x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Glasgow's grasp on Scottish league still firm

Rangers are dominant this season even as Celtic, their neighbours, have struggled, and The Hoops will need to beat Motherwell for second place.

Celtic, in green and white, have struggled all season, yet it is unlikely that the Glasgow giants will finish outside the top two in Scottish football for the first time in a decade and a half.
Celtic, in green and white, have struggled all season, yet it is unlikely that the Glasgow giants will finish outside the top two in Scottish football for the first time in a decade and a half.

It has been 26 years. Only the UK monarch seems more stubborn when it comes to giving up a crown.

Scottish football fans need to go all the way back to the 1984/85 season, when Aberdeen were champions, to recall when the country's Premier League trophy last left the grasp of a team other than the Glasgow behemoths Rangers or Celtic.

In fact, on only four occasions since the inception of the Premier League in 1975 has a team other than one of the two giants won the title.

In fact, only once have the pair been separated from the top two spots in the past decade and a half.

Motherwell have Neil Lennon's Celtic worried this term, especially after Celtic failed to break down a lackluster Hibernian on Saturday.

The Lanarkshire side are located just outside Glasgow and, probably temporarily, split the Old Firm in second. But even this will be regarded as a blip as, for the foreseeable future, the title trophy will remain in the heart of Glasgow.

Next up for Celtic, on Sunday, are that very club one spot above them, and alarm bells will be ringing at Parkhead if anything less than three points are collected.

The Hoops are now 12 points adrift of Rangers and three of Motherwell, albeit with a game in hand, but it already looks like their old rivals will walk away with their fourth title in a row.

Joe Ledley, the Celtic midfielder, this week said the club need to win every match if they are to stop Rangers from running away with the title, such is their dominance.

"We need to buck up as I don't think we can afford to drop any more points before the end of the season," he said.

But for the past two decades-plus, either Rangers or Celtic have taken home the flag, and their "rivals" seem to be doing nothing but tumble into decline.

Aberdeen, the most-recent Scottish European conquerors, in 1983, with victory over Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup, have flirted with relegation on numerous occasions, including one year when they finished bottom but stayed up on a Falkirk stadium technicality.

Dundee United, famously defeated, by Goteborg, in an unlikely trek to the 1987 Uefa Cup final - ousting Barcelona on the way - were relegated in a "New Firm" derby in 1995, to decide which of the two north-east clubs went down.

Hibernian and Hearts, the Edinburgh clubs, are still in some eyes the biggest threat to the Glasgow stranglehold. But they last won the title in 1952 and 1960, respectively.

Motherwell may be splitting Rangers and Celtic, and if they can keep up this form, they deserve to. However, with points guaranteed to be dropped between second and third as Rangers take on United on Saturday, the crown will remain in Glasgow for yet another season, and for every season to come in the near and, possibly distant, future.

As for the also-rans, dwindling crowds, the Old Firm's ability to pilfer the cream of their talent and a serious lack of funding or investment means the only thing worth fighting for in the league will be third place.

msmith@thenational.ae