THOSE who peer at the most-read lists on newspapers websites have regular cause for bemusement as a business story published on Wednesday, June 13, 2012, pops up frequently and with no apparent reason.

The headlines seem to brook no argument. Rangers Football Club, born 1872, died 2012 states The Herald in type reserved for the notice of a deceased president.

R.I.P RIFC, laments the Daily Record, adding: Taxman passes death sentence on 140 years of Rangers history.

The rest of the media followed a similar template. Many bloggers, tweeters, columnists and broadcasters followed the same line. Screenshots of their tweets, snapshots of their columns, quotes from their blogs endure to this day in the quasi eternal world that is the internet. This is to the embarrassment of some of the authors. It is why they are recycled endlessly, it is why concerted clicks make the headline of that June day soar up the most-read lists.

The death or otherwise of Rangers remains an extraordinarily contentious issue almost four years after it was declared unambiguously in the press. So what happened? And why?

First, it must be stated that this is not an essay on whether Rangers died. This is not an avoidance of the issue, merely a realisation that all arguments have been made and the two camps remain resolute in their beliefs. One year ago, a group of Celtic fans bought advertising space to proclaim Rangers as a new entity. It is accurate to stay that this view did not sway the mass of Rangers supporters.

Today, as the Rangers v Celtic Scottish Cup semi-final approaches with all the menace of a runaway train packed with TNT, the precise existential status of a football club is argued with references to such sources as company law, UEFA, SFA, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations. The very term Old Firm is now an indicator of where one stands in terms of the status of the Ibrox club. How old can a firm be when one club was only formed in 2012, runs one argument. It is the same Rangers, just a different holding company, insists the counter argument.

It is a volatile, dangerous subject. Journalists are assailed if any indication is given that they favour either argument. This has bred a culture where the subject is rarely discussed, barely examined. But if it is futile to construct an argument that would convince those on either side, it is surely intriguing to look at why it matters. And it does to a significant proportion of the Scottish football world.

It is noteworthy first to state that this is not purely a Rangers v Celtic dispute. A friend conducting a seminar in Aberdeen was chastened by the response he received to a casual mention of the Old Firm. “There is no Old Firm,” he was informed by a succession of audience members with Aberdonian accents. The “Rangers died” camp is a broad church that can be heard in song at many Scottish football stadiums.

Second, it is hardly enlightening to state that it matters because each faction believes it is stating the truth. This upholding of the beautiful principle of veracity is heart-warming but both sides cannot be right and they may have motives that are beyond the tireless search for truth.

So what keeps this debate on the boil? Many of those who state Rangers are a new club are driven by a desire to seek retribution from a club/company/institution that went bust owing the taxman at least £20m. This is a historic issue. The feckless, reckless reign of Sir David Murray garnered extraordinary success on the playing field for Rangers. But their extravagant spending was not only questioned, it was the cause of deep, enduring resentment. This takes the conversation dangerously close to the treacherous waters marked with a warning buoy on which the letters EBT are marked. Suffice to state that Rangers’ spending separated the Ibrox club in terms of budget from other Scottish teams and this has caused a disaffection that has not closed in the years of administration and then liquidation. There is a need for many to be seen to have punished Rangers. Entry into the SPFL, albeit at the lowest level, simply does not satisfy those appalled or secretly delighted by the machinations of Sir David and then Craig Whyte.

This is where the influence of non-Celtic supporters is at its most visible. The fate of new Rangers/same Rangers in being admitted to the third division was influenced by directors and fans far from the East End of Glasgow. There was an element in Scottish football, widespread in geographical terms and disparate in allegiances to varying clubs, who simply would not tolerate Rangers playing in the top division or the Championship.

There was, too, a strong reaction to what was seen as “Rangers arrogance”. The Rangers descent into liquidation was greeted with deep satisfaction and even joy by non-Celtic supporters. The institution that had been styled as the “establishment team”, the perennial winners now had to be – at the very least – dragged into a world where reality bit severely and with consequent pain. Partly, too, this is why the new club narrative has continued. Again, there are those who believe they are merely stating the truth but there others who revel in the angst it causes Rangers fans.

And why does a substantial section of the Ibrox support bridle at any suggestion that they are following a new club? Their answer, again, would be that they are simply adhering to a truth. But there are deeper reasons. The allegiance to a club is more than a matter of attending a match. It is part of one’s identity, particularly in Scotland. How often, for example, is a person described in terms of football. “You know, Jimmy. A big Rangers man.”

This identity, too, has little to do with sporting matters. It becomes part of who one is, even what one believes or stands for in political or cultural terms. Whatever the existential state of their club, Rangers fans have seen a dreadful erosion of their favourites that is only being repaired now. In business terms, they have watched as new custodians burned through tens of millions in cash after a rights issue. They have howled at annual meetings at Ibrox as they watched their club lurch towards another financial crisis. This, too, at a club that was once regarded as the richest, the most powerful in Scotland, the board that could spend a tenner to Celtic’s fiver.

The world of employment has also changed. The men who once stood on the Ibrox terraces had trades or professions and the reality of full employment. Manufacturing - of ships or of steel or of much else – has gone, leaving its scars of unemployment or its apprehension of short, precarious contracts.

There is no certainty, either, in the political era. Rangers are viewed as a unionist club and certainly many of their supporters loudly proclaim allegiance to a United Kingdom. The inexorable drift towards devolution of a profound shade or even independence has thus left a substantial section of their support in a Scotland that seems to be changing in ways they resist or, at least, find unappealing.

Everyone clings to matters of identity when the outside world is changing in ways one finds distasteful. It is little surprise then that any depiction of their club as something arriviste or without history has the capacity to wound. Their adherence to the “same club” narrative is challenged insistently but their belief is not sustained solely by recourse to UEFA rulings or interpretations of judges’ comments or company law.

This is, in essence, an emotional issue. It is thus no surprise that the proposed single body of Rangers supporters is called Club 1872, invoking the year of foundation. The rivals will insist this is mere wishful and misguided thinking.

The Rangers support will say otherwise. But it is about more than a date, more than history. It is about the culture of the present. It is about how people see themselves and an institution they love.

It is why Rangers remains a matter of life and death, at least in terms of an argument that shows no signs of abating.