Thursday, October 29, 2020

The “Old Firm” In England – will it ever happen?

Many fans across Scotland and England have varied opinions on whether the Old Firm should play in English Leagues. Can Rangers and Celtic ever play in England, or is this just a dream? Will it “Save Scottish Football”, like Steven Gerrard says?

Scottish Teams in England? Why now?

I would love the Scottish league to filter into the English leagues, all of them, to save and help the Scottish game

Steven Gerrard, Rangers Manager

The age-old debate restarted when Rangers manager and England Legend Steven Gerrard was interviewed recently. He spoke of his wish that the big two Scottish teams would play in England, specifically the Premier League.

We take a look at the various options here, and assess whether it will happen, or whether it’s just a fanciful idea that will never take place.

The Background to the Old Firm

Both of the big Glasgow clubs have regularly attendances that rank in the top 3-5 of UK football, and both have a global reach that is far in excess of some English Premier League clubs. The “Old Firm” Derby is one of the most hotly anticipated, widely viewed and intensely dissected games in the world.

Both clubs have impressive histories, with impressive records both domestically and in Europe (Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967 and Rangers winning the European Cup Winners Cup in 1972, never mind reaching the UEFA Cup Final in season 2007-2008).

Old Firm games go back a long way

Of course, Celtic have regularly featured in the group and latter stages of Europe, and Rangers recently have also shown good performances in the Europa League.

Both fans are rightly excited about how their teams will do – the title race may well be the closest in a number of years too!

Using this metric alone, it’s easy to see the value for both the league and the broadcasters to add potentially a massive new worldwide market and support to an already impressive product.

But – What do other clubs think?

The biggest obstacle would be the English clubs themselves. Many of the clubs in the lower to middle reaches of the EPL would be loathe to compromise their positions in the top league to let other clubs in. The figures don’t lie – over 100 million of a difference between the Premier League and the Championship is not to be sneezed at!

Scottish League clubs wouldn’t be happy about this either. In the Scottish Premiership, many budgets are predicated on four full houses from the Old Firm team visits, as well as the TV money received. This would dry up and potentially leave them with a hole to fill.

However – one option to consider is that Rangers and Celtic could leave “Colts” teams competing in the Scottish Leagues. This may not plug the hole, but it would mean that they’d still hold some interest.

The obvious and positive flip side is that, of course, the Aberdeens, Hearts and Hibs of the Scottish leagues would start winning titles. Surely, that’s something to savour for those fans?

Start from the bottom – or does “money talk”?

As a Rangers fan, we endured our own rise from the bottom of the Scottish League pile back to the top of the Scottish Premier League. It certainly was a roller coaster ride, but something that, paradoxically, has made a difference throughout Scottish Football and has probably recharged my thirst for glory.

From my perspective, I wouldn’t be averse to starting out at League 2 level and working our way up. I think it’d be fun – although the English Championship may be “interesting” (hard to get out of!).

The reality, though, is that TV money is likely to talk the talk. The prospect of both more revenue for the likes of Sky TV coupled with increased revenue for all clubs means that it’s more likely that Rangers and Celtic would be admitted to the Premier League direct, if the prospect ever came to fruition.

Will it Happen?

My friend Graeme put it well – “The Old Firm are uniquely placed to prosper on a global scale. The Scots/Irish diaspora make them best placed to break America. Financially, this is the holy grail.”

He’s not wrong. Imagine if the EPL were able to command the kind of money that the NBA or NFL command for TV rights, on top of the already impressive TV revenue figures they already take in? I’m not sure that many broadcasters or clubs would be able to walk away from that kind of money if it were to be offered to them.

Neil Lennon Celtic Manager

Neil Lennon said the same thing:

it would be monstrous.

Such is the passion and rivalry and intensity of Glasgow they’d both blow clubs away.

You’d pack them in – and players would love to come and play here.

Neil Lennon, Celtic Manager

That prospect may be too much to ignore for much longer, and may give us often-divided, but subtly-united old firm fans that chance we need to see our clubs on the highest stage.

My money is on Rangers finishing ahead of Celtic though…….

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