Football/Soccer

Celtic better under Lennon than Rodgers says Foundation chief

Celtic FC Foundation chief executive Tony Hamilton

CELTIC FC Foundation Chief Executive Tony Hamilton believes that Neil Lennon had got the team playing even better football than in the Brendan Rodgers era.

A decade to the day since Lennon was first appointed caretaker boss after the departure of Tony Mowbray, it’s high praise for the Lurgan man.

“People look at the two-and-a-bit years when Brendan Rodgers was here and the football was great. But for this season and part of last season the football has been better under ‘Lenny’,” argues Hamilton.

“It was a real difficult start for him [in February 2019], taking over and going to Hearts [as recent Hibs boss] and winning with the last kick of the ball – he’s never really looked back since then.

“There’s been a few blips – losing to Rangers at Christmas time was a blip – but he’s never really looked back. It was just one-way traffic since both clubs got back from Dubai. He’s matured into a really good manager.

“Him and I went to New York for a Foundation dinner, we were travelling through Dublin, and I said ‘You’re so different, you’re so much more relaxed now’ and he said: ‘I’m just wiser and calmer and a bit more experienced. I trust the players and I know what they need to do.’ We see the benefit of that on the park. The football was great until it ended so abruptly.

“There’s a serious side to that, of course - tens of thousands of people have lost their lives.”

Tony Hamilton know more than most to keep football in perspective at these troubling times because to the charitable work the Foundation does (see feature, pp??).

Still on the football front, he has worries there too – again, mostly for others.

“I’m glad the season is behind us and we can hopefully look to the future now. The problem is we’re probably not going to have football with full crowds this calendar year, I wouldn’t have thought. It could be January before we start to see any decent-sized crowds.

“That’s a worry for Scottish football. We’d probably be the most protected from that but still not completely immune from it, obviously. I fear for some other clubs.”

While English clubs aim to complete their season behind closed doors in order to receive TV money, the financial picture in Scotland is very different, as Hamilton explains:

“The biggest source of revenue for us is tickets. The clubs that get relegated from the [English] Premier League will get probably £120m each for being failures; we’ll get £3m for winning the league this year. That’s some context.

“Next for us is merchandise, and the majority of that is sold on 28-30 matchdays, at the superstore. TV revenue probably doesn’t feature in our top four or five [income streams].

“Half the league depend on Celtic and Rangers coming to them once or twice a season. If they give us 3,000 tickets we’ll sell 3,000 tickets and that could be 90 grand at a time. It’s really important not just for us, for everybody. Everybody’s worried.

“Some clubs further down would be a wee bit more protected because their expenditure is in line with income, so they might be in a better place to deal with it.

“There are a few bigger clubs I would be worried about – and I think we know who they are…”

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Football/Soccer