CELTIC may find losing their league title was considerably more painful than the losses made during the covid-19 pandemic. Rangers ended the club’s nine-year run at the top of the table, but the manner in which they did it, going the entire league campaign unbeaten, signalled the end of an era for the hoops. From a financial perspective, an £ 11 million pre-tax loss probably seems a lot less damaging.
Scottish football has its cycles and Celtic have presided over the rest of the nation while Rangers recovered from their meltdown and climbed their way back to the top. When Celtic were all-conquering in the 1960s and early 1970s, they went nine years at the top of the league table. Rangers did likewise in the 1990s, just falling short of 10 years. Now Celtic have done it again. Modern football being what it is, it’s hard to see anyone outside the old firm winning the title in the foreseeable future.
Celtic’s revenues for 2020-21 held up remarkably well, a £ 10 million (13.4%) drop in a season without supporters coming through the turnstiles. Compared to the 25-point gap between them and Rangers, the discomfort is bearable.
Celtic’s near decade of superiority, arguably, was never fully exploited. They were still found wanting in Europe, a sad fact for a club that has been to three major European finals. In short, they have been flat-track bullies in Scotland and, financially, they cannot compete with the elite clubs. Over the past decade, they have reached the group stage of the UEFA Champions League four times, winning just five of their 24 group games. Only once, 2012-13, did they get out of the group, no great surprise given they have come up against Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Ajax. The gulf between Celtic and the top names of Europe was highlighted when they were thrashed 7-0 by Barca in 2016-17.
Celtic’s current position in Europe can be determined by the status of the teams that have eliminated them from the Champions League and Europa League – Ferencvaros, CFR Cluj, AEK Athens, Maribor, Midtjylland, FC Copenhagen and Malmo.
Regardless of this, Celtic remain a big club with enormous cachet in Scotland and the United Kingdom and enjoy unwavering support from their fans. But the pendulum at home has swung across, perhaps temporarily, to Ibrox Park and the feeling of coming second in a two-horse race isn’t good for a club that won 19 of 27 Scottish prizes between 2011-12 and 2019-20, including four consecutive trebles.
While revenues dropped in 2020-21 from £ 70.2 million to £ 60.8 million, so too did expenses, which were down 7.6% to £ 74.4 million. Celtic managed to make a profit on player sales of £ 9.4 million, a drop from 2020’s £ 24.2 million, but still a demonstration of the importance of player trading to the club. According to Transfermarkt, Celtic spent £ 14.1 million in the market and recouped £ 16 million. Rangers spent £ 11 million and received just under £ 1 million. These figures dwarf the rest of Scottish football. Over the decade, Celtic spent over £ 100 million, Rangers around £ 50 million.
Of Celtic’s £ 60.8 million of income, £ 20.1 million was attributable to “football and stadium operations”, a third of overall earnings but some 56% lower than 2019-20. Merchandising rose by 50% to £ 22.6 million, but multimedia and broadcasting contributed £ 17.3 million, falling 11% compared to the previous season.
Celtic’s chairman, Ian Bankier, spoke of Celtic’s robust business model and how it allowed the club to navigate through the pandemic. “In the face of this adverse swing in financial performance, we are satisfied we took sufficient and appropriate steps to mitigate the losses and control costs in the business,” he said.
Meanwhile, with Celtic’s team now managed by Greek Australian coach Ange Postecoglou, they have had a mixed start to the 2021-22 season, losing three of their first six league games. They’ve also been knocked out of the UEFA Champions League and lost their first Europa League group game at Real Betis. Things will, surely, get better, both on the pitch and on the balance sheet. How they react will depend on what goes on over in the Govan district of Glasgow.