Can we ever imagine a Scotland without the Old Firm?

The latest Old Firm derby occurred on Sunday at Ibrox, and Celtic beat Rangers to all but secure this year’s senior league title. It had the usual mayhem, incidents, controversy, ugliness and stupidity; as well as drama, theatre – and some football.

Not only that, for those of you who cannot get enough, there is another Old Firm derby in a week and a half in the Scottish Cup semi-final. So, with one final league match between the two, we will be treated to three Old Firm matches in one month, which does seem a bit excessive. This article is not meant to be a criticism of Celtic and Rangers who are proud Scottish institutions. Rather it is written with concern for the unsustainable nature of the status quo, and the damage it does to the Glasgow big two and to the wider Scottish world of football.

The Celtic-Rangers rivalry is more than a game, more than football, but about something both bigger and smaller. There is the revealing way that the game is marketed – Rangers presented this weekend’s match with the banner: ‘This is the Old Firm’, whereas Celtic in all official communications referred to it as ‘the Glasgow derby’.

Germane to the above (and the continued insistence by some Old Firm fans that no such entity exists – found more with Celtic than Rangers fans) is that the two clubs copyrighted the intellectual property rights of the term ‘Old Firm’ at the start of the 21st century – and last renewed it as a trademark in 2021.

The Glasgow two’s domination of Scottish football is now unprecedented in degree, and carries with it all sorts of consequences – including preventing clubs that in a small European league could rise to be major forces being able to challenge for the league and dream of silverware beyond the occasional cup. And all of this shrinks the potential of our entire game, including Celtic and Rangers, in Europe.

The victory of Celtic on Sunday all but gave them what will be their 52nd title – which is 41.3% of all senior titles. Rangers have won the overall total of 55 – 43.7% of all titles – leaving aside the non-debate about the liquidation of the club in 2012 and its refounding as a new club. This means that on only nineteen occasions clubs other than the Glasgow twosome have ever won the main league – and that includes the half-title which Dumbarton shared with Rangers in the first-ever season (which is also included in the 55).

The near-monopoly of Celtic and Rangers is seen in the preponderance of titles won by Glasgow clubs – of the 108, 55 were claimed by Rangers, 52 by Celtic, and one by Third Lanark: giving a total of 85% of titles for Glasgow. The next city is Edinburgh with eight titles – four each to Hearts and Hibs.

Glasgow’s overbearing success has continued and actually accelerated as the relative decline of the size of the city as a proportion of Scotland has continued in recent decades. The city’s population as a percentage of Scotland’s population is approximately 11% but the two big Glasgow clubs have captured nearly eight times the proportion of the city’s populace in titles. Glasgow used to be one-quarter of Scotland’s population as recently as 1961 – and the dominance of the two clubs has only increased as the city has experienced relative decline.

One big takeaway from this is that no one other than Celtic and Rangers has won the senior title since 1985. This was the year when Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen won their last title. This was the year the miner’s strike ended, and Margaret Thatcher’s Premiership was just entering its mid-point. Even the poll tax, part of Scottish political folklore, was not yet fully devised and was still on the drawing boards of right-wing think-tanks and ideologues.

The conceit that this Old Firm dominance has always been with us

The defence against this obviously unsatisfactory state of affairs is that this may not be great but increasingly it is the state of the football world. The big, powerful and rich dominate on the football field just like they do in the capitalist order we live in. The trouble with this defence is that it is wrong – at least in relation to football and Scotland.

First, Scotland’s duopoly is the most uncompetitive league in all Europe – jointly with Ukraine pre-invasion. These are the only two European leagues that have been only won by two clubs since the advent of the UEFA Champions League thirty years ago. The Ukrainian football league is a relatively recent league, born of Ukrainian independence in 1991, and so their dominance by Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk is more recent than that of Scotland – giving us the chance to claim we are the most uncompetitive in all Europe. The point is we have an unprecedented problem compared to nearly all other leagues.

Second, Scottish football was not always this unbalanced and predictable. The much-vaunted and referenced period of the ‘New Firm’ – of Aberdeen and Dundee United – from the late 1970s to mid-1980s saw them not only win the league and cups but rise to be major, impressive forces across Europe and feared by clubs much wealthy such as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Another period of uber-intense competition was the two decades immediately after the Second World War from 1946-65, before the Jock Stein revolution led to the rise of Celtic’s dominance and winning nine titles in a row. In this era Hearts and Hibs both won the title more than once, while Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Dundee all won it once.

The rise of the Old Firm and Scotland’s football ‘cartel capitalism’ 

The invention of the term ‘Old Firm’ did not happen by chance. It happened because of the rise of the two Glasgow clubs, the power of ‘the Second City of the Empire’, the effect of professionalism, and the reach of the two clubs aided by the sectarian divide of the city.

Many football historians believe that the term first gained modern parlance when used in 1904 in The Scottish Referee publication to acknowledge the mutual self-interest of the two clubs, capturing and monetising their bases in a relationship of co-dependency. A satirical cartoon showed a man with a sandwich board carrying the slogan ‘Patronise the Old Firm, Rangers, Celtic Ltd’ highlighting the commercial benefits of their matches to both clubs.

The football writer the late Bob Crampsey used to call this a form of ‘cartel capitalism’, whereby both clubs wilfully exaggerated the most pronounced aspects of their traditions to keep their fans – and their money and passions. It is not too much to say that they monetised the sectarian divide and traditions on both sides as a business model, that has allowed them to preside over this historic and ever-increasing dominance, to leave football defined by an ancient set of identities and rituals, and to suffocate the entire Scottish game.

Thirty-seven years of the same predictable and stale menu – of Celtic and Rangers fans getting excited about the bragging rights of nine in a row, and trying to outdo the other winning ten in a row and blocking the other side. This is not a competitive sport or league but a semi-closed market which if it continues ad infinitum will leave Scottish club fans as predominantly Old Firm fans – and a small, declining gathering of others around the country with historic ties to their local clubs.

Here is the thing about this ongoing circus. Until the 1975-76 league season Celtic and Rangers used to just play two league games against each other. Then the introduction of a ten-team league guaranteed a minimum four Old Firm league games, apart from the four seasons Rangers were out of the senior league. Such is their dominance that they can now play each other five or even six times a season, which even on the most generous interpretation is too much of a good thing (and ignores the scarcity principle of anything of value such as FIFA World Cups every four years, rather than the Arsène Wenger proposal of making the World Cup every two years!).

There has to be despite the Old Firm fixation in media awareness of the unprecedented stranglehold the two have now and in recent decades. There was the acquisition of Rangers by Lawrence Marlborough in 1986 which brought Graeme Souness to the club and two years later David Murray: heralding an era of high-spending, English imports, and success on the field (and which ultimately created the conditions for the club going into liquidation).

There was the 1995 Bosman ruling, which made players free agents and hampered smaller clubs financially gaining from selling players. As well as this there has been a continual failure from anyone – Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen – to systematically believe they could challenge the status quo. All the non-Old Firm pack start off each season with the belief that the best they can do is finish third in the league and maybe win a cup: it is a philosophy which breeds being second-best and not trying to win. Broadcaster Jim Spence summarised this state before Sunday’s game, commenting: ‘Two teams … the other clubs have bent the knee, acquiesced and genuflected to their power and status for so long that no meaningful challenge is possible.’

As long as Celtic and Rangers have this stranglehold on the senior Scottish league title and the culture of the game Scottish football will suffer and look, as it did on Sunday, like an archaic backwater and place defined by toxic passions, bigotry and hatred. If the Glasgow two continue to dominate the game as they currently do, maybe they should reconsider that Sydney Super Cup game and permanently decant to somewhere else?

That would allow the rest of us to see a Scottish domestic game arise that would be massively competitive, would see numerous teams challenge and win the title, and hence because of that would find media rights and decent sponsorship. When can we at least begin to accept that the Old Firm holds Celtic and Rangers back – and the entire Scottish game? A domestic game without the Old Firm would feel like liberation – and maybe someday, such is the global changes in the game, this will come about sooner than any of us think.


Comments (50)

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  1. Hugh McShane says:

    Thankfully Sydney won’t happen, and in answer to the question posed, we v. briefly had the death of the O.F. in 2011, but irresistible forces in Scottish society wouldn’t let the blue pound go un-monetised, so instead of a sanitised Govan Utd, or similar,emerging, we have a continuation of the past with an even more bitter fanbase. I no longer attend games as the Celtic board , Tory as they come, are as thirled to the notion of the binary abomination as the cash-strapped crew on the other side. The collapse,administration+ ongoing liquidation representedan opportunity lost, but one that would never have been allowed by either the governing bodies(+the other clubs!) or the govt.of the day.

  2. Colin Kirkwood says:

    Well done, Gerry, one of your best! The “Old Firm” was one of the dead ducks Edddie Morgan was referring to, I’m sure.

  3. Derek says:

    The big Glasgow derby was Queen’s Park -vs- Third Lanark, of course…

    The **** ******* have too much money compared to the other teams – economies of scale, I suppose. This has led to accusations that they buy up good players from competitors solely so that they won’t be played against them. Derek Riordan, for example, was on fire for Hibs, yet hardly played for Celtic.

    There’s a good reason that the Championship is the best league in the country – it’s the most competitive. League 1 isn’t that far behind.

    I’ve been to at least one game* every Saturday since the end of January – the most football I’ve been to in a short space of time since the 1980s. That includes juniors, seniors, leagues 1 and 2 and a cup quarter-final.

    *2 games one saturday; early kick-off at Whitehill Welfare and then Hearts -vs- St. Mirren later on.

    1. Wullie says:

      Despite the constraints of the old city boundary Glasgow continued to grow, half of Scotlands population live within Glasgow’s orbit. The folk in the surrounding well off suburbs and New Towns are Glaswegians despite a line on a map.

    2. Ian Mason says:

      After spending (hopefully) one season in the Championship, I can assure you it’s a garbage league. The competition to be the most garbage team has been intense.

      1. Derek says:

        Do you think that Kilmarnock will win that crown by throwing away automatic promotion tomorrow?

  4. Ideal Disciple says:

    Methinks it is Bob Crampsey you refer to.

    1. 220407 says:

      A consummate master of the English language.

  5. Bradley Brady says:

    “As long as Celtic and Rangers have this stranglehold on the senior Scottish league title and the culture of the game Scottish football will suffer and look, as it did on Sunday, like an archaic backwater and place defined by toxic passions, bigotry and hatred.”

    Perhaps the author could could be a little more specific as to which side of the ‘Old Firm’ this toxic passion, bigotry and hatred resides. When I used to attend Celtic Park regularly in the 70’s and 80’s Sinn Fein openly sold An Phoblact outside the ground. The terraces rang to chants in support of the Provisional IRA. The club, whilst never losing sight of its Irish roots, decided that this expression of support was outdated and completely eradicated any overt Republican support in the ground or its environs. At Ibrox, home of Rangers FC, the song recounting the practice of fascist Billy Fullerton’s gang of slashing Catholics with open razors is still sung at every home game, attracting neither sanction or comment by the club or SFA.

    Last spring, upon winning the league, supporters of Rangers FC drunkenly laid siege to George Square, intimidating Roman Catholics, SNP supporters and immigrants, anyone in fact who was not included in their somewhat narrow definition of “ra peepul.” Their supporters sang a song exhorting descendants of Irish Catholics who had fled the starvation of ‘An Gorta Mor’ to return home as the famine was over. Can we imagine thousands of Chelsea supporters taking over Trafalgar Square and calling for Caribbean repatriation? Look at the photos of that occasion and try to argue it is the behaviour of a ‘minority.’

    Celtic fans are, of course, not without blemish, the disgraceful behaviour towards Rangers first high profile black player Mark Walters on his debut at Celtic Park was one of the club’s darkest days. But by and large that situation has improved markedly at Celtic Park. Celtic fans have no desire to be conjoined commercially, culturally or sportingly with a rancid institution. We have no need of an ‘old firm.’

    1. Cameron Fraser says:

      I agree with so much of your reply Bradley.
      The nadir of this particular match came with the glass in the goalkeeper’s box at the, held up, start of the second half. Most folk could throw a bottle on to grass and it would be unbroken, unless this hit the crossbar, a supporter must have broken this first, then threw it on to the pitch!
      What is the mind-set of someone who does this, have they no confidence in the ability of their team to come back from being a goal down, after all there’s a full forty-five minutes plus injury time to be played.
      This moronic behaviour has become worse over the last decade and the actual match now has descend into a kind of afterthought, pity really as Sunday’s game was very enjoyable.
      I’d hope that the host club would use all means to identify those bottle, cup and coin tossers and issue life time bans, the SFA will deduct points and close the ground to try and eradicate this type of unacceptable behaviour.

      1. Agreed Cameron. The fact that we are four days on and the club has issued no comment at all is just shocking (or not). Neither do we have definitive action from the “governing body”.

        1. Les says:

          A “Governing body” made up of committees recruited from Clubs.

    2. Derek says:

      Bradley, the last time that I went to a game involving Celtic, the green brigade were to the fore with the singing and so on. A rehearsed sequence – involving drumming – that included singing “Oo Ah, up the ‘Ra” (to the tune of “Oops Upside Your Head”) was a part of that. This was quite recently (pre-covid, though); I’d question your suggestion that it’s in the past.

      Two cheeks of the same arse, as the saying goes…

      1. This is true Derek – although celebrating republicanism is not the same as actively advocating anti-Catholicism is it? They’re just not the same things. The IRA don’t exist. Active violent loyalism does.

        1. Connor Hill says:

          Regardless, I’d think it was the whole committing acts of terror, kids dying etc that offends football fans as oppose to the ideology behind the violence. I only follow Scotland and my local side and from the wider view both sets of fans are a stain on the sport, who we hate more depends on our personal, political views etc, a unionist Presbyterian Inverness fan might find Celtics rhetoric more offensive than a sea of butchers aprons, while a Catholic of Irish descent supporting Dundee might tap his toe to the Irish reels while baulking at the Rule Brittiana patter when Rangers come to Dens, but one thing they both agree on, they are BOTH generally unpalatable and football could do without them.

        2. William Davidson says:

          Celebrating Republicanism is one thing, pro IRA chants glorifying the activities of an organization which killed almost 2,000 people, including over 600 civilians, is quite another. Perhaps they could sing songs in praise of the SDLP, the nationalist party that most Republicans in Northern Ireland voted for during the “Troubles,” who were completely opposed to violence. The same thing applies to the morons who sing the praises of the UVF/UDA, you can support the Republican or Unionist side in NI, without celebrating murderers and maimers, who made no positive contribution to our society. Frankly, if the supporters of both clubs had lived through the entirety of the “Troubles,” as I did, they might show more sensitivity to the feelings of people who suffered at the hands of terrorists from both sides.

          1. Yeah I’m not condoning it or saying its great. But is is just a different thing from actively harassing attacking and intimidating people because of their religion now, today. These are not the same activities. They are not equivalent.

        3. Derek Thomson says:

          “Ooh, ah, Up the RA” – celebrating Republicanism?? Doesn’t sound very celebratory to me.

  6. Les says:

    How many of their attendees actually live in Glasgow and bypass a local club in the process?

  7. seonaidh says:

    Good piece. Sad that my own club, Hearts, as well as Hibs and Aberdeen, as mentioned above, have failed to seriously challenge this duopoly. Underacheivers, esp from the Edinburgh two.

  8. Phil Mac says:

    Polarisation, as highlighted, holds us all back – keeps us divided and allows the sick, dysfunctional status quo to maintain their ‘power’. Its sad.
    There is, sadly, too much invested in this polarisation – and on and on and on we go.

    I can’t wait til Stenny are supping with the ‘big boys’.

    1. Derek Thomson says:

      You are Craig Telfer and I claim my £5.

    2. 220407 says:

      D’ye mean the polarisation of Scottish society into Unionists and Independentistas? Is that part of what’s keeping us divided and thirled to the status quo?

      1. Davy says:

        That could be one definition of polarisation – between unionists and independentistas.
        And could there be some crossover polarisation between supporters of loyalism and republicanism associated with some fans of celtic and therangers ?

        1. 220408 says:

          I don’t know. It’s conceivable that there are unionists who are republicans (in the broad sense) and anti-unionists who are not. There are still a lot of anti-unionists out there who spout anti-republican sentiments with regard to the citizenship of ‘others’ like migrants (and, in particular, migrants from England) and transgender people.

  9. florian albert says:

    There is much truth in Gerry Hassan’s reference to ‘thirty seven years of the same predictable and stale menu.’

    Yet there has been, at least, one massive change. When Rangers played Celtic on Sunday, both teams started with only two Scots. (And neither had a Scottish manager.)
    Rangers had more Englishmen (4) than Scots. This might be considered a small surprize. They also had more Nigerians (3) than Scots. Quite a change for a club often seen as a bastion of die hard conservatism.
    There was cosmopolitanism on view as well as parochialism.

  10. SleepingDog says:

    Well, you don’t have to look far to find an alternate reality. Glasgow City FC has dominated Scottish women’s top tier football for many years, and is only now facing serious competition from Rangers and Celtic. So, it might be a case of “be careful what you wish for” rather than ‘liberation’:
    There are ways around this concentration of footballing power, like employment by league and recruitment by draft.

  11. Davy says:

    One problem with the so-called old firm , and this article , is a lack of differentiation between the two clubs and their supporters – ie. “both as bad as each other”
    Celtic were founded in adversity of the prejudice and discriminatiom experienced by the Irish catholic community.

    Divisions had developed between rural Highland and urban Lowland Scotland ; with notions of progress being associated with industrialisation, empire , anglicanisation , and Protestantism – and those of Highland , Irish , Gaelic and Catholic origin being perceived as “backward” and a potential internal threat to the image of a “modern” Scottish establishment , collaborating in the spoils of the British Empire.

    That could be a more accurate definition of “sectarianism” – ie. as a form of North British/Protestant ideological chauvinism or supremacy.

    In the case of the Scottish Central Belt, the focus of that particular chauvinism/supremacy was those of Catholic and/or Irish origin.

    – the fear/anxiety of the ruling classes to the perceived threat to their authority posed by any combination of Irish , Catholic , Gael , republican , rebel.

    That would also filter down to “divide and rule” amongst the working class.

  12. Geoff Bush says:

    A more level playing field is clearly what is required. I am not familiar with the intricate detail of the way that the NFL draft system works, but it is designed to ensure that all clubs are competitive to a degree, So lets imagine that we have a pool of young players who all train and develop together in a national academy (maybe Belgium has done this already) and are drafted into SPL and other clubs , with the lowest ranked clubs having first picks each year. Wage rates fixed for the first few years and transfers not permitted. Limited numbers of overseas (including Welsh, English, Irish) imports.
    The problem we currently have (quite apart from the sectarian bigotry) is that we are subject to the market, and the market will never deliver what the national interest requires, therefore the market needs to be regulated towards that greater goal. If our goal is a competitive league system where all teams teams have a chance of winning leagues, and where Scotland has a chance of success at International level, then market intervention and regulation is required. I am a Dundee fan , Scotland fan , and I wish my suffering to end in a positive way !!

    1. 220409 says:

      Why on earth is having a ‘competitive league system’ in our national interest? Playing and watching football’s just sport; Bill Shankly notwithstanding, it’s not a matter of life and death.

      And as far as triumphalism goes, if we want Scotland’s national team to be better fit to beat teams from other nations, we need to abandon this old ethnic nationalist insistence on a ‘bloodline’. Under the current FIFA criteria for determining nationality, a player only has to have lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant association (before 2008, it was only two years).

      Why we cling to this particular piece of atavistic nastiness, when we supposedly aspire to an open and pluralistic postmodern Scotland, in which all enjoy equal citizenship, whatever our biological and cultural heritages, is beyond me. It’s what’s holding us back as much as anything, including the Union and the lack of any vision and ambition beyond Independence.

      1. Gerry Hassan says:

        Having a more competitive league is what ‘competitve sport’ is about.

        And not having a competitive league – and having the jointly mostly uncompetitive in Europe – is no positive and comes with costs.

        1. 220409 says:

          Aye, I get that. And I can see how having a more competitive league would be in the sport’s interest. But saying that it would be in the national interest seems like hyperbole.

          And wasn’t it Steve Clarke who said of Kilmarnock in a post-match interview that the club’s season wouldn’t be defined by its games against Celtic and Rangers, which were irrelevant as a measure of that club’s ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ status? What really mattered in purely footballing terms was coming top of the league sans Rangers and Celtic, for both of whom the significance of the domestic league is only as a kind of extended qualifying round for entry into the European leagues, in the competition of which the Old Firm’s status as ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ was more appropriately measured.

          The real competition and competitiveness in Scottish football lie outwith the Old Firm, which (in purely sporting terms) is largely an irrelevance.

          1. Niemand says:

            Because sport is followed by a lot people. People who make up the nation, are the nation. So if the sport is big enough then a healthy competitive league is in the national interest and if the national team is also helped to be more successful as a result, that has the capacity to be even more benefit to the nation as it can act as a galvanising force leading to a more positive national outlook: ‘look, we can be successful’. These things are relatively superficial but still not unimportant (and one could mention the flow of money associated with the game being generated and spread around clubs and thus (in theory) communities more widely).

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, and a bit more than that, though you could chuck ‘soft power’ in that pot too.

            The University of Edinburgh runs a course with a MOOC version on Football: More than a Game:
            which included a section on ‘Football for international development, Drogba diplomacy and peace’, for example, also looking at women’s participation in the game, and the homeless world cup. The course does look at some of the darker aspects of the game too, like the role of finance in unfairness, but I hope by now they have added a section on safeguarding.

            Football connects the world. If your football leagues are corrupt and/or violent and/or ego-driven, this makes outside football fans and other consumers of football news imagine your society is corrupt and/or violent and/or ego-driven too. What can we tell about English governance from the mismanagement of the UEFA 2020 Euro final at Wembley? About the fan-run alternative teams challenging their own corporate-owned professional clubs? And then you get into the territory of Gabriel Kuhn’s Soccer vs the State.

          3. Niemand says:

            Yes, agree entirely SD – well said.

            And you can also focus down to the ordinary local club level. One of things that is important in both England and Scotland is the depth of the club and league system from pro down to semi-pro to amateur. And at that level it is still about local communities, talent, money, endeavour: the heart of any nation (or should be). Just the club names conjure up a sense of a community, history, solidarity, healthy rivalry and at its best, national unity in a fair competitive spirit (OK that is a bit rose-tinted but not untrue in principle). All of that is undermined when a tiny handful of big clubs dominate the game (often with extreme levels of ill-gotten wealth, ‘extreme’ being the vital word), quite literally putting the existence of some of those clubs in jeopardy as a result, and so is a direct threat to the wellbeing of the local communities from whence they come.

          4. 220410 says:

            And all those football supporters whose interest defines the national interest have voted with their feet by directing them mainly to Ibrox and Celtic Park on a Saturday afternoon rather than to Broadwood and/or Rugby Park. By your measure, the massive support that the Old Firm enjoys would be a democratic expression of the national interest rather than something that detracts from it.

          5. Cameron Fraser says:

            Tells you everything you need to know about Scottish football and Scotland when Steve Clarke, said thank “God for Chelsea” that he could go down there and take his kids down there and they’d not have to be subjected to the poisonous atmosphere.
            There is a myth that sectarianism is a West of Scotland problem finding an outlet in football.
            Witness the recent recorded footage of a game in Dingwall in which the visitors, Celtic, scored in injury time. Some of the home fans outbursts of “Fenian cvnts” would not have been out of place at an OO parade and blows a hole in the West of Scotland myth.
            Many of the players at Rangers are now RC and I don’t think this is a major problem but the anti Irish mindset that hails from the last century, certainly is, add to the mix a bit of Roman Catholicism and many of the followers of that club are apoplectic with rage.
            It’s a game of football for goodness sake!

          6. Niemand says:

            @220410 Yes, people are drawn to sporting success and that success comes because a very few have all the money and as a result the rest have even less money. You have made my point for me. Are you against the active redistribution of wealth as means to make things fairer in society as a general principle?

          7. 220411 says:

            Indeed, many people are drawn to sporting success and, for many people, sporting success does trump local community, history, solidarity, healthy rivalry, etc. That’s indeed why Rangers and Celtic enjoy such massive national and diasporic support; they’ve bought and sustained for over a century the success by which so many football fans are seduced.

            I’m not against the active redistribution of power as means to make our society more democratic. I just don’t think increased competition is an effective way of redistributing that power.

            Maybe the smaller clubs in Scottish football should just stop trying to compete with Rangers and Celtic and compete instead among themselves. And maybe the game’s governing authorities in Scotland should facilitate this. Maybe by redistributing ‘the prize’ more equitably than it’s currently distributed on a ‘winner-takes-all’ basis? Or by introducing a handicap system, which would function as the sporting equivalent of a ‘negative income tax’ scheme?

          8. Niemand says:

            “Maybe the smaller clubs in Scottish football should just stop trying to compete with Rangers and Celtic and compete instead among themselves. And maybe the game’s governing authorities in Scotland should facilitate this. Maybe by redistributing ‘the prize’ more equitably than it’s currently distributed on a ‘winner-takes-all’ basis? Or by introducing a handicap system, which would function as the sporting equivalent of a ‘negative income tax’ scheme?”

            But this is very much about making the league more competitive through affirmative re-distributary action – are you saying Celtic and Rangers would be excluded and simply play each other all season?

          9. Ian Mason says:

            Sir Steve owned Sevco while he was our manager.

          10. 220412 says:

            Excluding the Old Firm from the competition would be one way of making that competition more competitive. So would abandoning the ‘winner-takes-all’ model of competition in favour of a more nuanced one. So would ‘levelling the playing field’ by introducing some system of progressive handicapping. These would all go some way to correcting the imbalances of power that currently exist within the game and skew the competition.

            What sort of redistributive scheme do you have in mind?

          11. Niemand says:

            I don’t have a good knowledge of football finances so can only speculate but big money comes from TV so a fairer divvying up of that would be a start. Also a much stronger cap on the numbers overseas players (aimed at stopping the wholesale buying in of star players and encouraging the reinvigoration of grass roots development, club academies and the like) and some kind of block on billionaire owners essentially bankrolling the top clubs with virtually bottomless wealth. A cap on player wages could go along with that. Any kind of handicap would be a non-starter as it would no doubt be accused of undermining the integrity of the competition.

            Overall, it isn’t so much about giving more money to the less successful clubs (though that would a good thing within reason) but stopping a tiny few clubs hoarding massive wealth and in the process inflating the market to obscene levels (wages and transfer fees) and to somehow try and roll back what one commentator described recently as the wholesale financial take-over of professional football that has occurred in the last 20 years – yes money has always mattered in football but never so much as now where it basically rules the roost. At the same time it is a fake kind of market since the top clubs only remain so because they are propped up by billionaires, not because they get a profitable financial return generated by revenues (by and large).

          12. 220413 says:

            As far as the SPL’s concerned, the prize money is divvied up reasonably fairly. I think the Premiership champions currently receive £3m, reducing to about £1m for the team finishing bottom of the top flight.

            The reality is, though, that if we want Scottish clubs to be competitive in European competitions, they need the sort of additional investment that only Rangers and Celtic can attract. If you impose ‘some kind of block on billionaire owners essentially bankrolling the top clubs with virtually bottomless wealth’, we can kiss meaningful participation by Scottish clubs in the Champions League and the Europa League competitions goodbye.

            And are you seriously proposing that we impose a cap on inward migration by stopping Johnny Foreigners coming to ply their trade with Scottish clubs? Imagine the outcry if someone proposed imposing such a cap on nurses coming to work in Scottish hospitals so that we could prioritise the employment of ‘oor ain folk’.

            Also, there’s competition and competition. There are scores of football leagues in Scotland. If you want to watch competitive football, forget the Old Firm and go and watch your local team instead. Winning the South of Scotland Football League is just as important to those who associate themselves with the Creesiders as winning the SPL is to those who associate with Rangers and Celtic.

          13. Niemand says:

            There are already caps on overseas players in the EPL (max 17 out of a squad of 25) but don’t think it true in the SPL so yes, there is a limit to inward migration for this specific job in the EPL. I am suggesting it should be introduced / increased. In the SPL it could one thing that really did have a levelling up effect and end the total monopoly of Celtic and Rangers, a monopoly that as Gerry points out, is frankly ridiculous in a so called ‘competition’. And it isn’t a ban, just a sensible limit.


            As for European competitions, this is part of the problem in fact so yes, it may be there would be a period of adjustment and less success in those competitions in the short – medium term. You cannot have it both ways. I agree though that the power of the big clubs means that they would create a huge fuss if anything is done to reduce their power and wealth. So what I say is, do it regardless for the good of the game overall but just as you have done, it will all be ‘it’s impossible, can’t be done, just let the market decide blah blah’, fatalistic defeatism and cynicism.

          14. 220414 says:

            Alternatively, we could allow free movement of labour across our border and allow anyone who plies their trade in the territory of the Scottish football authority to be eligible to play for the national team if they so choose. Excluding competition through protectionism is hardly a way of driving up the quality of our ‘homegrown’ talent; it only shelters its mediocrity.

            And I still think the competitiveness of our premier league (in terms of increasing the number of teams who would be capable of winning it) could be increased by using a points-deficit algorithm that would progressively handicap the ‘better’ teams in favour of the ‘worse’ teams on the basis of the points each team amassed over the previous season

            e.g. if Celtic amassed 94 points in a season, they would begin the next season with a 94 point deficit; if St Mirren amassed 32 points that season, they would begin the next season with a deficit of only 32. In effect, the ‘better’ teams would over successive seasons be continually having to play ‘catch-up’ on the ‘worse’ teams. This would break the monopoly that the Old Firm currently has on winning the SPL and give teams like St Mirren a more equal chance of winning the competition and reaping the rewards this brings, thus making that competition more competitive.

          15. Niemand says:

            I don’t disagree about the handicap but it will never happen, guaranteed, so no point in speculating further.

            As for who gets to play for one’s country – there are rules about that that go way beyond the jurisdiction of Scotland (and is already fairly open given residency status of just a few years) so can’t see what more could be done there. I don’t buy the idea about sheltering in mediocrity especially given Scotland’s greatest successes both in the national team and club sides was decades ago when there were far, far fewer overseas players plying their trade at Scottish clubs. Football seems to have given up on the idea of nurturing ‘local’ talent – it needs to get back to this.

          16. 220415 says:

            …Yet, here we are speculating about increasing the competitiveness of the SPL by financially disempowering the Old Firm in favour of other clubs, which is never going to happen either.

            And yes, FIFA does rule that footballers who have plied their trade in an association’s territory for at least five years (until 2008, it was only two) are eligible to play for that association’s ‘national’ team. Apparently, Berti Vogts wanted to call up eligible players like Didier Agathe and Lorenzo Amoruso in order to make Scotland more competitive, but the SFA overruled him, insisting that there had to be a ‘bloodline’ before anyone could be considered a ‘true’ Scot. Scotland’s ‘pureblood’ captain at the time, Christian Dailly, went as far as to let it be known through the media that he didn’t care if they called in Zinedine Zidane, ‘I would rather lose with a team of Scots than win with a team of foreigners.’

            And yes, Scotland’s greatest success (such as it was) did coincide with an era when there were far fewer migrants plying their trade at Scottish clubs (and the Old Firm still dominated the top flight). It was also an era in which the competition to qualify for major finals was then much less competitive than it has since become. My memory is that Scotland was never that great in the ‘50s,’60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s; it ‘succeeded’ only because it had less competition than it’s had since. Scotland hasn’t gotten worse; the game’s just become more competitive.

          17. Scotland succeeded in qualifying for a record consecutive World Cups in 1974 (West Germany) 1978 (Argentina) 1982 (Spain) 1986 (Mexico) 1990 (Italy). The competitions were smaller then so the idea that it was easier to qualify doesn’t make any sense.

          18. 220415 says:

            I didn’t say it was easier. I said it was less competitive. The number of teams competing in the final rounds of those international competitions has certainly been expanded since Scotland’s ‘glory days’, but so too has the competition to qualify for those final rounds. Whereas before we had qualifying groups of three and four, we now have qualifying groups of five and more. More teams get to the finals, yes; but it’s still more difficult for them to get there, as Scotland’s found over the past 25 years.

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