Football in Scotland was plunged into chaos yesterday when Rangers were relegated into the Third Division following a vote by Scottish Football League chairmen at Hampden Park.
In the most dramatic day in the 122-year history of the SFL, 25 of the 30 member clubs rejected pleas from the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football Association to show leniency to the Rangers "newco" and only demote them one division.
Instead, in a huge rebuff that has potentially massive ramifications, the SFL took the decision to relegate Rangers three divisions, and risk the "armageddon" that the SPL chief executive, Stewart Regan, had warned would follow such an action.
The Rangers chief executive, Charles Green, and manager, Ally McCoist, came out in the immediate aftermath of the decision and said they supported it, even though it means their club cannot play in the SPL until the 2015-16 season at the very earliest.
However, the spectre of the launch of an "SPL 2" remained late last night and Rangers officials were tight-lipped about the possibility. The 11 remaining members of the Scottish Premier League will meet on Monday and launching another division, or even questioning the initial demotion of Rangers, are both believed to be under consideration.
Jim Ballantyne, the SFL president, admitted his organisation would be powerless if there was a desire to ensure Rangers were not relegated to the lowest tier of the game in Scotland.
"We don't have any control over the SPL and they are entitled to do whatever they wish within their own rules," he said. "But it is important to mention the Division One clubs went out of their way to make it clear their route regarding a solution involved all 42 teams. I think that says a lot for them.
"Other bodies are going to have to look at the decision we've taken and decide what view they take. As far as we're concerned, it's crystal clear and it was a massive majority.
"The talk of financial meltdown is scary for everybody but that completely ignores the views of fans. They've been vociferous in their view of what this whole situation may bring. The message coming across from every club is exactly the same, even from Rangers fans themselves. If they had their choice, it would be Division Three. That reflected the views of First, Second and Third Division clubs."
McCoist, who has just a handful of established first-team footballers at his disposal at the current time, said: "I fully accept the decision of the SFL today and thank them for allowing us into the SFL.
"Clearly, starting again from the bottom league is not ideal and makes the task of rebuilding Rangers a longer one but the SFL was placed in an impossible situation and I respect its decision. I fully supported the fans' views that starting again in Division Three maintains the sporting integrity that the SPL clubs were so keen on.
"The SPL clubs and the SFA have made their positions clear over the last few weeks and it remains to be seen what the long term effects of their decisions will be. Rangers has been severely punished for the actions of some individuals who previously ran the club and it will take time for us to recover but we will come back stronger thanks to the loyalty of the fans and the commitment of everyone at Ibrox who are working tirelessly to bring stability and success back to Rangers.
"I will be carefully monitoring events and reactions over the new few days and will be making further comments, probably early next week."
However the response of those chairmen who voted Rangers into the lowest tier of the domestic game as they left the historic meeting at Hampden Park last night suggested they were prepared for the very real possibility of a further civil war inside Scottish football.
"What remains to be seen is whether us having made that decision leads on to others beginning to interfere and gerrymander," said the Raith Rovers chairman, Turnbull Hutton. "We await, with interest, what happens. I said last week that today was important. Today isn't the endgame in this; let's not kid ourselves."
John Yorkston, the Dunfermline chairman, said: "We'll have to see what develops on Monday and I'm not sure it's over yet. I'm sure there'll be a twist in the tale, and that will come out on Monday when the SPL meet."
Key to developments over the next 48 hours will be the reaction of Sky TV and ESPN to yesterday's decision. Sky's new five-year £110m contract to broadcast Scottish football has not yet been signed and their agreement includes four Old Firm league games a season.
While the very smallest clubs in Scotland took their decision based on huge fan hostility to the idea of relegating Rangers only one division, those at the basement of the SPL rely significantly on the funding from television revenue. Dundee United picked up £1.4m from the SPL because of the television deal last season, but it has been suggested that figure will fall to around £200,000 if the new deal is not signed.
As things stand, however, Rangers will begin next season in the Third Division of Scottish football with an away fixture at Peterhead, whose ground has a capacity of just 3,250 and who played a friendly last night against Inverurie Loco Works.
Rangers, who have won the Scottish title a record-breaking 54 times and have never been relegated, will take the place of Stranraer and complete their fixtures for the 2012-13 season.But that is dependent on developments in the SPL meeting on Monday.
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