The second (or third, depending who you listen to) most supported club in Northern Ireland will next season be playing against clubs who rarely break 700 as an average home attendance.
To put that figure in context, on occasions there are probably more Rangers fans travelling over from Ulster alone to watch their team than season ticket holders at Galabank or Broadfield.
On so many levels the decision to relegate one half of the Old Firm to the Scottish Third makes sense; morally no club should be above the rules and once you’ve broken those rules, you should be starting again right at the bottom rung not at some dodgy and compromised halfway house just because that’s in the best interest of the moneymen and the twice a season armchair fans.
It is also in the best interest of the Scottish game- the previous reliance on two clubs hasn’t improved standards or ultimately the financial standing of the clubs outside the Old Firm. Now they (and more especially those fans who have been most vocal in calling for Rangers to be expelled to the SL3) have the chance to prove their point that “sporting integrity means more than finance”. Their clubs will survive if the love for their own clubs is at least as great as their obvious hatred for Rangers.
The other half of the Old Firm also now have an opportunity. John Hartson once had this to say about the Celtic/Rangers love affair:
“It should be about football but the Old Firm boils down to one thing:hatred. Pure and utter hatred between both sets of supporters. The thing is Glasgow football thrives on that.”
And that is (or actually now, “was”) healthy?
Too many Celtic fans define themselves not by a love of their own team but by a hatred of “The Hun”. Too many Celtic fans (despite their own protestations to the contrary) bought into the ethno-nationalist pride/hatred displayed by the likes of Red Star Belgrade or Dynamo Zagreb rather than the much more uncomfortable secular and anti-racist internationalism that the likes of Germany’s St Pauli proclaim.
OK, now that their nemesis, the Brit/Hun/Prod/Orange bigots have gone, how will they define themselves?
Belting out “Boys of the Old Brigade” makes a lot less sense (if it ever did from a sporting point of view) at East End Park than it did twice a season at Ibrox.
The biggest challenge, however, is now for Rangers, both the club and their fans.
It’s the potential of redemption, on a whole host of levels; that is if that’s what you as supporters, players and as club, collectively, are really after.
If not, then you don’t deserve to be any longer a presence, even at the third level of Scottish football.