May 2002

End of term report

Airdrie dead, Clydebank comatose, Motherwell in crisis. The worst ever season finishes. QoS - a rare success story. Alloa's strange gift to their fans.



Airdrie dead. Clydebank terminally ill. Motherwell in crisis. That’s 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.

Let’s 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 didn’t 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 there’s 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, McCall’s 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 Division side.

Yet for all their success during the 1990s, their support was dwindling. Airdrie’s 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 wasn’t enough.

I’ve 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 couldn’t 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


There’s 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 South’s 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.

Greetin’ Season

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, Celtic’s European Cup, Rangers in the Cup-Winners Cup Final, Kilmarnock in the semis of the Fairs Cup, Dundee United beating Barcelona home and away.

Contrast that with the state our game is in at the same time as Airdrie’s demise. The Old Firm a mile in front of everyone else and practising the Fosbury Flop in preparation for taking the high jump over Hadrian’s Wall. Motherwell are in administration. Clydebank have been homeless for so long that they’re 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. There’s 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 between them.

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 16.

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….and counting.

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 McCall’s Airdrie team contributed immensely as well. And, even if I have to put my hand over my mouth and mutter it sotto voce, Ayr United’s 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 Park.

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 Alloa’s 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" fans."

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.



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