Last month, Rangers cliched their first Scottish top-flight title in ten years after their arch-rivals Celtic failed to beat Dundee United. Winning the league title is a big achievement in its own right, but for Rangers it’s so much more than that. It’s a culmination of a journey that began nearly a decade ago when the club were nearly wiped out from existence. It’s a timely stop to what would’ve been an unprecedented feat by their city rivals. We take a look at what does this win mean for Rangers.
Liquidation and Relegation to Fourth Tier of Scottish Football
Rangers’ practice of paying their employees via Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) – which ensured the players got more net pay but the government received no revenue – eventually saw Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) issue the club a tax bill of £49 million in 2010, with further £2.8 million in tax liability threatening the club to be banned from European football. In May 2011, the then owner of the club, Sir David Murray, sold the club to Craig Whyte for £1 in hope that the latter would help the club write off the debt and reinforce the playing squad. Whyte attempted that by taking a loan of £26.7 million against the future season ticket sales, but later got embroiled in a series of rows and scandals and was eventually deemed unqualified to run a football club by the Scottish Football Association. The club went into administration on Valentine’s Day 2012.
Going into administration meant a ten-point deduction for Rangers in the 2011-12 Scottish Premier League, effectively ending their title challenge, which Celtic eventually won. In June 2012, the HMRC moved for the club to be liquidated and reformed within a new company structure. The club’s assets were later sold to Sevco Scotland Ltd.
For the 2012-13 season, Rangers were voted out of the Scottish Premier League but were accepted into the Third Division of the Scottish Football League, which was overall the fourth tier of Scottish football at the time. In one fell swoop, Scotland’s most successful club almost went extinct, but many believed them rather lucky to be allowed to survive this fall from grace and still be in a position to return in a few years’ time.
The Road Back to the Premiership
Despite the fall, the club and the fans knew that however long, they were down a path that will eventually see them return to the glory days.
The 2012-13 season saw Rangers win the Scottish Third Division by 24 points. Next season, they won the Scottish League One by a thumping 39 points. The season after that, however, they suffered a setback as they failed to win a third consecutive promotion after finishing third in the Scottish Championship and then losing out to Motherwell in the Premiership Play-Off Final. They made up for that by winning the Championship next season by 11 points, finally ending their exile from the Scottish top-flight.
Stopping the Ten in a Row with Gerrard
Ecstatic with the return to the Big Time, many fans expected Rangers to straightaway challenge Celtic for the Premiership, but even for them that would not have been realistically possible. For both of their first two seasons back, Rangers finished third behind runners-up Aberdeen and champions Celtic. It was with the 2018-19 season that the Gers started threatening Celtic’s monopoly at the top.
The appointment of Steven Gerrard as Rangers manager in 2018 was an interesting one, given the Liverpudlian had never managed at the senior level before. But Gerrard had the humility of surrounding himself with right footballing people and the proper acknowledgement of the gravity of the project and the agreement with his new overlords that this was going to be a long process.
After finishing nine points behind Celtic in the 2018-19 season, Rangers started the next season strong, beating the Bhoys themselves and consolidating a healthy lead at the top. The lead didn’t last, however, and Rangers blew away their advantage with the turn of the year, finishing a proper 13 points behind Celtic when the league was curtailed because of the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The curtailment also saw Celtic awarded their ninth league title in a row, and that’s when Rangers knew they had to be ready to win the Premiership next season.
Winning ten top-flight titles in a row is a feat that has never been achieved in the history of Scottish football. Celtic won nine in a row between from 1966 to 1974 and were stopped by Rangers from winning a tenth. Rangers then went on to win nine in a row from 1989 to 1997 and got stopped by Celtic. Both of them have been able to stop the other one from winning the tenth, so when Celtic secured their ninth consecutive title in 2020 Rangers had to step up once again.
There was much speculation regarding Gerrard’s future when the league was curtailed in March 2020. After all, Rangers managers were rarely given a third season after two trophyless bouts. But Gerrard’s impression carried a lot of weight and he was allowed to spearhead the Gers’ title charge, and spearhead he did.
Much like his beloved Liverpool from the season before, Gerrard’s Rangers started the season all guns blazing. The lockdown had given them time to take a step back, ruminate, assess their situation, strengthen themselves and be ready for the new season. They knew they could not stop until it was mathematically impossible for Celtic to catch them. Celtic, on the other hand, were expecting a similar turn-around like last season’s, but from the get-go things did not look well for them and kept getting worse. From embarrassing performances to players making the news for all the wrong reasons, a tenth title charge proved all too much for Neil Lennon’s side, and the Bhoys completely imploded, eventuating in their manager’s resignation by February. At the time of writing, Rangers sit at the top of the Premiership as champions-elect, 20 points clear off Celtic in second and unbeaten in the league all season.
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It might have taken almost a decade, but Scotland’s most successful football club are finally right back where they belong. With their 55th top-flight win, Rangers have reset the clock on the ten in a row and given Celtic a worthy rival for the first time in ten years. The neutrals will hope the Bhoys get their house in order soon and make the Premiership once again a competitive affair at the top.