The delays caused by the Scottish winter have really been hitting home these past few weeks. A long run of postponements that was started by a refereeing strike, continued by an early snowfall, then frost, then waterlogged pitches has left some clubs without a home match for almost three months, and that’s going to be a struggle for even the most prudently run clubs in lower leagues.
The worst, or at least most high-profile of the trouble has come in the first division, where clubs are trying to maintain full-time squads and are probably running closest to the edge. Dundee’s collapse happened before all this – their CVA was agreed today and we’ll have more on this (with a bit of luck my last article on the Dundee saga) within the next couple of days. Partick are another side whose travails have already been highlighted this season – their board launched fundraising efforts to meet an expected £100K shortfall this season, and sufficient progress has been made to suggest they’ll pull clear of any immediate trouble. There are still long-term concerns amongst the support about the make-up of the board and about the property company who part-own the stadium but an improvement in the team’s fortunes of late has lessened the grumbling for the time being.
Several other clubs have been in the news in the past fortnight. Firstly, there were rumours about Queen of the South which the club were rather silent about for a few days. Eventually chairman David Rae gave a long and slightly rambling interview to the BBC in which, as with Partick, he admitted there was a shortfall, and welcomed the Save our South initiative which had been started by supporters. A Scottish Cup final in 2008 had enabled them to sustain full-time football (and big six-figure losses) for another couple of years, but that seems to be coming to an end. A return to part-time status looks likely, and the freeze only accentuated the problem – last week’s match against Ross County was their first at home in the league since 13th November. They were 1-1 against County when the floodlights failed and the match was abandoned, but at least they got some money through the turnstyles first. (The cynics might comment that they’ll get money in for that match twice, but arrangements for the replayed fixture are yet to be announced.)
Next in line was Falkirk, who were last hit served a winding up order by HMRC. Winding up orders do not come out the blue, so if anything the club’s protestations of innocence and surprise only heightened my sense of worry. Nonetheless they have since reached an agreement for a payment schedule and it seems the order will now be withdrawn. So again, no immediate problem, but changes are required.
Falkirk were relegated from the SPL last summer and are facing the difficulty of balancing the books in a league with no TV deal and a fraction of the sponsorship money. And if they needed any advice on how tricky this adjustment can be they need only look to Dunfermline, who were relegated in 2007 but still haven’t sorted themselves out yet. It took a couple of years to get the remaining big earners off the books, but having done so the hope was the club would get back to something like an even keel – so it came as a bit of a shock this week when their loss for 2009/10 was announced at an eye-watering £1 million – up over £200K on the previous year despite shaving £400K off the wage bill. At this level, these are colossal figures. They are being banrolled by soft loans from Gavin Masterton, a former Managing Director of the Bank of Scotland (pre-credit crunch). These loans currently stack up somewhere near £12 million, and he seems in no hurry to call them in. For as long as that’s the case Dunfermline are, again, in no immediate trouble, but their situation is clearly unsustainable, particularly if they should miss out on promotion again. (They are currently slight favourites.)
Finally a mention for Stirling Albion. Another side who had no home game between November and this week’s match against Raith, it’s come at a particularly difficult time for them in their first season as a Trust-owned club, and with no funds to fall back on. Full credit to their players, then, who agreed en masse, and apparently without any prompting, to go unpaid for the month of February to help the club out. In an age when many much-better paid players are accused of greed and screwing the sport for all they can get, this is a tremendous gesture – they’ve agreed to forego the wages, not just to defer them. Unfortunately, they’re not going to get plaudits for much else at the moment, that defeat to Raith being their eighth on the trot stretching back to October, leaving them bottom of the league even with Dundee’s 25 point deduction applied. But credit where it’s due nonetheless.
It’s too early to say that the Scottish winter hasn’t got more to throw at us yet, and if it does come back with a vengeance we may yet see clubs in deeper trouble. But, instead of waiting until March to reschedule games as per normal rules, the SFL have issued a revised fixture list which will hopefully allow us to get caught up before then. Hopefully the worst of the trouble is over.
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