Picking up the pieces
In this week's North of the Border, Dunfermline are on the brink, Romanov has financial woes and our survey says: No winter football.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Dunfermline Athletic entered administration this week. Such is the ratio between the debt burden and the size of the club, the man charged with keeping the business above water, Bryan Jackson, has described the situation as the worst he has encountered. Jackson was the firefighter at Motherwell, Dundee, Clyde and Clydebank and his pessimism appears justified.
The Scottish Football League will rule imminently on what punishment Dunfermline will face. Dundee were hit with a 25-point penalty in 2010 for their second administration and that would relegate Dunfermline, who are first-time offenders. The SFL also demoted both Livingston and Gretna by two divisions. There is no guidance in league rules for this situation. They really do make it up as they go along.
There were immediate redundancies at East End Park, which not only brought Dunfermline's running costs down, but could also influence the championship race in the First Division. Jordan McMillan and Andy Dowie, two of Dunfermline's starting defence, were picked up by Partick Thistle during a week in which the Glasgow club went four points clear with a game in hand in the race for the SPL. They add depth to the Thistle defence, which is already the best in the division, and the leaders look nailed-on certainties to close it out now.
Paul Gallacher, a former Scotland goalkeeper, was also cut loose and moved up to the SPL. Actually, he moved all the way up to Dingwall, as Ross County recruited him and he may well be the first-pick for the most northerly club in the top league next season.
Andrew Barrowman, Dunfermline's top goalscorer and a proven striker in the First Division, was picked up by Dundee, who are preparing for next season in the second tier, 14 points adrift at the foot of the SPL.
OUR SURVEY SAID…
A survey of supporters generated by the SFA was published this week. That organisation highlighted the fact that most fans seem to want fairer financial distribution, a pyramid system and a single governing body, all of which are features of reconstruction proposals to be voted on by the SPL this month, with an SFL vote to follow.
However, they also stated a preference for a larger top division to avoid teams playing each other four times in league competition alone. Most interesting was the appearance of a topic that has had little or no airtime in the debates over reconstruction: the timing of the season. With no lobbying for a break to the status quo, other than extending the winter break, it was remarkable that 28% of supporters gave their preference as a March-November season.
Such a move to summer sport would be the kind of radical change that appears necessary to jolt the corpse of Scottish football into life. It would detach it completely from the English game in terms of both comparison and competition for sponsorship and broadcast investment. In the latter sphere, it would become a far more powerful media asset, particularly in non-tournament summers. And there is a chance that more people will want to come to the stadiums during the summer months than they do in the winter.
However, neither summer football nor a bigger top division are on the menu. It is unclear whether, in the 'any other comments' section of the survey, any individual described how the Scottish game is calling out for two divisions that split into three mini-leagues after 22 games, with some carrying their points forward and others not. But I bet nobody did.
Political braying among members of the First Division suggests they could lobby for an SPL2 should the proposals not pass the SFL vote. This decision is nothing to do with the sporting proposals on the table - how could it be, they are rhubarb - but a vital need for the redistribution of wealth. One is not dependent on the other and there will be great reduction in the perils faced by even the best run clubs in the second tier if those at the SPL demanding immediate change limit that first wave to a fairer financial model and wait a while to think about what is best for football.
THAT'S THE WAY TO DO IT
Scotland has its first two champions, and their stories could scarcely be more different. Last week Queen of the South crossed the line in the Second Division with a stunning 6-0 destruction of Brechin City, themselves contenders for the promotion play-offs. Then, four days later, Rangers won the Third Division a few hours after they drew 0-0 with Montrose, also in the mix for the post-season shoot-out in that league.
This was Rangers' second consecutive 0-0 draw, after they failed to score against Stirling Albion. It all ended with a strange kind of glory and Rangers will move onward in their regeneration with mixed emotions. Their budget was beyond comparison with any opponents in their league, but in the end it is likely that the inevitability of their victory in the championship numbed their performance week-to-week. The role of their manager, Ally McCoist, now must be to remedy this lethargy in the next tier.
Supporters of Queen of the South, out of Dumfries in south-west Scotland, have undoubtedly been better entertained than those of Rangers this season. Their team have scored more goals and amassed more points in a stronger league.
They, too, had a financial advantage. After relegation from the second tier, Queen of the South maintained a full-time team. This was a calculated risk in a division of part-time football and it has paid off. They move up after a single season and such was the performance levels of the team constructed and coached by their rookie manager Allan Johnston, that crowds and commercial interest have been high.
These two models are probably not inter-changeable, but Queen of the South have set a high benchmark for Rangers in next season's third tier.
ROMANOV IN RUINS
Vladimir Romanov, the majority shareholder of Hearts, gave an interview this week in which he claimed to have lost everything in the collapse of his Lithuanian bank, Ukio Bankas, which is in preliminary liquidation in that country.
The Russian-born financier spoke of leaving a legacy in which Hearts supporters now know that if they believe, they can be champions. He also talked about the club now making a small profit after years of losses. Under his governance, Hearts routinely had the highest wages-turnover ratio in Scotland, more than once breaking 100%. For those with little financial training, this is not recommended business practice.
In reality, far from where Romanov lives, Hearts supporters scarcely know what to believe in. That word was like a mantra to the club in the early years of the Romanov reign, when they could, but for his own mismanagement of a big investment, have been contenders for the SPL title and the group stages of the Champions League.
Today their very club and the stadium they visit every second Saturday appear as entries in the asset column of a dying bank in the Baltics. Romanov said he is hopeful of selling his shareholding in Hearts to a supporters group, but control will come with a huge debt secured against Tynecastle.
If one of the biggest clubs from Scotland is going to get out from under that colossal weight, it will have to be done in small and careful steps.