Old Firm 'switch' to Nationwide wins Fifa approval

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The Independent Online

Football's world ruling body, Fifa, has declared that it will not stand in the way of Celtic and Rangers joining the Nationwide League, provided the move is cleared by the relevant national and international bodies.

Scotland's two biggest clubs were left in limbo on Tuesday when the country's remaining 10 top-flight clubs announced their intention to resign from the Scottish Premier League in two years' time, following recent disharmony.

Celtic and Rangers' ambitious plans to join other leagues have faced stern opposition in the past, but Fifa has suggested if the proposals are welcome elsewhere then it will be satisfied with that.

"This is a local issue so this is a matter for Scotland and England first," a Fifa spokesman said yesterday. "If everybody agrees for example there is no need for us to intervene.

"Now, if there was a problem in this for many national organisations, then we would have to step in, but that's all. If everybody agrees in a change then we would be happy to let that go," he added.

However, Uefa would seem to pose the biggest hurdle for the Old Firm if they wanted to compete south of the border. European football's governing body would be reluctant to allow Celtic and Rangers to qualify for the Champions' League and the Uefa Cup while playing in England, and many clubs would be opposed to it.

A Uefa official, Mike Lee, said: "Gerhard Aigner, our chief executive, made it clear last week that clubs have to play within their national association set-up. That is the policy of both Uefa and Fifa and there are no proposals on the table for us to consider otherwise.

"There is nothing being brought forward with agreement involving the Scottish Football Association, the English FA and their respective leagues so there's not a lot for Uefa to consider.

"It is really a matter that has to be resolved within Scotland and England," Lee confirmed, "but Uefa emphasises the importance of national association football. For us the issue comes down to respecting the current structures and, if proposals are made for change, they would have to be looked at in that light and obviously for us to consider that in light of our own European competitions.

"Clubs cannot qualify for them through simply choosing the competitions within which they play and it is done according to agreed qualifying procedures. They have to be agreed – crucially – with the domestic football associations."

Yet it is certain that the Old Firm have explored the possibility of a move to England in the past and, with the 10 rebel clubs threatening to leave the SPL, Rangers and Celtic are nearer to a position where they might achieve a switch.

The Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond also gave the them fresh hope of joining the Nationwide League when he said: "I have no doubt the vast majority of the chairmen here would welcome Celtic and Rangers, for obvious reasons.

"There has been no approach by either Rangers or Celtic to the Nationwide League," Richmond continued, "and the Premiership made it clear they weren't interested in the Old Firm in December.

"The only way Celtic and Rangers can get there, therefore, is via the Football League.

"The rules would probably have to be changed to parachute both clubs into Division One, but I think there is overwhelming support in favour of their application to do that.

"It would have to be approved by both the SPL and SFA – but after Tuesday's events I imagine that would now be forthcoming," the Bantams' chairman added.

"With their support then I can't see any opposition coming either from the Football League or even Uefa. But it's up to the Old Firm."

The SPL has added to the pressure on the Old Firm by underlining that if, they wanted to go through with a move south when the rebel clubs leave in two years' time, they would need to resign soon. An SPL spokesman said: "The SPL rules state that for any club to leave the league two complete seasons of notice must be served. What the clubs do thereafter is their own concern."

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