Financial gloom hangs over kick-off in Scotland

It's the land of the long, dark cloud. The SPL begins at lunchtime today when Celtic visit Aberdeen with Scottish football's future looking bleaker than ever, and it's not the national side's humiliation in Oslo that is casting the shadow, rather the increasingly parlous state of the game's finances. If all dozen clubs in the top flight are still up and running come May that will represent a successful season.

The collapse of Setanta has hit the Scottish game hard, with not even the Glasgow duopolists immune to its effect. Rangers, despite the income from automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages, could not afford to sign a single player in the close season, while the rest are struggling to compete with the lower echelons of England's Football League when it comes to paying wages and transfer fees. Take out the £5.3m Celtic paid for Marc-Antoine Fortuné and Danny Fox and the rest of the division's outlay has been negligible.

The cobbled-together TV deal with Sky and ESPN is worth £65m less than the one with Setanta, and with clubs' ticket sales falling and a continued decline in other revenue streams, such as sponsorship and hospitality, there are serious concerns over the future of some of the SPL's members.

A report by the accountants PKF this week painted a grim picture and predicted an even grimmer one. Livingston are unlikely to be the last Scottish club to go to the wall over the next few months.

Little wonder that Neil Doncaster, the SPL's new chief executive, has spoken of his desire for a repeat of last season's "Helicopter Sunday" when the destination of the title wasn't known until the final day, with Rangers claiming their first crown for four years.

The bad news for Doncaster is that Walter Smith's squad, with seven departures in the summer, already looks stretched. The indefatigable 39-year-old David Weir remains their defensive linchpin while the departure of Barry Ferguson, for all the problems he brought to the club over his closing months there, leaves a large hole in the centre of midfield. The burgeoning talents of 17-year-old John Fleck provide some potential solace.

Celtic are in better shape, especially if Fortuné can prove to be a regular scorer. Tony Mowbray's side secured a notable European triumph in Moscow last week, and while Arsenal present a formidable barrier to the Champions League group stages, they look amply equipped to reclaim the SPL.

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