It wasn’t, in the overall scheme of things, the most auspicious way in which a club could win a league title, but Rangers’ goalless draw at Montrose yesterday afternoon coupled with Queens Park’s one-nil home defeat at the hands of Elgin City meant that the Glasgow giants have now been confirmed as the champions of the Scottish Football League Division Three. Yet the atmosphere of distrust remains as prevalent as it ever has in Scottish football and this morning, the day after the lifting of the trophy at Links Park, a further story linking Rangers and Celtic with a move into the English league system has appeared with reports that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, “is taking a ‘massive interest’” in seeing both of the Glasgow giants obtain entry to English football, reportedly for political reasons relating to the forthcoming referendum in Scotland concerning independence.
This isn’t, of course, the first time that such a suggestion has been mentioned but the door has always been considered shut to the prospect of Celtic and Rangers joining the English game. Since Rangers’ fall from grace, the placing of the club into Division Three of the Scottish Football League and the decision to remould Scottish football into a 12-12-18 formation, though, the noises from Ibrox have started to reach a fever pitch, with a steady stream of articles from Scottish newspapers suggesting a degree of inevitability about this happening in the fullness of time. This reached something of a crescendo in the middle of January, when it was revealed that the Football Conference was set to discuss the matter. The Daily Record reported that ‘sixty per cent of teams in the Conference would support moves to introduce Rangers into the league‘ and that ‘treated like pariahs and not welcome in their own country, Rangers owe Scottish football nothing‘ on successive days, although some barely stifled giggling could be heard when Green sought to claim that he might use sex discrimination laws to strong-arm his club into the English game.
The media machine, then, has been rolling into gear with a predictable mix of stories explaining this story’s inevitability and desirability for the English game. It wasn’t difficult, however, to pick apart the claims that Football Conference clubs were in favour of the clubs joining their league. Firstly, there was the small matter of the fact that of the twenty-four clubs that were asked to answer their survey, only fifteen replied, and then there was the fact that only nine of that fifteen explicitly said that they would be in favour of such of a move. It’s a generous interpretation which takes these figures and interprets them as ‘sixty per cent of teams in the Conference’ supporting it. Then there was the small matter of the people asked in the survey that was offered as proof. In the cases of Wrexham, Southport and Mansfield Town, it was press officers that spoke on behalf of their clubs, whilst at another, Braintree Town, the opinion of the Assistant Manager was considered sufficient to speak for the club as a whole.
The story has subsequently fallen quiet again for a couple of months, but has started to raise its wearyingly predictable head again this week. Last Sunday, Green was at his bullish best. “Why would football clubs or football authorities not want Rangers and Celtic?” he told the Mirror (a newspaper that is part of the same stable as the Daily Record),“If they say: ‘It wouldn’t add anything into the game’, they are lying,” before adding that, “Two English clubs have come to me and said: ‘Buy us and close us down. Take us for free and take on the liabilities’”, the sort of statement which will only cause most supporters of English clubs to wonder which two clubs this was. We dare say that all supporters of English clubs would be very interested to know that their owners were prepared to franchise the existence of their club to somebody else in another city, and in another country, in order to cut their financial losses.
This morning, however, came another twist in the story with the Sunday People (yet again, part of the Mirror group of newspapers, along with the Mirror and the Daily Record) reporting that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is now supporting the absorption of Rangers and Celtic into the English game. According to this morning’s report, “One prominent figure, who wishes to remain anonymous, insists Rangers and Celtic have “never had a better chance” of coming to England because of the political climate,” whilst Green has claimed himself that, “I don’t want to go into the Premier League. It would be wrong. If the Premier League sent me an invite saying we could start next year, I would turn it down,” though quite what the moral angle to this that he seems to be implying is unclear, other than to suggest that, “Under European law, (stopping us) is categorically a restraint of trade,” all of which can suggest that is such a “restraint of trade” can only apply all Scottish clubs as well as, presumably, Welsh clubs, Northern Irish clubs and any other clubs in countries that are members of the European Union as well. All of this, meanwhile, ignores the Football Conference’s own rules on membership:
2.2 All Clubs shall have Grounds and headquarters situated in England or Wales and the General Manager shall send their names and particulars to The FA annually by the date appointed by, and in the format required by, The FA. English Clubs shall be duly affiliated at all times to a recognised County Football Association. Welsh Clubs shall be affiliated to The FA of Wales.
The Football Conference, it could be argued, might be persuaded to change their rules if the financial inducements to do so are strong enough. But they aren’t the only people that would need to be convinced in such a case. The Football League, the Premier League, the Football Association and FIFA would all also have grant their assent to such a fundamental change to the face of club football in this country were it to gain any further momentum, and whether they would do or not is far from assured especially if, as has been suggested elsewhere, the two biggest Glasgow clubs might keep a team going in Scotland as well as trying to mine English football for more money. Such a high profile attempt to parachute into another country’s league could easily be interpreted as a flagrant threat to the authority of each of these bodies – especially since Charles Green seems incapable of talking about this without mentioning the threat of legal action – and if there is one thing that we know for certain about all of football’s governing bodies, it is that they don’t like having their authority challenged.
And this is before we pause to consider the infrastructural issues that two clubs of such a side playing in the Football Conference might bring up and the sectarian baggage that these two clubs carry, which may be on the decline but would likely weigh heavily on the minds of some south of the border, if not many. Many English supporters’ most recent experience of Rangers supporters was their pretty dreadful behaviour in Manchester on the day of the 2008 UEFA Cup final against Zenit St Petersburg, whilst English reaction to the wilder political ends of the Celtic support would be similarly hostile, if not even more so. This isn’t to say that this sort of behaviour isn’t that of a minority. It is, however, a common enough perception in the south and it means that fans’ reaction to such overtures is likely to be lukewarm, to say the least.
David Cameron’s reported interest in this story, meanwhile, sounds like a red herring. The state of stand-off which currently exists between the government and the game’s authorities over the DCMS inquiry into football governance offers a hint of seriously they may listen to him and, whilst he may have access to those that would ultimately make such decisions, whether they would listen to him is another matter altogether. Tying this matter in with that of Scottish independence also seems somewhat facile. This morning’s Sunday People claims that, “if Celtic were to be playing in England it might prove to their fans that they should be British,” a statement which would be an insult to the intelligence of Celtic supporters were it not completely nonsensical.
Whatever legal wrangles over Scottish independence are to take place over the next couple of years or so are not the business of this website, but dragging football into them doesn’t seem like a very sensible way of having an intelligent, adult debate on the subject before reaching such an important decision, though. “This may sound strange to people in England but there are hundreds of thousands of votes here – and football is at the middle of a lot of debates up here,” the “prominent figure who wishes to remain anonymous” continued. Well, yes it does, not least of which because “British” sounds like something that would be pretty low on the list of things that many Celtic supporters would identify with, even if the carrot of perpetual Premier League football were somehow to be dangled in front of them.
Still, though, the constant hum of this being a story seems likely to continue from this group of newspapers, one of which was the last employer of the Rangers director of communications, James Traynor, whilst the writer of the article, Alan Nixon, used to own a share-holding in Proactive Sports Group, a company which at that time had as its chairman… one Charles Green, now the loudest supporter of Rangers joining the English football league system. At the time of writing, there has not been any indication from the Premier League, the Football League, or the Football Association which hints that such a move would be permitted, though this doesn’t mean that it won’t remain near the top of some people’s agendas. Charles Green, however, cannot force the English league system to take his club and if anything his confrontational attitude on the subject may even make it less likely that his club will get the admittance that it apparently so desperately craves.
Green should be on a charm offensive in England at the moment rather than shouting about restraints of trade while offering constant reminders of how much money could be made from allowing him to get his nose in at the trough if he does want to get his club into English football. In March 2012, the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Scudamore, said, when questioned on the subject, that, “Our rules are simple. It says we’re a league formed for clubs that play in England and Wales. I don’t see that ever changing. I don’t see that changing on my watch, not that my watch may last for long. There’s more in it for them than there is for us.” As long as English attitudes stay the same – and, apart from some people connected to cash-hungry clubs in the Football Conference, aside, there has been little evidence to suggest any other hunger for change south of the border – Rangers will remain a Scottish club playing in the Scottish league system. Unless, of course, the Prime Minister of Britain knows differently.
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