Premier League clubs reject Old Firm but consider expansion(Guardian)
The Premier League have rejected outright the proposal by the Bolton Wanderers chairman, Phil Gartside, that Celtic and Rangers could be invited to England to join an expanded league. Gartside's main idea, that the Premier League could be enlarged into two 18-club divisions to lessen the financial impact for those relegated from the top flight, was accepted for further discussion.
Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's chief executive, described the Old Firm proposal afterwards as "a non-starter" and said the clubs had "constitutionally voted" not to take it further. That meant at least a 14‑6 majority of the 20 clubs, although some put the majority higher than that, saying it was "overwhelming". Premier League sources described the vote as "emphatic".
The league decided to leave no room for doubt yesterday, putting a statement out at 1pm – even while the meeting was continuing – which said: "The clubs were of the opinion that bringing Celtic and Rangers into any form of Premier League set-up was not desirable or viable."
Gartside had wanted Celtic's and Rangers' possible inclusion to be considered thoroughly as part of the strategic review the Premier League is currently undertaking. His proposal for a two-division league was "welcomed" in the league's statement, but some clubs are understood to have intervened to isolate the Old Firm idea from his broader suggestions, and reject it before it developed momentum.
The idea was motivated by the belief that the two major clubs from north of the border, with their large attendances and an expansion of the TV market into Scotland, could provide a commercial boost to the Premier League. Celtic and Rangers did not actively join in with the proposal, as both clubs stressed after the vote yesterday, but they have for years been frustrated by being the largest clubs in a small country, and have sought ways to join bigger, more lucrative leagues.
Celtic have talked publicly before about joining the English league while Martin Bain, Rangers' chief executive, who yesterday announced the club had made a £12.7m loss for the year to 30 June 2009, has also talked about Rangers leaving the SPL. Despite their stance, both clubs will be disappointed their possible inclusion has been so emphatically ruled out.
From the Premier League clubs, the objections to the Old Firm joining included a resistance even to the idea that Celtic's and Rangers' involvement would represent a commercial advantage. The Premier League sees its future earnings expansion coming from overseas TV rights and sponsorships, to which most did not believe Celtic and Rangers would contribute greatly. Club representatives spoke about the controversy which would be provoked and the damage the English league would be seen to be doing to Scottish football by robbing it of the biggest clubs. There would also be a minefield to negotiate with Uefa and Fifa if clubs from another football country were to be drawn into the Premier League.
There was, too, resistance because of safety fears and the burden which would be placed on policing if the Old Firm, with their legions of fans, came to play regularly in England. "We have made a clear and unequivocal statement," Scudamore said after the meeting. "No means no – Celtic and Rangers are not coming in."
Gartside's proposal for expansion into two divisions will, though, be considered as part of the strategic review, which was begun a year ago. It is understood to concentrate largely on the league's structure, including whether it might be reduced to 18 clubs. His contribution to it springs from what he described recently as the "fear factor" among clubs such as Bolton, of the damage caused by relegation to the Championship, where the average club earns around £40m less from TV alone.
His proposals may not ultimately achieve the majority required to see them implemented, but a growing number of mid-ranking Premier League clubs are expressing support for a more even distribution of money and a narrowing of the gap with the Championship. The strategic review is due to present recommendations to the clubs before the end of next year.