THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Chaos and farce reign in Scotland, where the Premier League's anti-groundsharing stance has been underminded from within. Chris Fyfe makes some sense of it all

That Partick Thistle are bottom of the Scottish Premier League this season is primarily due to having a very poor manager for the first 14 games. By the time Gerry Collins was shown the door the struggling Glasgow club had two points and were destined for bottom spot. But life in the SPL is never simple. Thistle will not know if they are relegated until May 30. This is the deadline set by the SPL to the two aspiring First Division clubs (Clyde and Inverness Caledonian Thistle) and also Falkirk to find a ground to share that has the 10,000 seats required for promotion.

Partick Thistle had been safe until the afternoon of Monday March 30. Until then relegation was unlikely as neither promotion candidate had met the deadline to install 10,000 seats. SPL rules were strict and unfair: clubs needed 10,000 seats and first call on their grounds. So groundsharing – such as would have permitted Falkirk to play at Airdrie’s New Broomfield last season, relegating Motherwell – was illegal.

This year was special. Dundee have debts of £20 million – five grand per supporter – and Hearts similar. Even the sale of Dens Park might not prevent the Dees from closure, but their only hope of survival seems to pivot on selling Dens and sharing Tannadice, home of Dundee United. Hearts’ chief executive, Chris Robinson, wanted to sell Tynecastle and send their 15,000 supporters into the 70,000-seat Murrayfield.

With two established members needing to groundshare, the SPL overturned that rule, but kept the 10,000-seats rule. This led Caley Thistle to ask if they could share with Aberdeen (103 miles away) and Falkirk if they could share with Dun­fermline (18 miles).

That left Clyde a bit shell-shocked. Following years of home­less­ness, the former Glas­gow club were offered Broadwood stadium in Cumbernauld a decade ago. It has 8,200 seats and is more than adequate for their home support of around 1,000. Cumbernauld gave Clyde a chance to develop a new support in a new town. A stint in the SPL could have been the major breakthrough. But the League, fearing the wrath of Partick Thistle and St Mirren, who had faced financial peril to install enough seats, insisted that Broadwood was unsuitable.

At a loss Clyde looked around the room and asked the Kilmarnock chairman, Jamie Moffat, if Clyde could share Rugby Park (38 miles from Cumbernauld and 29 miles from Glasgow). Moffat said yes and so opened the door to relegation to Partick Thistle.

North Lanarkshire Council own Broadwood and Clyde have been unable to pay the rent this season. They have entered a creditors’ agreement to clear that debt and others. Next season they may have to rent Rugby Park as well as renting Broadwood from the council. Add this to playing their games in an area with no local support and it is only too easy to see Clyde struggling. Indeed because there are not 10,000 seats in Broadwood, next season’s matches with Livingston could attract under 1,000 people to sit in Kilmarnock.

It was a good piece of business for Killie. Second bottom of the SPL with the worst current form, they would be struggling against relegation next season and weren’t sure of avoiding it this season. At a stroke they made life easier for both seasons. If Clyde can’t settle with their creditors by May 31, arguably the weakest side to enter the top league since the 1980s would start next season with a ten-point penalty while paying £10,000 a game to Kilmarnock. If somehow Thistle had managed to catch Killie this season, then Killie could avoid relegation this season by refusing to share with Clyde.

Partick have suggested a 16-team league with relegation based on performance and clubs given reasonable time to update facilities. Meanwhile, the aptly nicknamed Self Preservation League is hitting the buffers. The concept of an elite league to challenge the Old Firm is looking like a sick joke.

From WSC 208 June 2004. What was happening this month

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