The growth of the EPL, which I wrote about earlier, poses an ever-increasing threat to our club. That league is leeching the life-blood out of the game here. In the end, we are either going to tackle this or we’re going to suffer potentially irreparable damage.
Wages and transfer fees continue to spiral south of the border and that has leaped into other leagues, some of them trying to keep pace with the EPL and some trying to take advantage of their propensity for spending stupid money.
What’s more is that certain clubs in that league are vastly wealthier than others, and this means that there are clubs in that league who have to overspend year on year just to keep up, and sustainability rules don’t seem to matter.
Celtic is in a perverse position. All of Scottish football is.
Let’s right to the chase, and look at why we’re in a uniquely strange spot here.
There is no other nation anywhere in Europe, not one, where the football market is split between various separate “national” entities. Think about that for a second. We are, for all intents and purposes, one country; the United Kingdom, Great Britain, call it what you like. It is a unitary authority, ruled from Westminster.
Yet FIFA recognises four separate national associations within a single border.
You show me where else on the map of Europe, or indeed anywhere else, that this is permitted?
You show me what other national associations in Europe are, in fact, not recognised countries, independent and free?
The UK is permitted to do what no other nation in Europe is allowed to do.
And I wonder why nobody has ever tested the legal strength of the EPL television deal on that basis.
We are either all part of the same country or we’re not.
The UK government keeps on telling us we’re “Better Together”.
Yet one “national association” has secured for itself all the fruits of a television deal which everyone in this unitary political body who has a TV package pays into just the same.
The deal is blatantly corrupt in the sense that it benefits only England.
I’m not asking for an equal share.
Not unless we have the most extreme scenario here, which I will outline as part of this article.
But a dividend? A recognition that having these sperate “markets” is blatantly discriminatory and might even be illegal? Who wants to find out? If we threaten to test the theory who do you think would blink first?
Where is our cut?
The unique position we’re in should have some benefits, some upside, and not just this colossal downside.
If the SFA threatened to challenge this in court – as they should have decades ago on the proviso that it should have been a UK wide deal benefiting the game across these islands – would they win?
Here’s a better question; what do we have to lose?
Well I do know one of the reasons why they won’t.
The current system suits them just fine.
They are content to be the kings, even if the kingdom is rubble. The SFA sits on UEFA’s main body, the Executive. So too does England. The SFA will not risk that by rocking the boat, although this boat needs to be rocked.
The exalted status of Scotland, England, the Six Counties and Wales as “separate nations” is afforded to no other nation at UEFA and that we were all stuck together as part of the EU shows you just how perverse it actually is that UEFA lets this happen. It’s as if Spain suddenly gave up its European football seat and divided into regions, and each took its own.
The only concern of our governing body is that if push came to shove that UEFA might finally stop viewing these countries as separate and do away with that status entirely.
What that would look like is up for grabs.
Probably the elimination of the status quo would lead to the collapse of every domestic league body and the creation of a super-league comprising clubs from all four “countries.”
All four “countries” would cease to be as well.
Does anyone want that?
I find it hard to imagine, but that doesn’t mean that it could not happen.
But this is a classic example of certain people having their cake and eating it too.
If that was the threat, I think the English FA would cave first and give up their dough.
This is where we get into extreme scenarios.
On the surface of it, a UK wide league would benefit Scottish clubs infinitely more than those south of the border, who suddenly would have to share all of the wealth with the rest, not just a chunk of it to keep us sweet.
To give you an example of what it would do to their game, let me tell you what the makeup of the Premiership would be if, as UEFA might well mandate, a UK league was based on co-efficient rankings.
As they look right now, the EPL would be a drastically different competition.
Ready to have your mind blown? Here it comes.
The British Premier League would be comprised of the following teams, in order of their co-efficient rank; Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, Sevco, Celtic, Leicester, Newcastle, Brighton, Aston Villa, Wolves, Linfield, The New Saints, Hearts, Aberdeen, Hibs and Dundee Utd.
That is transformative. That is a revolution.
Six Scottish teams. One from the Six Counties and one from Wales.
That’s game-changing. That’s Year Zero and “where do we go from here?” stuff.
At the very least, the Court of Arbitration for Sport should be asked to examine the England only TV deal and whether the proceeds should be shared evenly across the island, and then nobody at UEFA could have the slightest concern about it.
Because the argument isn’t a football one, it’s a political one.
The position of the Westminster government is that we’re all in this together. If that’s true then the “English football TV deal” is blatantly corrupt, because there is no national boundary and therefore no logical argument against the proceeds of that deal being shared, and there might not be a compelling legal argument either.
It simply requires somebody to test it.
Or – and here’s where life gets interesting – someone to run for office making this one of their central planks.
On the surface of it, I see no reason why Scottish Labour don’t put some version of that in the manifesto; a review of the current system, perhaps leading to some form of legislation to share the proceeds of sport across the UK with all the citizens of the UK.
Who could possibly argue against that?
The Conservatives can hardly oppose it, can they?
On what grounds would they do so?
The SNP might find it an issue, in fact they certainly would.
But the political calculation should be that it’s a means of giving Scotland some basic fairness, and the redistribution of wealth from England to our game. But I know why they wouldn’t give it their backing.
Because of course, the deal is good only as long as this island is “one nation” and not a minute longer.
Which is why ultimately the SNP would not support the idea … it would be a way of strengthening the union.
You see the dilemma?
For the record, I would vote for independence anyway, the issue being much bigger than just how it impacts my football club. There are compelling reasons for this country going it alone.
At the moment, in terms of football, we might as well be.
Between political pressure and the threat of a legal challenge, I think that there is a deal to be done if the SFA has the balls for it.
The clubs should not simply accept the current status quo as if there were not alternatives to it.
Every means of protecting the game here should be on the table and up for debate.
There is a moral case for it.
A political case for it.
A financial case for it.
And as long as the UK exists there is certainly a legal case to be made.
The people running football here don’t have the balls or the imagination to progress our national sport.
When clubs in our top flight can be easily outspent by teams in League One, you tell me that there is such a thing as too extreme a measure to solve that problem?
You tell me that the risk is not worth the reward?
Because we all know that it is.
It is a drastic, radical, thermonuclear solution I’m proposing here but it’s clear that this is swelling into an existential issue.
Some form of European League might be in our future but we have no way of knowing how many years away it might be or what state Scottish football might be in before it arrives.
I know this; the life is being leeched out of the game here by the vast disparity between what English clubs earn and what we get and that cannot go on.
So eventually, Celtic is going to have to consider what it does in the long haul.
Are we going down with the ship or are we, ourselves, going to get real and start looking at radical, perhaps even thermonuclear, solutions? Because it might actually get to the point where we have no choice in this, where the only options are to fight or the death of a thousand cuts.
If the current leadership at Hampden won’t challenge the way things are going then maybe we have the wrong leadership at Hampden and that has to change first. I’m all for that, for various reasons, but this one … this is the one that might force that whether those running Celtic like it or not. Our very survival as a credible club might depend on it.