Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Same Old, Same Old - For Now

Since I started this blog six weeks ago, I've mentioned Glasgow Celtic Football Club on a few occasions. I've already covered one game against our arch rivals Glasgow Rangers - a Scottish Cup game (effectively the 2nd tournament in Scotland), which Celtic won.

Well, this weekend brings potentially the biggest game of the season, as the two teams meet again in the Scottish Premier League. If Celtic win this game, they will be very difficult to catch, so Rangers really can't afford to lose.

But therein lies the problem for Scottish football. These are two footballing giants, competing in a league of pygmies. Other games barely matter. It all comes down to Celtic v Rangers. Since Celtic and Rangers are so dominant, they often meet six times a season. Four times in the league, and once in each of the other two knockout competitions.

This is highly unusual in football. Most countries' leagues have only two games per season against each rival, and relatively infrequent meetings in other competitions. As aggressive and frenzied as the games may be, it can actually get a little boring at times.

They do say familiarity breeds contempt, and when you hold your opponents in as little regard as we do already, any more contempt is simply a drop in the ocean.

When you consider the global reach of both teams, it is simply bizarre that they find themselves so restricted in their home league.

Both teams can draw on a world-wide fanbase, which most teams can only dream of. The game this Sunday will be watched live around the world, from Europe to Australia, Asia to the USA.

Celtic in particular has a truly global appeal, which stems from the differing origins of the two clubs.

Rangers are the establishment team, rooted in Unionism and Protestantism, and consequently with a fairly insular fanbase, but still followers around the world.

Celtic Football Club, on the other hand, was founded by Irish immigrants, and is generally seen as the Catholic backed, anti-establishment team.

If an impartial count was ever done, I think Rangers supporters would come out as more Protestant than Celtic supporters are Catholic, but impartiality is never allowed to get in the way of a good story when it comes to Celtic and Rangers.

As a result of Celtic's background, their appeal covers not only Scottish emigrants, but many from Ireland too. So in every corner of the world, people support Celtic, and will be watching live this weekend.

Sound like an exaggeration? Have a look at Celtic Bars. 1273 bars in 61 countries. That's a lot of Guinness Iggy! Or check out The North American Federation of Celtic Supporters Clubs. In Vegas this weekend? Get down to East Tropicana and see the game at The Crown and Anchor.

Yes, it really is that big. So, how come when it comes to playing the true footballing superpowers from Europe, Celtic can barely compete?

It all comes down to money. The equation is simple.

money = better players = success = more money

The biggest source of cash is TV revenue. The money is pooled between all the clubs in the league, but people only want to watch two of them on TV. So, the overall income is reduced and each club's share is diluted.

Celtic may get crowds of 60,000 as compared to maybe 30,000 for an average club from our closest rival league in England. Yet their TV income is a fraction of the English clubs. England has a population of around 55m, with an associated TV audience. Scotland has a population of around 5m. It's not hard to see where the differential comes from.

Consequently when Celtic are involved in international competitions, such as the Champions League, they have to run to stand still. Play at their peak in every game to have a chance of a draw, against teams who spend on a single player, what Celtic spend on a squad. That's not an easy way to play, especially when 90% of your regular games can be won at 60% effort.

The solution is to play better teams in a bigger league. But how?

Imagine if baseball in the USA was state based. The Red Sox only played other teams from Massachusetts. The Cubs were stuck in Illinois. It wouldn't take long before fans got bored and someone came up with a bright idea - let's have a USA competition and play the big teams from the other states.

But Scotland IS a country, not a state, so how would an idea such as this affect Celtic and Rangers. Well, if the rumour mill is correct, it might just happen.

If that bright idea came from someone with enough money to buy off any objections, such as Sky TV who televise the English league, then there could be a British league at some time in the next few years. After all if Scotland has two goliaths and ten pygmies, England has three goliaths and seventeen pygmies. Hardly a huge improvement.

You may think - but Div, why would you want to play other goliaths when you can have fun beating the pygmies every week? The truth is, it's not fun.

I love my team. I love to see them do well. But football is a sport, and in a true sport there has to be some possibility of defeat. Success has to be earned, not granted. I'd rather watch Celtic lose 40% of their games against great teams, than win 95% of their games against poor teams.

There's no glory, no adrenaline buzz, if there's no risk of failure. I live for the big games. The days of anticipation, building to a crescendo on match day. Unable to sit still in my seat at work if it happens to be a weekday game, as nervous energy courses through my system, the tingle of excitement as I head for the stadium, the surging elation of a hard earned goal, wild celebrations and the sheer pride in being a Celtic fan after they achieve a great result.

I live for those days, but at present there just aren't enough of them. So bring forth the revolution Sky, and let battle commence.

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