What happens now to Rangers?
One of Europe's grandest old football clubs suffered a humiliating comedown on Friday as Rangers were thrown into the Scottish Third Division.
The move has yet to be officially ratified by the Scottish Football League, though the Glasgow giants have indicated that they will not challenge the decision and talk of forming a breakaway 'SPL2' division has gone quiet.
So it seems all but certain that Rangers will start life in the fourth tier of Scottish football next month; but what will await them when they get there?
Rangers average attendance at Ibrox last season was 46,234. The average crowd at Third Division matches last year is almost precisely one hundredth of that, at 471.
The best-supported side in the fourth tier last year was Elgin (with 628 people turning up every week) while the worst was East Stirling. For the early part of the season at the very least, the sheer novelty factor of watching Rangers in the lower reaches of the Scottish game should mean relatively ramshackle stadiums (such as Stenhousemuir's Ochilview Park, pictured below) will be full to the rafters.
By contrast, Rangers will be hit badly. Season ticket sales are stalling badly and the club has always struggled to attract big crowds against the smaller teams when they face them in cup competition. Add in the fact that some costs - such as policing and traffic control - will be hard to cut regardless of numbers, and the expected half-empty stadiums could spell further financial misery at Ibrox.
It seems fairly certain that Rangers would take the place of Stranraer, who lost the Third Division play-off final on penalties at the end of last season. (Incidentally, if that happens Airdrie would be the club who were bumped up into Scotland's First Division). Should that prove to be the case Rangers would begin their season on Saturday August 11 against Peterhead, near Aberdeen.
The 4,0000-capacity Balmoor Stadium would likely be full-to-burst with Rangers fans should that be the case. Though many dyed-in-the-wool Gers fans have talked about boycotting clubs who voted against admitting them into the First Division, Peterhead (like many parts of Scotland away from Glasgow) is already a massive stronghold of Rangers support.
There have been suggestions that Rangers could play in England should they be thrown down into the Third Division; ironically enough, that's exactly what will happen: on August 25 they would play against Berwick Rangers, the sole English club that participates in the Scottish league.
Rangers would also finish their season against English opposition, facing the same side at Ibrox on May 4th.
As for the Old Firm matches? There is a chance that the 'Glasgow Cup' matches could be reinstated, essentially a series of exhibition matches against Celtic; however, depending on what damage is done to Rangers' playing squad such an idea might be scrapped as an embarrassing mismatch.
The massive financial hit that faces Rangers has led to many suggestions that they will have to rid themselves of their entire first team squad and build a new side populated almost entirely by youth team stars.
That seems far-fetched, but yesterday's news that Dorin Goian will quit Ibrox just shows how low things could get. The defender had insisted before the vote that he would stay with the club no matter what happened, but he performed a U-turn on Friday and will now walk away. "I am not playing in the fourth division of Scottish football — there's no question of that," the Romanian said. "I'd have stayed if it was the Second Division — but not this."
There is an unlikely saviour in the pipeline, however: former Rangers legend Gazza, who said during the week that he would happily turn out for Ally McCoist and Rangers should the worst come to the worst.
The other consequences
Taking the 'nuclear option' of sending Rangers to the Third Division is likely to see either a cancellation or a massive renegotiation of Sky Sports and ESPN's joint deal to broadcast Scottish football.
Aberdeen and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have already admitted that losing out on TV revenue will be very difficult for them to survive, while earlier reports suggested that four or five SPL clubs could be in danger of going under completely. As Caley chairman Kenny Cameron said, " There will now inevitably be serious consequences for the game in Scotland. This is a sad day for all clubs in Scotland. None of us will escape the financial fallout from this."
Will it all definitely happen?
However, that is not necessarily the end of the story: immediately after news broke that Rangers would be admitted only to the Third Division, the club's website reportedly mentioned that a proposal to create a brand new 'SPL2' division - i.e. an extra tier between the SPL and First Division - would be put forward next week. That mention was later removed, however, and the club's website merely says that, "fixtures for the coming season remain uncertain."
To throw the cat among the pigeons still further, Dunfermline chairman John Yorkston said on Saturday morning that Rangers could be readmitted to the SPL after all, telling the Daily Record that, " I'm sure there will be a twist in the tale... I think everything is possible."
Further meetings are scheduled next week, the results of which will shed more light on the situation.