Premier League: Why Rangers and Celtic Should Not Join the English System
Scottish football is in a state of flux.
In the fifteenth season of the Scottish Premier League, the Old Firm of Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers has been torn apart, with The Gers competing in the fourth tier of Scottish football following their liquidation in June last year.
This April, the SPL and Scottish Football League sides will vote on proposals for a "12-12-18" reconstruction of the top four tiers. If this went ahead, it is likely that Rangers would be stranded in the lower tier for another season, despite running away with the Third Division title in this campaign.
Hence, to avoid visiting a lot of the same teams this season, Rangers chief executive Charles Green is pushing for his side to be bumped up to the second tier in the event of reconstruction.
Yet the separation of the Old Firm and the reformation of the league system isn't the biggest potential change ahead in Scotland. Charles Green believes his club's future lays in the English football system, and that Celtic should follow them south of the border. From ESPNFC:
"Whether it is next week, because the English authorities change their mind, or in five to 10 years, Rangers and Celtic will leave Scotland," Green told the Daily Mirror.
"I would like to think within five years. I say to English clubs: Don't be afraid of the unknown. There will be cross-border leagues and that will change the face of European football. These doors are opening."
Green says he has spoken to a number of chief executives in the Premier League, none of whom would object to the introduction of the Old Firm.
Of course, the idea of Celtic and Rangers joining the English system has been touted for many years, with Celtic's owner Dermot Desmond labelling the move "inevitable" in 2001.
On paper, it is not a bad idea.
With the injection of cash from domestic TV rights that the Old Firm sorely lack, the two sides would have much more to spend on players, bringing a higher class of play—and opposition—to Parkhead and Ibrox. With such fervent support, it is not difficult to see Scotland's finest troubling the top half of the Premiership within a few years, perhaps even the top four.
And the issue of English sovereignty in the Premier League is a moot point. Cardiff and Swansea have both been playing in the English system since the early twentieth century, and are among six Welsh sides in the nation's football pyramid. With so many Welsh teams in the English system, where's the harm in introducing a few Scottish sides?
English football's gain, however, would be Scottish football's huge loss.
With so little money on offer for domestic rights in the SPL and the SFL, Scottish teams rely heavily on attendance. Rangers and Celtic each pull in nearly four times as many fans as the next best supported side in Scotland, Hearts, and send plenty of support on away trips.
Attendances in the SPL are falling every season. The average attendance in the SPL has dropped from 13,865 in 2011-12 to 10,225 this season thanks to the exclusion of Rangers (source: football-lineups.com). With both Old Firm sides missing, average gates would dwindle into four figures straight away. The likes of Motherwell and St Mirren rely on the support that Celtic and Rangers bring to them. Without it, the standard of Scottish football is likely to slip even further.
The Old Firm don't owe anything to the Scottish league system, but if they leave a legacy of falling revenues that damages the SPL to the point of extinction—and in turn damages the Scottish FA and national team—they will have much on their collective consciences.
Another issue is the level at which the Old Firm would be granted entry to the English pyramid.
Charles Green has already admitted that he would not want Rangers to go straight into the Premier League, and that they would be happy to work their way from the bottom.
"Could you imagine the income generation Rangers and Celtic would create in the Conference?" asks Green, insisting that taking his side from the stale Scottish set-up would instil freshness in the English one.
But is it even fair for the Scottish sides to be entered into the system at Conference level? When AFC Wimbledon started up, for example, they were forced to begin in the Combined Counties Premier Division, the ninth tier of English football. Why should new Scottish teams get a higher start than a new English one?
What's more, the journey through the English system would be trying for Scottish fans. If Celtic were admitted at Conference Level, it may be 15-20 years before they caught a glimpse of the top-class European football to which they have become accustomed. Swapping trips to the Bernabeu for away days at Hereford or Dartford would be a tough pill to swallow, at least in the short term.
With the decrepit state of Scottish football, perhaps it is an inevitability that the Old Firm start playing their away games south of Hadrian's Wall. Perhaps Celtic and Rangers would be better off, and there's no need to be sentimental about the proposal. Yet the move would surely sound the death knell of the Scottish domestic game.
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