England's 20 elite clubs yesterday killed off any hopes that Celtic and Rangers held of joining the Premier League in the foreseeable future by voting against proposals to invite them south. The idea of the Old Firm joining the League was described in an official League statement as "not desirable or viable". One source said: "In a vote, the clubs came up with an emphatic 'no' to the idea". The League's chief executive Richard Scudamore said yesterday that the Old Firm would "never" be welcome.
The Old Firm had hoped for lengthier consideration to plans put forward by Bolton's chairman, Phil Gartside, for a restructured, two-tier, 38-team Premier League, which would have seen Celtic and Rangers joining the lower of those two divisions from the start of the 2013-14 season.
But while Gartside's overall proposals for change will be given more thought – with the rationale that the League's riches could be more evenly shared – there was an unexpected vote on the Old Firm, because, as one source said: "It had become an issue that needed to be put to bed."
Some high-profile managers have backed a move to England for the Old Firm in the past week, including Everton's David Moyes, Tottenham's Harry Redknapp and Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill. And Gartside is not without support in some other Premier League boardrooms, notably at other unfashionable, unprofitable clubs, like his, that despite their top-flight riches, still lose money. Bolton's accounts for the year to June 2009, released last week, showed a loss of £13.2m.
But for now, it seems, a majority of the elite still think there would be more to lose than gain from embracing the Old Firm. The "big four" of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool see no benefit in encouraging competition from the Scottish giants, who, armed with League cash, might challenge them. The same philosophy is probably also in play at Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham and Villa, whatever the managers at the latter say. And if Celtic and Rangers did move to England, there would be two fewer places in the League, however many divisions it had, for two English clubs, possibly two of the current 20.
Yesterday's vote will not end the debate, far from it. Depending on the financial crises that are slowly but surely squeezing the life from Bolton, West Ham, Portsmouth, Hull, Blackburn, Fulham, Wigan and others, any plan that might offer more money will get an airing from time to time. Celtic and Rangers would certainly add value to Premier League TV deals. But unfortunate timing meant Gartside got shorter shrift than anyone expected.
Rangers' finances are woeful (£31m in debt and annual losses of £13m last year, according to figures released yesterday) and their latest episode of fan violence, in Romania last week, hardly make them this week's pin-up club. Uefa fined them £17,988 yesterday. Meanwhile, the group of Celtic fans who marred a Remembrance silence last weekend at Falkirk only highlighted that sectarianism remains Scotland's not-so-secret shame.
Gartside is concerned that the Premier League's top and bottom clubs have disparities in League income (winners Manchester United pocketed £52.3m of League TV money, while West Bromwich got £31.6m), although this ratio is much narrower than most European leagues. He is also concerned that the top clubs make £20m-£33m per year in Europe on top. "Addressing this polarisation of clubs and the increasing revenue differentials will, I believe, be the major strategic issue for the Premier League over coming years," he wrote in Bolton's annual report.
A League statement said: "The other relevant ideas contained within Bolton's paper will now be taken forward as part of the wider strategic review being undertaken by the Premier League since November 2008 with the aim of providing recommendations before December 2010."