How Celtic's Peter Lawwell helped save football from Super League - and the growing influence of Rangers at Europe's top table

Scottish football can feel far removed from the inner sanctums where the strategic planning happens at the top end across the continent.

Yet, European Club Association chief executive Charlie Marshall believes that would be an erroneous reading of the country’s “quite dramatic” growing influence in legislative circles. The ECA, boasting 330-members, is an independent body set up 15 years ago that liaises with UEFA and FIFA to “safeguard, strengthen and develop European clubs’ interests… in international football affairs” and held their latest consultative meeting at Loch Lomond last month. Within it, Marshall points to the fact that Celtic’s chairman Peter Lawwell proved a central figure in saving the game from the destruction that would have been wrought had the European Super League proposed in April 2021 made it off the ground. Marshall also believes that the “rebirth” of Rangers as a footballing force, courtesy of their Europa Cup final appearance last year they followed up with reaching the Champions League group stages, can also afford the Ibrox side the opportunity to develop a stronger voice in shaping the game across borders.

Lawwell is one of those figures whose opinions are being heard. A man Marshall maintains possesses such clout that others ‘gravitate” to him - never more vital than when a select group of elite European clubs attempted a naked financial power grab by establishing a breakaway set-up. Lawwell proved at the forefront as the ECA formulated their implaccable opposition - shared en masse by the footballing community - to help ensure it was snuffed out.

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“You can have all the points and statistics you like, but do you have individuals that are able to operate well at that level, who are constructive and well respected – and can see the bigger picture rather than just their own club? Peter Lawwell is absolutely one of those people,” said Marshall. “He’s been a mainstay of the ECA board. Now he’s becoming even more senior. He’s not just respected within the ECA, but also within UEFA and FIFA, the stakeholders we need to work with, because he has that constructive approach. It’s all good for Scottish football.

Celtic chairman Peter Lawwell (left) with newly-appointed manager Brendan Rodgers. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)Celtic chairman Peter Lawwell (left) with newly-appointed manager Brendan Rodgers. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Celtic chairman Peter Lawwell (left) with newly-appointed manager Brendan Rodgers. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

“The Super League situation showed what the ECA stands for. When that initiative, debacle… coup, whatever you want to call it, was launched in the dead of night back in 2021, seven of the 12 clubs involved were on our board – including the chairman. The first thing they did was all sent resignation letters on a Sunday night, resigning from the ECA board positions and UEFA, to get out of the system and then they tried what they did. They did that because there was never an outcome in which the ECA, with its broad base structure and pan European focus, could ever support that kind of project, 12 clubs separating and leaving everyone else with the breadcrumbs.

“We obviously opposed it strongly, along with the rest of the world thankfully, and it unraveled quite quickly. Most of those clubs have had to reconsider and reconsider their roles at the ECA. Over a very difficult process, institutionally and personally, many of them came back. More the clubs rather than the individuals. But Peter, as a senior board member at the time, he was one of the key people we all gravitated around to form this opposition.

“We restructured the board and changed the statute to make it dead clear any change to the competition would need an overall majority, so one group or subdivision can carry any vote. It has to be a consensus from 75 percent – that means England, through to Poland, Hungry and so on. Unless they agree, it doesn’t get passed. We are an organisation that seeks compromise, otherwise we don’t get anywhere.”

The ECA chief executive believes that Scottish football is going places through now sitting ninth in the UEFA rankings. It means the country’s clubs sit in the second of four sub-divisions and could be capitalised on by an outwardly-looking, bridge building Rangers under the new leadership of chief executive James Bisgrove and chairman John Bennett.

James Bisgrove will officially take over as Rangers new CEO on July 1. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)James Bisgrove will officially take over as Rangers new CEO on July 1. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
James Bisgrove will officially take over as Rangers new CEO on July 1. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

“The opportunity is there for them, for sure,” Marshall said. "[With the second sub-division] they have opportunities to get involved. The performance of teams drives the metrics needed to get Scottish clubs to the heart of decision making. Obviously with the rebirth of Rangers there is an interesting dynamic, Rangers and Celtic fans realising that when the other club does well in Europe, it also benefits them. It’s a difficult one for them to get their heads around and they might not want to admit it. But it does. Now you have two consistently well performing clubs in Europe, that improves the coefficient ranking and that reflects well on Scotland as a nation. You also have Hearts going on a run and accumulating points. Scotland is now the ninth ranked out of 55. When I joined the ECA five or six years ago, Scotland was around 15th or 16th.

“[For Rangers] it doesn’t just mean getting elected to the board, we have working groups, task forces and committees across all our divisions on a number of topics. We try to get balance – but also expertise. People who know what they are doing. There’s a lot of change going on at Rangers. The outgoing CEO Stewart Robertson has been heavily involved with us on some of the financial topics, such as sustainability and analytics. I know James a little bit from UEFA, he’s got a marketing background and is more of a commercial guy. The door is wide open for someone like that to help us around media rights and sponsorship. We’ve done a lot with Rangers on the women’s game as well and have been here in the last six months, because Rangers have an excellent women’s set up.”



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