TWO simple words have thrown a tribal grenade into the midst of Scottish football.

They are not new words but their reappearance in a feature in the Daily Record previewing Celtic’s trip to play the Dutch team Feyenoord in the Champions League has prodded Scottish Football into another one of its ­interminable debates.

Under the banner headline “Let’s Smash the Cash Ceiling” the match preview ­underlined the cash differentials between Celtic and their Dutch opponents, ­implying that a “financial gulf” separated the ­Scottish champions from Feyenoord.

The term “financial gulf” triggers ­resentment among supporters of the ­smaller league sides in Scotland, who ­believe that our domestic media underplay the ­financial gulf that exists in Scotland’s domestic league and only really focus on wealth ­disparities when it impacts negatively on Celtic or Rangers in Europe.

Football fans squabble about money ­relentlessly. It is more persistent a ­subject online than the rancid underbelly of ­sectarianism and like divorce, money, in all its many forms, is at the root cause of tense disputes.

Transfer budgets, spending power, ­annual accounts and the cash ­available from media deals feature ­prominently in forums and I can vouch for the ­vengefulness of cynical football fans.

Last week, my hometown club St ­Johnstone published the worst ­trading ­accounts in the club’s history, a ­demeaning £1.5m loss and a damaging body blow to a much-valued reputation as Scotland’s best-run club.

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Rather than show concern for my ­mental health or even ask what lay ­beneath the poor financial performance, I was ­subjected to a barrage of ­verbal ­putdowns. Ironically a fair volume of sneers came from fans of a club who should be world experts on financial ­failure.

We live in an era where money matters and where football is being transformed out of all recognition. It may well be that we are already through the looking glass. We are where we are and can never return to some imagined heyday when football was pure and untarnished by filthy lucre.

When Celtic last played Feyenoord in the European Cup final of 1970, local ­talent dominated, most of the players were native to communities near ­Glasgow and Rotterdam and a spirit of proud ­localism informed football everywhere.

But the rise of subscription television, the globalisation of the transfer market, the growth of talent agencies, ­burgeoning squad sizes and the escalating cost of even average players have rewritten the rules of the game.

Today it is money much more than ­community that drives the football ­market. Yes, towns, cities and countries still matter, but the sheer scale of the ­football economy means that Barcelona can generate more from visiting tourists than most Scottish football clubs can earn in even their most successful season.

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Change has often been irrational. The tournament that Celtic and ­Feyenoord played in back in 1970 had a ­simple ­concept and was reserved for the ­Champions of European leagues. It is now a heinous construct that allows cash-rich also-rans from Europe’s top leagues to join the fray based on wealth and broadcasting economics, rather than proven success on the field.

Even if you fail on the big stage, you can drop down to another tournament in a never-ending saga of dosh over dignity.

Lurking beneath the surface are ­media deals. Many Scottish football fans ­believe that Scottish domestic football is ­significantly undervalued and that deals with Sky, the now beleaguered ViaPlay and BBC Scotland, do not come close to reflecting true value.

A recent Dutch deal in which TV operators KPN, V­odafoneZiggo, T-Mobile and Delta ­proposed a joint offering of €2 billion for Eredivisie’s broadcasting rights over a 10-year period from 2025-2035, ­outbidding the current rights-holder, the US ­giant ESPN.

None of us have been in the room when deals are struck and nor can we be certain what the major sticking points are, but there is a deep-seated suspicion within Scottish football that we are led by poor negotiators who seem an easy pushover for the big broadcasters.

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I cannot prove this supposition and since the curtain of commercial ­confidentiality is always drawn on ­contracts, we can only surmise. I do remember a conversation with a key negotiator at Sky who told me that the negotiating never came close to a tense poker match. Referring to the old negotiating myth of “the other guy blinked”, he told me that the Scottish negotiating team “blinked in the car park”.

One contract clause that irritates many fans is why Sky is allowed to select games in which Celtic or Rangers always seem to feature. No one is denying Sky’s right to argue for audience maximisation but it’s the role of SPL to argue on behalf of all its member clubs not just the most powerful and not just shrug its shoulders and defer to the broadcaster. Astonishingly, Sky has snubbed the Edinburgh derby, a big fixture in Scottish league football, and given preference to a Celtic game.

Expecting better media deals is a tough ask. Too many precedents have been set and there is no indication that the SPL has the self-confidence to walk away from a bad deal. The only real hope is that new platforms and new streaming ­services allow for a more diverse market and ­greater room for meaningful negotiation.

My biggest regret is not television or Sky specifically. Sky has admirably improved the visual coverage of matches and can make even the dullest game seem fascinating. But I groan at how predictable debates within Scottish football have become and how ill-prepared we are for the future of football.

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Scottish football is not good with change as the shrill sexism that has accompanied women’s football illustrates. We live in a culture of male romance and debilitating retreat, where almost every problem has a solution in the distant past.

Like all fans, I love commemoration and would not want us to forget the great players and famous moments of the past, but the “glory days” can become a prison-house of ideals which can blind us to the need for credible and achievable change in the present. Too often, Scottish ­football defaults to the epic achievements of our clubs and country in 1967. It is not ­commemoration alone but often comes with a catalogue of dated homilies and moribund ideas.

There is a lingering ideal – particularly among older men – that we played ­football in the streets with jackets as goalposts and that improvised kickabouts ­produced greatness. There is the banal ­perception that the school janny was ­better than ­today’s trained coaches. And you ­frequently hear that ball skills were better before computer games, as if interactive entertainment was unique to Scotland, and PC games were banned in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Money has distorted world football and that has been to Scotland’s disadvantage. The influence of the petro-dollar ­economies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are only beginning to crank up, and in the next five years, they will change the face of football yet again.

We can rage about the dark influence of the Sheiks and the inflated power of the ­English Premiership south of the Border, but the genie of big money is out of the bottle, and it can never be forced back in.

Financial gulfs are part of the rock ­formation of world football and the ­distorting power of money is here to stay. Our biggest problem as a passionate ­footballing nation is how to contend with it and how to stay relevant.