Obstacles To Progress

Ronny DeilaAs many of you will doubtless be aware, and have seen, I have spent the last few weeks focussed almost solely on the political situation as we entered the General Election, so I’ve not been able to devote much time to the football.

In the interim, Celtic has won its fourth title in a row (and congratulations to Ronny Deila and everyone at the club for it) and we can now begin to accurately measure his progress.

He is now a title winning coach with a League Cup on the side, a man who was robbed of a potential treble by an insipid performance from his team and a scandalous refereeing decision.

Progress, yes … good progress. Lots of progress.

But how do we measure it?

I laughed the other day when I heard Hugh Keevins give his verdict on our manager. Not Proven, he said.

Keevins is unintentionally hilarious. He believes comments like that are controversial. They are simply stupid; fundamentally, irrefutably stupid and he doesn’t come across as anything other than a clown.

Yet, in a certain sense he may not be wrong.

Ronny will not really have proved himself until he competes again on the Champions League stage.

We all accept that. It’s the ultimate challenge.

But how do you measure progress in as unforgiving an environement as that?

You cannot have watched the semi-finals this week without being acutely aware that an enormous gulf in class exists between the major clubs and the rest of football.

Damage limitation is probably the best most sides can expect against the colossal powers of the European game like Bayern, like Juventus, like Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Yet that’s not our biggest problem, or the biggest factor counting against us in terms of our ability to advance.

For that, you need look no further than the border and the green and pleasant land of England, which just re-elected David Cameron and whose top league is awash in wealth that enables even the likes of Wigan to spend millions we could not afford.

There are some Celtic minded individuals who are so blinkered in their passion to see us play in that league that they actually advocated voting No in the independence referendum last year, in part because that would have ended our chances of ever taking that stage.

They continue to believe that there is a place in that league, just waiting for us, and that market forces and historical trends will see us assume a position there before long.

In that land of milk and honey, which has sent wages soaring, ticket prices rocketing and has cast a dark cloud over the rest of the European game, with knock-on effects everywhere that remove it further from the fans with every television deal, they say we will realise our ambitions.

Their belief is misplaced. Their hope is nothing but a shadow on the wall.

Giving us the financial wherewithal to compete with Hull City is not what will unlock the enormous potential of our football club.

Let us, for one moment, look at how we might get there.

One possible route is to lobby the UK government, or our new crop of MP’s, to re-examine the financial arrangements by which this league essentially sucks money from the supporters of all the clubs in the game, with the aim of spreading it around more.

That would require redistributive measures to be forced on the EPL or the broadcasters.

I don’t think any of us sees the remotest prospect of success in that endeavour.

Another route is by a legal challenge, to crack open the qualification route.

I have long heard rumours that Celtic do believe they could successfully pursue this matter in the courts if UEFA or English FA regulations tried to stop us, but even if they succeeded, we’d need to start in the lowest tier of the game unless an invite came from within the leagues themselves.

That, too, appears unlikely.

I have long argued that this most likely way into the English game is via the franchise route – buying a lower league English club and transforming them into Celtic – and I don’t believe the FA would have any legal standing in trying to stop us.

Their one regulation – that clubs need to be based in England or Wales – would not stand up for a second in a courtroom and that would give us a ready-made place in the structure.

Yet we would have to leave behind our history and our Scottish roots.

To leave the game in this country would mean liquidating our club.

In short, our way in is not clear or even presently within the rules.

That we could challenge it – and probably successfully – is certainly true too, but any scenario would inflict huge damage on the sport.

That’s assuming all of us wanted to go in the first place, either by direct invite or by one of the hare-brained schemes I just looked at.

I, personally, think it would be an enormous mistake.

The English model is as badly broken as the union itself.

The cash that has flooded the game has changed it beyond recognition and whether it continues to be built on untrammelled greed or the oft-predicted crash comes, that road leads to disaster.

Because those are the possibilities, it is not a league in which I want our club to have a place.

There are other – there are better – options.

One of those options is to use our position at the SFA to push for wide ranging reforms in the European game.

We should be pursuing some form of regionalised league set up.

UEFA knows there is a problem with English football, and the growing financial strength of the EPL.

Their own flagship competitions – the Champions League and the newly formatted Europa League – were supposed to provide clubs from around the continent the chance to grow the game. The relentless flow of money to England is contracting it instead.

Outside of a few super-clubs, the EPL is now European football’s centre of gravity.

No-one wants that to continue.

Gross over-spending on top players is one thing, but almost all the English clubs are now spending vast sums of money on youth recruitment too and if they are able to succeed in securing the best young players in the world with the promise of huge earnings then the game really is going to crash, sooner or later.

Regionalised leagues need not necessarily impact on the two top competitions.

If they were UEFA organised and licensed (and they would be) they could be folded into those easily enough.

The Atlantic League proposals, when I first read them, legislated for the domestic season to be played alongside the regional one, and there would be ways of making it work.

Celtic has to start using its clout within the governing body in Scotland, and its wider reputation as a European side, to start pushing for these reforms or we are going to find ourselves in a far worse position than we are in today, where players already view moving to clubs like Norwich and Southampton as a career step forward.

This isn’t just about money. They want to play against top players every single week, and much as this season has been entertaining and interesting we know the likes of Adam Rooney and Nadir Cfiti aren’t that.

Guys like Van Dijk and Johansen will only stay here so long.

The lure of Celtic will keep them beyond what is normal or to be expected, but developing a squad takes years and we’re clearly never going to get that if things continue on the present course.

So we go into the European tournaments badly outgunned.

How can we examine the progress of Ronny Deila until that actually changes? What is a good result in Europe these days?

Just getting to the Champions League Groups?

Or do we need to go beyond that? Is it even possible in the growing insantiy of a sport drowning in greed?

It hardly seems fair.

There’s one other option, course; to chase the dream. To spend stupid money.

Not even I advocate that.

Like Hugh Keevins’ version of journalism, it’s a mugs game.

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

12 thoughts on “Obstacles To Progress

  • 8 May, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Celtiic our top team have lower purchasing power than at least 35 teams in England ..play that across Europe and we are lucky if our top team are in the top 150 of spending capability . and Keevins and co are going to write Off RD if he can’t get to the top 32 .
    Get a life …CFC fans need to get a mega reality check
    Getting into the Europa will be a great achievement in reality ..getting into Co groups is phenomenal

  • 8 May, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Can you imagine the copy from Whiny Keevins if Aberdeen had (however highly unlikely) won the SPFL? Remembering how feeble they played in Europe, he would’ve been singing from the rooftops that McInnes should be hailed and knighted.
    Keevins is, and always has been, an irrelevance

  • 9 May, 2015 at 8:21 am

    The uefa champions league is set uo to.make sure the big clubs in europe are kept rich keep all the money which is up for craps hence the seeding system, if uefa wanted the money to be spread around they wouldnt have seeding.

  • 9 May, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Fair comment james on the football.but are we supposed to be happy with having a tory government for the rest of my life ?

  • 9 May, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Good to see you making the journey to accept the financial gulf between qualifying for the CL and regularly making an impact on it. I wish WGS had been given such understanding when he was running the club and the common belief was that a “speculate to accumulate” approach and just one £5m spend on a Striker would magically move us on.

    You twisted the political argument however. No -one argued that voting NO would get us into an English League set up but the argument was made that a vote for Yes would definitely end that chance on two counts. Firstly, English football supporters and their FA would only want to permit access to foreign clubs if they could start with Barca and Real (it would take a long time to get round to inviting Celtic). And, secondly, Scottish politicians and Yes voters would react with pitchforks and tar to any quisling club that felt that Scotland was not good enough for them in a newly independent state.

    In any case the argument we have been focusing on is not “an escape to the bloated finances of the English League”; it was being allowed to compete at a league level commensurate with our historic attendance and current levels of support. That does not have to be an exclusively English or English/Welsh competition; that was just the convenient first step geographical solution favoured by UEFA as seen by their ratification of Russia/ Ukraine mergers before that was made stillborn by political events.

    Your own proposed solution of buying a desperate lower league club and getting court approval is fraught with difficulties. Firstly, there is the threat of an adverse local reaction. No matter how small a club you go for, there would be a resentment from around 1000 to 2000 regular attenders and up to 10,000 occasional attenders with affection, affinity and some loose loyalty to the existing entity. They would resent a cuckoo in their nest and we would be regarded as a gypsy (no racism intended) club or an empty shell. MK Dons are now a Milton Keynes club supported by MK people and very few originals. They were replaced by AFC Wimbledon as the club with WImbledon connections.

    Your argument that Celtic would get an easy ride from the courts would need a bit more meat put on it before my scepticism reduced. We have tried the line that there are lots of cross-border clubs, apart from Cardiff and Swansea, in UEFA circles but got short shrift from the line that these were historical anomalies and no new ones would be approved. Any English/British Court could hide behind the ability of UEFA to dictate terms of their club association. Meanwhile, whilst pursuing court action, our ability to play football may be curtailed and strangle us at birth.

    If we had to cite a location in England, even just across the border, as the Cleator Celtic rumour suggested, could we afford to build up a stadium there? Would Celtic fans travel to that location regularly enough to make it worthwhile? Do we keep original Celtic going and perform a late switcheroo?

    Lots of questions to be getting on with there.

    I am with you in the aim that Celtic need to get into a league big enough for our ambitions and the SPL, whether in the UK or in an independent Scotland, has not been such a place as the combined effects of the Bosman ruling and TV money backing of bigger leagues, have led to the distortions whereby Wigan and Bournemouth and Swansea and other former League 4 bottom fillers are now able to outbid us and outpay us for any transfer target.

    We are in a bad place with no easy solutions. If we can improve our stars, then it will have to be done through patient negotiation, arguing for fair access and financial fair play, so that, if we do get into a bigger league, we do not become a bloated and financially troubled club as the price for gaining entry.

    In short, if we ever get to a bigger league, I hope we run our finances like Leicester and Burnley just have, as opposed to the Harry Redknapp model with QPR.

  • 9 May, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Using Celtic now to advance your skewed political agenda? Look forward to your next article on the OBA, red tories to blame for that too?
    If you want to do politics then appreciate Celtic fans not all unboard with SNP fantasy.

  • 9 May, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    On board

  • 9 May, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Perhaps SNP could lobby Mr Murdoch ,their media supporter in Scotland, to get a better Sky deal for Scottish football.

  • 9 May, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    The only person mentioning the SNP here is you … for reasons passing all understanding.

    Oh by the way … I’ve written on the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act on NUMEROUS occassions.

    My feelings on it are well known and I’m not taking an iota of shit for my political leanings.

    Incidently … if OFAB is, as you seem to be suggesting, an anti-Irish piece of legislation … well it never ceases to amaze me how many people want to see independence for Ireland but are Union Jack waving patriots when it comes to the UK. It’s tragic, it really is. A sure sign of detachment from reality.

  • 10 May, 2015 at 12:41 am


    The SNP has existed since 1934 and it had its predecessors, The National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party, from the late 20’s.

    Our Irish forefathers arrived here at that time and in the decades since.

    Not one of them saw the SNP as their natural party. There were no Celtic scarves in Winnie Ewing’s celebrations in 1967. The idea that there was any parallel between the occupation of Ireland and the merger of Scotland and England and Wales in political union obviously escaped them and continued to escape them and their children until some recent point when we started to see Scottish “freedom” and “Independence” through some distorted mirror of 1916.

    The further detached we became from an experience and knowledge of the Irish experience, the more we saw false comparisons.

    Any comparison or equation would have baffled my Irish father and he was not an easy man to baffle.

    So stick your union flag waving jibes and I’ll strive to avoid seeing you kissing up to Brian Soutar and Christine Graham and the 30% of Sevco fans that back the SNP.

    Just don’t make Jeannette Findlay’s mistake and tweet “tiocfaidh ar la” with your SNP friends. You might discover quite quickly how Celtic minded your new pals are.

    You can oppress the Irish with a Union Flag or a Saltire. You’ll wait a long time before you hear Nicola or Alex make common ground with Ireland and, when they did, it was with the economics of the Celtic Tiger, before it went tits up, rather than with Easter 1916.

  • 12 May, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Hi James

    There is of course another solution if not already mentioned we as Scottish Football Supporters could write a letter or start a petition and send it to RM telling him as customers of his Satellite TV Channel it is about time Scottish Football was given a fairer deal or we may move to pastures new. SKY must have thousands of customers north of the border who have taken out a contract. Thoughts anyone?

  • 12 May, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    We’re really going to have an argument about politics, here?

    I believe in independence for Scotland. It’s that simple. The SNP is a means to an end. The ultimate goal would have been some kind of autonomous Scottish Labour Party, but I simply don’t trust the people who thought Jim Murphy was the answer to provide us with that, even if they could have.

    I’ve said repeatedly where I stand on the Offensive Behaviour at Football Bill. I’m not just against it. I loathe it. It is one of the most scandalous pieces of judicial over-reach I have ever seen in my life. It should be fought by every reasonable person … but I’m gonna tell you now what I’ve also said a hundred times before; the number of people in Scotland who support it is enormous and if you believe recent polling information that’s not limited to non-football fans. A lot of our fellow supporters are behind it all the way, even Celtic fans.

    I repeat; I think they are wrong. A majority of UK citizens supported the death penalty in principle the last time this issue was polled on nationally. It doesn’t mean they are right. A majority view can still be a wholeheartedly wrong view.

    I have not, and never will, equate the Irish struggle with the Scottish indepedence movement. You misinterpreted that remark, I think. One is not the other. This particular revolution is a bloodless one, thank God, and if it ever escalates beyond that point that’s when I’m out. As much as anything else, to compare the two would be an insult to all those who fought, and died, in the Armed Struggle in the Six Counties and everyone who knows me knows of the tremendous respect I have for that.

    We’re arguing about nothing here. The idea that I’m going to fall out with people with whom I fundamentally agree on nearly every issue, because I have a different view of how our goals are achieved, is simply ridiculous.

    People are welcome to fall out with me if they want; of course they are.

    But it’s just daft. I would hope, by now, folk get where I’m coming from and who’s side I’m on.

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