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Breaking the bankies

Suggestions of selling their promotion place and moving to Dublin are just two of a number of outrageous plans outlined by the current Clydebank owners writes David Munro

In WSC No 134, the proposed move of Clydebank to Dublin was described as “one piece of franchising too far”. Little did we know then that the next 12 months would see the club’s fate take even stranger twists, leaving its board hopelessly divided, its future home no clearer and its fans consumed with rage.

In the summer of 1997, the club’s former owners, the Steedman family, sold New Kil­bowie Park to a property developer, VICO, for £2 million with the stated intention of building a new stadium in another part of town. Since the land was in green belt, it should have been no surprise when planning permission was refused. Bankies were then forced to groundshare with Dumbarton. They transferred the money from the sale of the stadium to a new company and sold the football club and playing staff to Dr John Hall, a Bermuda-based financier and Sandy Moffat, a similarly weal­thy Edinburgh-based corporate lawyer and eccentric, for £250,000.

The new guys portrayed themselves as the club’s saviours and promised a new ground, with money no object. In February 1998, with the team racing to the Second Division title, the bombshell was dropped– the new stadium was to be in Dublin. Hall and his colleagues called this proposal “ambitious”.

A share issue was held which saw Colm McCarthy (formerly involved in attempts to move Wimbledon to Dublin) join the board. Pitch invasions and demonstrations ensued. One fan, David Brown, handcuffed himself to a post at Stenhousemuir. Bankies gained pro­motion a point ahead of Livingston after the team were seriously affected by the commotion. Shortly afterwards, following a concerted campaign by Bankies fans, FIFA and UEFA blocked the move.

With Dublin now a non-starter, the owners attempted to sell our promotion place to Liv­ingston. With the full support of the Living­ston fans, this move was prevented. Next it was the turn of Partick Thistle to be approached. Being almost bankrupt, the Jags said no. Clyde also turned down the offer.

What to do? Costs have been trimmed to the bone, the best players sold and bonuses to those remaining were left unpaid. Income levels plummeted as, with every crazy scheme, more and more supporters boycotted home fixtures. With the possible exception of Bright­on, with whom parallels can be made, we must be the only club in Britain to carry a larger travelling support than our home crowd.

Suddenly, Sandy Moffat, by now the chairman, remembered his old pal Michael Knight­on at Carlisle. Having narrowly survived alien abduction, some would say unscathed, Knight­­on had been sniffing around the Bankies’ owners since day one. Here’s a good idea they thought; let Carlisle resign from the English League and we can move Bankies to Brunton Park and play as Car­lisle in the Scottish League. 

Just one or two snags though. Bankies fans won’t tolerate it. Car­lisle fans won’t tolerate it. Short of building a new ground just inside Scot­land, UEFA and FIFA won’t tolerate it. The Scottish League can­not see any benefit to Scottish football and the SFA have stated that Clydebank’s reasons for wanting to move are unacceptable.

Here’s the final piece of salt for fans to rub in the wound. Clydebank’s owners will not sell, despite being approached on several occasions, because they are suing the former owners, the Steedmans, for £1.7 million over the “unlawful sale” of New Kilbowie Park. If the club were to be sold, this action automatically goes with it. They would have the Steedmen repay all the money they raised by selling our ground and would then take this cash to build a winning team in England.

Not surprisingly, the fans demand that the money be used either for a ground development in Clydebank or for the team upon a return home. The United Clydebank Supporters group, in conjunction with the local MP, have presented the club with a plan through which they will get a stadium for nothing and at a peppercorn rent if they commit to a return to Clydebank and sign a long-term lease.

The three main shareholders are hope­lessly divided. Hall apparently wants Clydebank, Moffat wants Carlisle, McCarthy wants Dublin. Galashiels want Bankies to move there. Highland League clubs are clamouring for league membership if Bankies go belly up. With UCS having won the backing of John Hall, the single largest shareholder, it may be that an end to all this nonsense is in sight. But then again, maybe not.

From WSC 148 June 1999. What was happening this month

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