is good for Scottish football
Thursday was the kind of day Celtic Football Club spend 11 months of the year…
Unless you’ve been living deep inside a cave recently, you would have undoubtedly noticed that BBC Scotland’s Tom English recently enjoyed a long, thorough interview with Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, in which a number of interesting topics were discussed.
The national broadcaster, perhaps a little bizarrely, opted to drip this interview in the form of three or four news articles, whilst splitting the audio clip in two and running each half on Sportsound a full week apart (Why the full thing wasn’t filmed and then put online in full is beyond me, but each to their own.).
The main talking points from the interview naturally revolved around the topics of the day. The first half of the interview struck at the heart of the current fiasco inside Hampden, with Lawwell “urging” a shake-up of the Scottish FA while bridges are urgently built between the governing body and the SPFL. A week later, ahead of Celtic’s Europa League clash with Zenit St Petersburg, Lawwell was back predicting the expansion of Europe’s second-tier competition and how such a format could benefit all of Scottish football.
The Scottish media took their cues from the extensive chat and applied the relevant quotes to the areas in which their readership are most intrigued by. As is their job to do so. Yet nobody seems to have drawn a conclusion from the wider, encompassing conversation as a whole. That not only did Lawwell spend the best part of an hour talking to the BBC about Scottish football but he did so with the indirect suggestion that he and his club have no intention of leaving it anytime soon.
The main giveaway was the manner in which Lawwell discussed the future of European football. As a member of the European Club Association (ECA) executive board, Lawwell is privy to what UEFA have planned for the Champions League and Europa League competitions in years to come and as such is able to plan Celtic’s strategies to fit in line with that. In discussion with the BBC, the Celtic boss let on to what was coming down the line.
“There is a thought that we should be expanding the Europa League, that European football takes a bigger chunk of the calendar and your domestic [game] becomes smaller,” Lawwell said. “You have to have more games in Europe. We should be looking to export Scottish football to a European competition – that’s where the money and the interest and the competition is.”
Although many speculated that UEFA may have once looked to form a pan-continental league that took the place of smaller, domestic divisions such as that of the Scottish Premiership and its equivalents in Holland, Belgium, Sweden, etc. – which would have meant Celtic (and Rangers) left Scottish football to join a European league – Lawwell instead hinted that a more realistic concept would simply be the expansion of the Europa League to include more clubs and more games within the structure of European competition.
Indeed, it was telling that instead of speculating on Celtic’s proposed riches from being involved in more European games or being offered a step-up to catch their counterparts in England, Spain or Germany, Lawwell instead opted to highlight the benefit of “bringing in new money” to the Scottish game through “more access to Scottish clubs.”
This wasn’t the old Celtic chief executive of even just one year ago, spending his evening at the club’s AGM muttering and complaining about Premier League riches. This was a new tone from Lawwell that sounded almost hopeful of thriving within a future that saw Scottish football grow and expand.
Where Lawwell could have taken a swing at his cross-city rivals, or his club’s seemingly unrivalled trot to ten, consecutive league titles, he instead opted to point out that under these restructured competitions clubs like Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs could be making an extra €10 million a season and the “GDP” of Scottish football would skyrocket. When English attempted to suggest more money meant greater resources applied to challenging Celtic, Lawwell seemed to encourage the idea. Like a born-again football fan, the Celtic boss was now not only entertaining the thought but wholeheartedly welcoming the concept of competition for the greater good of Scottish football.
Another factor that may have changed Lawwell and Celtic’s outlook on life within the SPFL bubble is the simple fact that things are pretty damn, sweet for the Scottish champions at the moment.
With the current Champions League format looking to stay as it is for at least the next six years – i.e the “champions route” ensuring at least one spot for the Premiership – Celtic find themselves in the enviable position of having a comfortable shot of reaching the group stages each and every season. And that means a lot of money.
The club announced in their interim results for the six months to December 2017 that revenue had increased 16.8% to £71.5 million, while profits from trading also rose to £23.7 million. And a large chunk of that will have undoubtedly come from the club’s continued participation in European competition under Brendan Rodgers. When asked about the recent results, Lawwell stated that the club’s finances were “probably the strongest it’s ever been in the club’s history.”
Where Celtic’s insecurities, in light of what was happening south of the border, may have once got the better of them in the past and allowed the club to warn fans of its limitations within the current system, Lawwell now suggests that they’re “well-resourced.” Celtic are no longer a big fish in a diminishing pond. Now, they “have a solid base that allows us to take on the challenges that football presents.”
Of course, this could all be a ruse thought up by the cunning mind of Scottish football’s most successful and comfortable leader. Celtic may still have clear intentions of leaving the SPFL one day and if they go the rest of us may just have to accept that. But if it isn’t just PR spin, or indeed the sceptical actions of the Celtic chief, then it suggests something that we ought to encourage: that Scotland’s biggest club no longer wants to leave and that it foresees a bright future for our domestic game.