Phil Gartside, The Old Firm & The Premier League

9 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   April 20, 2009  |     18

Summer is coming, the evenings are getting longer and some football chairmen are giving every impression of having too much time on their hands already. This week’s insane plan comes from a repeat offender – the Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside. Gartside, you may remember, was shot down in flames last year over his brilliant idea to introduce a second division to the Premier League with – you guessed it none of that irritating promotion and relegation business, to save him from having to deal with the hoi polloi. This plan came to nothing, but Phil has evidently spent the last month with an abacus, a colouring book and some felt tip pens, and now he has come up with an even more awesome plan.

His new plan involves, wait for it, a second division to the Premier League. So far, so much like the idea that he had last year. This time, though, he’s got another trick up his sleeve. Brace yourselves, because it’s a big idea. He wants to invite Celtic and Rangers to join as well. Nothing has been said yet about promotion and relegation from Premier League 2, but it’s difficult to imagine that it would be much of a priority in the bum rush to make even more money. If this plan (or a modified version of it) were to come to fruition, it would ruin several fundamental tenets of British football. It would spell the end of the remaining dregs of  continuous meritocracy of English football (for all that has changed within the English game, the league tables still look largely the same as they did fifty years ago), the likely resignation of Celtic and Rangers from Scottish football and would issue far more of a hammer blow to separate home nations at international level than a Team GB at the 2012 Olympic Games ever could.

The biggest problems with Gartside’s plan would seem to be two-fold. Firstly, he has to persuade the Old Firm that this is a good idea. It may seem obvious that they would jump at the idea, but the truth may turn out to be somewhat less clear. As things standard, Celtic and Rangers are guaranteed Champions League football every year, and it is far from certain that they would be happy to give this up. Also, Celtic and Rangers have no guarantee of success. They may have to go for years without European football altogether.

The second big problem is persuading Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool of the merits of his little plan. Gartside may think that he has this covered by advocating an eighteen team Premier League, which would give these four extra preparation for Champions League matches, but he overlooks a couple of key factors. Firstly, any sort of division of money based upon thirty-six clubs will inevitably lead to a reduction of income for those that make the most money under the current set up. Secondly, it may only be two matches per season, but these are worth a lot of money to the biggest clubs. Arsenal and Manchester United both earn seven figure sums from each home match. Finally, considering the English domination of the Champions League over the last few years, it seems unlikely that the biggest clubs even need more rest time between matches.

The affect on the international teams can also not be overlooked. If, as is widely believed, there is an undercurrent of feeling amongst many FIFA members that the existence of separate teams for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is an anachronism, then the presence of Scottish teams (and, in all likelihood, a Welsh side in the form of Cardiff City) strengthen the argument for United Kingdom football team in the eyes of many. Against this background, it seems difficult to believe that the FA or the SFA will be particularly supportive of Gartside’s proposals. In fact it’s pretty difficult to find anyone with any significant influence that is likely to support the proposal in anything like its current form.

Why, then, has Gartside come up with this plan? It’s difficult to get away from the fact that his club, Bolton Wanderers, would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of it. Premier League club owners must have spent this season looking in horror at the bottom of the Championship table, with the three relegation places all taken up by former Premier League stalwart. The parachute payments that clubs receive upon relegation don’t seem to be enough. In their desperation to buy shiny new players, clubs often seem to overlook the finer details of contract signing, meaning that they often get lumbered with a wage bill that they can’t afford upon relegation.

The other problem – and this is a problem for the Premier League generally – is that TV revenues seem likely fall over time, rather than rise. Television is, in the long term, a dying medium and football has mortgaged itself silly on the understanding that this money would continue to rise, but it is now far from clear that this will happen. Everything is okay for now but, come 2013 (when the next set of television rights are on the table) the levels of money made available for football clubs to fritter away may simply no longer be there. Ultimately, though, the problem with football clubs is that they spend more money than they should, and most of it goes down the drain on wages and transfer fees. Until clubs rein in their spending, finances will be a problem for some, if not many.

These, however, are truths that clubs don’t particularly want to acknowledge. They want their piece of the pie, and they want to keep hold of it indefinitely. If you want confirmation of this, consider the haste with which managers put out (and supporters accept) the fielding of under-strength teams in cup competitions to safeguard that seventeenth place in the Premier League. I can understand what the clubs get from it, but I have long wondered what Premier League supporters get from that perennial struggle against relegation when it comes at the cost of having a chance of winning a cup.

Ultimately, the calibre of this reorganisation plan can be summed up by the fact that the papers had to drag out the rent-a-quote Crystal Palace chairman owner Simon Jordan – a man that looks like the living embodiment of the main character in that old joke about a man that sits in the corner of a bar licking his own eyebrows – to tell the Old Firm that they should pay £100m to join the Premier League’s second division. Along with Game 39 and Garry Cook’s hopes of a ten club Premier League with no promotion or relegation, this idea is yet another manifestation of the management of the biggest English football clubs playing an elaborate trick. These plans will doubtless be dusted down, maybe slightly watered down and marketed as “football’s new revolution”. You can be almost certain that this revolution, when it comes, will be of little benefit to you and we should continue to resist it where possible.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • April 21, 2009 at 7:23 am


    I take issue with your claim that Norwich are a ‘Premier League stalwart’.


  • April 21, 2009 at 11:42 am


    Cracking post. But I bet if it happened, they’d still find some way for Celtic and Rangers to play in the Champions League, even if they were in the second flight of the extended Premier League. These kinds of anti-meritocratic ideas are starting to be voiced without shame now: witness the ‘history pass’ that would allow underachieving behemoths to still compete in the ECA’s proposed European ‘super league’.

    As you say, we all have to resist this shit as much as we can.

  • April 21, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Martin Drake

    Gartside is just another of the selfish greedy tossers that football specialises in.

    The Football League was a virtual closed shop for almost a hundred years when all the old boys looked out for their own so it’s hardly a surprise that some of the old boys occassionally suggest taking up the ladders yet again.

  • April 21, 2009 at 8:12 pm


    Gartside’s timing is interesting. It emerged at the weekend that Setanta are looking to re-negociate the NEXT SPL television contract (which doesn’t start until season 2010/11), with clawbacks of £25million being discussed.

    The reaction, if “Reporting Scotland” if anything to go by is decidely muted, lots of fans would prefer to stay where they are, and no wonder. A similar scheme by the SPL to have 2 SPL divisions (a top one of 12 with a second made up of 10 teams – a coalition of the willing so to speak) is steadily falling apart.

  • April 22, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Michael Wood

    Why stop at inviting Rangers and Celtic? A flight to Amsterdam and back is within reach of clubs and the Dutch League is not strong so why not invite Ajax? Why not invite Paris SG? If one wants to invite clubs because of their size why not invite Leeds from League One?

    Pretty soon you get to a point where Bolton are 39th on the list of clubs and one wonders where Phil Garside would stand on the proposal then.

  • April 22, 2009 at 1:26 pm


    Despite the possibility that the individuality of the home nations would be under question, despite the fact that significantly less money would come into the Scottish game, I can’t help wishing the Old Firm would just bugger off and leave the rest of us to enjoy what would be a smaller scale, but much more competitive and enjoyable football league.

    I am sure they won’t see the loss of ‘guaranteed’ Champions League football much of a hindrance. Just look at Rangers who lost out on Europe this season and then openly stated they had to get rid of players to balance the books. They would jump at the chance of higher sustained income from the lower reaches of the EPL, than gambling it on the third qualifying round of the Champions League.

    Besides, they have such a sense of arrogance and entitlement that I am sure they believe they could challenge the big four in England given a couple of years. Not that I am bitter about the old firm sucking up the players and resources from the rest of Scotland but… please can’t they just fuck off somewhere else. I don’t really mind where.

  • April 29, 2009 at 4:34 pm


    I suggest a ‘kill Phil’ campaign. The abuse we endure from those bastards north of the border yet here is an Englishman proposing to let their greedy snouts in the trough just to save his own arse? Jocks are shameless. They refuse to contribute to a British team for the Olympics yet want to play in an effectively British league. They whine about independence yet when OUR cash is used to bail out THEIR failing banks we get not a word of gratitutde. Likewise they’ll call us every name under the sun but won’t balk at these proposals. They knew the English were gullible but perhaps not to this extent. I believe this is a done deal. Look how O’Neill (irishman) is suddenly shooting his mouth off in support of the idea, though it isn’t his country. The English, not for the first time, have been betrayed by their own leaders. All that’s left to us now is a little baseball bat diplomacy, though we probably haven’t the stomach for that either.

  • May 2, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Matthew Feetenby

    Gartside is an idiot and he continuously proposes these ridiculous ideas which are just for the goal of raising more money for these millionaires. Fuck You Gartside, these proposals will not benefit use, the fans. The prices will go up and they will get richer, Gartside knows this ans that is the point. Ranger sand Celetic are not good enough to contest the likes of Blackburn and West Brom, but they can be marketed as big teams. They are hugely supported and this would enable a massive interest from television and for fans wishing to go to these games. The English league and its millionaires have enough fucking money, this proposal will give no benefit in terms of an improvement in competitive football. It will be 1992 all over again, but probably worse, say goodbye to the game you know and love.

    Phil Gartside Murderer of the English Game.

  • April 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Phil Gartside’s Plan To Shaft English Football – Part 3 | Twohundredpercent

    […] have two Premier League divisions of eighteen clubs with no promotion or relegation. He returned in April 2009 with, umm, exactly the same idea except with added Old Firm sectarianism. And now, in November […]

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