A domestic Scottish game without the Old Firm would feel like liberation, says Gerry Hassan in The Scottish Review

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon must be embarrassed by the disgrace that attaches itself to every Rangers V Celtic game. Scotland’s SNP government has been in  power for 15 years, but it has no idea to solve this poisonous problem which involves murder, madness, sectarianism, bigotry, wife-beating and domestic abuse. In West Dunbartonshire we have the worst record in Scotland for domestic abuse and the numbers soar whenever this fixture takes place. However, there is a suggestion in today’s Scottish Review which could be useful. It would mean throwing Celtic and Rangers out of the Scottish League and Cup competitions, out of the Scottish game altogether in fact, to Europe, England or wherever. An edited version of the article in the Scottish Review is as follows:

By Gerry Hassan

The victory of Celtic on Sunday all but gave them what will be their 52nd title, which is 41.3% of all senior titles. Rangers have won the overall total of 55, 43.7% of all titles, leaving aside the non-debate about the liquidation of the club in 2012 and its refounding as a new club.

Dumbarton FC shared a half title with Rangers which, when ever, if ever, the Ibrox team come to share the highest number of titles will be taken into account.

This means that on only 19 occasions clubs other than the Glasgow two have ever won the main league, and that includes the half-title which Dumbarton shared with Rangers in the first ever season (which is also included in the 55).

The near-monopoly of Celtic and Rangers is seen in the preponderance of titles won by Glasgow clubs: of the 108, 55 were claimed by Rangers, 52 by Celtic, and one by Third Lanark: giving a total of 85% of titles for Glasgow. The next city is Edinburgh with eight titles: four each to Hearts and Hibs.

The invention of the term ‘Old Firm’ did not happen by chance. It happened because of the rise of the two Glasgow clubs, the power of ‘the Second City of the Empire’, the effect of professionalism, and the reach of the two clubs aided by the sectarian divide of the city.

Many football historians believe that the term first gained modern parlance when used in the 1904 publication, The Scottish Referee, to acknowledge the mutual self-interest of the two clubs, capturing and monetising their bases in a relationship of co-dependency. A satirical cartoon showed a man with a sandwich board carrying the slogan, Patronise the Old Firm, Rangers, Celtic Ltd, highlighting the commercial benefits of their matches to both clubs.

The late Bob Cramsey used to call this a form of ‘cartel capitalism’, whereby both clubs wilfully exaggerated the most pronounced aspects of their traditions to keep their fans – and their money and passions.

It is not too much to say that they monetised the sectarian divide and traditions on both sides as a business model, that has allowed them to preside over this historic and ever-increasing dominance, to leave football defined by an ancient set of identities and rituals, and to suffocate the entire Scottish game.

Thirty-seven years of the same predictable and stale menu: of Celtic and Rangers fans getting excited about the bragging rights of nine in a row, and trying to outdo the other by winning 10 in a row. This is not a competitive sport or league but a semi-closed market which, if it continues ad infinitum, will leave Scottish club fans as predominantly Old Firm fans, and a small, declining gathering of others around the country with historic ties to their local clubs.

Here is the thing about this ongoing circus… Until the 1975-76 league season, Celtic and Rangers used to play just two league games against each other. Then the introduction of a 10-team league guaranteed a minimum four Old Firm league games, apart from the four seasons Rangers were out of the senior league. Such is their dominance that they can now play each other five or even six times a season, which even on the most generous interpretation is too much of a good thing (and ignores the scarcity principle of anything of value, such as FIFA World Cups every four years, rather than the Arsène Wenger proposal of making the World Cup every two years!).

As long as Celtic and Rangers have this stranglehold on the senior Scottish league title and the culture of the game, Scottish football will suffer and look, as it did on Sunday, like an archaic backwater defined by toxic passions, bigotry and hatred.

If the Glasgow two continue to dominate the game as they currently do, maybe they should reconsider that Sydney Super Cup game and permanently decant to somewhere else.

That would allow the rest of us to see a Scottish domestic game arise that would be massively competitive, would see numerous teams challenge and win the title, and would find media rights and decent sponsorship. When can we at least begin to accept that the Old Firm holds Celtic and Rangers back – and the entire Scottish game? A domestic game without the Old Firm would feel like liberation. Maybe some day, such are the global changes in the game, this will come about sooner than any of us think.

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