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Don't let Celtic fool you, they are delighted that Rangers are back in the top league

Ian Herbert

Published 09/09/2016

False farewell: Celtic fans unfurled a banner claiming they would not miss Rangers after their liquidation, but the Bhoys are glad their rivals are back
False farewell: Celtic fans unfurled a banner claiming they would not miss Rangers after their liquidation, but the Bhoys are glad their rivals are back

It is the return of an old 5.30pm Saturday ritual to households across Glasgow which tells the truth that dare not speak its name for Celtic fans: they are glad Rangers are back.

Getting home from the Celtic match to see how 'the other lot' got on is a part of life again, though few of a Parkhead disposition dare admit it, because it cuts across the ritual enmity for Ibrox.

Celtic assistant manager John Collins said this week that his club would never get credit for being champions until Rangers were in the top-flight, and he got stick for what sounded like too much of a welcome.

One Celtic blogger told Collins that it was a competitive Scottish Premiership that the club needed, not Rangers, but the league tables of the past four years reveal that to be a pipe dream.

The closest any side have come to Celtic were Aberdeen last season, when they finished 15 points adrift.

It's not just four Old Firm league games which have been missing each season, but any suspense or drama surrounding Celtic's games, week-to-week. The new landscape of Scottish football has included the top tier at Parkhead being regularly closed and the value of the Sky TV deal has been frozen while it was soaring in England.

It was considered generous when Sky said they would lock the TV deal in 2011-12, the year Rangers were sent down to the bottom division, on the understanding they would come straight back up in four years, which they have been a year late in doing.

The problem with getting to the bottom of whether Celtic might be feeling something like pleasure or relief at the enemy's return is the gulf between reality and what the club can say publicly without risking the opprobrium of their fans.

The truth is that Celtic were never the ones who wanted Rangers bumped down, even though the tax avoidance practice which sank them and left an HMRC tax demand they couldn't pay was used to keep pace with their foe.

Senior insiders from Rangers' period in the wilderness say that it was the smaller clubs, angered and irritated by the perceived arrogance of the Celtic/Rangers duopoly, who were determined to punish the Ibrox club.

"It was retribution for decades of perceived arrogance," one source said. "It was: 'Here is our chance to stick it to Rangers'."

The beneficiaries of a decision which, from a Celtic perspective, made no economic sense have been those sides in the lower reaches of the Scottish pyramid.

With no narrative in Scotland's top-flight, the Sky cameras continued to follow Rangers around. In 2013-14 they were the second most televised club, after Celtic, despite being in the second tier.

Beyond Celtic and Rangers, the commercial value of the clubs has remained so small that Aberdeen and others can hardly be criticised for not making hay while Rangers were away.

With comparatively little TV money, clubs beyond the Old Firm have needed to rely on the tradition income streams - gate receipts, commercial revenue and sponsors.

Among those who have taken heaviest criticism for expressing a wish that Rangers make it back in a hurry is Celtic's largest shareholder, Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond.

A few months after Rangers were ordered to start again following their 2012 liquidation, he spoke of them "as a fantastic club with a great history", of being "disappointed" they did not share the same league set-up as Celtic, and of how he was sure it wouldn't "be long" before they were back.

This brought a furious backlash in some Celtic chatrooms. The wisdom among Celtic fans is that Rangers post-2012 are a new club with no history beyond four years ago.

Yet the significance of Rangers' re-emergence was evident in details, published by The Scotsman this week, of how the catalyst for hiring Brendan Rodgers as manager was the outlandish way Rangers directors celebrated when their club beat Celtic in last season's Scottish Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out.

It was Desmond's fury about the way usual etiquette was dispensed with ultimately convinced him that he must "go large" - sacking manager Ronny Deila and "upscaling" with Rodgers.

Under the five-year plan Rangers put together in the wilderness, they had anticipated a league match with Celtic coming one year before it has.

That plan legislated for the first season back in the Premiership being one in which they would be "competitive." The 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons are when the target is to "challenge" Celtic for the title.

Where these two inveterate foes are concerned, though, one day is too long to wait, let alone 12 months.

Belfast Telegraph

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