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Celtic Dominates Scottish Football, And For The Forseeable Future That Won’t Change.

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Anyone who truly wants to understand history can only ever do so with hindsight.

It is a common mistake to look at an episode as it is happening and try to judge what its long-term impact will be.

This is the case for most issues, whether relating to politics, business or something else.

And the same is true of football, the impact of the Ibrox club’s 2021 COVID-inspired title win being a case in point.

As James said in a piece yesterday, he and I discussed this at the time, as in the aftermath of that season, pundits rushed to proclaim the ‘return of the Old Firm’, ignoring the fact that fans watch football matches and not séances.

This is perhaps understandable.

Sport will attract more interest when the outcome is uncertain, so the desire to create competition for Celtic is logical.

Given the dominance that Celtic and the first Ibrox club, Rangers, enjoyed throughout Scottish football history, another Ibrox side would be the expected inheritors of this rivalry.

However, the reality is that red, white and blue ribbons have adorned the league trophy only once since 2012; this does not suggest that the NewCo have yet formed a genuine rivalry with Glasgow’s green-and-white team.

Since the second Ibrox club entered Scotland’s top league in 2016, 23 major trophies have been won in Scotland (league, Scottish Cup, League Cup).

Celtic have 18, the NewCo has 3 and St Johnstone has 2.

Looking at events after COVID (basing that on the 2021-22 season), Celtic and the Ibrox club have met 15 times. The Bhoys have claimed nine wins compared to three draws and three defeats. Celtic’s goal difference across these matches is +9 (scoring 27, conceding 18).

In that same period, eight trophies have been won (if you assume that Celtic will win this season’s title, fingers crossed!); six have gone to Celtic with only two heading to the Govan area.

If someone was identifying the top team in Scotland, it would of course be Celtic. But that person would logically give second place to the Ibrox men. After all, in the past three years, they have been league runners-up. In addition, of the five cups completed, they won two of them.

All of this creates a false perception of closeness.

This can be best understood by studying marathon runners.

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya is currently the hero of the sport.

In the 2022 Berlin marathon, he set a world record time of 2 hours, 1 minute and 9 seconds.

Of course, there was a runner-up in this race too. Mark Korir (also a Kenyan) ran the race in 2 hours, 5 minutes and 58 seconds.

On the face of it, this makes Korir the major rival of Kipchoge, the runner most likely to beat him.

And of course, in sport, this is always possible.

Yes, it ignores numerical reality. For Korir to have beaten Kipchoge in Berlin, it would have required a near 4% performance improvement, which, for an elite athlete is phenomenally difficult to achieve.

The Ibrox are in a similar position. The financial gulf between the two teams will likely ensure that Celtic remain ahead for the foreseeable future.

The historical reality that Celtic and Rangers were close rivals – in terms of trophies won – but this does not mean that this will automatically be the case for another southside blue team.

The Ibrox club may win the Scottish Cup later in May. They could even emerge victorious in next season’s title race.

But in themselves, these outcomes will not change the general direction of Scottish football.

For now at least, the future is green-and-white.

Will that ever change?

Perhaps, but it will actually take the benefit of hindsight to know if and when that happens.

Matthew Marr is a Celtic writer and researcher. In 2023 he published his first Celtic book, telling the tale of the club’s first league title. He also runs Celtic history tours: https://celticwalkingtours.wordpress.com/

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  • Leon says:

    Celtic winning the most League Titles in 6 of the last 7 decades confirms your theory.
    That includes more titles than a good Aberdeen team in the 1980s.

  • Bill says:

    Matthew,
    Spot on. Been saying this for years. If you look at all the major leagues and sort them before the season starts by revenues, you would get a table that would be remarkably close to the actual table at the end of the season.
    For the Ibrox team to win a league, one of two things have to happen: either they get a billionaire to infuse a large amount of capital; or Celtic really mess things up (as for a while looked like might happen this season). Without one of those events Celtic will continually win the SPFL. The cups are one off games so they could get some glory there, but the league is probably out of their reach.

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