Following comments emanating in the last few days from both Celtic and Rangers, the thorny issue of the two Glasgow titans’ desire to spread their wings and test themselves beyond the confines of the SPL has once again reared its perpetually bobbing head.
One argument for the Old Firm’s inclusion in the Premier League is that it would increase competition at the very top. It usually goes something like this: ‘it would take a few years for them to catch the top English teams, but once the extra finances have had time to take effect and the clubs have been able to attract some top quality players they would be there or thereabouts at the top every season. Their sheer size and support base would ensure it’. Sounds good on paper doesn’t it, but can we even be sure that Celtic and Rangers would consistently challenge for honours in England? As Newcastle knows to its cost, large crowds and even larger budgets do not guarantee success. The case of our loveable, shirtless Geordie chums raises some interesting parallels with that of the Old Firm – all three attract massive crowds, all have passionate, vocal fans, and all have massive revenue streams off the pitch from merchandising, etc. On a different note, all three can be accused of having delusions of grandeur. But hang on a minute, Celtic and Rangers are massive clubs, some of the biggest in the world, or so we are constantly told. Newcastle fans are certainly deluded, but Celtic? Never.
What is it that makes the Old Firm so much bigger than Newcastle? Their domination of Scottish football has, to a large degree, been facilitated by a lack of serious competition. In England, Newcastle have spent much of the 50 years since they last won a major trophy slugging it out in the lower leagues, but one cannot say definitively that the Glasgow clubs would have fared any better had they been playing here. Conversely, if Newcastle had been playing in the Scottish league during that period it seems more than likely that they would have shared in the Old Firm’s domination. On the European stage it is nearly 40 years since either Celtic or Rangers won anything, and Aberdeen have as many continental honours to their name as the two combined. Seven English clubs have also won more, and five – including Newcastle – equal their tally of one trophy, despite the fact that the Old Firm has enjoyed near-constant European participation.
Newcastle’s recent troubles contrast with the continued domestic success of the Old Firm, however the Glaswegians should heed the Toon’s fate as a warning should they be allowed to enter the Premier League. One factor behind Newcastle’s lack of success has been the stifling pressure placed upon players, management and the board by their fan-base. As Sam Allardyce found out, the Toon faithful expect both instant success and an attractive playing style and woe betide anyone who fails to deliver on either front. It is not hard to envisage a similar scenario, with managers hampered by unreasonable expectations, evolving at Celtic or Rangers in the Premier League. Their fans are used to success and it would be interesting to see how they would react if their teams spent a few years struggling at the wrong end of the table. Undoubtedly they would allow their teams a couple of seasons grace to adapt, but past this it is hard to see them putting up with anything less than regular European qualification, something that would by no means be assured given the quality of opposition they would be facing.
Many Old Firm supporters may consider comparisons with Newcastle unfair, but they must realise that if they come to England their dominance of Scottish football will count for nothing. They will really be no more than Geordies in disguise.