TalkSport are well known to talk down Scottish football. We know the Premier League is a better league and we know that Celtic and the Rangers can’t compete at the top end of the European competition anymore. However, we also know that much of this is down to finances and that it wasn’t always this way. A simple comparison of Celtic’s global fanbase and European record against Manchester City or Chelsea will tell you everything you need to know in that regard.
I appreciate that TalkSport have a show to sell and the name of Celtic and Rangers get people biting. I just want to set the record straight for anyone buying into this nonsense:
💷 “If they got in the PL & stayed up, they’d be top 6 with investment.”
😳 “I do think Fulham would go & win the Scottish Premiership!”
Jamie O’Hara still doesn’t rate the standard in the Scottish Premiership 🏴 pic.twitter.com/7lzoxwXuvx
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) January 7, 2021
Taking the argument step by step, I’ll begin with the first comment: “Celtic and Rangers would struggle in the Premier League.” If the definition of struggle is to not win the title then that is true. However, in the context of the league as a whole then they would not struggle. If that were the case then why do the Premier League keep buying so many of our players? O’Hara should also be reminded that Celtic topped their Europa League group last season, beating the French Cup champions Rennes, and beating the Serie A runners up Lazio both home and away. Would those teams struggle in the Premier League? Taking the Rangers as an example for this season, they drew with Benfica twice and topped their Europa League group without a single defeat. Again, this suggests that neither side would struggle to survive in the Premier League.
The next comment was “If they (Celtic and the Rangers) got in the Premier League and stayed up, they’d be top 6 with investment.” This comment is more fair. At least it recognises that the financial gap is what differentiaties Glasgow’s big two from most of English football. Aside from Liverpool and Manchester United, there is no English club with a worldwide support as large as Celtic or the Rangers. Celtic’s Irish roots account for this, because many people of Irish heritage are drawn to the club. The Irish are some of the most dispersed people in the world due to the famine, political turmoil and economic devastation. Even to this day, many Irish people emigrate in search of work. Coupled with this is a large amount of Scottish immigration and two attractive histories, in terms of sporting achievement, politics and for some – religion.
The only time that there was a level financial playing field between English and Scottish clubs, we saw who came out on top. Celtic won the Empire Exhibition Cup (British Cup) in 1938 and the Coronation Cup (British Cup) in 1953. These were two one off competitions. Then, in the 1960s, Celtic became the first club from the UK to win the European Cup (old Champions League), doing so in 1967. That campaign began with Celtic demolishing a Manchester United side featuring Best, Law and Charlton, 4-1. During the same season, the old Rangers reached the European Cup Winner’s Cup Final, whilst Kilmarnock reached the Fairs Cup (old UEFA CUP) semi final. Killie also beat Real Madrid in European Cup a couple of years earlier.
Fast forward to the 1970 European Cup semi final and Celtic beat “the greatest team in the history of English football,” Leeds United, both home and away to reach a second final in the competition in three years. Celtic had a phenomenal record of reaching two European Cup finals (1967/1970), two semi finals (1972/74) and getting to at least the quarter final stage of almost every European Cup campaign between 1966/67 and 1974/75 (nine seasons). The Hoops also reached the European Cup Winner’s Cup semi final in 1966, when they were cheated out of a place in the final by an appalling offside decison to rule of Lennox’s goal and hand Liverpool that final spot. During this time, Rangers won the European Cup Winner’s Cup in 1972 as well.
The financial gap was present in the 70s as Scottish clubs had to sell players to English teams, who at that time weren’t as successful, but paid more money. A prime example of this was Celtic selling Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool, who at that point hadn’t won the European Cup. Their success was to follow later in the decade, with Kenny a huge part of it.
Even with that gap, the finances weren’t hugely disparate, in the way that they are nowadays so Scottish clubs had the chance to compete to a degree. As such, Dundee United got to the UEFA Cup final in 1987, having beaten Barcelona home and away on the road to Gothenburg. United had also beaten Barcelona twice in the 1966/67 Fairs Cup second round, so this was nothing new for them. Indeed, Dundee United had reached the semi finals of the European Cup in 1984, so were close to being a second Scottish club crowned kings of the continent. And before that, they had reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup in 1982 and 1983.
Aberdeen bridged the gap, which was smaller back then, by reaching the European Cup quarter finals in 1985/86 and then they won the European Cup Winner’s Cup in 1987.
Even in a more modern era, Celtic’s Martin O’Neill managed to reach the UEFA Cup final in 2003, knocking out Blackburn Rovers (third placed in Premier League at the time) and Liverpool en route to Seville. Celtic then reached the quarter final of the competition the following season, and continued to boast the best home record in the Champions League between 2000 and 2012. The Bhoys beat and drew with Manchester United and Manchester City in this period, whilst qualifying for the Last 16 of the Champions League a few times too. In 2008, Rangers reached the UEFA Cup final themselves and have also reached the last 16 of the Champions League in 2006. The ‘Gers also beat Leeds United in the Champions League in 1992.
The level playing field saw Scottish clubs more than match anything England could offer. In Celtic’s case they trumped everything. When a gap appeared in the early 70s, things changed slightly, but Celtic, Rangers and other Scottish clubs could still compete very capably. In the last decade, that gap has exploded. The big five leagues have astronomical TV deals and some billionaire owners, who have left huge clubs in smaller leagues behind.
If Celtic and Rangers were to get the same money that these Premier League clubs have then they would likely not just settle for top 6, but would push for the title in time. The evidence is already there from the 60s and early 70s when Celtic were on a level financial footing with English clubs. We came out on top and were a dominant force in Europe.
Celtic and the Rangers have massive worldwide supports, huge infrastructure and history which make them immediately bigger than the vast majority of clubs in the league. If given the chance to compete in a stronger league and pay the same wages as Premier League clubs then there is only one winner. Celtic and the Rangers would be able to afford the best players and would attract them because not only are they iconic institutions, but they would also have a financial edge because their global merchandise sales, and the sponsorships that their worldwide support would bring. Moreover, Celtic get 60,000 fans every home game and the Rangers get 50,000 at Ibrox. Ticket sales would thus be among the top end of the league too. What English clubs also lack is the same atmosphere and passion as Celtic and the Rangers fans. Celtic Park is famous as one of the loudest stadiums in the world. It has won plaudits from top players all over the planet and the fans were voted the best in the world by FIFA a couple of years ago. The crowd has made a massive difference in Europe and would continue to do so if Celtic were in the Premiership.
To address the final point about Fulham winning the SPFL, would Fulham get 50 or 60 thousand fans every weeks in the Scottish League? Would their fans keep the enthusiasm for games against Hamilton at home? Take away the TV deals and sponsorships that they get from England and they are no bigger than Dundee United.