Celtic may not have qualified for the Champions League but the Europa League draw yesterday certainly produced a glamorous outcome for Celtic and under normal conditions would have guaranteed 3 x 60,000 capacity crowds at Celtic Park for the three homes ties.
UEFA announced the Group H fixtures and dates late on Friday evening. Celtic are at home to AC Milan on Matchday One on 22 October and that would have had supporters scrabbling for tickets. After a trip to Lille on 29 October Celtic are at home to Sparta Prague on 5 November before heading to the Czech capital for the second leg of a double header on 26 November. The two December matches see Celtic travel to Italy to face AC Milan on 3 December before finishing off the Group with a home tie against Lille on 10 December. Full details are below…
GROUP H FIXTURES
Celtic v AC Milan
October 22 (KO: 8pm)
Lille v Celtic
October 29 (KO: 5.55pm)
Celtic v Sparta Prague
November 5 (KO: 8pm)
Sparta Prague v Celtic
November 26 (KO: 5.55pm)
AC Milan v Celtic
December 3 (KO: 5.55pm)
Celtic v Lille
December 10 (KO: 8pm)
BT Sport have the rights to broadcast the three homes games so Celtic are looking at the first really big income loss with Paradise likely to be empty yet again. How you can think it is safe to pick fresher students into halls of residence up and down the country but think it is unsafe to allow some supporters into stadiums like Celtic Park and Ibrox for these big European nights is baffling to say the least.
UEFA themselves have indicated that they would be happy to see grounds at 30% capacity for these Europa League matches, which would allow around 18,000 supporters to attend the matches against AC Milan, Sparta Prague and Lille meaning that just about every season ticket holder could get to attend one match.
Whether the Scottish Government will support the cautious UEFA recommendation remains to be seen. Don’t bet on it though and you’d have to expect that no fans will be allowed in. For Celtic that means losing out on 3 x 50,000 3 match packages at around £100 each plus substantial revenue from hospitality and fat-cat sales, plus all the other revenue streams that are at their highest on European nights.
And the opening fixture couldn’t get much more glamorous for Celtic. Milan, who will have Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their squad, finished sixth in Serie A last season (well behind Lazio – remember them?), and qualified for the group stages following a 9-8 penalty shoot-out victory over Portuguese side, Rio Ave. Lille are around the level of Rennes and Celtic will fancy that one. It will be nice to see Timothy Weah too, perhaps the Bhoys can bring along their Scottish Cup medals to show him what he could have won last May? Czech league leaders, Sparta Prague have been all mouth since the draw, it will be nice to shut them up.
And spare a thought for the away support who travel far and wide across European football territories to follow the team. They are being denied three brilliant trips, Lille is a lovely city, Milan is special and Prague speaks for itself.
But it is Peter Lawwell who will be feeling this the most. No coronavirus and he knows he’d be what £10-12million better off from this Europa League draw. And reflecting on that might just see someone heading out the door before the window closes on Monday afternoon. The one thing that the Celtic CEO does not enjoy is missing out on a few bob.