The recent Scottish league format debate has sparked an outburst of opinion and controversy within the country and all involved in Scottish football. While there are various sentiments surrounding the reconstructions, let’s examine those which belong to either side of the Old Firm.
What is interesting is that while Celtic and Rangers are on pretty opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of the state of their club, they both seem to want the same thing in the long-term: cross-border competition. In order to understand each party’s point of view however, an analysis of their past, and their current state is needed.
Rangers chief Charles Green came right out of the blocks after the decision for a change in format, and threatened to take his club out of Scottish football if a 12-12-18 structure is approved. It was a statement that upon first hearing seemed to be made in the heat of the moment. On reflection, his comments over the last few days have assured us otherwise and murmurs of a want to join a cross border league have been more than heard.
While Green’s comments seemed to be reactive of the decisions made by the SFA, Peter Lawwell’s musings were more forward thinking and hypothetical. His comments about cross border leagues were genuinely serious, however he did state that Celtic would be accepting of the new changes and that a 12-12-18 change, or indeed any change was a step forward for Scottish football.
But let’s take a closer look at the current state of Rangers. They are the most successful team in European history, having won more trophies than any other club. They have won more league titles than Celtic and they had regularly featured in the Champions League and UEFA Cup before falling into administration and subsequently, liquidation. They have never been second best, always having been alongside Celtic at the top, and now they linger in the lowly third division with a makeshift squad of youngsters. So you can see why their reaction towards anything that doesn’t go their way is similar to that of a child who for the first time in their life has been told they can’t have something that they want and instead becomes angry and disrespectful towards their parents. While this condemnation may seem harsh, there is little else we can expect from a club that has spent 140 years at the top. It’s not so much an attack on Rangers as it is the nature of the situation. Green’s recent criticism of the SFA comes just as much as a product of reality and a dislike of being in the unknown as it does from pure indecency and distaste. It is more than likely that Celtic’s reactions would be the same if they found themselves in the same state that Rangers currently occupy.
Speaking of Celtic, their want to join a cross-border league comes from a desire to excel, whereas Ranger’s immediate motivation for a similar move is quite clearly to escape from their current fiasco. In recent months, Lennon and Lawwell have both made efforts to slowly try to unwind the long existing bonds with Rangers, the most recent of which involved a new sponsorship deal with Magners. Despite these efforts from the two main men at Parkhead, the blue side of Glasgow remain adamant in sticking with Celtic, and understandably so. In many ways the Old Firm is Rangers’ escape route and they seem to be doing all they can to use that to dull the pains of the past year and more recently, make attempts to escape Scotland. McCoist has said that if Rangers were to make a move to England, Celtic would certainly be going with them. Logic confirms this notion, however Lennon came out two days later and pronounced that he won’t even be talking about Rangers any time soon. While Rangers are looking to Celtic in this troubled time as somewhat of an old friend and business partner, Celtic are certainly of the opposite opinion.
One of the less talked about but more important factors for these differences is UEFA. Imagine Celtic hadn’t done so remarkably well in the Champions League so far this year. Imagine if complacency had leaked into the Celtic squad week in and week out — more so than it occasionally has done — in the SPL without Rangers. Would Lawwell still be so keen to move away from the other side of the Old Firm? With SPL home match attendance at Parkhead admittedly dwindling, Green at least attempts a valid point when he says Celtic’s fan numbers will continue to drop without Rangers in Scotland. But its a point that is six months late. Concerning the UEFA factor, its clear that both clubs have a completely different standing in the governing bodies eyes at the moment. Celtic are a healthy club and have brought light to Scottish football with their displays in the group stage. Rangers on the other hand, must seem a rebellious club who challenge UEFA’s structure of European football and are threatening to sue them out of what is essentially pure desperation.
So what do all these opinions, controversies, and desire for other competition come down to? It comes down to the new differences that have been created as a result of Rangers’ demotion to the third division. All that the clubs have in similar is their past. For the time being, the Old Firm doesn’t exist, and this is as good as anything for Scottish football. Most likely however, Rangers will make it back up to the SPL in three or four years time and the rivalry may be renewed. But what will it look like then? Will both sides even be in Scotland at that time, and if so, what will the league format look like?
These are all questions that remain to be seen, and if Richard Scudamore’s comments are any indicator, neither team will be joining the English league anytime soon . For now however, Lennon and his men must be happy bathing in the Spanish sun while Charles Green and Rangers are left to ponder fantasies and escape routes out of spite for their imprisonment at the basement of Scottish football. Indeed, the SFA league changes may have made those escape ladders just that little bit steeper.
For a fine article by Tom English on Charles Green’s myth building, click here