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I survived an Old Firm derby and all I got was this stupid idea.

SOCCER-SCOTLAND/CELTIC-RANGERS

Rangers 0 – 1 Celtic
Ibrox, December 27th, 2008

Blood and thunder alone doth not a great football match make. It’s that simple. Passion is not enough to compensate for a glaring lack of quality. You can fill a stadium with as much derby rivalry (both the savoury and unsavoury varieties) as you like, but that won’t magically make mediocre players play better. Maybe they’ll play harder, but they won’t play better because they’re just not that good.

Here’s the match summary: the ball pinged around a lot; the crowd didn’t like things a lot; people kicked things a lot; managers pointed a lot; Scott McDonald scored a world-class goal; the ball pinged around a lot; the crowd didn’t like things a lot; people kicked things a lot; managers pointed a lot.

That’s it. One moment of quality in an entire 90 minutes of Old Firm derby. And this is purported to be on of the world game’s premier matches. One moment of quality. What a moment it was. But Scott MacDonald’s chest-knee-turn-volley combination – like something out of Ronaldinho’s playbook circa 2006 – was as outstanding as it was isolated.

People who think the Old Firm could just be plonked into the English Premier League are deluded. One moment of quality is not enough to beat the likes of Manchester United or Chelsea. It’s not even enough to beat Hull City. Maybe it’ll get a result against Newcastle United, but that’s not saying much now, is it?

On the evidence of this match, the only thing that would achieve is to provide months of schadenfreude for English fans at watching Scotland’s greatest clubs struggle in a relegation scrap. No, the Old Firm will have to learn to distinguish itself against English opposition if they are to avoid being branded like the new Scottish parliament building: a national disgrace. 

So, what to do then? We could just continue bemoaning the Scottish Premier League’s lack of quality and wishing the Old Firm could get to play better teams; we could resign ourselves to the futility of asking UEFA or miscellaneous FAs to do anything any time soon; or we could suggest something a bit spicy, just to see if anyone bites on it.

Here’s the pub sentence: let the Scottish champs scrap for a promotion place and send a relegated team from the English Premier League to Scotland.
 
Guffaw all you like, but give it a minute’s thought before consigning it to the dustbin marked ‘Bad Ideas 2009’ (where it probably belongs).

It would work something like this: of the three teams relegated from the English Premier League, one ends up in Scotland, possibly the eighteenth-placed team because in theory they should be ‘rewarded’ for not finishing last by being handed a seemingly easier road back into the Premiership. The nineteenth and twentieth-placed teams go to the Championship, as normal.

Then, at the season’s climax, the third and fourth-placed teams from the Championship would vie for the final promotion place with the Scottish champions and runners-up. If the Scottish teams don’t make it, they just head back to the Scottish Premier League to try again.

This is as much a reward for the Old Firm as it is a punishment for Premier League make-weights. Scottish club football is, on the whole, awful. But somehow getting the Old Firm into the English Premier league is only one part of the fixing Scottish football’s awfulness. Sending lesser English clubs the other way is bound to teach the Scots a thing or two about the quality required to play consistently against teams that acquit themselves year-in, year-out in a host of competitions, including the Champions League.

And given the pub team feel of this last Old Firm derby, it feels only right to point out the amusing side-benefits of this particular hair-brained scheme:

1. Seeing the Scottish champions fall in a Wembley play-off would provide at least 5 pages of fodder for the tabs.

2. The Scottish Premier League would have to give up its Champions League spot, which spares us all from the Groundhog Day that is Celtic or Rangers’ struggle in the group stage before being knocked out with a grand total of about one point.

3. With no Old Firm around to make the season a fait accompli by Christmas, witness the likes of Hearts and Hibs grapple with the idea that they might, just might, win something. At last.

4. We would be treated to wee Gordon and big Fergie teasing each other all season long.

5. Rangers fans would have to think of more creative (and less bigoted) put-downs than singing the Hokey Pokey. 

6. Soon-to-be-relegated rubbish teams like Manchester City and small-clubs-masquerading-as-big-clubs like Newcastle United get handed glamorous away fixtures at Thistle and Dundee.

7. It rewards also-ran Scottish teams like Thistle and Dundee and their fans by handing them glamorous away fixtures at Eastlands and St James’s Park.

I know what you’re thinking: it has massive holes in it; it highly implausible; it’s kind of ridiculous. But then again so was the Old Firm match last week, and so they (and the rest of the Scottish league) will remain unless we try something different. Meaningless matches like Rangers v AZ Alkmaar and Celtic v Basel week after week, or a play-off against Birmingham FC at Wembley for a shot at the best league in the world (with the added bonus of seeing Newcastle having to fight their way out of Scotland for the foreseeable future)? I know which one I’d rather see.

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