Celts in Europe – Was it really so awful?

by Johnny Connelly

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As a dejected Celtic side trudged off after a 6-1 skelping against the majestic Barcelona, Hoops fans voiced their anger and frustration at what many of them judged to be an inferior and lacklustre performance by their heroes.

Now that the dust has settled, was it really so awful? Both in terms of the performance on the night, and the effort given in the Champions League overall?

True enough, Barcelona demolished Celtic. Not since 1965 have Celtic conceded six goals in a single match; but on the night, what could have been done to stop the rampant Catalan side?

Twitter, Facebook, and football phone-in frequenters were aghast at Neil Lennon’s team selection, (after the match of course). What a fine thing hindsight is. The most frequent questions asked circulated around the omission of Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons, and Anthony Stokes.

I’m sorry, but does anyone really believe that  the inclusion of any of these players would have reigned-in the likes of Xavi and hat-trick-hero Neymar? Celtic were played off the park, in every area of the park. Surely there’s no permutation of Neil Lennon’s current Celtic squad that could’ve changed the outcome of the game? The fact is, when Barca set the heather alight, the best teams in the world struggle restrain them.

If we’re truly honest, Celtic have rode their luck against Barcelona pretty much every time they’ve come up against them in modern history, even when they’ve managed to beat them. Particularly in the last handful of fixtures between the clubs, Barca have had the lion’s share of chances and territorial possession.  Brave, resilient performances from Celtic have helped keep these matches tight, with any defeats being inflicted by the odd goal, but given the gulf between the sides and the control held by the Spanish giants, a heavy drubbing was always a possibility.

The expectation of Celtic fans is for their team to play well, contest every game, and win in style when it’s humanly possible. To achieve what they have in recent times in the Champions League is formidable. As much as this season’s Champions League campaign could be viewed as disappointing, Celtic have in no way been humiliated, when compared with the other  teams that finished bottom of their group in the competition.

Marseille, Copenhagen, Anderlecht, CSKA Moscow, and Real Sociedad for example all finished 4th. Nobody would dispute that these sides are major European entities, so there’s no shame in suffering a similar fate to them.

Although Celtic have previously reached the knockout stages, to do so this year seems to require major financial clout. When we compare Celtic’s first team wage budget to some of the sides that topped their groups, we begin to understand the David v Goliath nature of the task they face.

Celtic pay just over £300,000 every week on wages to their squad. This is by no means miserly, but Borussia Dortmund (top of Group F), pay almost three times as much. Chelsea pay more than six times more than Celtic in terms of wages, and Barcelona pay an astonishing, 11 times more than Celtic.

Perhaps a shift in mentality from the fans is required. Sadly, Celtic can’t be the world-beaters they were in the 60’s and 70’s. Since then it’s been a rollercoaster ride. For every triumph against Man Utd, Juventus, and Barcelona; there’s been an implosion against Neuchatel Xamax, Wacker Innsbruck, or Artmedia Bratislava.

Celtic are operating well on and off the field at the moment. A few key signings could give them the edge and excitement they long for. Ok, they won’t win the Champions League anytime soon, but 99% of clubs in Europe are in that same boat.

Crack a smile Hoops fans; your team are cruising to another league title, competing in Europe every year, and living within their means. There’ll be ups and downs; good times and bad. Sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Scott Brown: A Worthy Celtic Captain?

by Johnny Connelly

Back in 2007, then Scotland Under-21 coach Rainer Bonhof warned that Scott Brown, despite his obvious talent, “needs to be calmed to avoid disciplinary problems”.

Almost seven years on, the German’s words seem to have gone unheeded.

On the one hand, Scott Brown displays all the qualities of a world-beater. He’s 110% committed, is full of pace, tackles hard, will run all night for his team, has an infectious personality, and presents a considerable attacking threat.

Sadly, there’s more.  There’s a seemingly unshakeable petulance too. So severe is this negative aspect of Brown’s play that it’s undermining his ability, so much so that some Hoops fans are beginning to wonder if the dynamic midfielder is even fit to wear the captain’s armband.

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Moment of madness: Brown kicks out at Neymar

Frustration, disappointment and anger resonated around Celtic Park in midweek when Scott Brown, in a moment of madness, foolishly swiped at Neymar, resulting in a straight red card, and the disintegration of any hopes Celtic had of taking any points from the Catalan giants.

Until that point, in keeping with Brown’s Jekyll and Hyde behaviour, the Scotsman was one of the best Celts on the park. His tireless running and positional discipline made life difficult for Barca. Celtic were always facing the improbable, but when Brown lashed out, the improbable became impossible.

Given the importance of the Barcelona match, surely a failing on the part of the captain in this way should set alarm bells ringing in Neil Lennon’s head. The role of captain at any club is a great honour, and is usually bestowed upon only those with the utmost levels of integrity and ability to lead the team on all fronts. Can you imagine the likes of Paul McStay, Tom Boyd, or Danny McGrain kicking out at Neymar in such a prestigious match? It just wouldn’t have happened.

This, when added to Brown’s back catalogue of petulant bookings and repeatedly taking the bait when befaced with a confrontational scenario surely makes his tenure as captain questionable. Impressive performances and a gutsy swagger will get you far, but there’s more to it when it comes to being handed the captain’s armband at a big club.

Lennon must know in his heart of hearts that Brown’s behaviour is unacceptable. Barca match aside, Brown’s name has been thrown in to match reports in Europe for negative aspects in Celtic’s two other big European games so far this season. Another petulant foul against Shahktar Karagandy, and a clumsy, off the ball incident against AC Milan (leading to the deciding goal), add to and underline the question marks around Brown’s professionalism.

It is understandable that Lennon doesn’t criticise his players in a brazen manner, but from his comments about the Brown incident, it seems as though he genuinely believes the player’s actions were justifiable.

The likes of Giorgios Samaras could fill in nicely as captain, and is debatably a better candidate. It’s clear that Celtic can’t afford a liability in the Champions League. They may get away with silly fouls and sloppy play against SPFL opposition, given the gulf in class between Celtic and the rest of the pack; but in the Champions League, Neil Lennon’s men are invariably the underdog, and would be punished for handing the opposition any ill-gotten advantage.

Brown is a terrific player, but how long are the fans and the manager expected to put up with reckless behaviour? The Hoops captain isn’t a budding, raw, rough around the edges project anymore. He’s a grown man, he’s the captain of Celtic, and Scotland.

Now’s the time to start acting like a captain.

Firepower lacking as Celts scrape through

The emotion of relief was etched across Neil Lennon’s face as the full time whistle resonated around the Borås Arena, sealing Celtic’s safe arrival in the Champions League playoff round. A scrappy 0-0 in Sweden was enough to cement a 1-0 aggregate for Celtic over Swedish champions, Elfsborg. 

Celtic have started the season well on paper and are on course to reach the Champions League group stage as planned, but despite this, unconvincing victories have led sections of the Parkhead faithful to become concerned at the depth of Lennon’s squad, particularly in the attacking areas.

The Glasgow giants cruised past part-timers Cliftonville as expected, narrowly defeated Ross County on the opening day of the season, and secured the narrowest of aggregate wins over Elfsborg, a side that currently languish in 4thplace in the Swedish top flight. Yes, Celtic are winning, but whether or not they can continue to successfully pursue a place in the Champions League group stage with the current crop of forwards is in serious doubt.

During the 0-0 draw with Elfsborg, Celtic recorded just two shots on target. The isolated figure of Georgios Samaras, despite now being something of a fan favourite, looked ineffective. His 69th minute replacement, Anthony Stokes, was similarly foiled by the resolute Elfsborg defence. In a familiar way to all the other games so far this season, heads turned to Kris Commons to provide something special on his own, and on this occasion, he failed. On occasions like this in the past, all too often Neil Lennon’s men were bailed out by their prolific striker, Gary Hooper. Hooper scored goals in all competitions, and was as much of a threat to the likes of Barca and Spartak, as he was to Dundee and St Mirren.

The Englishman found the net 31 times last season for Celtic, and his £5.5m switch to Norwich has left Lennon with a significant spot in his team to fill.

Hooper’s departure sits nicely with the club’s overall, buy cheap, develop, and sell on policy, but only if another viable developing replacement is in place at the time.  

Celtic have done brilliantly to get £5.5m for Hooper, £12m for Victor Wanyama, and now reportedly £2.5m for Kelvin Wilson, but when these departures come without active replacements, the club’s business strategy comes under threat. In layman’s terms the club’s business strategy, by virtue of the absence of the type of money bequeathed to the English Premiership clubs, appears to hinge on the repeated delivery of these three goals: 

  • Reach the Champions League group stages every year (i.e win the league and qualifiers)
  • Keep the fans interested with an entertaining product for the majority of the year
  • Continue to be shrewd in the transfer market, develop players and sell on for profit

Without replacing these big players, particularly in attacking positions, the first and second goals become exponentially more difficult. True, given the absence of Rangers in the Scottish Premiership, a shift in transfer policy can be expected to some extent, but with the resources available at Celtic, a gulf of chiasmic proportions should still be apparent between them and the rest of the country’s top flight. 

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Lennon speaks to the BBC moments after qualifying for the Champions League Playoff


The Champions League playoff will be the toughest set of matches of the season so far for Celtic, and without a striker with the ability to score 30 goals a season in the squad, Celtic could well flounder. 

Historically, Celtic have always seemed to come up trumps when it comes to obtaining forwards capable of scoring goals  (in a similar way to how Rangers often seem to have relative ease in procuring a top-drawer goalkeeper, season after season). Not always a 53 goal a season Henrik Larsson; in the past we’ve seen the likes of Scott McDonald rattling in 31 in a season. Sometimes the big ticket signing isn’t required, it’s just a case of spotting a potential goal scorer.  

Hooper apart, this seems to be a skill that’s eluded Neil Lennon during his time in the Celtic dugout. The Northern Irishman has signed up several forwards, and for a variety of reasons, most of whom haven’t illuminated the league with their goal tally. The endeavour of Samaras is admirable, but he isn’t a natural goal scorer. 

Lennon has gone on record as saying he doesn’t think Anthony Stokes is “Champions League material”, and the likes of Tony Watt, despite his heroics against Barcelona last season, still has much to learn before he could be considered to be the finished article.

You’d also forgive the fans for being slightly apprehensive about Lennon’s choice of transfer targets to fill Hooper’s boots. It’s early days yet, but Amido Balde looks as though he hasn’t impressed his manager. He looks to be little more than a cumbersome bench-warmer. There’s no question over his fitness, so it would appear as though he’s deemed as third or fourth choice striker at the moment based on training ground performances. 

Parallels could be drawn with Balde’s situation, and other strikers that Lennon snapped-up; Miku, Lassad, Mo Bangura, Pawel Brozek, and Darryl Murphy to name but a few. 

The Hoops boss’ record for procuring quality goal scorers appears to be questionable at best when you see the list of failures above. The countdown to the transfer window slamming shut is well and truly on, and the names of two strikers appear to be cropping up in the rumour mill over and over again: Kevin Doyle of Wolves, and Alfreð Finnbogason of Heerenveen. Doyle looks like the far more likely signing, given his willingness to join, and Wolves’ willingness to sell. The Irishman, despite being a tireless worker, is far from a goal scorer. His record of 27 goals in 135 games (around 0.2 goals per game) is hardly awe inspiring, even when compared to Celtic’s other strikers. 

The likes of Samaras outperforms him in a Celtic shirt, scoring 48 goals in 156 games (0.31 goals per game). Stokes too boasts a better record, finding the net 33 times in 82 appearances (0.4 goals per game), and even the much maligned Harold Brattbakk’s Celtic record compares favourably to Doyle’s, as he scored 12 in 44 (0.27 goals per game). 

Herenveen’s Icelandic striker Alfreð Finnbogason looks as though he could be an ideal replacement for Hooper. He’s just 24 years old, so resell value becomes a factor, and scored 28 goals in 33 games last season (0.84 goals per game). He managed to find the net twice in Herenveen’s opening Eredivise match at the weekend too, but a hefty touted price tag of £7m puts him well out of Celtic’s price range, if the transfer policy of recent seasons is anything to go by.  

Lennon’s next move had better be a good one. A healthy compromise, somewhere between a Doyle and Finnbogason could be enough to do the business in the Champions League and win favour with the Celtic fans, but the clock is ticking, and you can be sure that all top European clubs will be sniffing around for a 30-goal a season striker. Now, more than ever, the lack of a cerebral, ruthless striker at Celtic Park is apparent. Perhaps the urgency and importance of the situation will bring clarity to the Celtic boss and help him find the player he needs. 

The fans can only wait and hope. Over to you, Neil.

SPL/SFL Merger: Progress at last or a gamble we can’t afford?

By Johnny Connelly

At long, long last, a majority of SPL and SFL clubs have come to an agreement on the future structure of our domestic leagues. In a wrangle that felt equally as long-winded as the Rangers v HMRC tax debacle, a breakthrough was reached as 23 clubs voted in favour of new plans that’ll see the creation of a single governing body (the SPFL).

Audible sighs of relief (as opposed to the expected hubbub of optimism) rippled through the Scottish football community when this deal was reached. The big black cloud that loomed over our game’s future has been cleared from our skies at least temporarily, as we can now look forward a new exciting format that boasts financial redistribution, as well as the reintroduction of playoffs.

As much as I’m pleased to see the end of this, I can’t help but think back to the massive overhaul in structure that the fans and the clubs cried out for. The new, 12-10-10-10 structure just doesn’t match up to these demands in my eyes. If we look initially at the SPL and SFL Division 1 clubs, as far as I can see (playoffs aside) all that’ll change is the distribution of wealth amongst them.

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When two become one – The SPL and SFL will be replaced by the SPFL

 

I see this as something of a gamble, although I do understand the strategy. Make some of the top placed teams in the SPL suffer financially in the short term, so as to financially boost the bottom placed clubs in the SPL and the rest of the SFL initially, and create a more holistically-centric, financially viable league structure in Scotland in the long-run.

The logic is sound, but we must hold our hands up and admit that it is a gamble of sorts. This process would be the golden ticket to revamping our game domestically if all the current SPL clubs were financially bloated, but we all know this isn’t the case. From a moral and idealistic standpoint, throwing money at the 1st Division clubs is without a doubt the right thing to do. It shows that the powers that be are thinking about the game’s success in the long term; but to disregard the threat this scheme poses to the top SPL clubs is foolish.

Here is how the money is expected to be redistributed throughout the current SPL and SFL Division 1 clubs:

SPL
1: £2,405,514 (13.39%, -£314,487)
2: £1,717,454 (9.56%, -£682,546)
3: £1,460,555 (8.13%, -£59,446)
4: £1,288,629 (7.17%, -£71,371)
5: £1,202,757 (6.7%, -£77,243)
6: £1,116,884 (6.22%, -£83,116)
7: £1,056,701 (5.88%, -£63,299)
8: £1,005,142 (5.6%, -£34,858)
9: £987,895(5.5%,+£27,895)
10: £902,023 (5.02%, +£22,023)
11: £816,150 (4.54%, +£16,150)
12: £730,277 (4.07%, +£10,277)

First Division

1: £386,248 (2.15%, +£318,248)
2: £343,132 (1.91%, +£276,132)
3: £300,016 (1.67%, +£234,016)
4: £256,900 (1.43%, +£191,900)
5: £240,731 (1.34%, +£176,731)
6: £188,633 (1.05%, +£126,633)
7: £172,464 (0.96%, +£111,464)
8: £154,499 (0.86%, +£94,499)
9: £138,331 (0.77%, +£79,331)
10: £120,366 (0.67%, +£63,366)

This looks good in theory. If we take only the top two Divisions into account, we see that 8 clubs will suffer initially, while the remaining 14 benefit substantially. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions tell a similar story, with some smaller clubs standing to make an additional £46,000 a year, while any decrease of revenue for clubs can be as little as £80.

However, the likes of Motherwell punch above their weight, on a shoe string, with a threadbare squad. Every penny counts for them, yet if this structure was in place last season, despite them miraculously finishing 2nd Scotland’s elite division, the Lanarkshire club would be £682,546 worse off. This, although nothing compared to the money that the giants of European football are throwing around, is still significant when we put it in context that it would almost double the losses made by the club, bringing them up to a combined loss of over £1.2m for the season.

This year’s 3rd and 4th placed clubs would be dealt a similar hand, although not quite as severe. St Johnstone would have been almost £60,000 worse off for the year, and Inverness Caledonian Thistle too would be down by over £71,000. Again, these figures mean nothing without context, but when you see that St Johnstone have made six-figure sum losses in three of the last four seasons, that £60,000 becomes a sum of money that’s not to be scoffed at. Terry Butcher’s Inverness Caledonian Thistle too run on a shoe-string budget, but this projected loss of £71,000 represents around 18% of the club’s current overall debt.

On the other side of the coin, how can we be sure that the right clubs are benefitting if all we’re going on is their final league position over a season? Take Queen of the South for example. This season they cruised through the Scottish Second Division, thanks to a larger budget amongst other things. Under this new structure, the team in the 2nd Division that claimed the title thanks to greater financial muscle, would further be enhanced by a winnings pot of £102,401 (an increase of over £46,000 on the previous year).

I suppose we’ll never know how this’ll pan out until we stop speculating, and let it run for a few seasons. One thing that we all seem fully behind though is the revamp and reintroduction of playoffs across all of our divisions. Playoffs guarantee that the season has a focus and purpose, regardless of how far apart the clubs may be points-wise. A final showpiece and crescendo to the season is ensured, which should hopefully dispel the apathy that’s been creeping in over the past few seasons.

This season the SPL has been crying out for a playoff setup. Celtic won the league at a canter; and Dundee went down without a whimper. The whole league was a dead duck by Christmas. At least with playoffs, we’ll have something to get excited about right until the end of the season as teams will have something to play for right until the very last kick, and in all divisions too. The closest thing we had to excitement outside the SPL this season was the Ramsdens Cup final. What a great example of how to achieve excitement in football in a simple way. 10,000 people crammed in to Almondvale for the final, and thousands more watched live on BBC Alba. This proves beyond doubt that although we may not have the quality of the Premiership at our disposal, the route to success for our game in this country lies with generating excitement. Structuring the game correctly is the key to this, and we’ve shown from the likes of the Ramsdens Cup, that excitement trumps quality any day of the week.

My personal preference would have been for a bigger league, and the fans voted in their numbers for this. The fact is that we must bend over backwards to get bums on seats in football grounds all over Scotland. When you achieve that, the desired TV deals could well have followed, as we’d have injected the excitement back into the game that drew crowds, and would spur interest from further afield. Who’s to say this won’t happen in the future, but for now I’m happy that a cohesive approval from our top clubs will drive a united front for our domestic game to succeed. The formation of the SPFL could signal the start of a journey towards a prosperous league setup in Scotland, but if it’s to succeed, we must back it unwaveringly. It must be adjusted accordingly to generate as much revenue and excitement as possible, or we could find ourselves in the midst of another moribund spell of ‘reconstruction talks’ again before too long.

Why Gary’s Jumping Through Hoops to be Lennon’s no.1 Striker

By Johnny Connelly

With no Rangers in the SPL, Celtic unquestionably have an easier route to retaining the title. Despite the benefits of this, it does create another issue for Neil Lennon’s men. Keeping a whole squad of players performing at their best becomes difficult when the consequences of dropping points are exponentially less severe.

Even at this early stage in the season, (despite a few instances of complacency) Celtic’s quality has shone through, and only a great fool would bet against the SPL trophy staying at the Parkhead club’s trophy cabinet.

Given Lennon’s relative lack of experience in the dugout, many have questioned his ability to handle the problems that face a huge club like Celtic. That said, the way he’s managed to tackle this most recent issue is nothing short of remarkable.

So, the million dollar question, how do you keep players performing at their best when your biggest rival is no longer breathing down your neck? Or in a more universally comparative way, what do you do when your biggest external competitor disappears?

The answer?  Simply introduce more internal competitiveness.

Lennon has illustrated this ethos beautifully raising the stakes when it comes to competition for places in his starting XI. This is how Celtic will succeed and flourish without Rangers, and it’s already bearing fruit in the form of a resurgent Gary Hooper.

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? – No, it’s Hooperman

Hooper netted the opener for the Bhoys against Motherwell on Saturday, taking his tally to 8 for the season already. This time last season, even with Rangers in the league, it was December before Hooper reached this tally. I put this down to increased competition for places.

At the start of the season, Celtic’s striking options were less considerable. Hooper was the main man, usually partnered with Stokes. The only real competition was from Georgios Samaras and Tony Watt. Samaras was and is playing the best football of his career, but is more effective as a winger. Watt too looks promising, but at just 18 years of age, will be used sparingly.

Lennon must have looked through his squad list and saw few other alternatives. He chose to loan out the cumbersome Darryl Murphy, youthful James Keating, and the flop that is Mo Bangura. Had this been left the way it was, I believe Celtic would have been subjected to a lesser Gary Hooper than the one that’s tormenting defences currently.

Enter Miku and Lassad Nouioui. Two experienced strikers to give Hooper a much needed boot up the backside in training every day. Over the last few seasons, if Hooper’s form was below par, he’d still start (more often than not). This season will be different. He’s widely regarded as Celtic’s best striker, but this time around, if his form drops, he’ll find himself on the bench.

Hooper notched up 29 goals last season in 50 appearances, (58% conversion). This was his second highest ever return, just 1 goal off his career best. This season so far, his record is 8 goals from 12 games, a marked conversion improvement at 67%.  On the basis of these current figures, and the fact that Hooper will soon be hitting his physical peak as he turns 25 in January, Lennon will be hoping his man will manage around 34 goals this season.

Celtic’s central midfield too has long been feeling the benefits of a healthy competition. Lennon has a plethora of options available to him in the middle of the park. Victor Wanyama, captain Scott Brown, Joe Ledley, Beram Kayal, and Filip Twardzik all fit there naturally, while the likes of Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons, and Paddy McCourt too can slot in if need be. This wide choice has made Celtic’s midfield the strongest area of the team, and allowed the club the luxury of being able to sell on a player like Ki for £7m, a healthy profit without weakening the team.

Lennon has quietly applied the same logic to the forward line, and arguably the back four with the addition of Efe Ambrose to the team. More or less the whole squad now knows that they are not bomb proof, and their place in the squad is not guaranteed. Possibly Fraser Forster and James Forrest are the exception to this rule currently, but given the nature of Lennon’s past dealings, it’ll only be a matter of time before they also find themselves having a sterner test in training to justify their selection.

This policy of increased competition for places has proven successful, but it a work in progress without question. This season won’t see a record points total for Celtic, and it’s unlikely to be one that’ll feature heavily when the complete history of the club comes to be written. What it will be able to boast though is that it’ll be a successful season both on and off the pitch. Financially the club is being run in a prudent manner, the fans will be entertained and see their heroes play against the finest teams in Europe, and the players, under Lennon’s shrewd setup, will be assured that only the best performances will merit their next opportunity to pull on that famous green & white jersey.

As Jock Stein once said, “Celtic jerseys are not for second best, they don’t shrink to fit inferior players”, and Neil Lennon’s competitive squad will ensure that Gary Hooper and the rest are no exception to this.

Division 3 for Rangers; but it’s business as usual for Scottish Football

by Johnny Connelly

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Charles Green reacts to the news the his Rangers Newco will be playing in the 4th tier of Scottish football

So the Rangers Newco’s first experience of domestic football in Scotland will be in Division 3. The final nail is in the coffin, the four horsemen of the apocalypse have been summoned, the 10 terrible plagues of Egypt will reign upon our game, and the universe will implode around teatime. Well, that’s pretty much what we’re being led to believe by shameless ‘red-top’ tabloid journos.

Give me a break. The seemingly eternal and bureaucratically orchestrated demise of Rangers FC as we knew it has come to an end. Surely this is something to rejoice over? We can actually start thinking about playing football again!

One could be forgiven for thinking that the Scottish media’s handling of the Rangers situation in recent weeks has been one last hurrah for lazy journalists who’ve been spoon fed their copy since the day the HMRC story broke. This “£16m cost” figure is as fictional and unfounded as Craig Whyte’s friendship with Prince Albert of Monaco.

Yes, the absence of Rangers in Scotland’s elite footballing division will have monetary ramifications, but to report only this aspect of the drastic change is an insult to football fans across Scotland.

To illustrate the point, I’ve picked up on two stories reported in the media today on the matter. The first, an understandably stunted and sensationalist piece in the Sunday Mail; while the second is an altogether more surprising angle, from the usually enlightening pen of Graham Spiers.

The Sunday Mail today claimed that 5 current SPL teams will go bust within a month as a result of the Rangers debacle. Sorry, but that’s just factually incorrect to the point that I feel embarrassed for Gordon Parks, who penned the piece. The suggestion was that St Mirren, along with Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Motherwell, Dundee United and Kilmarnock will no longer be able to function. This constant scaremongering about such things does nothing for the game in this country. The game is constantly in motion, and will always face new difficulties. Yes, the current Sky & ESPN deals could be subject to a negative change, but doesn’t that ‘crisis’ sound a little familiar?

I seem to remember a similar media frenzy when the proverbial arse fell out of Setanta. Also, on a smaller scale, silly behavior ensued when the Scottish Cup was struggling to find a sponsor. Even in the untouchable land of English football, OnDigital’s meteoric rise, and cataclysmic fall had little or no impact on the day-to-day running of the game. Time has proved that the game always survives, and another option always presents itself.

The SPL clubs will survive too. The Scottish game isn’t exactly wealthy, and never has been. For this reason, the clubs in question have become accustomed to live within their means. A restricted income will simply result in restricted outgoings. It really is that simple.

In the second case I stumbled across today, the aforementioned Mr Spiers put across his usual erudite, punchy and enjoyable opinions on how things have transpired in the last few days. But I took umbrage, not to what he said, but to what he omitted.

A clear focus in his piece was that Peter Lawell, Neil Lennon, and Celtic as a whole will miss Rangers more than they’ve ever missed any aspect of professional football. Perhaps true in some respects. The Old Firm derby is amongst the most prestigious and exciting football encounters on the face of the Earth. Of course the thought of it not being a regular fixture for at least the next three years is somewhat harrowing for football fans, that’s a given, but Spiers failed to highlight the fact that Rangers are where they are by virtue of their own financial mis-management.

Rangers have suffered a fate no different from any other team in Scotland who ever have or ever will go through the liquidation process. There’s no conspiracy, and conversely, no exceptions to be made. Rules and regulations were broken by Rangers. They’ve been punished to the point where their club as they know it, no longer exists. The Rangers Newco begin life in the Irn-Bru Scottish 3rd Division, where they’ll have to claw their way up and rebuild their illustrious 140 history. The world loses one of it’s greatest football derbies, not as a result of an unjust punishment, but as a result of procedures being followed correctly in a structured national football league system.

What everyone seems to be missing is the huge, gaping avenue of opportunity that’s been thrust into focus as a result of the seismic shift in power within Scottish football. Our game has been on it’s knees for many years, this is no secret, nor is it a revelation. Poor crowds, with even poorer revenue streams have been the symptoms of this, but until now these have been portrayed as the illness.

There are so many unexplored options to boost the wavering stature of Scottish Football, and now is the time to throw our collective weight behind them and turn the game around. Expanding to a 14 or 16 team league, summer football, a foreign player quota, wage caps, Friday night football, reintroducing the Glasgow Cup, and TV finance restructuring are all options that instantly spring to mind, so why aren’t we exploring them?!

Let us also not forget the positive consequences of Rangers holding a place in Scotland’s lower leagues. As the Newco inevitably work their way up the divisions over the coming years, the clubs who are really in the financial doldrums can expect a monetary shot in the arm like they’ve never seen before. Each club in the 3rd division this season can guarantee 2 full houses against Ally McCoist’s men, with the added bonus of two trips to Ibrox too. The money this brings in, and the spectacle for the league itself is something that would be beyond the wildest dreams of clubs like Annan, East Stirling, Clyde, and Stranraer (to name but a few).

This redistribution of wealth, and media attention on our lower leagues can only bring good things. Prior to this odd turn of events, when would any of you have considered going to a Scottish third division game?

The ubiquitous notion that Scottish football is, ‘on its knees’ is being reported as though the troubles have come in the form of a bullet in the head; when it’s really more like a slow debilitating illness.

Now is the time to make football an enjoyable commodity once more. A brief and inadvertent break from the drudgery of the ‘Gers in Crisis’ news stories, and renewed passion behind restructuring Scottish football from top to bottom gives me hope for this season, and seasons beyond. The ultimate goal is to develop a football industry in Scotland where all aspects of society can support their team of choice at a reasonable cost, viewing a decent standard of play, with levels of hospitality and consumer amenities that are on a par with the elite divisions across Europe.

That’s the dream, and there’s no reason why it can’t become a reality.

Yes Rangers are down, but they will return. Cleansed, well structured, and most welcome in Scotland’s top division.

Next season will be a bizarre one. Perhaps the most bizarre yet, but the game goes on.

It always has, and it always will.