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March 2004
Livingston win the League Cup










Two Cheers For Livi

Just the two cheers? A bit churlish, you might think? After all, Livingston have just won the Scottish League Cup. The first new name on a major trophy since Raith Rovers won the same competition in 1994-95. The first team outside the Old Firm to lift a major prize since 1998. The first and only non-OF major prize winners both of the 21st century and since the inception of the SPL!

They are also through to the last four of the Scottish Cup for the second time in four seasons. They have established themselvs as a top flight club. They have played in Europe. And their most recent - and greatest - success was achieved while the club was in administration.

So why just two cheers?

Well, we don't want to detract from their achievement. We want Livingston to enjoy their triumph. But this isn't the fairytale success much of the media makes it out to be. The rise of Livingston, from the obscurity of Meadowbank Thistle to the heights of having their name inscribed on a trophy which SPL luminaries such as Dunfermline and Kilmarnock have never won is one which illustrates much of what is bad about Scottish football.

Firstly, there was the establishment of the club itself. It's true that Meadowbank Thistle were themselves an artificial creation, punted into the League in 1974 to make up the numbers and to act as cannon fodder for lowly Division Two clubs to grab easy pools points money from.

But that was then and by the mid-1990s the Edinburgh minnows hadn't done too badly. They'd reached the First Division twice and even finished runners-up one season. Considering they never averaged 1,000 spectators at any time (and often under 500) that was some achievement.

The decision to move them lock, stock and barrel to Livingston was one which flew in the faces of their hardy band of supporters.

However, the deed was done, setting a precedent for the establishment of franchise football which a previous generation had defeated in the attempt to move East Stirlingshire to Clydebank.

Then came the involvement of ex-Celtic directors in the running of the club. Nothing wrong with that in itself. Plenty of directors have served different clubs in the past and more will do so in the future. But it didn't bode well for attempts to mould Livingston as a new club in a new town serving a new community.

There would always be doubts over where hearts and minds truly lay.

But the real concern lies in the way Livingston have risen to the level they are at today. From their third division days onward they have used and discarded players with abandon, operating a signing policy which has choked off supply from the grass roots. Not one single player in Livingston's starting line-up in the League Cup Final came up through the ranks. Even the Old Firm have a better track record on youth than Livingston.

And it is this high-wage policy - the signing of the likes of Oscar Rubio and Marvin Andrews and the backfiring gimmick of hiring a Brazilian coach - which has landed them in administration.

Former Chairman Dominic Keane says he was surprised when the club was put into administration. An astonishing revelation - tantamount to admitting that the Chairman had no idea how serious the club's financial problems were. And if the Chairman hasn't a clue then you really have to wonder at the financial management of the club.

To the uninitiated the League Cup Final looked like a fight between the comparative big boys of Hibernian - the side from the capital who had knocked out both the Old Firm - and the plucky underdogs from West Lothian. The club with 40,000 supporters against the wee team with a hardy 6,000.

But that wasn't the way it was. Rather, it was Hibs with half a team of homegrown, youthful talent up against the vastly experienced Livingston.

As for supporters, yes it's true that around three-quarters of the Hi-Bees turnout aren't regulars at Easter Road but the 6,000 or so that managed to make the short journey from West Lothian to Glasgow is an indictment of Livingston as a club.

It's not stretching the imagination to suggest that had a genuinely 'wee' team like Forfar or Brechin reached the final that they too would have brought as many travelling fans.

Almondvale: the Livingston ground rarely reaches its 10,000 capacity

Of course if Clyde reach the SPL, the Livvy support will look like New Town giants by comparison. The Cumbernauld club are struggling to pull in more than 1,000 at the gate despite having their best season for over 35 years.

But there's no getting away from the fact that the people of Livingston do not, by and large, identify with the football club that landed on their doorstep late in 1995.

Any other town in Scotland would have been empty on the day of their team's first ever appearance in a major Final. I dare say Sunday traders profits in Livingston were scarcely hit by the match.

And where else would fewer than 5,000 turned out to see their heroes next match following the Final? Yet just 4,485 were in attendance the following Thursday for a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay against Aberdeen.

Being charitable and assuming that only around 500 or so were Dons fans, it still means that fewer than 4,000 could be bothered to cheer on the League Cup winners in their pursuit of what would be a remarkable cup 'double.'

So, all in all, perhaps you will forgive us if we say that we admire what has been achieved in West Lothian but that the best we can manage by way of salute is 'two cheers for Livi.'


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