SOLD FOR ENGLISH GOLD?
Slowly, the truth is beginning to dawn about
the Old Firm's proposed move to English football. Forget
Man Utd. Forget Liverpool. Start forming an orderly
queue for these mouth-watering fixtures: Celtic v Sheffield
United. Rangers v Crystal Palace. Doesn't sound quite
so appealing, does it? But this is the hard reality of what
an Old Firm move would mean.
Just as has been long suspected, the Premiership
doesn't need the Old Firm. The 'full house' signs are up at
the vast majority of matches and there's no way that the 50%
of Premiership clubs whose sole ambition is to avoid relegation
are going to vote to axe two of their number to accommodate
the Glasgow giants.
So it's the proposed Phoenix League (stupid
name) or nothing. And just what do the Old Firm stand to gain
from joining a clutch of English First Division sides? Certainly
not bigger gates. More people already watch Celtic v St
Johnstone or Rangers v Dunfermline than attend
European ties, so a visit from Norwich City or Birmingham
City isn't going to boost crowds.
No, its the thought of TV cash which
motivates the big two. And they could be on shaky ground.
ITV Digital, which has exclusive rights to live Nationwide
league fixtures has already televised games where there have
been more people in the ground than there have been watching
on the box. Don't expect the same lucrative deal to be on
the table when the next contract comes up. The aforementioned
clubs and the likes of Man City and Sheffield Wednesday
are giants only in the mind of their own boardrooms. David
Gold, Birmingham's Chairman summed up their attitude by
claiming that Birmingham v Celtic was an exciting prospect.
Maybe it is for him. But is Celtic v Birmingham
more exciting for the Parkhead fans than a visit from Ajax,
Juventus or Valencia - all of whom have played
in Glasgow this season?
I don't think so. Nor, I suspect, will the fans
be willing to swap a midweek trip to the Stadio Communale
for a visit to Carrow Road. And what if the Old Firm
fail to gain promotion to the Premiership? Will their supporters
be content to turn up in the same numbers as they do at present
to watch a meaningless mid-table match against Barnsley?
No, the big boys in the Premiership have proved
that they don't need the Old Firm and the best example of
this is the plan to let the Glasgow sides enter the Worthington
Cup. Such is the arrogance of the Old Firm that they treat
the domestic equivalent with disdain (until they get within
sniffing distance of the trophy).
Only last season Dick Advocaat called
for the CIS Cup to be scrapped. Yet here they are almost
begging to enter a tournament that the English giants can't
be bothered with. Of the 22 players who lined up at
the start of the recent Arsenal v Man Utd premiership
fixture ,just two had taken part in a Worthington
Cup tie between the same two clubs a fortnight previously.
Obviously the English teams would benefit
from the inclusion of our big two - it might give fans of
Burnley and Chesterfield the chance to relive their early
80s triumphs in the Anglo-Scottish Cup!
FUTURE ISN'T ORANGE(OR
But let us imagine a future without Scottish
football's two greatest institutions/biggest liabilities (delete
Some claim a breakaway will lead to a more exciting
future for the rest of the Scottish clubs with championships
shared out in an evenly-contested, exciting League. Others
that Scotland will drop domestically to the same level as
the Republic of Ireland.
Unfortunately, this website has to agree with
the pessimists. If the Old Firm go it will be the death of
Scottish football as we have known it for over a century.
And here's why...
Firstly, our biggest clubs will have gone. Media
coverage will still be heavily biased towards the Old Firm.
Why should the habits of a century change just because the
big two are playing in Sheffield or Birmingham rather than
Aberdeen or Edinburgh? The others will fight for the scraps.
SPL press coverage will shrink to that afforded the
First Division today.
Secondly, the remaining clubs will know they
are not the best in the country. Winning the championship
will not win them promotion to the Premiership. They will
be condemned to stay in their own backyard forever.
European prospects will shrink. If UEFA
sanction an Old Firm move it can only be at the expense of
Scottish participation in Europe, or a guaranteed place for
the big two. Its time for the old coffee beans to hit the
nostrils of anyone who thinks we will still be allocated four
Euro-places domestically while the Old Firm languish in England.
Fans will be forced to pick one of the giants/ogres
to follow when playing against the English. We will nearly
all become Celtic/Rangers fans while retaining loyalty
to our own domestic clubs. Impossible? What about junior football
in Scotland now? There are thousands who follow a junior team
and also a senior team where no clash of loyalties can occur.
We will either become temporary Old Firm fans or carry our
detestation of them as far as supporting the opposition against
them. Even today there are many Scots who, perversely, want
the Old Firm to fail in Europe, failing to realise that the
worse the big two do, the fewer chances there are for the
rest to play in Europe.
Northern Ireland, the Republic of
Ireland and Wales already follow the pattern of
supporting local teams and Premiership sides. If Scotland
were to follow it can only be described as a tragic irony
that in an era which has embraced political devolution throughout
these islands, that a sporting hegemony is established by
What case do the optimists have? Those who think
the departure of the Old Firm will bring a bright new dawn
to Scottish football? None whatsoever. Which TV stations will
fight each other for rights to our domestic games when
BBC Scotland and STV can't even provide a highlights
programme now when Rangers and Celtic have a week off?
Where will the support come from? Don't fool
yourself into thinking that Old Firm fans will suddenly rediscover
their local sides. As argued above, the reverse is much more
likely. Look at the situation at present. The last Old Firm
fixture was a sell-out with nearly 60,000 attending.
On the same day, the total attendance for all twenty other
senior matches was just 53,000. In 2000, a Sunday charity
kickabout between Rangers and Celtic over-35s drew more than
40,000. The day previously just three fixtures survived
the winter. Two of these were in Glasgow. The total attendance
for the three games was just over 5,000.
There we have it. Old Firm fans will rather
watch an old boys lark in the park than attend another club's
games- even in the same city. Love them or loathe them, we
need them. And, as they will find out should they make the
move, they need us. For, as argued in the column opposite,
what is on offer in England may satisfy their accountants
but it won't please their supporters.
When it comes down to basics, will the same
Old Firm fans who moan about too many easy games or about
teams putting ten men behind the ball (but not when they
do it themselves in Europe), be happy to watch tightly-contested
no-score draws against Coventry or Southampton?
Somehow, I doubt it. They're too used to winning.