch in January and has been scouted by Tottenham Hotspur.
Neil Lennon, his manager, took the writers' award in his category and in a later interview talked about his squad building plans for next season. Lennon's record in the market has been excellent so far, with most of his young acquisitions rising in value. Should he choose to cash in on one or two of his investments, he will be able to add yet more depth to a squad that will start the new season as the hottest favourites in any title race in Europe.
The team of the year voted for by the players produced a debate-starter of a line-up. There were five Dundee United players, four from Celtic and only one from Rangers and one from third-placed Motherwell. Dundee United's form since the turn of the season appears to have helped them in the eyes of their peers, while the depth of Celtic's squad may have spread the vote against individuals in the team that dominated the league after a wobbly start.
Darren Randolph, the Motherwell goalkeeper, has had a huge season. The same could not be said of Steven Davis, the only Rangers player selected, who has been far more influential in previous seasons.
The two strikers, Jon Daly of United and Celtic's Gary Hooper, lead the scoring charts. However, the problem with this team is the selection of a third forward, United's Johnny Russell, and two out-and-out wingers, Gary Mackay-Steven of United and Forrest, with only the attack-minded Davis between them.
It doesn't take the manager of the year to realise that even the best defenders in the SPL this season are going to have a hard time of it with that lot in front of them.