“THIS is not a time for soundbites,” said Tony Blair, memorably announcing that sworn enemies in Northern Ireland had reached agreement on Good Friday on 1998. “I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders,” he added.

The former prime minister was it again this week, attempting to capture a headline or two in his own inimitable style with a pithy remark which neatly glossed over the political difficulties of a rather intractable situation.

Apparently having moved on from his role mediating the Middle East crisis, he had no decided to play political football on the subject of how merging the football leagues of England, Scotland and Wales could keep the union together.

“People used to think it was a bit trivial when I used to say we should put the football leagues together,” he said. “It’s just you need to find ways in which people are realising they have a lot in common, as well as space for the diversity of the UK. I’d do a lot more of that.”


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Well, is this trivial? Or could an unlikely alliance with the auld enemy make football the magic social glue capable of keeping Albion together in these times when Brexit and a potential second Scottish independence referendum threaten to tear it asunder? Could UK football be ‘better together?’

There is, of course, a weariness about broaching this topic, one of the hoary old chestnuts of our game.

It is ten years now since Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside floated the idea of bringing Celtic and Rangers into an 18-team ‘Premiership 2’. Go back a decade more and you have former Aberdeen and Everton chief executive Keith Wyness compared Rangers and Celtic to “two old ladies on Sauchiehall Street, lifting their skirts for every league that walks by”.

With the last serious attempt coming and going when an EFL notion to incorporate certain unspecified ‘non-English clubs’ and go to five leagues of 20 under something called the ‘Whole Game Solution’ was booted into touch back in 2016, the EFL insisted yesterday that there were no current discussions about an ever closer union of the UK’s football leagues.

What about Scotland? Well, we might be keener on it than some make on, even if there was nothing to suggest Blair’s old New Labour chum John Reid had given him the idea in the first place. All this is far from trivial for Scotland’s biggest clubs, who can’t exactly be said to be stagnating within Scottish football but would be forgiven if they were jealously eyeing the riches down south. And the notion of ‘cross border competition’ is one that the SPFL have been monitoring for the last few years, with a bit of window dressing being down on the sidelines.


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Inviting Welsh, Northern Irish and English conference sides into the Irn Bru Cup has been part of that process, even if the process can hardly be said to be uniformly positive. When a match with East Fife at Dublin’s Dalymount Park was called off seven minutes before kick-off, Bohemians of the Republic of Ireland pulled out of the competition which former Livingston manager David Hopkin for one has branded ‘beyond silliness’.

Even if the leagues decided to buy into Mr Blair’s logic, any merger would hardly be a simplistic process. As it is the SFA, not the SPFL, which has the Uefa membership, Scotland’s football governing body would have a say on the matter, as would the FA south of the border. It is in the SFA’s power to decide which Scottish sides get put forward for a Champions League place, not the SPFL. Mr Blair may have been getting ahead of himself but politicians have had crazier ideas than this.