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Old Firm in the EPL: Time to End the Chase?

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Once again talk of the Old Firm joining the English Premier League has reared its head, and this time by Celtic’s majority shareholder Dermot Desmond. The man who keeps his own fans at bay with a string of bodyguards, has reiterated the desire of the Glasgow giants to play in the Richest League in the world, and arguably the best league in the world – not a view shared by myself though.

Desmond believes that it is the fans and the media companies who will finally dictate the Old Firm joining the SPL. And he is also of the opinion that, “….it will be good for football in Scotland, for football in England, in Britain and in Europe.”

Strong words indeed from the man who controls the purse strings at Parkhead, and one man who would have more to gain than most if the Old Firm did indeed move down south.

Desmond also believes that it would, “enable those Scottish clubs to be more competitive and not have the financial pressures because Celtic and Rangers are in their league.”

And while he may be right, and the majority of non-Old Firm fans would love an SPL free from the Old Firm, could the league survive or would it be nothing more than the Blue Square Premier League of Scotland?

How much would the clubs receive in Once again talk of the Old Firm joining the English Premier League has reared its head, and this time by Celtic’s majority shareholder Dermot Desmond. The man who keeps his own fans at bay with a string of bodyguards, has reiterated the desire of the Glasgow giants to play in the Richest League in the world, and arguably the best league in the world – not a view shared by myself though.

Desmond believes that it is the fans and the media companies who will finally dictate the Old Firm joining the SPL. And he is also of the opinion that, “….it will be good for football in Scotland, for football in England, in Britain and in Europe.”

Strong words indeed from the man who controls the purse strings at Parkhead, and one man who would have more to gain than most if the Old Firm did indeed move down south.

Desmond also believes that it would, “enable those Scottish clubs to be more competitive and not have the financial pressures because Celtic and Rangers are in their league.”

And while he may be right, and the majority of non-Old Firm fans would love an SPL free from the Old Firm, could the league survive or would it be nothing more than the Blue Square Premier League of Scotland?

How much would the clubs receive in gained more headlines, it had more to do with, “addressing the polarisation of clubs and the increasing revenue differentials.”

The disparities between the Premier League’s top & bottom clubs are huge also. In Season 2008-09, Manchester United pocketed £52.3 million of league TV money (not including sponsorship money), while relegated outfit West Brom received £31.6 million, since then the gap has increased significantly. On top of that the top four clubs can make around £20-£33 million per year more from competing in Europe. Compare that to what the SPL Champions receive – a little over £1 million and you can see WHY the Old Firm are looking south of the border.

Dermot Desmond stated in his Radio Five Live interview, “I’m a believer if you have content and tradition like Celtic and Rangers have, then they add something to the Premier League.”

So what would the Old Firm potentially bring to the EPL?

1. A Huge Following. Using stats from Season 2008-09. Celtic at home drew in an average of 57,671 fans per game, while Rangers attracted 49,534 on average. These numbers were only bettered in the English game by Manchester United (75,482) and Arsenal (60,059). Even the other big clubs, such as Liverpool (43,789), Manchester City (42,871) and Chelsea (41,652) cannot attract the numbers that the Old Firm can.

2. Global Brand. As we mentioned earlier, both Celtic and Rangers can only be beaten on their worldwide appeal by Manchester United and Liverpool, in terms of the English game.

3. Scotland’s not-so-secret shame: Sectarianism. Sadly the sectarian, bigotry and violence that follows the Old Firm is a major block on their move. The Pro-IRA songbook of the Celtic support and the recent violence and bigotry that has followed Rangers – none more so than Manchester 2008. These incidents are what hits the news and what the English media report on more than the footballing aspects of the Old Firm. It is these headlines that the FA officials, Club Chairmen and Chief Executives read and do not want in their grounds or in their game. In fact the FA, have their own issues to deal with, including Hooliganism involving Chelsea, West Ham, Millwall, Cardiff, Swansea and Leeds United fans to name but a few. So why would they want to inherit Scotland’s greatest issue?

Football is a massive part of life in Scotland. It is ingrained in our culture and in the national psyche, and if the Old Firm did leave Scotland, it would be a momentus period in Scottish Football history, as well as British, European and World Football.

120 years of history would leave the Scottish game, much to the delight of the majority of fans, but would the chairman and chief executives be so quick to jump for joy?

How to help the clubs left behind?

Parachute payments from the Old Firm for 5 to 10 years could ease the loss of the Big Two from the Scottish game, but could the introduction of Celtic & Ranger’s reserve sides be another viable option? The likes of Barcelona and Villareal do it in the Spanish leagues – so why not Celtic and Rangers? Of course limitations would have to be put in place to prevent such sides playing in the top league or from participating in Europe, as well as the type of players that would don the club’s jerseys for the reserve side.

So despite what Richard Scudamore believes the debate will continue to grown, with increasing financial problems in the English game. Dermot Desmond may be right in that it will happen sooner or later. But for the time being all talk of joining the EPL should be put on hold and they should concentrate on football matters north of the border for a while.

What do the Media say?

With all the media talk of the Old Firm joining the English Premier League. We felt it was appropriate to talk to one of England’s top journalist’s. News of the World’s Neil Ashton was the man facing our questions and he made some great points, that the Old Firm should sit up and take notice of.

Up in Scotland the Old Firm continue to peddle their chances of joining the English Premier League and fans up here are getting pig sick of it, do you think your club’s fans or English Football fans in general back such a move?

NA: People are tired of the constant under-current, the unofficial soundings and disclosures from the Old Firm that have yet to translate into concrete, meaningful proposals.

At the moment it’s pub talk or idle chat, but Rangers and Celtic (or is that Celtic and Rangers?) must have the courage of their convictions and make a play for it, really go for the jackpot.

It needs a slick PR operation and some highly persuasive salesmen to make it happen, just like any other walk of life, but they can pull it off. They will need to court the 20 Premier League clubs, schmoozing the vote-winners, ie. the chief executives and chairmen. More importantly they will need to max out on a PR offensive in England and Scotland to turn this into a sound, solid and ultimately progressive idea.

If they can convince the public, they are more than halfway there with the suits in the boardrooms. While the Old Firm continue to tread water, there will never really be the appetite among supporters for it to gather momentum.

If it ever came close to happening it would cause a lot of excitement and anticipation, not withstanding the controversy.
The two clubs must present a united case that will enhance the Premier League. At this time I’m not sure they have even reached an agreement between the two clubs.

In your opinion what would the Old Firm bring to the English game, if such a move materialised?

NA: It would certainly add a new dimension to a highly successful model, making the Premier League even more marketable around the world in terms of television rights.

Both teams would be screened week-in, week-out if they were playing in the Premier League, generating enormous revenue streams.

The Old Firm are steeped in tradition, history and a unique rivalry, something that has been replicated around the world but never quite matched. Premier League clubs should experience that. (I feel like I’m talking myself into this…)

Given that Bolton Chairman Phil Gartside proposed such a proposal, which was thrown out by the EPL and other member clubs should it just be put to bed now?

NA: The Premier League is no longer English football, it’s the World Series that just happens to be played in England. That’s down to the obsession with money and foreign footballers, a trend that started when the Premier League was formed.

I’m all for history and tradition, but that’s just being sentimental and giddy. Times change.

If the Premier League can come up with a concept as fanciful as playing a 39th game in other continents, they can absorb Celtic and Rangers into the top-tier of English football.

They would enrich the competition, enhancing the supporter experience for people who follow teams outside the Established Order.

With the exception of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, very few people supporting Premier League teams have ever experienced the hostile environment that Ibrox or Celtic Park generates. On European nights it’s gripping; I’m sure the atmosphere would be equally frenzied if they played Premier League football.

What are the main reasons why the English clubs do not want the Old Firm joining?

NA: Fear among the Established Order (Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool), along with new kids Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa that two big rivals have emerged for top four football.

The playing contracts and budgets of the Top Four are based on Champions League football: look at the financial implosion that lurks just around the corner at Liverpool now that they have slipped out of the top-tier.

Add Celtic and Rangers to that cluster of clubs and they will be wetting the bed at night, fearing they will never qualify for the Champions League again.

Naturally there will be apprehension from clubs outside the top 6-7, because the arrival of Rangers and Celtic would (most likely) push them down two places in the division. For a club finishing 16th or 17th, that’s relegation the following season.
Cash, as ever though, is king. Premier League clubs are so greedy, in an almost unimaginable way.

The boom in TV revenues will wash away all their fears. At least until it dawns on them that three clubs will still be relegated.

Would there be any opposition if the Old Firm started from League Two and worked their way up?

NA: This is one of the biggest issues and, as yet, no-one has come up with a satisfactory strategy. Celtic and Rangers must find the solution and then sell it into the Premier League. There would be a riot if they were parachuted straight into the Premier League, but equally there’s no point starting in League Two.

Perhaps Celtic and Rangers could come up with something dramatic, such as a two-legged play off against the 18th and 19th placed teams in the Premier League.

That would be something else, the most amazing matches in history. Celtic v Wolves, Rangers v West Ham for the right to play Premier League football. It would suit the 18th and 19th placed teams because it certainly beats automatic relegation – double jeopardy (there, that’s Sky’s billing sorted). Imagine the stakes. Quite how the Championship would cope with the reshuffle if the Scottish clubs won is another consideration, but given some thought I’m certain something can be worked out (especially if there is a financial incentive).

What do the Fans say?

On top of getting the media’s opinion of the Old Firm joining the Premier League. We also tackled two English Football bloggers. First up was Andy, the Editor of United Rant, a Manchester United fan site.

Up in Scotland the Old Firm continue to peddle their chances of joining the English Premier League and fans up here are getting pig sick of it, do you think your club’s fans or English Football fans in general back such a move?

AUR: It would be a major surprise if the Old Firm joining English football even registered in the top 50 issues that the vast majority of fans are concerned with on a daily basis. There are plenty of problems in the English game at the moment, with poor financial governance, club ownership and ticket prices really high on the agenda for many fans across the country. There might be a romantic notion that the Old Firm would add something different but local rivalries come way ahead of this consideration in any case.

In your opinion what would the Old Firm bring to the English game, if such a move materialised?

AUR:Clearly, large fans-bases, an establish history and – if size of club is a measure – even greater competition at the top end of English football (eventually). The move would also bring English and Scottish football closer together – football is after all a globalised sport. But there’s a feeling in England that this is an Old Firm agenda that meets their financial needs, not those of English clubs and adds little to the experience for fans south of the border.

Given that Bolton Chairman Phil Gartside proposal was thrown out by the EPL and other member clubs should it just be put to bed now?

AUR: There’s almost no scenario right now that will enable the move to happen. Gartside’s proposal was a very specific agenda to protect middle-and-lower ranked Premier League clubs from the financial consequences of relegation. Gartside wants to establish a Premier League 2 and split the revenue between 40 clubs not 20, ensuring that the freefall some clubs have experienced post-relegation is softened somewhat. The proposal to bring Rangers and Celtic into the fold was a poorly thought-out attempt to provide a sweetener for the deal.

What are the main reasons why the English clubs do not want the Old Firm joining?

AUR: If the Old Firm joined the Premier League and managed to maintain their status for a few seasons each would become a significant player financially, on par with the second tier of Premier League clubs at least. Why should, say, Aston Villa, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool want extra competition for European spaces? More to the point the clubs in the lower third of the Premier League would eventually be pushed even closer to relegation as a result. It’s asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Would there be any opposition if the Old Firm started from League Two and worked their way up?

AUR:Clearly there would be less opposition and a precedent already set with Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff already in the Football League. The key difference is that Wales has no fully professional league set up whereas Scotland does. It’s hard to justify Rangers and Celtic leaving Scotland for England when the professional league is long-established. Moreover, none of the Welsh sides playing across the border are allowed to represent England in European competitions – would Rangers and Celtic accept this? There’s precedent elsewhere of course – Monaco for example – but that’s a complex political matter for the SFA, FA and UEFA to solve.

We also asked Chris Nee, editor of twofootedtackle.com, who gave us his opinion of the Old Firm joining the English Premier League.

Up in Scotland the Old Firm continue to peddle their chances of joining the English Premier League and fans up here are getting pig sick of it, do you think your club’s fans or English Football fans in general back such a move?

CN: I don’t think this idea has any mass backing in England at all. Many supporters are getting tired of the game’s increasing focus on money and that’s the driving factor in this case. Aside from those supporters with Rangers or Celtic as a ‘second team’, I don’t think there’s any great fondness for the Old Firm and there is little respect for Scottish football. In short, there really isn’t a reason for the move apart from the obvious one, which I’ll come on to. As for being pig sick, I know the feeling. I don’t want Rangers and Celtic in England, I don’t think they warrant places and I think it’s time we ended all the talk.

In your opinion what would the Old Firm bring to the English game, if such a move materialised?

CN: Money. That’s the start and finish of it. We’ve got enough mid-table teams and enough teams chasing the Champions League, which is what the Old Firm could be if they (a) improved steadily after the move and (b) learned how to run themselves. The Premier League doesn’t need Rangers or Celtic and if there’s one thing it’s shown that it is emphatically not, it’s charitable.

Given that Bolton Chairman Phil Gartside proposal was thrown out by the EPL and other member clubs should it just be put to bed now?

CN: Absolutely. It was abhorrent then and it’s abhorrent now. There is no compelling reason for such a move to happen.

What are the main reasons why the English clubs do not want the Old Firm joining?

CN: Honestly, there are probably two reasons. First, there’s no reason for the Old Firm to join. They’re Scottish, and Scotland has a league system. Second, there is undoubtedly a fear of increased competition. Rangers and Celtic, between them, would likely produce one or two European qualifying sides within ten years. Why would teams vote for that?

Would there be any opposition if the Old Firm started from League Two and worked their way up?

CN: I think so. I don’t necessarily think that starting position is the issue. If it is, League Two is not the bottom rung of the English football ladder and every team below it, or that started below it, could justifiably oppose their entry even into the fourth division.

We would like to thank Neil, Andy and Chris for their comments and for taking the time to reply to our questions.
If you have any opinion on the article, the points that have been raised, by ourselves, by Neil Ashton, or by our two English Football bloggers then feel free to email us at letters@scotzine.com and we shall publish your comments and opinions.

First published in Season 2 Issue 1 of The 12th Man fanzine

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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