The view from here is always a skewed one in which domestic silverware and history loom large, but we shouldn’t confuse sentiment with reality.
While not even the most one-eyed English football fans – not even the dwindling band who cling to the hubristic fantasy that their Premier League is the greatest in the world – would argue with Bertie Auld’s assertion that Hull City, Norwich City, Southampton and Everton “don’t compare to Celtic”, they will surely have been bemused by his assertion that, unless Gary Hooper moves to Manchester United or Liverpool, he will be moving to “a lesser club” than Celtic.
Leaving aside the inevitable howls of indignation from Evertonians, who still consider their club to be bigger than Liverpool in the same way that Man City fans look down on United, Auld’s view of the relative merits of the top English and Scottish football clubs does seem to be at odds with some pretty incontrovertible facts.
Let’s take Celtic’s record in Europe. In the modern era (well, since the start of the Champions League in 1992) the Parkhead club have chalked up four last-16 finishes and three group-stage exits in the 21 years of the competition’s existence.
That’s an impressive record which is on a par with other solidly mid-ranked clubs across Europe such as Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, Galatasaray, Spartak Moscow, Rosenborg, Sparta Prague, PSV Eindhoven, Lyon, Roma, Valencia, Benfica and Bayer Leverkusen.
But Celtic’s fine record pales by comparison to Arsenal and Chelsea. In the last 15 years the two London clubs have collectively amassed seven last-16 finishes, six quarter-finals, five semi-finals, two losing finals and one Champions League trophy.
Arsenal haven’t failed to make it past the group stages for 13 years. And, before anyone is tempted to bang on about the Lisbon Lions of 1967, bear in mind that Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest (twice) have also won the European Cup, so a glorious past doesn’t necessarily mean a glorious present.
And then there’s the issue of support. Even on the basis of average home gates, it’s difficult to see how the two English sides can be dismissed as “lesser clubs”. Arsenal’s average home gate in the season just ended was more than 60,000, Chelsea’s was 41,500, and Celtic’s was 46,917 (which is also less than Newcastle and Manchester City, and will presumably be challenged by West Ham when they move into the 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium).
No one would argue with Auld about Hull City, whose average attendance of 17,368 would be a huge step down for Hooper, even if they get back to their 2009 Premier League average of 24,389, and he’s similarly spot-on about Norwich (average attendance 26,671), Southampton (30,873) and Everton (36,355). But then the views of ex-players like Bertie Auld or of the pundits or fans aren’t the ones that matter. The perspective that counts is that of the player and, as Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale are about to prove, today’s stars are becoming more mercenary and more easily poached than ever before.
So, when Hooper looks at the merits of a career back in his homeland, the one thing he will know about Hull City is the vastly increased size of the pot of gold they can offer.
The average weekly salary at Celtic in 2011 was £20,317 – less than at Everton (£28,210), at Aston Villa (£49,800), at Chelsea (£75,000), Arsenal (£60,000) or even Spurs (£30,000). Indeed, the only Premiership clubs that had a lower average salary than Celtic back in 2011 were Stoke City and West Brom. Even those skinflints will be out of sight of Celtic by the start of the coming EPL campaign. In the season just finished the average Premiership player earned over £1.16m or £23,000 per week (£1.5m after bonuses and endorsements) and, with the stratospheric new television deal struck by the Premiership expected to double player salaries over the next three years, the disparity between the EPL and the SPL will only get more marked. Even Norwich City, Southampton and Everton will be able to offer deals which dwarf those on offer in the East End of Glasgow. God forbid, so too will the fishermen of Hull City.
And, with top footballers increasingly judging their worth by the amount of cash they get paid each week, players such as Hooper – notwithstanding Celtic supporters’ lovebombing and the endless rounds of silverware – will only feel that temptation more keenly.
Commons resting hard on his laurels
It was good to see that, after quitting international football to spend more time with his young family, poor exhausted wee lamb Kris Commons has headed off to Las Vegas to recuperate with his Celtic team-mates (because surely that’s what his hashtag “partytime” would suggest).
It makes you wonder what a trouper like Steven Pressley, who postponed his honeymoon to sit on the bench for Scotland, would make of the player’s decision to call time on the honour of playing for his adopted country after a marathon 12 caps.
‘Farmboys’ are now a real Force to reckon with
JUST how much the rugby world has changed will become clear to the Lions when they land in Perth today.
The 1989 Lions also played there, winning 44-0 as David Sole dismantled the farmboys of Western Australia (aided and abetted by Peter Dods, Scott Hastings, Derek White, Craig Chalmers and skipper Finlay Calder).
The next time the Lions came calling, in 2001, the best of British won by the record margin of 116-10, scoring 18 tries, including one for the tourists’ Lion cub, Simon Taylor, who came off the bench and was the only Scot involved.
With all three Scots in the Lions squad playing in Hong Kong yesterday, there’s likely to be minimal – if any – Scottish involvement this time. But that’s not the only change because Western Australia are no longer likely to play the role of lambs to the slaughter.
Now rechristened the Western Force, the hosts are a Super Rugby province that is led by former Bath coach Michael Foley. Despite a slump after three years of challenging for play-off places in the world’s most punishing rugby competition, last week they beat the Otago Highlanders to add to this season’s scalps of the mighty Queensland Reds and Todd Blackadder’s legendary Canterbury Crusaders. The Force have been consistently competitive and will only lose winger Nick Cummins to the Wallaby squad (no Wallabies will play against the Lions until the Tests). They could well be the hardest provincial side that the Lions face.
Fantastic! Let the games begin...