Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Stephen Craigan: Survival still the main goal

Tony Watt scores during Celtic's victory over Barcelona, which was the biggest event in Scottish football in 2012

As another new year begins, what is in store for Scottish football in 2013? 



Surely it can’t be any more turbulent than 2012?

We witnessed Rangers go into administration, then liquidation and start the new season in the Third Division amongst minnows such as East Stirling and Montrose.

Across the city their great rivals Celtic won the SPL and progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League. Hearts were weeks from closing after HMRC presented the Court of Session with a winding-up order over an unpaid tax bill and many SPL clubs accumulated record debt that apparently totalled nearly £12 million.

It looks like a lot of work has to be done not just on the pitch in 2013 but off it as well.

Survival is one of the biggest challenges facing a host of top flight clubs as financial issues continue to dominate the headlines. In hindsight I think a lot of SPL clubs regret how they treated Rangers over the summer and their annual accounts will tell them just that.

2012, as I mentioned, was turbulent and will go down in history because the top flight in Scotland for the first time ever doesn’t contain both Rangers and Celtic.

The SPL is now a one-horse race rather than two because of this but other clubs are rising to the challenge of aiming for second place, like Inverness and Motherwell and it’s reinvigorated them.

The league itself, taking Celtic aside, is as close as it’s been for many years and has brought great excitement for the provincial clubs. A lot of the games I’ve watched have been open, entertaining and full of quality.

More and more young players are playing regularly as well which fans love to see and in 2013 keep an eye out for guys like Ryan Fraser of Aberdeen, Kenny McLean at St Mirren and Callum Paterson at Hearts.

Rangers have taken their demotion on the chin and are putting a structure in place at Ibrox that will see them prosper as they climb the leagues. They are currently 15 points clear in Division 3, with 2012 forever etched in the memory of all Rangers fans.

The fans’ resilience, loyalty and continued support has amazed everyone around the world and they are a credit to their club.

So what is there to look forward to in 2013 as a fan of Scottish football?

First of all with the winter break kicking into action shortly, SPL players, clubs and fans alike will get a well-earned break and a chance to recharge the batteries for the second half of the season.

For Celtic supporters and players it’s Juventus in the Champions League. They know they will win the SPL title so all their focus is on this challenge and they’ll be further motivated by comments from Michel Platini that they’ve no chance of progression.

Didn’t he see the Barcelona games?

For the rest there’s the fight for runners-up spot in the league, a possible cup win and the small matter of league reconstruction.

Talks have been continuing between the three main bodies, SFA, SPL and SFL with the aim of adding a bit more competition to the leagues. Will this enable Rangers to get back to the top flight quicker than expected?

Privately, plenty of club chairmen will be hoping it does!

So a slightly worrying year ahead for many clubs with more questions than answers. There are more players than ever out of contract this summer meaning a lot of upheaval and insecurity but, one thing is for certain, there will be plenty of drama and talking points as normal in 2013.

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