The recent debate over whether or not Welsh FA members Cardiff City should be allowed to compete in the UEFA Cup should they win the (English) FA Cup should have at least the one positive side-effect. On and off for several years the debate has raged on as to whether or not Rangers and Celtic should be allowed to play in the English leagues. Each time the question always seems to be placed back on the shelf only to be revisited a year or so later.
But would the removal of the possibility of European football should they join the English leagues put an end to this tiresome saga? Over the years the argument has been that the Old Firm cannot compete in Europe because of the lack of money generated in the Scottish Premier League compared to its English counterpart. If Rangers and Celtic were to play in England however, they too along with Cardiff would surely only have associate memberships with the FA.
If this is the case, then even if the Old Firm were to battle their way in the Premier League and finish in the top 5, or indeed win either cup competition, they also wouldn’t be permitted to enter European competition under the banner of a ‘guest club’, and therefore the entire basis of their argument falls apart.
Forgetting the question on whereabouts both sides would enter the English league pyramid, would the mere lack of European incentive kill the argument entirely? Given the choice between possible Premier League football in England and practically guaranteed European football in Scotland, for which would the Old Firm opt? In financial terms, it simply wouldn’t make sense to go for the former. Even if they were allowed to enter the English leagues, they would never be allowed to enter the Premier League straight away. This would mean several years in leagues no stronger than the SPL, with no prospect of European football.
Some, if not all fans, would be turned off by the prospect of traveling to England for every away game, and with no more enticing Champions League or UEFA Cup action, the money would slowly dry up as the fans decrease in numbers. Both sides’ successes in these competitions have, after all, provided both increased revenue and some memorable nights for the fans over the past few years.
Detractors of the Scottish Premier League and of Scottish football in general tend to forget that the league is considered the tenth best in Europe, and has the 19th highest average attendance of any outdoor sporting league in the world (and the 12th highest of any association football league). Whilst Rangers and Celtic account for almost all of this success, the quality of football on offer in the league is ever-increasing, television coverage is at an all-time best thanks to Setanta Sports, whilst it is arguable that the gap between the Old Firm and the rest is decreasing, if very slowly.
The best way forward for both sides seems to be to remain in Scotland. Whilst Celtic boasts a massive Irish following they are still a Scottish club with deeply embedded routes in the Glaswegian community, as with Rangers. There doesn’t appear to be any compelling argument allowing either or both sides to compete in the English leagues, and with the recent Cardiff City debacle, hopefully this will hammer home the final nail in the coffin of any plans for them to do so.
A peek at the history of the Celtic – Rangers rivalry.