THE promotion of Rangers to the Scottish Premiership has been billed as the spark that can ‘save’ Scottish football.
I wasn’t aware that it needed saving, nor that its savior would be a club reformed within a new company structure after the previous company entered liquation due to financial mismanagement.
But putting aside the tit-for-tat arguments over whether Rangers are an old or new club, Scottish football hardly suffered the Armageddon predicted by SPL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster in 2012 in the wake of Rangers’ demise.
Having Rangers in the top flight was a big selling point for Scottish football and it was a risk for the game to deny a reformed Rangers entry to the top flight.
But to do so would have set a dangerous precedent for clubs to live beyond their means — rack up debt in pursuit of glory, enter administration, reform, re-enter same division with a clean slate.
Instead, Rangers started the 2012-13 season in the fourth tier and have worked their way up to the Premiership — surely a more honorable achievement for the club than accepting a free pass to the league four years ago.
However, there has been no Armageddon in Scotland in the meantime.
Indeed, it has been refreshing for fans of other clubs and for outsiders looking in to see other teams among the silverware, just as unfashionable Leicester have stirred up excitement by challenging the established powers in England.
While their ensuing European campaigns may have been short, it allowed those other clubs to experience continental football, and with the occasional highlight — Hearts were minutes away from a famous win at Anfield while St Johnstone saw off Rosenberg in Europa League qualifying.
Celtic themselves still qualified for the Champions League group stages twice in that time — a respectable return, and it’s doubtful we’d have had a better European record in the past four years solely from the addition of four games against Rangers each season.
In the league, Celtic still have Aberdeen snapping at their heels this term as we approach the split, while last season the Dons achieved their highest league position for 21 years and were only five points behind the Hoops with four games left.
In fact, Celtic have only clinched the league once before the split since Rangers’ demise.
While the last four years proved Scottish football didn’t need Rangers to survive and allowed other clubs to flourish, there’s no denying it’s been a harder sell to those outside the Scottish game.
No matter what club you support there’s no passion or excitement that can match that of a derby — even fans of Aston Villa are looking forward to the silver lining of two Birmingham derbies next season amid the cloud of their probable relegation.
Celtic-Rangers derbies always had that bit of extra spice however. Those ‘old club new club’ arguments will inevitably be part of the pre-match build-up and taunting, but when Celtic and Rangers kick off in the first Glasgow derby of the 2016-17 SPFL season, it’ll be no less electrifying than Celtic’s last league meeting with a Rangers side in 2012.
Celtic won that game 3-0, but this Rangers side looks a more formidable outfit – manager Mark Warburton has transformed a team that was in disarray last season.
Like Celtic, they have lost just three league games this term, compared to seven last year, while Warburton’s astute signings Wes Foderingham, James Tavernier, Jason Holt and Martyn Waghorn have backboned that change of fortunes.
Of course, winning the Scottish Championship does not make Rangers Premiership favourites for next year, but Hearts – currently in third place – have certainly showed no transitional problems after their promotion last year.
You’d expect Rangers to fare just as well. They’ll undergo an early test of their credentials with Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic acting as a preview for next season.
So the Scottish game wasn’t in need of saving by Rangers, but they’ll certainly inject a bit of excitement into it.