Peter Lawwell reveals Uefa are ‘opening minds up’ on cross-border football

Peter Lawwell and Neil Lennon arrive for the agm
Peter Lawwell and Neil Lennon arrive for the agm
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CELTIC chief executive Peter Lawwell believes Uefa are coming to terms with the prospect of new cross-border league competitions throughout Europe, which will address the financial gulf between the major countries and smaller nations like Scotland.

• Peter Lawwell told the Celtic agm that early proposals have been mooted for regional leagues with Europe, which Celtic are interested in exploring

• Champions League run has already offset the financial impact of the loss of Rangers

Lawwell revealed the development at Celtic’s annual general meeting at Parkhead yesterday when the Scottish champions’ yearly accounts, showing a loss of over £7 million for the year to 30 June 2012, were ratified.

Celtic’s financial performance has been boosted considerably since then with qualification for the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in four years.

That lucrative revenue stream, however, is far from guaranteed on an annual basis, and Lawwell and his fellow directors continue to explore the possibility of taking part in a league with more valuable media rights. Regional leagues are the brainchild of the European Club Association (ECA), of which Celtic and Rangers are ordinary members and Aberdeen and Hearts are associate members.

Lawwell insists Celtic could make such a move in tandem with retaining a presence in the top flight of Scottish football, but has questioned whether the current debate over domestic league reconstruction will have any significant effect in improving the product.

“Playing in Scotland is restrictive,” said Lawwell. “If the opportunity for Scottish football to take part in something wider comes along, then we should look at it. The two things can run in parallel. We can’t ignore something that might transform the game in this country.

“We are committed to the SPL but nothing stays the same. Uefa are opening their minds up to regional leagues. If anything changes in the landscape of European football, we would like to think we will be a part of it.

“It is short of a proposal, it is a suggestion at the moment. It has come through meetings of the ECA which I have attended. It is very early days. What they (Uefa) are starting to realise is that there is a huge chasm and polarisation between the top leagues and the smaller leagues. Media values for the top leagues over the last ten years have escalated beyond all forecasts. It is difficult for others to compete.

“The smaller nations could form regional leagues to close the gap slightly. There is a pilot scheme already, with the women’s game in Holland and Belgium having merged. There is talk of mergers in Scandinavia, between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, between Lithuania and Latvia. It is a minor breakthrough.

“Our natural partner would be England, but England don’t have the same stresses financially that we do in Scotland. So it’s very early in the process to try and see where we would end up fitting in.”

Lawwell sits on the SFA’s Professional Game Board, which will meet soon to discuss the Scottish Football League’s unanimously approved proposal of a new 16-10-16 set-up. “I don’t know enough about it at the moment,” said Lawwell. “The SFL put it together themselves and it hasn’t been discussed at any meeting I’ve been at so far. We will deliberate on it over the next two weeks.

“We want to be able to come up with something that will transform the game in Scotland. The current contract with Sky is for five years, so broadcast revenue is fixed for that period. The SPL are seeking a new title sponsor, but that won’t transform the game. We need something different to take it forward.

“We are in a decent place as a club. The difficulty is in sustaining that. We have always run the club in a proper way and that has stood us in good stead.”

Around 350 shareholders attended yesterday’s agm in the Kerrydale Suite at Celtic Park, with the mood generally upbeat and good-humoured throughout as the club continue to savour the feelgood factor created by last week’s win over Barcelona.

There was, however, some discord between the board and those on the floor over a resolution which proposed that Celtic should no longer pursue any shirt sponsorship in tandem with Rangers. Tennent’s currently back both clubs, as have other firms stretching back to CR Smith in the 1980s.

Celtic chairman Ian Bankier, explaining the board’s decision to oppose the resolution, said: “Commercial contracts are confidential and a matter for the sponsor. It is not in our control. It is a valuable source of income and this resolution is not in the best interests of the company or the shareholders.”

A resolution calling for a supporters’ representative to be given a place on the board was rejected again, with Bankier insisting that the club’s “existing approach” in liaising with their fans works well.

The SPL’s independent commission into Rangers’ alleged use of dual contracts, as part of the Employee Benefit Trust scheme which helped spark their financial meltdown, was also raised, with one shareholder calling on the Celtic board to press for the inquiry to be extended back into the 1990s.