Friday 20 April 2018

Don't let Celtic fool you: they're glad Rangers are back


Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire

Ian Herbert

For Celtic fans, there is a truth that dare not speak its name: they are glad Rangers are back.

Assistant manager John Collins said this week that the Hoops would never get credit for being champions until Rangers were in the top flight and he got stick for what sounded like too much of a welcome.

The closest any side came to Celtic in the four years when Rangers were out of the top flight was Aberdeen last season - they finished 15 points adrift.

It's not just four Old Firm league games which have been missing, but any suspense surrounding Celtic's games, week-to-week. The top tier at Parkhead was regularly closed and the value of the Sky TV deal has been frozen while it was soaring in England.

The problem with getting to the bottom of whether Celtic might be feeling pleasure or relief at the enemy's return is the gulf between reality and what the club can say publicly without risking the opprobrium of their fans.

The truth is that Celtic were never the ones who wanted Rangers bumped down to the bottom level, despite the tax avoidance practice which led to their liquidation. The beneficiaries of a decision which, from a Celtic perspective, made no economic sense, have been those sides in the lower reaches of the Scottish pyramid, some of whom were not even semi-professional. The pulling power of Rangers in those divisions was extraordinary, with a huge army of away support boosting host clubs' gate receipts.

With no narrative in Scotland's top flight, the Sky cameras continued to follow Rangers around. In 2013/14 they were the second most televised club, after Celtic, despite being in the second tier.

The commercial environment, too, has been moribund. There was no sponsor for the Scottish League Cup at one stage.

The earning gulf between the Premiership and the Premier League, incidentally, renders redundant any discussion of Old Firm clubs currently holding their own in England's top league. Celtic's total earnings, including TV money, for winning the Premiership, have been around £3m Relegated English Premier League sides command £68m in revenue.

When Celtic's largest shareholder, Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond, spoke of Rangers "as a fantastic club with a great history" and of being "disappointed" they did not share the same league as Celtic, there was a furious backlash - the received wisdom among Celtic fans is that Rangers post-2012 are a new club with no history beyond four years ago.

Yet the significance of Rangers' re-emergence was evident in details of how the catalyst for hiring Brendan Rodgers was the outlandish way Rangers directors celebrated when they beat Celtic in last season's Scottish Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out.

It was Desmond's fury about the way usual etiquette was dispensed with ultimately convinced him that he must "go large" - sacking manager Ronny Deila and "upscaling" with Rodgers, with the heavy lay-out that entailed.

Rangers' plan is to be "competitive" in their first season back in the top flight. The target is to "challenge" Celtic for the title in 2017-18. Where these two inveterate foes are concerned, though, one day is too long to wait, let alone 12 months. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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