11 November ~ Supporters in England – or even in the SPL – may have been a little taken aback last week at the 25-point penalty handed down to Dundee for going into administration in late October. Unlike the other senior leagues, the Scottish Football League has no set penalty for such offences, instead making them up as they see fit, and there were a number of reasons why Dundee's case was viewed in a particularly dim light. Not only was it the club's second administration in eight years but the circumstances of this one (actually, of both) were perceived as particularly profligate.
Furthermore, although nine players were made redundant when administration hit, there were qualms expressed in many quarters that a reasonably good, and reasonably well-paid, first team had been kept on even while administrator Bryan Jackson was warning they only had funds to survive until Christmas.
Some might even say it's a pretty lenient penalty. Clyde fans, say, who saved their club by paying off their entire first team squad last year and taking on a scratch team on wages of £20 a week. They now sit bottom of Division Three, but they did avoid defaulting on their debts. Or Livingston supporters, who were relegated two divisions for their administration last summer. Applying a similar demotion to Dundee mid-season would be impractical for all sorts of obvious reasons, but there was a feeling in at least some quarters that consistency at least demanded harshness.
Jackson has reacted angrily, saying it will hamper his efforts to find investment and could kill the club. There's still a danger that he might be right, and no one wants to see clubs go under – it was a thankless task trying to balance that against the need to be fair to other, more responsible, clubs. But ultimately no club in such circumstances can be allowed to set the terms for their own survival. The SFL called Livi's bluff after similar statements last year, they survived after all, and at the moment there's every reason to be optimistic that Dundee will likewise pull through.
The issue of the fairness (or otherwise) of the punishment is further complicated by the fact that the supporters' trust, Dee4Life, had a 26 per cent share in the club and a seat on the board. This rather muddies the waters when people are calling for owners and directors to be punished rather than supporters – and particularly when anyone is calling for those involved in collapsed clubs to be banned from football – as most of us hope Dee4Life will now step in to take over the club altogether. They are already making excellent progress in their efforts to raise funds to do so.
And what's been interesting is the way the latest setback seems to have focussed minds and galvanised these efforts. The anger that, ten days ago, was being directed at their club and board is now being focused on the SFL. Whether the league anticipated such a reaction only they can say, but it certainly seems to have got them to rally round – Saturday's attendance at Dens Park was the highest for 18 months. It's to be hoped that this redirection of anger doesn't cause anyone to lose sight of the lessons that need to be learned. But all of that, of course, depends on the survival of the club. Dundee may have been a magnet for irresponsible owners over the years, but they're not some flash-in-the-pan like Gretna, they remain one of the biggest clubs in Scotland. It's unthinkable that they could be allowed to go under. Gavin Saxton