Credit: Sky Sports

Can any other SPL team top Old Firm clubs to come out as underdogs in the league’s future?

By Ross Millan

The Old Firm’s domination of the SPL raises the question of whether any other club can ever take the title off their hands. 

The 2023/2024 Scottish football season looks to be shaping up as pretty much as anyone else would have predicted it, with a story very familiar to any fan of the Scottish Premiership.

This year’s Old Firm flip of the coin seems to have gone Celtic’s way. Sure, it’s still early doors; the Rangers would only be five points behind the leaders should they win their game in hand. But the Bhoys have yet to lose a game. They seem to be a lot more put together than the Gers this season. It looks like the gap will only widen between the two as we head into 2024. No wider, however, than the gap between the Glasgow giants and the rest of the league and country. St Mirren have taken on the recurring mantle of the “third force” of Scottish football, too good for the rest, but nowhere near the top two. After that, it’s a smorgasbord of teams looking to out-underperform each other with six points separating fourth place Kilmarnock and relegation playoff-spot inhabitant Livingston.

I’m a supporter of a non-Old Firm team. I’d imagine that’s the chief reason I am less invested in the outcome of the league than a Rangers or Celtic fan. I like to see my team do well, of course, but I know I’m not the only one that daydreams about anyone else winning the league one day. Maybe even in my lifetime.

So, what are the prospects of an underdog going all of the way to the top of Scottish football? Will Aberdeen, the Edinburgh teams, or anyone else one day lift the trophy?

When prospecting the future like this, it’s a good idea to start with a look at the past. It’s a concept almost hard to grasp, but teams not from Glasgow winning the league are well within living memory. Not just a fluke as well, as the early 1980s saw Old Firm dominance turned on its head. Aberdeen won three and my own Dundee United won one.

What was the key to these successes? In this case, it was without a doubt the managers. A certain Alex Ferguson was leading Aberdeen. Arguably, his domestic and European dominance with the Dons is a greater achievement than anything he did elsewhere. The last team Real Madrid lost a European final to was Ferguson’s Aberdeen to put things into perspective. And Jim McLean of Dundee United, well, he won a league with Dundee United, what else do you need to prove managerial pedigree. Apart from maybe making it four wins out of four against Barcelona of course.

We have our first key ingredient and it’s one not entirely hypothetical. Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock was a serious force in his time, sporting one of the best points per game averages in the country. He has gone on to show it wasn’t a one-off with his success with the national team in recent months. If someone like him joined a traditionally larger team, such as Hearts, Hibs, or the previously mentioned past winners, I think there could be a chance.

But they would need something more: time. Maybe even decades to be able to create a consistent playstyle and identity. If they could get consistent European football, they would get a little bit more money to invest back into the team. Not only that, they would need power. Control over the transfers in order to complete their image. Make it harder for managers to be sacked after a poor run of games. And finally, luck. A bit of good luck for themselves and a mountain of bad luck for the Old Firm, concentrated all in one season.

I hope it’s not all just wishful thinking on my part. I would love to see someone, anyone, win the league that’s different from another Old Firm win. Just to make it interesting. But the reality is, I think something would have to happen to Celtic or Rangers for anything to change.

The Old Firm joining English football has long been a hypothetical concept you hear down the pub. With the money involved in the English leagues, it must be a little tempting for the club’s leadership. I’m against the idea, in the same way I will be against the idea of Premier League matches being played in Saudi Arabia, when that eventually happens. It is contrary to the traditional, local values of football. I also doubt Celtic or Rangers would be interested in forever battling relegation alongside Everton, instead of their cushy position of a guaranteed league win at least every few years.

When the European Super League was introduced, it still had a few unrevealed teams it planned to add before its demise. I thought that maybe Celtic and Rangers had a shout at joining. You could sell that rivalry to Americans quite successfully and both teams have existing and extensive fan networks across the globe. The Super League will be back, just under a different name. Maybe the Old Firm will be invited along.

Likelihood is though, the status quo will remain, and I will continue to hope United avoid relegation and beat Aberdeen and Dundee FC in the league. Celtic and Rangers will continue their duopoly.

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