Yes, claims Irish Post columnist and Sky News reporter Enda Brady
“WE need Celtic and they need us because without a healthy Old Firm this league is going to die.”
Those were the words of a Rangers fan to me outside Ibrox last weekend as thousands of supporters gathered to protest about the financial implosion that has seen their club enter administration and effectively hand their Scottish Premier League title to Celtic, as a result of the 10-point deduction.
One Glasgow sports writer described the situation as a “slow-moving glacier of debt that has suddenly reached its destination”.
The club owes £9million to the taxman in unpaid PAYE and VAT, but if the so-called ‘big tax case’ goes against Rangers they may well be liable for anything up to £75million. Judges will decide on that one soon. Scary times indeed.
While many Celtic fans have rejoiced at this tax timebomb that has detonated at their city rivals, the truth is that the woman I spoke to at Ibrox made a lot of sense. Her argument was simply that if you take Rangers out of the equation then football across the whole of Scotland will suffer.
TV rights generate a colossal amount of cash for clubs, but will the SPL be as lucrative if Rangers fade away? There are fixtures that will always attract huge television audiences and Celtic v Rangers is right up there with the best of them. It’s hard to imagine anyone paying top whack for the rights to a league that doesn’t have such a rivalry at the top of it. Would Spanish football be as fascinating if it didn’t have Real Madrid v Barcelona several times a year?
Ironically, administration could turn out to be a good thing for Rangers in the long term. Perhaps the time has now come for a lot of clubs to start living within their means – pay transfer fees that you can afford and pay salaries that are sustainable. For too long football clubs have lived beyond their means, ridiculously so in some cases. Everyone has the right to dream, but when those dreams are built on a foundation of tax avoidance the end is not going to be pretty.
Rangers have fought some battles on the pitch over the years and, looking at silverware, they are one of the most successful clubs anywhere. They have a proud history but the challenge now is to secure the future. The difficulty is that opponents don’t come much tougher than Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
The frustrating thing about reporting on the situation at Ibrox last week is that even the administrators didn’t know how much cash was in the pot or what was owed. The whole thing is a mess.
Fans will be hoping that they can exit administration quickly, but if Rangers are not out of it by the end of March they will miss the deadline for the necessary paperwork to be completed for European football to be played next season. Again, this will hurt the club financially.
Where does all this leave Celtic? Yes, another SPL title will soon be winging its way to Parkhead but what then?
The SPL without two thriving clubs battling it out for the trophy is a weaker entity, commercially less interesting to TV, sponsors and investors. And what of the impact on the grassroots of the game if the rights pot suddenly gets smaller and clubs can’t afford to plough as much cash into the game at youth level?
Rangers’ woes show no sign of ending and it’s understandable how much delight others are taking in their troubles, but make no mistake the SPL needs a healthy Old Firm rivalry, not just on the pitch, but in the bank account.
One piece of trivia that was pointed out to me after I left Ibrox – look at the top four clubs in the SPL table right now and would you believe it, from fourth to first their initials spell out HMRC.
No, says our regular Celtic columnist Gerard Donaghy
There were over 53,000 fans at Celtic Park for Saturday’s game over our biggest title rivals. Fortunately the Hoops kept their title campaign on track with a 1-0 win over Motherwell!
Taking my tongue out of my cheek though, a near capacity crowd at a wind-swept, rainy Celtic Park on a miserable February day for a non-derby game undermines the theory being bandied about that Celtic need Rangers. Crowds in excess of 45,000 are the norm at Celtic Park, particularly when we’re doing well and winning trophies (yes, football fans can be a fickle) – without our long-time nemesis on the scene the success on the pitch and supporters in the stands would continue to grow.
But what about the TV revenue, the doomsayers moan. Yes, the Glasgow Derby is the most attractive domestic fixture for the television companies, who in truth are more concerned with the English Premier League. Without Celtic v Rangers, Sky and ESPN would pay significantly less for their Scottish football package. But given that the current amount is paltry anyway, compared with what the bottom teams in the English top flight receive, it will not be missed by Celtic as much as some believe – especially with those near-capacity crowds turning up every other week, don’t forget.
Okay, £3million or so is not exactly a drop in the ocean for SPL sides, even one of Celtic’s stature. However without Rangers, Celtic are virtually guaranteed finishing first and with it having a chance of qualifying for the Champions League group stages every season, where participation alone brings in around £7million. Performance bonuses could see that rise by as much as £4million.
Apparently the SPL would be boring without Rangers and the Glasgow Derby. Would the absence of Rangers create a less competitive, less exciting league and be detrimental to Celtic and the Scottish game? It might be less competitive for Celtic, but the rest of the teams would now have the opportunity to finish second – something only achieved once in the last 16 years in the Scottish top-flight – which would create a more exciting competition for the other 11 side and offer them European football on a more frequent basis. Plus with one half of the ‘big two’ gone, it could attract financial backers to the other SPL sides who previously would have been put off by the prospect of the almost impossible mission of breaking the dominance of Celtic and Rangers.
In football and financial matters, I believe Celtic could live and prosper without Rangers. But put these issues aside. Celtic haven’t withstood over 120 years of sectarian bigotry only to be told now they need Rangers. This is a club whose first high-profile signing of a Catholic, Mo Johnston, in 1989 caused anger among their fans, who burned scarves outside Ibrox. Celtic can live without Rangers fans singing about being up to their knees in Fenian blood, as was evidenced again in Rangers’ first post-administration game against Kilmarnock. They can live without their manager and players being sent bullets and bombs in the post by bitter fans. They can live without players, coaches and fans being assaulted, abused, even killed on the streets of Glasgow. They can live without a team who have been aided unfairly by the Scottish game’s officials, à la Jim Farry in 1996.
Celtic can live without the dreaded Old Firm tag and suffer no more guilt by association.
In Rangers’ current hour of need, it is the Ibrox club’s fans claiming that Celtic need Rangers, a desperate projection of a myth only being wheeled out now in a sad bid to aid Rangers’ own struggle for survival. I’d say it’s financially stricken Rangers, sinking in a mire of debts reputedly reaching £75million, that are the club most in need. Celtic seem to be doing just fine on their own.