Old Firm to England debate rears its head

by Blair Meikle

It seems to pop up with the same sort of regularity as an election or a Scotland national team qualification failure. The debate over the Old Firm clubs leaving Scottish football is perpetual.

Whether it be a move down south to get a slice of the fulsome pie that is English TV money, or to be founding members of an Atlantic League, there seems to be a desire for Celtic and Rangers to break away in order to maximise their potential.

Ever since the decline of Aberdeen and Dundee United who were strong in the 70’s and 80’s, the Glasgow clubs have held a duopoly on Scottish football and that has given mileage to the feeling that they should seek more of a sporting challenge.

It came to prominence again earlier this year alongside proposals for the English Football League to become four divisions of 20 teams instead of the current three leagues of 24, creating a need for eight more teams to be admitted. With Celtic majority shareholder Dermot Desmond among those repeatedly expressing a wish for them to compete cross-border, that was always going to reignite the debate.

Desmond said last month: “I think these doors are being closed all the time. Sometime it will be opened.

“I feel confident that Celtic, and indeed Rangers, and Aberdeen, and some of the other clubs in Scotland should participate in a bigger British league.”

That seems to be at odds with the feelings of English Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore who labeled the move a “complete non-starter”, adding: “We are a league for clubs in England and Wales. It says so in the rulebook.”

Scudamore’s position means that if both Glasgow giants were to be admitted to the Football League at the bottom level and made there way up, they could be met with a glass ceiling situation where they cannot smash their way into the Premier League which is ultimately their reason for hankering after a move.

They would still have their noses pressed against the window looking at the riches and glamour that the Premier league has to offer, and be stuck at a level below their capabilities. Ultimately they would be in the same position they are now.

Hopes of being involved in English football’s shake hit a snag recently when the plans for an extra division were scrapped. They would have required FA Cup matches being moved to midweek but an £800m broadcasting deal for the national cup competition has put paid to that.

In any case, had the Football League opted to facilitate Scotland’s big two, they would have had competition. The possibility of an Atlantic League involving teams from Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark was first considered in the 90’s but was put to bed because of Uefa’s desire to maintain the sovereignty of individual national associations.

That has been altered by the agreement to give teams from England, Germany, Italy and Spain automatic access to the Champions League, resulting in discussions about forming regional groupings such as a Balkans League and the Atlantic League.

It appears that talk of the Old Firm leaving Scottish football behind for pastures new will not go away until it actually happen but for now it remains up in the air whether we wil see change or keep blowing hot air debating it.

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