Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So long, farewell?

Is this the endgame of the bitter, uneven relationship? There is nothing new in Rangers and Celtic courting English football but Phil Gartside's intervention would seem to change things. The idea now has support down south. Not with the fans but with some of the money men.

From this point, I think, the outcome is inevitable. Maybe not in the timeframe set out by Gartside, maybe not as quickly as the boys in blue or green and white would like, but they are now on the path to England.

In his BBC blog - that sacred corner of the internet where the English language goes to die - Chick Young accepts this argument and reads Scottish football the last rites.

The comments are mixed. The English say "keep your bloated bigotry, your inflated sense of your footballing worth away". Some Scots say "we'll be better off without you."

Who's right? Well, I'm afraid the English fans can complain all they like but they have all the influence of East Stirlingshire in the SPL title race. If the millionaires that own English football think this is a good idea then it will happen eventually.

Fan power enjoyed its last hurrah when Old Trafford was delivered from the preying, evil of Murdoch to the generous purity of Malcolm Glazer. We are now consumers and whatever the game means to us we are essentially no more than customers in Tesco.

So what of the Scottish game? John Boyle's ongoing battle to keep the fans out of Glasgow would continue. This may be a divorce from the Old Firm but the spouses would still be sharing a house.

The product on show at Ibrox or Celtic Park would be more glamourous and more awash with money than anything at Tynecastle, Pittodrie or Tannadice. How could Scottish football compete?

Some say we would manage quite easily. That Hibs, Aberdeen, Hearts, United and the rest fighting for the SPL title would enthuse the lost generations of fans who have become despondent in the face of the relentless wave of Glaswegian success. Without the bigotry and bile, Scottish football could again become the people's game.

So which is it? A jumped up, provincial league with a gaping Old Firm shaped hole? Or an Old Firm free utopia, thriving as the ugly sisters struggle in England?

I honestly don't know. The experience of Wales (along with, for what little it's worth, UEFA's promise) should set the precedent for allowing our national side to continue. As for the domestic game? There can be no more than conjecture just now - this really would be a leap into the unknown.

It may be an opportunity. An opportunity to restructure the leagues and the governing bodies free from the often destructive and alway self preserving power of the Old Firm. An opportunity for other teams to have a go at winning fans by enticing them with tangible success. An opportunity for clubs to commit to producing attractive, punter and TV friendly football.

An opportunity, certainly, but also a risk. We've moaned, ridiculed and decried the Old Firm for well over a century. How comfortable would we be proving that we really didn't like them, that we can be better off without them?

Or have we been protesting too much? We fall over each other to slag off Rangers or have a go at Celtic. But do we secretly enjoy cowering behing them, taking the money that their allure brings?

Time will tell. The only certainty is that the ball is now rolling. Watch this space.