Sunday 26 February 2017

English Football League to consider Celtic and Rangers for inclusion in new 'fifth division'

Sam Wallace

Would it be a good move for Celtic?
Would it be a good move for Celtic?

Shaun Harvey, the English Football League chief executive, says that his members will decide whether Celtic and Rangers can join a new ‘fifth division’ planned for the start of the 2019-2020 season.

The 72 EFL clubs are being asked for their opinions on how the Football League expands to four divisions of 20 teams each, as part of the ‘Whole Game Solution’. The two Scottish clubs have long been considered a possibility for the new ‘fifth division’ and Harvey says the final decision will be down to his members.

“We have recently gone out to our clubs to elicit their further views in relation to any different number of areas from the proposition that was first put forward. Once we have their views we can move forward,” he said.

“One of the simple questions is, if this is to proceed, is where should the [new] teams come from? So the only ones who will decide that are the clubs themselves, so we will see what they say. I don’t want to pre-empt anything.”

The Old Firm rivals would bring considerable clout to any new set-up. Both clubs have massive and fervent fan bases – Celtic had a gate of 57,758 for their 4-1 win over Aberdeen on Saturday, Rangers attracted a crowd of 48,716 for the recent win over Motherwell – as well as illustrious histories. The benefits to the wider football community in Scotland might be less obvious.

The new format for what was previously the Football League Trophy, now the Checkatrade Trophy, begins this week with 16 under-23 sides from Premier League and Championship clubs competing alongside League One and Two clubs. The likes of Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham and Southampton are all competing in the trophy, but many have declined the invite.

Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Manchester City have all turned down the invitation. West Ham will compete but not play their games at their home ground because of restrictions in their lease on the former Olympic Stadium. Chelsea will play their games outside the international breaks because the London side do not have European commitments this season.

Harvey defended the decision to allow clubs from the two top divisions to enter teams into the trophy, saying that the earnings from the competition had been steadily declining, along with attendances. The prize money is now up to £1.95 million from £500,000. Of the 48 clubs in last year’s competition, 29 earned less than £10,000, the amount that a single group-stage victory is now worth.

Harvey said that last year attendances for the competition were down by 18 per cent, that gate receipts were down by 11.5 per cent and that change was needed.

Spurs did not want to compete because they are in their first season in the Under-21s Champion League competition and want to commit to that. Newcastle and Aston Villa have withdrawn because they say they do not yet know what kind of squads they will have to work with in the Championship.

Harvey added Manchester City “had already made commitments and sent players out on loan for the season and didn’t want to keep them at the club just for these three games”. Manchester United had withdrawn, he said, because “they felt the demands on their squad due to [junior and senior] international call-ups meant they felt they could not do the competition justice.

“The thing that has tended to upset some fans of our clubs is in respect of this being the thin end of the wedge and the forerunner for B teams potentially coming into the Football League pyramid. It isn’t.

“The two things are completely separate and I think ultimately it is the fear of that which is causing the majority of the unrest. I think the majority of our fans actually understand that creating the opportunity for young players, particularly if they are English, will help us all on an international basis.”

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