As a Man United supporter and a follower of the EPL, living in Scotland has given me a certain perspective on the SPL and how it has gone through the rollercoaster of format changes, winter breaks, etc.
I remember reading an article in The Telegraph in 2001 which talked about the confidential discussions that the Old Firm had been engaged in with a view to joining the English Premiership by 2005. Well, three years on and where are we?
Putting aside the legal arguments about whether FIFA / UEFA would allow such a move, there are a few questions that come to my mind—and I've put some of my own thoughts on this:
- How would the Old Firm benefit?
- How would the EPL benefit?
- What are the implications on the structure of football both sides of the border?
- What about European football?
Old Firm Benefits
- The immediate one that comes to mind is the tougher competition of playing more quality sides on a regular basis, thereby, at least in theory, improving their chances in Europe.
- Cash is obviously the main reason however—the money the Old Firm generate from TV rights, even through the new Setanta deal surely has to pale in comparison with what the EPL clubs get from the Sky deal.
- Greater chance of attracting higher quality players—who wouldn't prefer the chance to pit themselves against Rooney, Terry, Torres or Fabregas than Russell Latapy, Darren Dods and Christophe Berra?
Kind of struggling with this one.
- I suppose there is the England-Scotland rivalry, and most English teams might fancy the chance to give the Old Firm a spanking, and improve their goal difference.
- Problem is, teams like Portsmouth would have even further to travel for two games of the season.
Impact on the SPL
It's probably easier to tackle the situation in Scotland. Simplest solution would probably be to admit two new clubs to the Scottish football league, at the bottom of the pyramid.
I have grave doubts as to how Scottish football would adjust to the loss of the Old Firm. So many clubs, struggling to get crowds in and pay their bills, rely on a decent cup run and a tie against either Celtic or Rangers, preferably away to fill the coffers for the season and keep the wolves from the door.
How would these clubs survive without the revenue?
Also, would Setanta really want to pay £125 million for a five-season broadcast rights package? What about other sponsors?
Impact on the EPL
In England, the whole structure could get messy. If you admit two new teams to the Premier League, do you then revert to a 22-team Premiership? UEFA would not be keen on that—so, what then? Three down to Championship and only one up?
Not sure the perennial play-off contenders in the Championship would be happy with that. Usually, one or two teams break away during the season, to leave the others scrapping for the play-off places—thereby keeping the competition alive for the latter stages of the season.
Those arguments aside, if you have three down from the EPL and only one up, you then just cascade the 'bigger league' problem and the arguments that teams would have against it all the way down the pyramid.
Would Rangers and Celtic be prepared to start at the bottom tier of English football—a la FC United?
Putting aside the above complications, let's assume the Old Firm was to be admitted to a 20-team EPL. Imagine the following scenario: Rangers and Celtic are first and second in the SPL. Were they to remain in Scotland, they would both get entry to the qualifying round of the Champions League.
The top four finishers in England are not going to hand over two of their spots to the Old Firm.
Does that mean the Old Firm will retain Scotland's Champions League places for that new season, but ply their trade in England?
Would they be considered Scottish or English teams for the purposes of being drawn in the group stage?
Would their UEFA co-efficient be carried over from their time in Scotland, or would they be reset? And what are the implications of this?
These may be administrative issues, the impact of which are negligible compared to the previous questions—but still perfectly valid.
Personally I think Rangers and Celtic should stay put. I can't seriously see them being wanted by the EPL. The benefits would surely only be one way.
If the state of Scottish football is not such that the other clubs can compete, you can't just jump ship.
I'd be interested in what everyone else thought of this.
Are you a Rangers or Celtic fan? What could your team bring to the Premiership?
Which Premier League club do you support? Would you want two fixtures a season against the Old Firm?