Should Celtic and Rangers be forced to follow AFC Wimbledon’s path?

Despite years of rebuttal, Rangers and Celtic continue to make eyes at the Football League. But can a parallel be drawn with a certain club in south London? Matt Thompson ruminates.


It took a week shy of nine years for AFC Wimbledon to officially daub out the legacy with which Raj Parker and Steve Stride stained their club. Of course, a special mention must go to the FA for its role in diminishing both its own reputation and that of the game for allowing such an important and, crucially, footballing matter to be decided by an independent commission. A commission that, at a vote of two to one, elected to duly uproot what they saw as nothing more than the sum of assets, and replant it; time has since shown that all that ever moved to Milton Keynes was a league position and a squad.

The summer after their inaugural season, the Dons faithful were revelling in a third-place finish, the sting of not being promoted at the first attempt no doubt numbed by the impressive 11-game winning streak that concluded their season, as well as heady thoughts of the future. Around the same time, the Scottish Premier League’s chief executive, Roger Mitchell, went all Gloria Gaynor and told the Old Firm they weren’t welcome anymore. This prompted the Ugly Sisters to immediately start making eyes at those in charge of the Football League. They, vision impaired by collapse-of-ITV-Digital-goggles, sensed a financial lifeline and held the equivalent of “would we regret it in the morning?” talks; condemning us all to another tedious summer of speculation about the arrival of Glasgow’s finest.

With each passing season, AFCW progressed, not always through the leagues but always true to their mantra. They stagnated between 2005 and 2007 but in doing so found Terry Brown, the man who would eventually lead them to League Two. They also stayed true to the club’s democratic culture in resisting Darragh MacAnthony’s fortunes – he and his ‘fun’ went off to Peterborough and AFCW continued to climb. And with each passing season, too, the Old Firm and English leagues flirted with one another, generally peaking around Christmas and May when the two clubs had accelerated enough away from the pack to make the league redundant and when one or the other had the title wrapped up, respectively.

With AFCW’s meteoric rise, we have also seen the irrefutable decline of the SPL and the Bhoys and ‘Gers with it. The television deals that so emphatically bank-roll its neighbour to the south are far from replicated. Rangers and Celtic are now slowly sinking in the ship they scuttled when electing to take the lion’s share of the TV revenue; so ended plausible competition; so ended wider interest beyond Old Firm derby day.

The decades-old notion that somehow Rangers and Celtic are entitled to a place in the English Premier League has become all the more laughable, but that in no way means that they therefore instead deserve to be transplanted into the Football League. Besides, existing regulations would require all 72 league teams to agree to such a move. While there may be a sense of entitlement in Glasgow, you’d be hard-pushed to find many teams at the top end of the Championship who’d consider their claim to compete in the top division is any less than that of Rangers or Celtic. So, in the knowledge they can’t start at the top, perhaps now they’ll look to the bottom and attempt to emulate the team born from the ashes of a club Celtic purportedly attempted to buy in 1997? Perhaps now Wimbledon can provide both Celtic and Rangers with another route in?

Is it plausible? Of course it is. AFCW have shown, along with Aldershot and Accrington before them and Chester and FC United following their path, that it is possible to take a team from non-league to the professional leagues just so long as you have the right combination of engaged, passionate individuals and more money than anyone else. The Dons’ Chief Executive, Erik Samuelson, said of the team’s inaugural season that the reason they didn’t achieve promotion was because two other teams outspent them; come the following season he “made sure” they won the league.

AFCW entered the pyramid at the ninth tier, five promotions away from the Football League. Their story is not unique because of what they achieved, but how quickly they achieved it. It would not be too great a stretch of the imagination to see Celtic and Rangers, with their access to resource both in quality of player and money, eclipse the achievements of AFCW, if allowed.

They may not even have to go to quite the same extents. FC United board member Jules Spencer revealed that with their admission to non-league football, they were told by the FA they had to start as low down the pyramid as was practically feasible; as such, they were buoyed up at least one league by the fact that they attracted fans in the low thousands, removing any possibility of them playing in a league that didn’t finance security – you would expect a Rangers or Celtic team to command even greater interest.

The issue with it is in the logistics – putting aside the fact that Rangers don’t have two pound coins to rub together at the moment – UEFA and the FA are very touchy on the subject of leagues extending beyond their national borders; this season, French top-flight new-comers Evian Thonon Gaillard were scuppered in their attempts to play home games at the Stade de la Praille in Geneva, just 35 kilometers away from their home. And with the recent jitteriness of the home-nations as a result of Team GB, any inclusion beyond England and Wales may be considered to count further against them when FIFA inevitably tries to wrestle away their disproportionate power. It is unlikely that Gretna (dec.) having played south of the border until 2002 will prove a very compelling argument either.

The simple fact is that Rangers and Celtic’s interest in joining the more profitable English Leagues will not abate. In fact, you can expect it to step up, perhaps even to the point where the AFCW model is a plausible consideration. The Old Firm have contributed as much to the SPL’s downfall as they have to its legacy – it is all related to rampant self-interest that forced the short-sighted SFA to accept a duopoly which has damaged the competition beyond all repair, so long as they remain a part of it.

The Old Firm has been left with a dire situation for both teams who must now surely be looking at England with even more urgency – the Promised Land: a stage worthy of their billing. They are teams with history and European pedigree; they point to Spurs, Villa, Sunderland and their millions, and assume it is regrettable that they do not have the chance to be richer than they are. The heart bleeds.

But perhaps it is the FA who should be taking notice should the Gruesome Twosome get ever more fretful about them not returning their calls. After all, it was the same rampant self-interest that gave birth to the Premier League in the first place. The redundancy of domestic competitions is endemic and we may find UEFA’s stance softening should Real Madrid or Barcelona get any more restless.

While the Premier League may have remained more competitive than others, the hoarding of the billions it generates is creating a greater divide. It is estimated to cost a club £30million in lost revenue if it is relegated. The horrific withdrawal symptoms – often amplified by money spent in an attempt to stay up – has seen some teams go in to freefall. The suggestion is that promotion and relegation is the problem, which was rightly met with outcry – but the question remains: how much longer will it be before it all becomes redundant anyway? How many clubs that work their way up the Football League and see those ahead come plummeting back down past them, chewed up and spat out by the Premier League, will not instead attempt to model themselves more on West Brom, the perennial yo-yoers, with a business model built around the expectation of relegation? Eventually, might clubs even prefer to remain in the Championship rather than gain promotion?

The pyramid analogy is apt: the bottom is more important than the top and the elite clubs of the Premier League need those underneath far more than they’re needed. If the top clubs want to benefit from the context of a consistently competitive league system, then they’ll need to accept that the revenue should be shared, proportionally, between all 92 clubs.

Of course, the problem is that most Premier League sides are barely sustainable now; rescinding any money may just about kill them off, so perhaps the “European Super League” is looking more likely – a decision that will most likely be made by television networks rather than any governing body – because, as the Old Firm and the SPL will probably find out, it is always easier to remove the top of the pyramid than the bottom.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

18 Comments

  1. Geo
    December 14, 2011

    Did you write that out sitting on the bog? It’s a dreadful article, and it’s 5 minutes of my life I won’t get back. Cheers for that.

    Reply
  2. Mike Bhoyle
    December 14, 2011

    First up….I am a Celtic supporter. I would prefer that Celtic moves away from the SPL …to anywhere. ( within reason).
    We need to get away from a set up which should be impartial and balanced …but isn’t. I don’t know where you come from Mr. Thompson..but I’ll assume you’re English and don’t fully understand what goes on in our wee country.
    One club is favoured above all others and that stems from the make-up of the population. Scotland is predominatly Protestant and one club has taken on the mantle of being their representative. I have no problem with that , providing that it doesn’t interfere with natural justice within the game, and that’s where it is flawed. Let me also confirm that if we never played this club again….it would suit me fine. That, coupled with the unfortunate, but necessary need for income , dictates to me , that Celtic has to move.
    The EPL would be a terrific place for us …but it won’t happen…so why you’ve wasted an article on it …is surprising.
    Your final paragraph sums up , for me, exactly what will happen …TV will dictate , as it always does, and I see Celtic’s future in a “European” set-up.
    Finally, your criticism of the two Glasgow clubs is a bit hypocritical…considerin that your top 6 clubs in the EPL would sell their Granny ( they’ve already sold their souls) for a quick buck.
    Merry Christmas nonetheless.
    Mike.

    Reply
    • Bluenose
      December 15, 2011

      Cringe……..
      This myth of the Gers getting preferential treatment is becoming really boring now. You see everything that goes against you and nothing the goes for you.

      Reply
  3. Lorenz
    December 14, 2011

    I’m surprised at the negative reception to this piece, I quite enjoyed a discussion of a hypothetical route in to the english leagues for the Glasgow clubs, and it was nice to see that it didn’t just descend in to insulting Rangers or Celtic fans. I can’t help but think you missed the point a little. What I took from it, is that if the Glasgow clubs were that desperate then perhaps, hypothetically, the AFC Wimbledon route would be an option – with their resources it wouldn’t take long; from a wider context, we shouldn’t ignore the reason that they’re in the position they are, and that any system of self-serving is harmful to football, whether it’s a top two or a top 20, it creates the same unbridgeable chasms between the top and the bottom – the football league is more important than the EPL acknowledges.

    @Mike he did describe the premier league as showing the same self-serving traits, I don’t think there is any doubt that the EPL is just as/more money hungry.

    @Geo 5 minutes of your seemingly miserable life wasted will probably equate to the 2 seconds I wasted reading your comment, it’s an interesting idea, the Old Firm starting from the bottom, the implications for all of Europe’s top leagues and the unappreciated value of the football league. Still, it’s much easier not to think and just leave a bitter comment.

    I enjoyed it Matt, ignore that clown.

    Reply
  4. Latif
    December 14, 2011

    Mike, how did you manage to read just about the only article I’ve ever read about the Old Firm joining the English League that just talks about them as two big clubs in a poor league and doesn’t mention any of the stigmas… and still come out chatting about religion?

    Reply
    • Mike Bhoyle
      December 14, 2011

      I used it to reinforce my reasons for wanting Celtic out of Scotland’s football clutches…no more ..no less.
      For the record…my mother was…and my wife is…a Protestant…so please don’t jump to wrong conclusions…as you’ve obviously done here.Read my post again….for what it says and not for what you think it says.

      Reply
      • Latif
        December 14, 2011

        Your reasons for wanting Celtic out of Scotland are because there is a protestant-led conspiracy to make sure Rangers can operate above the law of the game? Come on… Your mother and your wife being protestant has nothing to do with it… you’re (through your association) accusing Rangers of being the sole problem – the religious divide that is peddled by both clubs is the fault of both clubs… by which I mean their supporters. I’m not accusing you directly, of course, it’s a minority for both. But I can tell you a one scot to another, scotland might be mostly protestant but if you ask any fan outside of the old firm, it doesn’t matter what banner either fly under, they’re disliked equally.

        Reply
        • bhoylondon67
          December 14, 2011

          That’s not what all statistics on the subject show. If you want a comparison of Celtic and Rangers then look no further then their recent UEFA cup final appearances. Celtic supporters are nothing like Rangers fans, yes we have our bad elements but doesn’t every club? Especially considering the size of the Celtic support, just as Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea all have bad elements in their support, it is statistically inevitable.

          Reply
  5. Jay
    December 14, 2011

    Interesting… I’ve always said that we don’t want them, but I guess this would be away around it, can’t see them wanting to start at the bottom though.

    Reply
  6. benneton
    December 14, 2011

    I said the same thng when everyone was going on about getting rid of relegation. it definitly won’t matter in a few years, theres going to be even more of an elite of 7 or 8 clubs in the PL. We’ll be in the same position as spl soon. Europen league for 2015.

    Reply
  7. OFGTF
    December 14, 2011

    Classic Old Firm, try and talk about it objectively and they still start on wi religion. Probably couldn’t happen, don’t think uefa would let 2 teams from the same club play in 2 league systems, I’ll take a Euro league though, anything really.. OFGTF!

    Reply
    • Mike Bhoyle
      December 14, 2011

      Read my reply to previous ” religious” comment.
      Thank you.

      Reply
  8. Mike Bhoyle
    December 14, 2011

    I also would like to say……I fully understand the English reaction to both these clubs playing in England…..
    If I was you…I wouldn’t want us either……
    But it’s academic….’cos IT WON’T HAPPEN.

    Reply
    • Lorenz
      December 14, 2011

      I’d still say, regardless of whether it will or won’t happen, it is an interesting topic of conversation… Wimbledon showed that it’s possible to be in the football league from nowhere in 9 seasons, given scottish football did away with the reserve leagues it’d be interesting to see how a Rangers or Celtic B team would do in the football league, though I agree, it’s a concept probably confined to Football Manager (that’s my weekend sorted). Either way, I still think it’s more about the implications of creating an elite group in major leagues, it kills the league and them as a result.. England shouldn’t think they’re exempt just because there’s is more than 2 clubs, it’s the same.

      Reply
  9. RedditchBhoy
    December 14, 2011

    An interesting article and as has been said to will be Sky in all probability that will be the one to decide because money talks and football clubs will live and die by it. The AFCW route would be a good move for Celtic and Rangers, if they started in the Conference i’m sure some of the grounds and support there would be comparable to some clubs in the SPL An interesting point that was brought up was that Celtic were interested in buying another club at some point in 1997, well if your still interested Celtic may i suggest Kettering as a starting point

    Reply
  10. Henrik L
    December 14, 2011

    I think we seriously need to consider Celtic options in the not to distant future of per suing joining the english set up, as I becomes more likely that the dark side of the city might not be around for much longer due to the tax man. We will need more of challenge this could happen in lower English league or even the Irish league which their teams are doing better in europe than the tripe we need to endure up here !

    Reply
  11. Jbhoy1966
    December 14, 2011

    Where do Swansea play their games? What about Cardiff? The epl needs a kick up the backside having Celtic rngers would give an injection of passion that the likes of Blackburn, Wigan et al don’t have. However a Celtic b side wouldn’t work unless they could eventually come home to Glasgow. What would happen when u had two celtics in the champions league?

    Reply
  12. LadyWomble
    December 23, 2011

    Interesting article. Jbhoy raises the expected question about Welsh clubs playing in the English leagues but that’s a very old legacy which doesn’t explain why a couple of Scottish clubs should now be allowed to transfer borders. If the SPL is the problem, why don’t the unhappy twosome apply to join, say, the French or Norwegian leagues? Nothing to do with TV dosh, naturally. Personally, I wouldn’t shed a tear if the self-proclaimed “big” clubs in England naffed off to form a European super-league, taking the Scottish “big 2” with them. The fans might get hacked off with long, expensive away trips and miss local derbies but since when did their views count?

    Reply

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