The 'colts' idea is doomed by jealousy

Posted by John Gow

AP PhotoAn Old Firm derby between 'colt' sides would generate plenty of interest.

In the new round of league reconstruction discussions between the Scottish Football League (SFL) and the Scottish Premier League (SPL), one of the more surprising topics to reappear from the dead of previous meetings is a Rangers and Celtic second team, or 'colts' playing in the lower leagues.

- SPL clubs to vote on April 15

A few other countries, most famously Spain, have a similar system where the bigger teams have another side in the lower divisions. It gives an avenue for their young players to play competitive football, and in return allows more money to the opposition through media interest and support.

But would it work here? The answer has to be yes. Many forget that Rangers and Celtic fans make up around two-thirds of the total football support in Scotland. Considering most SFL3 teams get an average of 500 people at their games, there would be no problems in equalling or exceeding that gate for the 'colt' sides weekly.

And that is a very conservative estimate. If the colt sides are playing an important match or against each other, then the attendances would rise to thousands, maybe even over ten thousand. For those scoffing at such a figure, Rangers had just under 3,000 already this season for a reserve match, and in the past, Rangers versus Celtic reserve games have had more than 30,000 spectators.

We live in an austere economy so reduced prices and less crowded matches are sure to attract those who can't afford a weekly match at Ibrox or Celtic Park. And as Rangers fans have discovered to their surprise, apart from the Light Blues themselves, most SFL3 teams play good passing football.

During the Second World War, Rangers had a second team in the North-Eastern League as well as the first team in the Southern League. This was done to help the northern sides stay solvent and amazingly the second string sometimes got higher crowds than the first due to closer competition. Of course this won't be repeated, but there is no doubt that seeing a Rangers team battle with a Celtic team, in whatever guise, would be popular.

Yet it won't happen. There is too much bad feeling in Scottish football to see another Rangers and Celtic in the league. Instead of just saying 'no' like mature adults, we have whispering campaigns against David Longmuir, the CEO of the SFL, for putting the proposal forward. The gossip is that he is helping Rangers by proposing the concept.

The suspicion is that it would help Rangers while they are in the lower leagues. But surely believing the cost of setting up, administering and running a second side in a professional league would be a money-spinner in the short term is madness. Even in the long term, any profit would be minimal. This is about helping Rangers and Celtic develop players and also to give money back to the lower clubs in increased attendances. Even if 500 extra fans went per game it would double the matchday revenue for those sides. If thousands went, it would support our game tremendously.

But the football demographics are forgotten and jealousy rises to the surface. Rangers and Celtic don't get more money or attention in Scottish football because they have carefully placed stooges. It's because collectively their fans are the majority of Scottish football. Instead of letting the distorting effects of the huge size of the Rangers and Celtic fanbase work to their favour, they deny it exists or move into quasi-conspiracy mode. As ever, pettiness and Scottish football go together.

Unsurprisingly, when Rangers offered to play a second team in the North-Eastern League during WW2, there was the same jealousy from the southern clubs. The unnamed Rangers response*, rumoured to be Bill Struth, pointed out that it was just "a pathetic admission by certain people of their inability to field a team capable of attracting public interest". In that respect, nothing has changed.

*'The First 100 Years' by Bob Crampsey.

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