Proposals to play Scottish Premiership matches abroad moved a step closer this week when the Chief Executive of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) Neil Doncaster revealed that the league is exploring the idea. The proposals were first mentioned last month when it was revealed that Celtic and Dundee F.C. were exploring the possibility of playing a Scottish Premiership match in the United States. Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland Mr. Doncaster said, “Let’s not have a closed mind to anything. Let’s see how it could be part of an exciting new future for the game.”
The two clubs are expected to present their proposals to the Scottish Football Association in the next few weeks. Both Boston and Philadelphia have been mentioned as potential host cities for such a match. The proposal is likely to face some opposition though from supporters groups with concerns about football ignoring its roots and turning its back on the fans that pay to see their club every week.
Celtic who enjoy a modest following in the United States with estimates putting the number of Bhoys fans in the country at well over a million, a number which they are keen to grow. The Parkhead club is particularly popular with Irish Americans partly due to the club’s historical connection with Ireland and Irish diaspora.
Dundee F.C. on the other hand are relatively unknown outside of Scotland although their Texas based chairman Tim Keyes will be keen to grow support for The Dark Blues and playing matches in the US could be seen as a way to do this.
If playing Scottish football matches abroad proves a success it is thought that the Scottish Professional Football League may look to introduce an international game each season. However with the Celtic and Rangers dominance of Scottish football it’s almost certain that any games abroad would feature at least one of the two Old Firm clubs.
Playing domestic club matches abroad is not a new concept or one unique to football as it is seen as crucial to the globalisation of sport. The National Football League introduced the international series in 2007 where one full NFL match per season is played at Wembley Stadium in London. The NFL international series has been seen as very successful in generating interest of American Football in the United Kingdom and proponents of playing football matches abroad often cite this as an example.
Proposals to do similar things with football have been discussed numerous times by several associations but as of yet no proposal has ever come to fruition. A controversial idea proposed by the English Premier League in 2007 dubbed “Game 39” where each club would play an extra match abroad was abandoned due to significant opposition. Calls for Champions League matches to be played outside Europe have also been rejected by UEFA.
If the current proposals were to be accepted by the SPFL they would likely face opposition from FIFA who so far have been unwilling to allow domestic matches to be played abroad. Sepp Blatter has previously mentioned, “Football cannot be like the Harlem Globetrotters or a circus”. UEFA is also understood to be against playing domestic matches abroad.
The question of domestic European football being played stateside remains to be seen and will likely face opposition. However yesterday’s comments by Neil Doncaster will be seen as a step closer to Scottish Football going international becoming a reality.