FanCast columnist Ed Jeffery feels that Martin O’Neill is way of the mark with his view of the Old
Firm joining the Premier League.
If you leave out his
hyperbolic assertion earlier this year that Ashley Young is “world class” it
could be argued that Martin O’Neill usually talks a lot of sense. But with his
claim yesterday that Celtic & Rangers should be allowed to join the
Premiership, he was way off the mark. Throw in the fact that Bolton’s chairman
Phil Gartside has also publicly backed the idea, and suddenly O’Neill seems
less like a prophet, and more like a fool.
The Old Firm have been
clamouring to join England’s top division for years now, ever since Rupert
Murdoch rode into town spraying dollars at every turn. But if the FA bow to the
pressure, it will be a sad day for football in more ways than one.
From Celtic & Rangers’
point of view, the attraction of plying their trade abroad isn’t hard to see.
I’d guess if you asked the chairmen of either club to compile a list of their
top three reasons for wanting to join the Premiership, it would essentially
read: More money, more money and more money. Sure they might spout the usual
rubbish about wanting to attract better players and increase their fan base,
but the bottom line is, well, the bottom line.
On the one hand, the move
could be a good thing for Scottish football, and I’m sure that the vast
majority of non-Old Firm supporters would be happy to help the Glasgow giants
with their packing if it meant seeing them leave the Scottish leagues. The
domestic game in Scotland has come to resemble the Spanish league – except with
better pies and worse football – with the Old Firm a shoo-in these days for
every domestic honour. The last side from outside this pairing to win the
league was Aberdeen in 1985, and since then the best have got better while the
rest have been reduced to feeding off their scraps.
For the fans, then, a
self-imposed Old Firm exile could be the best thing to happen to Scottish
football. Interest in the league would be re-invigorated, and those clubs
outside the top two could look forward to a future where they actually had a
genuine chance of Championship success. I suspect that the chairmen of the
also-rans might welcome such a move as well, although the likelihood is that
the Sky money would soon stop if the star turns were no longer present.
To be fair to the two of
them, though, it would appear that there are genuine reasons for them to jump
ship apart from the money. Rangers & Celtic are undoubtedly massive clubs,
but they must look ahead and wonder just how they can continue to grow in their
current situation. Neither team will ever be short of fans – years of religious
history and tradition will see to that – but the two clubs must look be
seriously concerned that failure to break free from the monotony of their home
country’s domestic set-up will leave them lagging behind the other major
European clubs as the game becomes increasingly globalised.
So what would happen if the
money men – not to mention Phil Gartside and Martin O’Neill – got their wish
and the Old Firm did join the Premiership? For a start, there would need to be
a ban on away fans. Rangers’ recent jaunt to Manchester for the UEFA Cup Final
did little but cause concern. While drink is normally behind most major
football-related trouble, the truth is probably not that simple, but only the
most naïve of people can’t see the potential for carnage in thousands of ticketless
Glaswegians invading major British cities every other Saturday.
It’s not like this major
stumbling block could be overcome by a sense that events on the pitch would be
so good as to outweigh it, either. As both Old Firm sides have proved in recent
years with their European exploits, the unfortunate truth is that neither side
has the quality to be a genuine threat to the established English order. Don’t
get me wrong, they would be up there, but there is no way a Scottish club side
could ever finish in the top four of the Premiership. This may seem like an
idle Englishman’s boast, but you only have to look at the players who have
played on both sides of the border in recent times to back the claim up. When
you consider the golden age of the late sixties through to the early nineties,
when some of the best players in England were Scottish, it’s staggering to
think how scarce Scottish talent is these days.
the Old Firm will ever join the Premiership remains to be seen. But it would
take one hell of a lack of judgement for the FA and SFA to let it happen. In an
English league where fixture congestion is already a major concern for
managers, including Fabio Capello, there is no sense whatsoever in adding four
games onto an already crowded season. And as I mentioned before, while the
Aberdeens, Hearts & Hibernians of the world might rejoice in the Old Firm’s
passing, there would be a serious danger that if the big two were to leave, so
would the foreign interest, and so would the Sky money. Celtic & Rangers
might argue otherwise, but they will ultimately survive where they are. Whether
Scottish football could survive without them is another matter.