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An Atlantic League would sink SPL

Chick Young | 19:45 UK time, Monday, 29 December 2008

There is hope out there. Nearly 100,000 souls paid to watch the Scottish Premier League at the weekend.

The box office boomed with a little help from the fact that a Saturday fell two days after Christmas but the appetite for the game is in clear contrast to the waning interest in turkey.

A sell-out at Pittodrie and not a "Calderwood-must-go" banner in sight. It's a changing world right enough.

aberdeenhearts438.jpgMeanwhile, we need not delay the ladies and gentlemen who select the manager of the month award at all. Don't even take off your overcoats, just tick the box that says Gus MacPherson, St Mirren.

Four wins out of four will ensure that he picks up his second award of the season - that's two out of the five available so far - crushing to dust the insane mumblings by some fans of the club who want a change.

If he doesn't win then there can only be one other outcome. Robert Mugabe has done it again.

So everything in the garden is lovely then? Eh, no actually.

Walter Smith has suggested that it is time the Old Firm made a break for an Atlantic League, leaving their reserve teams behind to battle it out for domestic honour.

The new league - involving big clubs from small countries, like Ajax, Anderlecht, Porto, Benfica and Marseille alongside our own giants - is the way ahead, according to the manager of Rangers.

Of course, France is not a wee country at all, except in football terms, which is from where the Ibrox boss is really coming.

I see his point. Rangers and Celtic are floating in a different financial solar system from Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the other jolly giants of the European game.

Television rights here hardly pay the electricity bill far less the wage demands of the crown princes of the game.

And, having been hit by a custard pie from the English Premier League when the Old Firm tried to cuddle up with that lot, the Old Firm need to find new pals.

But, if the Old Firm abandons Scottish football for distant dreams, they will leave behind a game that will have its throat cut - and the tending of the patient by second string outfits will be of no salvation.

Where is the media attention to be focused? On Motherwell versus Rangers Reserves or Ajax versus the Ibrox side's first team. The death knell for the rest of the game will be sounded.

The problem may lie elsewhere. The satellite television channels are charging a Somalian pirate's ransom for their services. My local sports club has just abandoned their services after demands for an annual fee of in excess of £7,000.

We need to sell about 6,000 extra pints to justify that and, although me and a few of the boys have enjoyed a couple of Saturday nights when we have given it a right go, we couldn't get there with the help of Oliver Reed.

The bulk of that money is heading into the English game to satisfy the ridiculous wage demands of some players who can't struggle by on less than £100,000 a week.

Meanwhile, the club loses the action on the telly, turnover at the bar goes down and the kids are consequently left short of facilities.

And yet the SPL, as Saturday proved, still has huge appeal to people in this country.

The Old Firm self-preservation society will always demand that they gaze to distant horizons and it is true that the rest of the game do hang on - to a degree - to their coat-tails.

But the Uefa Cup is already changing its shape next season to accommodate more fixtures at European level and, personally, I have loved the game too long in its current shape in this country not to try and nail Rangers and Celtic to the floor.

As the manager of Rangers, Walter Smith may be right. But, for the rest of the game, he is the Grim Reaper.

Meanwhile, may I wish you all a healthy and content New Year. Including yourself Walter.

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