A year ago this weekend, Glasgow Rangers lined up against Malmö in the early stages of the Uefa Champions League, the world's richest sporting competition.
Times have changed. Next Saturday the team will kick off its Scottish Football League Third Division campaign in slightly less grand surroundings, by travelling to the Balmoor Stadium, the home of Peterhead FC, which boasts a capacity of 4,000 (1,000 of which are seated).
The banishment of one of British football's greatest clubs to Scottish football's fourth tier – the penalty for the club's liquidation following its financial implosion – has perhaps been the most shocking sporting story of the financial crisis. But even as the Scottish Premier League (SPL) season kicked off yesterday with just half of the Old Firm, the issue is far from played out.
Scottish football has been in the financial doldrums for years, so the prospect of a minimum of three SPL seasons without one of the Glasgow giants will ensure that finances get even tighter.
The demotion of Rangers led to the league's new (but unsigned) five-year £80m broadcasting deal with BSkyB and ESPN being axed, which, after much wrangling, was replaced days before the start of the SPL season by an agreement thought to be worth around £50m to the 12 SPL teams over the same period.
Meanwhile, a likely drop in match-day revenues with clubs no longer able to ink in two home sellouts each season when Rangers visit, means that football finance experts calculate the cost to each club will typically be around £1m a season. That may sound trivial when compared with the numbers bandied around the English Premier League, especially after a week in which Manchester United has launched a $3.3bn (£2.1bn) flotation, but in Scotland it represents a significant slice of most clubs' budgets.
Of the 12 clubs in the top flight, only Celtic reported turnover of greater than £8m in their last financial year, while the loss of £1m a year would have been enough to push four of the five SPL clubs that actually booked a 2011 profit back into the red. In total the 12 SPL clubs collectively lost £1.1m after tax last year, although that included a £1.7m profit by Dundee, which was the result of a credit in its accounts following the club going into administration. Finances were so tight at four clubs (Aberdeen, Dundee, Dundee United and Hearts) that their auditors felt the need to add a "going concern" comment to the accounts, essentially meaning the accountants have some doubts the clubs can continue in business in the foreseeable future.
"There will be far more of those going-concern notices in the next set of accounts [for the financial year ending June 2012]," said one insider at an SPL club. "Let's be honest, the banks run Scottish football now."
While the financial state of Scottish football looks precarious, things are not as bad as they could have been. Stephen Morrow, senior lecturer in sport finance at the University of Stirling, said: "Clubs are on the margins but with the new television deal we are pretty well where we were. I don't think any clubs will [go under imminently]. I think several were very nervous [before the TV deal]".
The demise of Rangers was unique, but the whims of broadcasters shaping the financial future of the Scottish game is a far more familiar story. In fact, the current crisis is nowhere near the magnitude of the previous one in 2008, when the clubs collectively had to contend with a sudden £60m hole in their budgets after the collapse of Setanta.
David Glen, a partner at accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the author of the firm's annual financial review of SPL football, said: "Over the past few years, the SPL has found it difficult to escape the grip of the economic crisis, experiencing financial pressures as a result of diminished discretionary spend and businesses reducing entertainment budgets. This has been further compounded by the absence of lucrative TV deals in stark comparison to the English premiership. This was brought into sharp focus following the demise of Setanta and an anticipated £125m four-year contract, with many clubs having to write off this budgeted revenue stream as bad debt. Although a substantially smaller £65m, five-year deal with Sky and ESPN was subsequently negotiated, this episode simply underlines clubs' reliance upon recurring media income. Unfortunately, the extent of this dependency is no different today than it was then."
That reliance on broadcast cash, of course, is familiar to most major football leagues. In fact, Scottish football is arguably less reliant on television than rivals, with the latest report by PwC stating: "Even before the collapse of Setanta, the SPL was in a unique position compared to the other big leagues such as the Premiership, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga, with ticket sales forming the SPL's most important revenue stream (with TV and radio deals being second and sponsorship taking third place)".
That split obviously means the SPL clubs have been hit harder by declining attendance levels during the recession (although early anecdotal evidence suggests SPL season ticket sales post-Rangers have improved, following appeals for support). More worryingly, however, it also raises a question about whether Scottish football has been routinely selling off its viewing rights too cheaply.
To put the SPL's new five-year, £50m deal into perspective, last year Sky Sports agreed a £195m three-year deal worth £1.35m per club per season with the bottom two rungs of English football – League 1 and League 2.
Meanwhile, an analysis of major football broadcasting contracts posted last month on the Saintinasia blog, which is written by a St Johnstone fan, argues that Scotland has sold itself short compared with comparable leagues in Europe.
"The SPL, with Rangers, was the 11th-most supported league (by attendances) in Europe last season," it says. "We had higher attendances than the Belgian, Russian, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Greek, Swiss, Austrian and Polish Premier Leagues. How did our TV revenue compare? All the leagues below us in this table get more TV revenue than the Scottish game, apart from the Polish league and Austrian leagues."
So what is the solution? Many believe Celtic will attempt to revive its campaign to leave Scottish football and join the English structure, although its attempts to defect have been frustrated for years.
Others are now calling for a faster implementation of the Review of Scottish Football, published two years ago by Scotland's former first minister Henry McLeish, who was once a full-back at East Fife. His recommendations included a merger of the SPL with the Scottish Football League (which runs the three divisions below the top tier) as well as allowing youth sides from SPL team to compete in divisions one and two.
Meanwhile, others are calling for more radical solutions. Keith Wyness, a former chief executive of Aberdeen FC, said: "We could make the SPL the showpiece for the best under 25-year-olds in the world. Like the Olympics, you could have a couple of over-aged players, but if the league had a reputation of being the place where you viewed Europe's emerging talent we would get better television deals and more sponsorship. It would also mean that we might get an exciting youth system for Scottish players."
That idea may not appeal just yet to Scottish football fans – who are proud of their league's traditions. But, as the thousands of Rangers supporters who won't be able to squeeze into Balmoor might testify, the goalposts have shifted.