Celtic v Rangers in Australia - financial rewards, growing the brand, so why are so many fans against it?

When news broke earlier this week that Celtic and Rangers would be travelling to Australia later this year to play in a friendly it didn’t go down well with many across both supports.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that the Glasgow giants would be heading down under to compete in the Sydney Super Cup, a four-team tournament which includes A-League duo Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.

The date for the diaries, whether to watch or avoid, is November 20 when the Old Firm meet for their first ever international fixture in the 83,500 capacity Accor Stadium.

So what are the arguments for this mid-season tournament when the Premiership has taken a break for the World Cup? And what are those against?

Celtic fans unfurled a banner against a proposed Old Firm friendly in Australia. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Pros

Financial rewards

Going half way across the world will see the teams well remunerated. It is commercially beneficial, something Rangers commercial director James Bisgrove admitted.

"The participation in this event over eight days will benefit the club to the same level as an entire season in the SPFL Premiership for two friendly games,” he said.

Rangers commercial director James Bisgrove. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Rangers really hammered home the financial element, explaining this tournament will aid as part of their “recovery phase”.

The specifics around the deal are not clear but Celtic and Rangers wouldn’t be travelling thousands of miles if they weren’t getting a significant income for it.

Promoting the league / rivalry

While many non-Old Firm fans will roll their eyes at the idea it promotes the league, it could be seen as broadening the horizons of Scottish football and taking the game to new markets.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

There has been a lot made, for a number of years, of selling the game abroad. This may be an opportunity to do it using the two most well-known clubs from the country, featuring a match which attracts plenty of interest and intrigue.

Taking that rivalry onto the world stage could elevate it further. Likely something that won’t be welcomed by fans of teams not called Celtic and Rangers.

But there will be the view of ‘what’s the harm’. The teams are using what is effectively their winter break to play a harmless match at what will likely be a packed out crowd of more than 80,000. That can only be good for Scottish football, can’t it?

An opportunity for fans down under

Both clubs, on announcing the tournament, albeit at different times, made reference to the support they have in Australia. Celtic said they have a “strong” fanbase, while they have Ange Postecoglou, a hugely popular figure having managed the country’s national team and in the A-League.

Rangers, in their statement, said they had “an estimated three million supporters globally” with supporters groups in Australia.

This game and this tournament allows them to engage with those supporters more meaningfully.

Cons

Travel during the season

There is a five-week break for the Premiership while the World Cup is taking place. As part of that, clubs will likely be jetting around Europe for warm weather mid-season training camps. Australia is a long way to go during a season for two games.

Look at Celtic and Rangers this campaign. The win over St Mirren was Celtic’s 49th and Rangers’ trip to St Johnstone on Wednesday was their 46th. There is every chance by the end of the season they will have both hit the 60-game mark.

With the teams doing well in Europe and playing after Christmas it is a lot of games. A lot of strain. You could argue a trip to Australia won’t be the most sensible from a physical point of view, albeit there could be a number of first-team stars at the World Cup.

Fan disgruntlement

The biggest downside of this tournament could be witnessed in the fervent reaction from both sets of supporters. Rangers fans at McDiarmid Park and Celtic fans at Parkhead unfurled banners criticising the decision by their respective clubs.

Starting with Celtic. In their announcement they made no mention of Rangers. It wasn’t all that long ago – March 2021 – that the club put out a statement saying “We're not half of anything” following a letter from the Ibrox club to the Scottish Government where the “other half of the Old Firm” was referenced.

The club’s supporters don't like the term ‘Old Firm’ following Rangers’ liquidation in 2012, referring to the rivalry as the ‘Glasgow derby’.

Yet, Celtic renewed their trademark on the term ‘Old Firm’ and ‘The Old Firm’ a year ago.

The involvement in this tournament alongside Rangers is almost an extension of that and doesn’t sit well with supporters one bit who want to distance themselves from their rivals.

The Ibrox supporters have equally strong feelings. No fan wants to see their club have anything approaching a cosy relationship with their direct rivals.

In addition, how the tournament has been presented, as ‘Ange's Homecoming’ and the ‘Angeball world tour’ surely annoys Rangers and their fans. They are like an afterthought. If it was a poster for a music festival they’d be in small letters with Celtic in big, bold letters leading the bill. That’s the perception of it.

The club didn’t do itself any favours with their communication or lack thereof. The tournament had been confirmed in Australia and announced by Celtic before Rangers spoke to their fans.

Celtic and Rangers want to be seen as two separate entities. Not grouped together, such as ‘The Old Firm’. But this tournament strengthens the view that many fans outwith the Glasgow giants hold, that they are very, very closely aligned.

"To be frank it’s a sizeable benefit for the club from a commercial perspective,” Bisgrove said.

The fan reaction should send a message to the hierarchy at both Celtic and Rangers. Some things are more important than money and strengthening the brand.

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