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Sports socks - three pairs for a pound!

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Jim Spence | 17:27 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009

"Sports socks - three pairs for a pound," is a well worn sales cry at the famous Barras market.

Soon it might be joined by another plaintive howl. "Get your season tickets here, going cheap, no reasonable offer refused."

The Old Firm are currently trying to entice punters to part with their hard earned cash, offering special deals on season tickets.

In the wake of the English Premier league's snub to the Glasgow pair, times are hard and liable to get harder as far as extra revenue raising goes.

The spectre of falling crowds and income is a real and live issue for Celtic and Rangers both.

With Scottish coefficients likely to change in the near future because of poor European performances, the Old Firm duo could find their road to Champions League football much rockier than in the past.

ibroxemptyseats595.jpgThen a vicious circle could ensue: less chance of Champions League action, less chance of selling the season books in the previous vast numbers, less chance of attracting the quality of player to ensure Champions League participation.

The question may be, have Celtic and Rangers peaked, and are their great days behind them?

Suddenly, what many in the SPL regarded as bumptious Old Firm whining that they were too big for the domestic game and needed to swim with bigger fish in a bigger pond, has been drowned out, leaving them to flounder in the shallows of the Scottish game for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, it may be back to the future for both clubs. While flogging their season tickets at the Barras may be an unlikely prospect, both seem likely to face a future of reduced income from that source.

And they will have to explore better marketing techniques or reduced admission prices, if they are to maintain the size of crowds they've become accustomed to.

Simple supply and demand economics are at play here. Too many seats for sale, not enough demand to buy them.

So, sports socks three for a pound anyone? The customer is now king, and his or her money cannot be taken for granted in the current economic climate.

Reduced income equals reduced wages, equals reduced quality. And while other SPL clubs face similar problems, none have built their supporter base anywhere as high as the Old Firm. So there is much further to fall for the great Glasgow rivals.

All of which could be good news for the rest of the SPL.

Managers like Craig Levein, John Hughes and Mark McGhee would be delighted to have the problems of their Old Firm counterparts.

These guys and the rest of the SPL bosses can only dream of being able to pay 10 and 12 grand a week to players, and yet this season in particular, as one half of the Old Firm cannot and the other half will not pay to bring in the quality of player of yesteryear, the gap between Celtic and Rangers and the rest looks much less daunting than in the past.

SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster has said any change in the top flight must benefit all clubs and not just one or two interests. He is right of course, and the game needs to look afresh, and collectively, at how it sells what is still potentially a very fine 'product'. (how I hate that word when applied to the beautiful game).

With our two football behemoths suddenly facing the kind of problems that the rest of the SPL have been beset with, sympathy for their plight is likely to be limited.

Indeed those who have been told constantly that without the Old Firm they would be like the League of Wales, may now adopt a bolder and harder nosed approach to dealings with them, in order to benefit the many, not the few.

With winter's chill winds approaching, it'll need something special to entice missing fans back to Ibrox and Celtic Park. Reduced prices will help, and so will a cosy pair of socks for those cold Saturday afternoons.

They're going cheap at the Barras, apparently.


  • Comment number 1.

    I think a one tier Euro league for the top teams outside the five main leagues- the old firm, Ajax & PSV, Benfica & Porto etc etc is the way forward, with qualification for the Champs League & Europa Cup as you would get from the main leagues. Plus, surely the SPL would be more exciting for the other clubs if they had a chance of winning it!?

    (For the record I support an English Championship side so have no emotional attachment to this)

  • Comment number 2.

    The whole of Scottish football is in terminal decline. I fear that there isn't really very much that can be done. The start of this final decline bedgan the day Fergie left Aberdeen for ManU!

  • Comment number 3.

    Can't agree with you at all blue haze. I think the long-discussed "Atlantic League" would be bad for fans and bad for European football. Ordinary fans will be priced out of following their team - Celtic v Panathinaikos is a hell of round trip in terms of cost and time. Also, surely the big clubs owe a debt to the teams around them in the league, who have provided them with the opportunity to grow to be the clubs they have become.

  • Comment number 4.

    Blue Haze:

    Why exactly would or should UEFA offer places in the Champions and / or Europa league to a new league which, rather than being a national one was effectively a private members "invite only" affair?

    Who decides who should be offered entry to this league?
    Why rangers and celtic and not Hibs and Aberdeen?

    Also - what of the leagues they left behind?
    Would the SPL and the Dutch Eredivisie get to keep the places they currently have?

    And finally - while i'm sure the idea of this one tier Euro League would appeal in principle the actual reality wouldn't be quite so appealing:

    Ajax, PSv, Feyenoord, Benfica, Porto, Celtic, Rangers are all big clubs.....most would expect to be looking at the Champions League each season.

    Now lets be generous and give the new one tier league 3 CL places - a lot of those clubs would be missing out and i doubt that'd please the fans.

    I'm Scottish and support Hibs and as much as celtic and rangers big up how good their support is I remember the last time rangers were doing badly: Half empty ground.

    These clubs all want to win and that can't happen in the one tier league.

  • Comment number 5.

    In the future, when the big clubs breakaway from their respective FA's to form a Euro Super League, will Celtic and Rangers still be considered 'big clubs' if they continue in their present state? I doubt it. Something has to happen for them soon or they'll be going into irreversible decline. A North Atlantic league may be a temporary solution and be enough to preserve their competitiveness as well as serving as an interesting prototype of future Euro leagues.

  • Comment number 6.

    Doom & gloom,must be getting close to christmas,sadly though for football in Scotland things are about to change and for some,the reality is really going to bite.
    In 2 - 5 years the financial situation at Rangers will in effect mean the Ibrox club will no longer able to compete at the top level in Scotland never mind anywhere else.
    The league will be dominated by Celtic,who will have a monopoly on not only the league,but on ALL of Scottish football,cups,players,sponsors,the works.
    In 2-5 years time,this change will take affect,no going back,the die has been cast,in the meantime,the rest of the clubs,must pray for a financial boost as an opportunity has presented itself to challenge for the runners up spot,with Aberdeen and Hibernian (being the best run clubs)the most likely to benefit from these changes.
    It is an icy wind blowing down the corridors of Ibrox,one that is just going to get colder,unfortunately the punters are helpless to do anything about it,they must accept the situation and keep their fingers and everything else crossed that their club even survives.
    Fire fighting on a major scale is going on,but despite the efforts the flames are spreading,the on duty crew have sloped off having failed to do their duty,leaving a clearly understrength,relief crew frantically looking for a red adair,too little,too late,Merry Christmas One & All

  • Comment number 7.

    Rangers & Celtic have again failed to sell themselves off elsewhere, & while some folk, even our own John Hughes, have welcomed them 'back' I hope they were just being ironic.
    I don't suppose it will happen but now would be precisely the time for the rest of Scottish football to assert some control over the 'big two.'
    They need us more than we need them & the notion that Scottish football would implode without their goodwill is a deception cultivated to help maintain the OF stranglehold on our game. Without us they have nothing, are nothing, just two sides of a long devalued coin.
    Anyone out there willing to take them on?

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with #7 Malthibby, the old firm need a competitive SPL. There are many leagues around Europe where 2 or 3 teams dominate season after season and these leagues don't do well in European competitions. There was a time when Celtic and to a lesser extent Rangers competed equally with the best in Europe, 2 European Cup finals and several semi-finals for Celtic, European finals for Rangers and Aberdeen and even a European Cup semi for Dundee Utd and most of these were at a time when the top division in Scotland was bigger and more competitive.

  • Comment number 9.


    It was a while ago but as a Hibee our run semis of the first ever European cup in 1955-56 and subsequent runs in Europe (2 quarters and a semi final in the 60's losing to the eventual winners each time) are also worth a mention.

    Have to agree that a more competitive SPL is the aim and i hope, as others have mentioned, that the rest of the clubs in the SPL push for an equal split of the revenue and a much more level playing field going forward.

    There'd be more money for all if the league was actually competitive.

    The best thing about their current financial woes is watching well run clubs like Hibs telling the OF where to go if they try to poach our players on the cheap - the refusal to sell Steven Fletcher to celtic for their offer of less than 2 million was an excellent example.

  • Comment number 10.

    Has everybody gone completely insane recently? An Atlantic League? What about all the flying to different countries and different time zones? The fatigue players would gain unnecessarily through excess traveling and also what time would matches be played and on what day?
    One more slightly relevant fact since Celtic and Rangers are suffering from dwindling crowd numbers because of expensive ticket prices how exactly would they be able to boost that by having to make their fans travel to watch them play Porto on Saturday, then Ajax the following Sunday with a home match against PSV mid-week. Would flights be included in the ticket price?
    So to watch a mediocre bunch of teams play each other their fans would have to pay hundreds of pounds just to be able to see an away game...I think may be the Atlantic League should be put on the 'Let's not mention that silly idea again' shelf with 'The 39th Premier League game to be held in Qatar or whoever bids the most'.

  • Comment number 11.

    Some people don't seem to understand the modern economics of football. What is irrelevant is fans travelling to away games as the visiting side don't benefit from the gate. The issue is TV money and the only way to up that for the OF is to increase the quality of the opposition. With home gates of 56,000 on average, Celtic don't need to worry about income from games but they do need a substantial TV deal to be able to compete at a European level and with the quality of the opposition at the moment that's never going to happen.

    Travel fatigue is also irrelevant. A flight from Glasgow to the Netherlands or Portugal takes a shorter time than a coach journey down to Manchester or Liverpool. As for different time zones? How funny, it's not Asia! It's a maximum of 2 hours difference, watch out for jet lag!!

  • Comment number 12.

    I think it'll be a cold day in hell before we see anyone dropping their admission prices - it's an absolute pipedream despite the current financial climate. I've watched my team (Motherwell) steadily increase prices steadily up to £20 and now simply can't afford to go to the game.

    This is despite the fact that it works. Remembers Rangers v Celtic reserves in 1997, the game that you could get in for £5? 37,000 turned up as I recall.

  • Comment number 13.

    Jayinho- you're an idiot

  • Comment number 14.

    Jayinho..... you're right- how on earth would players cope with the one hour time difference & the max 2 hour flights + no way would any fans pay £50 quid to fly to Lisbon- can't believe I didn't think about any of your objections- how stupid of me!

  • Comment number 15.

    Rather than implementing structural changes across various national leagues, UEFA and FIFA should consider getting rid of seeding in all competitions. At least then clubs like Celtic and Rangers and Dutch, Portuguese, Russian clubs etc would have some prospect of progressing in the club competitions. At present seeding turns these into a closed shop for the G14 clubs. Not too mention clubs dropping from the Champions league into the Europa Cup. At international level too, this would be a breath of fresh air. The biggest and best clubs / countries will still win, but at least the others will be on a level playing field. Works for the FA and Scottish Cups and would not cost any money!!

  • Comment number 16.

    "dmrichkt wrote:
    In the future, when the big clubs breakaway from their respective FA's to form a Euro Super League, will Celtic and Rangers still be considered 'big clubs' if they continue in their present state?"

    There will be no breakaways from the English, Spanish or Italian leagues, the economics will not be improved, only a good possibility of them being far less. The only body this would make any sense for would be UEFA.

    The deciding factor here is TV revenue and any top teams in a European league will have competition from what remains of the national league. The existing Champions League format, a form of glorified FA cup without the interest, once you are playing everyone regularly in a league. National rivalries between teams is a big driving force for fans subscribing to paid TV, something that will just slowly evaporate when distance between the fans make regular travel uneconomic.

    It's not difficult to see revenue down by about 20% for English clubs. It will never happen as long as current revenue streams exist. We already have the goose laying regular golden eggs, why would anyone want to jeopardise that?

  • Comment number 17.

    Your blog contains the following
    " the game needs to look afresh, and collectively, at how it sells what is still potentially a very fine 'product'."
    I think a long standing and ongoing problem for Scottish football is that many football writers in Scotland appear unwilling to address the fact that Scottish football is not a fine product at all. It has not been so for a very long time. You guys have a living to make so no doubt you will continue to talk it up but please don't start sounding like you really believe that what you say is true.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why not keep Rangers and Celtic in the SPL and invite teams such as middlesbrough newcastle sunderland to the spl teams which will never in the future win the premiership but may win the spl and get a crack at football in champions league. This would put more money into the league as television games would be better as they would have north east derbys more in the 1 season.More teams around this area could be invited to join to try make scotland a 20 team league with possibly the better teams from 1st division moving up.

    What you think dont think anyone has put forward this idea yet.

    Gary Simpson

  • Comment number 19.

    Jim Spence's blog
    "It needs something special to entice fans back to Ibrox and Celtic Park"

    Maybe they should do away with football (if you don't consider that they already have!) and bring in dog racing or hare coursing or bowling or synchronised knitting or formation flower arranging or Scottish country dancing or . . .!

  • Comment number 20.

    Drunkgaz, stop and think before you type!!! Why would the likes of Newcastle, Middlesbrough or Sunderland want to join the mediocrity of the scottish leagues??? They make more money than any team in scotland even when they are in the Championship which is afterall the fourth or fifth richest league in Europe.

  • Comment number 21.

    I really fear for the long term future of professional football in Scotland. Celtic and Rangers have operated a Super League of two for decades (in fact pretty much forever) and this has limited appeal for those who do not support one of the Old Firm clubs. Even for Celtic and Rangers fans it must get a bit boring. Sadly I see no answer that will satisfy all parties in Scotland. If the Old Firm leave the SPL it is bad for the rest of the teams and whilst they stay, the SPL is gradually being devalued.

  • Comment number 22.

    I'm an exiled Rangers fan, but can honestly say that there hasn't been anything to get excited about at Ibrox for a while - UEFA Cup final included, since the only way to get there was by playing some of the most negative and boring football imaginable.

    The days of getting talents such as Laudrup etc. to Scotland on the merits of possibly winning a title are long gone (although even in his last season, the effects of the forthcoming Bosman switch to Chelsea could be observed). The Champions League has seen to that, allowing second, third and fourth place teams a good run, which is much more important to players than how many medals they have at the end of their careers.

    Why do Rangers and Celtic want to take part in an "Atlantic league?" Do they seriously think this will bring them that much more revenue? Outside the top five leagues (England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France) there isn't that much TV money to go round, and people will still tune into Sky to watch Barca or Real Madrid on a Saturday night, rather than ESPN to see Ajax or Porto.

    As an aside, if there is a £31 million debt at the club, why do they still insist on having an Employee Benefit Trust to reward mismanagement (last count, about £25 million cumulative into this by the close of play last accounting year)? There have been too many vested interests at both clubs, and a clearout would be good. Sometimes people too long, or even return to something when they shouldn't, and it appears that this is happening in the case of Rangers.

  • Comment number 23.

    @ aldo_blue

    Not everything is about money though supporters want to see trophys and they wont get trophys in england espeically league titles.

  • Comment number 24.


    I'm of the opinion that DrunkGaz is an absolute genius!

  • Comment number 25.

    I do get annoyed about the attempts to parachute in the big two from Scotland into the English premiership. Aside from the fact that Scotland fiercely guards its independence from all things "England", it is sad to see that the FA are considering it as a way to make even more money along with the ill-thought-out 39th game.

    If anything, the players need less games, not more, as the injury lists to the top 4 teams in England will testify. I bet you not many other big European teams have such extensive injury lists so early into the season. But money rules, hence why Fernando Torres is played while injured for his club, but not risked in Internationals. Money.

    I am not sure when it changed (i am suspecting around the time Sky TV took over the broadcasting rights), but football used to be a game that the ordinary person could watch and enjoy. Over time these people have been disenfranchised in favour of - dare i say it - the "prawn sandwich" brigade who can afford the ever increasing prices to watch the team.

    That is not to say these people are not entitled to watch the game, of course they are, but this whole drive to maximise revenue at the expense of the fans has only finite mileage. At some point there is going to be no more milk to be squeezed from the cash cow's teat, and then where does football go?!

    I suspect it could be in line for a crash of housing market proportions, where the super wealth generated and paid to players is heavily curtailed. Maybe Scotland is a forerunner for what is inevitably going to happen in England.

    As for Scottish football, which the article is about, maybe they should take an adventurous leap into generating and playing talent from their own acadamies, instead of trying to buy it in. This would lower the costs significantly, and could actually help the Scottish national team.

    Also, I am with Jim when he says he hates the word "product" being applied to football. It is NOT a product, it is a SPORT.

    Rant over ;)

  • Comment number 26.

    SirMouseBurger - much I agree with there.

    Far too much money and far too many games.
    And a lot of it about Sky money.

    Anyone else hankering for the days of all the matches kicking off at 3 on a Saturday then one broadcast each of Match of the Day and Sportscene?

    I would take issue with you on the promotion of academy players in Scottish football: it's not an adventurous leap - it's what's been happening for a while.

    I support Hibs and we've been relying on our academy players to put out a team for many years now.

  • Comment number 27.

    Interesting blog JS.

    I agree with some of what various posters have said and not with others. In many ways I am a little sad that EPL turned down the proposal from the Bolton Chairman to admit the old firm. For a lot of reason really but mostly I was sick to death of hearing about it really. The Atlantic league won't happen, no matter what the old firm say it won't happen. It would just be another b league minus the big guns of Man Utd, Barcelona etc and excuse me for being a bit thick isn't this what the Europa League is anyway.

    Celtic and Rangers now need to live in the real world, you may have a lot of fans but that doesn't make you a big club. I would think that ' big ' on the world stage is success.

    Now there is a chance to have a look at Scottish Football. Spend some time discussing the way forward and by that I mean all the members of the SPL, SFA and SFL. I do feel that re-organisation is required. For what it's worth I would like to see something like:

    An 18 team top league
    An 18 first div
    We could then bring in a decent play off system for the bottom clubs, say the bottom 4 against the top 4 in the first division ( not counting the bottom team and the div 1 champs of course ) playing off against each other. The top 6 or 8 in the SPL can have a split to decide the euro places if they still want that. You would also only play each other twice.

    A pyramid system to allow ambitious junior and highland league teams into the set up.

    Either way at least it might stimulate discussion. On the matter of the Scotland Manager getting the sack. I was all for giving him a chance but the last two games have been dire. The problem now is who do you appoint? Craig Levein won't want it, not sure if Souness would touch it so I really don't know anymore. I actually can't think of anyone who could inspire who would want it.

    What a sad state of affairs. Well at least the Dees have a final to look forward to this week against Cally.....might be the wee cup but we're in the final and your no your no.

  • Comment number 28.

    I always wonder why no one mentions the Americans when this debate comes up - surely the right idea would be to copy the NFL (or similar)?

    Since neither Rangers or Celtic can make (enough) money and most of the other clubs are running a never ending loss then it makes sense that the whole thing gets collectivised - sponsorship (shirt, pitch-side advertising, the lot), tv money and any money transfers of players out of the Scottish leagues.

    However, this would only work if the following was implemented:

    1. The entire purpose of Scottish football was based around producing players for the national team and exporting players for sale to England (and elsewhere).

    2. The training of footballers was done on some sort of college system where by the trainee pays for their education (ensuring that the league isn't out of profit if someone jumps ship to England). Obviously it wouldn't be an upfront fee but could be repayable in time (rather than money) for every year spent playing in the Scottish leagues or payed in full (cash) by the English (or other) club who wants to buy the player.

    3. The college system is national and therefore not linked to a specific club but rather to the league. Players are then drafted from the colleges in a similar manner to the NFL - worst club this year gets the pick of the 'rookies'. This should help maintain a balance of competitiveness within the league. Clearly there is room to be innovative here - give footballers rounded education in sports science, refereeing, placements aboard, foreign language lessons etc.

    4. Possibility that the league owns a club in England - Carlisle maybe? where top talent can be transferred giving a Scottish 'All-star' side the chance of gaining experience (eventually) of EPL games and the possibility of playing in the champions league. It doesn't seem too far fetched that this English side (or two) could be relocated to Glasgow similar to Wimbledon -> MK Dons.

    5. League operates during the summer, not because of the weather but because there is no other football on. There are enough football junkies UK wide to make this a no-brainer. Our league should start as the EPL is ending and climax as it restarts. The season would be short but intense. Playoffs NFL style could also be a possibility.

    6. Autumn/Spring months could be taken up with foreign tours like they have in Rugby - not for money but for experience. Even if the sides are just playing bounce games against Milan etc. that has got to be educational.

    7. Unwritten 'gentlemen's agreement' than (eventually) no player not educated in the leagues colleges is employed by any side. This could have a 'Beckham' clause where an experienced top-pro from abroad comes in as a player coach at each team. Our youngsters could learn a lot from someone like Paulo Maldini for instance.

    8. All income is shared equally between the sides - whilst this is against the capitalist nature of the game surely the owners of the current SPL sides would rather make some money than all lose a lot of money?

    9. No more than 20 sides nationally - we have got to realise that Scotland can't support 40+ 'professional' clubs and rationalise. This would (hopefully) allow for larger supporter bases for each club since all 20 clubs would have a realistic shot at winning the title.

    10. Accept the diminished state of our domestic league and hope that our refocus on the national team will produce world cup/european championship success. And why not? Denmark (5 million pop) and Greece (11 million pop) have won the Euros after all! Portugal aren't that bad either (10 million pop)...

    I'm sure there is some fatal flaw in my suggestions which means they can never be doubt involving stuffy blazers and the old firm!

  • Comment number 29.

    Following MrAgi's comments I feel that Scotland has to take a leaf out of the NFL's book too.
    The current system doesn't work because of the repetitive fixture list, the predictable outcome and the old firm selfishly hoarding all the resources (come back to bite you now eh boys?).
    The previous system of two divisions didn't work because the divisions were too big meaning a lack of interest amongst teams who weren't at the business end.
    The solution? Combine the two systems.
    Go back to a two tier system of 20 and 22 teams, but for the purpose of league standings split both divisions into two pools. This could be done on a regional basis (North and East, South and West) or use the chance for a bit of drama and organise a televised draw in the close season to decide who is in which pool.
    Each team plays all the teams in the division i.e. both pools, once at home once away. So in a top flight of 20 teams you will play 19 at home 19 away, a total of 38 same as the EPL. Same in the second division (42 games this time).
    So your team will play all the teams in pool A and all the teams in pool B but you will only move up and down the standings in your pool, same as the NFL.
    At the end of the season the top four in each pool are entered into a play off like in rugby. Top of pool A v fourth in pool B, second in pool A v third in pool B etc.
    The winners of the "quarter finals" progress to semi's which then produce two finalists, the winner of which become the Scottish Champions with all the plaudits that provides. The two finalists get the champions league spots, the two losing semi-finalists get the Europa spots.
    At the bottom, the two teams at the bottom of each pool are relegated replaced automatically by the top teams in each second tier pool. The teams finishing 2-5 in each pool then enter a play-off within each pool (as in the English divisions) and the two winners are promoted to the top flight.
    - Two tiers mean that a seat at the big table is attainable within one bound stimulating interest in the lower teams. Relegation is also not as feared as it currently is.
    - The play offs in each division stimulate more interest amongst more teams for a longer portion of the season.
    - The chances of clubs outside the old firm winning the title are improved again stimulating interest.
    - Greater possibility for clubs to qualify for Europe giving more incentive to clubs and potentiall spreading the financial benefits of European competition more widely through the league.
    - Increased interest and a more level playing field would encourage more people to take an interest in their local team and boost attendances, which then snowballs the benefits (better supported clubs attract more fans)
    - Increased interest all round increases the attractiveness of the league to Television and sponsors which in turn increases the revenue they provide.
    - Higher revenue allows better players to be brought in improving the quality of the league which creates yet more interest, and allows the infrastructure of the game and the grounds to be improved to allow the higher quality desired to be more sustainable and help to prevent these problems rising again.
    - The old firm might not win the title every year and fans might be persuaded to follow their own team not the big two. Oh hang on isn't that what caused all this in the first place....

  • Comment number 30.

    I clicked on here hoping to kit my club out with cheap socks.
    Clubs should assess how many empty seats they are goimng to have and give out free tickets to local schools for their pupils.
    Children are the supporters of the future.
    They all need feeding, match day pies, programmes etc will be sold


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