(Third, Scottish Championship)
By Daniel Rubens
One of Scotland’s two traditional unstoppable forces, Rangers FC have suffered through a three-year journey in Hell, also known as the Scottish lower tiers. But, this weekend, Rangers can bring their nightmare to an end and rejoin the Scottish Premier League for the first time since 2011-12.
If they are to knock off Motherwell in the two-legged tie and earn promotion to the SPL, it’ll be the first time in their history that they’ve done so. But that’s because Rangers had never left the top flight in their previous 140 years of existence before they were forced to do so in 2012.
Rangers are one of the oldest association football clubs in the world, having been formed in Glasgow in 1872. They won their first cup six years later, were one of 10 founding members of the Scottish Football League in 1890-91, and moved into a fancy new home, Ibrox Park, in 1899.
While it may not seem like a big deal, moving into that stadium was a crucial aspect in Rangers’ development. It was built in large part because of another stadium that had recently sprouted up across town. Celtic FC were founded in 1887, also in Glasgow, and moved into their palace, called Celtic Park, in 1892. This stadium was considered one of the two greatest in Britain at the time (along with Everton’s Goodison Park), and it allowed Celtic to host international matches and boost the club’s revenue, which in turn brought it success.
Needing to find a way to keep up, Rangers moved into Ibrox and immediately moved up into the group (along with Celtic Park and Hampden Park, also in Glasgow) of Scottish stadiums which would hold massive fixtures, including cup finals. The extra revenue stream from the gate receipts of those games allowed both Rangers and Celtic to become financial giants in a small footballing nation.
As such, the two Glasgow clubs became the biggest in Scotland, quickly exceeding the heights their competitors could reach. From 1904-1931, no other team won the Scottish championship. All but 19 titles in the 125-year history of the Scottish Football League have been won by either Rangers or Celtic.
Additionally, the two clubs developed one of the fiercest rivalries in club football. Rangers and Celtic together are referred to as the “Old Firm,” with derbies between the two raining havoc on Glasgow. The rivalry originated from the fact that early in their histories, Rangers were traditionally supported by Protestants and Celtic by Catholics. As a rivalry based on more than just sport, its history is checkered with clashes between the sides and supporters beginning in 1909.
These clashes have reached new heights as the rivalry has expanded in the years since World War II.
Four of the next six championships were won by other clubs, but Rangers and Celtic have combined to win every one since. The current 30-year streak is the longest period of undisturbed winning by the Old Firm in the history of the rivalry. That’s quite a statistic given the sheer number of titles the two teams have won (54 for Rangers, 46 for Celtic).
However, Rangers haven’t tasted victory in the top-flight title race in four years. In 2010-11, they won a third straight league championship by one point over Celtic, thanks in large part to the two-headed strike partnership of Kenny Miller and Nikica Jelavic combining for 37 goals.
The next season, though, brought disaster. Rangers had been experiencing financial troubles for a few years, but nobody knew how bad they truly were until the club entered administration (essentially bankruptcy) in February 2012. With the club unable to pay debts it had accrued over the previous seasons, the company that owned the team was liquidated, and it immediately sold the team’s “business, history, and assets” to another company, Sevco Scotland Ltd.
This new company re-established the club in time for the 2012-13 season, and Rangers and the SPL appealed to have the club reinstated directly back into the top flight. However, the other clubs rejected the appeal by a 10-0 vote, with only Kilmarnock abstaining. Scottish Football League executives then sought to put the club into the Scottish Championship, but the clubs in that league spoke out against this idea.
That’s how Rangers, one of the oldest and most successful clubs in football, found themselves in the fourth tier of Scottish football in 2012. They rebounded nicely, cruising to titles in the fourth and third tiers the past two seasons to win their way into this year’s Scottish Championship.
But Rangers haven’t found life in the second flight as easy. They lost seven league games this season, four more than they had the previous two combined, and stumbled to a third-place finish, 24 points behind
Next up was the team that finished second in the Championship, Hibernian. After a 2-0 win at Ibrox in the first leg last Wednesday, Rangers secured their spot in the playoff final with a 1-0 loss Saturday that sealed the 2-1 aggregate victory.
On Thursday at 11:45 a.m. PT, Rangers host Motherwell, the Scottish Premiership’s 11th-place team, at Ibrox in the first of a two-legged tie, with the return leg scheduled for 7:00 a.m. on Sunday. Rangers will get back to the top flight eventually. That much is true. The key for them is returning to the top once they get there.