Should The Old Firm Join The English Premier League?

I work with a man from Edinburgh. He’s a Hearts supporter. More importantly to me: he’s the one guy at work who will talk football. He’ll talk about any aspect any match any controversy any player you like. He keeps up with the English Premier League and though he’s never shown allegiance to any English side, he’ll always chat about the Liverpool result with me, showing an enthusiasm for our wins. I know his positivity is only on my behalf. It doesn’t matter to him directly if Liverpool wins or not. But I still like that moment where the Scotsman gives me a thumbs up and congratulates me on that last-minute goal from Gerrard, Torres or Benayoun, as if I’d somehow contributed – shouting from a pub in New England – to the glory and the points.

However, as much as I want to show the same interest in the side Des loves and chat about Scottish football with him, I have learned it is not always a good idea to bring up the Hearts result. I don’t always catch the score before I see Des at work. I’ll try to gauge by his mood if it’s safe to raise the topic. But he’s a professional bartender. Part of his job is to be cheerful all the time (or at least fake it), so it’s next to impossible to know if it’s safe to ask: “How’d your boys do today?”

When Hearts took on Celtic last weekend, I remembered to check the live score online for once. Hearts were up one-nil in the first half. Suso Setanta had put one away for the home team in the 5th minute. I was ecstatic. If Hearts could hold onto this lead, I could finally go into work and channel some enthusiasm back Desmond’s way. “Nice win, on Sunday, eh, Des?” He’d be on top of the world. I really wanted Hearts to win for Des’ sake. Besides: it’d be a great upset.

I was watching Chelsea/Spurs on the television, but I kept the Hearts/Celtic gamecast on the laptop. In the 55th minute  Christopher Killen equalized for Celtic. A goal slathered in that sour taste of fate. I could picture Des at home. He shoulders sunken. His lips pursed. He shakes his head a little. But he’s seen this before. There’s no shock. Just the inevitable dismay and the faint belief his side can pull off another miracle.

As the match neared its end and the scoreline remained one all, I thought, well this is still something. Not nearly as good as the win, but Des will still probably be up for talking about the match and he’ll be in an okay mood having snagged a point from the Glaswegian powerhouse. “Looked like we had it, mate. But I’ll take the point.”

Then, in stoppage time (of course), Celtic won it. I didn’t see it, but according to ESPN’s live (typed) commentary it was a Glenn Loovens header off Aiden McGeady’s assist.

With the gap in quality between the Old Firm clubs and everybody else in the Scottish Premier League this must be a painful – yet familiar roller coaster – for, well, everybody else. The promise of that goal against the giant gives a lift so big – a soaring feeling as you start to believe – tempered by the memory that you’ve seen this before. So when you are pummeled in the end, it is no surprise, as you tumble back to the ground with all it’s reality and history scattered about the terrain.

In the Premier League we can talk about the dominance of Manchester United. We can talk about the big four. But Everton, Newcastle and Leeds have finished in the top four in the not-too-distant past and clubs like Spurs and Villa have threatened to upset the so-called hierarchy with sharp campaigns filled with promise and true grit.

Compare this to the SPL. Since 1999 there has been only one season when Celtic and Rangers were not the top two finishing sides. In 2006 Hearts finished above Rangers by a point (although they were still 17 points behind champions Celtic). Apart from that the Old Firm has consistently dominated the top two spots, often with a sizable gap in points between second and third place. In 2005 the gap was only 7, but that was the only time in the SPL era when it has been a single digit number. It has been as high as 34 (2003).

We’d have to back to before 1996 to find a period when Celtic and Rangers finishing top two wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion and, still, we’d have to go back to 1985 to find the last time a non-Old Firm club won the league title, when Aberdeen finished seven points clear of Celtic.

Basically, like my friend Des, supporters of other Scottish clubs can’t reserve hope for a chance at the title. So what drives the supporters? Does one spend the season hoping for a chance at European qualifying? Is not getting relegated enough glory?

In the Premier League at least there’s Champions League and, now, Europa League placement to fight for even if you know the title is out of reach.

The dichotomy between the top clubs and those below exists in many leagues all over the world. But in Scotland it has been stretched beyond belief for a long, long time. In England the gap might be a gulch. In Scotland it is an abyss.

So the question comes up (and this isn’t the first time): Should the Old Firm play in the Premier League rather than the Scottish League? Take the two teams who are a class apart and let everybody else enjoy a more leveled terrain?

Bolton’s chairman Phil Gartside is the man pushing for this to come into effect in a new system that would involve a two-tiered Premier League of 18 sides each. Gartside has also suggested eliminating relegation to the football league.

It seems a lot of change to ask of the current structure and it will be interesting to see what the governing bodies involved will say when the issue is brought up in a league meeting in November.

I don’t know how I feel about the two-tiered Premier League. I’m against it if it severs the ties with the leagues below. But the Old Firm look out of place where they are now. It might as well be a league of two as far as they are concerned. Perhaps we should make room for them someplace else.

19 thoughts on “Should The Old Firm Join The English Premier League?”

  1. The EPL and SPL should fully combine. A 20 team EPL that starts 18 & 2, and then everyone else in an expanded Champs league. Scottish football would do better if it had second tier english competition, and vice versa.

  2. Nothing would be funnier than seeing the Auld firm get beaten up by sides like Stoke and Birmingham City and then fall to the second tier.

    It’s never going to happen because smaller clubs in the EPL would know that any change could effect their ability to get into the Premier League — and the massive amount of TV money that you get for playing in it.

  3. I am not opposed to the Old Firm leaving the SPL and joing the Enlgish League system. However, if they do so, I would not have them in the EPL right away. They should have to earn it. Have them start down in the Conference and make them work their way up. The only thing stopping the Old Firm from doing this is playing in either the Champions League or the Europa League every year. By finishing in the top 2 each season, both squads have the opportunity to advance to the group stages of either competition and than guarentees them money every year. I would argue that the money available from TV in the Football League and the EPL would be much more than than what they get from UEFA. The million dollar question is, do Celtic and Rangers want to give up European football? I highly doubt that UEFA would grant them an excemption to play in a European competition qualifying out of England when spots from Scotland are available.

    I think the larger problem is that each of the home nations has its own FA within FIFA, and that the SFA in particular do not want to give up their status as their own governing body.

    I would love to see a unified UK league with all of teams from the whole four home nations in one system, but I doubt that will happen in my lifetime.

  4. The only way Rangers and Celtic play in England is if the entire Scottish league also plays in England. This will never happen because, as you mentioned, the lower league clubs in England don’t want more competition for the money spots in the Premier League. Rangers and Celtic can’t leave Scotland because that would absolutely destroy the level of interest, and therefore money, in Scotland. Scotland would then become Ireland, where absolutely no team plays at anything remotely resembling a high level.

    Besides, if they did join the EPL, then how would we continue to debate this topic?

  5. It will only happen if it is financially viable for both sides. Celtic and Rangers would definitely go to the Premier League for purely financial reasons. The problem is there is no need for the EPL to change things up at this point so it is unlikely.

  6. as an englishman who grew up watching the first division and now premier league football i think it would be stupid to have them join our league. why? THEY’RE SCOTTISH.

      1. well done shakira. however there has only been a welsh league since the early 1990s. scotland has had a league since the 1800’s. does this make any sort of sense? or do you have zero sense of tradition?

        1. I have a sense of tradtion, I was simply pointing out that there are Welsh clubs playing in the English Footbally pyramid, not everyone knows that. Personally I am against Celtic and Rangers coming in straight to the EPL, if they were to join they should have to work thier way up from say League Two, they shouldn’t be given an automatic spot in the EPL. It would also pretty much kill the SPL and Scottish football if those two left so they need to stay where they are.

          1. Shakira,

            Why do the Old Firm owe a charitable obligation to keep the rest of Scottish football alive ? They are being slowly strangled by the receipt of £1m or so in domestic TV revenues in comparison to the £40m-odd earned by even the poorest EPL sides – the annual forays into Europe don’t even come close to closing the deficit, especially given the lack of funds to invest in decent players.
            In any event, losing the Old Firm may in fact be just what the SPL needs – a genuinely competitive league for once. Hibs enjoyed their highest attendances for years when they were relegated to Div 1 of the SFL. Why ? Because for the first time in years they were competing for a league title.

  7. I’d like to see ALL the Scottish clubs enter English leagues, as well as Irish clubs. More competition is a good thing.

    Magners League rugby does it, so why not?

  8. It will never happen and why? Football politics, there people in certain parts of Europe who would see such a move a an front to their power.Other smaller football clubs would see such a move as a threat to their income. As I said football politics.

  9. i wanna see rangers battling celtic for would be nice not just to see one of them win titles, maybe taking them to the premier league will help them signing bigger and more well known players, flourish financially, and finally make room for other scottish teams to grow

  10. This topic has been visited and revisited for decades. The economic climate of football is shifting to a restructure of financial survival. As EPL player salaries climb north of 1B and club debt is reaching an excess of 2B the financial foundations of clubs and leagues are being anchored in the late winter’s lakes with spring closing quickly behind them.

    As we stand on this thawing ice with the cold waters soaking our feet we have to think about the future. There already was a proposed consolidation of the Scottish and Welsh leagues with and intended unification occurring in 2012.

    We are seeing EPL clubs being offerred up at desperate auction like prices. And money mongols gobbling struggling clubs, buying players to bring preceived contention to the league titles, over inflating fair market value of player salaries in a pursuit of silverware.

    Though I am not apposed to the idea of a consolidation. At this juncture of the financial instability I feel its imparative we entertain the idea with a futuristic survival strategy approach.

    I don’t feel this is a question of IF it should be done so much as WHEN it should be done and could league consolidation be beneficial else where. Say Bundesliga, Dutch and Belgian …

  11. Simple answer is never, keep your backward looking bigotry in the SPL where it belongs.
    If the situation was reversed and the SPL was a huge success and Man U and Chelsea were asking to join I can guess the reaction from north of the border. The whole thing just stinks of hypocrisy.
    Bring on your independence :)

  12. I think we should not join the English league as it would destroy years of history.
    We should crate European super league with other big sides from small nations. Cut the domestic league in half to 22 games. then use the free weeks to play a european super league.
    This way we could have our cakes and eat them. keep the domestic leagues and qualification for europe and play big sides across Europe like Rapid Vienna, Ajax, Sporting Libon, Porto.

  13. The elephant in the room which nobody mentions is the fact that one country has 4 teams! If the Auld Firm joined the EPL, FIFA would be in like flint demanding a GBR team to replace the 4 “provincial” teams.

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