North of the Border previews this weekend's all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final and offers an update on the ongoing struggle at Rangers.
Supporters of Hearts and Hibernian will travel across the central belt of Scotland on Saturday, from Edinburgh in the East to Glasgow in the West, filling train after train and presenting tactical problems for transport police equal to any the managers of the two teams will face at Hampden that afternoon.
Anticipation of the first all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final since the 19th century has produced quite a fever and the timing of a fixture unique in the modern age is fascinating.
With issues around the crisis at Rangers and the implications of an SPL without one of its two biggest brands far from resolved, here comes the biggest match that Scotland has to offer outside of the Old Firm derby, a game that has come to define - and in some ways limit - the perception of the game in this country.
There have been a few Scottish Cup finals between two teams from outwith Glasgow in more recent times. However, they always contained at least one plucky contender - such as Ross County in 2010, Gretna in 2006 - and the term 'family final', first coined for Motherwell versus Dundee United in 1991, when those teams were managed by the McLean brothers, Tommy and Jim, has often been revived. The implication is that these are very different to a Hampden final featuring either or both of the Old Firm; the crowd is filled out by a town's entire population, who have bought rosettes and rattles and couldn't pick their centre-forward out of a police line-up. It is not always wholly inaccurate.
The last Scottish Cup final to exclude the Old Firm yet lose none of the competitive bite of even a Rangers v Celtic final was in 1986, when Aberdeen defeated Hearts. Aberdeen were the outgoing champions of Scotland that year, while Hearts had appeared nailed on to win a landmark double but threw it away after blowing the championship on a last day so dramatic as to match anything Sergio Aguero and company did last weekend. There were 62,000 inside Hampden and all of them went for it.
So it will be on Saturday. The rivalry between the capital's two clubs is fierce and the atmosphere at the national stadium should rival even an Old Firm final. Add to that the rarity of their meeting in a cup final and the crucial piece of history that places untold pressure on both sets of players: Hibs have not won this competition for 110 years. They will either break the curse against their great rivals, or suffer a defeat more painful than the combination of all of those that have preceded it in this tournament.
For Scottish football, this game can be a worthy export. The football is unlikely to take your breath away, but it will show that spectacle and passion are not the exclusive property of Rangers and Celtic.
At Rangers, a new figure burst into the frame in the race to take control of the ailing giant of Scottish football. Nobody was talking about Charles Green until the multi-national consortium he fronts was all but through the door at Ibrox. On Monday, they will attempt to get an unlikely Company Voluntary Agreement past the club's creditors. If that fails, a new company will be formed which, they hope, will carry the name, history and SPL membership of its predecessor forward.
Green and his gang have not yet met the football authorities in Scotland and the debate over what happens to any newco in terms of penalties rages on. This week, Rod Petrie, the chairman of Hibs, made it clear that his club places sporting integrity "beyond price", suggesting that at best Green will not retain Rangers' place in the top division with a unanimous vote of its members.
Yet a newco Rangers in the SPL remains the most likely outcome for the start of next season. That will mean they carry other penalties, to be decided by their peer members. However, Rangers are already appealing the only sanctions so far imposed upon them, by the SFA, including a 12-month transfer embargo on players over 18. While the possibility of point deductions and suspension from European competition has implications for the consortium's business plan, the embargo would be the single most damaging penalty for Rangers in the short term. If senior players who have contributed upwards of £200,000 each to Rangers' survival in voluntary wage cuts are sold at reduced fees under quid pro quo agreements with the club's administrators, the inability to buy players would leave Rangers with a squad that would look like a mid-table proposition at best at the start of the new season.
All that remains is speculation, and the uncertainty around Rangers is not helped by a lack of disclosure regarding Green's consortium. It is unbelievable that the administrators knew as little of Green as the supporters that have been donating money to keep their club from danger in recent months. Now that they appear to have used Bill Miller, the hapless American whose brief status as preferred bidder reflects well on neither him nor those running Rangers, as a stalking horse, Green remains unwilling to present the other members of his consortium. They are, he says, from Indonesia, China, Singapore and the Middle East, but that is all he says.
The SPL and SFA want to know more about the men about to inherit Rangers and the supporters of that club deserve the same, at the very least.
The play-offs for relegation and promotion in the lower leagues make an annual argument for the implementation of such a scheme between the SPL and the First Division.
On Sunday, they resolve as Airdrie United and Dumbarton duke it out for a place in the First Division, while Stranraer and Albion Rovers do likewise for a spot in the Second Division.
Already the play-offs have provided drama. In the Second Division, Arbroath finished 11 points clear of Airdrie and five in front of Dumbarton; they were the league's top goalscorers yet they could not find the goal they needed in the second leg of their semi-final to get past Dumbarton. Airdrie upset Ayr United, the second-bottom team in the First Division, and cost Brian Reid, their manager, his job. Reid was sacked after Ayr lost their semi-final, despite a season that included a run to the League Cup semi-finals for the part-timers. Airdrie United's big day also raises an interesting precedent in the Rangers case. They are a reincarnation of Airdrieonians, a club that went bankrupt in 2002. After the Scottish Football League decided against allowing them to re-enter the league under new ownership as a newco, Airdrie bought out an existing, debt-ridden club, Clydebank, relocated them to Airdrie and rebranded them as a continuation of the old club.
A repeat for Rangers in the SPL is, of course, very unlikely. However, in that division they would not be short of financially troubled member clubs to take over and transport to Glasgow.