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Transfer Talk

Jukebox jury at Celtic, Pars stand down

This week, Dunfermline shut down a stand to save money, Celtic fans are under scrutiny and Jackie McNamara writes a sitcom about his life in Scottish football.

Tynecastle under siege

The players of Hearts had payment of their wages delayed for the second successive month before 33 were paid on Thursday. The Edinburgh club have said that a £1 million tax bill was the cause of this delay, which does nothing to ease concerns about their future.

There have now been numerous problems with players' wages and the late payment of business debt. The revelation of this tax bill only adds to the air of impending calamity at Tynecastle. Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov recently said he has lost his passion for Scottish football and is seeking to either dilute or dispose of his controlling interest in the club.

Hearts have run up an estimated debt of £30 million, most of which is owed to the Lithuanian bank also controlled by Romanov. They are the only club in Scotland whose wage bill exceeded turnover at the last count. They operate on a precipice that has now started to crumble.

Even their short-term funding strategy appears dependent on deal making with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which refused to settle on the tax bill, and the expectation of their former goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, to make sufficient appearances for Sunderland to trigger an additional payment on his 2007 transfer. Gordon had knee surgery in April, is a month away from a return and even then is far from assured of a place in the Sunderland team.

Last weekend John Robertson, a former manager under Romanov as well as a hero for a generation of Hearts supporters during his time as their ace goalscorer, talked of an 'AFC Heart of Midlothian' carrying on the name of the club should they fail to survive the current storm. Sadly, it was an entirely believable scenario.

Jukebox jury

After Rangers ugly run-ins with the law over songs sung by sections of their support in recent years, Celtic now face similar scrutiny. They are the subject of separate investigations by UEFA and the SPL over supporters' conduct against Rennes in the Europa League and at home to Hibernian in domestic competition. On both counts, it is alleged that Celtic supporters sang songs in support of the IRA. Background reading on the songbooks and politics of both Old Firm clubs is, as always, recommended for a fuller understanding of this story.

The Celtic chief executive, Peter Lawwell, warned supporters about pro-IRA songs at the club's annual general meeting, describing such conduct as 'unacceptable' and 'embarrassing'. The failure to heed such warning is remarkable given the precedent set by supporters of their great rivals from across Glasgow. Rangers were repeatedly fined by UEFA before receiving a ban on their supporters travelling to an away European tie.

Stand down

Dunfermline Athletic are to close their North Stand at East End Park to save policing and stewarding costs. Attendances for the Fife club will almost certainly be unaffected as they rarely necessitate the use of four stands.

This is another snapshot of the financial squeeze being placed on the SPL, and a reminder of the folly that once saw the top league demand that all of its member clubs occupied a 10,000 all-seater stadium. Dunfermline's average attendance is 4500 and their capacity is over 11,000.

Dunfermline believe the move will save the club over £20,000 per season, while the club have previously stated that they must find a saving of £100,000 in running costs by the end of their first season back in the SPL. Last month they looked into putting some matches on without a police presence inside the stadium.

Cashing in on controversy

Unpaid wages, illicit chanting and ghost stands. Bad news for the SPL? Not if you ask Neil Doncaster, the league's chief executive. He claimed this week that all this off-field hokum was great for business as he seeks a new headline sponsor for his 'product'. The current deal with the Clydesdale Bank is up in 2013.

"I think there's clearly a very high level of exposure that the league gets from those sorts of issues and that clearly creates a real opportunity for any companies coming in who want to maximise the exposure for their brands," he said.

Quite which brands wish to be associated with financial ruin and sectarianism are unclear, but you have to admire the pragmatism of football's own PT Barnum.

Comedy central

A far more appropriate way to respond to the current situation in Scotland has been found by Jackie McNamara, the former Scotland player and current manager of Partick Thistle of the First Division.

This week, an Edinburgh cinema showed a preview of the sitcom he has written and helped produce based on events from his career in Scottish football.

McNamara played in a great Celtic team, alongside Henrik Larsson, that reached the final of the UEFA Cup in an altogether different era.

If one of today's players write a script on their current experience, it's more likely to fall somewhere between tragedy and farce.


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