Scottish League Champions Without the Old Firm

NOTE: This article has been updated on the 22nd of May 2017 to include the results of the 2016/17 season.

Yet again, the fight for the title in Scotland is non-existent, as Celtic coast to another championship without any real challenge in the absence of Rangers.  Even when Rangers were in contention, there hasn’t been any serious third-party contender since Aberdeen in the 80s.

However, beneath the Old Firm duo in the table, there is always a much more exciting battle being fought for 3rd place, or now for 2nd.  Over the last fifteen years, 5 different teams have been second only to the Glasgow giants (or better than one in the case of Hearts in 2005/06).  The top division of Scottish football would be more exciting without the domination of these two clubs.

I decided to go through all league championships and compile a list of who would be Scotland’s most successful clubs, if you were to remove the Old Firm from the equation (including points earned against them) to show how much more dynamic the league title battle could have been.

My methodology was to go back through the league tables and remove results against both Celtic and Rangers from the teams at the top to see who was the best “other” team that season.  In 39 seasons removing results against Old Firm teams changed the order of the top teams, so the actual runner-up or winner of the league might not be the winner without the Old Firm clubs.  The results also take into account that before 1921/22, teams level on points shared the position, resulting in shared titles.  Between then and 1971/72 goal average was used to separate teams, and from then on goal difference is used.  3 points for a win was introduced for the 1994/95 season.

At the moment, there have only been 11 champions of Scotland in 120 seasons.  This is because the Old Firm have won 102 between them (Rangers 54, Celtic 48).  Without the Old Firm, there would be a total of 19 champions.  For comparison, England has had 24 champions in its’ footballing history.

In only 5 seasons have both the Old Firm clubs finished outside the top two sides, and in only 1 have neither finished in the top three (in 1964-65 when Rangers finished 5th and Celtic 8th).  So removing them from contention changes the history of the game in Scotland significantly.

Here is the current table of teams that have won or been runners-up in the top division in Scotland:

Winners Runners-up
Rangers 54 30
Celtic 48 31
Aberdeen 4 16
Heart of Midlothian 4 14
Hibernian 4 6
Dumbarton 2 0
Motherwell 1 7
Kilmarnock 1 4
Dundee 1 4
Dundee United 1 0
Third Lanark 1 0
Airdrieonians 0 4
Falkirk 0 2
Morton 0 1

Note: includes shared title between Dumbarton & Rangers

Without the Old Firm, and the actual order of the all-time winners table changes only slightly at the top.  Hearts would still be the most successful non-OF side in the country (a seldom highlighted fact, even in their current turmoil), with Aberdeen and Hibs swapping places.  Motherwell would win a total of 13 titles, which is 12 more than they’ve actually won.  Kilmarnock would have won 6 more titles; Dundee United would go up to 6 titles from 1, but would also come 2nd in the league 13 further times, which they have never achieved with the Old Firm in the mix.  Morton would have won the league 5 times, Airdrie 4 times and Partick Thistle 3 times, something which they have not once managed.  Falkirk, St. Mirren, Clyde, Dunfermline, St. Bernard’s, Livingston and Raith Rovers would all have titles to their name that they don’t at the moment.  Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that 8 teams would have won 5 or more titles, what could be considered a reasonable benchmark of historical success, whereas only Celtic and Rangers have managed this feat for now.

Here’s the table of winners and runners-up as it would be without the Old-Firm:

Winners Runners-up
Heart of Midlothian 26 24
Aberdeen 22 16
Hibernian 20 11
Motherwell 13 6
Kilmarnock 7 5
Dundee United 6 13
Dundee 5 5
Morton 5 3
Airdrieonians 4 4
Partick Thistle 3 5
Falkirk 2 3
St. Mirren 2 3
Clyde 2 2
Third Lanark 2 2
Dumbarton 2 0
Dunfermline Athletic 1 4
St. Bernard’s 1 1
Livingston 1 0
Raith Rovers 1 0
St. Johnstone 0 4
East Fife 0 2
Ayr United 0 1
Cambuslang 0 1
Inverness CT 0 2
Queen of the South 0 1
Hamilton Accies 0 0

Note: includes shared titles between Hearts/St. Bernard’s, Hearts/St. Mirren, Clyde/Partick Thistle, Kilmarnock/Morton & Dundee/Hearts and shared runners-up positions between Dundee/Hearts, Hibs/Partick Thistle, Hearts/Hibs

Other interesting feats that would be accomplished include an 8-in-a-row for Motherwell between 1926 and 1934, Hibs winning a 4-in-a-row twice (1949-53 & 1972-76) and Airdrie (1922-25), Hearts (1956-59), Kilmarnock (1966-69), Aberdeen (1979-82 & 2014-17), Motherwell (2011-14) all achieving 3-in-a-rows.  With the Old Firm teams in contention, only three other teams – Dumbarton (1890-92), Hibs (1950-52) and Aberdeen (1983-85) have won two titles in a row.  Livingston would have won the league in their first ever season in the Premier League in 2001-02.

Here is a full summary of league titles in Scotland, including the non-Old Firm winner and runner-up and the actual winner and runner-up:

Season Non-OF Winner Non-OF Runner-Up Actual Winner Actual Runner-Up
1890-91 Dumbarton Cambuslang Dumbarton/Rangers
1891-92 Dumbarton Hearts Dumbarton Celtic
1892-93 St. Mirren Third Lanark Celtic Rangers
1893-94 Hearts/St. Bernard’s Celtic Hearts
1894-95 Hearts St. Bernard’s Hearts Celtic
1895-96 Hibernian Hearts Celtic Rangers
1896-97 Hearts Hibernian Hearts Hibernian
1897-98 Hibernian Hearts Celtic Rangers
1898-99 Hearts Hibernian Rangers Hearts
1899-1900 Hibernian Hearts Rangers Celtic
1900-01 Hibernian Morton Rangers Celtic
1901-02 Hearts/St. Mirren Rangers Celtic
1902-03 Hibernian Dundee/Hearts Hibernian Dundee
1903-04 Third Lanark Hearts Third Lanark Hearts
1904-05 Third Lanark Hibs/Partick Thistle Celtic Rangers
1905-06 Hearts Airdrieonians Celtic Hearts
1906-07 Dundee Airdrieonians Celtic Dundee
1907-08 Falkirk Dundee Celtic Falkirk
1908-09 Dundee Clyde Celtic Dundee
1909-10 Falkirk Aberdeen Celtic Falkirk
1910-11 Aberdeen Partick Thistle Rangers Aberdeen
1911-12 Clyde/Partick Thistle Rangers Celtic
1912-13 Airdrieonians Hearts/Hibs Rangers Celtic
1913-14 Morton Hearts Celtic Rangers
1914-15 Hearts Morton Celtic Hearts
1915-16 Morton Ayr United Celtic Rangers
1916-17 Morton Airdrieonians Celtic Morton
1917-18 Kilmarnock/Morton Rangers Celtic
1918-19 Morton Partick Thistle Celtic Rangers
1919-20 Motherwell Dundee Rangers Celtic
1920-21 Dundee/Hearts Rangers Celtic
1921-22 Raith Rovers Dundee Celtic Rangers
1922-23 Airdrieonians Falkirk Rangers Airdrieonians
1923-24 Airdrieonians Hibernian Rangers Airdrieonians
1924-25 Airdrieonians Hibernian Rangers Airdrieonians
1925-26 Hearts St. Mirren Celtic Airdrieonians
1926-27 Motherwell Airdrieonians Rangers Motherwell
1927-28 Motherwell Hearts Rangers Celtic
1928-29 Motherwell Hearts Rangers Celtic
1929-30 Motherwell Aberdeen Rangers Motherwell
1930-31 Motherwell Partick Thistle Rangers Celtic
1931-32 Motherwell St. Mirren Motherwell Rangers
1932-33 Motherwell Hearts Rangers Motherwell
1933-34 Motherwell Aberdeen Rangers Motherwell
1934-35 Hearts St. Johnstone Rangers Celtic
1935-36 Aberdeen Motherwell Celtic Rangers
1936-37 Aberdeen Motherwell Rangers Aberdeen
1937-38 Hearts Falkirk Celtic Hearts
1938-39 Hearts Queen of the South Rangers Celtic
1946-47 Hibernian Aberdeen Rangers Hibernian
1947-48 Hibernian Partick Thistle Hibernian Rangers
1948-49 Dundee Hibernian Rangers Dundee
1949-50 Hibernian Hearts Rangers Hibernian
1950-51 Hibernian Hearts Hibernian Rangers
1951-52 Hibernian East Fife Hibernian Rangers
1952-53 Hibernian East Fife Rangers Hibernian
1953-54 Partick Thistle Hearts Celtic Hearts
1954-55 Aberdeen Hearts Aberdeen Celtic
1955-56 Hibernian Aberdeen Rangers Aberdeen
1956-57 Hearts Aberdeen Rangers Hearts
1957-58 Hearts Clyde Hearts Rangers
1958-59 Hearts Motherwell Rangers Hearts
1959-60 Kilmarnock Hearts Hearts Kilmarnock
1960-61 Kilmarnock Third Lanark Rangers Kilmarnock
1961-62 Dundee Dunfermline Athletic Dundee Rangers
1962-63 Partick Thistle Kilmarnock Rangers Kilmarnock
1963-64 Kilmarnock Dundee Rangers Kilmarnock
1964-65 Kilmarnock Hearts Kilmarnock Hearts
1965-66 Kilmarnock Dunfermline Athletic Celtic Rangers
1966-67 Clyde Hibernian Celtic Rangers
1967-68 Hibernian Dunfermline Athletic Celtic Rangers
1968-69 Dunfermline Athletic Kilmarnock Celtic Rangers
1969-70 Hibernian Dundee United Celtic Rangers
1970-71 Aberdeen St. Johnstone Celtic Aberdeen
1971-72 Aberdeen Hibernian Celtic Aberdeen
1972-73 Hibernian Aberdeen Celtic Rangers
1973-74 Hibernian Aberdeen Celtic Hibernian
1974-75 Hibernian Dundee United Rangers Hibernian
1975-76 Hibernian Motherwell Rangers Celtic
1976-77 Dundee United Aberdeen Celtic Rangers
1977-78 Aberdeen Dundee United Rangers Aberdeen
1978-79 Dundee United St. Mirren Celtic Rangers
1979-80 Aberdeen Morton Aberdeen Celtic
1980-81 Aberdeen Dundee United Celtic Aberdeen
1981-82 Aberdeen Dundee United Celtic Aberdeen
1982-83 Dundee United Aberdeen Dundee United Celtic
1983-84 Aberdeen Dundee United Aberdeen Celtic
1984-85 Aberdeen Dundee United Aberdeen Celtic
1985-86 Hearts Dundee United Celtic Hearts
1986-87 Dundee United Hearts Rangers Celtic
1987-88 Hearts Aberdeen Celtic Hearts
1988-89 Aberdeen Dundee United Rangers Aberdeen
1989-90 Hearts Aberdeen Rangers Aberdeen
1990-91 Aberdeen Hearts Rangers Aberdeen
1991-92 Hearts Dundee United Rangers Hearts
1992-93 Aberdeen Dundee United Rangers Aberdeen
1993-94 Aberdeen Motherwell Rangers Aberdeen
1994-95 Hibernian Falkirk Rangers Motherwell
1995-96 Aberdeen Hearts Rangers Celtic
1996-97 Dundee United Hearts Rangers Celtic
1997-98 Hearts Kilmarnock Celtic Rangers
1998-99 Kilmarnock St. Johnstone Rangers Celtic
1999-2000 Hearts Motherwell Rangers Celtic
2000-01 Hibernian Hearts Celtic Rangers
2001-02 Livingston Aberdeen Celtic Rangers
2002-03 Hearts Kilmarnock Rangers Celtic
2003-04 Hearts Dunfermline Athletic Celtic Rangers
2004-05 Aberdeen Hibernian Rangers Celtic
2005-06 Hearts Kilmarnock Celtic Hearts
2006-07 Aberdeen Hearts Celtic Rangers
2007-08 Motherwell Aberdeen Celtic Rangers
2008-09 Hearts Aberdeen Rangers Celtic
2009-10 Dundee United Hibernian Rangers Celtic
2010-11 Hearts Dundee United Rangers Celtic
2011-12 Motherwell Dundee United Celtic Rangers
2012-13 Motherwell Inverness CT Celtic Motherwell
2013-14 Motherwell Aberdeen Celtic Motherwell
2014-15 Aberdeen Inverness CT Celtic Aberdeen
2015-16 Aberdeen Hearts Celtic Aberdeen
2016-17 Aberdeen St Johnstone Celtic Aberdeen

Note: No Championship held between 1939 & 1946 owing to World War II

With the much discussed topic of Celtic and Rangers moving into other competitions, like competing in the English league system, dead in the water for several different reasons – it is only a hypothetical question as to how exciting Scotland’s top football league would be without the two. But I think looking at the history books would show that for neutral and non-Old Firm fans that a top division without Celtic and Rangers would be far more exciting than with them.

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