Airdrie dead. Clydebank terminally ill. Motherwell
in crisis. Thats the last time I turn my back on Scottish
football for a few days. What a fortnight it has been as our game
lurches from one crisis to another with no salvation in sight.
Lets take Airdrie first. The first club to fold since Third
Lanark in 1967 has seen the obvious comparisons made. Yet
that is not entirely fair. Third Lanark were deliberately run
into the ground by a Chairman keen to get his hands on Cathkin
for property development. They were in the lower reaches of the
old Second Division and didnt even have hot water for the
post-match shower. Airdrie, by contrast, have just finished second
in the 1st division and play in a state-of-the-art modern stadium
with over 10,000 seats.
So why have they folded? There appear to be a number of
reasons with no single cause or individual to take the blame.
A board that made the decision to remove Airdrie from Broomfield
before a new ground could be built is one such reason. The time
spent at Broadwood undoubtedly eroded the supporter base
of the club. Yet the men in charge then insist that it was necessary
to move when they did in order to qualify for a £2M grant.
Bill Barr is a target for many Airdrie fans. Yet Barr would
claim that he could have forced the club under long ago had he
wanted to. On the other hand, Barr has made millions from ground
construction in the past decade. Surely he could have come to
some arrangement with the Diamonds. What an embarrassment
it must be for Barr to see New Broomfield lying empty while
he presides over the cesspit of a ground that is Somerset Park.
Then theres Steve Archibald. The former Scotland
star breezed in with a cohort of Spanish stars. It was never clear
where the money would come from to pay them and in the end the
Spaniards departed for nothing. Kilmarnock and Livingston
reaped the benefits of their experience.
Yet the Airdrie supporters worshipped Archibald. Despite all the
evidence, they clung to the belief that everything was fine with
Stevie boy if only the creditors would leave him alone. When Ian
McCall took over as manager he was vilified by the support.
But McCall took no notice. He did what Archibald manifestly failed
to do he built a team and a good one at that. With the
threat of extinction hanging over every game they played, McCalls
hastily assembled Diamonds challenged for promotion for most of
the season. It was a magnificent achievement.
But now Airdrie have gone. The madness that is football finance
has never been more cruelly exposed. A 124 years old Scottish
institution has gone bust owing roughly the same amount of money
as three years salary for Raphael Scheidt. The club that just
a decade ago was preparing for Europe is now in oblivion.
It is only seven years since Airdrie played in a
Scottish Cup Final, nine since they were a Premier
Yet for all their success during the 1990s, their support was
dwindling. Airdries average gate for 2001-02 was just 2001.
Even that figure is grossly inflated thanks to two bumper crowds
against Partick Thistle. The true level of regular support
is around the 1,600 mark.
So a combination of factors has doomed the Diamonds. But some
think there may be life after death. There is a belief that a
new club can arise debt-free and start again in the Third Division.
This school of thought contends that the prospect of 500 or so
Diamonds fans turning up at Montrose and East Fife
will encourage these clubs to vote in a new Airdrie into membership
of the League.
Ayr United could tell them a thing or two about what happens
when there is a large influx of Airdrie supporters into their
ground. And it is not a pretty sight. Yet the Scottish League
without Airdrie will be a poorer place. Even if it is too soon
for the Diamonds to be resurrected, there may be a way back at
a future date.
The example of Aldershot is an instructive one. The Hampshire
club folded a decade ago but their supporters refused to accept
the end. The fans founded a new club named Aldershot Town
and they have slowly crept up through the English pyramid where
they are now just two divisions below League level. Their return
is no longer an idle fantasy.
For that to happen for Airdrie there would need to be a sensible
and much-needed reconstruction of non-league football in Scotland
with the juniors being given the same chance as clubs in the Highland,
the East and the South of Scotland Leagues.
Lanarkshire as a whole is more sickbed than hotbed as far
as football is concerned. Motherwell have gone into administration
and 19 players have been dismissed. This is a club which has learned
the facts of life the hard way. They offloaded their highest paid
players like Andy Goram and John Spencer over a
year ago but it wasnt enough.
Ive never been a fan of Terry Butcher but I feel
sorry for the big guy right now. While John Boyle and Pat
Nevin (responsible for the situation at Fir Park) walk
away, followed by manager Eric Black, Butcher is left to
pick up the pieces. Butcher was under no obligation to stay but
stay he has. He has opted to provide the club with some leadership
and structure at its most difficult juncture.
For that, he deserves nothing but praise. And even if his managerial
career has been less than successful at Coventry and Sunderland,
the Motherwell fans and whoever ends up running the club should
give Butcher a chance at the helm. He deserves it.
Meanwhile, it is only two years since Hamilton were relegated
after unpaid players went on strike and the same situation was
only narrowly averted this term. Albion Rovers have just
had their most successful campaign for years but couldnt
even draw 1,000 fans to a match which might have seen them win
promotion. They even lost manager John McVeigh who was
lured away by Stenhousemuir. It says something about
a club when Stenhousemuir proves a bigger attraction.
Lanarkshire. Once famous for Busby and Stein. Look at it now
and weep. Then pass the Buckfast
Theres no escape from Scottish football. Yours
truly has just returned from a very pleasant ten days in the English
Lakes. Stunning scenery, surrounded by mountains, I was in a blissful
haven, with no connectivity. Not even a mobile phone signal. Free
from all distraction. Or so I thought.
For I had forgotten that the Lake District receives Border
ITV. So it was that while I was watching the local news and
catching up on the sheep prices in Borrowdale (Aberdeen
fans should e-mail me for more details), that I happened to
stumble across a TV report from Palmerston Park.
The station was showing highlights of Queen of the Souths
match against Morton. And very good it was too. Palmerston
Park with over 6,000 in attendance as the Doonhamers celebrated
winning the Second Division title was the perfect antidote to
the depression that has set in over our game.
So congratulations to Queen of the South one of the rare
success stories in the gloomiest season in living memory.
So ends the worst season in Scottish football history.
An extravagant claim? I think not. When was the last time a League
club went bust? Third Lanark in 1967 when the rest
of Scottish football was on an unsurpassed high victory at
Wembley, Celtics European Cup, Rangers in the
Cup-Winners Cup Final, Kilmarnock in the semis of the
Fairs Cup, Dundee United beating Barcelona home and
Contrast that with the state our game is in at the same time as
Airdries demise. The Old Firm a mile in front
of everyone else and practising the Fosbury Flop in preparation
for taking the high jump over Hadrians Wall. Motherwell
are in administration. Clydebank have been homeless for so
long that theyre getting a gold watch from the Big Issue.
Morton are in dire straits. A host of other clubs are forced
into cost-cutting measures.
Players are being offloaded in record numbers. Admin staff are losing
their jobs too. Theres no TV deal in sight and crowds are
falling. There are three governing bodies whose wisdom could rival
the three wise monkeys. The national team is a shambles. And the
SPL are running a 52 weeks a year 24/7 amalgamated pantomime
called The Ugly Sisters and the Ten Dwarves.
We are now 17 years into the current era of Old Firm domination
with no end in sight. The last team to win a trophy apart from the
Big Two were Hearts with the Scottish Cup in 1998.
It is true that there have been these periods before. Between 1904-32
the Old Firm won every League title. Most of the 1930s
and the 1970s were just as bad in the Scottish Cup.
The difference then was that while there was a huge gap between
the Old Firm and the rest, today you could put the Grand Canyon
Earlier in the season I compared this term with 1968 in terms of
how big the gap is and suggested then that we might begin to see
it narrow. It looks like I was being overly optimistic. If you allocate
three points for a win to every League match ever played, then only
one season comes close to the one just ended. In 1920-21
the gap between 1st and 3rd and 2nd and 3rd respectively would have
been 41 points and 26 points. This season it is 45
and 27. In the three previous seasons of the SPL the gaps
have been 20 and 14, 36 and 15, and 31 and
For a decent League challenge we have to go back to that Hearts
side in 1998 that finished seven points behind
Celtic and five behind Rangers. With Fulton,
Flogel and Adam all leaving Hearts, none of the
Cup-winning team are still at Tynecastle. Indeed, of the
26 players who took part in the League campaign that season,
only reserve keeper Roddy McKenzie is still with Hearts.
In the past it was merely ALMOST impossible to challenge
the Old Firm, Now it is an undeniable fact. For proof, look no further
than this: in the past the Old Firm have never occupied both top
positions in the League for more than five consecutive seasons.
Now, it is seven
Has anything positive emerged from this season from Hell? Well,
yes, there are always some bright spots even if at times
they seem overwhelmed by the Stygian blackness that has descended
on the game. Livingston, obviously, for finishing 3rd and
qualifying for Europe in their first season in the top flight.
There was the return of Aberdeen to European football, though
it is a measure of how the game has changed that they celebrated
their League victory over Celtic with as much enthusiasm
as they once displayed in Gothenburg against Real Madrid.
John Lambie and Partick Thistle have rightly taken
the plaudits for a second successive promotion. But Ian McCalls
Airdrie team contributed immensely as well. And, even if
I have to put my hand over my mouth and mutter it sotto voce,
Ayr Uniteds performances in the knockout tournaments
were superb. But the 1st Division is already looking like it will
be on a downward spiral next season. Out of the ten clubs, just
two St Johnstone and St Mirren are eligible
for promotion. None of the other grounds come up to scratch, though
there is a possibility that Ayr and Falkirk may be
in a position to do something before the deadline.
Elsewhere, Queen of the South won a deserved promotion. Over
6,000 fans turned up at Palmerston Park for their final match
and there is a chance that they may pick up more support from Carlisle
supporters disillusioned by the Knighton regime at Brunton
Dumbarton will be glad to have escaped the 3rd Division and
whichever club replaces Airdrie in the League will celebrate. Though
it is difficult to get too worked up over promotions for perennial
yo-yo teams Brechin and Alloa who were both promoted.
Except, that is, for one Wasps fan whose website reports
on Alloas final home game like this: "After the match
the celebrations started with a pitch invasion ending with most
of the players giving their shits away to the local "Wasps"
Scottish football. Who said no one gives a shit?
Last word (for now) on the Gruesome Twosome. Apparently
David Murray and Dermot Desmond were on a luxury holiday
together on the QE2 and were spotted trying on some diving
gear. Seems someone had told them there were 20,000 Leagues Under
The Sea and they wanted to know if they could join one.