The State of Scottish Club Football

May 27, 2019

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Scottish Premiership

Founded: 1890

Most Championships: Rangers, 54

Last 5 Winners: Celtic (18/19, 17/18, 16/17, 15/16, 14/15))

UEFA Ranking: 20th

Highest Ranked Club: Celtic, 47th

Interview with Scottish freelance journalist Graham Ruthven

Since the EL was rebranded, only Rangers from Scotland have made the last 16. How have the last years been viewed by the Scottish football fan in this regard?

Not great. Not great at all. Rangers deserved what they got when they dropped down to the bottom tier of the Scottish football pyramid all those years ago, but the knock-on effect of that on Scotland’s coefficient was pretty disastrous.

Scotland has really suffered from not having a second side in Europe alongside Celtic. It’s only now that a recovery of sorts is being made, but the hole that Scottish football has dug for itself is so big that any side hoping to make the group stages of either the Champions League or the Europa League faces four rounds of qualifiers.

Despite Celtic’s dominance in the league they’ve struggled to make an impact in the Europa League. Why is that and how does that affect the other Scottish sides?

That’s a tricky question to answer. At Champions League level, Scottish clubs like Celtic have been left behind. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone from this country to compete with the elite. At Europa League level, though, we should have more of a chance.

Under Brendan Rodgers, Celtic should have done better in the Europa League. However, Europe has always been Rodgers’ weakness as a coach. He is not pragmatic enough, too principled. With the right manager, Celtic could make a deep run in the Europa League. The biggest impact of Celtic’s European struggles have been on the coefficient, but they would argue they’re the only ones keeping it alive.

What would be seen as a successful year in Europe for Scottish fans?

This year was fairly successful, with Rangers making the group stages of the Europa League and Celtic making the round of 32 of the same competition. The best Scotland can hope for right now is for Celtic to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League before dropping into the Europa League after Christmas, for a second team (most likely Rangers) to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League and for a third team (an Aberdeen or Hibernian) to come close to qualifying. Anything more than that would be unrealistic.

Do most of the country get behind the Scottish sides playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?

No. Scottish football is exceptionally tribal. There will, of course, be some exceptions to the rule, fans who support their rivals when they are in European competition, but that’s rare. In fact, I’d go as far as to say Scottish football fans generally want their rivals to fail in Europe, such is the nature of the game north of the border.

How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Scottish EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Scotland?

It could be disastrous for Scottish football. There has been a sense of panic about Europa League 2 since its announcement. In theory, it would send Scottish clubs, at least those believe the top two, into the third tier of European competition. In practice, this might actually be a good thing for Scottish clubs as it could see teams like Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibernian etc go further in continental competition, but the worry comes from the trajectory of the last decade or so. Where will the line be drawn? The establishment of a third tier competition could eventually see all Scottish teams end up there.

What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?

Sort out the qualification process. Far too much power is handed to the big leagues, with England, Germany, Italy and Spain all granted four guaranteed places. This means clubs like Celtic, still one of the biggest in the sport, face four rounds of qualifiers. The power balance is weighted too far in favour of the elite. Re-address that and many of the issues will disappear.

Interview with Scottish freelance journalist Graham Ruthven

Find all your Champions League betting odds here

A Europa League infographic

Author: Tom Mortimer

Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer,, among many others.

Twitter @TMortimerFtbl

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