McCoist playing down talk of Old Firm finale
Rangers manager argues that the Scottish game needs his team in top flight
For a moment, Ally McCoist returns to football issues. It must seem like a brief reprieve when he talks of the players who might be fit for today's Old Firm game. Soon enough, though, Rangers' financial crisis reasserts itself when he is asked about the prospect of this being the last derby meeting with Celtic. "That is the doomsday scenario," he says carefully. "We are obviously hopeful that will not be case."
This has been a bruising week for McCoist. Last Monday, the Scottish Football Association announced that they were fining Rangers £160,000 and issuing a 12-month ban on the club registering any players over the age of 18. The punishments were for failing to pay football debts, for going into administration and for bringing the game into disrepute. They also fined Craig Whyte, the owner, and banned him for life from participating in Scottish football. He responded by saying: "Tell me how it is going to affect me? I couldn't care less – and good luck collecting the money. It's a joke."
McCoist reacted by demanding to know the names of the three people who sat on the SFA's independent judicial panel, even though Rangers had been represented at the hearing. Scottish clubs had also voted unanimously last summer in favour of the governing body's streamlined disciplinary procedures, which included anonymity for those involved. Once the names began circulating on the internet, some reportedly received threats and intimidation.
McCoist condemned that behaviour, but he remains caught between the instinct to defend his club and his acceptance that sanctions are appropriate because of Rangers' financial mismanagement. "It embarrasses and upsets me we owe money to other clubs," McCoist said. "That hurts me. I don't think the punishment has helped us in any way, shape or form to recover from that."
The Scottish game is wondering how to punish Rangers – the club are also waiting to hear the verdict from a tax tribunal into their use of Employee Benefit Trusts, with HMRC having claimed £24m in unpaid tax, with interest and penalties to be added on – while keeping them in the Scottish Premier League. The Old Firm generate the vast majority of the division's revenue, and if Rangers were demoted, it would force several other clubs to the brink of administration.
"Is it good for Scottish football if Rangers or Celtic end up in the Third Division?" McCoist said. "Of course it's not. I could understand fans [of non-Old Firm clubs] saying, 'och, Third Division', because it's fair. But is it right? It's probably not. It's not a fair world."
At Celtic Park today, Rangers will be confronted by their old rivals gloating. Celtic have secured the title, although they will not receive the trophy today out of deference to the high emotions of an Old Firm encounter.
Neil Lennon will be sitting in the main stand while serving a touchline ban. He and McCoist clashed angrily at the end of an Old Firm game last season, but they have also shared, in different ways, an acknowledgement that leading either side involves dealing with non-football difficulties. "Managing the Old Firm is different," McCoist said. "But you should never lose sight of the fact we get paid to enjoy football and manage our teams."
Celtic v Rangers is on Sky Sports 4 today, kick-off 12.45pm
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