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The state of Scottish football going into 2023


hislopsoffsideagain

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 At one end of the scale, Scottish football finances are in rude health. Celtic and Rangers both reached the promised land of the Champions League group stages this season, which means megabucks. Whilst Rangers have had some interesting spending habits over much of the last decade, this along with the sale of Calvin Bassey will surely leave them no longer dependent on the riches of Douglas Park.


But 2023 could be a very difficult year for a number of Scottish football clubs. The main reason for this is the rising cost of, well, everything. Day-to-day running of a club has never been more expensive. Ditto travelling. And whilst attendances have been remarkably robust up till now the cost of living crisis is taking its toll on millions and tickets to the fitba will prove an unnecessary luxury for plenty.


The main focus of concern is the Scottish Championship. There are no particular warning sirens going off at any top flight clubs right now - and after the Setanta debacle, the Rangers liquidation and the end of Romanov at Hearts we all have a pretty good idea of when the midden is heading for the windmill. At Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United - in terms of support, the next four biggest clubs in the country - it helps to have decent financial backing. All but the Jambos have a rich owner; Hearts have a seven figure sum of 'donations' coming into the club every year related to fan ownership, as well as wealthy individuals.


Hearts will be a particularly interesting case to watch going forward. Their participation in the European Conference League - which is guaranteed for the Cup winner/third placed team in the league (if the cup is won by either of the top two) - earned them millions. Their two wins in the group stage alone made them nearly half the prize money that they got for coming third in the Premiership last season. Whilst it is still breadcrumbs compared to the vast riches the Old Firm bring in, it gives them a significant financial boost in comparison with the rest of the domestic opposition. If Robbie Neilson's side can pull off another 'best of the rest' this season - as looks quite likely at the time of writing, then it is conceivable they could find themselves much stronger than the rest of the pack, though still a million billion miles behind the Old Firm.


As for the rest, one assumes they will be just fine...as long as they stay in the Premiership, or at least get out of the second tier at the first attempt. Kilmarnock spent a lot of money to escape, and I suspect there would have been a huge austerity drive at Rugby Park had they not managed promotion.


One area where there has been impressive progress has been in recruitment strategy. Scottish clubs are exempt from the same stringent work permit criteria that restricts English clubs from bringing in non-UK players, and many have taken significant advantage. Ange Postecoglu's knowledge of Japan has allowed him to bring such rough diamonds as Reo Hatate, Daizan Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi to Celtic on the cheap, with more on the way in this transfer window. Other clubs have done well out of Australian players, with Hearts, Dundee United and St. Mirren all boasting players that went to the World Cup with the Socceroos. In general these signings have proven to be unmitigated successes, and almost certainly will have been far cheaper than British equivalents. They also tend to be young and so have potential resale value, as Hearts and St. Mirren will likely find with Kye Rowles and Keanu Baccus respectively.


I can't help suspecting that eventually some chairmen in the English Football League will cry foul and pressure the Home Office to close this particular loophole, but until then Scottish clubs are going to make hay.


As I stated earlier, it's clubs further down the ladder that I'm more worried about.


Part-time teams, less so. Whilst they will also be hit by the same increase in costs as everyone else, they should find it easier to manage because their playing budgets are lower and can be lowered further if necessary (albeit with an effect on the quality on the pitch). Full-time clubs have a wage floor; there is a level of income that a full-time player must receive in order for it to be viable for them to stay full-time. With the cost of living crisis that floor is going to get higher and it is going to become very difficult for some clubs to deal with that without becoming part-time.


Deloitte's recent description of four unnamed Championship clubs as "showing signs of financial distress" is pretty vague to say the least. However I would note that Dundee, Queen's Park and Ayr United have wealthy owners and are safe unless they pull the plug. Cove Rangers also have plenty of funding whilst fellow part-timers Arbroath are in rude health after last season's successes. As for the other five...well, I would worry about them. Hamilton and Raith Rovers have admitted they can't continue running the way they are, Morton already have the tiniest squad you can get away with (though fan ownership seems to be going pretty smoothly) and there are plenty of rumours in the Highlands that all is not rosy at Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Goodness knows where Partick Thistle are at after all the ownership shenanigans there, though I'd like to think they are less likely to be heading for a Help Ma Boab situation. If there is going to be a catastrophe somewhere in 2023 it will be in this division.


Hopefully (fingers crossed) there won't be.


Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly. 

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