Return of Old Firm derby ‘massive for Scottish football’

Celtic and Rangers will play on League duty for the first time since 2012. Picture: John Devlin
Celtic and Rangers will play on League duty for the first time since 2012. Picture: John Devlin
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Scottish Professional Football League chief Neil Doncaster believes the world is about to sit up and take notice of the Ladbrokes Premiership once more as Celtic and Rangers prepare to resume hostilities.

The Ibrox club will make their top-flight return when they raise the curtain on the new campaign at home to Hamilton on Saturday.

They are then due to travel across Glasgow to face their old rivals at Celtic Park on September 10 as the Old Firm derby makes its league comeback after a four-year hiatus.

And Doncaster believes the additions of big names such as new Hoops boss Brendan Rodgers - whose side kick-off their campaign at Hearts on Sunday - and Gers’ summer signing Joey Barton will only spread the appeal of Scotland’s show-piece competition around the globe.

The SPFL chief executive told Sky Sports News: “I think there’s a huge sense of anticipation and excitement looking ahead to the opening round of the Ladbrokes Premiership this weekend.

“I think there’s a lot to look forward to. There’s clearly the return of real box office with the likes of Brendan Rodgers at Celtic and Joey Barton at Rangers.

“So I think there will be a lot of people tuning in around the world, not just the UK. We’ve got over 100 countries now taking the rights to our games all around the world looking forward to the season ahead.

“It’s massive having [the Old Firm derby back on the schedule]. It’s the one game which perhaps defines the Ladbrokes Premiership around the world. You’ve also got the likes of Aberdeen and Hearts, who have run Celtic close in recent seasons.

“We’re certainly expecting a real tussle at the top this year.

“We’ve had an increase in attendances over the last year looking forward to the return of the Old Firm and I’m absolutely sure that attendances and viewer numbers this year will be huge with so much to play for.”

Dundee have come up with their own plans to cash in on the worldwide reach of the Celtic fanbase after announcing their intention to stage a Premiership fixture with the Parkhead outfit in the United States.

Doncaster says he is still waiting for that application to be filed but would be happy to discuss the proposals.

“It’s really for any club that wants to take a game overseas to come to us with that application,” he said. “We haven’t yet had that application but we do think it is important we do have an open mind to anything that is innovative, anything that promotes the game around the world.

“The idea of a league game overseas is certainly an exciting one and one we’d have to look at with an open mind.”

However, the performances of Scottish clubs in Europe remains a concern for the league chief.

Hearts and Hibernian have already crashed out of this term’s Europa League qualifiers, leaving Celtic and Aberdeen as the nation’s only remaining European entrants.

The Hoops grabbed a vital away goal against FC Astana in last week’s Champions League third qualifying round first leg in Kazakhstan and will look to finish the job when they stage the Glasgow return on Wednesday.

Derek McInnes’ Dons, meanwhile, must score against Maribor when they travel to Slovenia on Thursday if they are to have any hope of reaching the Europa League play-offs following a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie.

But Doncaster believes the return of a winter break in this year’s top-flight calendar could pave the way to better fortunes abroad for Scotland’s top sides.

“It’s something a lot of people wanted to see,” he explained. “The weather in Scotland is not at it’s best in January and there is a view that with so much fixture congestion around the players need a break.

“So to be able to give them two weekends off in January to prepare for the second half of the season will help both supporters and players.

“The European co-efficient is really important and we’ve got Aberdeen and Celtic to take forward our hopes of European qualification this year, so hopefully the winter break can help that too.”

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