Over the weekend an unusual story appeared in the papers, and it’s been followed up today in a couple.
It’s been oddly unremarked upon by most of the mainstream media though, and it’s had very little discussion on the Celtic forums.
The idea is simply this; we’re supposedly in talks with the North American Soccer League about opening up a “franchise team” in the States.
In other words, we’re trying to get a team called Celtic, playing in the Hoops, an official Celtic USA, into their league setup, with a view to making it to the MLS.
This is … fantastic.
And it’s visionary.
And it’s precisely the kind of thing we must do.
There was once a dream of Celtic playing in England. That won’t happen, and I’ve become more and more convinced of this as time has gone by.
The opportunity might have been there, once, but it’s long since gone by the boards.
An invite isn’t coming. We all realise that. So the only way we could do it would be to buy a struggling club, rename them, fight a lengthy battle with the FA over our stadium and registered address being in Scotland and then close the books on our club here.
Surely I don’t have to point out how wrong that would be?
First that we’d stolen another club’s future by strangling them.
Secondly, it would make us little more than a Sevco style phoenix club.
We, Celtic fans, know this; you can’t take the history with you. We’d be sacrificing our past for a very uncertain future.
It’s not on, and I’ve never been in favour of it.
There has also been renewed chatter about the possibility of some kind of Atlantic League, but in my opinion this is fanciful at best; there’s simply no mechanism for it, and to the best of my knowledge all talk of it, at an official level, has ceased.
The national league structure is the foundation stone of UEFA, and that is simply not going to change anytime soon, no matter how much we wish it would.
Celtic’s identity and future is in Scotland, but that doesn’t mean that our club shouldn’t have a presence around the world.
It will grow the brand.
It will interest people in us who otherwise might have had no stake in who and what we are.
You know, I sometimes get accused of knocking Celtic, but only by those who’ve never read some of my more upbeat articles.
This club is in my heart and soul.
I believe we’re special, that we’re not just a football team, that our roots and our culture and our past mark us out as being different.
Celtic has a mythology more than a history; I think the more people know of us the more they would want to know.
Our unique selling point is that we’re unique.
Put a Celtic team in the North American league setup and watch a whole generation of fans fall in love with us who might otherwise not have known we existed. Let them get interested first, then learn who the parent club in Scotland is.
We have an enormous following in the US, so a fan base is there already … but I’m talking about more than that, of course, of us reaching out beyond that established support and finding friends we never even knew we had. Once the side is established, watch what happens.
There’s money to be made here too.
The MLS TV deal is worth $90 million per year, and that number is only going to go up. NASL games draw decent TV audiences. They’ve just agreed a TV deal with a company called One World Sport, which goes out to 38 million homes across America.
These leagues, and the sport itself, are becoming sexy and exciting, especially with the number of European players deciding to close out their careers in the MLS.
As the demand for the sport increases over there, the TV revenues will, I believe, in time come to dwarf those in the EPL.
The United States has a chance of becoming a fully-fledged football superpower; the money is there, the infrastructure, the player pool.
Put bluntly, it’s where we ought to be.
This is a massive opportunity, one we can’t miss out on.
I am often critical of the board at our club, as you well know.
I think they’ve been tame on issues where they ought to have taken a lead and I think they’ve been slow to exploit obvious opportunities, especially in North America, like the proposed (and quickly forgotten) link up with the Boston Celtics basketball team of a few years ago.
We signed players from the Far East, and then stopped doing so, just as the idea was starting to bear fruit.
In particular, we let the inroads we’d made in the Japanese market – and they were significant – fade away to nothing.
I thought that was lax and stupid.
Nothing is stupider than our failure to try and crack America.
We haven’t even attempted to sign a US international although we’ve been linked with a couple, including the midfield anchor Michael Bradley, who’s now far beyond our financial reach.
I could never understand that; it seemed a no-brainer to me.
But this is a sign of life, and I hope that it’s not just a smokescreen but a serious undertaking, something that will produce.
The idea is brilliant, the moment is ripe for it and it will, in time, bring cash and the kind of international exposure we need.
It allows us to stay true to our roots whilst putting down new ones.
It is a fantastic, and long overdue, step in the right direction.