Glasgow kiss

For those not keeping up at the back, a quick recap.

Rangers – that is, Glasgow Rangers – hit a financial speed bump and went hurtling into a pile of consequences made from sponge fingers and quicksand. Whilst the team as it then was slowly drowned/had the HRMC kick them in the face, a ‘new’ Rangers was set up in a smooth/not very smooth TUPE transfer farrago.

The teams of the Scottish Premier League (SPL) voted almost unanimously to deny ‘new’ Rangers a place amongst them, leaving the Scottish Football Association (SFA, no jokes please) to soothsaye grave threats against the future of the game north of the border. Deny the new regen Rangers a place at or near the top table, the SFA warned, and it would cost the industry Tenty Hypergazillion Pounds, not to mention derail the SNP’s independence bid and force the womenfolk of the smaller islands into prostitution.

 In the face of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Daily Record – Scotland’s answer to a question nobody asked – the SFA went round the other clubs in the League system to definitely not blackmail them into voting in favour of putting “newco” into the First Division rather than the basement Third. Rather than “won’t somebody think of the children”, the SFA has been screaming “won’t somebody think of ESPN funding and televised SKY games every Sunday?!”.  As a tactic, it’s close to the landlord of a backstreet dive persuading the regulars to allow a bankrupt old soak back to the bar even with his colossal bottom pinching problem.

In the ‘pro’ corner, the SFA and friends in the press (and, oddly, on TalkSport) point to the Scottish game as being irrevocably damaged if “newco” is denied a place in the First Division, suggesting that the lack of guaranteed money from four Old Firm derbies and all the rest of it would be too much for the game to absorb. Over in the ‘anti’ camp are most fans and, it seems, smaller clubs, for whom the notion of allowing Rangers something approaching a free pass is distasteful. Somewhere in the core of all this is the dubious euphemism “sporting integrity”, used a code word for “Rangers bring the money in, you clean shirt idiots”.

Losing a large team in England, say Man Utd or Chelsea or Arsenal, would impact every team and division in ways that even the Rangers situation hasn’t suggested yet. However I can’t see the English FA being so blatant as to effectively dangle a wallet over an open fire if the new regeneration of a ‘big’ team were not allowed an automatic place in the Championship. Over in Scotland the lack of much an impact zone beyond the Old Firm plus Edinburgh’s Hibs and Hearts makes the hole left by Rangers all the wider. It is, to be blunt, a necessary lesson for Scottish football to learn – if ‘newco’ Rangers were allowed into  Division One rather than Three, it would be a signal for other teams to carry on spending (and, for the purposes of libel laws, carry on doing absolutely nothing else out of the ordinary in the context of tax regulations.)

It’s not that fans, or me for that matter, wants to see ‘newco’ Rangers forced into the Scottish equivalent of non-league. For the crime committed, there must be a suitable punishment, and a free pass into Division One for the sake of television money is not suitable. If Scottish football has so few “pulls”, and so little alternative beyond the top of the SPL, that’s their own fault.

The danger is the ‘old firm’ (small letters) getting the arms twisted amongst the smaller clubs to help out the Old Firm (capital letters) get their monopoly back within two seasons rather than three or even four. Much smaller clubs in England have been knocked into the “one dog and his groundhopper” leagues, a threat which should be hanging over ‘newco’ if justice had any strength about her. For the good of Scottish football – which needs an institutional overhaul far beyond mere division constitutions – the SFA need to heed the call from fans and smaller clubs alike and accept Rangers as a Third Division side. Any other alternative would be as far removed from ‘sporting integrity’ as Irn Bru is removed from palatable foodstuffs.

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Old Firm, new challenges

My post last week concerning proposals to bring Celtic and Rangers into a modified two-tier Premier League brought a very considered response in the Comments section from a reader called “Martin”. This post is a part reply to him. It would appear, following the Premier League vote last week, that this “Anglo-Scottish League” proposal has been roundly defeated.

Martin says, “Having a two-tier Premier League would divide television revenue between 36 clubs rather than 20, and considering only two of those would be Scottish teams, 14 English clubs would be better off, increasing competitiveness at the higher end”.

I think this statement presumes the television revenue would be fairly distributed and evenly granted between clubs. This presumption, under the new circumstances of an Anglo-Scottish league, lacks logic. The larger clubs, the “Big 4” of the Premier League, already command far more attention and television coverage than even those mid-table sides in the same league: it would be fanciful to suggest that Norwich or Hull or even perhaps Aston Villa would see similar benefits to a two-tier league than Manchester United or Arsenal. “Increasing competitiveness” could well be the end result, although not instantly; the special atmosphere between the “larger” clubs and Celtic or Rangers is often because of the rare European Cup ties between the sides, a relationship which would become lesser as the novelty of regular matches wears off.

Martin then lists a number of “cross country” examples, including the Welsh clubs which play in England (Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham, Colwyn Bay, and Merthyr Tydfil), Monaco in France, and Derry FC in Ireland, amongst others. He is absolutely right to point out these examples. And he is right to suggest that “..[t]he only way that clubs from smaller nations will ever be able to compete with the financial monopoly of the big clubs is to play in their leagues, or form cross-country leagues.”

With all due respect, Celtic or Rangers playing regular league football in England is not quite the same thing as Cardiff or Wrexham playing in England. That the Old Firm are “big fish” in a small nation is perhaps entirely a consequence of a mis-handling of the Scottish Leagues over generations. If something must be done, why not the “Atlantic League”, where similarly sized nations could share revenues across borders without the wholesale negative consequences to England’s footballing system?

Martin says that the Old Firm “leaving Scotland will improve the competitiveness of that league, and fill the ground two times more a season at every English club they play“. I cannot agree completely with this all-done-and-dusted assumption. For sides already struggling in Leagues 1 and 2, the promise of expensive jaunts up to Glasgow twice a season to be roundly thumped in a stadium atmosphere completely alien to the rest of the League does not exactly glisten with gold.

Inventing traditions in football does not work. FIFA see this with their ill-fated World Club Cup competition, a globe-trotting failure completely disconnected from fans who have no attraction to watching unknown Asian clubs stretch out results against a seemingly never-ending rota of different African also-rans. There could be a great amount of financial benefit from introducing Celtic and Rangers into the English Premier League, not least for those larger clubs and more affluent fans for whom the lucrative profits would rush out of the gates and flood the club shop. Ultimately, however, the logistical difficulties and questionable benefits further down the leagues tip the balance against the proposals.

I would like to thank Martin for taking the time to respond to my first post. He makes a good case for the proposals, but ultimately I think the whole idea would do more harm than good.

Premier League II

I could not put it better myself, really. Everton really must be having a ‘mare with David Moyes is now getting all Satire-waving about the “inevitable” coming of “Premier League 2”.

On the most basic argument, any additional top league in English football featuring the Old Firm rivals Celtic and Rangers would put an end to the long serving tradition of British football. As a kind of “thank you” to inventing the modern game, the four Home Nations are awarded four separate seats on the FIFA and UEFA top tables; England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Okay, we’re not quite unique in this, France has a separate international team within its borders, but I won’t give away this pub quiz answer today….

For Celtic and Rangers to become permanent, full members of the otherwise English Premier League, the whole future set up of the national and international game would change forever. UEFA and FIFA have made it quite clear that a separate English international football team would not exist were the Old Firm to become members of any national football division. Remember the fuss regarding Cardiff winning the FA Cup not being able to take part in European cup competitions? Think about that writ large.

If the idea of a joint Anglo-Scottish football team doesn’t jump out at you (oh imagine the pubs before kick-off…), what about the future of the lower leagues? The amount of money trickling down to even League 1 and League 2 levels is not torrenting down in great waves; an increasing number of Conference and non-league sides are up against the financial wall including Hyde, Farsley Celtic, and Chester. The possibility of having a “walled garden” outside of which survive a withering clutch of barely solvent league teams is nothing short of offensive.

“Mighty” Anderlecht are about discussing the “Atlantic League” theory in case a British “Premier League 2” falls flat. If the notion of pan-European league fills you with a logistical shiver down the spine, you may not be the only ones. But the future of British football, which is far more than sepia-tinged nostalgia for half-time pies and giant killing, relies on the four Home Nations having leagues of their own. Cross-border leagues do not exist in any other country in the world; for clear and unique reasons, the United Kingdom does not suit the notion of a grouped league football format.

Healthy and economically strong our football teams are not (Spurs aside, and there are rather dodgy non-politically correct suggestions for why…). Bringing English and Scottish leagues together in any form would merely produce an incredibly exclusive clutch of world-famous franchises kept away from the motley crews (and indeed, Crewe) below. As a fan of football, and of the lower league game specifically, the prospect does not thrill me with joy at all.