Thursday, 27 March 2014

News Just In: One Horse Race Won By Horse

Too much head patting: adding shine to crowns or exposing need for decent heir?
The full-time whistle had barely left the lips of referee Steven McLean, yet social media was already awash with Celtic fans, understandably, hailing their mighty heroes for clinching a third title in a row. Many of the comments talked of greatness and looked forward to many more titles over the next few seasons. Neil Lennon called the achievement 'simply breathtaking' as he enjoyed another success.

The 5-1 win away at Partick Thistle made it 27 victories from 31 matches in the league so far this season, With seven games still to play, Easter still three and a half weeks away, and the clocks not yet pushed forward for British Summertime, Celtic's lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership is already unassailable. Its the earliest the title has been wrapped up in Scotland for 85 years. Whatever you think of the task that Celtic faced, you cannot deny they completed it with style. Style and complete and utter domination. They destroyed the competition. Men against boys - or is that Bhoys against boys?

Celtic have had a very good league campaign and deserve the accolades for their achievements, but let's not kid ourselves. Celtic did not destroy the competition. There was no competition. The new Scottish Premiership is a one horse race. That is not said to denigrate the other teams in the league. It is a simple fact. In the league, no team came close to putting up a fight for the title. Cup competitions always allow the opportunity for inferior teams to beat better teams. In a league that opportunity is vastly diminished. It's a cliche but the table doesn't lie, and over the course of a long season weaknesses are always exposed by superior opposition.

Celtic's domination of Scottish football shows no signs of letting up any time soon. In addition to the extra revenues they receive through much larger crowds than any of their Premiership opposition, there is the added bonus that Scotland's collapsing UEFA co-efficient has resulted in only one team, Celtic, having a possibility of playing in the Champions League. Each year that Celtic qualify for the group stages of the Champions League they receive a financial bonus beyond the comprehension of other Scottish teams. That revenue provides for investment that only extends the gulf between Celtic and the rest.

The additional Champions League revenue is a factor that is not unique to Scotland. Other European leagues face similar difficulties, though very, very few have leagues dominated each year by only one team. There is another disparity that is unique to Scotland however, and it is one built into the structure of the Scottish game.

Neil Lennon explains how big a slice of pie he wants
The Scottish champions collect a larger percentage of total prize money than champions in other European leagues. The situation is a hangover from the days when the Old Firm ensured voting structures allowed them to carve up the majority of revenue for the top two teams. It leaves the champions with a massive slice of the pie, leaving the others with crumbs and stifling genuine competition.

Celtic fans may well feel like they are living in dreamland. There will be those who see perpetually beating teams who are weaker, due to only having access to uncompetitive resources, as a good thing. They will see the demise of Rangers as a reason to celebrate, and hope that the days of unchallenged domination continue. There are those who would see ceding any financial advantage that the current setup provides as foolish. As an outsider, I would argue that any fan who thought like that was the foolish one.

Scotland needs more than one strong team. When Scotland has three or four genuinely strong teams the product improves, and along with it public interest and investment. It is also worth noting that the last time Scotland had three or four strong teams European success followed, and it is European success that is being held back by Celtic's domination - for Celtic too. No single team can carry a country's coefficient without support, and Scotland's low ranking is forcing Celtic into early qualification rounds. They cannot rely on making it through six qualification matches each year to the group stage. If one failed qualification ever turned into two then even Celtic's ability to compete in Europe could be set back years.

It is time for the Scottish leagues to rid themselves of practices that protect the top teams success by unfair distribution of prize money. Lets have some genuine competition in the league so that Scotland can say with certainty that it's champions are great and their performances breathtaking, rather than wondering how they would have got on if they weren't the only horse allowed out of the stable.

Congratulations on another title Celtic, but for the good of Scottish football we need someone else to put up a fight and claim your crown - soon!

A horse walks into a football stadium...

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