Old Firm move to England blocked

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The Independent Football

The Premier League last night emphatically rejected any possibility of a two-tier élite "Phoenix" league in the foreseeable future and said there was "no practical way" that Rangers and Celtic could play in England's top division.

The League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, said that no formal vote was taken, but the 20 Premiership chairmen, who held their regular monthly meeting yesterday, were unanimous in their feeling that the Old Firm clubs should not be allowed direct access to the Premiership.

"None of our clubs can imagine how it could happen, in any practical sense," Scudamore said. "We don't envisage any circumstances in which Celtic and Rangers would be parachuted into the Premier League. There are no definitive football or commercial reasons as to why they should enter the system."

The strength of feeling against a two-tier league, Scudamore said, was "overwhelming". A Premier League strategic review is underway, he said, but no restructuring or expansion is being or will be considered. "There has been overwhelming dismissal of a Premier League Two," Scudamore said. "By definition there can be only one Premier League. The clubs worked hard to create it in the first place and see no reason to dilute it."

The subject of a two-tier élite resurfaced recently when it emerged that six First Division clubs, led by Bradford and Coventry, were hoping to be at the forefront of a restructured Premiership. The Premier League's clear message was that its clubs would play no part in a new two-division league.

The Premier League's own review will re-examine the issue of financial support for relegated clubs and may look at ways of increasing the size and duration of "parachute payments".

The Football League has claimed clubs from the lower divisions would fold if the Worthington Cup was stripped of its Uefa Cup place. The League believes there is a possibility of clubs in the Second and Third Divisions being unable to sustain professional football if the qualification for a place in Europe is handed to the Premiership instead of the winners of the cup competition.

The football body was responding to comments made by the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, who said the club finishing sixth in the Premiership should be awarded the Uefa Cup place instead because that was the harder achievement.

John Nagle, the Football League's head of communications, said: "This is a far wider issue than whether it is harder to finish fifth or sixth in the Premier League or win the Worthington Cup. The fact is the Worthington Cup is the most important means of redistributing income left in the game. More than 60 per cent of the Football League's £105m-a-year television agreement is attributable to the Worthington Cup, so anything that damages it as a competition ­ such as stripping it of its Uefa Cup place ­ would have huge ramifications for clubs in Divisions One, Two and Three."

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