Two Cheers For
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
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
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.'