One of the greatest prospects about playing in the English Premiership is the opportunity to possibly get into a position for sustainability of a club – take Stoke for example, a team who many expected to go straight back down, who instead didn’t change the way they played and made themselves a firm fixture in the top league, as well as having a successful foray into Europe this season. Every league has it’s traditional leaders – but nowhere is this more evident than in Scotland.
For many people south of the border, Scottish football is a predictable procession with two teams fighting for the title. With this comes the top tier European places, and ultimately, the money. The last time a team split the old firm was in 2005-06 (Hearts), and the last time a team other than the old firm won the title was in 1984-85 – when a dominant Aberdeen under the management of one Alex Ferguson won the domestic title for a second year in a row. In the last 27 years, no other team has won it. In order, starting in 1985-86, the Scottish champions:
Celtic, Rangers, Celtic, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers, Celtic, Rangers, Rangers, Celtic, Celtic, Rangers, Celtic, Rangers, Celtic, Celtic, Celtic, Rangers, Rangers, Rangers.
In comparison to the EPL, a league which has the traditional “big 4”, starting in 1985-86, the English champions:
Liverpool, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds United, Manchester United, Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester United, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester United, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester United.
Although the two lists look similar in the sense that only a few teams have dominated, it is necessary to look further to realise the differences between the two – the big four that existed in England are now under threat thanks to the investment provided to Tottenham and Manchester City, who could feasibly win the Premiership this season. In comparison, the nearest team to the Old Firm are Hearts, 20 points behind Rangers in third. Recent past suggests the future of the EPL is firmly secure in regards to excitement, with three teams injected into the top division every year (with differing amounts of success), as well as television rights covering the English Football League providing money trickling down the first four levels of the entire pyramid, and future plans for televised lower league games and the idea of two teams being promoted to League 2. This does not exist for Scottish teams – with having four leagues in place of 12, 10, 10, and 10 teams respectively it ends up concise as a fixture list, but difficult for clubs to attract investment as the only money that flows is in the top tier. Take Gretna as an example – a team that languished in the lower leagues of English football for years that were brought up to Scotland and injected with massive investment to provide success. After reaching the top tier, they realised that it was a huge jump from Division One, the primary backer passed away, and the team were dead by the end of the season.
Why are the Old Firm different from everyone else?
From Oban to Aberdeen, Wick to Selkirk, Gretna to Livingston, many football supporters follow either Celtic or Rangers. Why does this happen to Glasgow clubs and not to anywhere else? There are two reasons – firstly, sectarian and religious upbringing. Traditionally members of a Catholic household are brought up as Celtic supports, and members of a Protestant household are brought up as Rangers. On a smaller scale, this also happens in the Edinburgh area with Catholics following Hibernian and Protestants following Heart Of Midlothian. The other reason why people follow these teams is deeply rooted in another situation, one that is also prevalent in world football – people follow teams who have success. With the trading of titles between Celtic and Rangers throughout Scottish footballing history (but particularly in recent times), families will pick one or the other depending on their religious persuasion. This is also evident in Northern Irish football with one team traditionally representing one part of a city and one another part. Combined, people everywhere throughout Scotland follow one or the other, despite not having roots in Glasgow from their families.
Does the SFA have a responsibility to football to change this situation?
What’s wrong with having a league of two teams and a league of ten teams? Sustainability for the future. Tradition in football is not a negative thing, but when competitiveness causes excitement the reverse is true – never before is it less exciting to watch football as a neutral, so lord knows how bad it must be to be a supporter of a SPL team. Attendances in the SPL have dropped on average 10% over a 10 year period (with Aberdeen losing on average 5000 fans, and Celtic dropping a whopping 10,000), in part due to current economic climates, but there must be some blame attributed to the lack of excitement created. Old Firm games are always televised (and for good reason – they’re exciting, vibrant, passionate games of football) and season tickets cost an arm and a leg, but something must be done.
Next – solutions to the problem, and why money rules everything in Scotland.