The Soul Or The Silver? Could – Or Should – Celtic Be Looking To England For Our Future?

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On my early morning social media sweep yesterday morning, I came across a piece by our friend Brendan McCann about the possibility of Celtic joining the Championship in England.

Brendan’s posts tend never to be too far from the mark, so I read with interest about how the pandemic had completely changed the lie of the land, with some teams really close to the cliff edge and sponsors considering their investments.

We’ve heard all this stuff before of course and the fans tend to be pretty split down the middle.

So I’ll summarise Brendan’s article and then give you some of my thoughts on it.

He suggests that League One and Two are in real trouble and will likely be unrecognisable from what we’ve been used to.

The seemingly endless stream of investors from the Middle and Far East look to be wondering if their investments are sustainable with one of the knock on effects being the scrapping of the £45 million parachute payments that sustain the bigger clubs and allow them to survive their yo-yoing between the Championship and EPL.

The owners of Wigan have cut and run already … after a week.

The upshot of this is that the football association are once again open to new ideas, and introducing a huge club with the potential to add a completely new dimension to the league must be tempting. Celtic PLC have never hidden their desire for structural change, and there’s the idea that we could live up to the full potential we have, which they feel is limited within the constraints of Scottish football.

So what would it mean for the club?

Most people would see the Championship as a route to the Premiership and its pavements of sponsorship gold but the Championship in its current guise is possibly the most competitive league on the planet. Look at some of the clubs who have vanished without trace for generations after falling into the Championship; Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Derby, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday … these are all teams who’ve found it difficult to revisit former glories after being relegated.

There is absolutely no guarantee we would win that league or even get a playoff place.

It’s a tough grind of a league and there’s every possibility we would be there for a while.

Would we be willing to sacrifice a bit of our soul to be playing in the English lower tier for a decade? The expectations of the Celtic fans is huge and that wouldn’t change much; it would be so easy to fall into the trap a lot of bigger clubs in the Championship fall into by changing manager again and again because of the lack of instant success coupled with fans expectations and finding ourselves fighting to stay in the league instead of being promoted from it!

I mention the soul of the club because i believe that’s part of the trade-off.

We’re a Scottish club with deep roots in Scottish society. We won the European Cup as representatives of the Scottish league and having seen off Rangers and now doing the same to Sevco, we’ve come from being ostracised and marginalised to being the undoubted kings of the castle.

Are we willing to now give that up?

And I guess that’s the real question; we’re so used to being the big fish in a small pond would we be able to cope with potentially having to go four, five or even six years without a single bit of silver-ware? Would fans be willing to travel down to Plymouth or Ipswich for a mid-table clash on a Sunday morning, once the initial novelty wears off?

On the other hand, there’s no reason why, with a bit of imagination, we couldn’t go and get automatic promotion or grab a playoff place. Right now I would fancy our chances against any Championship side over 90 minutes. A goalkeeper, a couple of defenders and someone to challenge James Forrest and I’d back us to be able to maintain that form over a season.

We would have to get used to having a lower win rate but is that not the challenge?

We’ve always claimed to be equal in size to the big English teams, just limited in financial muscle. Their fans tend to reply by saying ‘my gran would get a game up there’, implying that winning week in week out against everyone up here is easy. We know that’s not true but most of us will have looked to the EPL and wondered just how big a club we could be with the status and financial clout to attract the absolute cream of the world’s talent!

The idea of us going to Old Trafford needing a point to win the league and with Luis Suarez partnering big Eddy up front is mouth-watering!

We all know the EPL is a bit of a soulless corporate entity now and we’d be giving up a bit of our soul by following the cash and status rather than staying faithful to our roots, but do we owe Scottish football anything?

We’ve made our own success and any success we have had has been in spite of our football associations, not because of them.

From the disgracefully low number of international caps handed to the key players of the greatest team ever produced in this land, to the attempts to unlawfully delay our players registrations we’ve had a pretty frosty relationship with them, so personally I wouldn’t feel a great deal of regret if we uprooted and started elsewhere.

I wonder if in the long run it wouldn’t actually benefit Scottish football?

Teams like Aberdeen, Dundee Utd and Hibs fighting for the title every year with the likes of Sevco, Motherwell and Killie pushing for European places?

I know the ‘derby’ is what attracts the Sky dollars but maybe a more competitive league would rejuvenate the SPL and make it more attractive overall?

Personally i think I’d be in favour of a move, I would love to see how big Celtic could be and I reckon it’s the fans and traditions that maintain the soul of a club, not the league they play in.

The risk of lingering in the Championship is a real one but the motivation of the players would be huge, they must get sick of being told they ‘only’ play in Scotland so can’t be compared to the best players around. We often lose our best players for that reason.

Tierney, Dembele, big Virgil…add those three to our armoury and we’d be a Premiership team.

So, Celtic being Celtic, I would fancy us to get out the Championship and into the top flight.

My fear is that once we got there we would realise we had made a mistake and that all that glistens isn’t gold! There’s something so contrived about that league, that even the dream of being able to go head to head with the elite teams and showing them all who the biggest team in the UK is, is tempered with a gnawing doubt that we would leave a huge part of what makes us unique behind if we left the Scottish league.

Why should we go down there just because their bubble has burst and they think we’ll improve their viewing ratings and bring new investors?

We owe them even less than we owe the Scottish associations? So maybe I’m not as sure as I thought I was? I’m open to being convinced though as I am seduced by the idea of it! But is it even possible? The next few months might tell us.

Chris Cominato is a Celtic fan and blogger from Glasgow. He helps moderate the CelticBlog Facebook group and is a frequent contributor to the site.

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In the 1951/52 season, SFA chairman George Graham tried to stop Celtic from flying the Irish tricolour flag over Celtic Park, leading to a bitter stand off between him and the club. Which Scottish club backed Graham over his stance?

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