The brawl between both sets of players at the end of the pulsating play-off final second leg between Motherwell and Rangers at Fir Park a fortnight ago marred an otherwise excellent display of the qualities of Scottish football. With Rangers needing to win by two goals to at the very least to secure extra time and penalties, the game at a blustery and passionate Fir Park could not have gone worse for the Glasgow club. After a first half dominating possession but not creating the best of the chances, those landed at the feet of the Motherwell players, Rangers were knocked back into the Championship for another season with more than a little bit of bad luck.
On the 53rd minute Marvin Johnson scored the first for Motherwell, after beating two defenders on the left flank before cutting inside and shooting optimistically from 25 yards out, he got a looping deflection from Marius Zaliukas which Cammy Bell failed to deal with as the ball dropped over his head and into the net after an impotent attempted punch to clear. Lionel Ainsworth followed up about fifteen minutes later with a cool finish, again with the help of a deflection from Zaliukas, after another excellent run forward from Johnson. The pain for Rangers was topped off with a penalty, conceded in the last minute of injury time and calmly slotted home by John Sutton.
With Scottish football still in very much of a transition period, the return to the bad old days of mass brawls and minor fan trouble was not a welcome sight. Lee Erwin, after a snubbed handshake offering to Bilel Mohsni, pushed the explosive Tunisian in the back resulting in a kick and a left hook from the Rangers defender. The brawl that followed was undignified to say the least, Fraser Kerr, alongside Mohsni and Erwin, was sent off for his involvement. The stand-off between home fans on the pitch and away fans in the stands, as well as a fan smacking a Rangers player in the face with a flagpole, marred the game as a whole.
The implications of Rangers’ defeat for Scottish football are wide-ranging, for four years now Rangers have been out of the Premier League, and with Hearts making their way out of the Championship, the big-city derbies of Edinburgh and Glasgow will be kept off the pitch for at least another season. The SFA and the SPFL now face another emerging issue. With the health of the TV deals for Scottish football heavily dependent on the Old Firm derby, and the capability of Scottish clubs on both a domestic and European scale equally dependent on the money the TV deals offer, there is a real risk of further financial stagnation within the Scottish game. The recent plight of Celtic in the Champions League and the financial struggles of nearly every team in every division, Rangers included, are examples of the necessity of improved financial management and investment. While Rangers, and to a lesser effect Hibernian, are out of the top flight, Scottish football becomes harder and harder to sell to the TV market.
For Rangers however it is an opportunity to once again take stock of their issues and begin again. The £5million loan from Mike Ashley and the chaos it caused on a boardroom level should not be repeated again. The club remains in severe financial trouble, with a wage bill that dwarfs revenue and a recruitment policy that has seemed to be ‘sign anyone we can get for as much money as possible’. The possible permanent appointment of Stuart McCall is likely to exasperate the situation further with additional recruitment on both a staff and player level. Another season in the Championship is a blessing in disguise, and this is true for Hibernian too. Both clubs will have to take on board the harsh realities of life outside the Scottish Premier League for another year, forcing them to act more fiscally responsible alongside building from the grassroots up in regards to player development. What’s financially bad for Scottish football in the short term is, in this case at least, good for Rangers and Hibernian.