The “newco” situation which the new Rangers FC (Sevco Scotland Limited) currently find themselves in is not a new one when we consider some of our European brethren. The SPL, on voting on the identity of “Club 12” today at Hampden, has the opportunity to do the right thing and select either Dundee or Dunfermline for the 12th spot in the SPL (or if they have any sense, have a play-off in the next week or two). If they pick Rangers, they make Scottish football look like an absolute laughing stock. We Brits often like to look down our noses at Italian football administration (perhaps with some justification given Totonero, Calciopoli and Calcio scommesse); when it comes to dealing with “Newcos”, however, they get it close to right.
AC Fiorentina was founded in 1926, playing at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in the beautiful Italian city of Florence. They chased the dream in the 1990s, and briefly into the early 2000s, under the ownership of Vittorio Cecchi Gori. Top-notch players such as Gabriel Batistuta (Batigol himself), Luis Oliveira and Rui Costa meant for much of that time period, Fiorentina was a side to be reckoned with, though never quite at the top table.
Cecchi Gori chased that aforementioned dream to the point that, in 2002, with Fiorentina more than $50m in the red having sold Batistuta, Oliveira, Rui Costa, and indeed the whole shop other than Angelo Di Livio, the Viola was declared bankrupt.
What then, you ask? A fudged campaign from the FIGC (the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio – i.e. the Italian FA) to get the men from Firenze back in Serie B? Not quite. A new club (ACF Florentia Viola, who quickly became ACF Fiorentina) was told to start again in Serie C2. A win of their C2 group and a helping hand from some Catania-based controversy got ACF a double jump to Serie B. From there, a play-off victory ensured arrival back in Serie A, where they have since remained. Perhaps not a perfect example of how to run things after an insolvency event, but certainly fairer than a vote straight back into the top flight.
Staying in Tuscany (what Tuscans seemingly lack in football administration skills they do make up for in pretty much everything else), the local team in the Leaning Tower town are currently in their third incarnation. The original Pisa (SC) was founded in 1909 and went bust in 1994. The team was to start again in the Eccellenza (the sixth tier of Italian football, 1 below Serie D). Things went relatively well (though never hitting the Paul Elliot-signing Serie A highlights of Pisa SC) until 2009. when the club went bust again, this time after trying to chase promotion to Serie A and ending up in Serie C1 instead.
The newest incarnation (AC Pisa 1909) started in 2009 in Serie D, and now plies its trade in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione (formerly known as Serie C1). Again, it would appear that our Italian cousins know how to deal with sides which go bust and are reformed.
A final example from Italy, and another (then) fallen giant which has since come very good again. Napoli went through its heyday in the late 80s and early 90s, with the contributions of the likes of Diego Maradona and Careca vital to 2Scudetti and a UEFA Cup (when it was still worth winning).
Much like their Tuscan friends, however, chasing the dream became rather a hefty financial burden and by 2004 Napoli was declared bankrupt, with debts standing at a relatively hefty €70m. The club was subsequently reformed (by film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis) and forced by the FIGC to start again in Serie C1 (there’s a pattern emerging here).
Despite playing in Italy’s third tier, Napoli still attracted crowds of 50,000 to their behemoth San Paolo stadium (they seemingly don’t do walking away in Naples). A failed tilt at promotion to Serie B in 2005 was followed by a successful one in 2006, with promotion to Serie A following the year after. Napoli has since again established itself as a fine footballing side, with quality attacking talent. They took the pill, and came back fighting.
A switch now to the Netherlands. RBC was again a fair to middling side who played for four seasons in the Eredivisie in the mid-Noughties. They also, on the back of their success, built a shiny new 5,000 seat (2.5 times bigger than New Bayview) stadium. Relegation from the Eredivise in 2006 led to floating around in the second tier until, on 8 June 2011, RBC was declared bankrupt with (comparatively) measly debts of €1.6m. RBC then proceeded to start again, playing the 2011-12 season in the wonderfully-named Vijfde Klasse, the eighth tier of the Dutch game.
Thus, there is plenty of precedent out there (most of it Italian) as to how a “Newco” club should be dealt with. The SFL chairmen made entirely the right call on Friday by putting the new Rangers into the Third Division (never mind that 4 divisions is far too many for a country of Scotland’s size). One hopes that today the SPL chairmen make a similarly correct decision. The argument could (and will) be made that the clubs above do not have the comparative commercial clout in their own countries compared with that of Rangers in Scotland. Nevertheless, Napoli and Fiorentina in particular are big clubs (perhaps not up there with Juventus and the two Milan sides, but big nonetheless); their reputation was not enough to save them from being bumped down the leagues on their re-establishment. The same must and should (and looks like it will) apply to Rangers, for the credibility of the Scottish game to remain intact.