HeadLine: OLD FIRM ON THE MOVE: DERMOT’S GAMBLE
The Mirror, 13/05/2002, p4&5
by SHAUN MILNE
IRISH tycoon Dermot Desmond last week gambled £1.5million on the Old
Firm playing football in England.
He bought more shares in Celtic as it emerged that the two Glasgow
Giants could be invited to join the Nationwide League.
Rangers chairman David Murray insisted last night that the move south
was still on although it was denied by football chiefs in England.
Desmond and Murray met Football League chairman Keith Harris last
Thursday to discuss the move to England.
The talks were held at Murray’s home near Edinburgh.
The stockmarket confirmed that almost three million Celtic shares were
bought by Desmond last week.
Shares in Celtic are at a historic low price.
The deal makes him by far the biggest investor in Celtic, with a 20.5
per cent stake.
The transaction became public knowledge when it was posted on the Stock
Exchange website at around 5pm on Friday.
Nationwide League chiefs meet on Thursday and sources say Celtic and
Rangers will top their agenda.
Northern Ireland’s Old Firm fans were last night delighted with the
potential move south.
John Fenton, secretary of Brantwood Rangers Supporters Club, said:
“This would be a very good move for Rangers in my opinion. I think
we’re in the same position as Celtic, paying out big money but only
getting average players.
“It can be difficult to entice top footballers to come to Scotland.
“Moving into the Nationwide League would do both teams the world of
“Travelling further afield for matches wouldn’t be a problem for our
supporters. We’re already used to going across the Irish Sea.”
Paul O’Neill, spokesman for Eire go Brach Supporters Club, agreed:
“Everybody knows that we can’t survive in the Scottish League the way
it is. It is almost inevitable that we will have to move.
“I don’t think Celtic supporters will have a problem with having
further to travel to matches. All the away games are well supported by
the fans. There were more than 7,000 people at the league game last
week and a huge turnout is expected against Arsenal.
“Celtic fans will go anywhere to support their team.
“The main problem for the club if they were to join the Nationwide
League, would be that it would make it very difficult for us to get
into Europe next season.”
Rangers boss Murray said the English teams wanted the Old Firm to move
south, adding: “The major attraction for the Nationwide League wanting
Rangers and Celtic to come is their own TV deal.
“What they will be proposing is that their member clubs either vote for
or against an invitation coming to Rangers and Celtic but we will have
to wait and see how that comes about.
“We were invited to a meeting with Celtic and the Nationwide League and
we wanted to see what the options were.
“We would prefer to sit down and negotiate but, as the chairman of a
club, I have to protect our side.”
Scottish football was rocked this year when the smaller clubs withdrew
from the Premier League in a row with the Old Firm over TV rights. They
threatened to set up their own league in two years.
The Rangers chairman said he was annoyed that news of the talks had
reached the media.
He said: “So I don’t think it was wrong of me to attend the meeting
with my colleagues but I’m very disappointed that this has leaked.
“We have got to make sure this opportunity does not go past us.
“We haven’t even had the written resignation of the 10 yet and the
longer it goes on that we don’t receive it, you wonder where the motive
“We are only looking after ourselves – quite rightly so – because, if
the resignation does come in and they walk away in two years, it is
correct and proper we should look at what the alternatives are.
“But it is unfortunate it has broken in the newspapers. I don’t like it
when talks that are privately held at my own home appear in the paper.”
Desmond was unavailable for comment last night and sources say the move
to England is by no means a done deal. A Celtic spokesman said: “We
have not received any invitation to join the Football League.
“As said previously, we maintain an open mind to structural changes and
we’ll view any proposals with interest.”
Manager Martin O’Neill said he knew nothing of the move. He added:
“I’ve no idea at all. There is no point trying to get anything out of
me because I don’t know anything.”
Rangers manager Alex McLeish said he would only believe his side have a
future in England when he sees the club’s name on the fixture lists. He
added: “I don’t think there’s a player or a coach in the game who
wouldn’t want to play in the best league in the world, although I’m not
sure it’s the Premiership or Serie A.
“But, without getting involved in the politics, I will believe it when
I see it. I’m up to speed with the talks that are going on but I’m not
getting too involved with the intricacies of it – gladly.
“Until somebody tells me something different I’ll have every respect
for the Scottish Premier League and continue to try to bring success to
Rangers on the Scottish platform.” English Football League chief David
Burns insisted the Nationwide clubs don’t want the Old Firm.
He said: “Why would it give the League a boost when this year we have
had crowds which have not been seen since 1958? We have rising
attendances this year, which are up nine per cent.
“Nationwide football has never been as popular so why would it give
English league football a boost?
“Celtic and Rangers would increase attendances but that’s the case
anyway and it would have to be done in a properly organised
competition. For League chairmen, I would think to them the idea of
Celtic and Rangers being dropped into the English Football League
Division One is a nonsense.
“If they were to join the English Football League, they would be
dropped into the middle of the football pyramid and I would say the
Premier League would have something to say about that.
“We have a regular board meeting this Thursday and Celtic and Rangers
is not on the agenda and it won’t be on the agenda.
“If they’re coming, they won’t be coming into the Nationwide Football
League.” Celtic Supporters’ Association spokesman Eddie Toner said fans
in Scotland were behind the move, adding: “When it happens, if it
happens, then we will sit down and go through the costs, but at the
moment it doesn’t frighten us.
“Some people have mixed feelings about the move, but we don’t live in
an ideal world and if Celtic need to leave to ensure their future in
Europe, then so be it.”
Rangers fan Liam Muir said: “I think it’s the way of the future and I
support it. Most fans can afford to go to Europe so they’ll be able to
go to England. Any true fan will follow them anywhere.”
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