For years, Celtic fans and many inside the club have wanted to see us play in a league like the EPL, where we could fully realise our global potential. This is about money, of course, but only partially. It’s also about bringing the Celtic brand to the widest possible global audience, because with that audience they believe our fan base would outstrip any in the world.
And they are, of course, correct.
We know this for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that we do, already, have Celtic enclaves all across the planet. This is part of what makes us great, this global appeal we have, offset as it is by the many associations we have with supporters at other clubs. Rangers’ fans, and those of Sevco, have historically sneered at that; with all undue respect to them, it’s not our side which is clinging to a tenuous link to Espanyol’s far-right fringe this morning. Our global friends are real. Our associations with a number of clubs are about more than sharing targets of hatred, or badges of convenience to oppose those of other teams.
There are many reasons why this connection exists, but ironically, we know the extent of our global support because of work done by one of our rivals. One of the most insightful looks at our support came from ex-Rangers director Hugh Adam, who was the first person to burst the bubble of the “global Rangers family” myth. He and his marketing people at Ibrox did a huge international survey of their support and found that it was neither wide nor deep.
It was limited to small pockets of Scottish diaspora in places like Canada, Australia and the US. It was virtually non-existent outside of them, not even in hillbilly hick towns in the Deep South of the States where, you’d expect, such a link might best be forged.
It was Adam who described his own employer as a “provincial West of Scotland football club” without broader appeal. One withering observation he made was that the general Scottish diaspora has only a very small connection to the club; in fact, many of those he and his people surveyed “actively loathed” them. Adam was shocked by that finding above all others, because the reservoir of Scot’s abroad was exactly the source the club had expected to be a fruitful one, with the promise of millions in revenues.
In addition to this, Adam was prescient enough to do another piece of research; he wanted to know, as any good businessman does, what the relative merits and strengths of his rivals were at the same time. So whilst he was conducting this survey he asked a parallel question relating to the perception Scots abroad had of Celtic. He went even further, because Rangers and our club have “Irish roots” and he asked the same question to those of Irish descent.
A small Loyalist fringe was, of course, wedded to Ibrox. That aside, what he found was perhaps the most staggering part of the survey. Scots abroad were, on the whole, friendlier to the notion of Celtic than they were to his club, but it was the Irish who tipped the balance.
Even then, the draw of English football was greater than that of Scotland and you were more likely to see a Manchester United top in Dublin than a Celtic one … but underneath it all lay something Adam had not expected and which made a huge difference to the equation.
The Irish diaspora abroad is perhaps even larger and more deeply embedded in other nations than that of the Scots. And everywhere Adam’s people asked the question they found that it didn’t matter whether an Irishman abroad declared a football allegiance to an English side; “They all know of, and have affection, for Celtic.”
And of course, we have never limited ourselves to either the Scot’s or the Irish, seeking friends everywhere and building bridges across Europe and the world.
I have no doubt that Lawwell and the board at Celtic Park have done similar global surveys, and even in the era of the dominant EPL he knows that reservoir of goodwill and affection is out there to be tapped. We are a global club, with a worldwide fan-base. We are not restricted to either the Scottish or the Irish immigrant communities for our support. If we had Premiership style exposure then that would be amplified a thousand times over.
Our club is part myth. Its foundation story is one of the finest in football.
Our roots are special, and a source of wholly justified pride. The friendliness of our fans has made us the toast of many a European city.
We are welcomed everywhere with open arms, and yes, even our perceived political allegiances and stance – as distasteful as that may be for many in Scotland, and even some of our fans, who want nothing to do with politics – have made us friends that other clubs will never be able to have. We are, to a greater extent even than Barca, “more than a club.”
Our marketing department fights its corner splendidly well in light of everything, but it’s like a guy with a hand-held microphone and speaker trying to be heard at a packed concert venue next to the sheer volume of publicity generated by the Premiership and other top flight leagues. Part of that is the utter incompetence of the governing bodies, part of it is in the abject nature of the opposition, clubs managed by people like Derek McInnes.
Nevertheless, our revenues still top £70 million in a good year, which is remarkable considering where we play football. If we played in a bigger league we’d generate £100 million before a single penny in TV money was paid, and that puts us on a par with the biggest teams in that league before we even start to push the brand the way they do.
I do believe there will be something like a European Super League one day, where the top clubs will compete in an extended Champions League type tournament which will run over the course of a season, and there we will find a different level. I do not believe we’ll ever get to England, but I’ve long believed their “business model” is built on sand anyway.
Everything Lawwell said about us having “the fundamentals right” is spot on too. Which is why a certain newspaper really pissed me off today …
More on that a little later on.