WELSH PREMIER FOOTBALL

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Latham ParkThe Scottish Sun's Roger Hannah fears the loss of the 'Old Firm' could leave the SPL like the Welsh Premier League.

JOHN HARTSON likes a pint. He's a man after my own heart in that respect.
Trouble is, the big fella's struggled to get time for a beer on a Friday night.
He's been too busy working. Covering Welsh Premier League matches for local channel S4C.
Big games like Llanelli v Afan Lido or Bangor v Bala Town.
League leaders The New Saints attracted 217 fans for last week's clash with Neath at The Gnoll.
Airbus UK's tricky trip to Port Talbot wasn't so well attended. Just 151 fans turned up.
There were probably bigger crowds in some of Big Bad John's favourite Swansea hostelries as the weekend kicked off.
Now, before The Celtic Dragon turns his fire on me, I promise I'm not having a pop at Welsh football.
After all, John's beloved Swansea City are making it big in the English Premier League.
They're playing to packed houses at the Liberty Stadium and have soared into the top half.
Brendan Rodgers' side have rightly been hailed for the verve and flamboyance of their football.
In the Welsh capital, Cardiff City have enjoyed a fine season under Malky Mackay.
They lost the Carling Cup Final in an agonising penalty shootout.
They boast an array of Scotland stars such as Don Cowie, David Marshall and Craig Conway.
The Bluebirds even pinched Kenny Miller from under Rangers' noses and are in the promotion shake up.
The Welsh national team have also soared up the FIFA rankings as young stars like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have blossomed.
Chris Coleman's side are sure to cause problems for Scotland when the World Cup qualifiers start.
So before big John bets me a pint who'll reach Brazil 2014, I have to reassure him there's nothing wrong with Welsh football.
It's just the Welsh LEAGUE that's rubbish.
Sparse crowds, wafer-thin budgets, one of the lowest coefficients known to UEFA and fewer big names than the local railway network.
Makes you wonder why they ever let go of their two biggest clubs...
Yet isn't that what Scotland's Gang of Ten are risking right now?
Alienating Celtic and Rangers. Pushing them into a conflict which could end in a damaging split.
And quicker than anyone can say Llanfairpwllgwyngllgogerychwyrdrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, what began as a petty squabble over voting rights and cash distribution is threatening to turn ugly.
On one side, the Old Firm — even with Rangers badly wounded and weakened — believe they're strong enough to fight off an assault.
Celts feel they've been disrespected by clubs they've tried to help out in the past.
Gers believe the Gang of Ten are guilty of blatant opportunism while they fight for their very survival.
For their part, the non-Old Firm clubs insist democracy must prevail.
So much of the latest feud to dominate Scottish football depends on your definition of democracy.
Is it ten clubs versus two or a few thousand fans against the might of the Old Firm's hundreds of thousands of supporters?
Dunfermline brought just 79 fans to Celtic Park last month.
Big John's scored more goals for Celts than Pars had fans.
For me, it's a bit like Navid from Still Game moaning that Tesco shouldn't be allowed to make such high profits just because it lures more customers through its tills. But it's worth pondering for a moment what the Scottish league might look like if the Old Firm were ever sent into exile or England.
Of course, Aberdeen will always have a greater fanbase than Airbus UK or Afan Lido. The New Saints don't have the tradition of St Mirren or St Johnstone.
But spare me the clap-trap that Scottish football would be re-energised if the Old Firm no longer held their stranglehold. For a start, there would be more chance of S4C brokering a broadcast deal with Neil Doncaster than Sky.
Income streams would dry to a trickle with marketing, sponsorship, merchandising and overseas broadcasting deals shrinking dramatically.
With almost every member of the Gang of Ten already mired in debt, budgets would have to be slashed and players cut adrift.
The standard of play would fall, our brightest stars would be picked off even quicker than they are now and Euro campaigns would be limited to little more than Battles of Britain against Llanelli.
Yes, the SPL might be more competitive with the Old Firm gone. But the Welsh Premier has had four different winners in the past four seasons and it still draws crowds like a village fete.
Whether you like it or not, Scottish football is in the unique position of having two massive institutions towering over it.
They grab most of the headlines, win most of the trophies, attract most of the good players. And, yes, they earn most of the money.
It's time the Gang of Ten woke up and smelled the daffodils. Before our game goes to Holyhead in a handcart.
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29 June 2017

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