I read on the BBC Sport website the other day that the proposal to increase the Premier League into two tiers of eighteen teams apiece while also introducing the Old Firm Scottish clubs into the equation is to be discussed at a Premier League meeting in November. For years now people have been suggesting that Rangers and Celtic should be inducted into the English top flight, largely because they’re clearly too good for the SPL.
However, I have to say that I am absolutely flat-out opposed to this proposal. It seems to me that whenever we hit on something good, which the Premier League undoubtedly is, those in charge can never seem to accept it for what it is and have to try and keep updating it. What they’re actually doing of course, is flogging a dead horse in the hope that it bleeds money, and I for one will be disgusted if the proposal becomes a reality.
The first problem I have with such a proposal is the extra complexity and illogicality that it would necessarily bring to the league system in English football. Back before football became a business the structure of the English football league simply went from Division One downwards until you reached the non-league Conference etc. And to be fair, there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. It worked, and everyone knew where they stood.
However, then some people with lots of money came into football and decided to spice things up a bit at the top of the scale, so they took Division One and called it the Premier League, because it was England’s… well, premier league. That was all well and good, and it’s fair to say that that venture went pretty well. Underneath the Premier League though, things stayed nice and simple, with the title of each Division just bumping down a league. Fine. Great.
Then Coca Cola got hold of the sponsorship for the football league and decided to sort of rebrand it all within itself despite the links that remained between it and the Premier League. Thus they gave Division One its own sort of prestige by naming it the Championship which was somewhat illogical given that the Champions of the Championship are technically only the 21st best side in the country. Then there were League One and League Two (what happened to divisions?) below that.
By now, it’s all getting a bit complicated, I’m sure you’ll agree. Division/League One used to be the highest or first division in the country, now it’s the third. We have two leagues whose names imply that they are the countries ultimate league although only one is and yet all the internal links between these leagues remain in tact, just as they always were. Of course, this was all done to make money and it seems to have done so. The game has benefitted from this too to an extent though, so we’ll forgive them.
However, I think that adding a second English Premier League would just be ridiculous. For a start an “EPL2” (as Peter Lawwell, chief executive of Celtic, calls it) simply doesn’t make any sense. The Coca Cola Championship is already a stretch and only really works at all because the gap between the Premier League and the Championship in terms of revenue and prestige and TV deals and general attention has become so large.
However, for me an English Premier League Two is just complete and utter bullshit. You can’t have a second ‘premier league’ because a ‘premier league’ by its very design is simply the best, highest, top, supreme league in any one system. Having a ‘two’ just doesn’t fly I’m afraid. Furthermore though, introducing an “EPL2” would involve conjuring a whole new league into existence between the Premier League (or “EPL1”) and the existing Championship.
So what would happen there? Would we just pull the Old Firm down from Scotland and the top 14 clubs from the Championship to comprise our 36? And then of course you have to repopulate the Championship from League One, League One from League Two and League Two from the Conference. And there we hit a snag. Many of the clubs in the conference may not even be capable of fulfilling the League’s minimum requirements.
To be eligible to play in the football league in England a club must meet certain criteria – I don’t know what they all are, but I know that part of it is the use of a stadium that fulfills league criteria. Many of the stadia used by conference clubs doesn’t meet this standard and clubs have been denied promotion in the past because of this. So where would these 14 extra league clubs come from? There probably aren’t fourteen more clubs in a position to become league clubs just yet, however much they’d like to.
So the real problem here is that those in charge of the Premier League have really lost sight of the fact that it isn’t a singular entity. The Premier League gets all the headlines yes, and the lower leagues sit below the surface and plod along in comparison, but the Premier League is very much still a part of the system. Making such drastic changes to the Premier League doesn’t take into account it’s place as part of a whole and that is where the problems occur.
Of course, this is no surprise. The Premier League has come to regard itself as the be all and end all not just of English football but of European football too, and even of world football. It is without doubt the biggest (though not necessarily best) domestic football league in the world and so it has become drunk on its own power and influence – as proposals such as this and the equally preposterous “39th game” shambles have illustrated.
However, the Premier League does have a responsibility to football in England as a whole. It is the pinnacle of the sport in England and the ambition of every player, every manager and every club. To simply change things up a bit and add in another Premier League would simply upset the whole system of English football and so I have serious doubts about whether it would work even if it should be given a chance – which it shouldn’t.
Of course, the driving force behind this idea seems in many ways to be related to the desire of many to introduce the Old Firm to the Premier League. This idea has been floated many, many times over the years despite little apparent enthusiasm from the fans of the Scottish clubs nor any compelling evidence that they would even belong in the Premier League in terms of quality or footballing ability. Indeed as I mentioned above, it seems driven by the fact that they are too good for their own league system.
And I can see the appeal in having the Old Firm in the Premier League on the surface at least. They are two great old clubs with loads of history, tradition and prestige. They have legions of passionate fans and great stadiums and are genuine hotbeds of football in their own right. In a way then, it’d be cool to have them in our league. But the thing is, there are plenty of clubs like that already in England.
The likes of Leeds United, Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United, Sheffield Wednesday and a plethora of other clubs languishing in the lower divisions are all clubs of equal stature to the Old Firm. They have big history, big support and big stadiums too. Plus, they’re English, so if there is a spot open in the English Premier League, shouldn’t one of these clubs have more of a right to it anyway? Shouldn’t all of the clubs already in the league system have the right to play for it, as stipulated in the rules of the league system?
Indeed, Rangers and Celtic would be welcome in England if they are willing to accept the normal rules that apply to new clubs that become part of the English Football Association and its league structures. They must, like any new club, start at the bottom and work their way up, earning the right to call themselves members of the Premier League. After all clubs like AFC Wimbledon and FC United, who also hold wide scale support had to start in the lower echelons. Why should special rules apply to the Old Firm?
Of course, the real reason why some people are keen to see them join the Premier League, is money. It’s always money these days, and the extra excitement that these clubs could bring to the league would mean lots more income for the competition as a whole. Two more massive clubs joining, thousands more fans to support the Premier League, paying to watch its matches and support its clubs. It would add extra income to the Premier League’s already hefty financial pull.
And that’s all very well, I don’t mind the competition making money as long as that does not become the primary focus. As long as the desire to make money doesn’t outrank the succesful running of the league in terms of priorities. And in this instance (and many others) I’m not sure that is the case. Because as I mentioned earlier, I simply don’t think that the Old Firm really are worthy of the Premier League. How much success would they have?
Because in the game against Arsenal the other week, Celtic were simply outclassed. Now of course, Arsenal will outclass many Premier League teams this season too, but the whole nature of that game surprised me. Arsenal never even seemed to get out of first gear. They beat Celtic without hardly breaking sweat. It was too easy. And I don’t know that Celtic or Rangers have shown that they could compete even with the lower sides in the Premier League either.
Neither has made a serious impression on European competition in the last couple of seasons. They rarely make it to the Champions League and Rangers only made it to the UEFA Cup final a few seasons ago by playing hateful anti-football. Compare that to the exploits of English sides – consistently in the Champions League semifinals and with Everton, Villa and Man City putting in good UEFA Cup runs over the past few seasons. I don’t think they’d be able to challenge those clubs.
And the gap between those clubs and the bottom is distinct but not enormous. The likes of Wigan last season and Sunderland this look like closing it and even Hull made a go at it to begin with last time around. There are no easy wins in the Premier League, even for the ‘big four’ and yet Arsenal arguably the weakest of that ‘big four’ positively strolled past Celtic just weeks ago. Introducing such teams into the competition would then, in my belief, be irresponsible on the part of the Premier League.
They have a duty to keep it as competitive as possible, and adding the Old Firm to the competition would be done purely for the prestige and attention that they’d bring and the subsequent financial gain it would entail, not for the good of the League itself, and so two-tier league or not, I think that it would be a terrible move by the Premier League and one that would further clarify that their eyes are focused entirely on the money the competition brings, and not the football.
In total then, I’m struggling to find any positives in this proposal. And that’s without even mentioning the paradox that would see Scottish teams playing in the English Premier League. Yes, Cardiff and Swansea do set a precedent and as a fan of Wellington Phoenix, a New Zealand club playing in Australia I’m all to aware that it can happen, but UEFA “has consistently indicated that teams will not be allowed to play in leagues outside their own country” and I just don’t see that it is necessary as those other cases are.
Neither NZ nor Wales have the relative populations or financial backing to support a professional football league, but they do have the ability to support one or two professional clubs. If they weren’t allowed to field teams in the leagues of their close neighbours then such a thing wouldn’t be possible and it would on the whole be very restricting to football in those countries and would deny fans and players alike the opportunities of supporting or playing for a professional club. Scotland though, can support a professional league, so why should the Old Firm join ours?
All in all then, you can see quite clearly that I think this is a terrible idea. It seems obvious to me that the Premier League are just out to make more money, yet again, and I’m getting very tired of their attempts to use our beautiful game for their personal gain. Football is the sport of the people, and yet with every move they make the people in charge of it seem to take it further away from us. I dearly hope this scheme doesn’t go ahead, but unfortunately I’m not too confident that it won’t.
Have your say:
What are your thoughts on this proposal? Would you like to see a two-tier Premier League? Would the Old Firm be worthy additions to the Premier League? Please let me know your thoughts on this matter by leaving a comment below…