Ever since Walter Smith in Season 2009-2010 disclosed to Chick Young during an interview for BBC Radio Scotland that Rangers were struggling financially we have been exposed to theory and counter-theory by Celtic and Rangers fans alike about what the future holds for them. The obvious reaction from Celtic fans is to bask in the financial misery being suffered by Rangers and to look forward to the day they go out of business, however, I have always wondered what them actually going out of business would mean for us!!
The term “Old Firm” is one which in the current climate many Celtic fans are refusing to use or acknowledge. There is a feeling that by accepting such a term Celtic then become guilty by association with regards to the crimes committed primarily by Rangers. Events following the recent Scottish Cup tie and the convening of a Political Summit to address the “Old Firm” has only served to exacerbate these feelings given Celtic players and fans behaved well in comparison to their Rangers counterparts. The terms origin lies firmly set within the history books and was adopted to describe the business relationship which was created upon Celtic’s formation coinciding with Rangers displacement of Queens Park FC as the club of the establishment. It has been suggested that Celtic and Rangers were given the label by others in Scottish Football due to their boards realising that the creation of a rivalry between the clubs was financially beneficial to both clubs.
Scottish Football today is very much a different sort of animal than it was all those years ago with the modern world seeing the emergence of Sky TV, the Champions League and the English Premiership all becoming the promised lands with their millions and in some cases billions which has in turn led to over-inflated transfer fees and wages being paid to mediocre players. Financially and competitively this has had a serious impact on Celtic who are left to forage amongst the scraps and be part of an SPL competition which is seen very much as a footballing backwater. Within this context it makes no sense for anyone to plough their millions (or billions) into Celtic in a manner similar to Sheikh Mansour at Man City or Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. Celtic, I believe, would be a completely different prospect for businessmen and women, however, should they be freed from their SPL shackles and be allowed to enter, for example, the Premiership (a dream which I have given up on!). For the time being when striking business deals we remain reliant upon trying to balance the interests of the SPL and our own, something which has not always been in our best interests, for example the failed Setanta deal (agreed to by the SPL clubs against Celtic’s advice) leading us all to crawl back in an apologetic fashion to Sky and be punished by them with a misery offer in comparison to previous deals.
Operating within this context means that Celtic struggle to purchase the players required to compete at a level which we deserve to be at and which our history suggests we belong e.g. Champions League Group Stages and beyond, reaping the financial rewards which come with it. This is not being said with arrogance but I firmly believe that if the financial playing field was level then Celtic would be able to offer more within this competition than we are currently able to do. This argument I realise opens me up to the retort from other SPL clubs of “well the same could be said for us within our domestic league”. This does not hold for me though as in terms of size I do arrogantly believe that Celtic, as a brand, could and would stand alongside the likes of Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea (i’ll stop short of Barcelona and Real Madrid!) with all things being equal, not something which I believe can be said of Dundee Utd, Hearts, Hibs etc in comparison to Celtic.
The scraps that we are fed by the likes of Sky and Sponsorship deals are heavily dependent upon the agreement of Rangers also. The Sky deal is primarily about the rights to show the “Old Firm” matches rather than showcasing the SPL over the UK. Shirt sponsorship deals have also been joint arrangements with the exception of a period during the 90’s (Celtic went with ‘Peoples Ford’ and Rangers ‘McEwans Lager’). Celtic and Rangers share business arrangements when promoting their brands across the UK and Europe – makes sense to send one representative to do the job for both clubs as opposed to each paying separately! During a recent Q&A Peter Lawwell admitted, when asked about the current joint Tennents deal, that the club had looked at going out on its own but offers were not as lucrative just for one half of the “Old Firm”. It made financial sense for Celtic to work with Rangers on any deal.
What then would the outlook be for Celtic should Rangers go to the wall? In the current climate I fear that it would not be good for us. We need every pound that is going just now, we rely on unearthing hidden gems and look to inflate their “resale value”, whilst enjoying these gems such as Izaguirre, Kayal and Hooper we hope that despite their inexperience they can overcome the ever increasing qualification rounds in the Champions League to reach the Group stages and benefit from the millions that come with it. Unfortunately this prospect seems more and more less likely and we are returning to the days of the group stages being a dream as opposed to a given. Whilst every instinct in my body tells me that their demise would be something to celebrate, I also feel that it would have a detrimental effect upon us and would most definitely not be in our best interests – plus who could we gloat to when we gub them 😉