Skint Scots: The Slow Death of the Scottish Game

Scottish football has been hit massively by the coronavirus pandemic, with Rangers’ reported £15 million loss showing just how much Scottish clubs are struggling. Calum Muldoon takes a look at the situation and looks for a potential solution to keep smaller clubs afloat.

What would you do with £15 million? Would you buy a new house? Pay off your debts? Maybe even give it to charity? All of these are obvious and feasible options. Well, what would you do if you lost that much money? That is what the owners of Rangers Football Club must be thinking, following the announcement that they lost £15.9 million last season – heavily influenced by the suspension of the regular football season in March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

While this amount would make anyone cringe, this is not a first for the Glasgow side, as they have lost a staggering £81.1 million in the last eight years. The numbers from the Ibrox side indicate they are really struggling financially since their reform back in 2012. However, they are not alone. All 42 teams in the SPFL have struggled through this tough and unusual year, with many teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. It truly is shocking to see just how much trouble some teams are in. Whether it’s domestic titans like Rangers and Celtic, or a semi-professional team in League Two, every organisation in the Scottish football pyramid has been brought to their knees by the crushing blow dealt by COVID-19 to the sport.

It is difficult to put Rangers’ financial woes into words. The best way I can sum it up is that the Gers won £20 million from last season’s Europa League campaign and still had their worst financial year since their liquidation nearly a decade ago – without that little boost in revenue from their European success, who knows where they would be right now. To make matters worse, the higher-ups at the club have been told that they must pull £23 million together before the end of the 2021/22 season. Now, Rangers do have plans in place to be able to reach this figure through various loans, but that doesn’t clear their financial troubles in the long run. If anything, it means that the club simply owe someone else the money – likely with interest.

However, Rangers are not the only team in Glasgow struggling. Celtic’s revenue was down by £13.2 million last season and only made a pre-tax profit of £100,000. While this does not seem as dire as Rangers’ worries, this is compared to the £11 million profit that Celtic made last year. Following the sale of left back Kieran Tierney for £25 million and mild European success, you would expect a bigger profit margin than the six figure sum they produced. That shows just how important fans are to clubs in Scotland, even at the top of the pile – everything went right for Celtic last season, and yet their accountants were still left with headaches. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions, without that extra support that ticketing brings, paying the full wages of club staff becomes harder than teams ever would have expected and redundancies are unfortunately becoming commonplace. It is clear that all teams in the SPFL have fallen into a situation where they are much less self-sufficient and need some external support, be it from devolved authorities, consortiums or government.

Despite raking in a reported £20 million from their Europa League success last season, Rangers have reported a loss of over £15 million, with the cancellation of football due to the coronavirus pandemic playing a huge role.

While the wealthier teams fail to bring in the profits, the smaller SPFL teams are expectedly taking it worse. Aberdeen have reported a £2.9 million loss and are expected to lose a further £2.1 million if fans do not return to Pittodrie by the end of the season. While these figures are smaller than the two Glasgow sides’ losses, the wage to turnover ratio of 90% highlights how bad their situation is. Dundee United have it worse, as their ratio sits at a staggering 133%. With the Tangerines just getting past a difficult takeover which saved them from the brink of liquidation, they were bound to find the pandemic challenging.

Although there is an end in sight to the pandemic, it might be too late for some teams in the lower divisions. Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy has stressed the importance of bringing fans back to the stands, highlighting that “a number of these clubs have no way of generating other income.” This shows how fundamental gate receipts are to teams near the base of the Scottish football pyramid.

It is believed that the money from the turnstiles accounts for 43% of the less wealthy clubs’ income. A scarily high number of these clubs are likely to crash and burn in the coming months if nothing changes and you can guarantee that football in Scotland will see its growing reputation slashed to pieces without these clubs. Although the supporters of the wealthier clubs have little to worry about, mass liquidation of clubs in the lower leagues would shape Scottish football in the worst way imaginable. Games would become stale and repetitive without races for promotion and relegation, while upsets in the cup competitions would become increasingly scarce. It is hard to argue that the disappearance of teams in the lower leagues would be anything short of disastrous.

If anything can be taken from the current financial situation, it should be that Scottish football – in some sense – is dying. It certainly won’t die a total death, but it might come out of the pandemic looking considerably weaker than beforehand. The UK’s department for digital, culture, media and sport has stated that devolved authorities have been guaranteed £16 billion as an add on to their spring budgets and will let them decide how to use that money. While a modest plan on the surface, this just hasn’t worked. Government support is clearly not the way to go. It could be argued that the only way to bring financial security back to the bottom divisions is to bring the supporters back. While it might not be safe to return to normality just yet, you can still give smaller teams hope by letting them host any test matches that let a limited number of fans back into the stadium. The SFA has lost £70 million since March and is expected to lose £30 million more before the season ends and this shows how desperate the situation is for Scottish football. Ironically, money is not what clubs need from the governmen – it is the return of supporters. Their support is not only important for morale, it literally keeps them alive. So, for the sake of the livelihoods of back room staff and players, find a way for supporters to support their teams and secure their survival or a large piece of Scottish culture could be lost forever.

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