During a summer when I should only be eagerly anticipating on Ross County’s fast-approaching first season as a Scottish Premier League club and lamenting the frustrating performances of the New England Revolution, I’ve had one other, aggravating task- keeping up with the disappearance of Rangers F.C. and the emergence of Newco F.C.. Amid all of the meetings, sanctions, and media frenzy everyone seems to have taken it for granted that Newco F.C. will string together back-to-back-to-back promotions and be back in the SPL no later the end of the 2014-2015- faster if the Scottish “pyramid” is reorganized in the next couple of years. I for one, however, think there are a few stumbling blocks that could keep this from happening.
First, while the Scottish Football League has accepted the Newco into the Third Division, the Scottish Football Association has yet to admit the Newco as a member and that supersedes anything the SFL might do. The reason for the hold-up is that the SFA are still considering additional sanctions against the Newco as a result of the misdeeds of the Oldco- including, but not limited to: substantial fines, stripping Rangers of any silverware won during the “EBT Era,” control of media rights, etc.. Rangers, meanwhile, have chosen now to dig their heels in (or posture for their supporters- it hardly matters)- they say they will not give up their silverware and that if they agree to the SFA’s other sanctions/demands, the SFA must drop the EBT investigation. All of this with less than three weeks before the 2012-2013 Third Division season is supposed to kick off and Newco’s first Challenge Cup match (against Brechin City F.C.), which is supposed to take place this Saturday! So that’s the first issue.
Next, while the year long transfer ban placed on the club does not start until the end of the current summer transfer window, it hardly matters. Who is going to sign for the Newco and how is the Newco going to sign them by September 1? Keep in mind, the club has no money (that’s how this all started, remember?) and it’s future is, at best, uncertain. That attracts, in my opinion, two kinds of players: old players looking for one more (small) paycheck and maybe the ability to say they “once played for Rangers” or young players who know they aren’t going to make much money anyway, so why not sign on with the Newco and maybe, if they get lucky, they can go along for the ride back to the top flight. Well, at least until the club starts making money again and can spend it on better players and the Third Division “old boys” are sent packing.
And then, let’s assume they win back-to-back promotions and end up in the First Division. This is where things could get ugly. The First Division is, and has been for years, acknowledged in Scotland as the toughest of all of the divisions. Ross County running rough-shod over the other First Division clubs this past season was an anomaly, which is why, when Ross County lost their second match of the season to Hamilton, many wondered if their title hopes had been dashed! The play is physical, the pitches can be rough, and the travel can be punishing- there’s no shuttling within or back and forth between Glasgow and Edinburgh in the First Division. Plus, the clubs in this division are the ones playing for the biggest prize in all of Scottish football- promotion to the top flight. The flip side, of course, is relegation to the Second Division, and that can cripple a club for years. Attendance can drop from thousands per match to hundreds (among other things reducing the club’s ability to attract the players that could help them gain promotion back to the First Division) and if the club cannot immediately bounce back (as Ross County did after dropping down in 2007-2008) it could mean a switch from “full time” to “part time” football and that can further hamper a club’s ability to be promoted, or even to continue to exist.
Finally, perhaps the biggest impediment to the Newco’s rapid rise through the divisions is its roster- let’s take a look. Please note my convenient color coding: Green means they are staying, Red means they are going, Black means the player’s status is unclear.
Neil Alexander (GK): The 34 year old made only two appearances last season (and only 26 since joining the Oldco in 2008). My guess is that Alexander sees the Newco as a chance to add one more season of first team football to his career. Alexander is a former Scottish international so he might be one of the best goalkeepers in the Third Division- for what that’s worth. He is under contract until September 1, 2013.
Alejandro Bedoya (M): Bedoya signed a three year contract last summer, but if he wants the USMNT to remain part of his future there’s not a chance that he’ll be on the Newco opening day roster.
Kirk Broadfoot (D): I’m guessing Broadfoot- who is entering the second decade of his career despite being only 27 years old- will stick. He has a year left on his contract and will probably try to use this season as a springboard to bigger and better things elsewhere in 2013-2014. Broadfoot is also an occasional Scottish international.
Darren Cole (D): Cole will stay with the club. He has been with the club since 2010 but made only one Champions League appearance (in 2010) and six loan appearances for Partick Thistle F.C.. He also doesn’t turn 21 until next January, so he’s probably looking at this as a chance to gain some first team experience.
Blair Currie (GK): He’s only 19-year-old, his career consists of four appearances on loan at Hamilton last season- he’s not going anywhere.
Kane Hemmings (F): The injury-prone 21 year old has only appeared for the club four times since signing in 2008 and, you guessed it, he’s injured and will miss the beginning of the 2012-2013 season.
Kyle Hutton (M) – Another youngster, 21, with only a handful of appearances (7) who has spent most of the last two years on loan in the lower divisions.
Andrew Little (M): The 23 year old Northern Ireland international made only 16 appearances in five seasons at Ibrox- and he’s out of contract.
Lewis MacLeod (M): Captain of the Oldco’s U19 side and considered an up-and-comer in Scotland both domestically and internationally.
Lee McCulloch (M): Still a first team regular for the Oldco last season, the 34 year old offered to play for free after the club went into administration, so he’ll be staying. He is under contract until September 1, 2013. He has 18 caps for Scotland since 2004.
Andrew Mitchell (M): The 20 year old signed a one-year contract with the Newco this summer, so he’s not going anywhere.
Kal Naismith (F): The 20 year old’s professional resume consists of 17 appearances on loan with Cowdenbeath and Partick.
Ross Perry (D): The 22 year old signed a four year deal with the Oldco last fall. He has made a dozen appearances for the senior team, all last season.
Lee Wallace (D): The Scottish international has four years left of a five year contract and has pledged to stay with the club. He’s only 24 and his career- domestically and internationally- appears to be on the rise. Being stuck in the lower divisions for the remainder of his contract could kill his career.